StartupYard Demo Day: May 28th, 2015, With Keynote Speaker Michael Jackson

The StartupYard team, and our seven 2015 startups are pleased to announce our next Demo Day, which will take place May 28th, 2015, at Nod Roxy, in the center of Prague. There, at 6:30pm local time, the seven startups will pitch to the public for the first time.

StartupYard’s Demo Day is a peerless opportunity to meet innovators, investors, thought leaders, and disruptors from the local tech scene. The event is a mix of presentations and individual networking opportunities.

We expect not only guests from Prague’s vibrant startups scene, but also representatives of large companies and sponsors, such as Mazars, Microsoft, Google, Seznam, Skype, and IBM, among others.

We are also very excited to announce that Michael Jackson of Mangrove Capital Parters, will join us as a keynote speaker. This will be Jackson and Mangrove’s first public appearance in Prague.

In addition, Aymard  De Scorbiac, Director of Mazars Lab, a StartupYard partner, will be coming from Paris to speak briefly at the event.

When: Registration at 18:00, May 28th, 2015 (Keynote begins 18:30)
Where: Nod Roxy, at Dlouhá 33, Prague 1 

A Special Keynote Address: Michael Jackson

1868608-nous-aimons-investir-a-contre-courant-des-tendancesMichael Jackson, a Mangrove Partner, is a celebrated seed investor and former Chief Operating Officer of Skype. In his over 25 year career in telecom, he has worked for, grown or started a dozen businesses.

He leads Mangrove’s investment efforts in the mobile space. “I look for big ideas. But above this, I look for the passion, drive and ambition in a founding team, and a genuine reason why they believe they can dominate their sector,” Jackson says: “I like to work closely with unusual entrepreneurs and need to feel some connection to them.”

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Mangrove Capital Partners is a venture capital firm based in Europe which is focused on investing in early stage information technology companies. It aims at being the first institutional investor and supports its best companies through successive rounds of financing.

Mangrove is best known for making early investments in Skype and Wix.com, which became the largest-ever IPO for an Israeli firm when it floated on Nasdaq in 2013.

The firm’s co-founder and CEO Mark Tluszcz was among the first investors in Europe to feature on the ‘Forbes Midas List of Top Technology Investors.

The Venue: Nod Roxy

Nod Roxy, the “experimental space” at the heart of one of Prague’s most innovative cafes, is a popular venue for many of Prague’s alternative culture offerings, including musical performances, film festivals, and other live events.

Founded in 1987, and including a club, cafe, and concert venue, it’s cool, forward thinking, and the perfect place to host StartupYard’s latest Demo Day.

You can take a live tour of the venue on the Nod Roxy Website.

Meet the 2015 Startups: Trendlucid: Mapping E-Commerce and Predicting the Future

The StartupYard team has liked Jaromir Dvoracek and Jan Mayer, co-founders of Trendlucid, since the day we all met. Infectiously energetic and passionate about their ideas, the Trendlucid team have also impressed our mentors with their vision for automating e-commerce business intelligence in the near future.

With their roots in data consultancy, Jan and Jaromir have branched out to develop their considerable combined experience by turning it into a tool for e-commerce, that they say will be able to predict the best sellers in any product category, up to two weeks before they reach number one.

I’ll let them tell you about all that, and more, below:

trendlucid

Most of our Startup co-founders are close, but you two often seem like twins. How did you start working together, and form Trendlucid? 

 

Trendlucid-Jaro

Jaromir Dvoracek: Co-Founder of TrendLucid

Jaromir:  We worked at the same company for a few years but actually never side by side every day. We’re trying it with the TrendLucid for the first time. And we’re twins definitely, but we’re quite different from each other, too.

TrendLucid lies on the top of our previous work of gathering and selling data for e-commerce price intelligence. It’s a logical next step in solving problems for e-shops. And Jan took this opportunity and crafted it into a side project, which became our main business opportunity.

TrendLucid: Honza

Jan “Honza” Mayer, Co-Founder and CEO at TrendLucid

Jan: I don’t agree! Twins often look and behave more similarly. Our strength is that we are completely different. I keep track of things and focus on value, Jaromir on the other hand adds sparkle to the ideas and creates the buzz.

In a few words, what is Trendlucid, and what does it do?

Jaromir: TrendLucid is a visual representation of the market giving you actionable insights about the product.

Suppose you’re a purchaser for an e-commerce site, and you need to know what to stock; what will be hot in the next few weeks. With Trendlucid, you can see a snapshot of all the products from a particular category (like smartwatches, or tvs, or washing machines), across the whole market at once. This includes pricing from other e-shops, and review information from as many sources as are available.

You’ll be able to quickly see how you can position yourself against competition in terms of price, but more importantly, which of the items on the market are actually reviewing really well, and being talked about most.

If there’s a winner with some room for a good profit margin, you can see that opportunity instantly. So if you’re using Trendlucid, you’ll be able to ensure that you’re offering the best prices, on the best products available.

What experience in data and e-commerce do you have that informs your work on Trendlucid?

Jan and Jaromir at a StartupYard workshop with our director Cedric Maloux

Jan and Jaromir at a StartupYard workshop with our director Cedric Maloux

Jaromir: We started 5 years ago as a consultancy for retailers of consumer electronics, as they need to know the prices of distributors. So we monitored the distributors for their prices and stock counts.

We continued as an e-shop scraping platform – clients sent us the products and we returned the list enriched with prices from competitors.

Today, we’re making that ability to view the market as a single map available as an on-demand tool, with even more market insights included in the graph that we are able to generate.

We’ve made the market something that retailers can explore, rather than something we have to investigate for them individually.

Jan: We had started with mining social media platforms, discussion and forum mentions from the whole Czech internet, and we’d sell that information to partners like Socialbakers.

One day a very “lucid” idea came to us – Why don’t we merge these two data sets to see not only what products people talk about, but what they eventually buy, and how that data correlates?

And the results were pretty interesting. We confirmed that the number of mentions and ratings strongly correlates with total sales of any given product. Moreover, we were able to use our market intelligence tools to determine that a lot of e-shops don’t have enough interesting products in their portfolios. Worse- they don’t know they have a problem!

What can you do that an e-shop or e-commerce company can’t do on its own?

