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

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

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

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

Ales Teska (right) working with a team member

Ales Teska (right) working with a team member

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The TeskaLabs team

The TeskaLabs team

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Karma?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

0c66a2b

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can reach out to Wallace Via LinkedIn

Open-Sourcing StartupYard

Last Thursday during our Open-House event, the first StartupYard event of the new season, I announced my intention to “Open-Source StartupYard”. Today I would like to come back to this and share with you more about the logic behind this new initiative.

DSC03330

Cedric announces the “Open Sourcing” of StartupYard, to include free, publicly available resources, events, and mentorship for local startups.

 

Schroedinger’s Startup

StartupYard is a great resource for the founders who are selected to join the program. They come in and during these 3 full-time months they will learn a lot. I had the pleasure and pride to see the progress of each team and there is nothing more rewarding for me to see them thrive and impress their customers, partners or potential investors.

Still, StartupYard is like a black box. A proprietary solution accessible only to a lucky few. Unless you are accepted to the program, you don’t really know what’s going on inside (even though we do share a lot of this information on our blog). But most importantly, only accepted teams really benefit, hands on, from what we do.

 

Our Mission Goes Beyond our Own Teams

If our mission is to make our region, and our city a place where risks are worth taking, and innovation is not only possible, but required, then we have a responsibility to more than just our own teams.

I want to change this. I strongly believe that if we can help the community at large, it can only benefit the economy and the lives of more people. If our mission is to make our region, and our city a place where risks are worth taking, and innovation is not only possible, but required, then we have a responsibility to more than just our own teams. Being an entrepreneur is one of the most difficult and stressful jobs out there, and you will need all the help you can in order to succeed. It’s not because you have the ability to automate a workflow or a service that people will rush to it to use it, or investors will throw money at you like it’s 1999. You will have to learn how to present it, how to manage it, how to plan it etc. And if you can do that, your ideas can really change the world. Without that, even the best ideas will never get anywhere.

For this reason, I have decided to make some of the knowledge we share and impart during the program available to a larger audience. I used the analogy of the open-source movement because, first I’m a strong believer in this model, having relied on and contributed myself to the open-source movement, and second because this is something StartupYard will do absolutely free of charge. Free as in Free Beer!

 

How Will This Work?

We are going to select a few specific domains in which we think first-time entrepreneurs could benefit from more knowledge and experience. Pitching, for example. Once you have an idea, the first thing you are most likely to have to do is to convince people it’s a good idea, i.e. you’re going to have to pitch. Pitching is not easy, and StartupYard Community Manager Lloyd Waldo and I have already written extensively on this topic, on this very blog.

Last week, during the Open-House event, the audience sat through 8 ninety-seconds pitches, and it was clear that the majority of the presenters could do with more training on how to grab the attention of a live audience and deliver a compelling story. It’s not that hard, and there are a lot of resources out there, but nothing can beat a one-to-one coaching session. Unfortunately, those are not that easily available locally. This is typically the kind of topic we work hard on during the StartupYard program, putting teams through extensive feedback from mentors and the StartupYard team, and this is the kind of resource we are going to make available.

In no particular order, we will run free workshops for tech entrepreneurs on:

  • How to pitch efficiently
  • How to write a Press Release
  • How to use best practices in copywriting
  • How to make user projections
  • How to plan a launch
  • How to make financial projections

 

The final list is not finalised yet but the goal is clear: the more founders we can train on these topics, the more likely they will be to succeed. For me, this is a strong motivator and goal, and we plan to help as many entrepreneurs as possible outside of our regular acceleration program. These sessions will be one-to-one, personalised and free. That being said, our time remains a limited resource, and you will still have to apply for available spaces, but we will do our best to accommodate as many of those interested as we possibly can.

The sessions will start in January. We will post the registration form and the program then. Stay tuned, and I look forward to helping as many entrepreneurs as possible to grow their skills, and discover the ones they didn’t know they had.

 

 

The StartupYard 2014 Open House at Node5 A Success

The StartupYard 2014 Open House was a big success. In front of a packed house of over 100 guests, startups, mentors, and investors, Chairmain of Microsoft Europe Jan Muehlfeit and StartupYard Managing Director Cedric Maloux held forth, while our panel of StartupYard mentors reviewed 8 pitches from local startups.

Wayra gave us a little love as well:

 

 

Jan Muehlfeit

DSC03356

Muehlfeit, who is stepping down from his role as European Chairman at Microsoft to take a more active public role in “unlocking human potential,” spoke for about 40 minutes. Topics ranged from education, to issues of labor and creativity in the digital economy. He shared a few anecdotes about his friend and colleague Bill Gates, and about his career with Microsoft, which is ending this year.  Muehlfeit plans to work as a “mentor, coach, and trainer,” as he puts it, for entrepreneurs and technologists around the world, to unlock human potential. He will start as a senior strategic advisor for  the private equity fund Atlantic Bridge, and will lend some of his time in the coming year to advising StartupYard’s incoming teams.

