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.

Stream.Plus: Netflix for Brands

Stream.Plus is the last video platform brands will ever need, according to Founder Marek Novy. Late of Seznam.cz and also a longtime StartupYard mentor, now turned StartupYard member, Marek has spent his career in digital media, and says that the current video advertising market is fundamentally broken.

Stream.Plus is designed to offer brands, as well as viewers and video curators, a better model for monetization of high quality branded video, and the growth of MCNs (Multi Channel Networks). Stream.Plus is based on a viewer-centric approach to online video, and bills itself as “Netflix For Brands.” I caught up with Marek this week to talk more about his startup: Stream.Plus


Hi Marek, Tell us a little bit about yourself and Stream.Plus.

My passion is learning and building new things, it is my name anyway- [Novy means “new” in Czech]. I quit my job at Seznam.cz, because I feel I have to do much more learning and building than I was able there. But it get me thinking about future of media and I also met my cofounders there. Stream.Plus is the materialization of our vision of where media, and specifically video, is going.

 

stream-plus

Marek Novy, Founder and CEO at Stream.Plus

 

What makes Stream.Plus different from other streaming video platforms? What can you do that can’t be found on YouTube or Facebook?

The most important difference for me is the purpose, even though it might be not so obvious. Our purpose is to help organizations, brands or individuals to build and operate their own media properties so they can have a direct relationship with their customers. The real business purpose behind YouTube or Facebook is to be a middleman between users and brands so they can sell user’s attention to advertisers.

That’s a basic conflict between brands and companies like Alphabet and Facebook. The interest of the brand is more and more in building an audience for their product- not just selling products one by one, but developing customer loyalty around the brand and the ideas and culture it is a part of. But YouTube, as a particular example, has more of an interest in moving customers between channels- from one video to the next, in order to display their direct advertising.

For YouTube, it is of more value to have a user not remain in one particular stream of content- but instead to jump around to allow different ad-impressions to be sold at higher prices. Basically, the user is the product, and advertisers are the customer. That model is becoming quite unsustainable- especially when you consider that typically, YouTube users now skip video ads within seconds- which drives YouTube to make their ads more aggressive, and more pervasive.

On a product level Stream.Plus is primarily about human-created playlists. They are important, because they drive a type of user experience which is really missing in online video. Human-created playlists are trending in streaming music and they have even stronger value in video. We improve playlists to combine short and long form content so that users can choose how much time they spend on a topic.

The big difference here is that we preference real users’ interests, and not that of advertisers. The media companies and brands on our platform will compete for eyeballs with their high quality content, not for the cheapest ad space available.

We also think that a video is a great tool for direct in-video shopping and lead generation. We provide conversion buttons in videos and eventually we want the whole buying process to happen inside a video. This keeps the customer’s interests as the main priority- people don’t want to be taken away from content they enjoy, and people want to have a relationship with the brands they buy from. We can accomplish both with Stream.Plus.

More and more, brands are becoming direct content providers, through Social Media, Youtube, and elsewhere. How can brands use Stream.Plus to help them build their audience?

Social media and YouTube are great places to be present in order to attract users. But sound brand strategy has to go beyond that. Otherwise a brand is being used by social media instead of using it.

Stream.Plus provides tools covering a complete user journey starting on branded social media channels or the social media channels of an influetial person, going through branded online tv properties, then mobile apps, and finally reaching a point when a user is ready to buy or provide a lead. This journey is about gradually building trust and earning permission to give a user a business proposal.      

Brands have to accomplish that by creating content people want to see- not by forcing them to see content that they haven’t asked for.

How have MCNs (Multi-Channel-Networks), evolved in the past decade, and in what direction do you see the industry growing now?

MCNs are my favorite subject. They are essentially the most recent evolution of the media industry.

I think both traditional media and marketers can learn a lot from them. They’ve kind of organically grown out of the YouTube ecosystem. They started as pure aggregators of channels to get better deals from advertisers. Later they built various analytical tools and technology to help creators to be more successful. The most successful ones are actually those who thought beyond YouTube. They are building full-scale media companies potentially totally independent from YouTube, using the platform to their advantage instead of being used.

Multi-Channel Networks are not a small industry anymore. Many of the networks that were originally built on YouTube are now worth hundreds of millions of dollars as media companies, with their own loyal followings, products, and diverse revenue streams. We want to create a way for brands to jump into this next cycle of evolution in media, and grow where their audiences now live.

Let’s talk a bit about the service. What are some of the features that users can experience? What kind of content and experience are you going to provide?

