liva judic

Liva Judic: Storytelling Between the Lines

Liva Judic is a financial journalist turned entrepreneur. Born in Madagascar, she was educated in Europe and has lived and worked across 4 continents. As a StartupYard mentor, Liva stresses efficient communication, and connecting emotionally across cultures by telling compelling stories that resonate with all audiences. She works individually each year with our startups to open up new avenues of storytelling.
In 2010, Liva founded Merrybubbles Communications to help fuel the fire for technology startups wanting to expand internationally. She lives in Miami Beach and shuttles between there, New York, San Francisco, London, Paris and Berlin.

I caught up with Liva  after her latest mentoring session with the StartupYard 2016 teams, to talk about her views on the industry, startups, and storytelling. Here’s what she had to say: 

Hi Liva, welcome to our blog. Is there anything you’d really like people to know about you, that they can’t find out by reading about you on LinkedIn?

Hi! What’s not showing through my LinkedIn… a lot of things, actually. The thing that I really want to share and is connected to what I do with StartupYard is that I’m passionate about design, aesthetics, especially minimalistic approaches. You can see it through my Instagram account, mostly, and my personal site LivaJudic.com. In terms of work, it transpires in the way I approach things, notably how I structure my interactions with businesses and startups. Short and laser-focused with the goal to make a lasting impact on their progress.

You founded Merrybubbles (the branding and communications firm) in 2011. What was the original vision for the firm? How has that evolved?

At the beginning, the idea was to provide my international experience and journalistic background to companies needing to open their outreach to foreign markets, notably English-speaking ones and mostly the U.S. Our first client was GDF Suez Trading and from there on, we started working with startups with ambitions to move to the U.S. in general. We pivoted, as per startup language, last year from an all-marcoms approach to a strictly branding offer, both strategy (which precludes all communications for any company) and implementation. And instead of purely startups, we have both narrowed and widened (I know, sounds contradictory but you’ll see what I mean) our focus to change makers/game changers. It means first, recognizing that small businesses and startups with women or minorities at their helm are a force to be reckoned with: they are innovators, just because of that leadership choice. It also means that we want to find businesses/startups with technologies or products that are making an impact on their ecosystems, improving quality of life, one way or another.

What makes Merrybubbles different from a typical branding and communications agency?

We only offer one product now (see, the narrowing down is surfacing…) Our approach is very streamlined to ensure maximal impact and ROI for our clients: we only sell one product. Yes, really. We work in a two-step process: we first lead a discovery and analysis of the business/startup in order to put together their brand identity and give the client the one-pager blueprint at the end of the very same day. That’s what we call Primer. Then, we narrow it down with them to execute on it: we ask specifically that the client has access to a screen (phone, tablet or computer) during business hours so we can communicate with them seamlessly for the following four days after Primer. At the end of that fourth day, they will leave with a logo, website, 4 social media profiles or pages of their choices, business card design and a one pager or a landing page for their specific need. In five business days, they are ready to launch.

You emphasize that Merrybubbles is focused on women and minority led organizations, yet you also mentor at the very male, very European StartupYard. Women make up a huge part of the market for emerging tech products, but we’ve struggled to attract women entrepreneurs to our program since the beginning. What could we be doing better, from your perspective?

Bear in mind that I’ve always worked (and thrived because it never bothered me) in male-dominated industries: financial journalism, diplomacy and government, tech startups. So being with StartupYard is not something out of the blue. I’m always happy to represent women in areas where there are so few of us, and it’s part of my thinking to actually organically integrate where women are scarce, a bit like a statement that we can do it: if I can do it, we all can.  

What I would say is that StartupYard has three points of leverage. One, you can onboard more female mentors. There are a lot of women with incredible track records out there who would be amazing adds to your roster of mentors. Number two, encourage applicants who have women in their teams or at the helm of those teams. How you do that is by communicating your awareness and support for more diverse teams. I know there are great diverse teams in Eastern Europe. I have met a few, especially when I am in Berlin, where I spend a fair amount of time. One was from Croatia and is now doing quite well for themselves, as they went through YC.

And of course, what you’re doing now, by giving me this opportunity to speak, is a great first step! Let’s keep doing more such things, I’ll be happy to support your efforts.

You emphasize storytelling in your startup mentorship. What does good storytelling mean to you? Why is it so important

Let’s see. You meet a stranger and s/he tells you a story, random conversation. It’s really not bad. You part ways. Then, on the same day, you meet another stranger. S/He also tells you a story. But this time, it actually makes you laugh, or it reminds you of this one adventure you went on with friends a while ago where you had felt so empowered, or it made you shiver… you part ways. A week after, you are telling a friend about that weird day where you had random conversations with two complete strangers. You can’t remember their names. Not really. But the one thing that you will remember is how that second stranger made you feel. That will stick with you. And you are able to tell the story s/he shared with you that day. The first story? Maybe vague details.

Now, apply that to startups and pitches. Instead of you, the recipient of the stories are investors or users. That’s why it’s so important. You weave your story to make an emotional impact and that’s how you relate to your audience. That’s why it’s crucial to nail your branding: it’s not just the logo and marketing collaterals, it’s the unsaid, what is between the lines that will make your story the best — it’s what is invisible but can only be perceived emotionally.