Muehlfeit covered a broad range of topics during his address. We live tweeted his talk, and here are a few of our takeaways:

 

 

 The Pitch-Off

We were pleasantly surprised at the number of applications we received for the pitch-off, in which 8 entrepreneurs pitched theirs startup ideas to Muehlfeit, and our other mentors in attendance: Ondrej Bartos, of Credo Ventures, and Petr Ocasek, a StartupYard co-founder and CEO of AngelCam. Over the coming week, we will write a bit more about how the pitching went, and about the process we used to select the pitches that appeared at the pitch-off. Here is a quick overview of the pitches, along with their self-descriptions:

Factorify

Factorify is an SaaS for manufactures and small and medium-sized factories which want to be more effective and be able to plan, calculate and track everything. We want to bring inovation and flexibility to production.
 

hotcar.io

The HotCar.io application reveals the history of used car advertisements, puts the data insight into used car market and shows often car defects so the customers can negotiate the best price and minimize risks for the used car they are eager to buy.
We also provide market benchmarks, analytics and demand/offer program for used car sellers.
Moreover, we would like to do a Full Customer Service – we search, inspect and ask for a discount on a car/car type specified by a customer.
 

shards.io

Shards.io is aiming to provide a real-time BI over large amount of structured and semi-structured data. Our stack of technologies includes a distributed storage able to run on commodity hardware or cloud infrastructure and web-based UI for data analysts.
 

Portadi

Portadi helps workplace teams manage access to cloud apps with minimal effort. Portadi increases compliance and visibility into access rights to cloud apps and minimizes the security risks of distributing sensitive passwords to users.Each team member gets a custom dashboard with their team or company cloud apps or websites. Users don’t see app passwords, they simply sign in with a single click and land right in the web application.Portadi gives team managers and business owners the definitive answer to who can access which cloud app or website and provides a centralized audit trail. Portadi exposes how each apps is utilized allowing team managers to optimize paid subscriptions and better assess ROI of app purchases.
 

f8

F8 provides a two-way sync between the world of documents (meeting minutes, brainstormings, project documents, business analysis documents, theses, etc.) with the world of personal task management.It significantly reduces the time overhead keeping those two worlds in sync (e.g. distribution and tracking of meeting minutes actions, agenda preparations, etc.).Its target audience are project managers, analysts, writers, students and possibly more.
 

Datlowe

We are trying to provide a top class text processing tool which enables users to get information out of texts, search the texts better, and classify them. DATLOWE digs really deep into the language providing us with the structure of sentences. It means we understand the text well. We know what words are subjects, predicates, objects, etc. and how they depend on each another. Combining these information with smart dictionaries allows us to extract more information with higher precision than most of the competing methods.
 

SentiSquare

A StartupYard alum, SentiSquare discovers the most important topics in social media content and automatically produces summaries of the topic-related comments. It’s a “sentiment analytics” engine that will revolutionize the way global brands engage with their customers online and offline.

 

Educasoft

Education and content platform, Educasoft, maker of MyPrepApp and Hrave.cz another StartupYard Alum, took this pitching opportunity to announce that they have closed a funding round, and are focusing on the Czech market, soon to be followed by other Central European markets. 
 

StartupYard Announces Strategic Parternship with Mazars

DSC03498

Finally, StartupYard is pleased to announce a strategic partnership with Mazars, the global accounting and consulting group with offices in over 50 countries. Founded and headquartered in France, Mazars is the 11th largest single accounting firm in the world. Their consultants will meet individually with StartupYard startups to ensure that they are taking all the appropriate legal and accounting steps as new companies.

Maloux noted of the new partnership: “even though they don’t cover the preferred topics of novice founders, tax, accounting, and legal advice are extremely important and need to be done well. I’m very happy that the experts from Mazars will help our teams to establish solid foundations, and make the best possible financial decisions early on, setting them up for success after leaving the accelerator.”

The partnership will extend for a minimum of two years, with Mazars consultants in close communication with all StartupYard teams.

StartupYard Mentor Philip Staehelin: “Rapid Change Creates Opportunity.”

Philip Staehelin is one of StartupYard’s most popular mentors, and a very long-time Prague based expat, with experience in a diverse range of businesses. We caught up with him recently to get his take on mentoring with StartupYard, in advance of our Accelerator Open House, taking place on Thursday, Dec. 4.

Philip, you’ve got an amazingly varied background and career. Swiss-American, born in New Zealand, educated in France and the US, and based now in Prague, you’ve been at A.T. Kearney, T-Mobile and UniCredit, and you’ve invested in startups and real estate. What inspires you to stay in The Czech Republic?

