Michal Illich: “Know your Competition.”

Michal Illich is a household name in the Czech Republic’s technology industry. Aside from developing the engine that originally powered Seznam, the king of search in the region, Illich has founded a raft of companies in the past 15 years. He’s a founder of StartupYard, as well as of Techsquare, the open tech workspace where StartupYard is based. He’s been mentoring our current startups, and we got him to weigh in on the state of the Czech Republic’s tech industry, and what it’s like to mentor new founders.
 
Michal, first things first: we hear you have a Tesla. Were you the first Tesla owner in Prague? How do you like it?

As far as I know, a few (up to 5) owners received their Tesla in the same week as I did. I might be the first because I opted for the earliest possible date. It’s a great car – beautiful, very powerful (4.2 seconds to 100 km/h) and still practical (5 seats, 2 trunks).

You’re one of the founders of TechSquare (homebase for StartupYard), and a founder and investor in StartupYard itself. What got you interested in bringing new startups to Prague?
Well, as I’m one the first generation of Czech people who made some money from their internet projects, I thought it’ll be nice to give something back.
Czech and Central European investors are known for being conservative. Do you think that’s true, and if so, what unique challenges does that present startups here?
I’m not really sure if we are conservative. Most investors I know are realistic or optimistic about Czech startups. I don’t think that the american way of throwing a lot of money into startups and hoping that 1% will became a billion dollar company would work here. We are slower but longterm results of Czech IT companies are quite solid.
You’ve been mentoring the teams at StartupYard since the beginning. What do you find difficult about mentoring at this stage in these companies’ development? What about it is rewarding for you?
As Niels Bohr said, it’s hard to make predictions, especially about the future. No one – even the best mentors – can predict the success of any particular startup. So we search and discuss it together which is interesting for the startup and for me as well.
Is there an area of preparation that the majority of accelerator teams could do better in?
Probably knowing their competitors and alternatives.
What are some projects you’ve been excited about recently? What are you working on?
Almost all the startups in the current batch are nice. We’re working on http://flowreader.com/ , http://testomato.com/ , http://kinohled.cz/ , some machine learning problems and one as yet unlaunched project.
How has the Tech Startup landscape changed in the past 10 years in the Czech Republic? What do you see coming in the future?
From the czech websites, only Seznam.cz is innovating. The other major players did nothing technologically worth mentioning for several years :(.  The global startups operated by czech people are more interesting and I think we’ll have more billion dollar companies (to accompany Seznam.cz, GoodData, AVG and Avast) in the next few years.
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Three Pitching Disasters – and How to Avoid Them

smaller_MG_1115The following is a guest-post by Startupyard Mentor, Jeanne Trojan. Jeanne trains and mentors startup teams personally at SY. She has lived in the Czech Republic for nearly 20 years. She is a noted expert on the local market, and a 2013 TEDx presenter with “Rejecting Normal: Four Changes for an Exceptional Life” 
 

Three Pitching Disasters – and How to Avoid Them

 Jeanne Trojan : Startupyard Mentor,  Presentation and Pitch Trainer

Because of my work and my involvement in the startup community, I’ve seen a lot of pitches. I’m always happy when I see a pitch that achieves what it should – making potential investors and clients interested enough to learn more about the project. But, unfortunately, most of the pitches I see don’t even get close to that goal. There are even some that I would call disasters.
Although I think there is a lot to learn from looking at the successes, there is plenty of information about how to pitch successfully. I’d like to tell you about some of the disasters I’ve seen and give you some ways you can avoid the same fate. My point is not to embarrass anyone (of course, the teams, accelerators and events are deliberately anonymous), but to show you what can go wrong if you’re not properly prepared.

1. Um… I don’t know’

Photo Credit: Brian Moore, Flikr

Photo Credit: Brian Moore, Flikr

Picture this. Demo Day. It’s the end of the accelerator program and it’s time to show the audience and jury the projects that have made it through. The venue is full of potential investors, clients and members of the startup community. During the accelerator program, a lot of time was spent with mentors of every kind. Before Demo Day, the pitch was refined by a pitch coach and members of the accelerator team. The founder has just finished delivering the pitch and it’s time for the jury Q&A.

Jury member: ‘How much does your product cost? I didn’t notice anything about price in your pitch.’ 