Jan: We actually solve one of the biggest problems for e-shops: having the right products at the right time. If you stock a product that people won’t buy at the price point you anticipate, it’ll cost you a fortune to move the products- you’ll have to cut prices to move the stock, and that eats into your margins. On the other hand, if you can stock products that aren’t popular yet, but will be popular in a few weeks, you’ll be ahead of your competitors. You won’t have to cut your prices to get rid of stock no one wants to buy.

Jaromir: Every successful e-commerce works intensively with data nowadays. TrendLucid enriches and validates internal data from e-shops so purchasing managers and marketers can see if they’re behind the market. Every e-shop has internal data about sales. But they don’t have comprehensive overviews of market data. And that’s what we are fixing. Our vision of TrendLucid is to fully understand what people want to buy and automate purchasing management based on this information.

TrendlucidScreen1

Trendlucid provides a market overview for specific product categories, showing the popularity and prices of products on each market. Users can zoom in to examine specific products and see a market overview for each one.

 

Through the mentoring process, you got a lot of conflicting advice- lots of big ideas. How did you get to your current vision?

Jaromir: Surprisingly we’ve received only two big contradicting pieces of advices so far. And it was “go big very quickly with a huge investment” vs. “your conservative approach to grow the business makes sense”. Our vision has been refined after hundreds of questions from our mentors at StartupYard. But business strategy was a much more oft-discussed topic.

Jan: We started with very simple idea: “Let’s show to e-shops what products they miss”. But they were so excited they wanted to know more. While we could show them very detailed and clear overviews of the current market, what they really wanted to see was the future- what will sell best 2 weeks from now? That’s a harder questions. We knew that the future of a product and the phase of it’s lifecycle can also be revealed in data, but the mentoring process really helped us to see that those insights were where the real value was for us, as a business.

We thought initially that the most important users of our engine would be purchasing managers for eshops. But one of our mentors, Wallace Green, who has a lot of experience with marketing, showed us the necessity of data to e-commerce marketing. He introduced us to the concept of the “smart marketer” who makes his decisions based on data, not on instinct.

This helped us to see that TrendLucid could also have a future as an insight tool for marketers, as well. As marketing becomes more data focused, there is an ever-increasing need for more granular and precise data on what people are talking about, and how that correlates with their buying decisions.

What will be your initial approach to the market? How will you make your first dollar? Where will you launch the service first?

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Trendlucid also provides in-depth pricing data on specific products across a whole market.

 

Jaromir: We’ve already made our first dollar! We’ve been selling e-commerce data for 5 years now. So in a sense, TrendLucid is simply evolving into something more visible on the market- less a consultancy, and more a product for marketers and e-shop owners. We’ve taken our internal tools for visualizing the market, and made that available to more potential clients to try for themselves.

Jan: As part of making TrendLucid more of a “product,” than just a data consultancy, we contacted czech e-shops and offered to them trials of TrendLucid’s new market mapping software for a month in exchange for their valuable feedback. It’s working nicely so far. We want to follow Dan Hastík’s strategy, which he used with Futurelytics – integration with big e-commerce platforms (like Shopify).

Variations in price can be quite wide on higher margin items.

Variations in price can be quite wide on higher margin items.

We also found out that TrendLucid has many valuable metrics for manufacturers. They can measure brand awareness in many ways already. But they’ve not yet been able to measure product awareness for all their products on each market. That’s a game changer. With TrendLucid, they finally can.

Electronics, particularly online, are a generally low-margin business. What makes electronics e-commerce interesting for Trendlucid?

Jan: Social media has become important to understanding how consumers behave, and important in selling to them. And personal electronics have enabled and accelerated this trend as well. Electronics have become an element of personal fashion.

People want to buy a new smartphone every few months now – like new socks. We’ll see that even more with the rise of wearables in the near future. So consequently people talk a lot about electronics on social media and elsewhere. And that makes our insights into the market even more granular and valuable.

Whereas 30 years ago, consumer electronics was divided into just a few categories: personal, appliance, entertainment, they now represent a huge diversity of categories, with more choice than ever before. So purchasing decisions for e-shops become increasingly more difficult, even as margins are dropping.

This market segment has low margins and the fights for market share are pretty bloody. But at the same time, many e-shops miss out on big winners all the time. That’s actually why e-shops need TrendLucid to get ahead.

Jaromir: It’s hard to monitor this market manually. You can’t store all the information you need about phones, tablets and notebooks in your head, much less predict what features and individual products will be most popular. You can watch manually what is popular on the market and what you should try to sell. But no one person can have a complete handle on this market anymore.

It might be easy to pick the next big winner, if you’re comparing two or three competing products. But try it with thousands of washing machines, microwaves and televisions which are not so interesting for most purchasing officers. Try it with the ever-expanding list of wearables that are entering the market- all targeting a different market segment.

The problem with electronics is that the products change so fast. You can predict which type of socks will be popular for a sustained period, because our needs don’t change that fast. But electronics don’t follow these old patterns anymore. Now our needs change too fast for any individual to keep up.

That’s what our first client in Czech Republic found out: we  automatically identified the next best selling washing machine 14 days before it happened. Most of the e-shops stock best sellers 6 weeks after they’re already popular. That’s 8 weeks of margins they’re missing because they aren’t using TrendLucid.

What do you see the Trendlucid platform being capable of in a few years? Who will be your customers at that point?

Jaromir: We’ll be able to see trends worldwide. What’s popular on the American market today will be popular in central Europe 4 years later. What’s popular in Germany today will be popular in Slovakia 2 years later. What’s popular in South Korea now will be popular in the US a few months later. With TrendLucid you’ll be able to look back in time to see what you can sell successfully next month. You can prepare for changing market trends based on statistics. You’ll never miss the train again. This kind of information would be critical for big e-commerces, brands even for big retail players. We haven’t gotten to the level of understanding and complexity we need to be able to make those types of global, multi-year projections with real accuracy and speed. Nobody is really there yet, even if they claim to be. But that’s where we want to be.

Jan: Yep, that’s our first target. The second target is brands. We can tell LG, or Samsung, or any big brand with lots of products, which of their products people are talking about, in which countries- and what they’re saying. They’re working on “brand awareness” now. We can give them “product awareness”, which is one level more precise.