I can best illustrate it with some examples. Let’s say you saw a post on FaceBook with a video that your friend shared about a musical. You click on the video to see what it’s about. You will end up on our platform watching a large, almost full screen teaser video about the musical, which is typically 20 seconds long. If you don’t respond to it, we will show you another teaser video, for instance, a Lion King. It is a great one, you actually want to really see it after watching that video. You can now directly book a ticket from the video or choose to learn more about show by watching more videos about it.

People want to be in control of their buying experiences more and more. They want the joy of discovery, not an advertising hammer, pounding on them to buy, buy, buy. We have to help brands evolve into the free-media space, so that they’re speaking the same “language,” as their customers.

Entertainment is a great vertical for us because trailer videos are often a joy to watch anyway. Interviews with actors, backstage videos, etc are all very interesting content to watch. This can be linked directly to ticket booking. Cars are another interesting vertical with videos like car reviews, tuning and car improvement tips, auto sport videos, drifting shows, etc. Fashion is another area we will explore by working with fashion retailers to essentially build a small MCN for them with selected creators to run many shopping channels in parallel for different audiences.

How do you plan to monetize Stream.Plus?

We have a free plan if you don’t need video hosting from us. Your channel will be a part of stream.plus web and mobile apps. This is a great option if you want to create a channel that is your own personal selection from other people’s videos on our platform or from YouTube. You can build an audience there and upgrade later without losing them.

Then we provide a subscription plan based on how many monthly active users you have. It includes video hosting and your own branded web and mobile apps. You can choose to integrate it into your main website or run it on a separate domain like “brand.tv.”

Next  you can decide whether you want to work with our network of creators and social media influencers. They will either promote your product in their videos or recommend your content to their audiences. You provide them with your marketing brief and a reward for them which is typically a CPC or CPA model. We take a share of this revenue.

Can you talk more about the E-commerce potential in Stream.Plus? How can consumers use the platform for a better shopping experience

There are some categories of products which can be sold much better from video than webpages. In-video shopping is the next big thing in e-commerce. Honestly, there have been many attempts to do it, it is a kind of obvious, and they have all failed.

As usual, I think, there is no single key to break it, it will come from a right combination of several factors. YouTube is an obvious place, they have actually tried several times, but it is simply not compatible with their goals as a platform. There are so many distractions in YouTube’s UI, that a new buy button is yet another distraction. Our approach is no distraction besides call-to-action buttons during video viewing, to make it much more powerful. Affiliate programs for creators and influencers is another ingredient to make it work.   

stream-plus

The StreamPlus Team

What’s been the biggest challenge for the Stream.Plus team since joining StartupYard? Why?

 

We are shaping our product offering into something our customers can easily understand and relate to. I have to thank StartupYard and all mentors that they have been a great help. Due to my online media background I tend to unconsciously expect that people have insight into media mechanics and that some trends are rather obvious. StartupYard and the mentors have opened my eyes to how important it is to be able to clearly communicate our vision and story.

People are currently obsessing about media ownership, but media was kind of “owned” by advertisers from the beginning.    

Are there any particular mentors who had a disproportionate impact on your company’s development? How so?

There have been a bunch of mentors who provided valuable contacts and insights to us. I am currently waiting for a meeting in a big agency network, this type of partnership can have disproportionate impact on our development, but we don’t know yet.
SY2016_photoshoot (70 of 83)

Where do you hope Stream.Plus, and branded video content in general, will be in the next 5 years?

The next 5 years will be quite dramatic for the TV industry, which is the last media sector to be really disrupted by online world realities, especially in the US, where the TV industry has been able to prolong the business status quo most successfully.

Stream.Plus wants to be a leader in permission based video content marketing. We want to define a new balance point between users as content consumers and marketers who are paying for the content. I think this relationship has to build from permission marketing principles (defined by Seth Godin in 1999) and transparency. Branded content channels are actually more transparent than “native” advertising on 3rd party media.  

Are you currently looking for partners or pilot customers? How can people get in contact with Stream.Plus?

We are looking for forward thinking brands who are essentially willing to transform into media companies. We are also looking for agency partnerships, because in our vision of the future, creative agencies will create content and grow audiences for many brands at once.  

Don’t forget to sign up for StartupYard’s 2016 Demo Day, April 6th, at the Royal Theater in Prague. Tickets available and going fast!

Neuron SoundWare: Making Sense of Sound

Neuron Soundware is what we often call a “deep tech” startup. Like several of StartupYard’s alumni companies, they are unique in that they are operating at the edge of current technology, and developing processes and software that have never been tried before.