Founder: (After a long, uncomfortable pause and a glance at the other team members) ‘We don’t exactly know yet.’

I’m stunned. Is it a joke? No. The founder really doesn’t know what he’s going to charge for the product. He acts as if the question never occurred to him. All of that time, mentoring and coaching and no one brought up the topic of price? No one thought it was something important to discuss? Unfortunately, this incident isn’t the only time I’ve seen a founder embarrassed to realize that they don’t have some basic information about their project.

Lesson: In my opinion, one of the advantages of going through an accelerator program is access to experienced mentors. The result should be that the founder has talked about many different aspects of their business with experienced professionals. It’s a shame that this doesn’t always happen. But, the founder needs to be proactive enough to realize that just because it’s not brought up in the mentor sessions doesn’t mean that they don’t need to think about it and come up with a decision.
There is some basic information that you need to include in your pitch – the problem being solved, your target market, a clear explanation of your solution, your competitive advantage, the team and how you’re going to make money (just to name a few). Make sure you’re getting help making these decisions. If you’re not in an accelerator, you’ll need to do your own research and seek out people who can help you.

After you’ve created your pitch, sit down with your team and brainstorm every possible question potential investors/clients could ask you – from the obvious to the off-the-wall.  Make sure you can clearly answer these questions.  You might even find that some of the topics should actually be a part of the pitch so go back and include them. The time spent in these question drills will pay off in the confidence you’ll have when it’s time to pitch.

2. It’s Not Funny

Photo Credit: Pulguita, Flikr.

Photo Credit: Pulguita, Flikr.

For some reason – maybe it’s the relaxed atmosphere or the perceived ‘laid back’ attitude of being in a startup – some founders choose to start their pitches with something ‘funny’. Examples that I’ve seen include dumping a bunch of paper out of a big box, wearing a ‘funny’ hat, telling ‘funny’ stories or asking the audience a ‘raise your hands if…’ question. When I look at the jury’s faces, they usually just seem embarrassed for the speaker. This is not the impression you want to leave with potential investors.

Lesson: People often don’t understand the difference between a conference talk and a startup pitch. When you are delivering a pitch, the only people you’re addressing are potential investors/clients. These are serious people with serious questions. They want to be sure that you are someone credible enough to invest in. The underlying message in your pitch should be – this is an amazing investment that is going to make money for you. Let me tell you more about it. This is impossible to achieve if you lose the respect of your audience at the beginning of your pitch just because you were trying to be entertaining.

3. ‘Oh, well…whatever…’

Photo Credit: Makelessnoise, Flikr

Photo Credit: Makelessnoise, Flikr

This happened at a recent pitch contest for mobile applications and the stakes were pretty high.
One founder got up and his whole presence said, ‘I don’t really care about this’. He started by saying, ‘Yeah, so my name is … and… uh… you know, we made this uh… app and you know…’ This stunning introduction was followed by a description of the app with lots of ‘yeah, whatevers’ thrown in throughout the pitch.

I was on the jury and I’m afraid I wasn’t very kind in my feedback. This is not the time to act cool or like you really don’t care if you win or not. In this case, it was a real shame because the application was actually great, but the delivery of the pitch killed any chance of success in the competition.

Lesson: There is NO way that someone is going to invest if the founder isn’t excited about his own project. If you can’t express your enthusiasm, have someone else on your team who has this ability deliver the pitch instead.

In this case, the founder and I talked afterwards and his persona of ‘I don’t care’ was really just covering up his extreme nervousness. Don’t let this happen to you. We all deal with nerves differently, but the best way to take control of nervous energy is to practice until you know the pitch like you know your own name. I don’t mean you should memorize it – except for your first few sentences, don’t memorize. But, you should know your story and know where it’s leading and how it fits with each slide. It’s good to be nervous – it means you care – but the only way you can control your impression is to practice a lot.

Practice, Practice, Practice

*There are tons of resources on how to make a great pitch. Here are a few you should check out:

Dave McClure: VC Pitch Advice http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0jSYuUGZzas

How to Pitch Your Startup in 3 Minutes http://mashable.com/2013/03/07/robert-scoble-perfect-startup-pitch/

How to Pitch Your Business http://ffvc.com/resources/pitch/

Startup Pitch: Essential Elements http://www.slideshare.net/jmtcz/startup-pitch-13008434

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Frequently Asked Questions about StartupYard

Here are some of the typical questions candidates ask us. Check them out.
If we did not answer a question you might have about us, don’t hesitate to get in touch

How much experience do you have as an accelerator?