I’ve been based in Prague for the past 20 years. My wife likes to think I stayed because of her (she’s Czech), and while I don’t reject that view (openly), the more well-rounded answer is that the Czech Republic is a dynamic place with a very high standard of living. Obviously, things have changed tremendously since 1994 when I arrived, but that’s been part of the fun. Rapid change creates opportunity – and with a strong drive and lots of hard work (and throw in a dash or two of creativity) – I was able to capitalize on the opportunities that came my way. It’s been a fantastic 20 years.
Tell us a bit about your entrepreneurial ventures. What have been your biggest successes and failures in that arena?

A: I founded my first startup while I was studying at INSEAD in 1999. Four fellow MBAs joined my team, as well as the CEO of the investment bank where I used to work. I thought we had a killer team with the perfect concept. We raised some angel financing so we could launch the mixed offline/online, PC-based, ad-serving product… when the internet bubble burst. The business model became rather toxic from one day to the next, making further progress nearly impossible. I shut it down, returned 70% of the money to the investors, and eventually sold the IP a few year later – more for closure than for money. The bubble bursting certainly wasn’t the only reason we failed, but it’s a nice excuse. I learned a lot of valuable lessons in that first venture, even if it didn’t make it too far.

In terms of biggest successes – I would briefly mention two. #1: I bought a house in 2000. After fixing it up and living there for a few years, I ended up tearing it down and built 4 terrace apartments on the lot. The house won the Gran Prix of Architecture award for 2008, and the project ROI was fantastic. #2: A more traditional startup entrepreneurial success is Video Recruit (www.video-recruit.com). I founded the company with a partner nearly 4 years ago after coming up with an idea on how to revolutionize the recruiting space. The real coup was finding the right partner (now the CEO), and together we put together a solid core team, raised the early stage financing and developed a solid rollout and expansion strategy. The company has gradually built a global presence, and in November 2014, the company secured EUR 1.5m in new financing to help scale up globally. It’s a work-in-progress, but it’s an amazing company with huge upside potential. I believe it can become one of the true Czech startup success stories.

What do you get out of mentoring at StartupYard?

A: Mentoring at StartupYard is really fun for me. I love interacting with the teams, hearing the ideas, critiquing the strategies and business cases, and feeling the energy of people with creativity and passion. I also like to see how the teams engage with my ideas and challenges. And finally, in the cases where all the stars align, I invest in a team – the most recent being Gjirafa, the Albanian search engine.

What value do you feel your mentoring provided to the teams you’ve worked with?

I’ve worked in many different industries in many different roles, so I can bring a big picture perspective when necessary or dive deep and challenge the business model, business cases, or commercialization strategies. Some teams need guidance in defining a real sales channel strategy, whereas others need help with building a solid business case that will speak to investors. In some cases, I’ve pushed teams to completely rethink their value proposition – using what they’ve created but coming at it from an entirely new direction. I make what I hope are helpful suggestions, supported by logic, experience and intuition… and of course, teams are welcome to challenge me back or ignore the advice altogether. At the very least, I hope to prepare them for the hard questions potential investors will ask in the future. Overall – I must say I’ve had a warm reception from every team, every time.

PhilipStaehelin,generálníředitelCCSaTomášZahajský,manažerprovelkézákazníkyrtxt13368

What skills or tools do you feel the teams you’ve mentored have lacked most? What do they need to learn?

To generalize, most teams are very small and by definition they lack some skills or tools as they get started. But if we go beyond this obvious statement, I think that teams don’t necessarily lack skills or tools per se, but rather they simply lack business experience.

For instance, I’ve seen a lot of teams that lack a clear sales strategy or lack an understanding of how difficult and expensive the sales process will be – especially in B2B concepts that are too complex for online sales or telesales. The ideas can be great, the management team can be strong, the technology solid… but some concepts will require a door-to-door sales force, with long sales cycles, and sales teams that will need to be properly managed and incentivized. This is often a step that has not been properly developed, but it’s a key step when developing a business case.

I’ve also seen a lot of teams that have a very difficult time putting together an investor pitch. Getting them to boil down their concept and value proposition to a few, easily digestible but stimulating slides is extremely challenging. That’s often hard for seasoned professionals to be honest, so helping a team to think more from an investor’s perspective can be a good starting point. Startups simply need to learn to summarize their amazing ideas properly – not providing too many unimportant details and making sure the key value is clearly visible.

Have you stayed in contact with any of the teams from previous cohorts? If so, what prompted you to go the extra distance?

I usually follow up with a handful of the teams after my official mentoring engagement is over. I’m usually curious how they’re developing, I want to know if I can be of any more help, and I also may want to know if there’s the potential for an investment.

Accelerators are a really recent development. If you were yourself at 25 and had a project, would you apply for an accelerator? Do you wish now that a StartupYard had existed when you founded your first company?

