Michal Hradil, StartupYard

Meet StartupYard Investor Michal Hradil, Founder of Hyperia

Just last week, StartupYard made final selections for SY 2016/2, our 7th round of acceleration overall, and 2nd in 2016.

With each round, we invite brand new investors, with new perspectives and experiences, to get involved with StartupYard as investors. This year we’re pleased to welcome Michal Hradil, Founder and CEO of Hyperia, a highly successful online marketing agency based in Slovakia. Hyperia, founded in 2013, focuses on lead generation, performance marketing, and affiliate marketing.

A serial entrepreneur, Michal is also the founder of online finance marketplace BezvaFinance, and renewable energy consultancy NetInvest.

Hi Michal, tell us a bit about yourself and your experience founding Hyperia. How did you get into online marketing? Where are you planning to go, business-wise, in the future?

I got into online marketing during my university studies. Working as an attendant in a copy center, I had plenty of time to browse the Internet. I found out I could earn more money by buying and selling domain names. So I gave it a try and it worked. And here is where it all began. I broadened my horizons about affiliate marketing, lead generation and ended up founding Hyperia.

 

Hype

What have been some of your favorite, or most successful projects at Hyperia? Do you have any interesting failures to talk about?

A: Our biggest achievement is, I think, that Hyperia, facing a very strong competition, became a leader in lead generation in financial sector within the Czech Republic and Slovakia which are two really competitive markets. Inevitably, we have made lots of mistakes. The one, I can easily describe, turned up when our webpages didn’t work for visitors using IPV6 connection. Having IPV4, we didn’t realize it and the mistake cost us around 30k euros.  

What makes Hyperia different from an average marketing agency? What is unique about your approach to your field?

Creativity brought even into more conservative segments and marketing psychology are our two biggest strengths.

In addition, we have never worked for individual clients. We are paid for tangible results by our partners so we must be really efficient in what we’re doing and we are able to achieve results the following day after making a deal. But specializing in our own projects also means that the success or failure are in our hands.


As an entrepreneur, how has the landscape changed in Slovakia (or Czechia), during your career? What have been the most important changes from your perspective?

A: In my opinion, it is more difficult to start any business without initial capital these days. The competition is very strong and the price of manpower has gone up. It means you should do more if you want to succeed.

On the other hand, information is made more available and there are much more opportunities. It is more simple to build a global business from the Czech Republic than ever before and people have more skills and experience with global products. Finding an investor became much easier as well.

You recently became a StartupYard investor. What got you interested in investing in startups, and why did you choose to invest through us? Have you invested directly in any startups before?

I do have some experience in the field. In case of StartupYard, I find your concept – to participate in something new – quite interesting. I also wanted to have a well-diversified portfolio and invest part of my earnings into startups.

As an investor, what do you hope to gain from your experience with StartupYard (other than a profit of course)?

Frankly speaking, it is more about me being able to see how the system works in details and to get first-hand information. I will be glad if I earn some money but I am keeping in mind that it might be the most expensive course I have ever taken :). I accept the risk.

How do you think you are uniquely suited to mentoring and advising early stage companies? What part of your own experience will most benefit our startups?

A: I think I keep track of marketing. I understand how PPC, ux, affiliate, domains, SEO and traffic acquisition work – I have experience with all of them. I was used to getting a lot of bang for the buck. From the point of view of marketing, there are no obstacles but challenges for me.

Soldigo, StartupYard

Meet Soldigo: An SY 2015 Alum with a New Brand

This week, on our trip to Romania, I caught up with one of our favorite StartupYard Alumni, Mathe Zsolt-Lazlo, known to us as Zsolt, founder and CEO of StartupYard alum Soldigo– formerly known as Shoptsie.

Soldigo has changed their name, but they’re still the amazing team they were when they joined us at StartupYard. I talked with Zsolt about what’s been going on at Soldigo since they left StartupYard last year:

StartupYard, Soldigo

Hi Zsolt, first let’s address the big question: your company has a new name: Soldigo. How did you pick the name, and why did you decide to rebrand?

Hi Lloyd. Indeed, we went through a rebranding so Shoptsie is now Soldigo. We got so many contradictory suggestions, many people told us we should change it and just as many said they loved the old name, but in the end we decided to change it after all.

As a result of many long brainstorming sessions we came up with nearly 100 new names. We did some research and because there is a lack in terms of .com domain name availability, we gradually reduced this number and arrived at Soldigo. We chose this name because it is short and sweet, in tune with the trend and somewhat catchy. Soldigo stands for “go with the e-selling flow”. It is intelligible in multiple languages and evokes optimism and fun.

What have been some of your biggest milestones since leaving StartupYard?  

Soldigo, StartupYard

Zsolt pitching Soldigo at StartupYard’s 2015 Demo Day

I believe our biggest milestones since leaving StartupYard were finding the right teammates and creating the new version of Soldigo. In our industry, technology and business development are often inseparable from one another and this is why we decided to change the platform to an improved version of itself. The new version of Soldigo is more intuitive, easy to use and fully supports the needs of small and medium businesses.

What about your biggest challenges?

Our biggest challenge and joy is to meet the needs of our existing and potential customers who are just as eager to perfect their online stores as we are to improve our service that allows them to do just that. We plan on introducing social selling and create a new plan called Marketing that will offer great marketing solutions for optimized selling.

Tell us what’s new in Soldigo. What are some of your newest features, and what have been some of the biggest changes to the product?

To meet all of our customers’ needs and requests, we added the following amazing new features and updates:

– we improved the product upload as well as the image upload features

– we enabled the possibility to add subcategories

– connecting the store with blogs is also possible now

– we re-thought the Designer and therefore the store owner will have more freedom with it, more customization options (possibility to add background images, more control over coloring the store, possibility to change font types and sizes, so an overall bigger freedom to be creative when it comes to the store’s look and feel)

– new server makes it all work faster and better

You’ve recently expanded your team. Tell us a bit about that process, and about the current state of the team.

The process of recruiting new team members was quite long since we had to make sure that the person joining us represented the same values and had the same goals and was enthusiastic enough to step out of the “8-hours-of-work-a-day” frame of mind.

We created a friendly work environment that is not about long hours but rather about focusing on work when needed and make it efficient. So we looked for people who fit into Soldigo’s team spirit and drive. While developing the new version of Soldigo, we expanded the team with a senior developer and a sysadmin. At the moment the Soldigo team is made up of 5 people.

Looking back, what has been one of the most important lessons for you and the Soldigo team coming out of StartupYard?

The most important lesson after coming out of StartupYard was to “get out of the building”, to engage with our customers and to allow their needs to shape the direction of Soldigo. We are constantly attending as many handcrafters’ fairs and exhibitions as possible and we aim at maintaining a constant contact with our existing customers.

You’re currently focusing on growing your userbase. What are some of the main challenges in doing that, and where do you hope to be in the next year or two?

That is correct. Since we finished the development of the new version of Soldigo, we are focusing on growing our user base. The main challenge of doing this our lack of experience in the marketing field.

Over 6000 customers are using Soldigo currently, of which 12% are generating an average 20-25 sales per day. To grow the number of our customers, we created a marketing strategy, both online and offline, but since we are not experts, we saw that we need help in this area. At the moment we are working with two really good marketing agencies and we got a lot of help from the StartupYard mentors.

The next two years are crucial for us. We want to put Soldigo on the map of the e-commerce world with hopes of it becoming one of the best solutions in helping small and medium size companies to succeed with their online businesses.

How have your ambitions for the company changed since you left StartupYard? Have you revised your vision in a significant way

When we arrived at StartupYard we wanted to reinvent the wheel and we felt that Soldigo was meant for everyone. We were really clueless in how to channel our ambition to get results.

What we learned there is that targeting everyone at the same time is really impossible, and so we chose a niche that would focus our energy in a more targeted way. Our vision became clearer and Soldigo became more consistent, in brand image as well as brand strategy.

We have an open call for Startups closing on September 30th. What would you say to a startup that’s thinking about applying to StartupYard?

I would say that applying to StartupYard was hands down one of the best things we did as Soldigo. It has taught us everything we know today and, most importantly, that you can achieve many things if you have a good team.

It gave us an immense perspective on where we were and also gave us a direction for the future. It was an amazing learning experience that truly defines us to this day and we felt really honored to be mentored by such incredible mentors.

I believe that StartupYard is an amazing platform for startups to grow and to learn and to find their true calling, so startups, do yourselves a favour and apply, asap!

Cluj Startup Ecosystem

What’s Special About the Cluj Tech Ecosystem?

StartupYard has embarked on a month-long, 8 stop tour of Central European tech capitals. We’ve already visited Slovakia, Poland, and Kosovo, Bulgaria, Slovenia, and Hungary, and will be stoping in Romania (Bucharest and Cluj) next week!

But before visiting each ecosystem for StartupYard FastLane, we wanted to get to know the ecosystems we will be visiting even better. While we’ve met a lot of startups from these countries, and accelerated some of them as well, we wanted to hear from local accelerators, investors, and entrepreneurs what they thought was special about their local ecosystem. Since we’re asking startupers to come to Prague, which we think is pretty special, we wanted to see what our neighboring ecosystems really have to offer, according to some of their biggest fans.

We asked a group of entrepreneurs and influencers in the countries we’re visiting to tell us their perspective on their own ecosystem, and we are sharing that learning with you in a series of blog posts, including posts about Poland, Bucharest, Bulgaria, and Slovakia, we’ll explore what makes the Cluj Tech Ecosystem unique, ahead of our visit to ClujHub, on Tuesday September 20th. 

Our Respondent:

Cluj Tech EcosystemCluj Startups: Cluj Startups is a community gathering founders, tech people, startups supporters and enthusiasts from Cluj-Napoca and the surrounding region. As a non-profit, Cluj Startups’ mission is to promote the startups based in Cluj and the events related to tech entrepreneurship taking place in our city and region. But also, to facilitate access to outsiders towards the startups and members of the community.

What’s Special about the Cluj Tech Ecosystem?

What do you see as the greatest advantage of the Cluj tech ecosystem, particularly for young technology startups and entrepreneurs?

