Thundersoft, a company out of China, acquired Finnish startup Rightware at the beginning of the year. Rightware continues as an independent company, but now with an edge in Asia.
Established in 2009, it took less than a decade for Rightware to evolve from a startup of engineers to a growth company supported by investors to an international subsidiary. The company’s products are used in the digital instrument clusters and user interfaces of more than 20 automotive brands and in the planning and realisation of infotainment systems.
Rightware’s flagship product, Kanzi software, however, has received surprisingly little public attention prior to the Thundersoft deal – due primarily to fierce competition in the automotive industry. Fortunately, Audi AG, part of the Volkswagen Group, sees otherwise. The car manufacturer, with its focus on electric vehicles and digital services, has been a vital factor in Kanzi’s growing popularity.
“Until 2013, Rightware’s focus was on consumer electronics. We realised back then that we couldn’t create a sustainable business from it. Based on Audi’s vision, we started developing automotive industry software with an all-or-nothing attitude,” says Rightware’s CEO Jonas Geust.
The success of Kanzi has developed Rightware’s market share in digital instrumentation beyond its 30 percent target in just a few years. The Chinese-sounding name is pure coincidence, but it certainly isn’t a bad thing in the Asian markets, where Europe’s technological lead is chased after hard with digital solutions.
“Technology-wise, we are up to speed because our products help engineers create graphical user interfaces for the automotive industry. We still have to find the right marketing message to communicate about ourselves and our portfolio,” Geust notes.
He doesn’t perceive the acquisition as a negative, especially since Rightware continues its operations as an independent subsidiary. The management, the brand and the products will remain the same. Under Thundersoft, budding confidence will enable faster recruiting. However, Rightware doesn’t intend to swell into a big project house.
“Broad independence is not an intrinsic value of business, but in this case, I believe it will work well. On a strategic level, we can offer technological expertise, architecture and product modularity. Thundersoft, in turn, has sufficient resources and the ability to implement the shared concept,” he says.
Common tune right from the start
Geust praises the genuine interest and humbleness that the Chinese owners have shown towards the subsidiary. The geographical distance hasn’t been an obstacle to a common way of thinking, a fact that became apparent already during the initial discussions.
“There were other alternatives on the table for the collaborative engagement. Ultimately, the different size classes of the companies favoured Rightware being transitioned to an industrial subsidiary,” reveals Geust.
Gratitude goes to Tekes and Rightware’s investors – Tesi, Inventure Fund, and Nexit Ventures, who have believed in the company’s potential from the start They have also taken part in guiding the company’s direction through active participation on the board.
“There’s no denying that the investors’ biggest contribution is the financial support. In the automotive industry where time-to-money happens slowly, you also have to find trust,” says Geust.
Autonomous cars and sensors
Digitalisation is emerging in vehicles and road infrastructure. Rightware’s CEO Jonas Geust believes that networked autonomous cars eventually will be part of the digital identity of people, just like smart phones are today.
“We are already strongly linked to the digital world. I have no doubt that it will follow us also to cars.”
Today’s cars are still far from the reality of autonomous cars communicating with each other. Despite that, they are full of sensors and state-of-the-art technology to assist in parking and traffic jams as well as blind spot monitoring.
“In the future, one challenge will be illustrating to the driver the data collected by various sensors. This increases the importance of the graphical user interface,” assesses Geust.
- Rightware’s CEO since 2013.
- Began his career with Nokia. Prior to joining Rightware he was partner and CEO of Havainne Oy.
- Bachelor of Science, Engineering, Helsinki University of Tecnology.
- Finnish automotive industry software company.
- Established in 2009.
- Turnover EUR 6 million (2016).
- Number of employees about 60.
- Acquired by the Chinese Thunder Software Technology, i.e. Thundersoft, in March 2017. The sellers were Tesi, Inventure, Nexit Ventures, the acting management and founding shareholders.
- Domicile in Ruoholahti, Helsinki.
- The Kanzi brand name was inspired by the namesake chimpanzee famous for its linguistic skills.
The article was first published in Growth 1/2017.