I think the concept of accelerators is fantastic – and I absolutely wish they’d existed when I launched my first company. Of course, there will always be startups that don’t need an accelerator – especially those startups with more experienced teams. But for the majority of startups with young, highly motivated, inexperienced teams, the value that an accelerator can add at the early stage of a company’s existence (or pre-existence) can be critical. The accelerator can provide that extra impetus to a team that will give them the confidence and the tools necessary to have a real chance at creating a successful company.

What is the one piece of advice that you seem to give the most often to young entrepreneurs, and why? 

Although I always tailor my advice to the specific challenges the entrepreneurs face (and I definitely want to avoid sounding like a broken record), I guess the one piece of advice that does surface more often than not regards the definition of the core value proposition. I referred to this earlier, but to put it succinctly, many teams have a hard time developing a conceptual elevator pitch. Spending the time on this exercise at an early stage is always time well-spent in my opinion, not only because you might get the chance to pitch the concept to an investor or strategic partner at a chance meeting, but even more because it helps to crystallize the essence of what the team is developing, so that the team itself will be able to understand where it needs to focus. This can be hard – especially for technology focused teams where there can be a disconnect between having a cool platform and serving a real need (or “scratching a real itch” as I like to put it, which leaves more room for meeting unrealized needs). When the teams find themselves under stress and worry about resource and time constraints, they can refer back to the elevator pitch (in essence, the blueprint of their business) to make sure they’re going in the right direction and not on a tangent. I’m not saying teams shouldn’t pivot – many teams should pivot – but that decision needs to be explicit, and not just an accidental drift into a new strategy. So the bottom line is: “Know where you’re going, and know why you’re going there”. 
Central Europe Accelerator

What Can StartupYard Do For You?

As I wrote earlier this week, I spent last week on the Startup circuit, at conferences like Slush in Helsinki, and HowtoWeb in Bucharest. What I found talking to startups from Finland, Sweden, Romania, Hungary, and Bulgaria was that, whether they know it or not, and whether they believe it or not, a lot of young companies need an accelerator. But a lot of people don’t even know what an accelerator really does, or why they need one.

Plus, a lot of companies I met with weren’t sure if now was the right time to join, or whether it might be too early or too late. So here we go: What StartupYard can do for you at any of these stages:

 

I have an idea, and a Co-Founder.

There are a lot of steps between hatching a brilliant product idea with a friend, and making that product a reality. StartupYard will first provide you with a concrete road map of the steps you need to take, and will take the most important ones with you. We will handle your incorporation as a company in the Czech Republic, the UK, and/or Delaware, we will prepare your legal agreements and advise you on copyright and trademark issues you may face, and we will provide you with accounting and tax preparation assistance.

Aside from technical issues, we and our mentors will prepare you for the realities of your market, following the principles of the lean methodology to help you find your product/market fit. We give you a very clear working idea of what a launch entails, and how you will be able to pursue a working growth strategy in the next half year. We will also show you how to satisfy investor questions, and seek investment from the right people; you’ll be talking to investors early, and you’ll learn what they’re looking for in you. In 3 months, you’ll go from an idea, to a working prototype, with a strong sense of where you’re going next, and what it takes to get there.

IMG_0462

 

I have an idea, and no Co-Founder.

If your idea is good and our technical selection committee thinks it makes sense, we can help you find a technical or business co-founder, or help you figure out how to externalise your development in the initial phase of your project, if you are not development focused yourself.

 

I have a prototype.

We expect that all our teams will have a working prototype as soon as possible in the accelerator. As you begin to prototype, we will work with you hands-on to make sure that you are building something with investor appeal, a great market fit, and potential for real growth. We do this by working you through a process of defining and formalizing your “position statement,” your roadmap to what the product will mean to customers, and by having our technical and business mentors react to your work early and often, giving you feedback that will be extremely valuable later on.

Here our technical mentors can be of enormous help in showing you how to polish and complete your project at the highest level possible. Included among our mentors are proven experts in UI design, copywriting, coding, machine learning, and design. They’ll keep you on track.

server-concept-1439271-4-m

I have a beta version.

With a product ready to be put into the wild for testing, you’ll be able to take advantage of the experience of our mentors, many of whom have been in this exact position before, more than once. Now you’ll have a real need for mentoring on best practices in PR, and product marketing, copywriting, UI design, and so-called “growth hacking” techniques. We have a stable of mentors who have a depth of experience in all those areas, and will be ready to show you how best to handle your product as it finds a test audience, and how best to use this opportunity to gather valuable data, and apply it to iterating your product, and preparing it for a full sail launch.

We work with you as much as we can outside your core competencies, stretching your comfort zone to include areas you will have to manage as a public company. If you’re good at something, we won’t interfere with that, but we will force you to work on areas of your business that you aren’t as comfortable with. Most important among these, we’ve found, is working your comfort level with PR, marketing, and sales. This stage, when you’re just beginning to look for customers, is vital in building your brand image, finding your product market fit, and fine-tuning your communication style. What kind of company are you? This is when you nail it down.

