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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If you have any questions about the database, enter it as a comment below

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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Central Europe Accelerator

Hacking the Prague Life: Why Prague is Perfect for the Startup Life

Prague is the little mother with claws. – Franz Kafka (Badass)

Prague is a fairly awesome place to live. It’s also a great place to be a developer, an entrepreneur, and an investor. That’s what this Blog post going to be about. But if you love history as much as I do, scroll to the bottom for a non-comprehensive, completely unofficial history. You’re Welcome.

Prague from Above

Why Come to Prague?

We’ll assume you’ve read one or two travel articles about the “Golden City at the Heart of Europe,” that are seemingly required to mention at least 3 compulsory items that define the Czech capital, home to 1.2 million people, for the outside world. Maybe you’ve had a few friends visit the city, and report back that the rumors are indeed true: great beer, and  amazing architecture.

While Prague’s reputation as a party city was well earned, particularly in past years, and ruthlessly exploited by local tourist traps, university exchange programs, and licentious “documentary” programs packaged to titillate western audiences with furtive glances into the very openly tolerated local sex trade, we’ll attempt to take a higher road. Not because we’re embarrassed to be associated with a city whose reputation in international circles is constantly riven by the media’s impulses to hype and stereotype, rather than weigh and consider.

Rather the opposite in fact: Prague’s progressive attitude towards foreigners and especially foreign business, its friendliness to investment and to immigration, and its no-nonsense pragmatism about personal freedoms makes it a place we love living, and doing business in.

(Update August 2016: We don’t mention the sex trade or party culture in order to glorify or promote it. We do so because it has sadly been a part of the city’s international reputation, particularly in the media, for many years. In our view, many people who have never visited have been given the wrong idea about the city, which is not defined by its marginal industries.)

And the tech industry agrees: since the fall of communism in 1989, the Czech Republic has become a haven for tech and service workers, producing over 150,000 technology engineers, countless business, economics and finance professionals, and becoming home to a huge number of highly skilled foreign workers, attracted by lenient tax policies, excellent living conditions, and one of Europe’s best, and cheapest, local and national transportation systems. These improvements have been felt in everything from the produce available in shops to the selection of craft brews in local watering holes and have seen thousands of tech workers and businesses flock to the city. It’s a good time to live and work in Prague.

5 Reasons Prague is a New Tech Hotspot

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Location, Location, Location

This is huge, and it doesn’t just apply to Prague’s general location in the heart of Europe. While it’s true that Prague is in an enviable geographic location, situated between Warsaw and Vienna, a two hour drive from Dresden and a less than 4 hour drive from Berlin, and while it has access to cheap European flights that put Kiev, London, Madrid, Rome, Paris, Stockholm, and a dozen other cities within less than 2 hours flying time, often for less than €100, that all discounts the reasons why Prague itself is worthy of being a tech capital on the world stage.

While “normal” commute times in London or Paris can stretch into the hours, and commute times in Moscow, or the San Francisco Bay Area can seemingly stretch into days, Prague based commuters face the daunting prospect of not having time to finish their morning reading before arriving at work. The transport is just too good. And while lowly tech workers in other major cities are forced to find accommodations far from the center, serviced by lonely, scary looking bus stations and nary a local café or bookstore from which to scam free WiFi, Prague offers the opportunity to snap up central flat-rentals at incredibly low prices. Because the local Czech population is relatively static, increased housing development at the city’s periphery has meant lower prices near the beautiful city center, as well as scandalously affordable housing in its charming inner districts, like Vinohrady, New Town, Letna, and Zizkov. Any of these districts offer beautiful, modern accommodations for less than €500 a month. Not for a flat-share, but for an entire flat. 

And since the late 2000s, the Czech Republic has joined with other EU countries in implementing the Schengen Agreement, allowing unregulated movement and employment for all Schengen members within its borders. The boon to local startups and the tech industry in general has been deeply felt.

