Beeem, StartupYard

Meet Beeem, A Website for Every Thing

Google is betting on beacons. They aren’t the first, but this time it’s with a twist. It initially struck us as odd, that though beacons as a concept have been around for a long time (Apple launched iBeacon in 2013, and we even accelerated an iBeacon startup back then), we had very rarely seen any really practical use case for them. Apple treated iBeacon as a bit of a novelty, failing to establish an attractive platform for developers, or to educate the public on how beacons could be used.

That’s changing– beacon technology may finally be getting its day in the sun. The proliferation of bluetooth enabled smartphones, and the rapidly dropping cost of the physical hardware mean that sooner rather than later, beacons will be an integral part of our experience of the world around us. Google calls it the “Physical Web,” and evangelists inside Google see it as tomorrow’s answer to the disconnect between in-person activities, like shopping, visiting a museum, or taking public transport (or parking… yes even parking), and our lives on the web.

Meet Beeem, the StartupYard 2017 startup that is looking to bring the Physical web to your smartphone. They’re doing it with a “WordPress for the physical web,” a platform that allows pre-configured beacons to broadcast the URL of a microsite which can be launched by anyone nearby using Android or Google Chrome, on any smart device. Beeem helps businesses, event spaces, and others to create web-apps and pages that connect their in-person customers with their web presence, allowing for smart enabled storefronts, content, interactive display ads, customer retargeting online via Facebook and Google, and even payment systems., StartupYard, beacons


With Beeem, a restaurant could easily allow customers to order electronically, without having to wait in line, or a museum could do away with expensive audio-guides in favor of a web-app. An electronics store could allow customers to order and pay from the aisle, rather than lugging their purchases to the counter, and cities could eliminate pay boxes for public transport or parking. To Beeem, the Physical Web means is a website for every thing- the opportunity to create a web presence for virtually any physical object or location, with a central content management system that allows a beacon’s owner to easily configure the web experience it provides.

I caught up with Ferenc Brachmann, CEO and Co-Founder of Beeem, to talk about the Physical Web, and his young company:

Hi Ferenc, how did you come up with the idea for Beeem?

I think this story is going to sound very familiar to anyone who’s ever started a startup, really. I was at a Metallica concert in 2014. I’m really into thrash metal music. Anyway, at the concert, they had a voting system, where fans could vote on their favorite songs, and the band would play them. Pretty cool.

But here’s the thing: they asked fans to vote via SMS. In 2014. To this day I remember seeing the message to vote in an SMS, and looking down at my pimped up new phone with a quad core CPU and 1 GB of memory, and realizing there was something very wrong here.  And that got me thinking a bit.

Beeem, StartupYard, Central Europe Accelerator

Co-Founder CEO of Beeem, Ferenc Brachmann

Of course, the concept of using the internet to interact live and in person was not new at all. But the fact is that there were essentially two approaches, neither of which work incredibly well. Either you could create your own app or website, and populate it with interactive widgets and forms (and face all the challenges of compatibility and scalability that entails), or you could use a platform designed specifically for the kind of interactions you want, and get everyone to use that.

Metallica could do an app, but then everyone would have to download it and it would still have to connect with something on their back end. Using SMS was the platform solution. It could easily have been some other web service, like Google forms, or one of a hundred voting platforms. It works, kind of, but it leaves a lot to be desired.

For starters, Metallica can’t turn around and leverage all those people who voted via SMS to come to their next show or buy an album. What can they do? Spam them with SMS messages? That won’t work, and it will be really expensive. They don’t own the channel they’re using in that case. The telco owns SMS, and charges a lot to use it despite it being decades old. They’re a gatekeeper.

This issue bothered me for a while, until I went on a trip to South Korea, and had an eye-opening experience. In Korea, mobile internet penetration is basically 100%. It’s everywhere, and it’s fast: you can get a strong connection even in the middle of the Busan Fireworks Festival, which means that there are about 1 Million other people around you in a very small harbour also connected to and using the same networks.

And yet there too, companies like Apple, Google, and Facebook function as the “gatekeepers,” just like the telcos formerly did in the days of SMS. And like the telcos, these big tech companies aren’t necessarily the best medium through which a live venue or a business could communicate with its customers. Their value propositions are all different, and none are a good fit.

WIth Apple, you need an app. That’s a lot of time to download, install, and log-in, not to mention the limited storage space. Google has the same problem with Android apps, or even with search, which requires you to search for the business you’re looking for, only to end up on their website, which is unlikely to work well for communicating with a business then and there.

Facebook is slightly better, especially with their focus on messaging and pages but even there, you don’t have real control over your own audience as a business. And people still ultimately have to actively find you there to connect to you.

So that’s a long story to say: Beeem is the answer to all that. It’s a way for businesses to connect directly with their customers, and to have complete control, without having to rely on any one of these other platforms where they can’t be in control. And it solves the problem of scalability and repeatability that a lot of businesses have, which is: maintaining a web presence takes a big commitment of resources to stay up to date. With Beeem, that part is all taken care of – you’re left just to worry about what you show your customers, and not about which platform to use, or whether your technology is up to date. The future of apps is no apps. No downloading. No waiting. The Physical Web is there when you need it.

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The Future of Apps is... No Apps. via @beeemapp – a Website for Every Thing. Click To Tweet



How is your team uniquely suited to taking on the status quo?

After my trip to Korea, I came home and shared my frustration with my friends Norbert and Peter. Norbert is the owner of a  software company  with a ton of experience, and Peter is the brains behind  the biggest e-learning platform in Hungary. I knew they were just the right guys for the job, so we formed a team, and we’ve been working together now for over a year.

Our team is ideal, I think, because we all really love thinking about these very complex problems of how people use technology, how businesses use it, and how the system in general fails to really reconcile these two sides. Once you start looking at some of the behaviors businesses and people have adopted to communicate, it’s really bizarre.

Beeem Teeem

For example, you walk into a store -let’s say an electronics store- and you find an item you think might be the right thing for you. Does this part sound familiar? You probably pull out your phone, a computer more powerful than the sum of all the world’s processing power combined 20 years ago, and you… Google it. You Google it. And Google may or may not tell you what you need to know about the product. Maybe it even offers you a better price, and it certainly shows you ads from the store’s own competitors.

Do you think that makes sense to the store, which is bearing the cost of stocking the product, that its customers can walk in, Google something, and order it for cheaper somewhere else? There have even been movements to ban use of the Amazon barcode reader in stores in the US because of this problem. People would “shop” in stores that they never bought anything from, and Amazon would benefit from the capital costs that the in-person retailer bore to keep the store open.

That’s ultimately bad for the consumer and for the business, because in the end, the platform is going to win that battle. Cheaper is cheaper. Our team is genuinely committed to reversing that problem, and giving in-person retail a new and unbeatable advantage: which is a direct line to a customer who is interested in something right here, right now.

We need in-person retail. The social aspect of shopping and dining will always be important. Perhaps now more so than ever.  But these businesses need new tools to fight the battle with the big platforms. That’s what Beeem is all about.

Where do you see the biggest impact for this technology in the next 1-3 years?

I haven’t touched much on what Beeem actually is, so I’ll talk a bit about that.

Beeem is like wordpress for the physical web. The physical web is something that will continue to grow in importance in the coming years, as physical beacons (using Bluetooth), become ubiquitous and cheap. What these beacons do (at least right now), is very simple. They can broadcast a very basic URL. A physical web beacon is detectable from any smart device with Bluetooth, and will continue to be integrated deeper into our devices both on iOS and Android work.