At this stage, you’ll also begin serious talk about raising capital, and we’ll prepare you to talk to investors about your ideas, hone your pitching skills, and connect you with the right investors, for the right type of investment. We don’t guarantee you’ll raise money, beyond what we invest in you. It is up to you and your team to get prepared as a company for an investment. But we’ll shape your expectations for that investment, realigning your hopes with reality, and putting you on the path to realistic, realizable goals.

Many angel investors these days don’t even talk to startups who haven’t been accelerated or incubated already. They don’t want to waste their time on unrealistic expectations. Our angels are used to working with startups like yours, and they’re confident that the accelerator has prepared you to seek investment.

Node5

 

I have users.

You’re already climbing the mountain, and that’s fantastic. StartupYard will help you learn from your ongoing experiences with new customers, and show you how to apply those lessons, and leverage that userbase into organic growth. Our mentors have been there, and they’ve done this before. Their experience will be to your advantage, as you will work with mentors in your specific market, as well as other markets, who have experienced failures and successes at early stage growth, and will help you to understand what type of growth you want, and how to get it.

Experience at this stage cannot be bought. It is earned by experiencing harsh realities. But the experience our mentors can confer may save you a lot of time and agony, and can make the difference between your company finding an audience and a path to growth, and stagnation.

The media exposure you will gain from StartupYard is important. We’re not Y-Combinator, and we won’t get you in Forbes magazine ( not yet anyway), but journalists and tech evangelists know us, and pay attention to the teams that come through the accelerator. Our mentors and contacts extend to global press connections, and a global product from StartupYard would have access to that network. You’ll meet members of the press, and you’ll have the chance to impress them. The networking opportunities we provide are no small benefit. They are key to your early success, and they will play a vital role later on. Use them, and keep using them- the more you do, the better off you’ll be.

 

5858059202_a15811ccc6

 

I have paying customers

Startups sometimes assume that they’ve climbed the mountain already, if someone is willing to pay them for what they make. Not so. And we’ve found that companies that come to us with paying customers benefit just as much from the accelerator as those that don’t.

Now that you’ve got a few paying customers, you’re in a fantastic position for serious talks with investors, and capital injections that will feed this growth smartly and quickly. Our mentors can become your advisors, your valuable contacts, and perhaps even your clients, as you seek investment, think about expanding your team, and look for corporate and other potential partners.

Companies usually leave StartupYard with at least a few official advisors or advisory board members, from among our mentors, and these people are key to opening doors for you in all areas of your business. Aside from everything else we do, this is an opportunity that can’t be understated in importance. You’ll be forging those vital relationships with our help, and those relationships may just be your stepping stones to growth and success.

Pitch StartupYard Investors and Mentors at the Accelerator Open House

Nearly 100 people have already signed up for our Accelerator Open House, Dec. 4, which celebrates our recent move to Node5, and the opening of StartupYard as a more public resource for local and regional startups, and features exiting Chairman of Microsoft Europe, Jan Muehlfeit, who will deliver keynote remarks.

In addition, we’re happy to announce that we will hold a “pitch-off,” inviting entrepreneurs who can attend the event to pitch their ideas in front of StartupYard mentors and investors, programmers and entrepreneurs. Pitches will be 90 seconds, and will not include demos or slides. It’s just you, your charm, and a microphone, in front of a full house.

 

Applications close this Friday, November 28th (Edit: Applications are now closed).

This isn’t a contest, and there’s nothing to win, but rather an opportunity for you to pitch an idea you may be thinking about, or a startup you’ve been working on, and see whether it peaks the interest of investors, mentors, or others at the Open House. Your pitch will hopefully be the start of a conversation that may see you joining the StartupYard accelerator, or having further talks with potential partners, advisors, or investors.


10489852_799591486725508_6883063992409343071_n 10413339_799591643392159_3497601133066230384_n

Jeanne Trojan: Present as Yourself

Over the past few weeks, the StartupYard teams worked hard on perfecting their pitches for Demo Day. There were a fair share of investors, corporate representatives, mentors, and industry members of all stripes in attendance. Needless to say, the pressure was on. But, every one of the teams pitched really well.

A week before the big day, we invited Jeanne Trojan, an Executive Presentation Trainer & Coach and long-time pitch mentor for StartupYard, to TechSquare to help the teams prepare for their Demo Day pitches. Here are a few of the tips that she shared with us.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Counter-intuitively, the best way to appear natural in front of a group of people is to meticulously plan your pitch and practice until it has a natural flow. You know how an athlete can make an amazingly difficult move look easy? That’s your goal when you present. You want the audience to get the impression that you’re just talking with them. That’s takes loads of practice.

