Managing Licensing Programs in Multiple Markets | Timo Olkkola, Flowhaven
The Brand Licensing Podcast
May 28, 2021
Today, we’re welcoming Timo Olkkola to the podcast! As CCO and Co-founder of Flowhaven, Timo will be sharing his insights on international licensing and how our listeners can manage licensing programs in multiple markets.
About Our Guest
Timo Olkkola is CCO and Co-founder of Flowhaven. Built on Salesforce, the world’s #1 CRM—Flowhaven, is helping companies around the globe gain control over their licensing operations. Our intuitive software is the only licensing relationship management platform to cover all aspects of licensing management from nurturing to scaling with the help of data.
Timo has extensive knowledge of the licensing industry and the market forces that drive revenue for organizations of all sizes. He firmly believes that empowering companies to organize their operations and communicate more effectively is the best way to move the licensing industry forward.
Passionate about media and entertainment, Timo understands how well-executed licensing programs build bridges between brands and fans—Harry Potter and Star Wars are two prime examples.
Emily Randles: Hi, Timo. Welcome to The Brand Licensing Podcast.
Timo Olkkola: Thank you so much. Great to be here.
ER: Today we’re speaking with Timo Olkkola, CCO and Co-founder of Flowhaven. He’s passionate about improving items and efficiencies through software. Now more than ever, technology is changing how we work and shop and interact with one another. Today’s conversation is going to be relevant in terms of licensing, and we want to talk with him about how licensing works in a global market and how licensees and licensors can work together to create licensed products that are sold all over the world, and what role technology plays in that collaboration. Before we get started, can you give us a rundown on your resume?
TO: Yeah, definitely. Thank you so much. I grew up in Helsinki, Finland in a small suburban area in north Helsinki. I learned English from playing video games. I fell in love with the entertainment industry then when I grew up, I went to join a heavy metal band. It was a small but pretty terrible career as a heavy metal singer when I was 15 to 18 years old. I realized that, well, okay, this is my passion area, but, you know, I need to make some money in my life. I went to university and found my passion in sales. I did B2B and B2C sales, and I also did retail work with multiple different brands to see how they operate on the retail side. Today, I’m traveling between our Flowhaven office as much as possible to meet our lovely colleagues but also great customers around the world. There’s still a huge passion for me regarding entertainment. So I consume everything basically from anime, manga, film, TV, and video games. I spend too much time on that, but it’s a passion that helps licensing professionals.
ER: It’s really interesting that your background and your passion came up learning through retail because retail is just a key piece of the licensing business. And then also interestingly, I feel like gaming is just becoming huge.
TO: Yeah. And games have that fantastic way where the immersion time is pretty long. If you look at movies, movies are two hours, maybe three hours long, but games can be hundreds of hours long. Even now with Battle Royale type of games, thousands of hours can be spent by one fan. We kind of win that universe and that just opens fantastic possibilities for licensing opportunities. We still haven’t achieved maturity on that market. So it will be very interesting also to see where it’s going to go regarding licensing products in gaming, especially the next 5 to 10 to 20 years.
ER: I hadn’t thought of it from a time perspective in terms of how much you’re spending in front of something, but you’re right. What a difference between the time you spend in a movie and the time you spend playing a game, and the impact that might have.
TO: Yeah, exactly. That’s one of the reasons, he may have been so popular recently also in the Western world is that you might have 500 episodes in some series that it just takes you to a whole different journey. And most often, you know, there is time to explore with the character’s backgrounds, of course, a lot of feelers, but usually, fillers work to exactly tell different angles of that character in different angles of how they developed as a character.
ER: No, that makes a lot of sense. Well, jumping into kind of how you guys work, how does Flowhaven collaborate in multiple markets?
TO: Fantastic question. We have offices around the world nowadays, of course, when we started the company five years ago, it was just, you know, we started in Finland. It was just, you know, taking the flights, going to Vegas for Licensing Expo, just trying to knock on every door like, “Hey, do you want to buy stuff” or “what do you value in software?”. Today’s much easier. We have an office in LA, London, and of course, Helsinki. We’re working in Japan, Hong Kong, and Korean markets, along with South America.
ER: Has being in different markets made it easier or harder to transition to the virtual landscape and cope with the effects of COVID and the shutdowns and travel restrictions?
TO: So it has forced change. It depends on how the licensing team, what is their dynamic? How do they work together? How are they used to working? And together, some licensing teams do much more creative work than some others. This is the same, whether you are a licensing agent or a licensor. So it’s hard to say, is it easier or harder? But it has forced companies to work virtually because it’s impossible to otherwise keep the communication going.
