Its been 15 years. Gosh time flies. The American Thanksgiving weekend is now. It’s a holiday that Americans tend to spend with their families. In my business life, I’ve just passed my 15 year milestone for my company, TomiAhonen Consulting. I had done mobile consulting longer than that as I set up and ran Nokia’s Consulting Department and even before that, was employed as a ‘Management Consultant’ and in various other tech consulting positions or tasks. My total professional consulting background runs about two decades and I've spent exactly two decades in mobile and almost three decades professionally employed in tech. But my business - my consultancy business - that is 15 years old, which is quite an astonishing milestone to me, personally. It seems like only a few months ago, that I left Nokia to start my own business. So I wanted to note that, and Thanksgiving is actually a good moment to do that. Because of ‘family’.
Those of you reading this blog who have seen me live, at one of your company’s private sessions with me, heard me say it at the end: “You are now part of my family.” And this blog and my engagement with you is living proof that I stood by my word for 15 years. All of my paying clients, every single one of them, has come back ordering more paid work. Every single customer has been so satisfied they have bought more consulting from me. They keep coming back. I am so pleased that this is so, that I have been able to deliver some value to my clients. But you, my ‘family’ - you also know this. You know that I have reacted and responded and helped and offered assistance, regardless of whether that meant immediate ‘paid work’ for me, or not. I am not in this to try to become rich. I am in this out of the love of this industry and a chance to be in it. So on this Thanksgiving weekend, I will ‘spend time with my family’ and share some logos and brands and memories from just a few of my clients, some big, some small. So lets make this one of the rare picture essays on the CDB blog.
And let me make something very clear, I talk about my ‘reference customers’. What do I mean? I mean that they are the type of paying customer who has admitted in open that they are using or have used my consulting services. Sometimes that is very obvious, like if they have me chairing one of THEIR customer events, or delivering a keynote or guest speaker lecture at one of their events or doing publicity on their behalf such as appearing at their press conference as an industry expert etc. This is a remarkable honor and I am always thrilled when this happens. At other times its more random or obscure as a reference but its no less obvious. It happens for example when a CEO of a company mentions at a public conference seeing me about to do the conference keynote, that their company uses me too. That is tremendous and a great honor. Or it can be for example a Tweet, coming out from employees while we are having a private session with the company internally, which isn’t open to the public, but the Tweet does go out, and thus ‘reveals’ that the famous Tomi Ahonen is visiting with them, doing a private workshop. My reference customer list has grown so long, I have literally stopped keeping it current. Look at that list on this blog, here on the right in the column. That is an OLD list of my reference customers. Its pretty well a ‘Who’se Who’ of the tech, telecoms and media (and banking) space. When you have China Mobile and Vodafone and HP and Intel and Nokia and Ericsson and the BBC and the Economist and Bank of America and HSBC... and Google.. who else do you need? At this level, I really have stopped keeping count.
However, let me give you two metrics. I did count my TOTAL customers. Not my reference customers. All paying customers. And just among the Global Fortune 500 (ie for American readers, these are 500 companies so big they would all fit inside the Fortune 200) I have just under 1 in 10 of all of them as paying clients! Its most of the telcos and tech companies, but also banks, retail, travel etc. Nearly 1 in 10 of the 500 largest corporations on the planet have bought consulting services from me personally. And thats not counting the reports and forecasts that I have sold. Its my TIME personally. Look at that reference list again. If those companies say in public they use me, how many more are competitors to them, who also have used me, but have not yet said so in public?
And those who read this blog know, this industry is run by the operators. Its not a handset business, its not an apps business, its not the payments providers or internet service providers who are the core of this business. If you work in this industry, whatever country you are in, you tend to curse the fact that the mobile operators rule this industry. Half of all the revenues earned by the industry go directly into the pockets of the operators. The other half is divided by all others such as handset makers, network providers, service providers, and various content owners and bit-players like.. banks, TV broadcasters, advertisers, retailers etc. Of the 20 largest mobile operators on the planet, 16 have used my services! And of those 16, twelve have been kind enough to admit it in public, ie are ‘reference customers’ of mine. In order of their size from largest to smallest, my 12 giant reference customer telcos are: China Mobile, Vodafone, Axiata, Telefonica, Orange, Telenor, MTN, Singtel, Saudi Telecom, TeliaSonera, T-Mobile and MTS.