A Great Talent Pool at a Great Price

Prague is just an incredible place to live, and its low prices and business-friendly atmosphere make it a dream for finding and keeping talented developers. The city is home to thousands of Russian, Ukrainian, Romanian, and Czech developers. And their skills can be won a fraction of the prices for similar talent in Paris, London, or Mountain View. Developers still earn more than the average wage in Prague, but when the average wage is somewhere slightly above €1200 a month, its not hard to imagine how employees become more affordable. Typical pay for a developer in Prague is around €2000 a month. This is competitive pay in Prague, but affordable from an international perspective- about on par with the pay for similar work in Spain.

Where should you go to start your business? Prague is an easy choice.

Where should you go to start your business? Prague is an easy choice.

The influx of skilled developers for Ukraine, Russia, and other areas of Eastern Europe has created a market full of steeled hackers, looking for employment at very reasonable pay levels. The level of English spoken by locals is also quite good, and foreign developers generally find few if any issues with local counterparts, who know that a pre-requisite of working in a technology firm in the Czech Republic is a mastery of English.

For these developers, joining a Dev Team in Prague is often infinitely better than doing the same work back home. Prague’s base of talented developers is affordable, and very happy to be employed here, where the local standards of living are quite high, crime quite low, and the future very bright. Low income taxes and permissive business licensing practices also make contracting with freelancers incredibly easy and cheap. For a few hundred euros, virtually anyone can obtain and use a Sole-Trading License, or “Zivnostenski List,” giving them the right to self-employ, and file taxes as a knowledge worker. Even better, Czech pro-business policies mean these “Sole-Traders” can obtain social insurance for a pittance, and full health coverage for only a few hundred euros a year, as well as a below-the-line tax write-off on income up to €20,000 Euros, meaning the price of doing business for a contractor in Prague is virtually nil, and the savings can easily be passed on to employers too.

In addition, current condition for starting an SRO or LLC in Prague are highly favorable, and recent legal chances have streamlined and simplified the process further, making starting a company in the Czech Republic practically a one-step process.

Few Major Competitors = Open Season for Small Teams

Part of what makes Prague ideal for a small startup is the lack of major competitors in the area. While a number of banks and large internationals draw on the local talent pool for .net development and IT services, only Microsoft, Skype, and search giant Seznam work on major software development in Prague. This leaves room for a multitude of smaller companies and software teams, along with a good field of incubators and accelerators fostering talent. Initiatives around startups are common, partly due to the large base of potential investors in the local market, and the high level of local talent: Accelerators StartupYard, Node Five, and Startup Camp , co-working spaces The Hub, and our home base TechSquare, are just a few examples.

Why We’re Here

What have we learned so far? A beautiful, global city that offers low prices, a great lifestyle, is free of restrictive economic policies, encourages immigration and loves foreigners and foreign business is the perfect place for a great idea to catch fire. It’s as simple as that: Prague is the place to be. That’s why we’re here.

We also just love this city. Read on to find out why.

5 Things the BBC Always Fails to Mention about Prague

Reports from abroad typically focus on a few items. So you probably know that beer in the Czech Republic is not only some of the best in the world, but also the cheapest, typically priced below the cost of bottled water. You probably know about the throngs of tourists who clog a few small areas of the city during the tourist seasons, and you’ve probably heard about the aforementioned brothels, liberally sprinkled through the city. Here’s what you may never have heard:

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A view of Tinska Church from Old Town Square.

Prague Has One of the Best Public Transport Systems on Earth

That’s a bold statement, but let’s break it down. Prague’s 3 metro lines boast 57 stations, with over 300 kilometers of track connecting the center of the city with most major business, housing, and commercial centers. A current expansion is connecting the city center directly to the airport. It is the most-ridden metro in the world by percentage of population, with about 600 million passengers a year. And while this may conjure images of London’s insane masses of people crowding onto Underground platforms at rush hours, or Paris’s dingy centuries-old stations caked in the decaying stink of millions of sweaty travelers, Prague’s metro stations and trains are the most spacious in Europe, and shockingly well ventilated- toasty warm in the winter and freshly cool in the summer.

The Prague metro moves up to 2 million passengers on the typical day.

The Prague metro moves up to 2 million passengers on the typical day.

