Albums Music

Waltari – Below Zero

23 years of musical career are not easy to achieve. For celebrating such a long way, Finnish metal band Waltari releases their 12th album.


Well, Waltari is one of the few Finnish bands that can really claim they “made it” through the international charts, getting very popular in countries like Germany.
What they offer here is another solid album that keeps fidelity to their particular cross-over style. From the beginning with the homonymous initial track Below Zero you can feel their sound and the always particular voice of Kärtsy Hatakka, always accompanied by electron ornamentation in the songs and catchy riffs like in the third track In the Cradle.


Although the album has some ups and downs, and I honestly do not find any track that moves me as much as Get Stamped from their previous album Release Date, Waltari continues being an exciting band to listen, this kind of group that you either love or hate, but will not leave you indifferent.

Rating 3/5

Albums Music

Chisu – Vapaa ja Yksin

The follow up album of Chisu is undoubtedly one of the strongest Finnish releases of 2009.


It is not easy to be a solo female singer in Finland, and still original, But Christel Sundberg, aka Chisu, manages to do it! From the beginning of the album, with that slight Arabic influence that shows in Lähtö, you have the feeling that this is not the typical depressive pop album that so often you can find in the Finnish market.

Chisu vocal registers are broad, so the same can evolve you in a sad atmosphere that put everybody to move in the dance floor with Baden-Baden, the single that has been overly played all the summer in the Finnish radio stations and pubs.


Chisu is that kind of singer that you love or hate, but at least does not leave anybody indifferent. In the scarcely 35 minutes that the album last you will find songs with attitude and originality that bring some fresh breeze to the pop genre in Finland.

Rating 4/5

Cinema DVD

The Informers

Based on the book by the always acid and polemic Bret Easton Ellis, here comes a dissection of the elite’s way of life in Los Angeles.

The Informers

For being a movie that counts with such an impressive cast, with names like Kim Basinger, Rhys Ifans, Billy Bob Thornton or the “resurrected” Winona Ryder and Mickey Rourke, you could expect much more than what you find.

I catch the idea of what the movie wants to transmit, but I think it fails in achieving it. Apart from some great moments of Mel Raido as the invented rock star Brian Metro and losing my breathe contemplating the almost perfect beauty of the body of Amber Heard, the movie just left me as cold as the heart of most of the characters portrayed there.

DVD cover

Yes, in Hollywood there are excesses, rock, drugs, sex…so what? The story does not tell anything new, neither adds a new angle to the old stereotype. With such a cast, it turned to be a waste of resources…

Rating 2/5

The best: Honestly, that Amber Heard walks around most of the time naked or semi-naked.

The worst: You do not feel identified for good or bad reasons with the characters. It just does not produce reactions, served cold and eaten cold by the spectator.

The detail: Bret Easton Ellis also collaborated doing the screenplay of the film.

The Informers Trailer

Cinema DVD Music

Star Trek

This is probably the sci-fic movie that everybody was looking forward to it during the current year. Does it keep up with the expectations?

Star Trek

I must confess I am not a Trekkie, probably I am more of a Star Wars fan (I love sword fights), but when I was a child I followed Star Trek with enthusiasm. It was not an easy task after a break of several years in the saga to make a movie that could be enjoyed by old fans and a new generation of viewers, but I think that J.J. Abrams has done a more than decent work to balance it.

There is action, a lot of it, and maybe not the typical philosophical and technical background that usually gets linked to the saga, but at the same time, the roots are still there. Chris Pine is excellent as the young and rebel captain Kirk, but the show is still stolen Zachary Quinto as Spock. Quinto shows once more, that same than his role in Heroes, he masters the roles of duality like nobody else. His intensity is the engine of the movie. Added to this, the special appearance of Leonard Nimoy is just what was needed to embrace the old and new Start Trek, not mentioning that Eric Bana is a plausible bad guy.

DVD cover

It is true there are some holes in the plot, but in the end what you are getting is a product very entertaining, without losing the own identity that Star Trek has carried for decades. A good one!

Rating 4/5

The best: Zachary Quinto almost choking Kirk. Who would guess they would become best friends?

The worst: some holes in the plot. What a coincidence that “old Spock” is in the same planet, at the same place where Kirk is sent as punishment…

The detail: It is the first movie of the saga where the real name of Uhura is mentioned (Nyota)

Star Trek – The Future Begins Trailer

Cinema DVD


There are celebrities loved or hated, but that they will leave nobody indifferent. Tyson fell from the top of glory to the grade of villain, but certainly, makes a hell of a character for a documentary!