StartupYard was founded in 2011, and has accelerated over 50 startups. 5 have been acquired, and 17 have raised additional capital. StartupYard is best known for accelerating companies such as DameJidlo, BrandEmbassy, Gjirafa.com, NeuronSoundware, BudgetBakers, and TeskaLabs.

What type of project are you looking for?

StartupYard looks for talented, dedicated entrepreneurs with global ambition, who are working on the cutting edge of new technologies, most often in the fields of Security, Trust, Predictions, AI, Machine Learning, IoT, and Mobile. Each cohort of startups is focused on a particular aspect of the tech industry, however StartupYard considers applications that are peripherally related to these fields.

How many companies do you accept per round?

We have accepted as few as 6 and as many as 9. StartupYard only works with startups that we believe have a real potential for widespread growth and global adoption.

Can I apply even if I don’t have a prototype yet?

Yes you can. We are interested in people who have the capability and the ambition to deliver and build global solutions.

What type of commitment do you require?

StartupYard’s official program lasts 3 months, during which time the core team of your startup will be resident in Prague. We look for startups that will benefit most from cooperation with StartupYard, so ongoing support and assistance should become a natural extension of our relationship over time.

StartupYard is a mentor driven accelerator. Deep and valuable mentorship can only happen in person, on an intensive day-by-day basis over a period of time. An in person commitment is essential to this process.

What do you mean by mentor driven?

Money can’t buy you time but mentors can save you time. During the first month, you will go through intense mentoring sessions with industry experts from many different businesses, including a host of c-level executives from leading tech companies, as well as successful business founders.

When does the program take place?

We accelerate up to 2 rounds of startups each year- every 6 to 9 months. Check our apply page for the next available open call.


Will we receive training?

It depends what you mean by training. We’re not a school, and we won’t teach you how to code, but we will organize extensive workshops and on-to-one sessions with experts on specific topics like financial projections, growth hacking, media training, pitching, etc.

Do I have to pay to participate?

No. Participation in StartupYard is free of charge. We take however a 5% participation in the capital of each start-up participating in the program.

Do you invest in start-ups?

Teams that are selected can receive, if they want, a €30,000 investment in exchange for 5% of equity of the start-up.

I’m a single founder. Can I still apply?

Unfortunately not. Except in the rarest of circumstances, we do not accept solo founders.

We don’t have any programming skills in our team. Can we still apply?

Non-technical teams can apply to StartupYard, and will have to quickly find a way to build their product.

I’m not located in Prague. Do I have to be physically present on-site?

Yes, for 3 months you will have to be with us in our great open-space in Node5.

Can I apply even if I am not from Europe?

Yes you can but be aware that you will require a Visa to stay and work in Prague for 3 months.

We have already raised money from friends/family or business angels. Can we still apply?

Yes you can.

10 Reasons to Join StartupYard’s Accelerator Program

You have a project in Data, Search or Analytics?

Here are 10 good reasons why you should apply to StartupYard Accelerator program:

  1. We have been accelerating start-ups for 3 years already so you can expect a program that has been developed over time.
  2. You will learn how to write a financial and business plan and how to pitch it to investors.
  3. You will receive €250,000 worth of perks that will last you for months.
  4. Experienced coders will sit down with you during code review sessions to help you optimize your product.
  5. You will have access to amazing mentors who will challenge you and push you to get the best out of your idea.
  6. If you are not from Prague, we will provide you with free accommodations and office-space for the duration of the program (and we will fly you to Prague for free).
  7. You will participate in growth hacking workshops and learn ways to increase your user base.
  8. Your start-up will be exposed to the international eyes of the leading European tech journalists and bloggers.
  9. You will go from an idea to a business that investors will want to invest in and users will want to pay for in 3 months.
  10. You will meet scientists who are doing machine learning, natural language processing, maintaining Hadoop and learn how to run these technology on a mass production level.

Did we convince you? Here’s the link to submit your application.

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Calling all European Coders: What Could you Build with this Web Crawler Hadoop Database?