Cluj is a vibrant city from the IT/tech perspective, with 200+ IT companies working with international clients, 10000+ IT professionals, 2 universities with hundreds of graduates in the IT field every year.

Whatever you want to build, chances are that you can find the right people to do it in Cluj. Many projects were developed in various industries like banking, automotive, e-commerce, retail, transportation, infrastructure, e-health. So, for really deep-technology startups, it’s a good place to start or to extend your team

What about its most important current weaknesses? How would you like to see them addressed?

Lack of strong product mindset and business development skills. As the ecosystem is relatively young, the first people to come in touch with the startups are still the ones in the tech sphere. In the next two years, the product management and product marketing expertise will be more and more required so we will see people gaining up on this side as well, completing the puzzle of Cluj as an emerging startup ecosystem.

What specialty would you say your ecosystem is most famous for, in terms of technology or business?

Our ecosystem is known definitely for the tech talent and for the IT companies which have grown here, some of them reaching even 1000 employees and more than $10 million in annual revenue. There is a constant attention towards Cluj from the outside, which brings more people interested to partner with local companies or to start a tech startup with a local co-founder/team.

Would you say the local ecosystem is dominated by more copycats, or by original, innovative solutions?

Not many copycats around here, but at the same time many of the startup ideas come usually from people with tech-background, so there is a limited pool of startup ideas we hear around here. There is a gap between the tech industry and other industries and what we need to see more often is for non-tech people, who really see problems in their industry, to partner with the tech guys in order to benefit of a complete range of expertises: business, industry and tech.

Cluj based startups need to look outside the tech business for new ideas - @clujstartups Click To Tweet

In your opinion, does the local ecosystem look abroad for opportunities enough? Too much? What would you encourage local entrepreneurs to change in their approach to global business?

The opportunities abroad are quite visible for us, it happens often that accelerators and funds want to visit our ecosystem and get in touch with local entrepreneurs. But the first step in growing internationally, is focusing more on product-related topics and on innovation. As long as we’re caught with an overwhelming majority in outsourcing, the product-side will be harder to develop, as effort goes where the money come from on a shorter term.

Outsourcing in Cluj is a drain on the Startup ecosystem - @clujstartups Click To Tweet

How would you describe your government’s relationship to startups and tech? Is the government helpful or is it out of touch?

This years we’ve seen a lot more government activity on supporting entrepreneurial initiatives. A total of more150 million is in process to be released through various programs to stimulate entrepreneurship and part of these funds/grants will go as well for tech entrepreneurship and startups.

The technocrat government has proven that it is listening to tech entrepreneurs (even to individual problems that startups have) and it is more supportive than in the years before. Still the system and communication needs a lot more improvement and it needs also entrepreneurs to involve more in the consultation process.

What about Angel investors? Do you have an active community? What types of people are doing angel investing in your ecosystem?

There are a few angel investors, but they are not necessarily associated in a local group or network. However, they invest in a case by case decision, through their own means. Typically, these investors come with a tech or IT business background so they understand well enough the challenges a startup might face.

There is a gap on seed stage funding which makes a lot of startups oriented directly towards outside investors. The good side is that the ones getting funding, move faster in international, bigger markets, but the downside is that chances to get funded are lower as they compete with other european startups.

The ecosystem players are very aware of that and starting from 2017, hopes are high for growing the angel community and creating early-stage funds which to support the startups.

In your opinion, what have been your greatest local successes, and in what areas do you think the ecosystem has the most potential to grow in the next few years?

So far we have witnessed a few hybrid successes, more precisely companies that had co-founders from Cluj or technical/product teams here. In 2014, Skobbler (products and services based on OpenStreetMap) was sold to Telenav for $24 million and in 2015, Liverail (monetization platform for video publishers) was sold to Facebook for an estimated $500 million.

Wow. Cluj startups have experienced some HUGE exits in the past few years - worth over $500M -… Click To Tweet


There are a few startups which have now grown to have more than dozen employees and are scaling up, like Moqups (web-based application that enables users to create mockups and wireframes), Onyx Beacon (B2B solutions that helps companies develop context aware mobile applications through beacon technology), Skinvision – skin cancer detection mobile app), CRMRebs (online platform which doubles the productivity of real estate agents) and MiraRehab (product designed to make physical therapy fun and convenient for patients recovering from surgery or injury).

.@ClujStartups highlights: @onyxbeacon @moqups and others as key Cluj success stories! Read more: Click To Tweet

What would you say to an entrepreneur or a startup thinking about relocating to your city? Any Warnings? Hidden advantages? Quirks?

Cluj is a great city to find a tech co-founder or to build the technical team. It is estimated that more than 10 000 software engineers live in Cluj, most of them working in the IT outsourcing industry, for mid-sized companies. The trend for switching jobs towards product-building ones is growing, so more developers are now inclined to take the challenge to work for startups or product-based companies.

The model, proven already, is to have the tech team here, while the business development is set in the targeted countries. The costs, availability and work quality makes the region attractive, compared with other European hubs, especially for funded startups which are really careful about spending the cash and prolonging the runway.

Cluj is welcoming to tech entrepreneurs and relocation should not be hard at all, with various points of interest:

Can you highlight 3 startups to watch for 2017 from your regional ecosystem? Why would you highlight them?

Visitors Analytics is a tailored analytics apps for major website builder platforms like Wix, Weebly, WordPress, Shopify and several others. It was launched earlier this year, on Wix, and it reached already more than 60 000 users.

Urby app delivers you suggestions on a daily basis, with things to do and places to go in your city. The team, located in Sibiu, has a really solid experience in city-life apps, has secured 6-figures funding earlier this year and it’s now on the way to expend internationally, after piloting a few cities in Romania.

Typing DNA is a startup located not far from Cluj, in Oradea. It was started less than 8 months, already went through 2 acceleration programs and closed seed funding. It uses typing biometrics to allow systems to detect account theft or hijacking based on his typing patterns.

Planable is a SaaS tool for social media managers to plan and collaborate on social media campaigns. It was accelerated as well and won a few pitching awards, now on their way to test the US market.

Cluj Startups to watch via @clujStartups: @typingdna, Urby App, @planableapp and… Click To Tweet
Bulgarian Tech Ecosystem

What’s Special about the Bulgarian Tech Ecosystem?

StartupYard has embarked on a month-long, 8 stop tour of Central European tech capitals. We’ve already visited Slovakia, Poland, and Kosovo, and Hungary, and will be stoping in Romania (Bucharest and Cluj), Bulgaria, and Slovenia.

But before visiting each ecosystem for StartupYard FastLane, we wanted to get to know the ecosystems we will be visiting even better. While we’ve met a lot of startups from these countries, and accelerated some of them as well, we wanted to hear from local accelerators, investors, and entrepreneurs what they thought was special about their local ecosystem. Since we’re asking startupers to come to Prague, which we think is pretty special, we wanted to see what our neighboring ecosystems really have to offer, according to some of their biggest fans.

We asked a group of entrepreneurs and influencers in the countries we’re visiting to tell us their perspective on their own ecosystem, and we will share that learning with you in a series of blog posts, including posts about Poland, Bucharest, and Slovakia, we’ll explore what makes the Bulgarian Tech Ecosystem unique, ahead of our visit to CoWorking Space by Puzl, in Sofia, on Wednesday September 14th. 

What’s Special about the Bulgarian Tech Ecosystem?

Alexander Karadjian, Bulgarian Tech Ecosystem, StartupYardAlexander Karadjian, Founder and CEO of Speedifly
Born and raised in Bulgaria, Alexander Karadjian moved to the US at the age of 19. He received his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in architecture from Harvard and went on to work at some of world’s leading architectural offices such as OMA and Studio Rafael Moneo. Alexander’s passion for travel and his adventurous nature led him to found SpeediFly, the first social travel platform for spontaneous last-minute travel, and a StartupYard Alum. A visionary and a believer, he is optimistic that SpeediFly will redefine the way young people think about travel and will inspire people go out and explore the world. Speedifly raised over 300,000 euros, from private investors and StartupYard. In addition to traveling, Alexander enjoys drawing, fishing and playing tennis in his free time.

What do you see as the greatest advantage of your tech ecosystem, particularly for young technology startups and entrepreneurs?

There is no doubt that the greatest asset of the Bulgarian Tech Ecosystem is the access to talent and the relatively low price (in comparison to the rest of Europe and the US) at which entrepreneurs can gain access to this talent. It is impossible to think of a thriving technology startup environment where there is a noticeable shortage of developers. In Bulgaria there are plenty of extremely talented developers, and the local economy is actually adjusting to the growing need for more specialists in this field – new IT academies pop up in Sofia every year. The challenge for startups, of course, is that big corporations from the US and Western Europe outsource a lot of their IT work to Bulgaria, which especially during the last couple of years, makes it more difficult for startup founders to make competitive enough offers to the top developers available in the ecosystem.

Alex Karadjian of @speedifly: outsourcing to Bulgaria a challenge for local startups seeking… Click To Tweet

What about its most important current weaknesses? How would you like to see them addressed?

Well, the greatest weakness, I believe, is the access to smart money. There are a lot of very rich people in Bulgaria who indeed want to invest their money, but they do not have the necessary experience to add much more than the money to the startups they can potentially invest in. It is simple – there are almost no people in Bulgaria who have done this “startup thing” successfully in the past so as to provide guidance to entrepreneurs. Most of the Bulgarians who have this experience stay in San Francisco, New York or London. Incubators such as LAUNCHub and Eleven try to bring such people to the ecosystem, but it’s not easy. This is a process that will take a lot of time. And to be honest, for startup founders who work on their first businesses it’s extremely difficult to be competitive without adequate mentorship.

Alex Karadjian of @speedifly: Biggest challenge to #Bulgarian #Startups is access to smart money,… Click To Tweet

What speciality would you say your ecosystem is most famous for, in terms of technology or business?

I would say that the development of games is thriving in Sofia. I do not follow this branch so closely but I talk to so many people who turn out to be developing games – it’s crazy. These kinds of startups are usually not under the spotlight, but some of them are doing really well.

Would you say the local ecosystem is dominated by more copycats, or by original, innovative solutions?