ER: And I can imagine in the gaming entertainment space that things got even busier in terms of keeping things going. But then from an entertainment perspective, I think they paused a lot of movies and launches because people weren’t going to the theaters. But with that, I guess you also saw the uptick in Netflix and your Amazon and those types of movies and entertainment. So did you guys feel that with the clients that you work with?
TO: We were very lucky. Some areas of the industry were more affected negatively by the COVID industry, but the best case is what we solve, even though like some of our customers, industries were affected negatively, actually they were able to still find those loyal fans that were buying. And they were more focusing on collectibles and limited edition products and stuff like this that still had a huge fan base. It was more about just finding the right channels and the right product categories that created the interest.
ER: That is interesting. And I think even with our business, just kind of across licensing, in general, are that some licensing maybe even helped a lot of industries that were feeling the impact from their core business, but they had licensed items and properties that to your point, loyal consumers can go and find. And so just having that royalty revenue and generation and not having a pause when maybe their core business was taking a beat was important.
TO: Yeah, exactly. And also like the level of operational capability in licensing was extremely critical and that’s what we saw, not just our customers, but all around the industry is that how long it took to survive from the shock of, you know, what’s happening right now. And I think that’s where we also saw based on the financial results from 2021 and 2020, that who has been able to really survive the shock.
ER: Yeah. And I think that just highlights the importance of utilizing technology and people that had the technology and the processes in place when you did have to go virtual right. To your point, maybe it wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t a shift. And so I can imagine that helps people either adapt and improve their processes from a digital perspective.
TO: Yeah, exactly. That is why licensing is so great of the industry that if you don’t have time to do the creative things, it’s very hard to do the job, right. When we started the company back in the day, we saw that licensing daily work became these manual tasks that nobody anymore enjoyed, just because they were just repeated it. And they didn’t, you know, people who come to liaising or kind of find themselves in dialyzing industry. At some point, they are passionate experts in the industry. So that was for us, was like a most important thing that these professionals should find and use their time to make in the creative deals, finding those best partnerships. Because like we have a saying at the office that licensing is kind of only win-win-win-win business model in the world where if a brand owner finds a great vice as C with the help of a great agent, for example, and, you know, the licensee finds a great sales channel also for the product. The fans were thinking and both with the wallet. So actually everybody wins in the lions or the brand owner wins, the agent wins, the licensee wins and the fans win. Then the retailer wins. So it’s one of those only models where that’s possible, but it needs that creative time. And that’s sometimes has been harder to define, especially people working at home. And how do you find time to brainstorm to be creative? And that’s what we’re trying to support our customers all the time.
ER: Yeah. That resonates with me. I mean, when I started in licensing, I started in product development 15 years ago and I was printing everything that was emailed to me. Then I was comparing the hard copy to hard copy and I had binders and approval forms and I would mail them to the licensor for their review and approval. It’s a very manual process. And then even the contracts were the same way, right. So I think implementing a technology solution because it was possible, right. You guys did it. And so I think just leveling up and making licensing as an industry more efficient was changed the game.
TO: Yeah, exactly. Professionals have the best tool in their hands and the best kind of visibility on understanding the consumers. Because right now, the only way allowing professional, if you’d understand their fans is either do a survey either by a somebody, a pack of like the market study of what’s going on, how our consumers behave, but it doesn’t tell you what products your fans are buying. What do they love? What do they care about? And that’s when kind of obvious thinking is like, follow the money, follow what are the top 10 SKUs that are being sold last two years? And then you could break it down, like, all right, I want to see out of those skews, you know, how do they separate between the brands? If we have the main IP, then those have stopped IPS, whatever it may be, your brand structure, you want to understand that, are you seeing certain trends? Are you seeing that you’ve fast left something more than the other and are there differences between the territories also, and that serves not only the brand owner but also the licensees because when the brand owner understands their brand well and understand what it works and it’s based on data, then finding the best partnership and best licensee, then everybody leaves? We have seen this with some fans, instantly buy everything out of stock, right? So sometimes you find these cases where it’s like, amazing. How did they realize to do this? And those are the moments me as a kind of lighting industry and go like, yes, that was a great partnership. Just that he was able to kind of actually do the, find the right kind of a feeling and emotion to attach to.
ER: Yep. No, that makes a lot of sense. One question I have in terms of a global market and technology is just a currency conversion. So to your point of following the money, how does currency conversion work when reporting royalties within the software and can licensees pay in a certain currency through the software to their license? Or how does that work?