Right now we’re like Klout for products on the Czech Market. We’d like to apply that capability globally in the future.

Spotlight on Czech Startups: Hlidacky, Babysitting, Safe and on Demand.

As part of our ongoing series, we seek out and interview the founders of interesting Czech Startups. If you’d like your Startup to be reviewed on this blog, send me an email to “Lloyd” at the domain: startupyard, then add “dot com.”

Hlidacky, a StartupYard alum from 2012, is a service for finding verified local babysitters. The platform has also added cleaning to its list of services, and currently boasts nearly 6000 verified private contractors in the Czech Republic, and has been profiled on the popular tech blog CzechCrunch (link in Czech).

I caught up with Petr Sigut, one of Hlidacky’s co-founders, who runs

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Petr Sigut, Cofounder of Hlidacky.cz

Hi Petr, tell us a little bit about Hlidacky. What is it for?

Hlidacky is an online babysitting and cleaning service, where we connect people with babysitters and cleaning ladies.

How did Hlidacky end up at StartupYard?

We wanted to get as much as possible into startup ecosystem and get some real feedback. Seed money was also a motivation, because it enabled us to focus solely on Hlidacky for 6 months.

hlidacky-homepage

What were some of the challenges you faced in getting funding? How did you eventually get funded?

Since we are on Czech and Slovak markets only, our pool of investors is limited to these countries.

Also, it is extremely time-consuming – it takes one founder dedicated totally to this – calling investors, explaining the product, tuning the presentation, the pitch; leaving less time for growth and product.

So we’ve ended-up financing it with our own money for now.

How has the platform developed since you left StartupYard?

The most important thing was that we switched to a paid model of our service. To our customers the trust and reliability of babysitters is more important than a feature list, so that was our main focus. The other thing was to make communication faster, so we can help people who need babysitters and cleaners as soon as possible.

I think the main advantage [of StartupYard] was that the iterations were much faster – which is what matter the most at the end. Without StartupYard, it would have taken us much much longer and maybe our energy would’ve been drained by that time.

The Hlidacky Team

The Hlidacky Team

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in converting independent workers to your platform?

We need to put babysitters through as many verifications as possible, and yet have to keep the onboarding process simple at the same time. Right now, we approve about 40% of babysitters that sign up to our platform. We are fine with that number, and in the future we want to be even more strict. This month we launch a first aid course in cooperation with Regional Red Cross Society Prague 1 for babysitters, so babysitters will be listed much higher after having the course.

How have you seen the Czech technology ecosystem change in the past few years? What do you think still needs improvement?

I think Czech Republic was always strong in technology startups, because we have lots of great (and free) universities. Also, Czech Republic is not and never will be the US in terms of market size. You have to do sales there and technology development here.

Is there anything that The Czech Republic can do to improve its global reach?

We just need to work harder!

What’s the future for Hlidacky? What else have you been working on?

We launched the beta hlidacky.sk  a month ago and now we are working on an iPhone application. The main focus is on quality of babysitters. We want to focus on that and add first-aid courses and mandatory verification.

With Hlidacky co-founder David we also started the development company PrimeHammer because many startups with less-technological knowledge are asking to help them with development.

StartupYard Announces “Prague Hacks,” the City’s Biggest Ever Open Data Hackathon: June 12-14

We’re pleased and excited to be able to announce, after months of planning, that StartupYard, along with an impressive team of partners, will be hosting Prague’s biggest ever city Hackathon, entitled “Prague Hacks: Improving City Life.”

When: June 12th to 14th, 2015
Where: Node5, Prague 5

 

 

Joining Forces

Node5 Hackathon

Together with Otakar Motejl Fund, reSITE, GisMentors, the City of Prague Institute for Planning and Development, IBM, Node5, The Vodafone Foundation, and Microsoft, StartupYard will welcome local hackers, programmers, entrepreneurs, and creative people of all stripes for a single mission: to improve life in the City of Prague, using the city’s own open data.

This will be a non-profit event; the largest of its kind, and will be held at our home base, the notorious Node5, as well as being streamed live online.

What’s a Hackathon?

A Hackathon is a non-stop collaborative session in which groups of people work as quickly as they can to come up with a finished product, based on a simple idea. That product can take any form, like an app, a web service, or even a game. The event is for anyone with an interest in the city- not just programmers.

All About the Data

data-map hackathon

The City of Prague, through the Institute for Planning and Development, will make available reams of data, including geodata, data on transport, crime and safety, elections and government, as well as land use, and more. Those joining the Hackathon will propose their own ideas for open-source, or business applications for that data, and divide themselves into teams to tackle different problems that interest them.

The object of the Hackathon is two-fold. First, and most importantly, Prague Hackers should focus on using this open data to improve city life in some way. That improvement can take almost any imaginable form, be it a business, a visualization, or a free service, or something else entirely.

Second, it is our hope that this Hackathon will push the city of Prague to focus on the collection and free availability of city data, so that businesses, political movements, non-profits, and others may have access to more and higher quality information and insights into how the city works.

Better data and more available data means that we have a better chance of improving life in the city together, making our city safer, stronger, and more resilient to social, technological, political, economic, and climatic changes.

A Fast Track For Funding and Sponsorship

Sponsors Vodafone Foundation, Microsoft and IBM will provide hundreds of thousands of Czech Crowns worth of sponsorship in the form of software licenses and hosting for new projects that result from the Hackathon. In addition, eligible participants will be invited to present their results to the reSITE conference, taking place June 18th and 19th in Prague.

Non-commercial projects that show promise will be invited to join the Vodafone Foundation Accelerator, and commercial projects can be fast-tracked for the StartupYard Acceleration program, with up to  280,000 Euros in seed investment available.

Meet the 2015 Startups: Ales Teska, CEO of TeskaLabs, Enterprise Security Masterminds

This interview is part of a series, Introducing the 2015 StartupYard Teams. We’ll be posting detailed interviews with the founders of each of our 7 teams, in advance of StartupYard Demo Day, May 28th, 2015 in Prague. 

Over the past 5 weeks, as the StartupYard team and mentors have gotten to know Ales Teska, founder of TeskaLabs, we’ve liked him more and more.