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We hear quite a lot about “branding” these days. What does branding really mean to you, and what should it mean to startups in Central Europe?

I think my previous response gives you a good idea of what branding should be. Don’t focus just on your logo or website as objects. Focus on them as a medium to convey the full experience of what you offer. This is why, for instance, we offer the Primer phase: we find out everything about the startup, its team, its values, its mission, its goals, but also the story of how the team member got together, what glues them together. We want to find out what makes them tick, what they hate. Of course, we want to see their vision. I always tell clients that we are exploring their full universe in order to be able to activate all 5 senses. Touch, feel, smell, see, taste. That’s how we are able to then build a brand identity that aligns with the startups’ values and culture. As regards startups and businesses from Central/Eastern Europe, this is how they can be authentic and genuine — and that, in turn, will allow them to be universal, go to foreign markets.

We often hear that European startups are “behind” those in the US or in Britain, particularly as it concerns marketing principles and communication skills. Of course the real picture is more subtle. Do you think there are mistakes in the overall narrative that US startups are “ahead” of others around the world?

It is a reality that the level of maturity of startup ecosystems around the world are different. It’s like with electronics. Do you remember the beginning, when the U.S. was making calculators, fax machines and even computers? What was the economic phase in Asia? It was copying. Then comes innovation, they started iterating faster, then took over: look at what happened with Samsung, for instance. You can’t burn through the stages, it takes time. It’s not just the startups, it’s also investors. In a place like Berlin, investors are still very shy and the startups are still used to presenting perfect solutions instead of MVPs to those investors. So their development phase is slowed down by a lack of funding. In the meantime, investors in the U.S. have had quite some time to become familiar with the startup ecosystems. They are bold and bet very early on, even at the stage of ideas, with no product yet. I’m not saying it’s better, it’s just different paradigms.

One thing that is VERY important to be aware of, however is this: regardless of the maturity of the market, developers in Europe, and more specifically in Central/Eastern Europe, are extremely skilled. Proof is, some of the most successful startups in Silicon Valley have gone through the process of working with remote teams from the region.

It’s important to look at the whole ecosystem, not just one side.

You met with the StartupYard startups recently. What did you learn from the experience?

This is my second year mentoring at StartupYard. As you asked me before about startups in Europe vs the U.S., I have to say that the level of maturity of this cohort is striking. Last year, they were good, and this year, they are even better. I’m not bashing on last year, no, that’s not what I mean. On average, the level of readiness overall, for seed stage startups, was pretty damn good. I am still involved with some of last year’s batch. You know, it’s also about who you click with. I believe a few of them will do really well. And this year is no exception. I’m very happy to be a mentor for StartupYard and very grateful for this opportunity too.

 

Satismeter: Meet the Founders

SatisMeter is perfect for online businesses that lack qualitative feedback from their users.
It’s an in-app feedback platform, that collects NPS data based on specific usage patterns. Unlike a traditional email survey or various in-house solutions, SatisMeter is an easy to integrate, multi-platform solution, perfect for small startups with only a few customers, all the way up to enterprise scale clients.

Satismeter’s current customers include BuzzSumo,  Udacity, Mention, Adroll, Dashlane,and MailJet. I sat down with the founders, brothers Jakub and Ondrej Sedlacek, to talk about Satismeter, and their unique team.

 

The Satismeter Brothers

The Satismeter Brothers, Jakub (left) and Ondrej (right)

You two are not only Co-Founders at SatisMeter, but brothers. Have you always worked well together, or was that a later development? Is it an advantage to work with a sibling as a co-founder?

Ondrej: Before SatisMeter neither of us thought our professional paths would ever meet.
Even though we are brothers, we are quite different.
Jakub is a technical person and a product guy with experience of leading GoodData front-end engineering for five years. I, on the other hand, am a sociable person with a background in IT sales, marketing and NGO fundraising.
Jakub: Being brothers has a great advantage, in that we know each other well and we can rely on each other in good and bad times. We share the same values and because we have different expertise we complement each other well.

Tell us a bit about how you came up with SatisMeter.

Jakub: I worked in the [Czech founded and Prague and San Francisco based] analytics company GoodData before and we struggled with the direction of our product and keeping focus on what our customers need. We started collecting customer feedback and it helped us tremendously with further product development. I was surprised there was no such service that would help automate the whole process. That’s where the idea for SatisMeter came from.

How can SatisMeter be used to improve how SaaS companies develop new features or improve retention of existing customers?

Jakub:  SaaS companies live off of customer subscriptions. They need to keep their customers as long as they possibly can. SatisMeter can be viewed as a churn reduction tool. We identify unsatisfied customers, and let SaaS companies work with these customers before they leave for the competition.

Ondrej: Also, most online businesses do not get enough user feedback. They optimize the whole user experience and new features based on analysing the behavior of users, but know very little about the actual needs behind this behaviour.
SatisMeter gathers this feedback directly inside web apps and shares it back to the right people in the organisation. Unlike most in-house solutions, SatisMeter can send the feedback not only to Support, but also to CRM, Analytics and Marketing tools, as well as other communication channels like Slack. This way the feedback doesn’t stay trapped in some helpdesk database, and the whole organization can see what their customers think.

You signed some very prominent clients pretty quickly, like Buzzsumo, MailJet, Mention, and AdRoll. What do you think got you this early traction?