Well, “copycat” sounds quite offensive, which is why I do not want to use this word, but at the same time, having studied and lived in the US, I cannot say that our ecosystem is a birthplace of significant innovative solutions.

Let’s face the reality, having great ideas and a lot of developers in the same place is not enough. Most of the local founders don’t have the necessary academic background to even imagine what real technological innovation means – if I have to abide to my definition of word innovation, of course. If one goes to Y Combinator, one can see startups building new types of airplanes – this is unimaginable in a country like Bulgaria. Yes, there are Bulgarians studying engineering and physics at MIT, Harvard and Stanford, but those people do not come back to our ecosystem. Let’s not forget that in the early 2000’s the US was investing something like 17 times more money in research and technology that all the countries in Europe together. The consequences are quite clear, I think.

Alex Karadjian of @speedifly: Bulgaria needs its best minds to come home. Click To Tweet

What would you say your locally grown entrepreneurs are best at? What is their greatest strength in international business?

I have never thought about this. Maybe they are best at building beautiful solutions, and by beautiful I mean visually compelling. If only they were as good at sales!

Alex Karadjian of @speedifly: Bulgarian startups build visually compelling products Click To Tweet

In your opinion, does the local ecosystem look abroad for opportunities enough? Too much? What would you encourage local entrepreneurs to change in their approach to global business?

I don’t think local entrepreneurs are open enough to embrace global opportunities and this is indeed a problem because the Bulgarian market is too small not only to capitalize on, but also to be used as a test ground. Some B2C products can be tested locally, but most of them, as well as all new B2B solutions, should be tested against much bigger markets. Only then can our local entrepreneurs adequately evaluate the potential and the weaknesses of their products.

What does your ecosystem offer that others can’t? What is your local “killer feature?”

Corporate tax is 10%! And as I said before, cheap access to top-shelf talent is still a big advantage.

How would you describe your government’s relationship to startups and tech? Is the government helpful or is it out of touch?

At this point the government is indifferent, which is not too bad. I say this because in Bulgaria many politicians have “invaded” local small and medium sized businesses using political power. Fortunately, technological startups are too complicated for them – there’s no easy money there, which is most probably what keeps them away from negatively interfering with the startup ecosystem.

Alex Karadjian of @speedifly: Bulgarian gov is hands-off with #startups and that's a good thing Click To Tweet

What about Angel investors? Do you have an active community? What types of people are doing angel investing in your ecosystem?

Yes, there is an active Angel investor community in Sofia. Actually, I recently heard that a guy in Sofia is making an Angel investment platform to facilitate the presentation of pre-screened startups to this community of Angels. This opportunity to bring angels and startup founders close together is vital for our ecosystem, as most of the angels in Bulgaria don’t have prior experience with startups. They usually come from the financial industry, from the construction industry or from various business related to reselling goods/building materials.

In your opinion, what have been your greatest local successes, and in what areas do you think the ecosystem has the most potential to grow in the next few years?

Telerik was without any doubt the biggest success story in Bulgaria. In 2014 this company offering software tools for web, mobile and desktop application development was sold for $262.5M to Progress Software, which made the acquisition one of the biggest deals ever in Central and Southeastern Europe. Two years later, it still appears that the greatest potential of the local ecosystem is related to offering tools for the development of various IT platforms.

What would you say to an entrepreneur or a startup thinking about relocating to your city? Any Warnings? Hidden advantages? Quirks?

Be careful with the freelancers – you cannot really rely on many of them. And mess with the local institutions as little as possible. The legal system is still a mess, which is the major obstacle to bringing more investments to Sofia.

Can you highlight any startups to watch for 2017 from your local ecosystem? Why would you highlight them?

I would follow with great interest the Peer2Peer investment platform iUVO group. It provides investors with the opportunity to invest in diversified portfolios and respectively brings something really fresh to the market. I would be very curious to see how they grow.

What’s Special About the Bucharest Tech Ecosystem?

StartupYard has embarked on a month-long, 8 stop tour of Central European tech capitals. We’ve already visited Slovakia, Poland, and Kosovo, and will be stoping in Romania (Bucharest and Cluj), Bulgaria, and Slovenia.

But before visiting each ecosystem for StartupYard FastLane, we wanted to get to know the ecosystems we will be visiting even better. While we’ve met a lot of startups from these countries, and accelerated some of them as well, we wanted to hear from local accelerators, investors, and entrepreneurs what they thought was special about their local ecosystem. Since we’re asking startupers to come to Prague, which we think is pretty special, we wanted to see what our neighboring ecosystems really have to offer, according to some of their biggest fans.

We asked a group of entrepreneurs and influencers in the countries we’re visiting to tell us their perspective on their own ecosystem, and we will share that learning with you in a series of blog posts, starting with last weeks post about Poland, and Slovakia Today, we’ll explore what makes the Bucharest tech Ecosystem unique, ahead of our upcoming visit to TechHub Bucharest on Monday, September 19th.

 

Howtoweb, StartupYard, Bucharest Tech EcosystemOur Respondent: HowtoWeb Bucharest

How to Web is one of the most important startup oriented events, dedicated to innovation, technology, and entrepreneurship in South East Europe. The conference targets technology innovators, startups, startup founders, web entrepreneurs, tech product developers, outsourcing companies interested in innovation, investors, as well as all tech and web lovers.  Startup Spotlight is a deal-making program for the best early stage tech startups. The program offers the participants valuable connections, mentoring, investment opportunities and cash prizes.

How to Web will kick off on November 1st 2016 in Bucharest

Register for How to Web 2016 today.

What’s Special about the Bucharest Tech Ecosystem?

What do you see as the greatest advantage of your tech ecosystem, particularly for young technology startups and entrepreneurs?

Bucharest and other cities like Cluj-Napoca, Timisoara, Brasov and Iasi are important cities in the region in terms of the availability of tech talent, with amazing software engineers, marketers and product people.

Bucharest also offers many advantages when it comes to company establishment procedures, particularly in terms of taxes and legal aspects. Consumer prices, including rent in Bucharest are much lower than in other big cities in Western Europe, as well as commercial property, energy, and utilities. Adobe, Intel, Microsoft, Electronic Arts and Amazon all have development offices in Romania, next to Bitdefender, a Romanian based company and the number 1 security product in the world.

Add to this a well-developed internet infrastructure, and you’ve got every reason to start your company in this city.

What about its most important current weaknesses? How would you like to see them addressed?

Romania lacks business and product skills. Although in the past years we have seen a significant development of the marketing and product development skills, Romanian entrepreneurs have yet a long way ahead to acquire business skills, sales principles, and the capacity to raise investment on their own.

Romania still lacks business and product acumen, makes up for it with engineering talent:… Click To Tweet

What specialty would you say your ecosystem is most famous for, in terms of technology or business?

The Romanian tech ecosystem is particularly famous for its wealth of intellectual capital. We also have a large number of companies in the field of cyber security, and gaming and entertainment.

Would you say the local ecosystem is dominated by more copycats, or by original, innovative solutions?

The local tech ecosystem is definitely dominated by original solutions, most of them in SaaS in the first years. Starting around mid-2014, we noticed the advent of startups in hardware, Machine Learning (Artificial Intelligence), Neural Networks, 3D printing, and Virtual and Augmented Reality.

What would you say your locally grown entrepreneurs are best at? What is their greatest strength in international business?

Because of their well-developed technical skills, Romanian entrepreneurs have the capacity to iterate fast, and develop products with global potential. They are also early adopters, with great team management skills, which turns them into valuable assets for a startup success.

In your opinion, does the local ecosystem look abroad for opportunities enough? Too much? What would you encourage local entrepreneurs to change in their approach to global business?

As funding is hard to find, startup founders usually target international investors. Romania is a big enough market to test products, although the customer behavior is different sometimes from the ones in a bigger market, and this has to be taken into consideration when launching a new product.

Of course, this depends on the business type and goals. As an ecosystem, we need to grow more on the product side as this is a better path towards developing global businesses. IT outsourcing companies and corporate development centers contributed a lot to the ecosystem development, but now it is estimated that this will reach a plateau, so we need to develop other connected branches, such as our own product development, and leverage our technical skills in this area.

Romania needs to pivot to a product oriented startup environment: @how_to_web Click To Tweet

What does your ecosystem offer that others can’t? What is your local “killer feature?”

Our “killer feature” is the technical know-how, the expertise of software developers. Based on that, we’re now witnessing a shift towards product development which will take up more space and importance in the years to come.

How would you describe your government’s relationship to startups and tech? Is the government helpful or is it out of touch?

There is a gap, but it is reducing bit by bit. It’s not a short-term process and it takes a lot of effort, but it’s going in the right direction.

The government is increasingly paying attention to the tech industry and tech entrepreneurs, particularly in the last few years. The fact that IT produces more than 6% of Romania’s GDP has raised awareness in the public administration and opened doors for support and innovation programs. There is still a long way to go in assuring  good implementation, but the good thing is that there is a lot of proactivity and effervescence among the local actors, adding to the administrative pressure to improve things in this respect.

What about Angel investors? Do you have an active community? What types of people are doing angel investing in your ecosystem?

There are a few organizations clustering angel investors, especially in Bucharest, as well as other angels who are not affiliated to an investment structure. Doing investment syndicates is also a practice which is often met when it comes to raising more consistent sums. They are usually active at a pre-seed/seed level, doing investments which average around 500k euro in a year.

In your opinion, what have been your greatest local successes, and in what areas do you think the ecosystem has the most potential to grow in the next few years?

In the past 4 years, we have counted 15 exits, totaling up to 1 billion euros, to private equity funds and international companies like Twitter, Facebook, Naspers, Ringier, or Francisco Partners. The most notable ones were Avangate, LiveRail, Skobbler, UberVU, eJobs, and Imobiliare.ro.

The most developed verticals are cyber-security, e-commerce and gaming, due to thecompanies active in these areas and the expertise accumulated over time.

In the past year #Romanian #startups have seen 15 exits worth a total of over 1 Billion Euros! re:… Click To Tweet

What would you say to an entrepreneur or a startup thinking about relocating to your city? Any Warnings? Hidden advantages? Quirks?