Careful in his speech, and precise in action, he is creative, with a contained energy. He often displays a rigor and discipline to his thinking that can be unusual among startup founders, few of whom can match his 17 years of industry experience. Perhaps his calm temper is best suited to his chosen profession, which is perfecting plug-and-play enterprise security solutions.

Ales Teska (right) working with a team member

Ales Teska (right) working with a team member

TeskaLabs, named for the founder, who has extensive corporate experience as a project manager, began life as the sum of many years of experience and frustration dealing with corporate security demands. Teska’s industry experience is exemplified by TeskaLabs’ early customers, including British Gas, NetworkRail, and DHL Supply Chain.

 

Now Teska is bringing his experience to the market as a one-stop solution, providing enterprise grade security solutions for industrial and consumer mobile applications.

Teskalabs offers a plug-and-play information security platform for any connected device via software, hardware and/or SaaS products. TeskaLabs’ solutions reduce deployment time forrobust enterprise network and mobile security from months, to only minutes.

gvowapAlI sat down with Ales this week to get more of the TeskaLabs backstory. Here’s what he had to say.

Hi Ales, why don’t you tell us a bit about the TeskaLabs team, and your journey to StartupYard.

TeskaLabs has been my dream from my early 20’s. I launched my first business when I was only 18 years old. It was an Internet cafe in my hometown Jablonec nad Nisou which quickly pivoted to a software business catering to smaller local enterprises.

Since that time, I’ve tried a lot of different jobs. I led a team that created software and hardware for a multimedia delivery system and spent some interesting time in Taipei.  In the last ten years, I’ve worked at the world’s largest logistics corporation, DHL, as a software development manager.  

My teams worked on various enterprise applications including mobile apps. I’m a very creative and productive person. While doing corporate work, I also did a series of side projects and launched several successful products. For example, I created a distributed measurement system for mobile operators, for monitoring the quality of their services. I also did an online project management tool. There is a couple of open-source projects I initiated out there too.

During this journey, I met a few great people who decided to join me and motivated me to come up with more innovative ideas, which, by the way, is incredibly difficult in a corporate environment. TeskaLabs evolved around these people and ideas. This is a materialization of my vision of how truly innovative things can happen through a great team in the modern day.

We were seeking experienced advisors and mentors who could move us to the next level, and we found them at StartupYard.

How has that original vision for the company changed during the first month at StartupYard?

TeskaLabs as a company has quickly become much more mature. The key element of our vision remained unchanged and reinforced during these few weeks. We are now on the verge of a new working era.

Enterprises are starting to shift from desktop computers and notebooks to mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets in the same way we moved from typewriters to computers in the past.

Unfortunately common understanding of connected security risks within today management in the enterprise is not appropriate, and black-hat hackers frequently take advantage of that. We save such enterprises from these painful lessons. We’ve learned that this is very real and present situation.

During the initial mentoring sessions, our mentors Wallace Green from Cap Gemini and Lenka Cerna, CEO of Annonce.cz highlighted that we should show what we are protecting the business against.  We also need to provide a visibility to this electronic frontier. This advice was very eye-opening.  We at TeskaLabs live in the world where cyber threats are  present and real. Now we understand that we need to bring this information to enterprise executives to help them assess these risks and effectively mitigate them.

What about TeskaLabs makes you a startup, rather than an ordinary security consultancy?

The core of TeskaLabs is research. I believe that only deep insight and cutting-edge technology can provide solid and active protection. For us, it is extremely important to deliver an excellent experience not only for the end user of the mobile application but also for developers of those apps.

Now, you probably ask yourself how mobile application security can impact user experience.  Usually, these two don’t go hand-in-hand. The user experience is sacrificed due to many long password fields and lock screens. Even worse, security is sacrificed by the act of doing nothing. Our goal is to deliver both: excellent streamlined user experience and uncompromised mobile application security, very  important for industrial applications.

Can you imagine, for example, field engineers or fork-lift drivers who type 10 or more character long passwords, case-sensitive, at least one number, one symbol, etc. every time they want to use their mobile device? These are difficult but important challenges that we solve.

How can you save your customers time, money, and liability with TeskaLabs products? Why do people need your solution?

The costs of information security incidents such as data leakage or disruptions of operations in the enterprise sphere are enormous. Just look at recent Sony Pictures Entertainment incident. A conservative cost estimate of this hack starts at 15 million dollars.

That could be low compared to the chilling effect it can have on the movie industry- fear of hackers will affect productivity in many industries in the future.

True. Imagine needing a two step verification every time you checked your email! This would seriously impact productivity, especially on mobile platforms.

Many companies recognize the importance of mobile devices for business use.  The users can access business resources from various mobile devices at their convenience to improve productivity, and companies can enable access to business resources through native mobile apps to improve user experience.

However, introducing mobile devices in the enterprise presents additional security challenges. These days, large and complex organizations approach small app development agencies.

Due to different understandings of priorities, security aspects of such deliveries tend to fade away. And, generally speaking, enterprise mobile apps are not secured well enough.

We fill this gap with TeskaLabs, so that agencies can build very secure apps, meeting the tough security expectations of enterprises. Even more importantly, we save these enterprises from extensive and painful experience of being hacked.

The TeskaLabs team

The TeskaLabs team

 

Many big companies already have in-house security teams. Why is TeskaLabs a viable alternative, either in terms of cost or quality?

To be responsible for information security within a big enterprise is a tedious and demanding job. You need tools that are flexible, stable and scalable. Something that will frictionlessly integrate with existing corporate infrastructure, adapt easily to all current and future requirements and run without the need of too much supervision, however, raise a clear red flag when anything goes wrong.

During my corporate career, a security team was my  important partner because I deeply believe that application security is a crucial component when you build enterprise applications. And this is especially true for Internet-facing apps such as mobile or web ones.

Therefore,  I can say that I’m very familiar with expectations of people responsible for enterprise application security, and TeskaLabs went the extra mile to bring products that reflect on this experience.

Our products are their tools, and we are keen on giving them the best possible experience they ever get when it comes to mobile application security.

How does Seacat and other TeskaLabs projects fit in with the competition? Do you compete directly with AVG, or Avast?

Our belief is that the best strategy is to build security directly into a mobile application. This is how you get the best possible result in the most efficient way.

Our unique ability is to provide this in a very easy-to-use package to a large crowd of mobile app developers, and through them to even larger crowds of users within enterprises.