It’s ridiculously cheap too. All-access passes will run you about €20 a month, or €15 a month if you buy a yearly pass. That’s crazy value.

As if that weren’t enough, Prague is also home to Europe’s hands-down best tram network, comprising 30 lines during the day, and 9 at night, making most destinations within 5 kilometers of the city center accessible by tram within 5 minutes’ walk, 24 hours a day. And that’s ignoring the dense network of busses and trains that make public transportation in and out of Prague an urbanite dream come true.

Prague is Home to the Best Hamburgers in Europe

No, seriously. Prague is a haven for hamburger lovers, as well as fans of virtually any foreign cuisine. Travelogues often focus on Czech cuisine, which is amazing on its own, but they usually ignore the incredible depth of possibility when it comes to dining in this city. Prague offers a world class selection of food options, at prices that foreigners just don’t believe.

Prague’s whirlwind love-affair with a good burger is meticulusly documented by Prague’s own resident hamburger guru, Prague’s most read English language Blogger, Brewsta. If it has meat and a bun, he’s written about it. You won’t have any trouble getting recommendations.

Really? Prague?

Really? Prague?

Did we mention it’s cheap? A solid meal in Prague will cost less than 8 Euros, which is closer to the price of a coffee than a meal in many European capitals. And the Czechs don’t scrimp on portions. Value is important. Even for higher-end eats, Prague offers incredible selection at insanely reasonable prices.

I’m sorry, you’re telling me that this Authentic Thai Red Curry with exquisite Jasmine rice, shrimp skewers, cocktails and dessert is going to cost 15 Euros? How is that even economically possible?

Czech Coffee is Really Weird. Bad weird.

Ok, so nobody’s perfect. The Czechs have amazing cuisine, and a good taste for foreign delights as well, and they serve amazing beer in amazing variety, but their coffee leaves a little to be desired. The Czechs aren’t sure what espresso really is, it seems, and are damn sure not going to change their minds. The truth is, like the English, Czechs prefer tea over a steaming hot cup of java. It’s okay though- while Czech coffee may be sub-par, there are a zillion great cafes in this city that do it right. And you will find a proper cup of tea in this city, almost anywhere you go. So it’s not all bad. Plus, the coffee machine at TechSquare, home to StartupYard, is highly decent. You’ll be set.

 Czechs Love Foreigners

I’m gonna get a few comments from self-righteous Prague expats who demand, indignantly, that this isn’t true at all. Well you can all take a jump off Charles Bridge, because Czechs loves foreigners.

Not just because they have money.

Not just because they have money.

While it’s true that Czechs have a reputation for being a little odd and bureaucratic-minded, and while they may seem a bit cold on first blush, they’re amazing people, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. The Czech Republic has been host to legions of foreigners for centuries. As the capital of the Holy Roman Empire, and a major city under the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Prague has attracted expats from all over the world. Even today, the country is host to a huge Vietnamese population, brought over starting in the 1970s, originally to staff manufacturing positions in the auto-industry. Today  the Czech Vietnamese occupy a near exclusive niche as the country’s green-grocers, running the majority of the “Potraviny” (small food shops), and a growing number of popular asian restaurants. What’s more, the Czechs almost universally love the Vietnamese among them, lauding them for their business skills, their strong family culture, and their good manners, making the Czech Republic one of only a few countries in which a large minority of immigrants poses few political problems.

Prague also has a vibrant gay scenewith a number of clubs and gay-friendly bars, mostly located in Vinohrady, a neighborhood situated in a beautiful, newer part of the city, in the hills just south and east of the center. Vinohrady is known as the “gay quarter” of Prague, and offers a good variety. Among the most popular with locals and expats are Termix, a small dance club known for good prices and a lively atmosphere, and Saints Bar, a home-base for many gay expats, providing a welcoming, friendly and cosmopolitan atmosphere for any kind of visitor. Venturing out of Vinohrady, Czech establishments are still very gay-friendly, and discrimination against gay and lesbian visitors or locals is not common.

The airport is in fact very nice.