A model that we saw more and more often is to have a development center here and the business development side in the bigger markets targeted by the startup. We’ve witnessed as well foreigners looking for Romanian co-founders and forming joint startups. The advantage of the ecosystem is a good balance regarding costs, the expertise available and tech talent, in comparison with Western countries.

HowtoWeb: Romania is an ideal development platform for western #startups @how_to_web Click To Tweet

Can you highlight 3 startups to watch for 2017 from your local ecosystem? Why would you highlight them?

TypingDNA – typing biometrics that allows the user to login based on his typing pattern, innovative product with huge potential.

Symme 3D – multifunctional Delta platform for 3D printing, PCB milling, laser engraving, pick and place – innovative product that has grown fast over the past years.

Axosuits – medical exoskeleton for people with disabilities, could disrupt the entire industry.

Romanian Startups to watch via @howtoweb: @typingdna @symme3d & @axosuits Click To Tweet
Slovak Tech Ecosystem

What’s Special about the Slovak Tech Ecosystem?

StartupYard has embarked on a month-long, 8 stop tour of Central European tech capitals. We’ll be visiting Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, and Slovenia, and have already been in Kosovo, Albania, and Krakow, Poland as well.

Getting to Know The Slovak Tech Ecosystem

But before visiting each ecosystem for StartupYard FastLane, we wanted to get to know the ecosystems we will be visiting even better. While we’ve met a lot of startups from these countries, and accelerated some of them as well, we wanted to hear from local accelerators, investors, and entrepreneurs what they thought was special about their local ecosystem. Since we’re asking startupers to come to Prague, which we think is pretty special, we wanted to see what our neighboring ecosystems really have to offer, according to some of their biggest fans.

We asked a group of entrepreneurs and influencers in the countries we’re visiting to tell us their perspective on their own ecosystem, and we will share that learning with you in a series of blog posts, starting with this week’s post about Poland. Today, we’ll explore what makes the Slovak Ecosystem unique, ahead of our upcoming visit to The Spot on Tuesday, September 6th.

 

About Our Respondents:

Praha, Andrej Kiska, Credo venturesAndrej Kiska Jr, Credo Ventures: Kiska is a StartupYard Mentor, and a Partner at Central European tech VC firm Credo Ventures, where he has been since 2011. At Credo, Kiska sources and evaluates potential investments, while actively supporting existing portfolio companies in fundraising and growth. Though Kiska is based in Prague, he has deep ties to his native Slovakia, where his father has been President since 2014. Kiska was educated in the United States at the University of  Virginia’s McIntire School of Commerce, where he studied finance and management.

luptak1_0

Jaroslav Luptak, Neulogy Ventures: Luptak is an investment manager at Neulogy Venturesm a Bratislava-based early-stage VC fund. He’s a co-founder of www.startupawards.sk, the largest startup event and the most prominent startup competition in Slovakia. He graduated with a degree in finance from the Rotterdam School of Management.

What’s Special about the Slovak Tech Ecosystem?

What do you see as the greatest advantage of the Slovak tech ecosystem, particularly for young technology startups and entrepreneurs?

Luptak:  This greatly differs per company, but in general I’d say its the availability and quality of technical talent.

Kiska: So the standard response to this question goes somewhere along the lines of “we are great technologists who can’t sell themselves. ”Up until recently I had no idea whether that claim can be true or how to measure it. But after the first year of operations of our non-profit Starlift (organization we started last year with Lenka Kucerova with the aim of sending prospective young people from Central Europe to year-long internships in startups in Silicon Valley), I can stay that early data does not validate that claim at all.

Data doesn't validate the claim at #slovak #entrepreneurs can't sell themselves: @kiskandrej… Click To Tweet

We received over 150 applications, out of which roughly 100 were engineers or designers. There were more than 30 interviews of of 16 candidates (so most applicants didn’t have a profile interesting enough even to be invited to an interview) by 14 startups and so far we placed one candidate, with most candidates not passing technical interviews. That might not necessarily mean that they are bad at coding, perhaps they were not ready for the kind of coding interview that U.S.-based startups conduct or we just didn’t attract the right talent, but in my opinion it does show that our young technical people might not be as competitive on the global startup market as may want to think.

The greatest advantage right now in the ecosystem in my opinion is the availability of capital. There is a lot of capital available already, and there will be more of it with the launch of state funds or some other planned initiatives. For young technology startups and entrepreneurs this is great news: startups that would not get funded in more mature ecosystems like London or Silicon Valley can get funding in Central Europe. In Slovakia the situation is changing because the EU Jeremie program that financed most of startups in the past two years has recently expired, but there is a new government initiative launched already to replace it.

What about its most important current weaknesses? How would you like to see them addressed?

Luptak: The greatest weakness of the Slovak startup ecosystem is lack of success stories and hence lack of expertise in scaling tech companies globally. However, as the local ecosystem grows and there are several exciting startups with the potential to get global scale, these companies will eventually produce a new breed of entrepreneurs with such experience under their belt.

Kiska: There are very few entrepreneurs with global operating experience, resulting in few companies that truly have global potential. I think too many entrepreneurs want to build a global company with very little understanding of how to actually go about it.

Organizations like Starlift try to explain to young potential entrepreneurs that it might be beneficial to first acquire some experience from global startups in more mature ecosystems before starting your company and taking advantage of the local ecosystem. This is more difficult to explain in such a favorable local investment environment, because even entrepreneurs with a below excellent track record and ideas can get funded, so their natural question is to ask why would they go work for a startup in the Valley if they can get funding for their own ideas here.

The problem is that the stuff you learn from your own mistakes and local investors’ money will not necessarily increase the odds that your next venture will be more successful, because you haven’t learned how to build a successful startup. You have just learned one of the many ways how not to do it. That’s why I believe it is better to learn the skill set from an experienced team in a mature ecosystem, as opposed to learning it from your own mistakes.

Failure doesn't prepare you for success. Success prepares you for more success @kiskandrej Click To Tweet

What speciality would you say your ecosystem is most famous for, in terms of technology or business?

Luptak: Probably the flying car. I would also mention www.startupawards.sk, which gained considerable recognition over the years. If one wants to meet the entire Slovak startup ecosystem in one place, that the go-to event.

Kiska: Slovakia is pretty famous for software security and heavy manufacturing.

Would you say the local ecosystem is dominated by more copycats, or by original, innovative solutions?

Luptak: Slovak domestic market is rather small, so copycats don’t really have much space in Slovakia. It actually one of the advantages of Slovak startups as they are forced to go international early on.

Small size of the Slovak market keeps startups from staying local @jaroslavluptak Click To Tweet

Kiska: I think it is easier for local execution businesses to find a sustainable business model and thus break even, so I guess you can say you see more of them lasting longer. But a lot more value gets created by original innovative solutions with global solutions, even though they are few and far between. Take the example of Eset: its valuation is higher than most local copycats in Slovakia added together.

What would you say your locally grown entrepreneurs are best at? What is their greatest strength in international business? ‘

Luptak: I hate to generalize on such a heterogenous group of people, but I’d say that Slovak entrepreneurs are much better at the technology part and not so much with marketing, sales and business development.

Kiska: They are hungry. They might have very little idea of what they are doing when it comes to building global businesses, but boy Slovaks have huge ambitions, drive and aggressiveness.

In your opinion, does the local ecosystem look abroad for opportunities enough? Too much? What would you encourage local entrepreneurs to change in their approach to global business?

Luptak: Those entrepreneurs that are not looking abroad barely stand a chance of success. Slovaks are in my view quite humble and often underestimate their skills. It often happens that founders hesitate with releasing a product as they believe its not good enough, but then get confronted with the competing products that get a lot of media hype while being technologically inferior.

Kiska: They definitely don’t look abroad enough, for experience, hiring or inspiration. I would encourage them to listen more and be willing to learn: too many entrepreneurs here believe they know it all, and if things go south they blame it on everyone from customers to employees or investors.

What does your ecosystem offer that others can’t? What is your local “killer feature?”

Luptak: I’d say that Slovakia is a great test market. Many multinational corporation actually use Slovak customers to test their new products and services. For a startup it is quite easy to get media attention or get connected to decision makers as the market is relatively small and interconnected market.

Kiska: The hunger. I see it even when I compare Slovaks to Czechs or Poles. I think Slovaks are more driven, ambitious and aggressive.

Killer feature of Slovak tech #startups is hunger @kiskandrej Click To Tweet

How would you describe your government’s relationship to startups and tech? Is the government helpful or is it out of touch?

Luptak: The government has recently started to push agenda related to startups. There are several legislative updates being underway, primarily focused on decreasing bureaucracy in setting up businesses and ability to implement standard VC terms within contracts. The government is thus far also the biggest single investor in startup companies via several different investment schemes.

Kiska: I think the government is sincerely trying on certain levels. The problem is that they are not sure how to help, and thus their efforts often end up being counterproductive, low impact at best. Even if they tried their best, there is very little in how they can help improve the ecosystem. That’s why I believe government should just leave the ecosystem alone and try to contribute indirectly: by improving education system or attract top international talent to our country, as opposed to driving them out of the country.

Slovak government needs to mostly get out of the way of innovation: @kiskandrej @Jaroslavluptak Click To Tweet

What about Angel investors? Do you have an active community? What types of people are doing angel investing in your ecosystem?

Luptak: There are still very few angel investors active in Slovakia. However, more and more successful entrepreneurs are getting involved with startups as mentors and/or investors. This is in my view the evidence of the ecosystem starting to work as the know how and capital gets recycled through early-stage investments.

Kiska: Yes, one of Slovakia’s strengths is its angel community. Compared to say the Czech Republic, there are more angels who are founder friendly and very supportive. This skill set is very hard to come by in angels in other countries in Central Europe, especially the Czech Republic and Hungary.

In your opinion, what have been your greatest local successes, and in what areas do you think the ecosystem has the most potential to grow in the next few years?

Luptak: Typically, people would mention companies like Eset, Sygic or Pixel Federation, which are the role models for this generation of entrepreneurs. From more recently established companies, I’d mention Piano.io (one of our portfolio companies) which is currently the biggest provider of media paywalls in the world. I believe the potential for growth is in industry 4.0. applications and companies working on innovations in design. This is in particular due to strong manufacturing tradition (#1 per capita car producer in the world) and number of Slovak companies innovating in this space. There is also a strong design tradition in Slovakia and several companies are innovating not on products, but on how products are being designed.