And may I add two very special customers of smaller than Top 20 size? NTT DoCoMo of Japan is the company that created this industry. They launched commercially the world’s first mobile network four years before most think it started by that Motorola phone and Ameritech in Chicago. NTT DoCoMo launched the world’s first 1G network back in 1979 in Tokyo. And they’ve kept innovating, including launching the world’s first commercial 3G network (and they will demo 5G at the Tokyo Olympics), and has done more to invent this mobile industry than any other company, from launching the mobile internet to the QR code to NFC to the mobile wallet. NTT DoCoMo is a reference customer of mine. The only other mobile operator of incredible pioneering stature, would be Elisa of Finland, who launched the world’s first digital mobile network ie the first 2G network, the first telco to launch mobile data commercially (which as we know, is SMS text messaging) and on it also the first mobile payments, first mobile downloaded content, the first mobile advertisement etc. Elisa is also yes, a reference customer of mine.
My customers have flown me to visit 78 countries on all six inhabited continents. I have literally seen the world, in the past 15 years with my clients. I have been privileged to live the life of a prince. I’ve been wined and dined in the best restaurants and seen wonders and experienced magical memories. But the point is, for a consultant to survive, you have to have a lasting return business and customers who are loyal. My clients have been loyal to me and I love them for it. So let me show just a few of their logos where we happened to capture me at one of their events or locations or some other weird instances. Obviously its almost never that I would get to take any pictures inside my customer facilities but sometimes we have pictures outside, or sometimes at an event they have arranged. And my apologies to all the other customers who are not here. You remember me and my visit. I was not trying to take pictures with everybody. I was always respectful but if anyone else wanted a picture with me, I was more than happy to do that. This collection of pictures is 'accident'. What pictures do I happen to have. Most of the pictures of me visiting you, those pictures you have and I never even saw them. And that is fine, I am not in this for the fame and fortune haha. But i do want to say thank you and to celebrate my clients.
So let me start with Malaysia. Its a funny thing but often in some country every local player wants me to visit them. Malaysia was one of those, early on, and I keep going back to Kuala Lumpur for ever more work. So here is a picture from 2005, very poor quality image shot on an early cameraphone but I had to take this picture, to celebrate this giant sign. Look at the scale of the giant welcoming banner at the hotel where this event was held:
Yes we had the event by Celcom the Malaysian telco (part of Axiata Group who have used me widely) and yes, they flew me all the way in from London to run a 3G workshop in Kuala Lumpur. And I was thrilled, it was my first visit to Malaysia and an exiting expanding time for my business. Since then I’ve done a lot of public and private events in Malaysia, including for example with these guys:
Maxis yes is another operator in Malaysia. Their HQ is at the Petronas Tower which was once the tallest building in the world. It is kind of cool to get to go do a job in such a building too (for a fan of architecture like I am). And while we are on Malaysia, how about this:
MITV was the local Malaysian cable TV operator part of Berjaya Group, which is now known as U Television, one of the country’s giant broadcasters (Berjaya is a multi industry conglomerate doing things like hotels and retail etc). But MiTV brought me in to run a workshop for them. It was one of the first broadcasters getting into the mobile space and started my expansion of the ‘digital convergence’ story into the 17 industries I now track.
And I have worked with advertisers all around the world, this is from an event with WPP and their agency MadHouse in India, in Mumbai.
I get brought to visit all sorts of cool places and see stuff most don’t get to see, and then sometimes they do offer me the chance to take a picture. Like this one, at Al Jazeera’s broadcast studio while the news was going out live (this was the English Language side). A TV broadcast setup is always a very fascinating and mysterious place to get to visit.
