Sometimes the most life-changing events happen almost by accident. Kari Laurila had been working for Nokia for 16 years when redundancies became evident, and employees were offered severance packages for resigning voluntarily.
In the morning of the deadline for accepting the package, Laurila started to wonder what the life of an entrepreneur would be like. After serious pondering, around lunchtime, he had concluded it sounded pretty great. First, he just had to ring his wife.
“She gave me the green light and I told my boss about my decision, stayed at work for six more months and that was it,” Laurila recalls.
Then he turned into the founder, owner and CEO of Team Action Zone, nicknamed TAZ. The three words in TAZ’s name reflect the core idea: it’s about action in teams in a particular location (so, zone).
“TAZ combines teamwork with technology and location services and adds elements of gaming,” Laurila explains.
The firm’s first product was known as FlagHunt. The software enabled a flaghunt game in the event organiser’s choice of location, taking advantage of the participants’ geographical information. In 2011, TAZ landed The Finnish Quality Innovation Award for its GPS-based innovations.
“We’ve taken part in three competitions and won them all,” Laurila tells. “So, competition-wise, we’re doing alright.”
Pokémons paved the way
However, FlagHunt was only the beginning. Soon Laurila and his team realised that it’s not ideal to offer a fixed product; a much better option would be to create a platform on which customers can create and customise their own experiences.
“FlagHunt is a game that makes people run and sweat, so it doesn’t suit all events,” Laurila says. “Based on feedback, we began to develop a tool that would enable making all kinds of games.”
As of 2012, TAZ has focused exclusively on the platform known as ActionTrack, trying to make it as generic and easy-to-use as possible. It’s targeted at corporate events, education, destination services and marketing.
An unexpected push to business came from the global hit game Pokémon Go. Laurila points out that since the idea of location-based augmented reality games has now gone mainstream, the idea is much easier to explain – and monetise.
“Gamification is a huge trend, and ActionTrack makes it available to everyone,” Laurila says. “For example, teachers and education service providers can use it in teaching, resorts and hotels can develop activities for guests, and employees can make their workshops more engaging by turning it into a team game.”
Sweden, Costa Rica, New Zealand…
So far, Laurila hasn’t regretted bidding farewell to the life of a steady pay cheque. So far, TAZ has had B2B licensees in more than 50 countries, and it’s expanding its coverage primarily through global partners.
“We could sell our next license to Sweden but we might as well sell it to Costa Rica,” notes Laurila, who’s just been on the phone to New Zealand. “We’ve got no predetermined steps or preferences, we just go wherever the global competition takes us.”
The goal is to let TAZ’s team focus on product development and let sales happen through partners and other channels. At the moment, 72 per cent of sales come from abroad, and the share is ever growing.
What helps in spreading the word is that TAZ takes all kinds of customers into account in its offering. TAZ is able to offer turnkey games and model templates as well as just the most basic tools that leave the user with all possibilities to customise the end result according to their liking.
The same principle applies to licensing: soon even an individual consumer can buy a license to organise a turnkey game at a birthday party, with other options ranging all the way to unlimited usage with an annual fee.
There’s a bigger picture to all of it, too. For Laurila as an entrepreneur, values matter. He’s been thrilled to hear that ActionTrack-based tools have helped motivate pupils in schools and made people move instead of sitting at their desks.
“We want to offer something that can increase the sense of community and help people exercise,” he says. “This our contribution to better health, fun learning and encouraging creativity.”