Neuron Soundware’s mission is bring machine learning and neural networks to sound and voice analysis- creating interfaces between machines and people, and between machines and mechanical devices, that are highly intelligent and adaptable to many applications. I caught up with CoFounder and CEO Pavel Konecny this week to talk about the company and its mission to understand and process sound:

Hi Pavel, tell us a bit about Neuron Soundware, what you do, and how the company came to be.

We build and train software that understands audio. Our technology is practically an auditory cortex in a computer- a digital brain. It’s all based on deep learning – the fastest-growing field in machine learning. That’s the kind of technology, that has just recently beaten the best human player in Go. It is all enabled by the increasing power of computing – especially thanks to GPU advances.

We started working on some prototypes in October last year. I worked for a global IT firm for the past 12 years, and I just returned to Prague after spending over 3 years in the Sydney office. It was a great time, but I felt that I needed to follow my passion for AI. So I convinced my friend and high school classmate. We initially worked on some of my ideas around data compression using neural networks. In November, we applied for StartupYard. It was a good decision, and it helped us to find the right business field for our technology.

Your team is probably working on the most complex problems of any startup in our program right now. How is your team uniquely qualified to solve problems using machine learning and neural networks?

All of the co-founders have a strong technical background. I studied cybernetics and biomedical science. And I’ve worked on many projects with different technologies. I did the first Hadoop Big Data project in Australia, and implemented high-performance calculations for smart meters. We were about to digitalize a video archive, so I also built a pilot implementation for the facial recognition of cricket players last year. That was a very exciting experience.

The Neuron Software Team

The Neuron Soundware Team: Pavel and Filip

Filip Sedlak has a Master’s degree in chemistry informatics. He worked many years for pharmaceutical companies. He was in charge of taking an algorithm and building applications for researchers in genetics. He is really brilliant at that. I am very glad that he joined our team.

 

neuron soundware, pavel klinger

Co-Founder and Musician Pavel Klinger

Pavel Klinger is my very good friend. He studied biophysics at Charles University in Prague. He is an excellent coder as he has been programming since his childhood. He is also a musician. So that is one of the reasons we focus on audio. Neural networks are his old hobby. He built his first one when he was at high school. He wanted something to write his school homework instead of him. It did not work that well, but he could type a bit faster as the neural net was predicting the word he was going to type based on the first few letters. So it was an easy task to convince him to start a company using neural networks.

Can you tell us a bit more about how neural networks and machine learning software can help manufacturers and other industries?

Our technology analyzes sounds that machinery makes. We train it to recognize any anomalies or known issues. Sound and vibration are the most efficient way to detect mechanical malfunctions. However, the moving parts acoustics were typically too complex to make it practical. Till now. Our technology can manage these complexities, so we can inspect enclosed parts like gearbox using the sound it makes.

Our software is sort of like a very streamlined, simplified mechanic- but one that never gets distracted or bored. It can learn how an engine normal sounds, and it can learn which sounds signal a mechanical problem.

Neuron Soundware’s technology works just like a human brain- but because of the complexity of a real brain, ours is only about as powerful as the brain of a small bee. But that’s enough, really, to understand quite a bit about complex sounds, and recognize problems by listening to them in a huge range of applications.

Neuron Soundware technology can also learn from “training data,” to reconstruct sounds and even voices, based on what it has already listened to. This has enormous applications in the future, when it comes to anything from call centers, to natural language AIs.

Our technology can eventually be used to generate the voice of a completely artificial mind, with emotion, ability to listen, and detect and understand complex emotions in whomever it’s talking to. It’s difficult to overstate how many applications this technology will have in the next decade. It’s simply enormous. 

For now, we are already able to reconstruct a real voice that the software has listened to, and to reproduce speech without using any sound files. Soon, we will be able to generate original, unique speech as well. I plan to demo this technology on April 6th at the StartupYard 2016 Demo Day.

Don’t forget to sign up for StartupYard’s 2016 Demo Day, April 6th, at the Royal Theater in Prague. Tickets available and going fast!

 

What are some of the other possible applications for your machine learning technology?

In addition to the industry sounds, we are developing some advanced services for call centers. It sounds like magic, but we are getting close to the production stage. For now. we are working on emotion detection and comprehensive voice modulation. 