Traditional security solutions complement rather than compete, because they address different layers of security e.g. operating system or data.

The most vulnerable point of an enterprise mobile app is not on the mobile device but the backend system. This is where the majority of cyber attacks happen. The design of our solution respects this fact, and so we provide very strong protection here.

This is a completely different approach from AVG, Avast and others. But indeed, it is a great idea to have antivirus installed and activated on your mobile devices.

You’ve been asked by a few mentors why you felt the need to join an accelerator. What do you feel you’re gaining from taking part in StartupYard?

StartupYard is a once-in-the-lifetime kind of experience. When you sit in a corporate job and read about these accelerators and the stories of companies that go through them, it is a very surreal experience.

The pace and the scale of possibilities are simply incomparable. A right accelerator can be a slingshot for your vision and business. It not only shows you what possible but challenges you to reach even further.

We’ve met so many great people in StartupYard e.g. Michal Pechoucek from Cognitive Security, Adam Zbiejczuk from ROI Hunter, Michal Illich, Ondrej Krajicek from YSoft.  It pains me not to list all of them. Thank you all!

This is a reinforcing experience.  You repetitively meet people who share your vision and understand your passion,  gradually transforms your dream into a clearer and more visible path.  StartupYard is making sure we are set to go.

StartupYard Mentor Wallace Green On Mentorship, Karma, and Customer Focus

I caught up with Wallace Green this week to discuss his experiences in Startups, his take on mentorship, and, as it turns out, his feelings about Karma and human relationships. Wallace is a popular mentor at StartupYard, and a longtime (15 year) American Expat with an infectious energy.

When Wallace and I met this week at Node5 for this interview, the first thing I noticed was that he was wearing a bright pink shirt and colorful Botas 66 sneakers – apparently his trademark look.

Clearly he doesn’t fit my stereotype of a strategy consultant. Wallace and I met a few months ago at the StartupYard mentor symposium, but we hadn’t had a chance to talk, so I was eager to meet the mentor so many of our teams had been praising for his insights.

Hi Wallace, tell us a bit about yourself and your career, and how you ended up at Capgemini in Prague.

During the peak of the dot-com bubble I joined 12snap [pronounced: one-two-snap], a Nokia Venture startup. We had a vision to create an amazing tech-culture for our Prague-based development team. I was dispatched to Silicon Valley to investigate best practices for attracting and retaining technical talent and for building a great startup culture.

Although we had good success recruiting technical talent, and building a great startup culture, like many startups of that period, 12snap didn’t survive the crash. But overall it was a great introduction to the world of startups.

Later I joined Oskar Mobile [now Vodafone CZ] where for several years I advised the Management Team on brand positioning, customer experience and other big topics of the day like 3G, MVNO’s and potential acquisitions.  

And for the past seven years my specialty with Capgemini Consulting has been advising European telcos on customer experience transformation and in some cases preparing and executing full commercial turn-around strategies.

One great thing about working with Capgemini is that we do more than just strategy – oftentimes we get to stick around and support execution and go-to-market. It’s tremendously rewarding to launch something in the market, steer it to success and see the realization of business benefits.

So Capgemini has been a great channel to exercise my professional passions for branding, positioning, culture building and customer experience. I guess I’m a challenger at heart so I am particularly fond of working with clients who seek to make big changes or do things differently. I suppose my main contribution to teams at StartupYard would be my consulting experience and challenger spirit.

As a management consultant, what do you seek to gain from mentoring at StartupYard?

[Laughs] Well, that’s a very good question and I would say there are three primary reasons why I approached Cedric [Cedric Maloux, Managing Director at StartupYard Accelerator] at last year’s Demo Day to mentor in the next cycle of the [StartupYard] program.

The first reason may come across as sounding inauthentic – I hope it doesn’t, because I truly feel this way – but mentorship is an opportunity to help someone in need. Call it karma, if you like. 

Why Karma?

Life has been very kind to me and I’m grateful to be where I am, living happily and contentedly here in the beautiful city of Prague. And my professional life has been an amazing journey working in some of the coolest cities in Europe and Asia, advising at an executive level with some of the biggest, most successful companies on the planet.

And at my age – I’m over forty, by the way – it’s a matter of twenty-plus years of experience: you just know things; you’re able to recognize trends and patterns; you’re a good judge of character, and you can spot talent and mobilize diverse groups of people to accomplish big things. Plus, you know how to get things done.

When I meet a budding entrepreneur in a mentoring session it feels good to share some of the learnings and wisdom that I have gained over the years.

After meeting with a startup team for the first time, I usually end by saying something like ‘I hope this was helpful’ and now and then I will get a response like ‘This was more than helpful, you may have even changed my life.’

It’s important to remember that these entrepreneurs put aside the comfort and security of regular employment – by the way, let’s not forget that most people choose the low risk path in life – they may even have families to support, and yet they have the courage to try and make it on their own. Needless to say I have tremendous respect for these individuals.

I guess you could say there is also some degree of self gratification when someone appreciates what you have to offer. It feels good to be needed, to feel appreciated and useful. I believe in karma. Good things happen when we give to others, show kindness and empathy.

And let’s be honest, the game of tech startups and venture capital funding is about risk vs. opportunity, it’s about exits with x-times return on invested capital. So the early startup phase of mentoring is pleasantly intimate, it’s an essential human-to-human activity that requires mutual trust and respect between mentor and mentee. And when the chemistry clicks – it’s magical.

Which brings me to the second reason why I choose to mentor – it’s a huge energy boost [smiling]. After the first day of mentoring I mentioned to Cedric that meeting the startups ‘totally charged my batteries’. It re-filled me with that tingling excitement one feels when starting out on a journey into the unknown. It’s been inspiring to meet the current class of startups, and a mega-dose of inspiration every now and then is a good thing.

And the last reason to do mentoring is to keep close to the investment community in case there’s an opportunity to put a skin in the game as an investor or to take on a more active role.

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What are some pieces of advice you find yourself giving startup entrepreneurs over and over again?

Great question. Three themes come to mind from mentoring sessions with this year’s group at StartupYard: customer, customer and customer. I know it sounds like the old real estate cliché. But let me explain.