Jakub:  We made the service very easy to start with and let the users see the value immediately. Also, unlike many surveys on the market, we really care about the experience of the end-user – Satismeter doesn’t block them from working and let them fill in our pop-up when they have time for it. This is why Satismeter has a 30% response rates on average.
Ondrej: Our first users came from partnership with customer data hub Segment.com. For example Mention’s Head of Growth found us on the Segment marketplace, and build their churn reduction process around our NPS platform. Later he even wrote a blogpost about this process, and the word of mouth started spreading. Satismeter have also been featured on ProductHunt, which helped as well.

Do you want to help Satismeter on their journey to the top? Click Below to Tweet about them now.

Have you seen any unexpected uses of SatisMeter since you launched? Something that surprised you?

Jakub: When we launched, we saw SatisMeter as a tool for Product Managers to help them build a product their customers need. It surprised us that most people interested in SatisMeter were marketers and growth hackers who wanted to optimize their growth metrics. We unlocked many creative uses by integrating with other platforms and letting our customers work with the collected data. We already took a lot these ideas and implemented them right into SatisMeter.

What’s the short term plan for Satismeter? Where do you want to be in 6 months to a year?

Ondrej: There are four areas where Satismeter will focus: new platforms, new markets, better understanding of user feedback and actionable advice. We want to cover all platforms where users are communicating with businesses and our mobile survey will be launched in March. We are working with several communication platforms to collect user feedback for their customers. Some of our customers collect tens of thousands of responses a month and we would like to give insight not only whether their users are satisfied, but why. Also we already know how to identify the customers with higher churn risk. We want to advise on how to work with them right inside SatisMeter.

Which players do you view as your biggest potential competitors in this market, and why?

Jakub: At the moment our biggest competition are companies that are collecting NPS using email surveys. A surprisingly large number of companies are still using email surveys, although it’s much less efficient than an in-app solution. There are also many platforms that are doing really nice survey widgets, but don’t work very well with the collected data. Satismeter is trying to focus on an easy to use solution that will help companies to dramatically improve customer retention.

Can you tell us some of the most common mistakes that SaaS companies make when surveying their customers?

Jakub: Common mistake is that they just survey users and don’t follow-up with them. It’s a great way to engage with your happy customers and opportunity to proactively resolve issues of the unhappy ones.

What are some of the most common misconceptions about how NPS is used, and how it works?

Ondrej: The most common misconception people make is to look at NPS score and ask “What does this number mean to my business”. The NPS score alone is an indicator of how satisfied and loyal your customers are, but every business segment, every culture and every country has different perceptions and thus different benchmarks. The right way is to watch the NPS trend, correlate it with product and service changes, and decide how these changes influenced your customers’ satisfaction.
Jakub: NPS can be also used in many other ways to improve your business, for example as tool for better conversion of trial users into paying customers, or a way for better targeted marketing campaigns.

Has StartupYard been a positive experience so far for the team? How has it affected your overall approach to the company so far?

Jakub: StartupYard is a combination of connections, knowledge and experience. This is invaluable for first-time entrepreneurs like us. The first month was intense but Satismeter moved miles ahead in vision of our product and company. We are really excited to see what’s coming next.

Philip Staehelin

Philip Staehelin of Roland Berger: Czech Republic a Gateway for Startups

Philip Staehelin is a StartupYard mentor and investor, and former StartupYard Executive in Residence for 2015. He currently serves as Managing Partner for Roland Berger Consultancy in Prague, with a particular interest in connecting startups with corporate partners. Philip is also a key investor in Gjirafa, a StartupYard company, which recently raised $2 Million from Rockaway Capital.
The following is a lightly edited translation of an interview with Philip that appeared in January in Lidové Noviny. The author is Jan Zizka. Some of the content has been slightly altered for clarity, and several questions have been shortened or removed. 


Lidské Noviny: Few have as much experience with Czech startups as globetrotter Philip Staehelin, who has been living in Prague for over two decades. Staehelin merges two different worlds – he has not only been (and still is), very active within the ecosystem of promising startups, but he also has broad experience from various managerial positions in a number of large enterprises. As the new head of the Prague branch of the Roland Berger consultancy, he confirms in this interview that he has clear plans to recommend, even to traditional corporations, learning from the flexibility and the creative mentality of startups.

Silicon Valley, maybe Switzerland, or Israel, is what comes to everyone’s mind when talking about startups. But I’m not sure what the current situation is in Central Europe. Poland, perhaps? Do you think we have already made at least a small step forward for people to associate Prague and/or Brno with startups?

PS: Well, it’s absolutely clear when you include Berlin in the CEE area. There is a real, huge boom of startups, and many investments are now oriented towards Berlins direction. In my opinion, there is enough interesting potential within the Czech Republic as well, but I am not convinced that Prague can become the next startup hub like Silicon Valley, London or Berlin. However, Prague may serve as a kind of funnel and launch pad for startups from the entire CEE region.

Philip Staehelin

Philip Staehelin of Roland Berger

Alongside other roles, I’m a mentor and advisor in StartupYard, a startup accelerator which is helping to shape Prague into such a role. For instance, TeskaLabs, a company dealing in mobile communications and IoT (Internet of Things) security, went through our accelerator. Then they were accepted to a leading London accelerator (TechStars).