The way you say something is often more important than what you say. So we can start by modifying a customer service agent’s voice perfectly to the emotional state of the customer. For example, the direct sales team would sound nicer and more trustable. We can change accents, and make many other changes. In time, our technology could completely replace call center agents, with machines that never make mistakes, and never get tired or frustrated.
We also have plans in the area of IoT devices, where we could provide diagnostics and sound recognition in conjunction with other services. We’re currently working on a potential partnership in this area with a major Czech printing and IoT company, who have been incredibly supportive so far.

Q: You’re focusing initially on partnerships with device companies, such as 3D printer manufacturers. What do you hope to accomplish business-wise in the next year?

Industry sounds are quite simple compared to emotional detection in voices. We have achieved extremely high accuracy. Hence, we are planning to first address manufacturers with high-value products and large high quantities, such as car makers.

Neuron Soundware technology could provide a sound “guardian” to any moving part. We could hear that something is broken or even predict that it is going to break. We would license our algorithms and charge fees for every unit equipped with our system.

How about the longer-term strategy? Where do you hope to be as a company in 3-5 years? What kind of things will Neuron Soundware technology be doing further in the future?

Our plan is to master the process of learning. We believe that the next generation of applications will not be coded but “trained.” 

For example, we would replace most of the people working in call centers with programs that learn on the job. We would take a few months of historical data from the call center (voice and screen recording) and process it. Our algorithms would develop a complex customer interaction model that would not only consist of the conversation with the customer but also management the customer data in the backend systems. Call center agents are a kind of interface between calling customer and company systems. With our service in place, the call center traffic will be managed with a fraction of the current staff.

You’re a bit of a futurist, I’ve noticed. How do you think the overall role of AI and machine learning will grow within the foreseeable future?

A lot of our jobs will be done by machines and automated services. For example, it is much harder to make a living as a translator these days, when you are competing with Google translate. You might think that people are still better, but they won’t be forever. The same would happen in a lot of other areas.

Do you want to sort the best photos, videos and create an appealing movie from your vacation? Done. Exploration of what is the best market for my product would be just one click? An automated tool will create a set of ads and test them via Facebook in a day.

It would be a huge impact on the society. New jobs would need to be invented. We might even see taxation of computation time. If Moore’s law stays valid a few more decades, we would all have a choice. Either die or move our minds into machines and then live forever. But that’s all still in the far future. 

For now, AI still needs a way to interact with people and objects.

Neuron Soundware is paving the way for machines to be able to interact with the world based on sound- which is an incredibly important sense for a machine to have. Much of our conception of AI today is about natural language processing- programs listening to and understanding us and their environment. But that requires many innovations that are still in the future. We want to lead that effort.

Of any team at StartupYard, Neuron Soundware has had to work hardest on finding a go-to-market strategy. Why do you think that’s so difficult to do with AI and machine learning?

That is the counter-intuitiveness of machine learning. You do not need a lot of coding, but you need good training data sets. We can not build our services without our clients. We initially wanted to focus only on the call centers.  However, the device diagnostics using sound is the low hanging fruit.

As we say, a machine doesn’t have a lawyer! It’s ethically complicated to work with live customers, and that is a part of the legal and business world that has to keep evolving in the next few years. As you can see from many other areas of advancement in AI, such as self-driving cars, new laws and regulations are necessary, and they are coming. We believe the benefits to people far outweigh the short-term drawbacks.

You’ve been working on several potential partnerships. Can you tell us more about those?

We do have a partnership memorandum with some Czech universities. That would help our company in different dimensions. Firstly, we would have access to the latest research and people in our key areas. That would help us to grow our team and knowledge. Secondly, we can fund our product development via cooperation with the university laboratories as it is close to the leading edge of scientific research. So we could leverage their server infrastructure as it will be probably our highest cost. We are also looking for a strong business partner.

How has the StartupYard program affected the development of Neuron Software? Where do you think you would be if you hadn’t joined the accelerator?

It was a really great experience. We gained a lot of contacts, ideas and quick feedback. The mentors from StartupYard are valuable providing support to the Neuron Soundware team. We changed our focus from music to voice and industry sounds, largely due to the input of mentors we met in the program. A long series of workshops gave us an overview of what to expect and master in so many different areas. 

I would personally welcome prolonging the program by 3-4 weeks. So we would have a bit more time to digest all that information, meet more customers and iterate even more on our product.

Has any particular mentor at StartupYard had a particularly strong impact on your company’s development? How so?

Well I think it might be the StartupYard team, You and Cedric Maloux. All of the mentors gave us a lot of valuable input, but the StartupYard team also tells us what *not* to do. And that’s often even more important. So when I’m in doubt, I ask myself: “would Lloyd or Cedric do this?” And that helps me to find the right path.