First, who is your target customer and what specific pain point or unmet (or unrealized) need does your product or solution address? It’s an essential question which needs to be clearly and explicitly articulated; otherwise you may end up building your business on a shaky foundation.

In reality, sometimes you have to start with a solution and work your way back to a customer and need. I’m reminded of discussions with the team from Trendlucid– they have a terrific data-driven market analysis tool to improve eShop product positioning and pricing, and to also take advantage of social sentiment. We had to do a bit of reverse engineering to clarify the customer need, but I think they are on top of things now.

Secondly, what is the vision or unique point of view that you share with your target customer or segment? With my consulting clients I oftentimes refer to this as ‘the why’. For example, is there a fundamental flaw in the existing business landscape that you feel needs to be changed?

Some refer to it as a positioning statement but I personally believe it goes deeper than just positioning, it’s more emotional. Answering this question helps a company probe deep into the purpose behind their brand. Successful companies have a brand that strongly aligns with the political, social or human values of their target segment.

For example I recall conversations with the team from Shoptsie where we defined the positioning statement ‘Make a living doing what you love.’ We felt this was a powerful way to express the brand belief that everyone who has a hobby should have an opportunity to monetize their offer even if only for modest financial gain.

The third key theme was once again about the customer: what’s the desired customer experience you want to deliver? In my view, this seemed to be the most under-addressed aspect of startups in this year’s class.

Let’s be honest, most companies in the marketplace today didn’t build their business around a desired experience. Starbucks is the classic example – where Howard Schultz first designed the experience, then built a coffee empire around what was then a largely commoditized product.

I recall conversations with the team from Testomato. They have an automated website testing solution where users get alerts when there are  website errors.  For the user it’s a case of  ‘So, I have a problem. What shall I do next?’

[Wallace starts looking around for a whiteboard and markers, needing to draw images to help tell the story]

This was a case where the team needed to think through the entire end-to-end experience so the user not only gets information but is offered simple and easy options to either solve the problem alone or to have it solved by someone else. It’s clear that customers need a lot more help than they are currently getting and this is the opportunity space for a startup to carve to out a value-adding niche and build a successful business.

You can reach out to Wallace Via LinkedIn

StartupYard Startups Reflect on Mentoring month

After a month booked solid with meetings between our startups and mentors, StartupYard 2015 participants have now met at least once, and often several times, with over 40 experts from a diverse range of industries.

These meetings are often a blur, so we insist that startup teams document their meetings every day, noting those mentors with whom they have agreed to speak again, or who may have promised new information or connections.

The Value of Mentoring

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Mentoring at StartupYard is about more than networking. Of course, the value of networking with our mentors is inestimable. It’s certain for example, that the vast majority of the nearly $3 Million raised by StartupYard participants since 2011 came from connections made through mentors in our program.

But it’s important to keep in mind that our startups earn those investments themselves, by impressing and leveraging the mentors we give them access to. And just as important as money, mentoring sessions are real crash courses in the many hundreds of conversations that a startup is going to experience in its first year or two of operation.

It’s impossible for our startups to absorb and act upon every piece of advice they receive and every connection they make here. That’s sort of the point. On their own, startups in the early stages may find it very difficult to contextualize the various conversations they do have.

Reducing Sampling Error

Outside an accelerator, a meeting with an investor or a potential partner may be the only meeting in a week, or a month. That meeting, however it plays out, might fester in the founders’ minds for a long time, causing them to overreact to criticisms, or to become fixated on a specific piece of advice.

That one person you met 6 weeks ago doesn’t like your company name. Or he told you that you’re behind the market. Or she told you that this market is too hard to break into. Or one of a thousand other things. Or something positive, but vague: “you could be Uber for X.” What to make of that?

If the meeting is with an investor, the founders may go too far, wasting their time and energy thinking about what that person says.

I see this quite often with the startups that I mentor and meet at various conferences. I ask: “have you considered an accelerator?” “Well,” the founder responds, “we’ve been talking to an investor, so we probably don’t need an accelerator.” That might be fine if the investor is serious, and his or her vision lines up perfectly with the startups. But that isn’t always the case.

As often as not, an early investor will delay commitment as long as possible, leading the startup down a path that is interesting for the investor, but not always right for the startup. If things don’t look promising after months of talking, the investor can just walk away- nothing gained, nothing lost. The startup can’t.

Strength in Numbers

That’s a classic case of sampling error, and it works as well when it comes to individual meetings, as it does for ad campaigns and landing pages. You need a lot of data to make anything but a gut decision.

Startups used to get that data the really hard way. They would collect over years of iterating the same mistakes, and going down dead-end roads, with investors, partners, and strategies. But that’s a process few startups can afford to go through, and it leaves a lot of great ideas on the table- dead only because the founders didn’t have the time to try that one last thing that might work.

Accelerators solve that problem, by condensing this string of dead ends, self-doubts, insights (and false insights), and breakthrough meetings into an intense, but survivable period.

Reflections

I polled our current startups with a few questions about their mentoring experiences this past month. Here are the questions, and a selection of the answers from all 7 of our startups:

What’s one piece of feedback you have heard most often from the mentors? How have you responded to this feedback so far?

Cindy Dam, Marketing: TeskaLabs

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Cindy Dam

“We talk about security and protection, assuming that it is obvious what we’re protecting. However, many mentors asked us ‘what are protecting, and from what?’ They were still not convinced when we told them about potential security breaches and hacks. 

Now we also mention the possibility for the customers to see reports of security-related events happening on the servers, as a way to back up our claims. Mentor Wallace Green from Cap Gemini gave us that idea and showed us how it could work.  Mentors then started to consider and accept our arguments. With those changes, it started making sense as a product that can sell itself, and that’s something we hadn’t considered necessary.” 

Elle Sidell, Copywriter: Testomato

The testomato Team

The testomato Team

“We’ve heard from a lot of mentors that we need to strengthen, or possibly change, our unique value proposition and simplify the way we introduce users to Testomato. These discussions have led our team to change our target group from developers to e-commerce companies.

So we’ve simplified the wording on our website, and provided clearer descriptions about what we offer and how we can help.

We’ve also cut down the amount of emails that we send to different users (i.e. different emails to different roles within each account), and we’ve created a new Application Dashboard to encourage customers to use more features when configuring tests or setting up website monitoring.”