IMG_0575

But, that’s not to say that Jeanne advocates memorizing your presentation. That can be dangerous and will not give a natural impression. You shouldn’t be concentrating on the words, but on the stories that make up your pitch. Every slide should represent a ‘story’ for you that you can remember.

However, you should memorize one part of your talk. Your opening. When you get up to speak, you’ll be nervous and you’ll have a bit of a ‘deer in the headlights’ moment. Make sure you know the first few sentences of your talk by heart so you can do it on ‘auto-pilot’.

 

Find Your Allies

Audience engagement in person is achieved in many ways. But Jeanne emphasized simple, easy, and repeatable tricks for connecting. For example, she advised us to look for ‘audience allies’. They are the people nodding, smiling and really engaged in your talk. Find these people in every part of the room so that when you’re feeling nervous, looking at them can help you to calm down and you can still give the impression that you’re looking at everyone. Instead of a sea of faces looking back at you, judging you, look at the few you feel you can trust, and talk to them.

Vaclav Formanek, getting passionate about education.

Vaclav Formanek, of MyPrepApp

Share Your Enthusiasm

This is your project. If you’re excited about it, you need to be able to share that energy with your audience. If you’re not, there’s a bigger problem than your pitch. There is no excuse for acting ‘cool’ or being stiff when you’re sharing your big idea. Your pitch should appear important and urgent. Your audience should be thinking – ‘Why hasn’t anyone thought of this before? This is something that needs to happen!’ Constructing your pitch to give this impression is vital to your success.

Stop Dancing

Even some of the best presenters still have nervous habits to break. For example, nervous speakers often seem to have little control over their legs, skipping around the stage, not even aware that they’re doing it. Once speakers have an awareness of what they’re doing with their bodies and how they can control their movements, it makes for a much more relaxed and easy-to-watch presentation. Jeanne shared some tips on how to move with a purpose and to cure that ‘shaky voice’ that always accompanies nervous situations.

Don’t Be Slide-Driven

notapresentation

“ You and your message are your presentation. NOT your slides. Too often, slides drive a talk and the speaker’s and audience’s focus is on them.’ “

A lot of presenters get stuck reading the headlines of each slide and then following the information as it pops up on the screen. This is a comfortable, but boring way of getting through a presentation, and it puts the material ahead of the presenter themselves. When you give your pitch at a demo day or a conference, you are presenting *yourself* as much as you are presenting your ideas, your team, and your work so far. A sure way of failing to inspire anyone, is to take yourself out of the loop, and show a set of slides that attendees could have read through on their own in 2 minutes.

Make sure that slide creation is one of the last in your preparation steps. And, focus on creating visual, eye catching slides that will attract the audience’s attention and turn to you to learn more.

Jeanne was a vital part of our teams’ pitch success on Demo Day and we’d like to thank her for working with them so passionately. If you’d like to make a successful presentation or pitch, we can definitely recommend Jeanne’s work.

Jeanne Trojan

jmtcz.cz

@jmtcz

Meet the 2014 Founders: SentiSquare. Helping global brands become better listeners.

The last of the 7 from 2014, SentiSquare began as an academic project by Josef Steinberger, assistant Professor at the University of West Bohemia. I caught up with Josef this week to talk about SentiSquare, a “sentiment analytics” engine that will revolutionize the way that global brands engage with their customers online and offline.

Josef

Cofounders Josef Steinberger, and Tomáš Brychcín

Hi Joseph, where does the idea for SentiSquare come from?

Several years ago, I started to research opinion summarization at the University of West Bohemia. There is an enormous and ever growing number of opinions about various entities all over the internet. For example, on Facebook alone, on Ford Motorcars company page, there has been over 37000 comments during the last year. And most of the comments are in English. If we include local Ford pages (ones for different countries), Twitter, LinkedIn, Youtube and various discussion forums, we end up with over 1 Million comments. I think that gathering that data and making sense of it through summarization has a great commercial potential. With the initial idea, I entered the Microsoft Innovation Centre (MIC) accelerator and the idea saw some further development. From there, I moved to the StartupYard program. Tomas and Michal, our top two NLP researchers at the university, joined me and together, with valuable advices of StartupYard mentors we further developed the idea and SentiSquare finally crystallized into a workable business idea.

Is your whole team from academia? How did you all get together on this project?

Yes, all three founders are from the University of West Bohemia. I’m an associate professor and Tomas and Michal are finishing their PhD theses. We started working on sentiment analysis together at the beginning of the year. We ran experiments for a Semeval’s shared task [an international NLP research community evaluation campaign] and we were ranked 3rd out of 30 participating teams. We joined  forces for the brand-related opinion summarization project which I’d been already working on in the MIC program. Tomas brings the knowledge of semantic analysis and Michal’s expertise is in machine learning.

What will SentiSquare allow clients to do? What will its limitations be?