Last week we announced that Seznam.cz was opening part of its search technology by providing a cluster of data. Today, we are happy to give you more details.

Seznam.cz full text search technology is based on Hadoop and Hbase. The teams will have access to a test cluster of up to 100 million documents from the Internet. All of them pre-crawled and sorted into entities such as domains, webservers and URLs. Each of these entities contains its own attributes for fast analysis and sorting of each web page in the cluster.

More specifically, the 3 entities are :

  • Domains – these are equivalent to DNS name structure, domains are organized as a tree. Root entity is special domain “.”,
  • Webservers – a “webserver” is the specialization of a “domain” (webserver = domain + port). They gather URL statistics and other attributes related to a webserver as a whole (for example content of robots.txt is Webserver relevant).
  • URLs – a URL represents a document on a webserver. “URL” is always related to some “webserver”. It contains all attributes relevant to a single web page.

Each entity has a key. The key looks like a modified URL – the hostname parts are in reverse order, the rest of the url is lowercased and cleaned up. It is possible to recognize an entity type from its key value. For example:

  • URL: http://www.montkovo.cz/Cenik/?utm_source=azet.sk&utm_medium=kampan11
  • URL-key: cz.montkovo.!80/cenik
  • webserver-key: cz.montkovo.!80
  • domain-key: cz.montkovo.

The whole database is sorted via the key (ascending), so that all URLs on the same webserver are co-located and could be processed one after another.

Here is a list of common attributes for each entity:

Domain entity

  • Key
  • IP address of the domain (if exists)
  • Number of direct sub-domains
  • Number of all sub-domains
  • Number of all webservers in all sub-domains
  • Number of all known URLs (URLS related to all sub-domains). We call this state of URL as “key-only”.
  • Number of all downloaded URLs. State “content”.
  • Number of all processed URLs (i.e. parsed and extracted basic features). State “derivative”.
  • Number of redirects
  • Number of errors (i.e. URLs with downloading or processing error)
  • Average document download latency

Webserver entity

  • Key
  • Webserver homepage (key to that URL)
  • Content of Robots.txt (robot exclusion protocol) relevant to our crawler
  • Number of all known URLs (state key-only) related to this webserver.
  • Number of all downloaded URLS (state content) related to this webserver.
  • Number of all processed URLs (state derivative) related to this webserver.
  • Number of redirects
  • Number of errors
  • Average document download latency

URL entity

  • Key
  • URL as seen on the web
  • Last download date
  • Last HTTP status
  • Type of the URL – could be few (not downloaded, web page, redirect, error, …). Mind: type of the URL is not the same as HTTP status. For example: HTTP status is 200 OK, but URL type is redirect, because we have detected software redirect within the page content.
  • Attributes specific for different URL types:
    • Not downloaded page
      • We have no explicit information about this page. Only factors that could be predicted (for example document language) and off-page signals (like pagerank) are available.
      • Prediction of document language
      • Prediction of explicit content (porn)
      • Pagerank – classic PR value calculated from link graph
      • Link distance from webserver homepage
      • List of backward links, each contain:
        • Key of the source page
        • Anchor texts relevant to this link
        • HTML title of the source page
        • Pagerank of the source page
    • Web page (i.e. downloaded page with regular content)
      • Alternative URLs for the page – each page could be presented under multiple different URLs. This is scored list of those possibilities.
      • Detected document’s Content-Type
      • Downloaded content
      • Content version – date/time of content download. Could be different from last download date (note: 304 Not modified)
      • Major language – language identified as “most relevant” for this page – could be different from most frequent language on page (different lang for body text vs. menus)
      • Homepage – flag if this page is webserver’s homepage
      • Pagerank – classic pagerank value
      • Link distance of this page from webserver’s homepage
      • Derivative (attributes obtained by further processing):
        • Document charset
        • Detected languages on page with their frequencies
        • Explicit content flag – detected porn
        • Document title
        • Document <meta description …>
        • Document content parsed down to a DOM tree
        • Forward links found on the page
      • List of backward links. Each one have:
        • Key of the source document
        • Anchor texts (extracted from source document) relevant to this link
        • HTML title of the source page
        • Pagerank of the source page
    • Redirect
      • Target URL key
      • Homepage – flag that this redirect is part of redirect chain to a webserver’s homepage
    • Error
      • The same info as for “not downloaded page”
      • We could provide some more, for example date of last download when the page was OK, if it would be necessary for something.