Salutara, StartupYard

Salutara: Your Health Matters

Salutara is a full-service online platform for medical travel.

Every year, 11 Million people seek medical procedures that are not accessible or affordable in their home countries. With Salutara as a trusted advisor and intermediary, patients can search and compare clinics, arrange procedures, plan, book, and pay for a whole trip in one place.

I sat down recently with the founders, Martin Cvetler and Petr Vankat, to talk about Salutara’s current status, and future plans. Here’s what they had to say:

Q: Hi Petr and Martin! Tell us a bit about Salutara. Where did the idea for a medical travel platform come from?

Petr: I was spending my 2014 New Years in Switzerland with my girlfriend at that time who is a dental hygienist. As we were walking through the center of Thun, I saw a walk-in store saying “Zahn reisen – Dental travel” on the sign above the door. It caught my attention so I came closer and found out they were sending citizens of Thun to Hungary for dental procedures.

They organised trips specifically designed for patients with any kind of dental problem. This whole concept was taking place offline and was aiming at a very limited clientele. I thought why not do this online and globally? There is clearly a demand, with 20 million people traveling every year for treatment. That is when the idea was born.

But I put it in a drawer after my return to Prague and we started seriously discussing it in the summer of 2015 and in August we signed up for the Startupyard FastLane. And you know the story from there. We went through all the steps in the selection process and eventually made it to the accelerator.

Martin: Our first idea was to concentrate on dentistry and our first work name was “Bite´n´Chew” [laugh] Then we started to research, expanded the idea to other treatments and we just could not find a website that would be easy to use for booking a medical treatment abroad. Salutara is for people seeking quality medical care who cannot find affordable and accessible treatment at home. It’s a complicated and time consuming decision-making process, and we want people to have a way to do it all within one platform. We want to become the world’s most innovative medical travel booking platform.

 

Salutara

The Salutara Team: Martin Cvetler and Petr Vankat

 


Q: What are some of the main advantages of traveling abroad for medical treatments? What kinds of treatments are most popular for medical travel?

Petr: One of the most obvious advantages is the price difference between countries and continents.

Just to give you an idea, it is very common that patients for example from the USA are saving up to 80% of their medical costs when traveling for a hip replacement, dental restoration or cancer treatment abroad. Those can add up to huge sums- into the tens of thousands of dollars per treatment. A hip replacement in the US can cost upwards of $80,000, while the same treatment by an equally skilled surgeon in India might cost $10,000. That easily justifies the cost of going abroad.

You know, the number one cause of personal bankruptcy in the United States, believe it or not, is medical bills. That really makes no sense to me in the modern world. But where there is such a clear need, there must to be clear, easy to access alternatives.

But the US isn’t the only place with problems. Waiting times in various countries such as the UK or Poland are also a big issue, as they can go as high as months and in some specific cases including orthopedy or eye surgeries up to years.

On top of that, some countries are facing certain legislative barriers that can be seen in relation to procedures such as In Vitro Fertilisation. At Salutara, we strongly believe that every human being should have a right to access that type of treatment, and we are working hard to provide options and accessibility for all the cases mentioned above.

Martin: We want to inform and educate customers about all possibilities that the medical travel industry offers. One example is the EU Directive 2011/24 that enables all EU citizens have their insurance cover procedures anywhere within EU. Not many people know this, and not many people use it. On the other hand we want to give our clients the opportunity to choose and decide if they want to go abroad or not. They can compare both options, decide and book abroad or at home. We just want to give them the freedom to choose and a tool to make it safe and easy.

Q: What are some of your key challenges in approaching consumers? How will you convince people that medical travel is for them?

Petr: We understand from our own experience that it can be tough to even decide where to go on holiday! Is the food going to be good there? Will it be safe to walk on the streets after dark? Will I be able to charge my iPhone there and get wi-fi? Generally speaking people are not always very open to changes and exploration. Especially when it comes to something so important and precious as human health.

Certain things are easy to sell. Medical travel can be vastly cheaper, and certain treatments will only be available abroad, depending on where a patient is coming from. But it’s about more than that. A person thinking about medical travel is concerned about trust and safety, and building trust is one of our biggest challenges going ahead. People deserve their dignity in medical care, and sadly that’s not something they can always have. So we want to change the way medical care works for those who can’t now get what they deserve.