What we do, is help businesses to leverage that technology, by sending anyone within range of that beacon to a web-app that is set up under the complete control of that business. We provide the content management system that supports that web app, and provides the business with easy drag-and-drop tools to build the app that suits their business most. We can support virtually anything a smartphone can do, including easy stuff like messaging, video and audio, and even payments, but also complex things, like live interactive programs and even games that combine the real world and the web.

Ultimately, even beacons themselves will not be that important. Anything electronic will be beacon. A phone, a watch, and soon even a clothing tag can broadcast it’s own webpage, broadcasting useful content and services tied to that object specifically. Soon, you’ll be able to “search” the physical web that is around you, and interact directly with every day objects using your phone, or your watch, or maybe VR glasses, or something else entirely.

That’s why Beeem is an App for Every Thing. Because in the Internet of Things, nothing is very useful unless you can easily and seamlessly connect to it and tell it what to do, or ask it to help you. Beeem allows a business or a venue, or anyone, to target their messaging directly to individuals around them, with customized services, made only for them, based on past shopping habits, or location, or many other factors. It could be kind of like the advertising seen in the in movie Minority Report [starring Tom Cruise].

Do you worry about what this means for privacy?

I don’t. But not because I’m not concerned about privacy or about issues of space and invasive advertising.

The truth is that visions like that in Minority Report tend to get the general idea (ads that talk to you as an individual), but they get the execution all wrong. The truth is that people’s standards shift over time, and technology and business have a way of fitting into new standards as they evolve. For example, I very much doubt that businesses would be successful if they shouted at their customers in the way that ads do in many dystopian future films. In reality, we find that as advertising becomes more targeted, it should become more useful, and the need to be aggressive or “salesy” should actually diminish.

Annoying marketing is also inefficient marketing. It spoils the customer experience rather than giving the customer something they really want. The physical web allows online interaction to be much more efficient, and much more relevant to the customer. Nothing you don’t need- everything you do.

Ultimately, the best form of marketing and advertising is the kind you don’t even consider marketing and advertising, because it gives you exactly what you need, when you need it, and never offers you things you don’t want. We don’t consider the signage inside a store to be advertising, because we choose to see it. The same will be true of the physical web: we will be asking for this information, just as when you walk into a restaurant you are, in a way “asking” to be seated and served.

Let’s talk about some of the use cases right now. What can people do with the physical web and Beeem today?

As of today, you can create a fully customized web-app that your customers can access directly from the notification screen on  their Android phones, or via Google Chrome for iOS. We expect that support for the physical web will soon expand in all Chromium browsers (Chrome, Firefox, Opera) and we see hints that other browser vendors will soon join the list.

Beeem, Product

Businesses, venues, or public spaces like museums and libraries can today create pages for visitors, gather instant feedback or field questions, share content like videos and images, and also receive content from visitors, such as visitor photos or other media.

We will soon be adding e-commerce to this mix, meaning that business can direct customers, with only a single tap on their phones, directly to the portal to purchase items from the store. This could be applied in all manner of environments, from sports events to public transportation. No searching, no downloading- just tap and go.

Those are a lot of diverse and complex areas. Where do you want to focus first, and why?

We’ve been focusing on live events like trade shows, sports, and conferences, because that’s often where the early tech adopters are. There are a lot of people with open minds, and strong incentives to be unique in their fields, so we are targeting hobbyists and geeks to really get a sense of how our customers will use the platform.

In order to scale, we’ll need eventually to shift focus to businesses and use-cases that will be easier to apply to a huge number of customers. Things like retail-location web-apps that let people buy on their phones instead of waiting in line, or restaurant apps that let people order on the go. To accomplish that, we are looking at a mix of online marketing, and cooperating with resellers who already provide payment, IT, or web services to these kinds of customers.

What do you see as not really working in the current status quo?

Well, the status quo certainly works for the gatekeepers. Their ad revenues are built on the lack of penetration that businesses have among their target customers. But ultimately, it just doesn’t make sense for consumers to be directed to 3rd party platforms that aren’t controlled by the companies they are actually doing business with.

There will soon be 5 billion smartphones in the world. Having a handful of platforms funneling all the traffic and keeping all the advertising revenue just isn’t right, or fair. Facebook and Google, as they grow in dominance, can demand more control over what businesses do on their platform, when it should be the opposite.

Beeem, StartupYard

That forces businesses to play the game of Google or Facebook, instead of focusing on what they do best. It encourages them to be more like others, and less like themselves. And that ultimately costs consumers money. If you can spend your marketing budget more efficiently, and target it at the right people, then you can provide a better service at a lower cost.

We’ve seen this all before in the history of the web. Apple and Facebook could be seen as some later version of Prodigy or AOL – closed systems that wall off huge online communities. Facebook wants people to spend time on Facebook. Not go somewhere else. They want to scoop up all the customers, and control the whole experience of the web in order to make money, just like Prodigy and AOL wanted to before Netscape. The World Wide Web, at least for a while, stopped companies like AOL from doing that. It offered a variety and authenticity a single company couldn’t.

Mobile has given companies like Facebook and Google, and especially Apple, a second shot at end-to-end control of our online experience. They want us to stay in their worlds, and not create anything outside of them. But hey, that’s just not right. I believe it isn’t the way forward for business, or a healthy open society.

Where do you see Beeem in 5 years time?

Powering this revolution of direct, instant P2P communication between everyone and every thing. We aim to be significant in 5 years time, hopefully working towards becoming a global infrastructure provider.

How has your experience with mentorship at StartupYard been? What surprised you?

The mentors have truly been amazing. I personally never thought that you can put such a strong team of mentors together in the CEE region. Out of the close to 70 meetings we had, we had over a dozen fantastic meetings.

A lot of names come to mind but what has really blew my mind is that several mentors have reached out to us afterwards to recommend us or to get more involved in what we’re doing. That really showed me they take this seriously.

I’d like to specifically mention [Former SY Mentor in Residence] Philip Staehelin, [Longtime SY mentor] Tomas Riha, [Springtide Ventures] Karel Tusek and [Axa Insurance CFO] Sebastien Guidoni who all went out of their way and did things that we really did not expect from a mentor.

How has it been for you at StartupYard?

We got accepted to another accelerator in the region, but we decided not to go. We met Lloyd Waldo in Vienna at the Pioneers festival. We had a really good talk and he kind of sold me on the idea that the program here is good. Later I met Cedric Maloux in Budapest and at that time I realized that the program is probably going to be very good for us. Especially because all of Beeem’s co-founders own companies and know business, it’s just that we’ve never owned a startup before.

The startup mindset is all about scaling. It’s about repeating something millions of times. We wanted to get out of our comfort zone, out of our country where we know the market. Even though I had high expectations I think that this program is just spot on. The depth of mentors here is surpassing even my really high expectations. I think Lloyd and Cedric and the gang have their act together. They know how to put you in difficult spots, how to challenge you without you ever knowing about it.

Meet Cryptelo: The Unbreakable Dropbox

Cryptelo joins StartupYard as few companies do, with a fully launched product and existing customers. Founded in 2014, Cryptelo is an end-to-end secure file storage and messaging platform, offering a measure of protection unparalleled by the major file storage, transfer, and communication platforms.