With all this data at your disposal, what could you build? The cluster will be updated and new entries can be added as per team requests. We are looking for the best ideas in the area of Data, Search and Analytics.

Wherever you are in Europe, we will pay for your flight ticket and your accommodations for 3 months in Prague so that you can participate in our accelerator program. Why don’t you start your application now?

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Focus on Copywriting: Sell without Selling

This is part of our series exploring the skills, resources and experience Founders need when entering and working in an accelerator.

While most startups can’t afford an in-house copywriter, most companies also can’t afford not to have someone focus on copywriting, at least some of the time.

Why you Should Focus on Copywriting

“Language ties together the worlds of reality and possibility”

Last year, Jason Cohen wrote about developing his “story,” the many years of selling Smart Bear, a successful code-review tool. I’ll quote part of the text here (with permission), and encourage you to read the entirety.

At first when someone asked what my company’s tool suite was, I would say:

“Smart Bear makes data-mining tools for version control systems”.

It’s a description so esoteric that, although accurate, not even a hardcore geek would have any idea what it is, much less why it’s useful. Years later, when it was clear that code review software became our sole focus, I got better at describing it:

You know how Word has “track changes” where you can make modifications and comments and show them to someone else? We do that for software developers, integrating with their tools instead of Word and working within their standard practices.

Better, yes, and for a while I thought I nailed it, but still no press. Eventually (thanks to helpful journalists) I realized I was still just describing what it is rather than why anyone cares. I left it up to the reader to figure out why they should get excited.

Eventually I developed stories like the following, each tuned to a certain category of listener. Here’s the one for the journalists:

It’s always fun to tell a journalist like you that we enable software developers to review each other’s code because your reaction is always: “Wait a minute, you’re seriously telling me they don’t do this already?” The idea of editing and review is so embedded in your industry you can’t imagine life without it, and you’re right! You know better than anyone how another set of eyeballs finds important problems.

Of course two heads are better than one, but developers traditionally work in isolation, mainly because there’s a dearth of tools which help teams bridge the social gap of an ocean, integrate with incumbent tools, and are lightweight enough to still be fun and relevant.

That’s what we do: Bring the benefits of peer review to software development.

Now the reason for excitement is clear: We’re transforming how software is created, applying the age old techniques of peer review to an industry that needs it but where it’s traditionally too hard to do.

– See more at Cohen’s own Smart Bear Blog

Part of the conundrum of good copywriting is that it is virtually impossible to test. A homepage layout can be dissected into precise quanta of effectiveness: how many visitors, how many clicks, how many page views; the flow of traffic is orderly and can be controlled. You can A/B test adwords and landing pages and see “what works,” but you’ll only ever be finding out what doesn’t fail as much- not how well you could be doing. There’s no A/B test for a truly novel approach; one that builds momentum for your site and your products, because two novel approaches will not be binary in nature. They will not be comparable at all.

Because copy doesn’t work like code, but a lot of web entrepreneurs assume it does. If the copy “doesn’t work,” it’s the fault of the copy, not what the copy supports (ie: the product, or the company).

Build Your “Story,” And Your Voice

Copywriting, done well, can increase a site’s conversion rate enormously. It can entice new customers and woo old ones to stick around. But most early startups stick with their old copywriting for too long.

You can’t test  copy like you can a layout or a button or a piece of code: it’s too complex- there are too many emotions, too many subtle cultural cues, and too many ways in which people read; all of them different.* And even more, it’s reactive- your copy has to evolve with time, coming to acknowledge your existing customers and community, and what your products mean to them, along with attracting new customers. Jason Cohen’s “story,” as it evolved above was changed to acknowledge whom he was talking to about his products, and what they need to really understand about them. He went from a programmer with an idea, to a trustworthy person with a solid background in helping people with his products. And his story showed that.

                        ________________________________________________

*Our CEO Cedric Maloux disagrees with me on this point. 

Cedric: I used to have 4 different homepages. All similar, except for one headline. And I was measuring which one was leading to more sales in real time. The software would show one or the other and measure the reactions. This is A/B testing at it’s best- you can test a headline, but you can’t test all the copy. 
 