Some of my work has been with industry tech companies that have brought me on long ‘rock concert tour’ type of series of events, so for example Blackberry had me visiting many of the countries of Latin America in a series of ‘Blackberry Connects with the Experts’ events. This is me speaking for Blackberry in Buenos Aires in Argentina
Other times its a client who does semi-regular events but has me coming with them to always new countries and areas to meet their clients, like Nokia Networks did with me at events literally on all six continents. Of all my pictures with Nokia, I like this picture from Egypt because it shows a little bit more of the background too, that you can see we are not just at a NokiaSiemens event but in the digital tech park in Cairo, visible in the background.
And then there are joint events and Ericsson, Swedes truly are the masters of collaboration, do these kinds of things, like this one with Telkomsel of Indonesia in Jakarta, where they flew me in to do the keynote part of the day. Ericsson has also flown me to visit much of the world.
And I do work a lot with the telcos. So its sometimes a local Telco like CNT of Ecuador. And again, this is typical of how I work. After I did my keynote at that event, I am sitting at the CNT stand, chatting with CNT customers and partners. I love my work!
And at other times its a regional operator like Tigo. Here I am in Honduras helping Tigo Media spread the story of the new opportunities in mobile media, advertising and payments. Gosh I love my job!
Its not only mobile operators, we also do work with regulators. I am here visiting with the Colombian regulator in Bogota.
And companies utterly outside of mobile or tech, but having an interest in our business. Here Tony Fish and I are doing a series of events in Britain about using mobile for the job search and recruitment industry, a series of events that was arranged by JobSite in the UK.
But it is telcos who use me. Lets do another country. How about South Africa. This is Vodacom and an old picture of me, back when I had only released my first book so this is year 2002 in Johannesburg.
So what about the competition? Yeah, sure, MTN has also used me in Johannesburg. This is a picture of me outside their offices.
And then the industry in South Africa? I do not count Huawei as an official reference customer (obviously they might be a private client, I won’t comment on that) but in a kind of way, they have ‘sponsored’ me so to speak. They sponsored the MoMo event that flew me to Capetown to do the year-ending party for Mobile Monday. And gosh, I get to hug the three gorgeous Huawei-girls? I have the best job in the world!
Now most of the time what the events arrange are ‘pretty normal’ but sometimes there is something truly extraordinary. So Google had this cool mock-up for doing group pictures to play with the Google search home page. They had the blocks, and separate letters in the Google standard font and colors, that you could come with your team, each hold one of the letters, and have a custom Google search page mock-up you could use as your screen saver, etc. Lovely idea and one that only works if you’re haha Google. But me being the clown that I am, I had an idea, asked for a private picture and didn’t spell Google, I spelled... 007. So yeah, this was part of another 'rock tour' type of series of Google customer events we did all over Asia and this was in Taipei Taiwan.
And you guys know, I’m the formal guy who is always in a suit and tie, with my silly hats. So you never see me in T-shirts or blue jeans, not even if you spotted me at an airport lounge. But there have been a few cases where we have special attire for me. Lets start off with the Supreman outfit. Vodafone is the global operator who has used me at more of their global footprint offices for work, than any other telco. I’ve literally been seen at their HQ in Newbury England, to the exact opposite side of the world - Vodafone New Zealand. If you go any further flying out from England, past New Zealand, you’re starting to come back towards England again. Its literally to the opposite side of the plane. And yes, I cheated, I already showed you Vodacom who is/was part of the family. But this is a cool picture for the Vodafone superman costume. Its a cut-out at the Vodafone Turkey office where you can put your head through that hole and take that picture. Here’s my thanks to all of my many many Vodafriends in the vast Vodafamily. Vodafone had me highlight their first-ever mobile advertising event they held in the UK, at he Formula 1 McLaren Center, where we got to see all the iconic F1 cars including cars driven by Keke Rosberg, Mika Hakkinen and Kimi Raikkonen, the three Finnish F1 World Champions. I love my clients but some of them have loved me back even more than others, and gosh, Vodafone, you make me feel like Superman. I love you guys!
But again, my clients are not just the big giants. This is a gift from a small messaging provider company called SMSall out of Pakistan. A local traditional outfit that the Pakistani messaging company gave me as a gift. I was really touched. And yeah, in another world, this could be the way I travel the world, eh? Very stylish.