Cryptelo, originally targeted at security conscious consumers, has shifted its focus toward organizations with highly sensitive data, and a need to make controlled access to that data readily available, and totally safe. Already becoming a favorite among the Czech legal community, Cryptelo is poised to challenge big storage providers by offering first-in-class protection against all manner of cyber-attacks, including physical penetration. To do this, they’ve recruited one of the world’s leading cryptologists, Vlastimil Klima, who was among the first to crack the SSL protocol, the security relied upon by the world’s banks. I caught up with Founder and CEO Martin Baros, to talk about his technology, and his vision for Cryptelo.

Hi Martin, Cryptelo is a very ambitious project; solving cloud storage security is something the biggest players haven’t really tackled. What made you want to do it?

Martin Baros, Cryptelo, StartupYard

Martin Baros, Founder and CEO of Cryptelo

My personal experience has taught me how important security really is. Years ago, I was hacked, and my intellectual property was stolen. That cost my company over 2 million CZK (about 100,000 Euros).

It was not fair. It felt like a violation- and that’s a common feeling for victims of theft. I blamed myself, but in time, I came to see that people are really being set up to fail when it comes to digital security. Someone, somewhere, decided that security doesn’t sell, and that’s not right. I set out to change it.

So I decided to create my own solution. This was the start of Cryptelo. I believe that no matter how big your company is, you should have an accessible tool for great security to keep your documents yours.

There was a time in which company security was easy: someone just could not read your documents and communications from the other side of the world, much less the other side of the room. But no more. Most information today is created digital. I’m convinced that we must have a full right to decide who can read our documents. This sense that we now have, that nothing we say will stay private, is chilling. It tells us that we cannot be candid and we cannot take intellectual risks and speak our minds. That’s not right at all.

That’s why I like cryptography – it can bring freedom and real security in the current digital era.

Let’s talk a bit about your team. You have some of the best cryptography talent in the world. What makes your team better than any other?


Vlastimil Klima, world leading cryptologist, and the mind behind Cryptelo security.

I have a strong technology background based on studying at MFF UK and 10 years of professional experience as a software developer, team leader and key account manager in projects with Accenture, Wüstenrot and AirBank.

When we developed the technical proof of concept of Cryptelo, I decided to approach Dr. Vlastimil Klíma – one of the best cryptographers in the world. After just an hour’s discussion where I described our vision, he decided to join us and has became part of our team. He created the cryptographical basis of Cryptelo

Then we needed superior implementation. Just imagine a product, which could encrypt all of your data, but wouldn’t be able to decrypt it. It would be secure, for sure, but not that useful.

That’s why I set out to build our team from the most talented programmers I have met during my career. Together we have over 40 years of experience in enterprise development. With this knowledge we started building the best software of our careers.

During development we have applied modern methodologies for software development and created amazing infrastructure, which enabled us to deliver new features almost immediately after they passed through testing. From the beginning we focused on automated testing – the underlying cryptographic elements are tested cross platform, to find incompatibilities which exist between different implementations on different platforms. Each change is built, packaged and is required to pass through wide range of UI tests, where an automated process simulates a user clicking in our application, trying to verify, that everything works as expected. We manage our fleet of servers remotely using SaltStack and monitor a wide range of properties of each host. We have also been running all of our services on docker from the beginning, which allowed us to offer on-premise solution early on.

You’ve experimented with B2C and B2B business models. What are you focusing on now, and why?

We started the service, which is similar to (a file storage solution), but with strong encryption in the background. We also allowed users to encrypt files with a password directly in the browser without any extension. We believed that this would be much easier than usual way – using winrar with a password and sending documents as attachments.

We observed that even though is so easy to use, the number of users was growing slowly. We found out that people individually don’t really understand how to  price their own security. It makes it very difficult to sell a totally secure solution.

We began to realize that a better way is to go for institutions that you trust, and put great security there. We all rely on banks, telco operators and even small businesses on a daily basis. Why should you take sole care of your personal security if big companies aren’t doing it themselves?

Currently, selling digital security to individuals is like selling crash helmets to pedestrians. It doesn’t do much good if the corporations are driving rally cars on the sidewalks.


Individual digital security is like crash helmets for pedestrians while companies drive rally cars… Click To Tweet


Why do you think it is that in 2017, security discipline is still generally so poor in many companies?

Imagine that you built a city with parks, family houses and skyscrapers. And when everything is ready you find out that you built it in an earthquake zone. But your houses are not ready for circumstances like this. What would you do? Would you demolish the whole city and build it from the scratch?

Cyber attacks are quite similar. Most companies didn’t know they should implement security and they built their businesses without it. And now there are 130 000 cyber attacks every single minute. That’s like 130,000 tiny little Earthquakes, and you’re just praying it doesn’t happen to you.

There is a significant trend to move data to the cloud. Cloud is connected with a lot of risks – you lose physical control of your data. End-to-end encryption is one answer for that. With E2E encryption your data are locked in the black box and travel like this securely over internet and are stored on the server. Only authorized people have the right key to open it on their computers.

All well and good, but the problem is that the most effective way how to implement this level of security is start from scratch. Especially big companies cannot demolish houses in their cities, because there are people already. But the truth is that the infrastructure of many big data companies just wasn’t designed properly. They are built for speed, for flexibility, and for accessibility. You can’t do that and expect unbreakable security at the same time, unless you build something secure from the ground up.

What are, to you, the 2 or 3 biggest mistakes most people make when it comes to their digital security? How can they fix these mistakes?

Cyber security risks are invisible to most people. That’s why they aren’t mindful.

We wouldn’t walk in a bad neighborhood in the night with money in your hand. But we pay online with our credit cards through unknown web pages using unsecured wifi. That’s pretty much the same thing. You won’t automatically get robbed, but if you knew how dangerous it was, you might not do it.


You don't walk around with your money out in public. But you do the same online every day.… Click To Tweet


We wouldn’t use a postcard even for love letter, but we send our personal information and details of million dollar contracts by email. That’s a serious dissonance in our sense of what is secure and what is not.

Worst is that the big players don’t want you to care about security, they want you to use their service and share there as much as possible about your likes, plans, dreams and your friends. This data is gold in the e-commerce business and many businesses are based on it these days. That’s why Facebook will never bring real security to their products. It would kill its business. They will always be playing catch-up with cyber-security because anything more proactive would only slow them down.

It’s also much cheaper if you don’t care about security too much. Have you ever tried to upload a well known movie on a file-storage platform? It’s uploaded in a few seconds. How is that possible? The reason is that users data are shared between accounts. That means, in effect, that the platform is scanning and analyzing everything you upload, and that data is all going somewhere out of your control.

Tell me a bit about your technology: how does Cryptelo work, and why is it unique? What can customers do with the platform?


Cryptelo is a virtual encrypted drive. It has the basic functionalities of a Dropbox or a Google Drive – you can use your web browser to access files from any computer.

Even though Cryptelo is as easy to use as Dropbox, it brings end-to-end encryption and a zero-knowledge server concept. We have a totally different approach to security than Dropbox or Google drive. The standard approach is to create a service, put it on the physical server, and build barriers – spread data into more datacenters, put this servers behind a firewall, keep servers in the datacenter located in an anti-nuclear shield, restrict people who can access it.

But even with top-notch data center security, a “mission impossible” type attack could breach these barriers and gain physical access to the server. That’s about as secure as a bank vault- and bank vaults get robbed all the time.