If there is a word that you could use for this movie is “empathy”. Obviously, you are not going to like Mike Tyson, but maybe after watching this documentary, you would not dislike him so much. Most of the things he did was wrong, but also, after watching the beginning and his explanation about his youth, you have the feeling that you understand better what could cross the mind of this boxing ex-champion.

Director James Toback accomplishes an interesting documentary that, although probably will hook more to the followers of sports and boxing, is still open for all kind of audiences. The mixed footage of interviews and moments in the life of Tyson is well cut, but sometimes, you have the feeling that the documentary was made in a kind of a “rush”, with not enough time to have squeeze the best that Tyson would have to say or offer. Nevertheless, it is admirable how all kind of topics are touched with no limits.

DVD cover

Maybe if you did not follow Tyson career or appearances in the press, you will not care to watch this one. But for all many others that saw the peak and falls of one of the biggest boxing champions of the last decades, this film will make the trick!

Rating 3/5

The best: The footage of young Tyson and his relation with his coach, Cus DÁmato

The worst: The interviews seem to have been made in a rush, trying to get as much as possible in a short period of time.

The detail: Tyson also appears on the big screen in the recent comedy success The Hangover.

Tyson Trailer

Cinema DVD

I love you, man

Making good friends is not an easy task. If not, ask Paul Rudd, who is stuck between the love for his fiancée and the love for…Rush!.

Megan Fox

Paul Rudd is becoming one of my favorite comedy actors. Ok, maybe he does not suit the role of tough womanizers, but for the one here in I love you, man, he suits like a glove as the perfect son in law that any mother would invite for dinner.

I love you, man is a funny comedy, so accomplishes the expectations, but under the jokes, there is underneath quite serious issues for the generation of 30 something years old who has to choose between commitment and losing contact with friends…or having eternal hangovers with the mates and enjoying rock concerts. I am sure that more than one of you is going or has gone through that period of life. But actually, although Rudd makes a great work, is Jason Segel who steals the show here. He is just perfect in his incarnation of this eternal enjoyer of life, womanizer alpha male who can also be loyal to his best friends and is always up for a couple of beers and a good talk about rock, sex or business.

I love you man

Resuming, a good work by director John Hamburg, with a comedy that overpass the average quality of what you may see during these months on DVD.

Rating 4/5

The best: The guys jamming Rush!

The worst: Getting married without getting oral sex? No way! And Jon Favreau should have got a well deserved punishment for being such an asshole during the whole movie…

The detail: The drum set that you can see when they guys are jamming is a replica of one used by Keith Moon, the infamous drummer of The Who.

I love you, man Trailer

Cinema Interviews

Interview with Jorge Blanco, director of the movie Planet 51

A lot has been written about the new pearl of Spanish cinema industry: Planet 51. The Spanish movie that counts with the biggest budget so far arrives to the big screen developed by Ilion Studios, a company owned and directed by the same talented people who created years ago the videogame saga Commandos, one of most successful ones around the world.

FREE! Magazine had the chance to shoot questions in an exclusive interview with director Jorge Blanco, who tells us about his beginnings in the videogame industry, the challenge and satisfaction of putting together a project like Planet 51 and the interesting future plans for a Studio that is trying to compete from Europe and give more than one headache to the huge American ones such as Pixar or Dreamworks.

Thanks a lot for your time Jorge! One of the first sentences that you can read in the media about Planet 51 is “The Spanish movie with biggest budget in the history”. For you, as main responsible of a film that will be released in 170 different countries, is this an extra motivation, or a reason to feel more nervous about the results that will be obtained?

It is always a great motivation to work on something that will be watched by so many people. The good thing about such a big budget is that you can really work with the necessary tools and resources to achieve the average quality of a great animation production.


I know that you worked previously with Pyro developing the videogame saga Commandos, but for the people who have not Heard about you, can you explain a bit more about your background, how did you start in the videogame industry and how happened the jump to making movies?

I was 20 when my brother, Alberto Blanco, introduced me to the videogames world. He had worked already as a programmer for games for Spectrum, so at home I have always been surrounded by that kind of digital creative environment. I worked together with him in a small company making graphics for small videogame projects. It was the time when CD technology was getting born and all related to multimedia. 3d animation was also starting to take off and I learnt a lot working on those little projects.