Talking about stylish? How about AWA the digital agency in Ecuador? They had gorgeous Andrea Serrano hosting a giant event where they gave the guest speakers a genuine Panama hat and yes, I got to hug Andrea... :-) I have the best job in the world!
Then there was Siemens, who gave me a lot of work out of their telecoms unit, before they decided to merge with Nokia telecoms, so two of my best clients became one best client. But one of the most memorable Siemens events we did, was in Oman, where we visited a private castle, saw a world champion bellydancer give a private performance and we did a short tour of the desert dressed as.. yes, beduins. Ah, what a life!
And then there is this handshake. The image is pretty darned red for a Tomi-always-in-a-suit picture, but yes. Ferrari jacket? In front a Ferrari poster? The picture of the nose of the F1 car shows in small print just about the name of which client this is about. If you know the man you know this is Jevgeni Kaspersky the CEO of Kaspersky Labs the anti virus software people out of Russia. This picture is taken in Shanghai when Kaspersky brought me as their guest to the F1 race and I had the full Ferrari hospitality treatment. I will never ever ever forget that weekend and I have a separate picture essay of that time of course on the blog. But yes, I have the best job in the world.
Not to be outdone, we have to also do this picture. There is no NTT DoCoMo in this picture but those who were in the early mobile internet industry all know this man as Mr NTT DoCoMo for outside of Japan, Voytek Siewierski, who signed most of the Western giant media brands starting right with Disney, onto NTT DoCoMo’s iMode service in Japan. Voytek ran NTT DoCoMo’s European operations a decade ago and he brought me to a private tour of the Renault F1 factory (where I saw 3D printing for the first time and was utterly amazed). They were a major sponsor of the Renault team as Fernando Alonso went onto win his first F1 Championship. Thank you NTT DoCoMo not just for your wonderful consulting business but for this incredible memory.
Lets do one more peculiar outfit. A hat? Where is my trademark hat? You’ll notice its a Telenor logo on that hat. Telenor as a group has used me almost as much as Vodafone but Telenor has a very special place in my heart. I left Nokia to start my own consultancy on October 1, 2001, to focus on the ‘3G’ mobile data opportunity. That was the day when the world’s first 3G network went live in Tokyo. One week later the Economist would publish a story calling the 3G mobile internet the largest gamble in the history of business enterprise and pointed out to many esteemed analysts who thought the industry might collapse and be ruined. So I was quite anxious about my prospects. Was I making the biggest mistake of my life? So on the second week of my new life, in London, I was chairing a mobile forecasting conference about 3G, and one of the speakers introduced himself saying “It’s such an honor to present at this conference which is chaired by Tomi Ahonen who has helped build our 3G strategy at Telenor.” Of course we knew each other but I had absolutely no idea he would say that. I had thought it would take me years to build a modest reputation 'schlepping around' the world trying to hussle up clients, and to try to build a reference customer portfolio that would show some respect. And instead, a nice man from Telenor said when my business was less than two weeks old, that yeah, we use Tomi Ahonen as our consultant! Now. What he meant, of course, was that they had used Nokia 3G Business Consulting to help them build their 3G business case (and not my new company that had just started), but who was I to interrupt a speaker doing his intro? Telenor became my first reference customer less than two weeks after I started my Consultancy and literally many months before they actually BOUGHT their first consulting services from me, haha. The picture? Is with Telenor affiliate in Bangladesh, Gremeenphone. Yes, I love all my customers but Telenor, you are something special! Tusen takk, tusen takk! Takk for i dag.
I do not have any pictures at all from most of my client visits. I sign NDA agreements and I try not to be intrusive and never take pictures unless told its ok. I do not want to show more than one picure from any client for which I have more than one picture, that would be kind of doubly-unfair to all the others for whom I have no pictures to share. So I just picked one representative picture out of those that I did have for multiple jobs with some client. And most, I have no pictures to share. But this picture essay was a trip down 15 years of memory lane. I truly have lived the life of a prince and have been treated to wonders and mysteries and secrets and plans and ideas that are amazing and have changed the world and will change the world.