Sentisquare discovers the most important topics in social media content and automatically produces summaries of the topic-related comments. We can analyse millions of tweets, facebook posts, forum comments, and many other sources. It’s really the next generation of sentiment analysis. Basically, it does more than just produce sentiment polarity figures (e.g., how many times a brand was mentioned positively or negatively) but it answers the crowd sentiment question by tracking “key” opinions, e.i. opinions expressed by a large number of contributors. The trick is in identifying these opinions even when they are expressed in very different ways. These opinions drive brand reputation in a much more concrete way than “likes,” and so forthe. Sentisquare links topics across different brands, languages and periods, it will allow you to produce temporal, competitive and geographical comparisons. This will allow global companies and brands to get a good handle on their most common user complaints, the successes or drawbacks of their marketing campaigns, and their brand perceptions in a broad set of categories, for various demographics. The size of the data set limits the possibilities for the technology. If we don’t find enough relevant and content-rich comments about a brand (~1 thousand comments), the analysis won’t produce conclusive figures. To hone our models, we currently need over 1 Million domain-specific pieces of text, so this will apply to very big brands, probably with a global presence.

So you need a lot of data. what kinds of companies and people do you see as your likely customers?

Skoda [the leading Czech automaker, owned by Volkswagen Group], is a great example of a potential client. If they monitor what people are saying about the current car models, they can get inspiration on what people like, what they’d don’t like, what they want, and to which competing cars they compare Skoda’s models. This information can help in designing and marketing a new model. After the new one is out, the aggregation of the expressed sentiment about it can help in shaping the decisions taken. The power of sentiment analysis is in the fact that it goes beyond just sales figures and statistics. We can imagine this technology making the world a better place for everyone. For example, there are applications in entertainment as well. You know how Hollywood lives only on the box office take of whatever movie they release, no matter the quality of the film? Films all end up copying each other and looking pretty much the same. Plus, there’s a huge amount of risk in budgeting for a $150 Million film just because a similar one was successful. Well, what if our technology could help movie studios to understand what people like about their movies, and so allow them to *avoid* copying the things that don’t need copying. They could get ahead of trends, and really understand what the audience is yearning for before making the next film. Everybody wins.

What do you see as your primary competition in this field?

We feel that competition is a badly negotiated cooperation :laughs:. That means there is a lot of room in this market for new ideas, and new players. Even if current social media monitoring tools are nominally our competition, we’d rather position Sentisquare as a new layer on top of their functionality. We are investigating the possibility of cooperation with SocialBakers, BrandEmbassy, GoodData and eMerite, however, there are many others we would like to work with.

Josef does some deep thinking.

Josef does some deep thinking.

As an academic, what do you find most challenging about thinking in business terms, and talking to business people?

The first difference is that in business we need to think much more about the target group of users and the business benefit our solution brings. Also In research, we push the quality of the technological solutions. For example, if we improve the quality of sentiment polarity prediction by 2 percent, we could write a famous paper about it. In business, it is more about uniqueness of the idea and differentiation from the competition. Business is about practical, workable solutions that deliver, not just theoretical models.

How has your experience at StartupYard been so far? Which of the mentors has had the most powerful influence on your team and your direction as a company?

We’ve learned a lot about the business world. Now we have a good basis for pitching, business planning, marketing, sales, and positioning the company and so on. There were many mentors who gave up a valuable feedback. Jan Šedivý and Jaroslav Gergic helped us to elaborate the API strategy. Marcel Vargaeštok introduced us to what the marketing research agencies do. Adam Zbiejczuk connected us with the local social media monitoring community. Viktor Fischer share with us his knowledge about sales possibilities and company directions. And finally, there were crucial times when every positive feedback was important for us, like the one from Roman Stupka, Philip Staehelin or Jan Muehlfeit.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on RedditShare on LinkedInShare on Google+Digg thisPin on PinterestShare on Tumblr
If you like what you read, please consider sharing it

Lindsay Taylor: “It’s Not a Pitch. It’s Their Story.”

This Tuesday, StartupYard 2014’s founders experienced a grueling workshop from Prague’s own Lindsay Taylor, actress, producer, performance trainer, and Founder of Prague Film and Theater Center (PFTC). She came in to coach the founders on their Demo Day pitches, and to share tips on how to perform under pressure, how to breath and relax, and how to deliver a powerful address. I caught up with Lindsay after the workshop to ask her for a few public speaking pointers.

Lindsay Taylor of Prague Film and Theater Center

Lindsay Taylor of Prague Film and Theater Center

Now that you’ve met with the founders of StartupYard 2014, what do you think is the most important thing for them to work on before the Demo Day?

I think to remember that they really are the BEST people to speak on their company (and their own) behalf.  And on Demo Day the audience will come to see exactly that.   They are all such great, motivated young minds and entrepreneurs, that for me the most important thing they need to work on is believing this fact.