TO: Yeah, so definitely so system-wise, but for us, we have multicurrency support. So our biggest companies are fortune 100 companies. So they are pretty massive. We’re talking about revenue nearly that manages the royalty goes through our software. So there can be, yeah, so it can be a lot of different currencies involved. And from just what really, it’s not a problem because it’s just converged those based on what is the value, but where it comes to more of issues, the agreed what you have as a currency on the agreement, these, the licensee respecting that currency and sending those reports with that currency. And also sometimes that we have had to do little tweaks here and there to manage the system-wise. And that’s not scalable also because of course, you’re always looking at all right. We made, let’s say that we made a deal with British pounds and now our partners sending us royalty reports that state dollars, for example, it’s more of difficulty too, how do you then look at because there are so many things involved that, you know, that might be commissioned there, recruitments and all that. And it gets even funnier when let’s say we have a three-year deal that the first year, you know, they send it with a certain courtesy, and the second installment, it comes with a different currency. So sometimes there’s some work to do, and we’re trying to help financial users as much as possible. We just need a reason study with our user base. And actually, I was very surprised about this. So we have different types of users inside flow I have is just, some are more agreement kind of looking from the sales side. And then some people are more actually working only with approvals and then some royalty managers there’s only of course with the financial stuff. And what we noticed is that the financial users are somewhat the happiest. You could assume. So Flowhaven, which was extremely surprising for me because my theory was always more on the sales and kind of approval side as a hypothesis. But was surprised to see that, especially on these currency issues, they can take a lot of time from your daily work as a finance manager.
ER: One other thing I can imagine that software and technology help with is just language and working in multiple languages. How does that work within the platform in terms of packaging submissions, and also then just logging in and working with people all over the world, you know, are they logging in and seeing, enable to review stuff in their main language? Or how does, how does that work for, for your users?
TO: Yeah, definitely. We have multi-language support. So tens of languages let’s put it like that we have in the system and everything from Cantonese, Mandarin, Japanese, Korean, Russian, Spanish, Portuguese. So if I’m a user logging in as a licensee to my brand owner’s system, I can decide what do I choose? And in full having our print orders can decide what languages can be sub what language is kind of useless and soft meat through the platform. So that’s, it gives more control. And this was something that I said that we did almost a mistake. We used to do it so that we thought about giving the partner users full control over the language that they chose. But we did feel test that. We realized that, yeah, necessarily you don’t want to have your approval comments back in Japanese if you only speak English. Right. And so that’s sometimes harder than can I approve this. And you can also just fully trust Google translate because you are approving a product. It is extremely important that it’s secure and it just fails.
ER: So is a translator looking at packaging and submissions, is that how people are handling it? Or does the software have a different translate function?
TO: We don’t have a translate function per se, but we have more language support. So if let’s say a Japanese licensee wants to submit a submission to an English brand owner, for example, the speeding a brand owner, they can do that, but that’s the end, the decision of the brand owners. They want to allow that. And then I’m sure you can also easily translate it quickly utilizing Google translate, but do you trust that then that’s your choice trust, but verify, right?
ER: Right. I mean, gosh, before Google translate and before, you know, implementing these efficiencies and the technology, it was much more manual and not efficient at all. So I think changing the game in terms of global capabilities and licensing.
TO: Yeah, exactly. It’s more and more important than even communication, what it comes to approval. So just understanding that you know, if I get a comment on approval, I want to know that instantly also what we see more and more is that when our customers, when they release new style of guard flow, it instantly informs all the relevant partners that have a right to that actual style guide in their agreement, that they are aware that there’s instantly usable and all of these things that you don’t have to do any more manually, you know, let people know, call them or give them an email that, Hey, we have a new start, I’ve got half a dollar. And we also track the, do they download that? You know, are your partners cold intercepting those images for you? And it keeps your reminder. So that, because back in the day, there used to be situations before these types of systems that you might be using a new email. And then you realized after launching a style guide three months later that, oh, actually we didn’t receive any submissions from a certain territory. And then when you talk to the partner, they’re like, what style guide? What are you talking about? Oh, there’s a new style guide. So it just the last three months of friend awareness, And to be honest, there are a lot of people in the world, not just utilizing an industry that just doesn’t have time to read all of their emails. And email with email is extremely hard because you don’t know what to prioritize. Right. So if I get 300 emails a day, it’s hard for me to say which ones are the most important for me today to handle. And most of them, what we also see, especially when it comes to approvals, it’s not the most important approval you need to handle today. That is the oldest. It’s the most important approval to handle that has a timeline. So those are the kind of interesting discussions also that we kind of change the whole mindset of an approved person that, well, I’m not just working on the oldest to the newest approval. I’m working today on the most important approval. And this is something we give as information to all the approval users flow.
ER: What role do face-to-face meetings have in working on licensing deals even when technology software is in place?