Later on, I was involved in the creation of Pyro Studios, the company behind Commandos. There in Pyro I met Javier Abad and Marcos Martínez, the other co-directors of Planet 51. At that time we were making Commandos 2. After finishing Commandos 2, Ignacio Pérez, president of Pyro, told us about his plans to build up an animation studio and we could not resist to the idea. Videogames were not challenging enough anymore from an artistic point of view. So the 4 of us spent 8 months looking for a good story so we could settle the foundations of the animation studio.

You have worked so far creating the most successful Spanish videogame around the world, and now with the most ambitious Spanish movie ever made. So we could say that for you it is natural thinking big, isn´t it?

Well, my professional life has been linked from the beginning to Ignacio Pérez Dolset. These huge projects were foreseen by Ignacio, so my merit is just about to take them and try to finish them successfully. For example, with Planet 51, the idea at the beginning was just creating a short movie, but Ignacio pushed us directly to turn it into an international film.

Which is from your point of view the best thing about working on the creation of a movie, compared to the creation of a videogame, and which one is the most difficult thing?

A movie reaches all kind of audiences, opposite to a videogame that counts with a more specific audience. I like that my worked could be enjoyed both by my mother or my 11 years old nephew. As well, the freedom of creativity in Planet is much bigger than in Commandos, where the graphics had to depend also on the game being easy to play.

I have read that you commented in past interviews that making this movie was much more exhausting tan creating any videogame. Have you spent many days working until late at night in the studio?

Well, we had a great load of work in Commandos, but it is not comparable to the work with Ilion-Planet 51. The scope of the project, the time and ambition dedicated to it has been very superior to anything made in Commandos and Commandos 2. All the members of the team has worked really a lot!

“Working with Joe Stillman has been really wonderful!”

How is the experience of working with Javier Abad and Marcos Martínez as co-directors, and being backed up by Pérez Dolset brothers? Did you have the final word in the decisions, or everything had to be agreed with the other responsible people of the Project?

Working with Javier, Marcos and Ignacio was really a big thing in this Project. As I said, I met them in the past while working in Pyro and working all together is really great. We work very well as a team, everyone in our own responsibilities and fields, and this was a key point for Planet 51 shining artistically.
Work was always made as a team, and then I had the final word for trying to move on in artistic decisions that would not be shared by everyone. Ignacio created a real “paradisiacal” atmosphere for what we are used to dealing with in the Spanish industry, where we had all the resources and support needed to complete Planet 51.

Apart from the famous actors from Hollywood that lent their voices to the characters, another strong point is the script by Joe Stillman, creator of Shrek. Were you the ones who contacted him at first, or how did you start this collaboration? Did you not have in mind any Spanish scriptwriter?

We produced at first 3 sequences of the movie. One was that one of the astronaut arriving to the planet and landing the flat with the barbecue in the background. Our American producer showed it to Joe, and he fell in love with the idea of the film. This encouraged him to join our team. I must say that working with Joe has been really wonderful. He has been involved in the project 100% and offered us a continuous help.

Planet 51

There are some directors who like to include in their films some “national winks” (for example, Finnish Renny Harlin always places some Finnish flag or a Finnish beer or something like that in some sequences of his movies). Did you think about doing something similar?

There are some little winks, although they do not make direct reference to Spain. In a sequence you can read the number 112 in a post box, which is the number of my own house. The astronaut´s MP3 has a tea kettle as a logo, and that is the favorite icon of our technical director Gonzalo Rueda, and for example in the fish bowl you can see two plastic corals in Brown and pink colors; that is the logo of a website about aquariums that I founded years ago. Ah well…and we also have in the soundtrack the famous “Macarena” song… hehehe.

And talking about winks to cinema history, there are also many of those to classics like Aliens, Back to the Future, E.T, Star Wars, Wall-E, etc. Is it difficult to make a movie that pays homage to the genre and at the same time has something new to offer? Was there a time that you had to stop and say “ok, no more references to other classic sci-fi movies?

Well, I think that the main concept of Planet 51 is already very fresh in the genre. We are talking about an astronaut turned into an alien! That was something new. About the other references, well, some like for Aliens or Star Wars were almost compulsory to appear!