Jaromir Dvoracek, Co-Founder: Trendlucid

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Jaro Co-Founder of TrendLucid

“We started with a name that was really similar to another company in the same space. So much so, that some mentors thought we actually were the other company.So we really needed to define our brand.

After a lot of trial and error, and especially the help of  mentor Liva Judic, we stumbled on TrendLucid. And that was it! We’re TrendLucid now.

Part of the learning process was discovering that the name didn’t have to be that appealing for the Czech market, which we worried about too much before. The Czech market isn’t the end of our long term plans, and we needed a name that makes sense globally. We have very good feedback for the TrendLucid brand so far. Especially from English native speakers. So it’s working!” 

Jan Muller, Co-Founder: BudgetBakers

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Jan Muller of Budget Bakers

“A common question was: ‘do you have automatic data input?’ That’s something that is now available in some markets, like the US.

The mentoring process convinced us that this needs to be a main focus in the near future. We have already added an automatic bank statement importing/parsing tool, which reads users’ bank statements and adds them to the budget. We are starting conversations with Czech banks so we can eventually access user data through public APIs. In 2 years, all the European banks will have to make those APIs available, so we need to be ahead of the curve.”

What is the single best piece of advice you have received so far, and why? What did you do about it?

Ales Teska, Founder: TeskaLabs

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Ales Teska, Founder of TeskaLabs

“If I have to pick only one most valuable piece of advice, it has to be a ‘marketing crash course’ from Jan Habich. He explained how we should introduce our product in our materials. He actually completely reversed our point of view.

It is simple as this: 1) “What is it?” (simple statement), 2) “Is it for me?” 3) “Why should I trust you?”. Our new website follows this and works very well (on test subjects) and all our new marketing communication is built around this.

We now start talking about the pain/experience of our customers and only after that do we go into feature walkthroughs if needed.”

Máthé Zsolt-László, Co-Founder: Shoptsie

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The Shoptsie Team: Ordog and Mathe

“The best advice we have received is that, at the start, we should focus more on customer acquisition to get the critical mass of customers with which we can test our assumptions, and not to bother with the pricing module.  Rumen Iliev, Andrej Kiska, and Wallace Green especially advocated this approach.

After we do this,  we can test multiple pricing models and choose the most suitable to our customers and also for our business. Also, when we have achieved the growth of our customer base, we can easily create planned marketplaces from which we also can make income. 

One another good advice was that in time we should focus on other industries, like digital goods, lifestyle coaches. Advices given by  Liva Judic and Daniel Hastik

Ondra Cervinka, Co-Founder: Myia

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On the left: Ondra from Myia, and Ales Teska, of TeskaLabs.

“Concentrate on building the user base. If you have big user base, then the business model becomes obvious. We are looking for cases where the owner of Wi-Fi will suggest or require that people install and use Myia.

We plan to add affinity functions that will influence the users to keep using the app.”

Meet Portadi: The Czech Startup Making Group Logins Easy and Secure

So much of our work is in the cloud these days, especially at StartupYard, that one of the biggest headaches we used to experience, on an hourly basis, was maintaining our browser sessions with an ever-expanding list of cloud apps to log into. When we need, as a team, to be able to check Twitter and Buffer, copy something into our WordPress, then link a blog post to a mailchimp template, while also suddenly remembering to finish that eventbrite…. well, having to lookup our passwords on a spreadsheet is not only unproductive, but maddening.

And worse, that spreadsheet is not particularly secure- particularly if it’s disseminated via email, and sits on every computer in our team. What if one of the team members were to leave one day? It would take us weeks to change all those passwords, and meanwhile, they’d have access to all our cloud apps. They’d have the keys to everything. No more of that. Introducing Portadi: the secure cloud access tool for teams.

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StartupYard has been a pilot user of Portadi since this past autumn, and we’ve been impressed. I caught up with Co-Founder CEO Dusan Vitek, who started Portadi Co-Founder and CTO Tomas Soukup, to chat about the tool, and their future plans as a company.

Dusan Vitek: Co-Founder and CEO of Portadi

Dusan Vitek: Co-Founder and CEO of Portadi

Hi Dusan, tell us a bit about Portadi. Where did the idea come from? 

The cloud is a huge construction site. It looks like Berlin nowadays, there are cranes everywhere. In my last team we had about 50 cloud apps and accounts, almost everything we touched was in the cloud. It took a frustratingly long time to set up a new hire or freelancer properly and it was even harder to disconnect people from everything. For all of us who rely on cloud apps, wouldn’t it be cool to have all business accounts in one place from day one, ready to go? That is not happening in most organizations today. I knew we can fix that for a lot of teams around the world and that’s why we started Portadi.

 The StartupYard team has been using the app for a few months, and we love it so far. It saves me at least 15 minutes a day when I’m using it. How does it compare with some of the other team password tools on the market?

We aim to remove passwords from our workflow”

viewing which team members access which apps

Team overview of app access

logging into cloud apps with a single click

Log into shared  cloud apps with a single click

Password managers are a duct tape. They all have been designed for individual users to help them store their credentials. We don’t see it that way. We aim to remove passwords from our workflow. Portadi is an access panel for cloud apps, your VIP entry card for workplace apps.

Portadi saves you time because it’s your personal gateway to all workplace cloud apps. Portadi saves you money because it shows how much your paid subscriptions are used. Portadi gives you security because it eliminates login credentials for 50 work apps and replaces it with a single set of credentials for everything. 

 

Will Portadi stay a small-business solution, or do you plan to target larger companies as well? 

We’re designing Portadi for workplace teams. App management is not just a problem of small companies or large companies. It’s a common problem in any team that relies on third-party cloud services like Salesforce, Office Depot, or your hosting provider.

Large companies are being served by other identity and access management vendors like Microsoft, Oracle or Computer Associates. They mostly play in the on-premise market but have weak offerings in cloud app management. 

But large enterprise customers are not immune to the cloud. Yes, three years ago if we got a meeting with a large vendor, we would go home with a 100-page document listing all of the requirements we had to fulfill. But that has changed. In most cases what they buy as a service is an app, it’s not infrastructure.