Our approach is that we also have all these barriers, but when Tom Cruise steals the server, there is nothing useful on it. All data are encrypted and the keys for opening it are not there. The data is useless.

But Cryptelo is not just virtual encrypted drive. Drive is just one of the uses, and a first step toward what we are building with our secure platform. The technology we’ve built is able to secure chat, email, and provide strong authentication based on cryptography.

Just out of interest, why do you think it is that Czech engineers have gained such a strong reputation for security and cryptology prowess? Does something in the culture or history of Czechia make them particularly suited to the task?

It’s probably a combination of talent and environment. Slavic people are known for their strategic, probing thinking, and it’s a bit of justified stereotype that we produce chess masters and rocket scientists faster than we produce world renowned writers and artists. We have these  too, but to Czech people, there is art in working with your hands, and solving puzzles.

If someone describes the rules of a game – law, technical environment – we start to think: Is it bullet proof? Could I bypass it? It’s natural. We just like puzzles and smart solutions. And that’s exactly what maths and cryptography is.

We call it the “Zlate Ceske rucicky,” or “Golden Czech Hands.” Czech people just like to fix things, and to squeeze the tiniest efficiencies out of their materials. Sometimes we say this in a joking way, as a Czech would rather fix something old than buy something new. But it is deep in our culture that we build things that will last a lifetime. Just look at our cities: we have trams that have been running continuously for over 60 years, bridges and towers that have stood for centuries. We build for endurance.

And I think Czech technology proves out that trend as well.  We have had 40 years of communism behind us. Times when we had to find ways to create and fix things with limited resources. Look at our arms industry, or automotive- we produce robust products at low prices.

Combine these things and superior programmers and security experts are born.

And you can really see this trend in Czech: Avast (now together with AVG), TCP Cloud (acquired by Mirantis), TeskaLabs, Apiary (acquired by Oracle).

Before Google built sales offices in Europe, they built a development center in the Czech Republic. No coincidence.

What is the biggest difficulty you have in selling Cryptelo as a solution for your core customers, like law firms or consultancies?

Cryptelo, StartupYard

A look at Cryptelo Drives UI

We are currently targeting trusted institutions that need to set a high bar for their security with client communications, as well as internal communication. That means law firms, tax and finance companies, even banks. And one of the challenges here is that, again, people do not want to think about security. We find, for example, that potential customers often want to buy our solution because of its features, like storage and sharing, and not because it is secure. To them, security is seen as an add-on, and not the core value.

That takes some adjusting, and we need to meet our customers somewhere in the middle. They need to see the value in security, and paying more to have it. But that the same time, they need to feel that they are doing something that will not create an undue burden on them. People don’t want to “buy security.” They want to buy secure solutions- and that means selling both security and the solutions together, and they need to be educated to measure their value appropriately.

That has been a learning process for us, and one we have been applying successfully in our talks with law firms in the Czech Republic. Finding out what is most important to these law firms is key to helping them see the benefits of using Cryptelo- so we have learned more and more to focus on what the customer sees in the solution, not just what we see as its core value.

How has your experience been at StartupYard? What surprised you? Which of the mentors had the biggest impact, and why?

In StartupYard I fully realized that there are two different tracks in building a real company: the hard part of creating a product, and then the even harder part of selling it. It’s crucial to get advice from someone who’s been in your shoes. Thanks to SY we got the opportunity to talk with scores of experienced mentors and entrepreneurs who have all been there, and understand our struggles, and how to get past them. You can’t read this kind of thing in books.

Would you recommend that other startups apply to an accelerator?

100% SY is like a First Aid Kit for most of your business troubles. Imagine that you decide to build a company to fulfill your vision. How will you incorporate, get first money to build MVP? How would you know it wasn’t just a terrible idea, or completely the wrong direction to take?  Where will you meet tens of your potential customer to verify your market fit? How will you create and learn how to perform the perfect pitch, that you need for getting customers and bigger investors?


Feedpresso, StartupYard

Meet Feedpresso: A New Way to Get the News

The problem isn’t a new one. And yet it may be even more important today than it has ever been. Since the web started changing the way newspapers, magazines, and even academic journals spread their content, and make money, a constant and seemingly intractable problem has remained firmly resistant to any solution.

How do you deliver, consistently, a broad range of content to a single reader that challenges them, engages them, informs them, and helps them keep an open mind? While institutional media returns to subscription payment models as a bulwark against the dominance of ad-based media and social media sharing (as well as ad-blockers), and paywalls return to the internet in larger numbers, consumers suffer from a lack of quality, trustworthy, and diverse content.

Feedpresso, which is in StartupYard’s current accelerator round,   is the startup tackling that problem. Unlike a typical newsreader or aggregator, they aren’t interested in what your friends like, or what advertisers would prefer you see. Instead, they approach news curation on an individual basis, using machine learning to understand each individual’s information needs, and help them to discover and build a strong stream of high quality content.

They do it all through a cross-platform application that analyzes a person’s reading history, and works constantly to bring that person content that is highly relevant and useful to them personally. I caught up with the founders of FeedPresso this week to talk about their project, and how they’re doing at StartupYard so far.

Cool! Check out the Interview with @Feedpresso, changing the way you find and read the news.… Click To Tweet

Hi Ernest and Tadas, tell us a bit about how you started working together, and why you founded Feedpresso.

Photoshoot SY 2016-2017-35

Feedpresso CoFounder and CEO Tadas Subonis

Tadas: We met 4 years ago when we started our studies at the University of Edinburgh and we had some shared courses.

For the final MSc project I needed to come up with an idea, and at the time I was annoyed that my Feedly inbox was always getting overloaded and I couldn’t find interesting stuff. So I decided to fix that. After my studies I continued working on Feedpresso, and Ernest joined me a few months later.


Feedpresso Cofounder Ernest Walzel

Feedpresso Cofounder Ernest Walzel

Ernest: After the university course was over, we parted ways for awhile. Tadas left for Vilnius, Lithuania to start the company and I was starting a new job at the university. Just before he left, I’d given Tadas a €5 note as my investment into the company, I think he still carries it around in his wallet.

Six months later I decided to quit my job and look for something new. Tadas invited me to Lithuania for 1-2 months in the summer. I thought it might be fun to see what Lithuania’s like and to help out on the project for a little. A year and a half later I’m still there.


The problem you’re attacking with Feedpresso isn’t new. There have been dozens of attempts to create the “perfect feed” for avid readers. What makes Feedpresso unique?

Tadas:  Since it is started as “Feedly on steroids,” it remains a very customizable tool. You can add any content source in our system and it will work just fine. We’ve also made sure it works in languages besides just English. This is super useful for readers in Europe, and not a common feature.

Finally, our personalization algorithm doesn’t rely on “popularity” or traction of a story to determine what’s interesting – it’s all done on a per-user basis. All other solutions do some kind of “that’s trending, so it must be interesting” approach. The problem inherent in that approach is that it creates feedback loops. Things that are “popular” become more popular, while things that aren’t popular don’t get any traction because something else is taking up all the attention. It’s like a fire sucking the oxygen out of the room.

I don’t know who just decided that we should pay so much attention to what other people are reading, but that has been increasingly the dynamic with most newsreaders and on social media. The question i have is this: is that actually helping people to read things that matter to them? I’m not sure it is.

Ernest: One problem with most global products is that they aren’t local-friendly. They start with English and they pretty much stick with English. Only roughly half of Europeans speak English. Most of our generation consumes lots of content in English, but we all want to consume local content too. This market is hugely underserved at the moment. Not all news is in English -particularly local and specialized content- and yet virtually all the tools to find content focus on English.