So people who focus on this business in Prague will be following all startups in the CEE region? Or will early stage investors still be found locally, and other investors from London or Silicon Valley will join them later?

This is one of the possibilities. The key idea is to achieve wider coverage ,which will help Prague become a startup gateway – a bridge from East to West. As for StartupYard, for example, it’s closely linked to Slovakia and Hungary.

The key question is what it will look like here for the investors. In the past, only very limited funds were available. Nonetheless, the appetite for risk, which is obviously closely associated with investments in startups, has recently increased. The competition exists even on the investors’ side. There is also governmental support, albeit still insufficient. However, it’s not the same money as in Silicon Valley yet. Investors here are not giving out finance into concepts or ideas; they rather go after companies that already generate some revenues.

Yes, previous governments experienced that weakness when they started to build up the so-called “Seed Fund” for projects at an early stage. Will it still be very difficult to find other investors for those projects in the research phase?

This surely is a weak point. Yet, I’m not suggesting the government offer money itself to anyone who applies with some “startup.” It would not lead to any better outcome. The state should provide resources to the existing venture capital funds. Or to accelerators, for example.

In StartupYard, we have utilized European funding for the past two years, which helped a lot. But our government can take a number of other useful steps. They can provide support in creating the right eco-system for startups. Although financial aid is very important, it is still just a side-effect in comparison with shaping simple and transparent entrepreneurial environments.

Speaking of the new state-owned National Innovation Fund, are you a sceptic?

Yeah, I am definitely skeptical, but at the same time I have some hope. We need something like this. However, I know how much of the state-provided money has disappeared in past years, without that being reflected in the improved performance of companies.

So I have strong hopes that is isn’t just another opportunity for corruption, and that this money would indeed assist in changing the whole business atmosphere.

The problem is to ensure such a fund is well-managed. Because if you take a look back at the history, you’ll see that similar projects here haven’t been managed well.

The Ministry of Industry and Trade wants the new fund to invest along with private investors. Is that vital to success?

Fortunately, our government representatives do realize that they aren’t much good at choosing startups with potential. The state is not a professional investor, and wants to be assured that someone else will be involved, and put their own capital into selected projects. The question is whether it can be guaranteed that this money isn’t being allocated to family, relatives and/or friends of those who would be responsible for managing such a fund.

You said that the state has other, more important roles to play.

They should definitely care more about the actual conditions under which new companies are incorporated in the Czech Republic. In comparison with other countries, we are really backwards when it comes to the difficulty involved. Surprisingly though, the situation is even worse in Germany. Still, most other countries in Europe have much more favorable systems. Poland, for example. And Estonia is the bellwether for innovation.

I often hear that we are fighting corruption, while the issues of the  entrepreneurial environment itself are cast aside. Do you agree with that?

Well, fighting corruption is extremely important. If you grant hundreds of millions to startups, it can seem like a lot. But it’s still just a fraction of what has been stolen in this country. I was an active member of  the Administration Board for Transparency International for several years, so the topic is close to my heart. Czech firms simply wont be able to reach their potential without ending all the graft. If the government could prevent the misuse of public money, and was able to use it properly with promising new companies, that would have tremendous effects.

Just to name a successful example – consider anti-virus experts such as AVG or Avast. They help our economic growth and they employ many people. And on top of that, they are promoting the whole country abroad. We can dare say we are leaders in internet safety because of them.

Some in Czech business circles would tell you that even today, banks will remain central to financing here. The Prague Stock Exchange has no particular reputation, but banks can’t be replaced, and VCs can’t save us. Moreover, banks have more liquidity, and tend to claim they can’t find good business plans or interesting projects.

Banks are too careful when it comes to risk, as part of their basic makeup. And definitely they are not the best choice for startups. As I already mentioned, even some venture capital funds here are risk averse. Which is obviously quite a difficult situation for startups – usually with no assets and frequently being “one-garage” style firms. They have computers and thats it. So very often, they have no other options but to ask their friends and/or family for seed money. Then, so-called angels might get involved – individual private investors. However, from all these relatively small investments you can end up with a nice sum to start with.

And local price levels help too. A few years ago, I personally invested in Video Recruit, a startup that was able to survive here with just EUR 300k for three years. In London, by contrast, you couldn’t live longer than six months on that.

Who are these angels? As far as I know, businessmen like Zbyněk Frolík of Linet or Eduard Kučera from Avast are investing in startups more and more. Do others invest as well, after selling their own businesses, or delegating management to others?

Yes, there is much more funding coming from people who are themselves successful as entrepreneurs. Still, they need better access to startups. That is where the aforementioned accelerator model might be useful, as many great entrepreneurs are involved there as mentors.

To become an investor, you don’t need millions. An investor can be managers who have just done well enough. Another example: a company that went through the StartupYard accelerator a few years ago was an “Albanian Seznam,” called Gjirafa. Our mentors were among their first investors.

As the new Roland Berger Managing Partner, you plan to focus on cooperation between large corporates and interesting startups. Why are you so driven to connect these two seemingly diverse cultures?

You’re right. I am very excited about this, and for multiple reasons. I used to work for T-Mobile, as a member of its international team for innovations. We came up with a few nice ideas, but the company then lacked the ability to work with and develop them. That was about eight years ago; and large companies, including T-Mobile, have changed a lot since then. Today, there ‘s much more understanding that driving innovation is important, and that there are lessons to learn from the flexible approach of startups. The question now, is how.