Is the team in Ilion Studios formed basically by Spanish staff, or is a melting pot of different nationalities? What was the official work language used?

Yes, we are Spanish in around a 70% of the team. The official language used was Spanish as well.

What does a young talented guy need to be part of Ilion team? Do you hunt for people outside, or do you just choose among applications received?

I think the most important thing is that they enjoy and feel passionate about their work, if not, it is impossible to work in this field. We recruit in the both ways you mentioned, but usually most people are selected based on the reels they send to us.

You have also spent the last couple of years working at the same time in another movie. I don´t know if you can tell us something about it. If finally the economical results of Planet 51 would not be the expected ones (although we are sure they will be), would this suppose a problem when facing new projects?

Ilion is a solid Project from an economical point of view, and actually Planet 51 is already achieving satisfactory results. So there is no problem for the development of our second movie.

Where do you see yourself in the next years? Are you still “hungry” for new big projects, no matters how huge they turn to be?

For the moment I still have 3 years of work in this new project, and then time will tell what happens next.

Is there anything you want to add for our readers?

Thanks a lot and greetings!

Antonio's blog Blogs

Estonia is not only about cheap booze, easy women and gambling.

I am reading nowadays The Girl Who Played With Fire, the second book of Millenium trilogy, the worldwide phenomena written by the Swedish (and unfortunately deceased) journalist Stieg Larsson. In this book, there are continuous references to Tallinn, the Estonian capital, as a source for prostitutes and drugs that are transported into Sweden.

A couple of days ago, I took again the ferry from Helsinki to Tallinn. Those ferries are daily crowded by mostly Finnish passengers that make a break of 1 or 2 days to visit Estonia and buy massive amounts of alcoholic drinks, being the prices much cheaper than in Finland. This trend has become so popular that has literally boosted Estonia as one of the European countries at the top ranking of selling alcoholic beverages. But the visit of the Finnish “cousins” is received with mixed feelings by the Estonians. On one hand, obviously it is good for the economy. On the other hand, it reminds me of what happens in Spain year after year with the British tourists: they misbehave badly, cursing, breaking things and puking around the corner; a behavior that they would hardly do in their native country. No wonder that for many Estonians, Finnish tourists have become “persona non grata” here.

Estonian Beer

I also remember 4 years ago the orientation speeches that foreign students received at Tartu University. I was there as exchange student from Tampere University for one semester. A female Finnish student emphasized to a crowded room that men should be careful and use protection in sexual relations, because Estonian girls were well known to be not “very faithful” (yes, she literally said that).
I am not the best example for researching sexual behaviors of females in both countries, but well, after a few years living both in Finland and Estonia, and talking to many male foreigners, I can tell you that most of them could have something to say about the Finnish women as not exactly either an example of chastity or faithful behavior with their partners. Actually, in a recent study, Finnish women were heading the ranking of one night stands around Europe:

I know that these kinds of studies are usually twisted, but yet, you can always try yourself in the Finnish nightlife and see the results… So it seems that it is easier to accuse the neighbor instead of taking a look at what happens in your own borders. It is dangerous if Finnish people start to catalogue these behaviors like a “manifestation of the women´s power to decide how to enjoy their sexuality” or like “morally incorrect” depending on what side of the Baltic Sea they happen. Actually, I can say that, yes, it is true that Estonian girls like dressing more feminine than for example Finnish girls, but at the same time, most of Estonian women I have talked to turned to be witty, friendly and down to Earth. Not really the stereotype of woman that could go trolling for a foreigner with a wallet full of euro (although unfortunately, my wallet is usually pretty empty so I could not even test that in the field).

The point that annoys me is the distorted view that still prevails in Scandinavian countries towards Estonia. For many of their citizens, Estonia is just a country where you can get cheap booze, easy girls and go gambling. I do not deny that you can find those things in Estonia, but there is much more than that.

It would be worth a combined effort by Estonian government and Scandinavian governments to change that stereotypical view of Estonia and promote all the many nice activities that this country has to offer. Meanwhile, Tallinn will continue being named in best-selling books as a cradle for prostitution or a place where to buy cheap vodka, and not a destination to see amazing cultural events like a Metallica concert or the Ice Skating European Championships. And I do not think that is the best kind of marketing that Estonia can have to attract more visitors…

Albums Music

Sister Flo – Au

Sister Flo is one of the most popular Indie bands in Finland. After some years of hiatus, they are back with a new studio album!