Feedpresso’s offer is to combine all of those big, trusted sources with your local sources like magazines, newspapers, and little blogs. For example, my Feedpresso is a mixture of big UK publishers, Slovak news sites and blogs about cooking and typography. Not a combination you can accomplish with most readers- certainly not in an intuitive way.

What kind of a user experience can people expect from Feedpresso in the near future? What are some of the use cases you’ve been considering?

Tadas:  At Feedpresso, our primary goal is to help people to find and stay current on stuff that really matters to them personally. Whatever that happens to be.  One thing that we have been seriously lacking in that regard is story and sources discovery. At the moment, we let people pick the sources themselves, and leave the selection of stories for us.

We think this approach is superior for a number of reasons, but still it isn’t the final answer – we want to take an active role in recommending what kind of sources users should follow as well.

Also, we don’t have the iOS version quite yet, and the Web version is coming along as well. Those are things people have been asking us for, so we are working hard to release them pretty soon.


A look at Feedpresso’s design.

Ernest:  We want to become the first go-to place for reading in general. There’s great content out there that’s available for free and lots of good writing behind paywalls. One goal of ours is to merge these two worlds, to help you simply focus on quality reading.

I think it’s a bit silly that in 2017, we haven’t found a way for people to get access to a range of premium content at a single price point. Micropayments haven’t worked well, and ad-supported content has a lot of problems, both economically, and trust-wise. Technology like ours may be the key to finally solving that riddle- helping the professional media make a fair wage while helping people get access to what they need most.

Of course it’s not humanly possible to find all the interesting and relevant quality reading on the web. And that’s where our prediction technology comes in. Right now we as consumers rely on very inefficient means of locating trustable and relevant information. Think of Google or Facebook: they don’t go out looking for what you really need, they can only respond to what you do, what you like, and what terms you might search. That simply isn’t enough.

It’s a topic for a later discussion, but we believe this is ultimately because the business model of social media and search are good for some kinds of content, but fundamentally bad for quality journalism in particular. I want Feedpresso to be an answer to that problem.


In the discussion about Feedpresso, the debate has been ongoing about what your strategy will be: Local vs. Global, Freemium Vs. Content Bundling, etc. What have you learned you don’t want to do in the coming year?


The Feedpresso team

Tadas:  We know for sure that we don’t want to be a general reader for everybody. We want to create something that people that care about content that they read would find extremely useful. Again, our aim isn’t to show you what others are talking about, or what’s hot: it’s to show you what matters most to you.

Ernest: Our focus is two-fold. In terms of strategy, we want to serve the European market with non-english news, and in terms of long-term goals, we want to promote “value over clicks.”

Every time you open an article in Feedpresso, we want to make sure that you learn something new. That means that we will not be serving sponsored content, or PR disguised as news. We’ve learned that most people who say they ‘hate news’ actually just care more about the quality of what they read.

The current distrust in media is caused by the current ad-driven approach employed by many media companies. We want to go in a different direction.

“Fake News,” and disinformation are hot topics now. Do you see Feedpresso as a part of the solution to this problem?

Tadas:  Definitely! One problem is that people have lost control of their news. We know that Facebook is already where the majority of news content is found by readers. Over 50% of news clicks go through Facebook. But Facebook is only as good as your friend list, or as an algorithm you don’t see, and which may or may not be  designed to actually help you become more informed.

“Filter bubbles,” don’t happen because people don’t want to know the truth- they happen because people who are part of a group tend to form standards of thinking and behavior, and to follow those standards unconsciously. Facebook is the perfect place to form a group or a community, but it’s also the perfect place to filter out anything that might not agree with the inherent biases in the group.

Feedpresso is approaching the news not according to what is acceptable or vetted by a group of peers, but instead is private, fully customizable, and impervious to the usual human biases. Machines have their own problems with bias, but they are not emotional, or personally invested in an idea. People in groups can make bad decisions because they want to believe things are a certain way. That’s where machines can help us, just like a compass tells you where North is, no matter what you believe.

Ernest: These problems are symptoms of people reading increasingly more on social media platforms. Fake news sites live on Facebook. They make money when people share them, and so they have to be “shareable.” For some of them, Facebook makes up 80% of their traffic. Fake news articles are designed to be shared and spread within the groups whose opinions they support. And data shows that people share them without even reading them- often based only on a headline.

When you think about it, Facebook is a really bad platform for news consumption. It’s designed around you having a good feeling about yourself, because then you stay on the platform longer and click on more ads. These ‘filter bubbles’ we’re talking about, they’re not a secondary effect of using Facebook, they are its product. Facebook’s advertising engine provides access to the filter bubbles we create for ourselves.

In theory, Facebook and Google should be good for traditional publishers. Why do you think media publishers haven’t been successful in making significant revenue gains online, despite their broader reach? How can an industry outsider change that?

Tadas:  The problem is that except for a few really well established brands (like the New York Times), many publishers are earning the majority of their revenues from big advertisers, like retailers and Big Food, or they’re earning it from smaller advertisers who target a particular niche.

Either way, advertising tends not to favor quality. For example, in June 2016, MotherJones reported that one of its investigative stories ended up bringing the company a profit. What is remarkable there is that this was an exceptional case. MotherJones points out that in an advertising-based media market, the incentives are against putting in the time necessary to produce great work. Faster is more profitable.

Following on that, publishers then want to increase their pageviews so they could compensate for that and they do that by posting lots of low quality articles with click-baity headlines. In the end, the value of content decreases, reader quality decreases, reader trust in the media decreases, and the pageviews are worth even less. And the whole cycle starts anew.

At Feedpresso we let users pay for their content so they are the boss in the end. We are not interested in serving them clickbaity articles because that’s not in their interest. Furthermore, we hope that we will encourage people to pay for publisher content with monthly subscriptions that will ensure right incentives for publishers to produce good content.

Where do you hope Feedpresso will be in a year or two?

Tadas:  In two years we want to have a solid user base and community that would help us sustain our business. Feedpresso is going to be available on all platforms (Web, Android, iOS, Windows) and it is going to be a one-stop solution for news consumption.

How about 5 years from now? What kind of a company do you want Feedpresso to be?

Tadas:  We hope to become a major platform where authors could post their content and would get paid for that. We would become something like Spotify for News. Our long-term wish is to change the economics of news for the better. So far, the ad-age hasn’t been kind to news, and we think it’s time that changed.

We believe that ensuring stable income for authors will allow us to serve a high quality content for our users in the long run. We need self-reinforcing cycles of quality, not a constant downward pressure on the quality of journalism.

What kinds of people are you hoping to meet more in the coming year? What kinds of other companies do you hope to partner with?

Tadas:  I would love to meet with the guys from Medium. They are doing lots of relevant work in this field by ensuring that high-quality content reaches high quality readers. Furthermore, I would love to hear what Executives from Reuters, CNN and BBC think about current developments in the publishing field. How are they thinking to fight this ever increasing reliance on Google and Facebook.

It will also be important to establish relationships with charitable organizations that support quality journalism. Many governments also fund independent media, and we need to seek out ways in which we  can help those efforts to be more successful.