They can try to incorporate startups into their own structure, but oftentimes startups don’t want that. They don’t want to become just a smaller part of a big unit with overwhelming administration, with no room for development and growth.

What’s your solution?

Startups can stay outside large enterprises, keeping their uniqueness and creativity, but still working cooperatively. Corporations can then create, in collaboration with these startups, some kind of innovation lab where ideas can be worked on. This mode of cooperation is highly fruitful for startups, especially if they get at least some financial support from a bigger company. This is not to mention the advantage of an enterprise’s customer network.

Yet, there is another model available – creating corporate venture capital companies, and buying shares in prospective firms that are relevant to  their overall strategy. As a big plus, you don’t have to put all your eggs in one basket.

It occurs to me that you personally represent a good example of combining these two worlds – you probably aren’t a very typical head for such a traditional consultancy as Roland Berger.

True. I have been a consultant before and wasn’t sure whether to return to the role or not. Though, I had a long discussion on innovation with a global head of Roland Berger, who aims to lead this company more deeply into  the digital world and to a new mix of consulting, technology and private equity. This is a very nice, thrilling vision and also completely in line with my own convictions.

To what extent will this be attractive for Czech companies without foreign ownership? Merging trans-national corporations and startups might seem to far afield for them.

There are many types of innovation. Some Czech companies have agreed to try innovating inside their establishments according to the Industry 4.0 concept. In other words, to integrate the latest technologies and maximize the value of what they already do. And it can work out pretty well because a lot of local firms are very specialized in one particular segment. But it might be helpful even for them to be inspired by a startup mentality. I think also that Czech companies must stay open and try many paths. If something fails, it’s rational to try something different.

Do you think the whole concept of Industry 4.0 is more than marketing jargon? Is it an exaggeration to call this the 4th industrial revolution? Computerizing, digitalization – we’ve seen all this already as a part of the third one.

I am an eye-witness to the fact that this really is the fourth revolution, and I don’t think this is a matter of mere marketing. If companies succeed in gathering data from each & every machine and interconnect all processes ,from logistics to production, that’s an appreciable progression towards higher efficiency.

The Industry 4.0 principle relies not only in applying automation and robotics on your manufacturing processes, but also in integrating all data into your planning – wherever that data comes from (both inside and outside) – and working with it efficiently.

To put it simply, a brewery will be able to connect information on how a climate phenomenon like El Nino may influence this year’s harvest yield, together with historical details on how similar weather swings affected beer consumption in the past, and adjust their strategy for the future accordingly. Or you can easily detect in advance when one of the production line components might break down, or wear ou,t and avoid that by performing pre-emptive maintenance.

The Industry 4.0 concept came here from Germany. My question is a bit wider though – do you think it’s good that the Czechs are so strongly linked to the German economy?

Actually, this is more of a political question… Look, we are such a small country, there are just ten million of us.

Did you really say „we/us“?

Yes, of course. I’ve been living here for more than twenty-two years, I obtained Czech citizenship last year. My wife is Czech as well as both my kids. And I also became a big fan of the Czech national hockey team…

So you are eligible to vote as well.

I will definitely vote, but it will be a tough decision to make. Anyway, I do think we have no better option than our relationship with Germany. I am a bit worried about that element in Czech society that is pulling us back towards the Russian sphere of influence again. So I am willing and happy to be a German ally, vven if neither is perfect nor ideal. But we can benefit immensely from the German industrial base being as strong as it is.

On the other hand, that doesn’t necessarily mean Czechs shouldn’t strive to enter other markets. I gladly support market expansion. And well, if our local startups can be a part of the global scene, it will be a massive thing for the Czech economy.

Introducing the StartupYard 2016 Startups

StartupYard 2016 has been underway for just over a month now. So it’s time to make it official. After an exhaustive application process, and over a month of mentoring, StartupYard is proud to announce 9 new startups, who will present themselves at StartupYard 2016’s Demo Day, on April 6th.

Satismeter: Know Your Customers

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Czech Republic

SatisMeter is perfect for online businesses that lack qualitative feedback from their users.
It’s an in-app feedback platform, that collects NPS data based on specific usage patterns. Unlike a traditional email survey or various in-house solutions, SatisMeter is an easy to integrate, multi-platform solution, perfect for small startups with only a few customers, all the way up to enterprise scale clients.

Satismeter’s current customers include BuzzSumo,  Udacity, Mention, Adroll, Dashlane, and MailJet

 

ClaimAir: Know Your Rights. Get Paid.

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Czech Republic

ClaimAir helps travelers fight the airlines for compensation, because fliers don’t have the time and resources to do it themselves.
It’s is an automated platform that handles the end-to-end process of claiming owed compensation for delays, baggage mishandling, etc. Did you know that the average compensation owed was over 300 Euros?
Unlike travel agencies, ClaimAir is specialized in handling legal compensation claims in large volumes.