Additionally the founders need to find a way to access this belief within themselves (via any number of relaxation, focus, awareness,clarity, improvisatory exercises) that gets their entire energy in a natural and comfortable place.  It is in this state that we can access our natural breath and posture, but more importantly allow us to see and hear you and essentially see and hear your story.  Because really, its not a pitch presentation.  It’s their story.  And you have to be brave, vulnerable, and present to tell your story.  Yet, this type of communication always makes an impact.

What tips would you give an inexperienced speaker to handle jitters before a big presentation?

Josef of Senti2 gears up for his monologue exercise.

Josef of Senti2 gears up for his monologue exercise.

Focus on the breath. Breathe through the nose and expand the diaphragm as you inhale.  Exhale with a controlled and slow breath exhausting the diaphragm. Try to regulate your breathing while you wait.  Try to think about feeling the energy of the room and the people in it, and less about what you need to say.

Don’t get me wrong, nervous and excited are good feelings as well.   You can use it to your advantage as its already giving you an electrifying energy that can drive you forward – just don’t let it get the best of you.  Breathe and find a way to channel nerves to focused relaxation.

A trick (shake your hands loose from your wrists repeatedly close to your time of speaking- it is a natural and easy way to trick your body into loosing some tension and access natural and relaxed breathing)

Repeat controlled breathing.  Your voice and the audience will thank you for it.  You will have more resonance, volume, and tone and color just by simply focusing on your breathe.  This also physically makes your brain happy with oxygen.  Improving clarity of thought, and ability to improvise.

You focused a lot on warmups and mental focus during our workshop. What are your favorite mental and physical warmups, and why?

IMG_0589

“The Hang”

My all time favorite is the roll over “hang”.   After stretching and elongating your entire body, bend like you are going to touch your toes, but instead just let go and hang.  Neck loose, head facing the floor, knees bent, feet shoulder with apart, arms hanging down to the floor.  The actor/presenter stays in this position, letting go of tension, allowing breath to release their body further towards the ground, allowing gravity to take effect.

“The Roll Up”

When you are ready, roll yourself up.   I’ve seen actors and performers stay in this position for 30 minutes before rolling up to actor neutral.  When you do decide to roll up, think about stacking your vertebrae one on top of the other- balancing your entire body each time you do so .  Your neck and head are the very last thing to come up.

“Balance”

The saying should be “balance up straight” and not “stand up straight” –  When we force our backs into having “good posture” we are automatically inserting tension and painful energy into our physicality.  But if we’ve found center based on a reset of your body (which is essentially what the hang is) this allows us to be in the most natural, easy, and upright position for body.  This is the single best thing I know to do to be present physically, mentally, and emotionally.
You should do this once a day, public peaking or no public speaking.

All of our founders speak English as a second language. What are some really effective techniques for training oneself to speak clearly and understandably?

 

Each founder had to deliver a dramatic monologue.

Each founder had to deliver a dramatic monologue.

Native English speakers need to stretch their mouths,  warm-up their vocal range, and exercise the various sounds before speaking in public. So as a non-native speaker this is even more true as you are most likely already struggling to place the sounds correctly in your mouth anyway.
A few top exercises to improve diction and articulation:
• Lip Trills:  Inhale through nose, expand diaphragm, push out all the air from your belly throw your closed lips in a controlled release, repeat. Your lips should vibrate and your nose will itch if you are doing it right.  Add variations in your pitch and explore your range of pitch, volume, and pace while doing this activity

• Big Face/Tiny Face:  Make your as wide and open as possible (mouth, eyes, eyebrows, cheeks.  Then quickly make your face as tiny and tight as possible.  Repeat  If you fully commit to the stretch, your face will feel ready for anything after.

• Repeat sounds from the belly voice such as Ba, Ta, Ga, Ma,Pa,  Ka, La, Fa, Na, Sa, Wa, Da, Ra – make combiations  BATAGATA, KATAPATA (faster and repeated)

• Tongue Twisters- There are plenty. The internet is full of them.   They work.  And you will get better at them.
Diction and articulation are essential to hearing you and understanding you.  Don’t skip this step.

 

About Lindsay Taylor: 

Taylor

Originally trained in theatre, Lindsay earned a degree in Theater Arts from McDaniel College. 

Lindsay splits her time between work with Prague based film studios and theater companies. Co-founder of the Prague Film and Theater Center, a network to connect creative professionals, create projects, and grow a database, she also works in film as a producer, casting director, acting/dialect coach, and AD. 

 

You can Connect with Lindsay and PFTC via:

 

Her Profile On LinkedIn

The PFTC Facebook Page

Facebook Group for PFTC

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on RedditShare on LinkedInShare on Google+Digg thisPin on PinterestShare on Tumblr
If you like what you read, please consider sharing it