That is why we are focusing on providing top notch care for our first customers – the early adopters or ambassadors. Sharing and promoting their experience on the website as well as on our social media profiles is going to be crucial- getting the word out through people like that will open up new possibilities for people who haven’t even considered medical travel. Good word of mouth plays an important role in the process of convincing others that it is safe and supremely beneficial to make the decision to pack up a small bag and take off for a treatment abroad.

Q: Let’s talk a bit about Salutara. What features and capabilities will you launch with? Where do you see the product in a year or two?

Martin: Customers will be able to connect directly with clinics and their doctors for unlimited online consultations and price quotes. They will be able to book a treatment and pay the deposit.

Later on we want to provide the whole travel package, including flight and hotel booking. Everything in one place. A lot of patients use medical travel for sightseeing before the treatment or they stay longer after the surgery to recover and come back home all fit.

Most competitors in this market right now are focusing on connecting clinics and patients. That’s great, but we want to provide a whole experience- start to finish. That is what we’re working towards: a platform that you can use exclusively to get reputable, safe, and fairly priced treatment anywhere in the world.

There are plenty of resources now available for medical travel and for patients seeking treatments. There are great services like RealSelf, which provides a community for people to discuss issues around cosmetic surgeries. We want to provide the same value to people- a place where they can find trusted opinions and advice, and also connect with the right doctors and clinics to provide the right treatments.

Q: What will be your focus within the next year? How will you approach the market, and which segments will you focus on in order to grow?

Martin: We will launch small and lean. Just with a couple of procedures, clinics in the Czech Republic and UK market on the patient side. After we optimize our workflow and processes, we will scale up with more treatments and clinics in the same markets and then expand within the EU in the second half of 2016 and globally in 2017. We’re starting with less invasive procedures like cosmetic dentistry, hair transplantation, sleep disorder, cosmetic surgeries, LASIK (laser eye surgeries). Then IVF and life threatening diseases and their treatment like oncology.

Our dream, as Petr said, is to be a trusted platform for patients and clinics the world over- so that people will always know what treatments and doctors may be available to them anywhere in the world. Right now, medical travel is very opaque- it’s run through backchannels, and patients rarely have any sense of who they are dealing with. That’s just not good enough. Fair, open, and trustworthy markets need transparency, and that’s what we will provide.

Q: Obviously partnerships are going to be a key factor in Salutara’s growth and success. Which partners do you view as strategically important, and how do you plan to build these partnerships?

Petr:There are lots of ways to think about partnerships in our case. We believe that the first partners should be charities of all sorts. It is important to give back. And those who are in need or unfortunately suffer from a specific condition deserve our primary attention.

We would like to donate a part of each transaction to a charity of choice for each patient who uses our services. Next in line of common sense, are travel agents both in countries where our patients travel from and in the countries of our clinics. Sport clubs and associations have a natural connection to what we are doing too, especially those where injuries happen often such as rugby or ice hockey.

We encourage anyone reading this to reach out to us with partnership suggestions from their network. We want to hear from you!

Q:  You started at StartupYard with essentially nothing but an idea and a vision, and now you’re almost ready to launch. Have you been surprised by your own speed and execution?

Petr: I am personally naturally very impatient and yesterday was already too late. So until we fulfill our goal of becoming the world’s biggest platform connecting patients with clinics all over the world, and handling medical travel on every continent, I will not be satisfied with the pace of our progress. Nevertheless just being around such amazing influencers as Cedric Maloux or yourself, Lloyd, and having the priceless opportunity to consult with our great mentors helped us speed up the process a great deal. We can never thank them enough.

Martin: I will be very open here. I was a little naive a few months ago. The deeper we are in this industry the more I realize how much more is ahead of us and also what we could have done differently, faster and better. We have decided to make some compromises on the product and market entry in order to launch fast and we have a long list of updates already. The truth is we chose a very complicated product and market. And you just cannot do everything at one moment. You have to prioritize every day, stay focused but be able to pivot at the same time. All of this is very challenging but I enjoy it quite a bit.

Q: How has working with StartupYard affected the development of Salutara? Have any particular mentors had a big impact on your development?

Petr: As I mentioned above StartupYard is like a nitro boost in the Fast and Furious franchise. Being friends with one of the 2015 SY startups (TeskaLabs), we knew what we were going into and busted our bottoms to make it to the 2016 cohort, because we were aware of the impact SY had on TeskaLabs. To be specific at StartupYard you learn a great deal of skills from pitching, creating awesome landing pages to creating meaty content and to confidently ask investors for money. I am sure we will start to fully appreciate the help of StartupYard only after a couple of years from now looking back at the days spent here.