Kiska: Eset for sure. Sygic & Piano are apparently doing well. But the successes of global startups in Slovakia are much smaller in quantity and quality compared to, say, the Czech Republic.

What would you say to an entrepreneur or a startup thinking about relocating to your city? Any Warnings? Hidden advantages? Quirks?

Luptak: I think in the coming years, Bratislava will increasingly attract entrepreneurs from around the globe. The city is improving rapidly in terms of infrastructure and culture and the startup ecosystem is really vibrant. The ecosystem is also getting really international and I’d say Slovaks are very welcoming.

Andrej: Let’s say my city is Bratislava [Kiska is currently based on Prague]. There is a lot of capital, some talent, great party scene and good quality of living. If you are a foreigner though, Slovakia is a very homogeneous country that does not know how to treat foreigners or expats, so you will have a hard time digging deep into the ecosystem, e.g. for hiring purposes.

Can you highlight 3 startups to watch for 2017 from your local ecosystem? Why would you highlight them? –

Luptak: As for a VC, its really hard to highlight my favorite companies and not to brag about our portfolio only, but I’ll give it a try. I believe www.gadrilling.com will be doing their first commercial applications in 2017 and this is definitely a disruptive hard-core technology to watch. In 2017, www.photoneo.com is also expected to come to market with their new 3D camera that should significantly expand the array of task robots are able to perform in an industrial setting. Vectary.com is already opening beta accounts to first users and is expected to be in full swing in 2017, ready to democratise 3D modelling experience.

Kiska: I will try to focus on the breakouts, not the household names.

I am for sure biased, because it is in our portfolio, but Photoneo for me really stands out. These guys build an incredible piece of technology, and are generating revenue way ahead of when we expected they could even start monetizing. These guys are simply crushing it.

I have also heard Vectary is up to good things, I think their product is timed well and hear good things about the team.

Then the RF Elements guys. These guys have balls. It is a very cash-intensive business though. If they don’t raise a big round in the next 12 months, it will be tough. If they do, they can go big.

What’s Special About the Polish Tech Ecosystem?

StartupYard is about to embark on a month-long, 8 stop tour of Central European tech capitals. We’ll be visiting Poland, Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, and Slovenia, and have already been in Kosovo and Krakow.

Getting to Know The Polish Tech Ecosystem

But before we kick off StartupYard FastLane properly, we wanted to get to know the ecosystems we will be visiting even better. While we’ve met a lot of startups from these countries, and accelerated some of them as well, we wanted to hear from local accelerators, investors, and entrepreneurs what they thought was special about their local ecosystem. Since we’re asking startupers to come to Prague, which we think is pretty special, we wanted to see what our neighboring ecosystems really have to offer, according to some of their biggest fans.

We asked a group of entrepreneurs and influencers in the countries we’re visiting to tell us their perspective on their own ecosystem, and we will share that learning with you in a series of blog posts, starting with the first country we will visit, on August 31st, Poland. So we’re starting off the series with the Polish tech ecosystem.

Our Respondents

ASia Oparcik, Polish Tech ecosystem, OMGKRK, StartupYardAsia Oparcik: Operations Manager at OMGKRK, the Krakow Startup Community

Petr Piekos, Polish Tech ecosystem, TotemInteractive, StartupYard

Piotr Piekos: CEO and Founder of TotemInteractive, a StartupYard Alum

Tomasz Kowalczyk, Growth and Innovation Designer for HardGamma Ventures

Tomasz Kowalczyk: Growth and Innovation Designer for HardGamma Ventures, Warsaw

Polish Tech Ecosystem, Krakow

About the Respondents:

About Asia – a tech enthusiast and startup veteran from Krakow, Asia is a former Project Manager of Estimote and Project Lead at Vorm. She has worked with the biggest e-commerce startup in Poland: Showroom. She loves to organize, and often works an event manager. She is the current Operations Manager at OMGKRK, a community for Krakow based entrepreneurs.

About Pioter: Piotr is Co-Founder and CEO of TotemInteractive, a StartupYard company. He is a happy father and entrepreneur who grew from the corporate world. As an engineer he worked in the semiconductor industry, helping the largest players (Intel, Samsung) expand their production base. As a system expert in the Audio Visual industry, he traveled the world, focused on helping corporate customers in saving dozens of endangered projects.

About Tomasz: Tomasz is a member of the HardGamma Ventures team responsible for leveraging its actions using available support schemes and cooperation with external partners. Before joining HardGamma, Tomasz worked as Innovation Consulting project manager for one of the Big 4 companies.

What Do Poles Think of Local Polish Ecosystems?

What do you see as the greatest advantage of your tech ecosystem, particularly for young technology startups and entrepreneurs?

Asia: Krakow’s ecosystem has a great energy and is a place for many experienced entrepreneurs. People here are focused on IoT. There are many young people: tech students, developers which are here to make a change. We’re not only working on our own startups but also we’re very active community, offering help for any newcomer.

The ecosystem in Krakow is also condensed meaning it’s easy to reach your potential partners via intros or simply walking to a close by office because the majority of startups are located in one district.

Piotr: It’s the availability of talent. Thanks to that, plus the skills of Polish developers, we were able to relatively quickly build a complex, scalable IoT system available globally.

What about its most important current weaknesses? How would you like to see them addressed?

Asia: It’s hard to be always available and to attend every interesting event when your own startup is getting bigger and bigger. Especially since our startup community is already a few years old: many people grow from being freelance startup enthusiasts to having more defined job.

That’s why one of our main goals [at OMGKRK]  is to bring people together, integrate newcomers and older members and to organize great quality events which really will be useful and profitable in long term.

Piotr: The scarcity of sales resources. It is difficult for us to scale-up our salesforce – in opposition to Tech talent, professional salespeople with domain knowledge from the Audio Visual industry are not only hard to find but also significantly more expensive. We try to mitigate that by leveraging our relationships with partners. Nevertheless, in the mid-term an additional investment dedicated almost purely into salesforce will be necessary.

Piotr Piekos from @totemintractive: The main weakness of the Polish #startup ecosystem is lack of… Click To Tweet

Tomasz: Currently in Warsaw there is a lack of a broad mentor base with dedicated knowledge on supporting the development of startups and scaleups. While the sector develops, the number of mentors will grow, though, it’s only a matter of time.

There is an insufficient number of professional LPs, resulting in the lack of smart private money and which pushes startups to be too dependent on public funds and initatives.A way to go about improving these deficiencies could be the promotion of open innovation and constructing a capital market for innovative companies.

Tomasz from @hardgamma: Poland lacks a broad base of mentors. Needs more smart private money. Click To Tweet

What speciality would you say your ecosystem is most famous for, in terms of technology or business?

Asia: Many of Krakow’s startups are working on IoT solutions which is great, since it’s general trend in a global community.

Of course we’re famous for our beacons: Estimote and Kontakt are leaders not only in Poland but also around the world. There are companies working on Industrial Iot like Silvair or Elmodis. There are many educational/social like Brainly and Notatek, which are re-defining the way people learn.

One of the biggest successes of Krakow is definetly Base CRM.

Asia from @omgkrk : Krakow a world leader in beacon technology like @estimote and @kontakt_io .… Click To Tweet

Piotr: I think that we are touching a more general problem here – European startups are poor in scaling-up. This is especially true when it comes to  the CEE region. Startups from our ecosystem fall behind SV companies greatly in that aspect. Obviously, they do look into international markets, but they do not know how to do it efficiently. My personal thoughts revolve around the deficit of business tradition in the region.

Two and a half decades of the free market are not enough to develop a proper business culture. There is a certain level of cultural inertia that is not easy to overcome. The CEE startup scene is playing a catch-up game, maybe apart from Estonia, and legislation is not really helping that much. Therefore my personal advice to the founders would be: if you want to accelerate that process – learn from the best in the field who had been exposed to more mature ecosystems. It is the human capital that can drive the change eventually.

Piotr Piekos @totemintractive: Polish and CEE startups lack a business tradition. Click To Tweetv

Would you say the local ecosystem is dominated by more copycats, or by original, innovative solutions?

Asia: Although Krakow the ecosystem reacts fast to trends, we’re definitely the one to bring innovative solutions. The whole beacons craze started here and we’re not afraid to work on new or controversial ideas, for example like sexual health wearables.

What would you say your locally grown entrepreneurs are best at? What is their greatest strength in international business?

Asia: The main value they bring to the international table are working solutions. Ideas are great but in the end what win is working hardware and software.

Also we’re extremely hard working and focused on building the greatest things. What I love about many Krakow’s entrepreneurs is the fact that they’re not here to feel sorry for them or to being too shy about their work. That being said they’re extremely humble, but if they know something great is in their hand they will be not stopped to present it to the world. They love to try.

Asia from @omgkrk: Polish startups bring value by delivering solutions, and with hard work, not… Click To Tweet

In your opinion, does the Polish tech ecosystem look abroad for opportunities enough? Too much? What would you encourage local entrepreneurs to change in their approach to global business?

Asia: I think we are not shy to try outside Poland and we believe in our products and teams, but I am sure that we could be even more active. Programs like YC or Berlin’s Techstars are a great opportunity for Polish entrepreneurs too see what rest of the world has to offer and how different their approach can be.

What does your ecosystem offer that others can’t? What is your local “killer feature?”

Asia: Definitely one of the strongest features for Krakow is our big student community, with many tech universities. That can be crucial when you’re looking for new people, especially on a junior level.

Also the fact the city is quite small, but packed with startup people, makes it easier to network. You can meet people not only on events, but also just here and there in the city.

Asia from @omgkrk: Krakow #startups find strength in small, tight community Click To Tweet

How would you describe your government’s relationship to startups and tech? Is the government helpful or is it out of touch?