A consultant is that only because of his clients. This Thanksgiving as I have passed 15 years of life as a consultant, I wanted to share a bit of the joy with ‘my family’ those who have used my paid consulting services in the past. Thank you! Thank you for the life you have given me. And now I have a surprise for you. This is only for my clients. Sorry, the rest of my blog readers and Twitter followes and book audiences, you have to accept, that the only reason there is still a Tomi Ahonen writing for you, is because those paying clients have sponsored this lifestyle for me. So for my clients only...
FOR THOSE READERS WHO ARE EMPLOYED BY MY CLIENTS
For those of you who are currently employed by any one of my hundreds of clients, I have a gift for all of you. Every single one of you, among my clients. If you have ever seen me at one of your company events, as an internal speaker or workshop host for any internal seminar or event or workshop or session or training - I have a gift for you. Whether you and I actually shook hands or not (many of you will remember, I try to shake everybody’s hand in our internal events, don’t I? And I had a gift for you even then, didn’t I?) I have a gift for you now. A gift that will make you also popular with your colleagues at work, and one that justifies the time you’ve spent with me here on this blog all those years.
If you have seen me present on your company’s behalf at a public event (like many that I described in this blog), so you know your company flew me in to do that event on your company’s behalf, that also counts. I was hired to help you. I don’t mean if you saw me at a public conference or doing a guest lecture at a university. I mean for example the branded events like Ericsson or Google or Nokia or Blackberry or Vodafone or Tigo events, where we do an event sponsored by your employer, to your clients like agencies or developers, etc. So yes, if you have seen me at an event your employer hired me to do, then you also count. This is for you.
EVEN MORE, if you read this blog (or follow me on Twitter) and you CURRENTLY are employed by a company that has once used me, even if you personally never saw me do that famous event when I was at your company HQ, but you’ve seen the video, or you have the slides, or you hear you boss talk about it all the time, then yes, you also count. This is meant for my CLIENTS. Anyone employed at one of my clients counts. A special treat, a gift for Thanksgiving.
Every one of my clients gets a special gift to celebrate 15 years of TomiAhonen Consulting. I have sent that gift to my contacts already. Odds are you, reading this blog today, have not YET received it via internal forwarding. You are entilted to it now. I will send it to you immediately and you can then forward it further and be a hero to your colleagues.
So, if you are employed by a company that has used my consulting services in the past, please contact me. I will send you the gift now directly and you can forward it to your collagues as well. I will need you to contact me either via Twitter or via email to tomi at tomiahonen dot com - and you will need to contact me via your work email address (not gmail or hotmail etc). Don’t worry, I am not harvesting email addresses, gosh, I don’t have time to even follow up on any ‘update’ emails anymore haha. But I will share this gift literally with every client and have started the big email blasts to my mailing lists. Someone in your organization has received this gift already this week. But they might not know to send it to you... If you read this blog, and work for any company that has ever hired my work, you are entitled to that gift as well. So send me an email or send me a Tweet, and we will take it from there.
And to all my regular readers on this blog, don’t feel jealous. You should be thanking those paying customers for keeping me in business, they are the reason why this blog has survived 12 years and still has no advertising to annoy you, and we do no registration and I keep company with you here in the comments from time to time. I do plenty of nice free gifts for all my readers and fans, on this blog, on Twitter and at the public confences, but my clients, my paying customers. They get treated extra special, of course. So with that, let me end with one picture that I just love, as a picture capturing me and a moment. Its not from a customer event, but it could have been. I love that it is a MoMo event, that it has me in silhouette only, like a consultant should be, never in the bright lights. And the photograph captures my ending slide that said ‘Smile its Mobile Monday’. The guy in that hat. I have the best job in the world:
This is me in Capetown at the year-ending MoMo event a couple of years ago. Tomi, a glass of wine, talking about mobile, to a passionate MoMo crowd. A gorgeous profile picture by MoMoSouthAfrica. Thank you for the picture. Thank you to all my clients for a fabulous 15 years. If ever you needed another session from me, I will always be there for you. I love my life!