 

Neuron Software: Making Sense of Sound

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Czech Republic

Neuron Software is a deep tech startup, exploring the use of self-teaching, constantly learning neural networks in a wide range of audio analysis and audio manipulation applications.
Imagine having a car mechanic in your pocket, able to diagnose a problem just by listening to it. Or being able to accurately document the emotions of your customers, every time anyone from your company talks to them.
Neuron Software’s technology will enable a broad range of new capabilities that are just starting to be explored.

 

Stream.Plus: The Last Video Platform You’ll Ever Need

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Czech Republic

Stream.Plus is the future of branded video distribution. Brands who have quality video content often lack control over the distribution and monetization of that content. Stream.Plus creates mobile and web apps for branded, interactive online TV channels that create a direct connection between consumers and brands.

 

NeuronAd: Ads for Everyone

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Czech Republic

Online publishers rely heavily on advertising for revenue. But 20% or more of internet users now have adblockers installed. NeuronAd helps online publishers show relevant, unobtrusive ads to adblocked visitors, while maintaining the speed, security, and experience that led those visitors to employ adblockers.

 

Speedifly: When in Doubt, Travel

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Bulgaria

SpeediFly is for spontaneous travelers who want to get away last minute, but don’t know where they can go on a budget.
It’s a mobile travel discovery platform that locates the customer and finds the 15 cheapest flights departing from and returning to the nearest airport in the next 10 days. Unlike clunky old-fashioned search engines, SpeediFly combines social dimensions like group travel planning, with the ability to discover destinations based on activities and interests.

 

TotemInteractive: Make Ads People Love

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Poland

TotemInteractive enables Digital Out of Home Advertising to become more than just a one-way brand-to-customer ad channel.
It’s a cloud based advertising platform that supports interactive content, like games and contests, by allowing people to control ads directly from their smartphones.
Drive real audience engagement with your live ads, by making ads people love, and love to play with.

 

Salutara: Your Health Matters

Salutara, Startupyard

Czech Republic

Salutara is a full-service online platform for medical travel. Every year, 11 Million people seek medical procedures that are not accessible or affordable in their home countries. With Salutara as a trusted advisor and intermediary, patients can search and compare clinics, arrange procedures, plan, book, and pay for a whole trip in one place. Travel for your health, with Salutara.

 

boatify: hop onboard (a boat!)

boatify

Switzerland

Boatify is for people who want to go on a boat ride, but don’t have easy and affordable access to a boat. It’s a web and mobile platform, where boat owners can earn money renting their boats directly.
Unlike typical boat rental services, boatify relies on a network of partner “officers,” who take responsibility for the end-to-end customer experience of each boat rental, making it a snap to safely rent and take a trip in a boat near you, anytime.

 

The Teams

StartupYard Alum Gjirafa.com snags $2 Million Investment From Rockaway Capital

StartupYard is very excited to be able to announce a day we have been anticipating for some months. It’s now official. Global investment firm Rockaway Capital has invested $2 Million in StartupYard all-star Alum Gjirafa.com. The investment is aimed at growing the Balkans’ internet economy, and making Gjirafa, which is based in Kosovo and Albania, the regional leader in search, ecommerce, and online advertising.

Read the Story on TechCrunch.

Mergim Cahani, Co-Founder and CEO of Gjirafa, joined StartupYard as part of our 2014 cohort, and has continued to stay in close contact as a mentor and advisor for our startups. Rockaway Capital is also a StartupYard investor.

Mergim Cahani Gjirafa Investment

The investment follows Rockaway’s aggressive moves in European e-commerce investments of recent years, and it follows earlier investments in Gjirafa from angel investors, including Yandex’s Esther Dyson, Credo Ventures Partner Ondrej Bartos, and Roland Berger Managing Partner (and former StartupYard Mentor in ResidencePhilip Staehelin. Gjirafa secured its first angel investments while attending StartupYard.

This new capital will allow Gjirafa to expand more aggressively in the Albanian speaking regions of the Balkans. The deal also calls for Rockaway to commit considerable resources to bringing other internet properties to Albanian language audiences and businesses, building up the internet economy in the region in partnership with Gjirafa.com.

Gjirafa plans to advance Albania and Kosovo’s first native AdNetwork. They will also introduce e-commerce into the region, where the majority of people own no credit cards, but where the internet population is mobile-first, with over 50% of internet traffic going to smartphones. 70% of the populations of Kosovo and Albania are under the age of 35, presenting a huge capacity for growth in e-commerce and advertising going forward.

“This investment is more than just a bet on the explosive growth potential of the Balkans’ internet economy,” noted Gjirafa’s Founder and CEO, Albanian native Mergim Cahani. “ It’s going to help us accelerate that growth by bringing online services to the region that have never been seen here before.” Cahani has built the search company into a fast-growing organization, boasting 650% growth from late 2014, over 10 million searches executed, and over 1 Million visitors in the past 10 weeks alone.

“This is a clear validation of the potential we have seen in Mergim Cahani and the whole Gjirafa team since we invited them to join StartupYard in 2014,” said StartupYard Managing Director Cedric Maloux. “It’s also a vote of confidence in the StartupYard community and program. This is a smart bet for Rockaway, and a big deal for every day people and businesses in Kosovo and Albania.”

user persona

User Persona: Getting Started

A user persona can be a powerful analytical tool, if it’s done thoughtfully. But it’s something we regularly struggle to persuade startup founders to do with any enthusiasm.