Cedric makes a fair point here. Headlines, tag lines and slogans often work more like static features of a website than the rest of the copy does. Because they don’t take on all of the same responsibilities as normal marketing copy, you can and should treat them as testable. These are the elements of your copy that stand up best to focus-grouping and testing, because their purposes are more unique- namely to attract clicks and push a visitor to go further.

                        _______________________________________________

This is not to say that you should never speak in technical jargon, but that you should always know whom you’re talking to, how much they know, and how hard they’re listening. Your copy needs to evolve to reflect the culture of your company and your customers.

But in the data-driven world of online marketing, these organic, real, contextually rich evolutions are rarely allowed to happen. It’s rare in this world to see something closer to the corporate ad-agency driven model, in which a creative and an account executive sell campaigns to a client, who then uses the creative output to tell a new story. More often it’s the case that the better is the enemy of the good: that founders and CEOs are unwilling to try anything that smacks of the entirely new, because it can’t be reliably tested, and requires a great deal of faith. Even though truly original great ideas have, necessarily, never been tried before.

 In the current startup ecosystem, ambitions for zero-cost growth have become dangerously intertwined with risk-aversity: companies shrink from the prospect of *losing* small levels of growth, in a gambit for gaining more. And not a small number of companies have played the same tune for too long- failing to pivot their messaging until their revenue has shrunk enough for it to be too late, and changes will only appear desperate and cynical (which they will be).

This is a shame in some respects, as the quality of language on a website is just as important in conveying impressions of honesty, competence, and skill as a quality design is. Perhaps even more so, as web design becomes increasingly automated and pre-packaged. Copy cannot be automated or prepackaged. It always has to be unique. Language ties together the worlds of reality and possibility. It is the medium in which you make your ideas real for your customers: in which you construct the reality of your products, and a future world in which your customers use them. That’s a vitally important thing to focus on.

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The pen is mightier.

Write Honestly: Sell Without Selling

I had a great sales manager once you who taught me what he called the “7 Things” that you have to keep in mind when you talk to a customer. It was based on a simple principle: when you talk to customers, you are always selling something. 

Before we go all Glengarry Glen Ross here, this is not the same as the old adage: “Always be Closing.”

The important thing is to remember what your relationship to a customer is, and to be very honest about that fact. You will never sell someone something they don’t want to buy. And even if you do manage it once, they will never buy twice, so you shouldn’t sugar coat or lie about your products, ever. You don’t need to. Just follow these “7 Things.”

Trust: In you and the product. Let the customer do what they would normally do.

Understanding: Be as simple and clear as possible. The customer is not smarter than you.

Emotions: Use humor, use evocative words, show love and caring. Show passion.

What to do: Buy, sign up, share…

When to do it: Now?

What I get out of it: Speak about effects of the product, not the features.

When it will happen: Examples, case studies, quotes, and testimonials

The list is a simple one to follow, and you should look for every point to be covered in some way in your communications with customers (eg: on your homepage, landing pages, email contacts, and other sales material).

Most important of the above is trust. My sales manager would say this: “If I asked you to show me 4 fingers, what would you do?” I held up 4 fingers on one hand. He said, “Exactly. Now, if I held up 2 fingers on each hand, you would think I was being a smartass.” This is to say, that trust is established by doing what the customer expects, and by showing that you understand the customer well. You have thought this through, and you understand what the customer needs.

Then you can access emotions. Emotions can be descriptive words, or appeals to imagination. But emotions must be appealed to after trust and understanding are established. Customers are looking for an emotional connection to anything they buy. If they feel they’re dealing with a real person, who wants and cares about their business, then they will be more than ready to come back and buy again.

What the Customer Gets Out of It

Surprisingly, this is an element of a lot of online copywriting that gets completely lost. Companies don’t talk about what their products mean to people. They just talk about what their products do and are. That’s a major problem.

While you might describe your product idea as: “A non-SQL back-end solution for tracking PPC traffic ROI,” I might describe that same idea as: “A tool that helps online businesses figure out whether their web ad dollars are being spent wisely.” While my version tells you practically nothing important about how the product works, it does tell you what the product does. It speaks about effects rather than features of the product. It focuses on what is important to a client, an investor, or a customer: what the product accomplishes.