Sister Flo Live!

3 years after the release of their latest album, The Healer, Sister Flo is back. Meanwhile, their singer, Samae Koskinen, also had time for a solo album that received excellent critics in the Finnish media.

Actually, I liked Koskinen’s solo project, but I cannot say exactly the same about this new adventure of Sister Flo. Maybe I am not “indie” enough for these sounds, or maybe I enjoy more faster guitar riffs, but I found the record a bit boring. Slow paced, with tracks that are almost fully orchestrated by the instruments with a few voices here and there… It is not a bad album for background music if you are in a cafeteria, or reading a book, but when I listen to an album, I expect the music to be so powerful that absorbs me from the other activities I am doing at that moment and make me remember the choruses, and this is not the case with Au.

Sister Flo - Au album cover

It can find their good legion of followers, probably people dressed in colorful jackets and carrying handbags with designs full of flowers… but not my taste.

Rating 2/5

Albums Music

Swallow the Sun – New Moon

Don’t know if the title has something to do with the Twilight saga, but certainly here you are going to find darker feelings than just those of teenage vampires falling in love…

Finnish doom metal band Swallow the Sun has a privileged position in their national metal scene. Backed up by Spinefarm Records, they introduce us their new album New Moon. But actually, nothing is much new here. The gloomy and vicious atmosphere is present all over the album, and the cutting guitar riffs are leading you to feel depressed in a room just lighted with candlelight. Even slow tempo songs like the “ballad” Sleepless Swans is not something that you would really play to cheer up you future partner in a romantic date.

However, for old fans of the band, and in general for fans of doom and metal genres, this album is well produced, mastered and executed. Mikko Kotamäki’s singing skills are at a high level here, he knows where to push his limits, and the orchestration is pretty awesome during some tracks. But it always happens the same to me when I listen to doom metal, I prefer to listen to just the music without the screams. Consider me an old metal school fan, but I cannot avoid it.

Swallow the Sun - New Moon album cover

Not a bad effort for the Finnish band, if you are into this kind of sounds. But for the lovers of multicolor rock that transmit good vibes, you better skip this one.

Rating 3/5

At the cinema Cinema

Top 10 movies in Finland 2009

Here you can find the top 10 of movies in the Finnish theaters during the last year with the total number of spectators that watched them. Ice Age 3 leads!

Ice Age 3

1. Ice Age 3 (trailer) 01.07.2009 387 000

2. Harry Potter ja puoliverinen prinssi (trailer) 17.7.2009 345 000

3. Rööperi (trailer) 09.01.2009 256 000

4. Up – kohti korkeuksia 09.10.2009 219 000

5. Enkelit ja demonit (trailer) 13.05.2009 197 000

6. Slummien miljonääri (trailer) 13.03.2009 183 000

7. Kunniattomat paskiaiset (trailer) 04.09.2009 181 000

8. Twilight: Uusi kuu (trailer) 20.11.2009 181 000

9. Bolt (trailer) 13.02.2009 161 000

10. Twilight (trailer) 02.01.2009 152 000

Harry Potter

Cinema DVD

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Here comes the second part of Transformers, with more robots and Megan Fox looking sexier (if possible) than ever!

Megan Fox

I must admit that I enjoyed the first Transformers. As a child, I followed the TV series, and it was nice to see the robots in the big screen, although the plot would obviously not be the best possible. But this time, the “Americanization” of Transformers has gone too far. More than watching Transformers, movie seems just a mere product of propaganda for the American army, to show how sophisticated its weaponry is.

True, there is more action here, but the edition and links between scenes is really poor. Even Megatron and Optimus Prime do not enjoy of many minutes on screen, and the added new robots are more detestable than other thing. Not to mention the flaws in geography or history. Honestly, when you spend zillions of dollars in such a movie, is it so difficult to have somebody in the team that can locate Egyptian historical places properly? Michael Bay can be a master portraying war aircrafts, but has really miss this shot by far about creating a minimally movie with some common sense in what the characters go through.

DVD cover

Added to this, I still do not dig Shia LaBeouf. I did not like him in the last Indiana Jones, neither here. Thinking that a whiny guy like this is not only the key of salvation to the human race, but also the object of desire between Megan Fox and Isabel Lucas goes beyong the fantasy of a 15 year old teenager…

And do not worry, because soon we will have a third one with more American ammunition to spread around the world.