The airport is in fact very nice.

While Prague’s epicenter is like that of any European capital, with its mix of hucksters selling cheap glassware, and its snooty restaurants with waiters that seem angry to find themselves employed, this tourist corridor is thin and porous. A 5 minute walk from Vaclavske Namesti (Wenceslas Square), puts you in Local Country, where the beer flows for under a Euro a half-liter, and the indigenous Czechs will jump at the chance to “Kecat” (“bullshit”), with foreigners of all variety, and show off their language skills.

Czechs are big talkers, especially after a few Pilsners. Most have a few words of English, and few are afraid to use them. There’s a thriving community of expats already living in Prague, and few Czechs haven’t had a friend who was an English teacher, or a foreigner working in technology, banking, or sales in one of the local corporate headquarters.

Czech Universal Translator Technology.

Czech Universal Translator Technology.

The Czech Republic has focused concertedly on the western service market since the fall of communism in 1989, and it shows: Prague is home to major offices for ING, Monster, Shell, BP, Raiffeisen Bank, Deutsche Bank, Disney/ILM, and many others, and over the years, the business landscape has made English an essential skill for Czech workers, who often seek the best positions within foreign companies based in Prague. The massive influx of skilled foreign workers has also created a network of businesses to cater to them. Here are a few of my personal favorites (not at all an exclusive list).

The Globe Cafe and Bookstore

The Globe 

One of Prague’s oldest expat institutions, this restaurant/cafe/bookstore is home to numerous clubs, activities, and special events centered around Prague’s expat community. Events including Film Nights, Quizes, Book Clubs, Happy Hours, and live Concerts dot the calendar of The Globe, and it enjoys a loyal following among local students, as well as groups looking for an international staff, friendly service, and a lively but friendly atmosphere. Also home to one of the best English language bookstores in the city, The Globe has something for just about everyone.

Fraktal

113A favorite, particularly for Prague patrons living in the quieter Letna area of Prague, West and North of the Center, this funky bar and restaurant serves some of the city’s very best American food, including authentic sandwiches, soups, and burgers. Fraktal’s friendly atmosphere and good eats making it the perfect meetings spot, especially if you’re living in the Letna area.

Cross Club

tomáš-rubin

I’m not even really sure how to describe this place. I’ll just list things: 4 floors, at least 5 bars, a cafe, a movie theater, 3 dance clubs, an outdoor restaurant, and quite a lot else. Cross Club is a local institution with literally something for everyone, from Drum and Bass clubs to Trance, to a quiet cafe for a coffee and snack. Its surreal steam-punk design and labyrinthine layout will convince you there’s something to discover every time you visit. Weird? Yes. But it’s vintage Prague.

Roxy

roxy_prague_10

Like Cross Club or the Globe Cafe, Roxy is an institution. It features a music club downstairs which is one of the oldest in the city, and the best loved. Upstairs it features a salon-style cafe, often home to art exhibitions or film festivals, taking advantage of its cavernous back rooms to host film students or “48 Hour” film-maker competitions. This place is home to many, and a great starting point in Prague’s most “stylish” dance-club district, on Dlouha Street.

Prague is a Mecca of Modern Cinema

Yes, the Czechs love cinema, and not just their own. The city plays host to literally dozens of incredible film festivals each year, where French, German, Czech, and even Icelandic films debut and draw big crowds. The city boasts an impressive roster of local and independent theaters, among them the eminently popular Bio Oko, and the equally dominant Svetozor, Aside from that, mainstream theaters are in abundance, with at least 10 multi-plexes in the city, boasting offerings in 3D, 4DX, and Imax. You’ll never miss a release in Prague, and if you pine for the cinema from back home, it’s highly likely you’ll find those films playing here as well.

Local Resources

The local community of expats has grown and evolved in the past decade, to become a vibrant and rich resource for newcomers. The most popular portal for expats is, unsurprisingly, Expats.cz, featuring news, community, classifieds, and a good deal of expat-targeted business ads and even employment opportunities.