That’s not surprising, really. Building a user persona can seem like voodoo, if you don’t appreciate the point of doing them. Or, it can feel like a kind of homework- something you have check off the list in order to get on with the really good stuff, which is building your product into something you can be proud of. But fear not- it’s neither voodoo nor homework. It can be fun, and more importantly, it’s extremely helpful in making you a better team, and a smarter company.

What is a User Persona?

Barra05_163.jpg IMGP0360.JPG Vatersay, Barra, Outer Hebrides, Scotland, UK

Definitions vary, but here’s the one that I think is most useful for early-stage startups: a persona is essentially a description of your ideal customer. It includes general and detailed information about that user’s motivations, their goals, their situation in life, and the type of person they are.

Some user personas are written as a kind of narrative, including fanciful details to make the person feel more real. Others are utilitarian, like a government file or a social media profile.

While many templates and types of personas exist, the most important point is that they provide your team a target for their sales, marketing, UX, and design goals. Your user personas, particularly for startups, serve as a kind of ur-user; a face, name, and personality you keep in mind when you are working towards releasing a product.

Whatever format makes that most accessible and useful is ok to use, but we will also talk more about format later on.

What a User Persona is Based On

In a startup without any customers, or even without a finished product, it’s not always clear how to get started with a user persona. Who are your ideal customers? Since you don’t have any yet, it’s hard to say.

Should your personas be based on real people? Yes, and no. For a lot of startups, a “best guess” is necessary to get you started. This is often called a “proto-persona,” and it deals more with the basic needs and goals of a user, than with the specific ux expectations that user might have.

If you’re very familiar with the market segment you’re targeting, you can use that experience to construct a composite of the type of user who will buy or use your product. This is usually easier if the product is for professionals or a specific user-segment, because it will likely be based on some existing industry experience.

Say, for example, you’re building a Saas product for professional translators. You probably know a bit about that industry, and the types of people who need your solution. A composite of people you already know can serve as a jumping off point for your user-persona.

Again, the idea is to composite an “ideal” candidate user. This is the person who will be your best customer, and will gladly buy from you. They are the perfect fit for your product. Though most customers won’t fit that mold exactly, a persona should help you steer your efforts towards the people who will want to use (and pay to use) your product most.

You can also find relatively cheap ways of doing market research, such as conducting broad social media campaigns, or a survey, and analyzing the users who fill out the survey, or convert on your landing pages, or who like the posts on your Facebook page.

You are Not your User

These educated guesses can give you an overall view of who is responding most to your product, but keep in mind, the composition of that group will be dependent on the communication of the campaign as well.

Many startups start out thinking that their typical users are basically analogues of themselves. This is most common in startups where the founders might actually be very similar to their eventual customers, because the startup is based on a specific hobby, or interest. It can lead you to many false conclusions about who your ideal customer really is. Many male startup founders, for example, undervalue the appeal of their products to women, and so ignore evidence that women are interested in their products.

Jakob Nielsen, the influential usability expert, puts it this way in Growing A Business Website:

“One of usability’s most hard-earned lessons is that ‘you are not the user.’ If you work on a development project, you’re atypical by definition. Design to optimize the user experience for outsiders, not insiders.”

The lesson extends beyond usability, to marketing, feature design, and many other areas. A very compelling reason for building a user persona is to challenge your assumptions against future evidence, including user testing and user feedback.

If you find, after some period of time, that your user persona isn’t lining up very well with the reality of your sales results, then it might be time to adjust the persona. You may find that the early adopters from that unexpected segment reveal an untapped demand among users like them, who are not early adopters.

If you don’t have a user persona to work with, then you don’t have anything to challenge your assumptions with. New user behavior is just noise without clear context. Why are certain types of users attracted to your product? How can you get more of those types of users? It will be difficult to figure out where to start.

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What a User Persona Looks Like

You’ll find many examples of user personas online, and many twists on the basic pattern. You don’t have to stick with any one of those. There are no rules. But your format should compliment your goals in creating a persona. What will this persona help you to do? Will it be used to shape your marketing message? Will it dictate what features you plan? Will it influence the design?

Hopefully, you have a range of goals you need to accomplish, and the user persona is a kind of benchmark. You can refer back to him or her (they can have a name and everything), and ask yourself and your team: “Is John really interested in this feature?” or “will Jackie really respond to that kind of email?” In time, you can add real observations of your users to flesh out this fictional person. Your team can become familiar with them and their issues and goals.

A format I really like, for its clarity and ease of use, is this one, from fakecrow.com (a service for creating user personas):

 

user persona

You can find more examples at FakeCrow

The persona is laid out less like a story than a file on an existing person. The kind of thing you might see in a spy movie. It also allows you and your team to see a big picture representation of a person from many angles: what they do for work, what their personal life is like, what kind of technology they use, and what kind of personality they have. Each data point can be a discussion topic, and a test of your own thinking about the product.

Most startups should challenge them to create at least 3 different personas, and test them in the real world, either through marketing, or in person testing of people who match the profile as closely as possible.

Keep in mind, your goal at the beginning is not to find out what is most typical or most common, but which type of user is ideal for you. Usually, that’s the person most ready and able to buy your product. This early testing of your user persona can reveal whether or not the persona you are targeting is in fact ideal.