Rating 2/5

The best: Optimus Prime taking on several Deserticons in the woods. And Megan Fox riding a motorbike…
The worst: feeling that our intelligence is being insulted with such an horrific second part of the sage.
The detail: Some of the action was actually shot in the real pyramids in Egypt.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen Trailer

Features Music

Depeche Mode Afterparty

Fans of Depeche Mode have a chance of continue the party listening to his favorite band at Bar Loose in Helsinki on 02.02.2010. DEPECHE MODE AFTERPARTY will start at 23:00, and the Ocean plays special cover set + Dj’s play DM.
For more information and buying tickets for the show, visit:

Concerts Music

Swedish Backyard Barbies at Tavastia

The popular Swedish rock band will play at Tavastia Club in Helsinki the 23rd of January.
For more information and buying tickets for the show, visit:

Interviews Misc

Interview with Jani Penttinen – CEO and co-founder of XIHA Life

Jani Penttinen: the Finnish who knows how to make friends!

Jani Penttinen is clearly not the kind of man who likes sitting all the evening at home watching TV and killing time. His mind seems to be always looking for new challenges and possibilities to explore, both in his private and working life. This has led him to live in 3 different foreign countries through the past years, work for some of the most acclaimed videogame developers in the world and create from scratch his own social network online, XIHA Life, together with his Chinese wife Wen. A project that continues growing day after day with new members that share common features: their passion in making new friends from all over the world, traveling and getting to know new cultures and languages. Let’s discover a bit more about this young Finnish entrepreneur who seems to disregard the word “impossible” from his vocabulary…

Jani Penttinen

Thanks a lot for attending our questions Jani! Please tell us more in detail what exactly XIHA Life is and how the idea came up for its creation.

Short and sweet, XIHA Life ( is a multilingual lifestyle community for anyone interested in other cultures or languages. It’s a relaxed community where people make friends and learn about life in other places of the world, or just have fun and play some games.

How many members does XIHA have nowadays and which are the countries with biggest representation?

As of this moment we have 525 796 members and over 1000 new members sign up every day. It’s not easy to say which country is number one, because the distribution is very flat and the top countries change almost daily, however Thailand, Turkey, Brazil, Poland, China and France are the countries usually at the top.

One of the strongest points of XIHA is being so multicultural. In how many languages is translated? Are you planning to add more?

The user interface has been translated to 42 languages and we currently support 56 languages for the content. Unfortunately many of the translations are a little out of date now as the whole year we’ve been busy adding new features and changing things around. We’re planning to soon get all the languages updated and then add some more. I think in the end we’ll have more than 100 languages, as we really want to offer the service in native language to almost everyone in the world. In fact, nothing really stops us from having much more than that, if we just find some people to do the translations for us!

Before that, you were working in USA as programmer, among other companies with the famous Electronic Arts. How was the experience there, and what did you learn to apply it in your future projects?

It was a fantastic experience! I very much recommend everyone spend some time living and working in another country at some point of their life. For many it may sound scary to go abroad but it’s not that difficult. Life in the US is not that different from life in Finland; you eat, you sleep and you work! However, the big difference is in the attitude and the way of life. I think it was in the US when my entrepreneurial spirit fully took off. While technically I was working for a large corporation, EA, I was actually working at a small company called Westwood Studios in Las Vegas, which EA had acquired couple years earlier. The founders running the company had the kind of enthusiasm I’d never seen before. It was a great inspiration to work with them.

Jani Penttinen

What was the motivation to move from there to China?

I left EA after they closed the studio in Las Vegas and asked me to move to Los Angeles. Vegas was a nice small city where everything was shiny new and I could afford living in a big house. Moving to LA would have meant paying more to live in a small apartment, in a crowded city, doing the same job I’d been doing for the past several years already. I’d already worked with some of the most legendary game developers on huge game titles, so I felt it was time for change. It was a crazy plan actually – I had never been to anywhere in Asia and I didn’t speak any Chinese. In fact, I knew absolutely nothing about China. I probably thought I knew something, but in the end it turned out how little we in the west know about the Asian countries… Anyway, off I went. In about three months I had a company up and running in Shenzhen with the first few employees hired!

Did you have in mind to create something like XIHA in the past years, or the inspiration came after meeting your wife Wen in China?