This is important especially for non B2B products, but generally any time in which the client is significantly different, as an entity, from your company. And even if you’re an IT company selling IT resources to be used by IT people, the person actually in charge of buying those products or services is probably not the one who will be using them.

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Your copywriter has to concern him or herself with these distinctions: how product copywriting (such as product instructions, help menus, drop downs, and user messages), and marketing copywriting, such as homepages, campaign pages, and marketing communications, are fundamentally different, and meant often for fundamentally different people. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen the same mistakes made: websites for complex and expensive products that use a product copywriting style, right on the homepage. You might as well add a light-box on the homepage that pops up and says: “If you haven’t already committed to buying this product, don’t bother going forward.” The person who is viewing your homepage may not be a customer, and treating them like a customer (with product copywriting), is often a big mistake.

Because before a person is your customer, you need to establish trust. And that means giving that person a way of understanding who you are, and what you do, and of liking you. If you haven’t done that, then the customer is taking a risk in buying from you. And most sales, you’ll lose that customer.

If it’s work for the buyer to figure out what your product is, then it’s going to be nearly impossible to sell to them. And unless you’re in the enviable position of a product company that has its client-base beating down its door to buy the latest release, then you need to think about this. A lot of the time, the person your product is meant for, and the person your product will be used by, are two totally different people. And you need to assume the worst.

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Why I Agreed to be CEO of StartupYard

I did not hesitate long. But I did hesitate.

 The Challenge

An accelerator’s success depends first and foremost on the potential of the companies it helps to grow. We’ll either find amazing teams or we will not. The main parameter here is that our application forms are opening for 6 weeks starting…. Today. This means I had 3 weeks to get settled into this position, and will have 6 weeks, starting now, to recruit the best candidates for the accelerator. One thing’s for sure, if we find those hands-on entrepreneurs who combine business sense with uniquely great ideas, they will gain some fantastic knowledge during our 3 Months Acceleration Program. Still, 9 weeks (including 2 weeks of holidays), is an insanely short period of time in which to accomplish anything like this.

The Plan

However, when the Board of StartupYard told me that Seznam.cz was opening part of its proprietary search technology for the future teams, they piqued my interest even more. Suddenly we have one of the only companies in the world that is still #1 in search in its home country against Google, and they’re going to let founders build products on top of processed web data that they will collect and prepare. By providing this level of abstraction, new connections and services can be imagined within these data. It’s all down to the creativity of the founders to come up with some kick-ass business ideas. Who could say no? The second thing that interest me was that StartupYard had decided to become a specialized accelerator. From now on, every new batch of companies will all belong to a vertical segment of the IT industry. This year, thanks to Seznam.cz, it will be Data (with Search and Analytics underlying Data). That’s why this data sandbox they will make available is so interesting if you are working in these fields. Future rounds will include mobile games, payments, etc…

The Name of the Game: Data

Data

By specializing, we aim at bringing together European teams all working on similar Data problems. Our mentors work or have worked on Data projects in companies like GoodData, Google, Yahoo, IBM, Ericsson or Seznam. We see  this as a tremendous opportunity for the selected founders to learn from talented specialists. By specialising, we also hope to foster cooperation between the teams. For this reason I wanted to make sure it will be an easy decision for anybody not living in Prague to join the program. Therefore, StartupYard will offer, for the first time:

  • 3 months of free accommodations in Prague
  • Free lunch

This is important to me. It should not cost founders money to join an accelerator. Period.  If he has cash, he should use it to sustain himself while he is developing his business, or invest it directly in his company. I moved to Prague to start a business 9 years ago and I never regretted it. I want to make that decision an easy one for the next generation.

We’ll See You in Prague

I’ve been mentoring at StartupYard for 2 years now. Not all years were equal, but it is a great start-up in itself, and Prague is the best capital city in Europe. Bar none. I hope we will be able to attract some fantastic founders with brilliant ideas and give them all the knowledge and support they need to thrive. I know how exhilarating growth and success is, and how hard failure can be. I have experienced a lot working 17 years as a start-up founder and CEO. I will make sure they are ready for all of it. Applications are now open, and will stay open until January 31st, 2014. If you are working on anything related to Data, Search or Analytics, you should really check us out! We look forward to seeing you in Prague this spring.