Asia: For many years startups were working rather parallel to the government, rather than with it. But slowly it’s starting to change. I think the successful stories of many polish startups show that those kind of companies are working on extremely innovative things, that could profit the whole polish economy. Startup focused programs are starting to show up, and I think the next few years will be very interesting in how government will try to help them and what actually can be done. As for local governments on city level ones are very helpful, others don’t really care.

Piotr: Recently, the polish government increased activities related to the widely understood startup scene in Poland. It seems that innovative startup companies have become an important part of the new national plan for economical transformation. The dedicated governmental programme “Start in Poland” will pump close to $1 billion into the ecosystem in the next 36 months. There is an undersecretary of Ministry of Economic Development designated solely to communicate with and develope the ecosystem, and co-architect the new legislation designed to make startups’ lives easier. Obviously, it will come down to the quality of execution.

Tomasz: The current government is taking a number of steps to try and increase startup activity in the economy. Startups were specifically targeted in the current Development Minister and Deputy PM Mateusz Morawiecki’s development plan, and there are steps being taken to provide more incentives and easier legislative and fiscal procedures for startups, including the introduction of a new type of business, the Prosta Spółka Akcyjna – Simplified Joint Stock Company. 

What about Angel investors? Do you have an active community? What types of people are doing angel investing in your ecosystem?

Asia: We have few Angels which were very helpful for startups in early stages. Rafal Han who run Silvair, Jakub Krzych from Estimote, Richard Lukas involved in many project and Rafal Targosz from PROIDEA (and now also Eventory) are the most active. That being said the angel scene is not big, it still a challenge to show people with money & experience in business that they could help and that startups are great investment. Most Angels have a tech background, so basically there were successful tech CEOs at some point.

Piotr: I recently participated in the annual EBAN (European Business Angel Network) Congress in Portugal. Unfortunately, I have to admit that the CEE representation of Business Angels in EBAN community is not proportional to the size and potential of the ecosystem. There are a few good examples, though, for instance, Michał Ciemiński managing the Polish fund PlatinumSeed is sitting on the EBAN board of directors from this year.

Tomasz: The backbone of the Polish market is formed by angel investors – private individuals who are bold enough to make initial investments. Investors in Poland are usually former founders of successful IT companies, as well as a new tech-savvy crowd with family money willing to invest.

In your opinion, what have been your greatest local successes, and in what areas do you think the ecosystem has the most potential to grow in the next few years?

Asia: The greatest success must be having international companies, which are still based in Krakow and the fact that they truly believe that Krakow is the place to be. It’s easy to move your business to the US; definitely it makes it easier talking to US investors or big clients, but startups like Estimote, Kontakt, Brainly, or Base CRM show that it can be done having your HQ in Poland.

Very interesting is the growing education scene and I think many startup doing that will evolve in the next few years.

Piotr: UxPin, Brainly, Estimote are headliners of the polish scene. Obviously, TotemInteractive will be the first one from AdTech industry 😉

For B2B – I would bet on companies like TotemInteractive, that are disrupting specific, often petrified, industries by redefining and simplifying the value creation chain. For B2C – I see the potential in mobile-first marketplaces oriented to help ever-connected urban consumers.

Tomasz: Most recently, Warsaw has been making waves in the CEE regional ecosystem. These include the choice of Warsaw for the location of Google Campus; a growing interest of foreign investors in the Polish market; and a growing presence of international startup support networks, such as EIT Digital, which has just partnered up with HardGamma. In order to thrive in the future, the ecosystem in Warsaw will need to find ways to create stronger support networks for startups which offer more than pitch-nights, free beer and pizza.

What would you say to an entrepreneur or a startup thinking about relocating to your city? Any Warnings? Hidden advantages? Quirks?

Asia: Krakow has an amazingly energetic and packed startup scene so it will be quite easy to find employees or partner for business.

The main disadvantage of the Polish tech ecosystem in my opinion is Polish law, which is quite tricky and not matched to startup reality. So you need be really careful dealing with papers.

As I said before – having an HQ and a whole business in Krakow is great: Poland is quite a big market, we have amazing developers and it’s easy to run an international team here. But probably I would recommend hiring some business people outside Europe, to deal with the US and Asian markets, since it would be that much easier for them to reach clients.

Tomasz: Warsaw is a great city to live in, the costs are low and the infrastructure is of a good quality. A number of legislative moves are being made which will make running a startup that much easier, but a word of warning that you still need to have a lot of patience to deal with fiscal and legal issues. Best to lawyer-up though.

Can you highlight 3 startups to watch for 2017 from your local ecosystem? Why would you highlight them?

Asia: Elmodis – startup that deals with efficiency of Industrial Electrical Engines. They are using over 70% of World’s power.

Contellio – recent graduate of TechStars Berlin on the way to creating Design as a Service.

NewByteOrder – A team that want to revolutionize Big Data and how we process it.

Piotr: Abyss glass – interesting and affordable ‘magic mirror’ tech. Potential in retail.

Brainly – great scalablity potential.

TotemInteractive – avant-garde of outdoor advertising transformation.

Ludovic Neveu

Ludovic Neveu: Sell Confidence and Vision

Ludovic Neveu is a long-time StartupYard mentor, and since last year, an investor in StartupYard as well.

With over 20 years of sales and marketing experience in US software companies such as Symantec, Borland, CodeGear and Embarcadero, Ludovic brings a depth of experience to his mentoring at StartupYard, and has become a dedicated and active mentor. He is currently VP EMEA at Embarcadero technologies and is responsible for all sales and P&L in Europe, Middle-East and Africa.

I caught up with Ludovic this week to talk about his experience with mentoring startups on strategic partnership and sales: here is what he had to say: 

Hi Ludovic, can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Why did you get into sales, and how did you get to where you are today, professionally?

I’m a self-motivated Executive, I feel challenged and alive when I have the leeway to work as hard as I want. I feel pretty lucky with the position I have of running EMEA and also get the opportunities to travel to many places and meet extraordinary people, however, let’s make no mistake about it, I started to be lucky when I started to work hard.

I started my career in organizing marketing events and this was a great way to learn the reality of work life, and not counting hours, being a master of multi-tasking and being on top of details and all of this with tough deadlines. I then moved to regional marketing roles and very quickly, the boarder between marketing and sales functions became very thin. I found out that in software companies, you reward sales people when things are great and you blame marketing people when things don’t go as planned. I have now been running direct and indirect sales teams for the last 16 years.

I am a deep believer that people make an organization successful, so I highly suggest to everyone to get the chance to drive their own career and their own life. StartupYard is the right example, it’s all about people that want to make a difference in their own space; they believe in their idea and they work hard to make it happen

You’re an investor in StartupYard, and a popular mentor. Why do you work with startups? What do you gain from being a StartupYard mentor?

Primarily, I wanted to be a mentor to share my experience. As I see so many companies making mistakes or reinventing the wheel, which in my opinion is a pure waste of time.

Very quickly, I realized that my energy level had doubled after a mentoring session. It’s quite amazing to see the enthusiasm and the motivation that all the startup founders have. They have an idea, and whatever it is, they believe in it so much that they decided to change their life and work hard for it. If you can dream it, you can achieve it!

Additionally, I think that if you want to be a better leader, you need to have a broader view of what you’re doing, look at other businesses, and experience other approaches. Ultimately, this has been very positive and I am also enjoying the networking with other mentors or investors, all very smart people!

Last year, I decided to go one step further and invest into the 2016 cohort. I really like this idea of investing into businesses that make a difference. if you’d have more people doing this, I am convinced we could solve part if not all the biggest issue of our modern world–which is unemployment.

I really want to encourage companies that want to drive innovation, disrupt the way business is being done and drive positive change.

Sales is perennially an area of difficulty for CEE startups. Why do you think that is, and do you see that situation improving with time?

To be successful in sales, you first need to sell yourself, you then sell your company, and then you sell your products. And if you look at startups, most of these 3 points are weak. Let’s take them one by one

When you sell yourself, you build trust. People buy from people. Some of the founders can achieve this but many are product guys, and would need to improve their interpersonal skills.

When you sell your company, you sell confidence and vision. Well, many might have an idea, but the vision is not clear yet, and the company doesn’t have any history.

Lastly, you sell your product, your features…but most startups only have a proof of concept, or just an idea, so no wonder it’s difficult.

I recommend all startups to find the right combination between selling a vision and what you have today. Just one or the other is not enough. And to build trust, give confidence, increase your company valuation, you have to do all it takes to get your first sale(s).

Please, stop delaying sales to have a better product. A sale today is better than a sale tomorrow.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel, as this is one of the benefits you get from the acceleration program at SY. All 9 startups gave great pitches, and you could see that they had all become more sales oriented.

Your mentoring is especially focused on strategic partnerships, right?

I am a deep believer in partnerships. A problem I have often had to solve in my career is was how to achieve more with less. How can you leverage your efforts? How can you be global without having a very heavy and expensive structure? How can you get experts in a field or local knowledge to work for you?

The response to all of that is partners; you can find sales partners, which are the most obvious, but you can also find partners to do your accounting, to help you in marketing, or to outsource R&D. Having a partner model also helps you to keep your base costs as low as possible. Financing is a major blocker for all startups. Partner margins have to be looked at as your cost of sales and not as a discount on your product, and remember, I’d rather give 30% of €100k than 10% of nothing!

On the topic of partnerships, what do you see as the most common mistakes on the part of startups who are looking to cooperate with corporations? What advice do you end up giving most?

 In general, partnerships work when both parties win. If it is not balanced, it fails. It’s about a willingness to do business together. It’s important to sign a legal contract, but then, if you need to look too hard at it, this means your relation is broken.

My advice to the startups is to work on the same level as corporations. Believe in what you have or what you could have (obviously realistically!). Don’t beg, don’t feel inferior and find what your mutual interests really are. Understand your benefits and the benefits you bring– because they are there.

From the corporate side, what are some of the biggest mistakes corporations make when looking to cooperate with tech startups? What can they do to fix these issues?

A: The challenge from the corporate side is that they are either not open enough or stuck in their business models, giving them few openings to be “creative”.

If your focus is to deliver Ebitda; if your licensing model is old due to VSOE issues, if your 3 years plan is set in stone, it’s going to be very difficult to integrate a new business model.