TO: Yeah. This is a really important question. And back in the day, like, and one of our vision in the company still exists from before. When we even started the company, we had a vision that we are never here to replace any laws and professionals. That’s what we want to do. We want to increase the amount of advising professionals in the world and increase the industry size and, and create more meaningful products for the fans and health professionals to create those cooler products for the fans and what, you know, you always need face to face meetings in my European, especially for the creative work, because like we deal calls and zoom calls. They’re great, but it’s sometimes, you know, you are forming a relationship and a long-term partnership with the company. So I think it is extremely vital that we have a face-to-face meeting during, or even after this COVID time. So definitely like technology’s not there to replace that. What technology think gives you is then the data to back up that, what kind of relationships should you be looking for? What is the best kind of deal that you should be looking for? And this is interesting where sometimes you might have a gut feeling of a situation where you look at the data. And that is a very challenging situation that I have had to face myself.
ER: That’s interesting. And as we are shifting here in the US we are talking with partners about face-to-face meetings, and honestly, we’re getting pushback saying that we’re just going to do virtual and I’m with you. I think that there’s still a really important role because of the relationship piece. And we form our partnerships and our licensing deals around relationships, right? Like looking for long-term partners for our clients and the licensees. So I think it’ll be interesting to kind of see how people transition back to face-to-face meetings. I also thought it was interesting that the licensing show opted to go virtual again this year in place of the in-person events. Yeah. I would like, to me, I’m like, I understand that decision on our respect, that just for me, there’s the other side wants to go so much back to realizing expo, whether it’s through, I can do or to the actual show floor and meet, meet people.
TO: I haven’t seen our customers and my good industry friends, you know, in a couple of years, that’s, you know, that’s hard, it’s hard because the magic of the industry, it just doesn’t come through in virtual expo, even though that would be well organized. There is always that age, your age, all of me going like walking on a show floor of you know, Hong Kong expo or big our expo. And, and that, you know, I feel like an eight-year-old again, I’m like, oh my God, we’ve got these products. Oh, this is so cool. All digital partners are with them, you know? And that’s so yeah, just online, doesn’t give you that.
ER: I think you make a great point in terms of marrying relationships and your gut feelings with data. And I think that that’s a really interesting approach and it’s really important to have those data points when thinking about partnerships.
According to The Licensing Letter, 63% of licensed product sales come from the North American market. Why do you think that is? Are other markets just not responding or does the US truly have a larger market for licensed products?
TO: This is a fantastic question. It’s all about creating stories and telling those stories through the products. And I think that North America, what they did the best in us, they well were that, you know, as a continent and as the whole licensing industry, they were able to make that storytelling mode happened. And I think that’s extremely important. What I see, if you look at the kind of history of licensing, there have been fantastic stories already, or, you know, centuries in Europe, Japan, China, Brazil, but they were limited to few brands home. So there was a kind of, you know, one brand here, one brand, there may be a couple of brands, but they weren’t able to create the whole movie for the whole country or the whole industry. And I think that’s what happened in North America. And they were so successful in it all in on creating these awesome stories.
ER: What is the next evolution of technology for licensing deals? So what should companies be thinking about and looking for the next 12 to 24 months and even more into the future?
TO: Yeah, I would say that there’s going to be a post-COVID shock. Going back to the office is going to require some changes to the companies and how they operate. This is not only to the splicing teams themselves but also the partners. We have survived as an industry this unique time, and it’s really important that we keep our lives and relationships good. We are forgiving to our partners. We work together as an industry to make it even bigger. And I think that’s going to be extremely important, and then technology will serve that there are many forms. It comes down to us as people and professionals to keep those partners happy. And also our colleagues happy. And that’s what I hope now with returning that we remember to smile and be supportive to each other and also celebrate brand partnerships within the industry, whether they are our creations or whether they are our competitive brand’s creation. I think that’s the whole point to come together as an industry.
ER: That’s a great insight. And it’s about the relationships at the end of the day and making those work and then everything else comes together through technology and great products and great thinking and creativity. But if the relationships aren’t there, all those other things are just really challenging, I think.
TO: Yeah, exactly. We have to regain trust again as an industry.
ER: If people want to find you online or connect with you outside of the podcast, what’s the best way to do that?
TO: Well, I’m very active on LinkedIn, so you can always find me on LinkedIn. Also, our website, flowhaven.com. You can find us there but definitely, LinkedIn is the number one place to find me.
ER: Thank you so much for your time today. I think you’ve brought a lot of great insights in terms of licensing and how companies and brands and licensees should be thinking about global licensing and technology and just partnerships as a whole.
TO: Great. Lovely to talk with you. Thank you for letting me be here.