As far as mentors, the initial avalanche of heterogenous opinions and suggestions naturally creates a bit of perplexity when you want to take the advice and put it into practise right when the consultation is over. The mentoring month helped Salutara shape it’s business strategy and recognize some of the threats and weaknesses as well as strengths and opportunities.

Now as the dust is slowly settling, we are revising our notes and realizing the value of suggestions and tips we in some cases did not see immediately. To mention a few names in particular – Liva Judic helped us in the process of renaming our company, to Salutara. I cannot leave out Ladana Edwards whose persistence in support has been endless. Marketa Kabatova and her great input on Google advertising, Jeanne Trojan and her factual to the point tips on self presenting, Veronika Prikrylova, Klara Gajduskova, Karin Pomaizlova…Those are just a few, and all the mentors had something to contribute to our launch and growth, and we are super grateful for the chance to get to know them and learn from them. Thank you all, guys, you have been phenomenal! Hope we will show our appreciation by becoming the global leader in healthcare provision without having doctors on payroll.

Martin: Honestly I cannot imagine how we could move forward so fast without the support of the whole SY team, shareholders and mentors. It would be very long and painful without this.

Q: You’re currently expanding your team. Who are the kinds of people you are looking for?

Martin: Yes, we are now hiring a native English journalist/blog writer, social networks specialist, SEO specialist. Then two more coders, designer, key account for clinics and customer service specialists. We want a team of people that have drive and are results oriented. I want to also thank here Jiří, Jakub and Michal for their work, we are happy to work together.

Q: Where can potential partners, clinics, or job seekers get in touch with Salutara?

Petr: Salutara can be reached on our Twitter plus Facebook profiles and of course e-mails (petr@salutara.com or martin@salutara.com).

 

NeuronAd

NeuronAd: Ads for Everyone

Do you use AdBlock, or another ad-blocking solution? More and more, the answer to that question is yes. With the advent of adblocking for mobile, over 20% of online users now employ some form of ad blocker, and that proportion is growing rapidly.

Ads can be annoying, they often use too much data, and they can be loaded with unwanted code and invasive tracking. NeuronAd is working to reconcile the needs of online publishers, with the wishes of ordinary web users who are sick of invasive advertising on desktop and mobile. NeuronAd is a member of StartupYard 2016, and will present at our Demo Day, on April 6th.

I caught up with Karel Javurek, founder and CEO of NeuronAd, to talk to him about the state of online advertising, and his role in improving it. Here’s what he had to say:

Hi Karel, Tell us a little about yourself and NeurodAD. How did you come up with the idea?

My experience has lot to do with NeuronAD, because I’m a journalist and writer, owner of a small content website, and an entrepreneur. But i’m also a reader and i saw Adblock becoming stronger and stronger every year.

Some publishers do get a bit extreme with the number of ads on their sites, but Adblock is the opposite extreme – completely no ads. So I started thinking about that, and I realized that basically the current model of online advertising is broken.

People want content, and advertisers want impressions. But publishers have to balance these two needs, and they have a very hard time doing so. The economics of advertising are constantly pushing them to new extremes.

At some point, online ads stopped helping online publishers, and started to hurt them, and that starts to happen when the pain the ads are creating is real enough that people do something about it- like using AdBlock. And that happens essentially because the reader does not feel that their interests are aligned with the publisher. Instead, they see publishers as working for advertisers, even though they are relying on the publisher for content that they want to view.

There has to be some middle ground– a solution that can balance both sides.

Readers are ultimately the most important part of online advertising. That’s what advertisers are there for, and it’s why publishers exist. At the same time, advertising is ultimately meant to be beneficial to people. In a fundamental sense, advertising does help us to make choices about how we spend our money – and it can have a positive role in our lives.

You want to know if a product is right for you, or if something new is available, and advertising helps us learn things like that. But neither advertising nor publishing is going to work if the publisher can’t survive because half of the readers are blocking ads, and the other half are being attacked with them.

What we see today is the whole system sort of breaking down, and that’s bad for everyone. NeuronAd is set up for what I think the future of online ads is going to be– something much more sensitive to the needs and wishes of consumers.

 

Tell us a bit about your team as well. Who is working with you now? Are you looking for more people?

Right now we are about 8 people. As CEO I still do everything except programming, that is managed by the David Dutkovsky, our CTO. We are still mostly programmers and DevOps, but also one experienced sales pro from the US, who has worked more than 10 years in online advertising business, and led big teams of salespeople.