Ernest: I’m hoping we manage to form partnerships with media houses and content creators. The media industry is going through some challenging times and it is key to success to Feedpresso that publishers are able to ‘afford’ to produce quality in-depth journalism. I’d like to meet Tomáš Bella who started Piano, formerly a nation-wide paywall system in Slovakia. Piano did some real pioneering work in Slovakia: they ‘taught’ Slovak readers to pay for quality content and helped publishers stay more independent. Tomáš Bella knows the ins and outs of paywalled content and keeps experimenting and developing new solutions for subscriber-based publishers.

Can you talk about your experience at StartupYard so far? Which of the mentors have had the most impact on you as individuals, or as a company, and how so?

Tadas:  It’s been a great experience. And very tiring! There’s lots of things to do. Now not only do we have to do lots of coding, but we need to study our users much more (that’s something we should have done a long time ago), work on our wording — how we sell ourselves to our potential readers.

We got lots of great feedback from mentors but it’s hard to pick the best. We loved how Constantine Kinsky [the Czech-French Banker and Investor] explained word of mouth marketing, it’s been really useful to sit down with (StartupYard Management team member) Gustavo Vizcardo, and think really deeply about the problem we are solving.

We got lots of great ideas for marketing from [Merrybubbles Founder] Liva Judic and Darko Silajdzic.

Ernest: I like to say that StartupYard is the best thing that could have happened to Feedpresso. I don’t think any other form of investment would’ve given us more value than the input and feedback we’ve been getting here.

bBeing here made us think very hard about the core problem that we’re solving and the values that are important in solving it.

For me personally, interviews with Vojta Roček and Michal Čarný were quite eye-opening and helped me think differently about our target audience: do we provide more value to people who want to read as much as possible or to those that try to read as little as possible?


Ouibring, Startupyard

Exclusive Interview: Ouibring: Bringing a Bit of Happiness from Anywhere to Anywhere

Ouibring isn’t a typical StartupYard startup, and Joel Gordon isn’t a typical StartupYard founder. In a year dominated by deep tech companies, Joel, with Cofounder and fellow Australian Andrew Crosio, are trying to change the way we think about online shopping- one trip at a time.

Ouibring is an e-commerce and sharing economy platform, for shoppers who want access to international products and prices, and travelers who want to make extra money. How does that work? Ouibring gives shoppers the chance to make requests that travelers can fulfil during their trips, helping them make a bit of extra money, and bring a little joy into a stranger’s life.

Ouibring has already garnered nearly 40,000 Likes on Facebook since late last year, making it one of the most instantly popular startup ideas that StartupYard has ever accelerated.

I sat down with Co-Founder and CEO Joel Gordon to talk about his vision for OuiBring, and why he thinks the world is ready for a new way of shopping:

Startupyard, Joel Gordon, Ouibring

Hi Joel, tell us a little more about Ouibring. Where did you get the idea?

 The idea for Ouibring came from experiences gained living and working abroad for the last 15 years. The fun and excitement when a special package delivered by a friend arrives is the inspiration for Ouibring’s tagline – “Bring a little happiness”.

As any expatriate knows, living abroad can give you a special appreciation for things that those at home just take for granted. You look forward to that time when a friend will bring a special something you’ve requested from your home. That’s a magical feeling, as if you’re the only person in the world that has what you have. We wanted to capture that feeling, and make it something anyone could enjoy. A special moment of joy only for them; an experience no one else is having.

At the same time, we can give others the chance to make a bit of money, and reduce waste by sharing their spare luggage capacity.

One story I really like is how even a small, generic item that is plentiful in one location can provide a whole lot of pleasure and luxury when it appears in an unexpected context. When a Ouibringer arrived with three massive bags of Monster Munch Pickled Onion and delivered them to a travel blogger living in Bangkok. They really made her day.

Cool! Check out @Ouibring, the startup that helps you get anything you want, from anywhere in the… Click To Tweet

The fun of getting a previously impossible to obtain snack from home delivered to the other side of the world is a great demonstration of our values in action.

What about the team you’ve put together makes you confident you can grow Ouibring as a global business?

We have a great team of people who are passionate and excited about making Ouibring a success. For us it’s the ability to focus on what matters most, avoid bullshit and listen to our customers every day that is key.

Startupyard, Ouibring, Andrew Crosio, Joel Gordon

Joel with Cofounder Andrew Crosio

We share a belief that the sharing economy needs to focus on making things easy for customers and making sure that the participants reap the majority of the rewards. We’re making sure Ouibring is easy, fun and safe to use while at the same time only charging fees for real value add services. We’re customers ourselves, and our experience buying and bringing, as well as hearing what our other customers have to say, helps keep us grounded.

Let’s talk a bit about the economics of Ouibring. How do you think you’ll make money? What will be the main attractors for buyers and “bringers?” Why would people choose it over more traditional channels?

One of the key challenges in making this kind of system work is establishing trust. We want to offer that by creating a safe system that ensures delivery, as well as payment, for each transaction.

We’re going to keep it simple and charge a small fee to cover the cost of managing payment transactions. Because our bringers are doing the leg work we’ll always make sure that they get the lion’s share of the rewards.

When we survey our customers that live abroad they all answer that they have asked friends and family to bring products for them. Ouibring is as an extension of this network, and connects shoppers with travellers all over the world who are willing and able to help source speciality items. The cool thing is that whether somebody is an adventurous traveller who likes the idea of meeting interesting new people, a frequent business traveller with luggage capacity to spare, or a long term expat who just wants a reliable supply of favorite comfort items from home, Ouibring can help connect and make these people happier!

Ouibring, StartupYardThe real attraction for our shoppers when they decide to use Ouibring is that they are able get the exact product they’re looking for, rather than settling for a substitute (not to mention a possible fake) from Amazon, or waiting until next year when their friends are next coming to visit. Our shoppers choose Ouibring because we offer the best, most reliable and effective way of getting exactly what they want, no matter where they are in the world.

Think about any great trip you’ve had somewhere far away. I bet there was something you enjoyed there that you just haven’t ever been able to find again. That’s a Ouibring kind of thing.

Our bringers are up for making extra money in a fun new way, enjoy learning about new products and places to explore, and we often get feedback from both people about how they enjoyed meeting each to exchange goods too!

When talking about a sharing economy platform, security is always a big concern. How has your thinking evolved since you joined StartupYard on how to build trust with your users?

The challenges of ensuring that the platform is used safely and for its intended purposes are daunting if you consider every possible bad thing that can happen. We are doing everything we can to make sure we are up to those challenges: having the appropriate contingency plans in place, verifying users and identifying bad actors, is something every sharing platform must face.

But it’s all about people. It’s all about building trust with our customers. We work hard to show people that we take each bring seriously and are there to help out if needed. This starts with taking care of people’s onboarding when they start using the site, guiding them through the process of signing up and creating their first request, through to connecting them with a reliable and trust-worthy traveller who will bring them what they’ve requested.

Since joining StartupYard we’ve learned a lot about how to use word of mouth marketing channels more effectively, and we’re also focusing on clear and simple testimonials to help show potential customers that other people just like them are already using Ouibring to import a little bit of happiness from anywhere in the world.

Where do you hope Ouibring will be in a year, and how are you going to get there?

Our focus right now is to get to 10K customers in BKK and by this time next year we will be expanding into other cities in Asia and Europe.

Long term, what’s your hope for Ouibring 5 years from now?

Longer term we are super excited about the future and where Ouibring will be. The combination of increasing bespoke and localised manufacturing with more and more sophisticated consumers that travel more often will create the perfect setting for a dynamic, scalable and agile global supply chain.