Additionally, most of the time, startups disrupt old ways of doing business and embracing change is challenging.

My advice for corporations is to integrate startups or startups projects as a separate business unit with its own rules. If it doesn’t fit into your normal structure, then you extend that structure; you don’t have to alter it completely.

You’ve got a lot of experience working with corporations and startups in CEE. How has the landscape changed in the last few years? What’s still missing from the region, when it comes to corporations and startups working together?

Over the years, many corporations have become more structured in CEE, but I am still amazed to see how many companies out there are still not doing business in the region. An easy benchmark is that your EMEA business should represent around 35% of your worldwide revenue if you’re a US company. Many US companies still have EMEA revenue representing only around 20%. Right now, the Russian and CIS situation is challenging, however countries like the Czech Republic are doing very well.

Startups should also have this in mind, your business should be global and not local. A bright idea and a great execution is not dependent on a country

Hiring sales people is one of the biggest challenges any of our startups face in their early stages. What do you tell a young startup that is looking for a sales leader?

A: Totally agree, by nature sales people know how to sell themselves so it’s one of the most difficult hire as the reality can be very different from the pitch. I’d suggest to look for the right set of mind and personality. This can be found with people doing sports, challenges. Look for their extra activities, responsibility outside of their job, in associations, clubs…

I was able to increase the success rate of new hires by over 30% by putting them in situations during the hiring process. Ask them to make a presentation, to behave in a different environment… you will have lots of surprises!

Understanding people’s strengths will also increase your success rate – check http://strengths.gallup.com/default.aspx for example

What has been your favorite experience with StartupYard, and why?

The overall diversity is great. Everyone has different experiences and priorities. Every meeting is different, and you need to adapt quickly to new situations, and behaviors. Although I’m open minded, I’ve occasionally had friction with some startups’ business models at the beginning, and some reminded me how old fashion I was.  Some of those companies aren’t around anymore; whether you’re a startup or a corporation, some fundamentals don’t change.

The most challenging job as an investor is to choose the investment which has the biggest potential. Overall, I always come back after a mentoring session with more energy, and I want to change the world!

The next step for me would probably be a board member position, to help startups be successful after their acceleration program.

What do you think StartupYard should do more, or differently, to advance startups and corporate/startup relations in the CEE region?

Every year, StartupYard’s process and work is better and better, and we get more quality startups and more investors are looking at them, so this is great.

I see 2 potential directions, one which is to put some structure around business angels and push more people to invest. Many people would like to invest in startups but don’t necessarily know how to do that.

The other direction is “Uberization,” and the next step for SY is to provide shared bandwidth for startups- employees who work as needed for different companies. Earlier on, we discussed the benefit of having your first sales, and you could imagine a model where startups could use a sales person on demand for a couple hours or days a month. I started that discussion with Cedric and other mentors and this might be a new way forward.

TotemInteractive: Make Ads People Love

TotemInteractive, StartupYard’s first Polish startup team, came to StartupYard with a novel concept, and has executed on a broad vision to change digital outdoor advertising in a major way. The team, experienced in digital media and cloud systems, is creating a platform into which marketers and advertisers can put their creative energy to generate meaningful, lovable, interactive display ads in place of boring, old fashioned posters and billboards.

I caught up with Piotr Piekos, CoFounder and CEO at TotemInteractive, to talk about the future of outdoor digital advertising, and cloud based marketing. Here’s what he had to say:


Hi Piotr, tell us a bit about TotemInteractive and your team. How did you come up with the idea?

TotemInteractive

Pietor Piekos, CoFounder and CEO at TotemInteractive

TotemInteractive is a software platform that aims to help marketers with deployment and performance measurement of cross-platform, interactive marketing campaigns launched on electronic screens in public and in-store locations. Basically, interactive display advertising, instead of boring old posters.

The idea came from our observation of two trends: the propagation of digital screens in public spaces, and the fact that mobile devices have become an inseparable part of almost every activity that we do outdoors. TotemInteractive believes that digital advertising outdoors as often depicted in scfi movies in not just an imaginary future. We think that it is a natural consequence of the mobile and IoT revolution. TotemInteractive’s plaform aims to be among the first players on that market.

You have a background working with digital agencies. How does that help you when it comes to creating a platform for digital interactive ads?

Throughout my professional career I had seen a number of solutions aiming to resolve the problem of unified and streamlined visual communication across different devices. Some of them already succeeded in industries like gas and oil (crisis centers) or places like decision-support systems for high-level corporate executives.

Budget constraints are less of a worry for these types of businesses, allowing the vendors to reach high complexity and sophistication with the systems they deploy. I have been involved with several dozen such products. Knowing exactly what our target market (advertisers) expects, we are able to provide a lean and user friendly answer to the market demand. In short: we want to move what is already possible with multi-million dollar equipment to the world of advertising, where price is always a consideration.

What about your team? How are you uniquely qualified to bring display ads into the modern age?

To answer this question, I will first need to explain a bit about the requirements for the platform. We had composed a team with very technical specific requirements in mind: such as quality of service (your ad has to be there at all times),  and scale (platform needs to work on hundreds of screens simultaneously).

Our team consists of people who are experts in building complex, distributed systems. Michal is a system-engineer who is a specialist in cloud based deployments. Kamil and Piotr have been working on large scale deployments of tailored B2B systems for years.

 

Leszek Knoll

Leszek Knoll

TotemInteractive

The TotemInteractive Team

TotemInteractive

The Totem Interactive Team Hard at Work

 

On the business side: Leszek Knoll, my CoFounder and COO, brings startup entrepreneurial experience on board. He had built startups in the past and knows well the rules of the game.

I have been working in professional audio-visual industry for several years: my expertise is based on several dozen deployed, consulted and rescued projects related to large scale visualization systems. Lastly, we are backed by several mentors who hold strategic positions in advertising segments: in agencies, brands, and large media-house conglomerates.

Tell us a little about how the TotemInteractive platform works. What does it enable advertisers to do?

TotemInteractive makes it possible to directly interact with a big digital screen in public spaces using your mobile phone. It can be a game, where you use your mobile as a controller, or a socially engaging voting system for your favourite band during the music festival. Whatever you can image.

Our platform stays hidden behind the scenes, a cloud based system that supports various applications for live screens. It’s a sophisticated enabler, allowing marketers to very easily create and deploy interactive campaigns, without a need to engage substantial resources to prepare, code, test and deploy their own cloud based or local solutions.

How is TotemInteractive different from traditional static display ads?

It is not boring! Our platform transforms traditional ads into something that delivers real value to the consumer. Suddenly, those displays become engaging, fun and an experience sharable with others.
TotemInteractive

You’ve already run a few pilot campaigns. Can you tell us a little about how these worked, and what the results were?

Even though our MVP is still in development phase, we had done a proof of concept campaign during a job fair, at Silesian University of Technology. Our results show that, first of all: people are really keen on interacting with this new type of medium, when the motivation for doing so is clear.

Registering more than 10 engagements per hour, per screen, gives us good reason to believe that such advertising can be much more effective than traditional display ads. Not to mention, that 42% of the people who played our game were willing to share their Facebook data with us through the platform. Try doing something like that with a poster.

You have spent quite a bit of time identifying market needs and exploring different approaches to the market. What has the exploration process revealed that you didn’t know a few months ago?

Major conclusion was that a seed-stage startup will have very hard times when it comes to deployment of a platform across multiple screen networks. We had found out that it is a very capital intense goal, that we simply cannot afford to chase at this moment.


What are your immediate plans for expansion? What does TotemInteractive have planned for the next year?

We want to reach the retail market (in-store digital signage, banking, car dealerships). Gradually we also want to move to the events market. In the next year we want to be recognizable by marketers in CEE and western Europe as these guys that can put their creative, potentially viral, ideas into motion.


Long term, where do you want to be in 5 years?

 Market leader in interactive digital signage! We want to provide marketers not only with technology, but with unsurpassed reach (network aggregation), for their digital outdoor campaigns.

How has StartupYard shaped the company’s growth in the past 3 months? Are there any particular mentors who had an outsized impact on your team, direction, or traction?

Well, StartupYard was immensely helpful in terms of momentum that our business reached during this time. Definitely, mentoring was a revealing and beneficial experience for us. It was about knowledge sharing, feedback (both positive and negative), but also some of the mentors allowed us to enter real sales opportunities that we are chasing at the moment.  Without SY it would not be possible. But not only that: I believe that our business development potential is now multiplied by your expertise in marketing and the power of your network.

boatify

Boatify: Your Boating Experience Platform

The boatify team joined StartupYard this year as our very first team representing Switzerland, and its emerging startup scene. Found and CEO Johannes Röhrenbach is passionate about boating, and lives the dream by making his home a boat on Lake Zurich.

Johannes Röhrenbach, Founder and CEO at Boatify

Johannes Röhrenbach, Founder and CEO at Boatify

The team has set out to build the world’s leading boat-sharing platform, centered around building enjoyable experiences for average people in Zurich, and in ports and harbours around the world. I caught up with Johannes this week to talk in detail about his dreams for the boatify platform.

Hi Johannes, tell us a bit about boatify. How did you come up with the idea?

Well, at the very end of August 2014 a friend of mine invited me on a short cruise on the Lake in Zurich, in the evening´s magic night atmosphere only a lake can have. It was a very old boat – 45 years old -, full of wood, lovely details and a breathtaking charm. And I immediately fell in love.

My friend was living on the boat – the Blue Ocean -, together with his family since the beginning of the summer. But they were considering selling it, since for four people it would have been too small to stay throughout autumn and winter. So I decided to buy it.

Boatify Flagship, The Blue Ocean

Boatify Flagship, The Blue Ocean

It was a quick and spontaneous decision, all of a sudden. I needed to hurry up a lot, doing my skippers’ license and preparing everything to resettle. In the end of September I finally moved onto the boat myself.

Since then I´ve experienced the most magical moments one can imagine: the early morning´s dawn on the lake with the particular calmness the water only has in these hours, playing guitar in softly shaking sunsets, poker session with whisky and cigars – on a boat in the very center of the town. Most of that I experienced only on my own or with good friends – and with a strange feeling that these experiences should really be available for others. This is how I came up with the idea to start a platform, where people can share boating experiences: boatify.