Don’t Chase the Rabbit

As in all things, moderation is important here too. Your user persona is never perfect, and never complete. The goal of this process is not to nail down the perfect user, and then lock that into your team’s mindset for all time. Circumstances, economics, and technology change at a rapid pace. What was important to a lot of people 10 years ago, is now much less important. You have to keep your user persona updated and in line with reality, so don’t get too deep into this analytical process before getting into real-life contact with real users.

That said, devote some time as early as you can to creating multiple personas, and let that process influence how you approach the market from the beginning. It’s ok to be wrong- in fact, it’s necessary to be wrong at least some of the time. If you don’t make any mistakes, it’s probably because you aren’t taking any risks, and in startups, a certain amount of risk is advisable on the path to a truly disruptive and effective new product.

 

homepage

Is Your HomePage Really Your Business?

Is Your Homepage really your business?

The homepage is in the DNA of startups. A lot of people think of tech companies as websites, even when they have little do with each other. That’s as it has been since the “dot com” boom of the 90s, when adding “.com” to a company name was enough to boost its stock price.

These days, a good looking homepage and landing pages are essential for establishing any company’s basic credentials. But the tools for creating such a page in only a few hours are now readily available, and very cheap. For the most part, a dedicated web designer isn’t even needed to make a smart homepage that is sufficient for most early stage startups.

Aside from that, many very successful startups rely very little on their websites to generate business, because they have to find their customers on other platforms, like social media, or through partnerships.

Tunnel Vision

Sometimes though, startups get bogged down in the process of strategizing and devising their messaging, with much of the focus being on how the homepage looks, what the copy says, and how it can be optimized for maximum selling potential. Part of this comes from a phenomenon I’ve talked about before: “over-mentoring,” which is where startups get trapped in a vicious cycle of requesting more and more feedback, and stop being able to make decisions quickly.

And a lot of that over-mentoring happens with the homepage, because it is the first thing that most mentors see from the startup. The conversation often revolves around it, and the messaging it contains, instead of the core problems the startup is really facing in their business (which may or may not have to do with optimizing their homepage).

I’m even more guilty of this than most mentors, because I’m a copywriter, and I love analyzing and optimizing web pages. But the truth is that 9 times out of 10, a simple formula will work just fine: a headline, a sub-header, and a call to action. The classical “triangle” shape that millions of simple homepages use.

homepage triangle

To fight over-thinking, I’ve been finding myself challenging teams to live with an imperfect website. I’ll ask them, “why are you focusing so much of your energy on this? Is that justified by the kind of traffic you are hoping to generate with it?” In some cases, the answer is yes. But often, it’s not clear the founders have given that much thought.

The homepage can be a vital step for onboarding customers. But that’s less and less true today, and many of our startups will never need elaborate pages at all in order to do business. They’ll need brilliant apps, or intelligent and well designed processes, but the homepage won’t create loyal customers- the product/service will do that.

A “Perfect” Homepage is a Moving Target

“A perfect homepage is a moving target. Don’t outsmart yourself.”

Lots of engineers treat their homepages as if they need to “get it right,” on the first try. But that’s putting themselves at a big disadvantage from the outset. Homepages, just like products, are pretty much never right at the beginning. Only experimenting, testing, tweaking, and retesting will yield something that you can be sure is living up to its full potential.  It’s far better to be responsive to how people react, and to what kinds of visitors you attract, than to try and game out an elaborate homepage strategy from day one.

A common mistake is to mix up the “promise” of a startup with the promise of a homepage, although the short term goals of both are often not aligned, particularly at the beginning. This might mean that the messaging veers too close to the “mission statement” of the company, like “make the world a better place,” instead of the immediate goal of the page, which might be to get people interested in an upcoming release.


PRO TIP: Use tools like HotJar.com to better understand how visitors react and interact with your homepage.

It’s natural to want the homepage to look as you want the company to look, making it appear more professional and more established than the company truly is. But “fake it till you make it,” is a dicey proposition when it comes to winning the trust of customers and investors. It’s easy to fail at looking like a bigger deal than you are, and there’s little real benefit outside of ego from trying to.

And while startups are over thinking the design tactics, they’re underthinking basic strategy with a homepage. What is the promise of the homepage? If it is designed to attract leads, then it needs to offer users a very easy and seamless way of getting in contact. If it is meant to generate customers, then it needs to show them a simple and persuasive argument for buying the product, along with an easy way to do so.

These elements cannot be perfected in the lab- they have to be worked on over time, meaning that the work is never really finished. What’s more, these goals will shift over time as the product, customer set, and offering changes. It’s easy to get burned out on the first version of a homepage, and then leave it that way for far too long. For some startups, a homepage becomes like a bad marriage that they’re unwilling to end because of all the work that went into it.

Don’t Outsmart Yourself

I’ll keep demanding that startups build practical, usable, clean, and attractive homepages. It’s really important to devise and employ strong emotional use cases, and communicate them. But don’t make your homepage a blocker for you getting down to the real business, which isn’t just selling to your customers, but serving them something they really want.

If you’re struggling with your messaging, then take yourself off the hook. Create a minimal homepage, and focus on interacting with your customers. Over time, you can optimize to make sure you aren’t scaring anyone away, or missing any big opportunities. But don’t try and use your homepage to define your whole business- your customers shouldn’t be interested in that, and neither should you.