The inefficiency of all the wasted capacity when people travel with empty bags, suitcases and car boots is crying out for a better approach and we see Ouibring as being part of the solution by connecting this underutilised resource with demand.

People all over the world right now ask for, buy and bring things for friends and family when they travel, and with Ouibring at the end of the day we’re working hard to make this kind of personal, reliable and trusted shopping and delivery service something that everybody can use to get exactly what they want and bring a little happiness.

You joined StartupYard in November. What prompted you to seek out an accelerator, and has the experience fit with your expectations?

We want to make Ouibring a success and the decision to join an accelerator was motivated by being humble and willing to throw ourselves into an unfamiliar environment to maximise our chances of growing our business. We had very high expectations coming into the program and have really been impressed with the variety and calibre of the mentors, alumni and people we’ve met through the program.

Which mentors, advisors, or investors have most surprised you during acceleration? What were you not prepared for?

Petr Ocasek, Daniel Hastik, Ondrej Bartos and Jan Urban. I really liked the advice about taking responsibility for the conversation and making sure that you get as much out of it as possible. Ask questions and listen more.

How would you say your team’s outlook has changed since you joined StartupYard?

Startups have to make do with limited resources and we’re very mindful of where our energy is being spent. We try even harder now to make sure we get a good return on it! We also have a clearer idea of the runway we’ll need to make this business a success and are even more excited about the future than before.

Mike Butcher, StartupYard

StartupYard DemoDay 2017 Set For Feb 22, Keynote from TechCrunch’s Mike Butcher

StartupYard has now announced Batch 7, including 7 Startups from 5 countries. Learn more about the startups right here. 

The StartupYard team, and our seven 2017 startups are pleased to announce our next Demo Day, which will take place February 22nd, 2017, at Kino Svetozor, in Prague. There, at 6:30pm local time, 7 startups will pitch to the public for the first time.

Joining us will be the legendary Mike Butcher, Editor-at-Large for TechCrunch, the tech industry’s leading news source, and organizer of the popular TechCrunch: Disrupt conference.

And if you have a second, please Tweet about it!

Looking forward to hearing @mikebutcher @startupyard for DemoDay2017! Tickets on Sale:… Click To Tweet

Keynote Remarks from TechCrunch Editor Mike Butcher

Mike Butcher MBE is Editor-at-large of TechCrunch. He has been named one of the most influential people in tech by The Daily Telegraph, The Evening Standard and The Independent newspapers. Mike has written for UK national newspapers and magazines. He has been named one of top 100 most influential people in European technology by Wired UK for 5 years running . He has spoken at the Monaco Media Forum, Le Web, Web Summit, DLD and the World Economic Forum, where he is a ‘Media Leader’. Mike is a regular broadcaster, appearing on BBC News, Sky News, CNBC, Channel 4 and Bloomberg. He has also advised the UK Prime Minister and the Mayor of London on tech startup policy. He is the co-founder of (which creates spaces globally for tech entrepreneurs); (which lobbies for UK startups);, the annual European Tech Startup Conference & Awards; and the non-profit,, a community of refugee-focused NGOs and tech innovators. Mike’s personal blog is, while he Twitters at @mikebutcher.

DemoDay Program:

6:00 pm: registration & networking
6:30 pm: event starts
8:30 pm: refreshments & networking

Note: Guests will have ample opportunities for networking with StartupYard’s community of investors, startups, mentors and sponsors before and after the event. 

About the Venue:

Kino Svetozor is a premiere art cinema opened in 2004, in one of Prague’s liveliest passages. It’s an art-house cinema, the first of its kind in Prague.

The cinema has a long history. The first screening took place at the beginning of 1918. A few years later, Svetozor changed into a cabaret. It returned to its original purpose in 1957, when it was rebuilt into a panoramic cinema. In 1968, the famous Kino automat, first introduced at the Montreal World’s Fair, Expo ‘67, was moved here for a year and a half.

Now, nearly 100 years after its first screening, Svetozor is a name brand in the heart of Prague, hosting film premiers, arthouse pictures, foreign films, conferences, and tech events.



This event is made possible through the kind support of the following sponsors:




Microsoft logo 2012

An exit is not a vision

An Exit is Not a Vision

I attended a pitching competition this weekend, as I do many times each year. This one was not unlike many others.

Most of the pitches were very interesting, and I liked many of the ideas. But I noticed something I didn’t like. Aside from the usual little foibles like “we’re the Uber of X” (probably not), and “$400 Billion Market!” (kind of not really), I heard, several times, detailed digressions into exit strategies.

Ok, there’s nothing inherently wrong with thinking about an exit strategy. But I do find something offputting about a company that is trying to raise seed-level investment, talking about selling out within a couple of years. Exit strategy is not part of our program at StartupYard, because an exit is a natural extension of success- it doesn’t need to be the focus.

An Exit is Not a Vision

an exit is not a vision

We like to ask people what they hope their company will be doing in five years. That’s not because we think they really know what will happen in that time (they never do), but because we want to know the scope of their vision for the future.

You should know where you want to be in five years, because if the answer is “doing something else,” then building a startup might not be the best path. This isn’t Wall Street- there are no golden parachutes at early-stage startups.

Which would you rather hear? “I need $300K to build a great company that’s going to be changing the way people do X in five years–” or, “I need it to build a company that’s going to be bought by Google 18 months from now?”

One of those two is a vision. The other is at best a strategy (and at worst a delusion). Again, I’m sure it would be great if a startup could promise it definitely would sell to Google in 18 months, but if that’s your vision, and it doesn’t work (because it probably won’t), what then? If your greatest hope is to cash in a lottery ticket, then what kind of a sales pitch is that?

As Frédéric Mazzella, founder of BlaBlaCar, recently said in his comments for The State of European Tech, by Atomic Ventures, “Growth isn’t like an elevator, it’s like building a set of stairs.” Meaning, every step on the path towards growing a large company has to be taken individually. There is no straight line to the top.

Founders Focusing on Ambition, Not Passion

This is indeed something I’ve been taking more note of recently. It seems to me that I am hearing more about startup founders’ ambitions, and less about their actual passions. I’m getting a pitch about a person, instead of about the idea they care about. The cliche of “make the world a better place,” is at least a nod to social responsibility and building a sustainable business.

But this focus on exits, which I’m sure some startups do in their pitches, seems to me to be crass and opportunistic.  Even more perversely, I’ve actually heard this phrase more than once: “I have a passion for growth.” Which uses the words that founders know we want to hear, but is pretty twisted when you think about it.

Maybe this will sound incredibly touchy-feely, but I don’t think the best and brightest would be in the tech business if it was just about the money. Why we have to tell ourselves that it is, in fact, all about money is a mystery to me.

The sad part, at least for me, about such pitches is that they completely alienate me, and I suspect many other investors, and betray a focus on money that is unhealthy for an early stage company, still trying to find product/market fit.

As we say, “If it was easy, everyone would do it.” And yet I notice founders trying to make their paths toward profitability seem easy. A breezy growth spurt, followed by an acquisition, champagne raining from the sky. I suspect though, that this is a combination of self-deception and poseur behavior. Sound like you believe it, the reasoning goes, and the audience will think you have it covered.

But at the end of the day, if it’s something Google is going to buy for a cool $100 Million, they’ll be buying it because doing it themselves is hard. The value is in the difficulty of the work, along with the opportunity it represents. And yet I hear “$100 Billion market,” far more often than I hear: “here’s how we can do what nobody else can do.”