A recent addition to the scene has been Facebook’s Crowdsauce CZ page, where you’ll find veteran expats answering questions ranging from visa issues, down to where the best donuts in the city can be purchased. The community here is large and highly active. A great resource.

The local English language newspaper, which has recently fallen on hard financial times, is The Prague Post [Update The Prague Post shut down in early 2016]. Prague also features a Russian-language paper, Prague Express, and a German paper: Prag Zeitung.

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The Legend Begins : An Unofficial History of Prague

Deep in the heart of central Europe, across plains and dales, and over misty mountains, in the gentle bend of a deep river, lies a city. That city, built on the ancient ruins of a castle keep, between the jutting escarpments of several riverside hills, has stood for over 1000 years.  Named “Threshold,” by its ancient Slavic inhabitants for the way it sprawls between steep hills across a wide river, like a gate through which a millenium of history has passed, it retains that ancient name today: Praha, or Prague.

A Basic History

No one knows when Prague was originally settled, but archeological evidence uncovered in the past century has shown that there are been people living here in fixed settlements since at least the 4th century AD. Burial chambers from this period, discovered in the hills of the modern city, and along the river banks, reveal bodies buried on one side, with trinkets and talismans revealing their Celtic origins. Long before the expansion of the Mongol Hordes into Eastern Europe, and the subsequent movements of Slavic peoples, in their thousands, into the low-lying lands east of Germany, there were people living here.

Rise to Greatness

Ruled by a series of vassal kings and neighboring powers, in modern times, Prague grew as a trading city with good natural defenses, to become the Capital of the Holy Roman Empire. Still centuries later, it was incorporated into the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and finally, at the end of the Great War, it became the capital of a modern state, Czechoslovakia. This multi-ethnic state comprised 4 major ethnic groups, with commonly intelligible languages, stretching from Eastern Ukraine, across Slovakia, through Moravia and Silesia, and to Bohemia, with Prague as the capital.

Charles Bridge, originally called Stone Bridge, was built during the height of the Holy Roman Empire.

The Armies of Darkness

The first Czechoslovak Republic was an economic powerhouse, the 10th largest economy in the world in 1920, with world leading dominance in heavy industry, transportation, and more importantly (at least for the Czechs), beer. Beer flowed heavily and generously for 20 years, until the Czechoslovaks found themselves invaded and divided by Nazi Germany into three separate regions. The Czechs would not get a chance at real independent statehood again for 50 years, as Russian troops swiftly moved into the capital to replace the German occupiers, and Czechoslovakia became a satellite state of the Soviet Union; a member of the Warsaw Pact.

Return to The World Stage

Though brief flashes of independence and reform flared in 1948 and again in 1968, Czechoslovakia remained under the thumb of Soviet Russia until 1989, when the Velvet Revolution -the peaceful dissolution of the Warsaw Pact- began. Wasting no time, the Czechoslovaks established a broadly reformed government, led by the playwright and dissident Vaclav Havel.

In a fit of pique however, the Slovaks filed for divorce in 1993. Fed up with what was seen in the Czech lands as Slovak foot-dragging on reforms, and what was seen in Slovakia as bullying by the Czechs, the nation split in two, dividing their assets in a 1 to 2 ratio, with the Czechs getting the greater part. The divorce was amicable, with the citizens of each country being allowed to choose their citizenships, and retaining the right to reside in either country. Havel, infuriated by the development, resigned as President, only to be drafted by his parliament as the first President of the new Czech state, which he remained for another 10 years.

Havel was universally loved and admired, and I was present at the public gathering that occurred the night following his death, in which most of the city, and a good deal of the nation, gathered in Prague’s center to lay candles at the feet of the statue of Saint Wenceslas, the patron of the Czechs. The Czech people have a wonderful sense of history. A sense of their place in it, and a willingness to engage with it that makes them unlike any other people I have ever met. They’re not afraid of the future, either, and that makes them formidable and brave. New technology and new art blends here with the old- this city is not a museum, but a living, breathing work of art, that has taken 1000 years to build, and is not going to be finished soon. It also makes Prague a wonderful place to live. I hope to see you here soon.

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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