Yeah, definitely it was because of her, actually XIHA was her idea. In fact I never intended to stay in China. I had thought of starting up a satellite company in China or India and controlling the operations from Las Vegas. But meeting her changed everything – within just a few weeks I had already put my house for sale in the US and was preparing to move to China for good.
She’s from an entrepreneur family so she knew everything there is to know about running a business in China. It was because of her that starting the mobile business went so smoothly. Unfortunately though, running a software sweatshop in China was not what I had imagined and pretty soon I was looking for a change – again. It was at that point when we decided we would implement her idea of the XIHA Life community. It was meant to be just something fun we do together, but here we are, 3 years later, both running it as the full time job!

“I see XIHA becoming a well-known brand around the world”

How is to work together with your wife? Is the relation cool, or sometimes it is difficult to mix family and business?

Sometimes it’s pretty cool, but in the end it’s actually quite difficult. It’s hard to escape work when you have your own company, and it gets practically impossible when you’re running the company together with your wife. This is sometimes quite a strain on the relationship. Having a family business obviously has a lot of advantages too and I really like the fact I can build my schedule so that I work from home as much as possible. When your business partner is a family member, you have way less conflicts of interest when making decisions.

Do you have any fixed office for XIHA, or basically your work using the computers and Internet?

XIHA is has a virtual office – everyone works from their home or anywhere else they see fit. All our team members are professionals who love their job, so this works very well. Rather than checking the clock on how many hours everyone puts in, we care about what gets done. Quite naturally it fits my lifestyle – during the life span of XIHA I have already lived in three different countries. This arrangement also gives me more freedom to not just move around the globe but also work while traveling. In the summer we sometimes like to cruise on a boat across Lake Zurich. There are small towns around the lake, so the 3G coverage is excellent. I can basically stay online and work all time.


What are the main features that make XIHA different from other social networks such as Facebook or MySpace?

The biggest difference is that we’re an open community where you make new friendships, often from the other side of the world. So while you probably have all your existing friends in Facebook, that won’t help you much if you want to talk to locals at your next travel destination, or if you want to learn a new language. If you just want to check out what your old buddies are up to, probably XIHA won’t be very interesting to you. But on the other hand, you probably would not contribute much useful stuff to XIHA either, so it’d be a mutual mismatch. What we’re trying to build is not the biggest community in the world, but instead the best hangout for like-minded people.

What are the main sources of profit for XIHA? Are the games the most important part to sustain the network economically? Do you develop your own games, or are made by third party companies?

Games are an important part of our revenue model. Part of the reason is my background in games industry, but in general the types of casual games we offer are a very good fit to our audience. Most of the XIHA users are girls or women, from 25 to 50 years old, and this group just happens to love playing games on the internet. We don’t develop games, we’re basically a reseller. What makes our offering special compared to many others is that our users can pay for the games in their local currency and local payment systems. For example in Finland you can buy a game from us and pay for it through your own online bank, and get the game instantly. With this idea we’re taking the localization one step further – it’s not enough to translate the text, we also want to localize the entire user experience.

Is XIHA profitable? Are you thinking to implement new ideas profit-oriented?

Nope, it’s not profitable yet. In fact, we haven’t really focused on monetizing yet. We could run the service itself at profit but we are investing into development of the service. Our number one goal has been to build an excellent network where people have fun and want to keep coming back. Without that there’s not much point in thinking of how to make money, really. We’re in a good shape though, things are progressing as planned.

Are you dedicated professionally full time to XIHA, or do you participate in other side jobs?

Both Wen and I are 100% focused on XIHA. In addition to us, we also have 3 full time developers working on the project and around 10 part-timers. Early on, when XIHA was just a hobby, I was still doing some gigs for EA, participating in development of some really cool games. Unfortunately I don’t have time for that anymore.

Jani Penttinen

How do you see the future of XIHA Life, and what are the main challenges to face?

I see XIHA Life becoming a well-known brand around the world for cross-cultural communication. It will be something people use in addition to other social networks, so no matter who is the leader and what the trends are, XIHA will have the staying power and will keep on thriving.

Anything you want to add for our readers?

I’d like to invite everyone to try out XIHA Life. It’s completely free to use and we have plenty of fun and friendly people around. Given that XIHA is targeted at expats and travelers, I think it would be a great fit for many of the readers!

For joining the XIHA experience and make friends from all over the world, you can visit:

Photos by Marianne Taylor