The NeuronAd Team

The NeuronAd Team, Karel in the middle.

 

Our business is strictly B2B, so we will need lot of sales help in order to expand. We are always looking for talented programmers as well. We are solving hard and unsolved problems, so it’s very interesting even from the architectural point of view.

NeuronAD defeats ad blockers. What’s the problem with ad blockers, considering that they are so popular?

The main problem with ad blockers is that they are too extreme – they block every ad on every page a user visit and usually, once a user installs them, they never uninstall them. Possibly over 20% of internet users now use some form of ad blocker, whether or not such technology is really needed to enjoy online content. In most cases, they simply aren’t necessary.

Making quality content isn’t free, and i think everyone who use adblock, knows this. Ads are  a great solution for a free internet, and they work not only for publishing, but also for Google, Facebook and a lot of other online companies and startups.

Some publishers are greedy, honestly, and they deploy too many ads, pop-ups and so on. But that in itself is an extreme situation, for which all publishers are being punished. We are trying to help conscientious publishers who display useful, relevant ads that are not obtrusive- as it should be.

Ads that are tasteful and well placed can add value to a reader’s experience. That is the kind of thing we want to support with our technology.

Can you talk a bit about how NeuronAD’s technology works? How does it get around Ad blockers?

Our solution gets around any type of blocking software in a browser- desktop or mobile – and can also get past adblocking on the network level, where it’s normally hard to do. So we can offer publishers a future-proof solution for the next generations of adblocker, not just the ones on the market today.

We do that by detecting when an adblocker is being used, and rebuilding that page with code the adblocker doesn’t recognize, delivering an “ad-lite” experience that an ad-sensitive user should find acceptable.

It’s a better alternative than, for example, barring ad-blocked users from visiting the site at all, as more and more publishers, such as Forbes, now do.

We’re building NeuronAd from the ground up, to tackle ad blocking technology where it will be two, three, or even five years from now.

We can also easily update our solution, so if there is any problem with any type of new adblocker, we will be able to patch our technology quickly, and publishers don’t need to take any action.

Will NeuronAd have any effect on website visitors who are not using ad blockers?

No. NeuronAd only affects users who are employing ad blocking technology. For typical visitors, NeuronAd has no effect on their experience, and nothing is changed at all.

Part of our mission is to change the business of online advertising by rewarding fair actors. Part of this is our firm commitment not to spy on or collect private data about site visitors. Much of what has driven people to adopt ad blockers has been privacy concerns, and with good reason. We want to encourage publishers to respect the privacy of their readers as well.

What is NeuronAd’s relationship with advertisers or ad networks?

Our backend can be connected to different ad networks and clients, so we can provide extra inventory for an advertiser, even on big websites and reaching people who don’t usually view ads.

The number of people with ad blockers grows at about 40 % every year. There are more than 200 million people with some kind of adblock installed, and that will double in the next few years. On some websites, the number of users with ad blocking software is now higher than 50%, and this puts a powerful strain on publishing as a viable business online.

How do you plan to grow in the coming 6 months to a year?

We are a global startup, and our reach is not limited by geography or language. We hope to be in the US within the next year – that’s an obvious market to tackle, and it is where much online advertising is focused.

We’re piloting the solution with a few Czech websites right now, and we hope to be serving ads very soon.

Long term, what do you hope NeuronAD’s role will be in the online advertising market?

Our goal is to make the internet a better place for all involved – for publishers, readers, and advertisers.  Publishers and advertisers can forget that readers are the real customer, so we focus on them quite a bit, providing an ad-light experience (less advertisement), more privacy (less tracking), more security (ads link check), and better performance (faster loading times, less data to download).

 

How has your experience at StartupYard shaped the company going forward? Are there any particular mentors who had an outsized impact on your development?

The experience with StartupYard has been fantastic. It’s accelerating every part of our project and we’ve had great feedback and contacts from a huge number of mentors. Every mentor is useful in some way, even if they’re from different market or segment. Sometimes even a small idea or feedback from a different point of view can shape your service or product to be much better.

 If I’m forced to name names, then Jan Urban, Andrej Kiška, Aleš Teska, and Viktor Fisher are examples of really important mentors for us. But in truth, there are many more who have played vital roles in shaping our development, and we are grateful to all of them. 

Are you currently looking for launch partners and early customers? How can people find out more?

We are looking for good partners from publishers and ad networks, that want be relevant in the future. More information is on our website Neuronad.com and you can also send email to info@neuronad.com. On our twitter page we are trying to cover new thing in the world of adblocking.