Where passwords are concerned, security is always at the front of people’s minds. You expect customers to share their logins for key social media accounts, and other sensitive access information. What kinds of measures do you take to make sure the platform remains secure?

We have 13 years of security experience building host-based and gateway firewall products so we take security very seriously. Application credentials are encrypted with AES 256 before we ever store them in the database. All communication between the Portadi secure cloud and Portadi browser extensions is encrypted using TLS. We audit all access attempts to the Portadi cloud and scan for unusual behavior. And we offer 2-factor authentication into Portadi which by extension we provide to all services that you access through Portadi. 

So by using Portadi, a group can potentially increase the security of their passwords?

Yes, you can keep your passwords secret. Instead of giving your new colleague 50 passwords for 50 different services, you give her just one password and one Portadi access panel. She won’t know the passwords for any of those 50 services, Portadi will be her only gateway. It totally rocks for shared passwords because any change affects many people.

As simple as Portadi is, do you think it will be a challenge to monetize? How have you gone about tackling this issue?

We are a freemium product, you can start for free. The service costs $2 per user per month. It was important for us to test pricing early on and while some people think it’s inexpensive, most customers tell us that the price is fair. We rolled out the paid plan in February this year and got first paying customers that month. Portadi saves a lot of money and headaches for customers who use it.

Tell us a bit about the Portadi team. 

Tomas does the coding, I do everything but coding. I think what makes us a really great team is the shared passion for great products and delightfully simple user experience. Tomas likes things pretty straight up and to the point, I – being a marketer – tend to elaborate more. We find a happy medium most of the time.  

We hear that you’ve just started an accelerator program with Microsoft. Can you tell us anything about that? 

Yes, Portadi got into the final elite group of eight startups who joined the Microsoft Ventures Accelerator in Berlin. There were over 500 startups trying to get in so we are obviously very happy. Microsoft provides office space, mentorship, credits for Microsoft technology, access to venture capital, and the all important foosball table. Oh, and just the other day they got us new gigantic desk lamps which look like construction cranes. Somehow it’s quite fitting with the whole Berlin scene.

Are you currently looking for investors? What’s coming next in Portadi’s development?

Yes, we are open to partnering with investors who understand our business. But right now we are heads down building an awesome product. Most of our customers are on Google Apps, so we’re exploring some tighter integration.

StartupYard’s Next “Unconference,” Tuesday, April 21st, 18:00, Sponsored by SoftLayer

StartupYard is happy to announce our second “Unconference,” a non-programmed networking and thought-sharing event in which anyone can be a presenter, and where ideas matter more than personalities.

The event will be held at StartupYard’s homebase:

Node5, Tuesday, April 21st, at 18:00. 

Anyone with an interest in Startups is more than welcome to attend, and to present on any related topic, or just to listen and ask questions. Drinks, and light refreshment will be provided, and the event is expect to run until about 21:00

 

Sponsored by SoftLayer

We are also please to announce that SoftLayer, an IBM company, is graciously providing food and drinks for the event, through our partners at Node5. SoftLayer is a proud StartupYard sponsor, and will be giving a workshop on integrating IBM cloud services for members of StartupYard and Node5 on April 20th. Their participation in the UnConference brings their authoritative voice on cloud computing and big data solutions to any of the sessions they may host or attend. We’ll be happy to have them there!

From their website:

“SoftLayer, an IBM Company, provides cloud infrastructure as a service from a growing number of data centers and network points of presence around the world. Our customers range from Web startups to global enterprises.”

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How it Works

Last year,  our director Cedric Maloux ran our first “Unconference.” For those as yet unfamiliar with the format, as I was myself, unconferencing is an alternative take on a conference in which the participants help shape the talks and sessions offered.

An Unconference differs from a traditional conference or set of workshops, chiefly in that none of its content is planned or scheduled ahead of time. Instead, the content of workshops is decided spontaneously, by whomever is in attendance, and is interested in contributing.

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Cedric Maloux introduces the Unconference concept

The whole process looks a bit like this:

1. Introduce the format to attendees.

2. Attendees write down a workshop topic they would like to host or to attend on sticky notes.

3. Participants vote on the topics to be included in a series of 3 time slots, with 3 worshops running simultaneously, for a total of 9 (this depends on the needs and size of your Unconference).

4. The moderator proposes a schedule of the events, striking a balance between topics, and not putting the most popular workshops in competition.

5. Attendees suggest changes, and the conference kicks off, with the topic owners either presenting themselves without preparation, or asking for others to present on the topic they’ve proposed- in some cases, workshops become idea-sharing and brainstorming meetings.

 

Why it Works

Unexpectedly at our last Unconference, I ended up leading a session myself in the first time bracket, on email marketing, a subject close to my heart. My talk was “The 7 Elements of the Perfect Marketing Email.” As the idea had popped into my mind at the last moment, I had written it into the schedule expecting only a few people to be interested. But about a dozen people arrived to hear me speak about a subject for which I had not prepared any material.

No matter, I forged ahead and proposed a few of the ideas about what I think makes great email marketing. And here’s the best part: because of the informality of the format, and the time constraints, the attendees were quick to prod me with a bunch of questions I had no hope of ever being able to answer completely in the given time. These questions gave me great insights into what they wanted out of my talk. For example, someone asked whether he should send mass emails to his top clients using his personal email address, and if so, how to make sure there were no embarrassing gaffes with names and personalization. That’s a question I wouldn’t think to talk about with that group. But because it was an unconference, the people who attended my workshop were quick to tell me what they wanted to talk about.

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Conference attendees move from discussion to discussion.

Clearly, the unconference is a great platform for launching dialogues and connecting with peers who have skill sets you may not even know about. I found myself spending the remainder of the evening reviewing my comments, and cursing myself for not adding *that* piece of information, or *this* anecdote to my talk. It inspired me to flesh out my own ideas on the topic, and the questions honed in on what interested my workshop group most.

 

What You Can Get Out of It

A big drag on conferences, it seems to me, is that much of the time, they’re vehicles for a few people to brag to each other, in front of an audience, about how successful they are. Conferences are often more about the people who’ve organized them, than the people attending. An Unconference is all about the people in attendance. Based on our experience last year, an unconference can prompt questions and debates that last for quite some time, and may spark connections with other thinkers and idea makers who you’d normally never get a chance to engage with on the same level.