-Cedric Maloux, Prague, December 2013

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About Cedric Maloux

Cedric Maloux director startupyard

Cedric Maloux, originally of Paris, has been in the startup world for nearly 20 years. He sold his first company in 2000, and has raised capital from the top VCs in Europe. He served as CEO of Geewa, a struggling Czech gaming company, and turned it into one of the top 10 developers for Facebook, with Pool Live Tour. He’s an avid poker player and recently launched an app for poker bankroll management. He has lived in Prague for nearly a decade. Cedric has been a mentor at StartupYard for over two years, and was invited by the Board of Directors this past fall to take the reins as CEO.

Seznam Opens Part of Its Full Text Search Technology for StartupYard 2014

Today is a great day for the future startups of StartupYard 2014!

Seznam.cz has decided to open part of its full text search technology to the teams that apply for the 2014 round, to help them with their large data projects that need extracted data from the Internet.

Seznam.cz started as a one-man band and during the past 17 years has become a major Czech influential technological company and a media house in one, which is preventing Google from gaining the majority or monopoly on the Czech market. Seznam.cz full text search technology is based on Hadoop and Hbase. The 2014 StartupYard teams will have access to a test cluster of up to 100 million documents from the Internet. All of them pre-crawled and sorted into entities such as domains, webservers and URLs. Each of these entities contains its own attributes for fast analysis and sorting of each web page in the cluster.

logo_seznam

“We have made a basic analysis for each webpage in the cluster so the teams know its content as a derivate with many parameters such as the language used and meta-descriptions. All of the documents in the cluster are regularly updated and more parameters and content can be added if the teams need and request them,” 

Marek Nový, Head of Business Development at Seznam.cz

Good news comes in pairs. Today StartupYard is accepting applications for our April 2014 round. This round will focus exclusively on teams working in Data, Search and Analytics.

Teams will receive free accommodations in Prague, free lunch and one payed return flight from anywhere in Europe.

We will be setting our sights on the best teams in these areas from all over Europe; selecting only 6 from 10 finalists for its 3 month, English-language only Acceleration Program. The comprehensive program will cover all aspects of creating and growing a business, from legal and accounting, to hiring, code review and company culture, with access to 90 specialised mentors, media trainers, a professional native English copywriter and blogger, and perks worth €250,000.

Prague attracts many data companies, so we felt it would be to the benefit of our upcoming class if we specialised. We have a very clear objective: to attract the most ambitious projects from all across Europe in the fields of Data, Search or Analytics. To achieve that, we have put together a package we hope no entrepreneur in Europe could refuse.

The application closes at the end of January. Please help us spread the news by sharing this article!

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Welcome 6 New Teams for 2013 Spring Program

It’s been long. A long selection process, 6 weeks. But we’re proud now to announce 6 amazing teams. We accepted applications from 12 countries and selected 6 startups from 5 countries. The third cohort begins their 6-month acceleration program on March 11 in Prague.

Who are our StartupYard Spring 2013 heroes?

Hlidacky.cz
We help parents meet the most reliable babysitters. Hlidacky.cz operates in the Czech Republic now.
Co-founders: David Hrachovy, Petr Sigut and Vaclav Kuna (Czech Republic)
Web: www.hlidacky.cz

HowDoI Tutorials
Interactive tool for website owners to create tutorials and guides in a few minutes.
Co-founders: Lukas Haraga, Jiri Otahal and Michal Pustka (Czech Republic)

 

Web: www.howdoitutorials.com

StartitUp
Step-By-Step Startup Guide with action items that will help entrepreneurs get their startup from idea, to product, to traction, and to funding.
Co-founders: Edward Liu and Yitao Sun (USA)
Web: www.startitup.co

Travelatus
Event travel made easy. It helps visitors of concerts, festivals and conferences to plan their trips.
Co-founders: Valentin Dombrovsky, Vitaliy Korobkin and Denis Volkov (Russia)
Web: www.travelatus.com

works.io
The essential career tool for professional fine artists, keep portfolios and CVs up-to-date with ease.
Co-founders: Abe Han and Patrick Urwyler (Canada, Switzerland)
Web: www.works.io

Yummy Food Delivery
How to eat healthy at your desk. Its focus is B2B delivery.
Co-founders: Kristina Sediva and Tomas Netrval (Czech Republic)
Facebook page Yummy Food Delivery