What are some of the other ways that people can currently book boating experiences? Why is boatify better?

See, if you want to go on boat around Zurich, you can whether take a passenger boat, you can rent a pedalo, and in case you have a skipper’s license you can rent a motorboat from one of the few commercial providers – not very nice boats actually, without any charm, and for horrendous prices. There’s basically no access to these thousands of unused private boats around – and no platform offering easy and affordable experiences on boats.

In other locations, yacht charter platforms provide access to boats. But they don’t solve the problem of finding the perfect crew. So sailors use old school forums to connect and plan their trips together. We add the community dimension to the boats: boatify is a service to bring people together onboard. Boat lovers and those who might be ones in the future.

What sorts of features will boatify have in the first year? What can people do with the platform?

It´s all about the experience and the social interaction. Our key approach is to show impressions of interesting boat experiences on the very first visit – and to the right people. On our own website, but also in social networks and further platforms such as Eventbrite or Groupon. You will firstly show interest in an experience, later you can confirm your reservation. If you find something interesting, share it with your friends on Facebook and Co.

Boatify is all about connecting the right people and bringing them together on board, hence user generated content and user profiles play an important role: as boat owner you can find mechanics or other experts – and trusted officers, who care for your boat and the maintenance when you’re away. As officer you can list your own experiences and earn better ranks the more five-star ratings you get, and for the more boats you´ll become accredited for.

And also as a normal user, you can pin outstanding boating spots on the map, suggest itineraries and tell your last unforgettable boating story to the crowd.

We merge the schedules of the boats with the schedules of the experiences and integrate with further booking systems of our partners such as charter companies, so every involved stakeholder can easily manage his/her upcoming bookings.

Building a community around boating is an important part of your mission. Can you tell us more about how you plan to accomplish this?

Johannes in conversation with Executive in Residence Viktor Fischer

Johannes in conversation with Executive in Residence Viktor Fischer

It´s all about visibility. Boat lovers must understand that there’s finally someone bringing their community online.. So we must be on everyone’s mind. We’ll be present at boat clubs and magazines – and on the water of course: In Zurich with the wonderful Blue Ocean and in Berlin with the even more wonderful MS Fitzgerald. We’ll organize outstanding activities like a fleet parade or a boat sharing day, so everybody will talk about us.

It is our magic story we will tell. To build a particular atmosphere and to convince everybody to jump on board with us – as our first 23 early bird officers already did. It´s all about living the boating dream.

To leverage that, this summer we will start the craziest project ever: a Boat-Road-Show. As an international startup and the digital nomads we are, we will prove that it is in fact possible to run a company from wherever you are in the world – even from a boat!

So this is what we’ll do: starting in Barcelona, from July on, we will travel the coast line from Spain and France, to Italy and Sicily, hopping over from harbour to harbour, telling our story, organizing parties and other experiences – and convincing boat owners, skippers and all the others to follow the boatify dream and to continue to start their own boatify businesses.

We need to find the perfect sponsors and we will engage an army of talented interns to come with us to make this blueprint of experience come true.

You’re launching in Zurich. That seems an odd choice for a boating platform. What’s your reasoning, and what’s your growth strategy over the next year or so?

The boat stock in Zurich and the many lakes around is bigger than you think! There are more than 100.000 private boats of all classes existing in Switzerland; additionally Lake of Constance on its own (together with the bigger German and Austrian part) already contains over 65.000 private boats.

Additionally, Zurich is very attractive as a market, not just because it is one of the richest cities in the world, but in particular because the very city center embraces the lake. In summer, there are thousands of people spending time all around on the shore: a great chance to get visibility – especially on an eye-catching boat like the Blue Ocean. Adding some special attractions nobody has seen before, like small concerts from boat to shore, or a Boat-Sharing-Day in addition to the very popular Rooftop-Day will get us a lot of attention.

Our growth strategy: The Boat-Road-Show will give us a lot PR, but it´ll probably take another season until we will have serious operations going on in the Mediterranean Sea. For this summer, we focus our operations towards Lake of Zurich and Lake of Constance, where we want to sell 3000 experiences throughout the year. Our marketing activities all around Europe will bring as a lot of awareness online – and we’ll convert it to business back home in Zurich.

The key for being successful is an interesting portfolio of offers on the supply side, which is why we´ve already gathered most commercial providers of this region on the platform. Now we need to add the experiences on top of the boats, and there we go.

At the same time, we’re preparing to launch in the Mid-East. Our lead officer in Dubai has already organized the first partnerships with charter companies, so that we can test the market in the coming months and start serious operations there from October on – with the beginning of the season.

As with AirBnB and Uber, there are always legal concerns about liability and insurance. How will you give your users and boat owners peace of mind?

I´m a strong believer in and warrior for the Shared Economy! However, many liability and insurance questions still remain unclear across all kinds of solutions. Additionally, traditional businesses such as taxi companies or hotels suffer from smart peer-to-peer platforms all over the world – AirBnB and Uber are the blueprints for it.

But also in our case there´s already a lobby of commercial boat trip companies existing in Berlin, fighting against smaller boat businesses. And that´s not okay! There is so much unused property in this world and it´s not right not to let the majority of society access it – whereas nowadays technologies can make it so easy for us to share.

There remains a lot of work to do to clarify and solve all the open questions and issues. For us and for other shared economy pioneers. But the time has come to make the world a better, fairer and more efficient place – so let´s do it!

Can you talk about some kinds of experiences that users can have on your platform?

Sure! I´d love to! As I´m a hobby musician and play a lot of instruments, the first official boatify experience has been a Jam Session on board a river boat in Prague – three weeks ago. But there can be so much more: Dinner Cruises, for companies or privately, other cultural events like lectures, concerts, maybe even vernissages. On boatify you can buy a ticket for a trip or a venue, like for a boat party or something more special like a speed dating on a boat. Or, you can book entire packages, to celebrate your birthday – or even your wedding on board. Our vision: to enable you to do everything on the water that you could do on land – we want to bring life from land to water! This is also why we’re organizing our Boat-Road-Show: we basically live our idea.

At the same time an experience does not necessarily need to be something outstanding. If you like the water and you want to run your small business as boat skipping teacher without being dependent on a company, or if you want to offer fishing, diving or snorkeling trips, waterski, sightseeing tours, or even just spend your evenings in an exclusive surrounding with some hand picked people: do it with boatify.

It is up to the creativity of our officers: whatever concept you would like to offer on boatify, whatever is most requested in your home region, we’ll give you the tool to realize it.

What opportunities does boatify offer for boating professionals? What about boat owners?

Beside our customers, the two main roles interacting on our platform are boat owners and officers. Boat owners own the property, but often they don’t have time to use their boats. So the boats sit unused – which is actually not very good for a boat. Boats need to be aired, they need to be moved and they need to be continuously run to keep machinery and equipment in proper shape. So what boat owners normally do is to engage marinas or other professional providers to look after their boats, for a lot of money – and in addition to the high maintenance and docking costs.

Owning a boat is almost always a financial drain- sometimes unnexpectedly so. This is what we want to turn around: we want to make a boat not only financially feasible, but even profitable.

And we do it via our officer approach. In building a community of experienced boat enthusiasts, who don’t necessarily need to own a boat themselves, we bring the boat owners in contact on our platform with all the knowledge and capacities they’re lacking. They can get in touch with mechanics and other experts, who will always care for the boat, when the boat owner doesn’t have time himself.

In return, these boat enthusiasts get access to the boats: as soon as an officer becomes certified by us, he can get in contact with all the boat owners in his region; the ones already registered on our platform and new ones he can approach by himself, supported by the boatify team and other officers around. When a boat owner trusts an officer, he can accredit him for his boat and the officer is allowed to operate the boat, to create experience offers and to run his own business with it.

How do you plan to grow usership of your platform in the early stages?

We will provide the best tool to organize yourself around boating, but we must succeed building a particular movement around our platform. We do this gathering as many boat enthusiasts as possible around us and incentivizing them to do so themselves. It will feel extremely cool, to be part of the boatify crew – the more you contribute, the higher your officer rank gets and the greater benefits you get: it´s a kind of gamification factor we use here.

As soon as we´ve proven our concept, we´ll start with our „officer academy program“, hence we will provide the entire life cycle for want-to-be boat lovers: we offer young people the chance to do their skipper license with us for free, training them in all relevant aspects of security and safety and teaching them how to realize the most amazing boat experiences. Then we give them the boats and there they go.

In each region we´ll be active, we’ll employ a lead officer – the Fleet Admiral – organizing all activities and building the community himself: you can partly compare this to the Uber approach, they are an important example for us.

Where do you hope boatify will be in 5 years time?

The overall goal is to create the world´s biggest boating community. In five years we want to be active worldwide, mainly covering our starting market in Europe. We want to become the one tool whenever you think to start or organize something on board. We want to make boating accessible for everyone, to overcome its exclusivity and to take usage of the millions of private boats sitting unused all around the world.

With a properly implemented Sharing Economy concept we want to set an example against unfair distribution of goods and become an important player with a clear code of conduct in an industry that is not organized sustainably at all. The dream is to gain enough power to engage in some of the world´s biggest environmental problems like the pollution of the seas.

How has StartupYard impacted boatify’s development? Have any particular mentors been especially important in getting you to where you are today?

At StartupYard we finally learned to outline the boating experience as the core product on our platform. We had these visions in our minds from the very beginning, but were always pitching boatify as a marketplace solution for boats. With your continuous challenge of our positioning and its execution, Lloyd and Cedric´s, of course, Michal´s and Viktor´s, we’ve now become extremely focused and well-prepared on how to bring our vision to reality.

We had to face some major problems during our time at StartupYard as well – starting development over from scratch after one month. Our dear mentor Vladimir Kozak has helped us a lot in this time and he still is, continuously structuring and challenging all our development approach. We’ve profited a lot from personal introductions and the support of a lot of our mentors, especially Ladana Edwards with her unbeatable supportive friendliness, Daniel Hastik continually feeding us with valuable startup insights and Wallace Green, who helped us in building greatest visions with his endless creativity and enthusiasm.