As I sometimes say to startups: “Do you want to be something- or do you want to do something?Being a hyper-growth startup in a huge market is an ambition. Doing the best work you can, no matter what business you’re in, is a passion.

Ambition Isn’t Enough

an exit is not a vision

Of course, at StartupYard we talk to a lot of startup founders, and many, even most, will never realize their ambitions. That’s not a bad thing. Ambition is important, but it can’t be everything. Sometimes people fail because they aren’t smart enough, or don’t care enough, or don’t have the timing right. But sometimes it’s because their ambitions are far too great for their actual passion.

We’ve seen that first hand, and the end is always the same. The founder who is all ambition does just enough to satisfy the ego, and never enough to really drive the company forward in a meaningful way. Progress, according to ambition, is to be seen as a winner. Passion is for winning- for being the best, even if no one knows it yet.

Ambition is important. You must have it if you want to try to do things no one else has tried. Ambition drives people to succeed. But naked ambition leads nowhere. It must be paired with a strong passion to do good work.

These are hard lessons that must be learned. Still, I wish that as accelerators, incubators, investors, and mentors, we would be more clear on what we value most- which is passionate founders who are ambitious in a healthy way.

We like ambition. But ambition is not ever enough. Ambition doesn’t drive you to do the right thing for your fellow man. It doesn’t make you unique, or creative, or better than anyone else.

Passion is the thing that can’t be taught. You can develop someone’s ambition, and we often do just that. But we cannot develop their passion. As investors, it’s always tempting for us to be sold on a founder’s ambition. But in the end, passion always wins, and our best startups are the ones doing things that only they can do best. Why? Because they love it. Because they couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

And if they make boatloads of money from it, I can virtually guarantee, it will be a side effect of that passion, not a result of their ambitions.

Either you have passion for something, or you don’t. If you’re thinking of starting a business, I can only encourage you: do something you really care about, even if that something isn’t sexy, or isn’t going to make you very rich. If you’re really good at it, then it will make you rich enough.

Neuron Soundware, StartupYard, Startup Roku

Exclusive Interview: Neuron Soundware Wins Yet Another Award

Neuron Soundware: Winning Awards and Customers

Since leaving StartupYard in this year, Neuron Soundware has made “soundwaves” in the startup community in Europe, winning multiple awards, including Vodafone’s Idea of the Year, and now, this week, Ceska Sporitelna’s Startup of the Year.

The company has come a long way in a year– from a small team that was able to demonstrate, at SY Demo Day 2016, a machine learning algorithm that could learn to mimic a human actor, to a company that provides machine learning diagnostic software to large equipment operators. They’ve received considerable press coverage. Already, they count both Siemens and Deutsche Bahn among their customers. 

I caught up with Pavel Konecny, Co-Founder and CEO of Neuron Soundware, to talk about what the team has been through since leaving StartupYard, and where they’re going in the near future:

Hi Pavel, a lot has happened for Neuron Soundware since you left StartupYard. Can you tell us what you’ve been up to since the program?

Pavel Konecny, of NeuronSoundware, talks about machine learning and sound.

Pavel Konecny, of NeuronSoundware, talks about machine learning and sound.

We were very busy of course. We have presented Neuron Soundware at international startup and advance engineering conferences in US, UK, Germany and Czech Republic. We got a lot of contacts, which we are going to leverage. We are also proud that we found our first paying customers including companies such as Siemens and Deutsche Bahn.

What are you providing for those new customers?

We provide sound analytics algorithms as a service – an early warning of the coming mechanical issues of machines such as wind turbines, escalators, etc.

Towards the end of StartupYard 2016, your team decided to focus on diagnosing mechanical issues for machinery. Can you tell us a bit more about how this works?

Neuron Soundware - StartupYard Alumni

Complex machinery with moving parts always has multiple points of potential failure. There are basically two ways to solve that issue: either you wait until something breaks, or you proactively monitor the parts you know are likely to break, and fix them before they do.

Waiting for a failure can be expensive, and even dangerous. We can’t wait for an airplane engine to just stop working. You can’t have a printing press suddenly fail an hour before the trucks arrive. The loss in business alone makes it a major vulnerability.

Why can’t humans do this kind of work? Why is a machine more effective?

I’ll give you a real world example: just google “failed wind turbine”. You would find scores of different pictures and videos from all over the world. Wind turbines are giant and very fast moving machines. If the blade breaks a part in the full speed, you can find the pieces miles away and this can be quite dangerous. Preventing these events is a huge challenge.

Currently they do exhaustive physical checks. What we found was that sound, the sound of a machinery operating normally, or machinery nearing a failure, was a very important source of data that was not being employed fully.

Wind Turbine, Neuron Soundware

Photo Courtesy of Kyoto Prefecture, Japan

If you can understand a machine by the sounds it produces, you can reduce the risk of sudden failures, and increase the effectiveness of maintenance, since repairs are directed according to some available data about what’s working and what isn’t.

A machine learning algorithm can learn to connect data points that a human would ignore. A particular sound or a particular frequency may lead to a particular failure at a higher rate. Many of these tasks are above the capability of a human, who has a limited attention span, and limited memory.

There are also practical ways in which a machine is more effective: nobody can listen inside an airplane engine while it’s flying. Nobody can consistently diagnose a mechanical failure based on auditory clues that humans can’t actually detect. You need machines and machine learning for that, and that’s the breakthrough we’ve made.

How does Neuron Soundware learn?

Some issues can be simulated and some just appear time to time and you need to be ready to record them.

Hence we have developed our IoT device equipped with several types of microphones, which we use for the initial data collection. The device is mounted to the machines, continuously listening and transferring audio files to our central server. When we collect enough samples, we use them as an input to our learning algorithm. The machine health monitoring is done using the same IoT device.

You’ve now conducted some pilots as well, how was the experience, and what have you learned that surprised you and your team?

We were surprised several times of the effectiveness of deep learning technology. It works with all type of sounds. If we collect enough samples, we can achieve quality of recognition above 99.5%. And that would get even better as the system would collect more data.

Already, our approach can detect and diagnose mechanical faults that human diagnosticians cannot.

What has been Neuron Soundware’s biggest challenge since leaving StartupYard?

Neuron Soundware, Napad Roku, StartupYard

The Neuron Soundware team wins Vodafon’s Idea of the Year

We are travelling a lot. So the most of the communication happens via Slack and Hangouts. We meet in-person as the whole team only once or twice a week. That’s an intense time, when we need to sort-out a lot of items quickly. It was very refreshing, when (Co-Founder) Filip got married in October and we were all together and not discussing business matters. So we went to (3rd Co-founder) Pavel’s band’s concert last weekend as keeping friendly team spirit is very important to us.  

You recently recommended another deep-tech startup for our program. Why did you recommend StartupYard? What do you think has been the most positive outcome of acceleration for your team?

We would not be where we are now, without StartupYard. We started with a long list of ideas, where to apply AI technology, and we end-up with The idea of the Year (awarded by Vodafone Foundation)- and now Startup of the Year (from Ceska Sporitelna).

So we would like to thank again the many mentors we met during the first month of the program. It also changed our mindset in several ways: how to validate the business potential; how to pitch our product. Rather talk to people than flood them with documentation.

I used to start a meeting by passing out a complicated document, outlining everything I wanted people to know. What I learned along the way is that it’s equally important for people to get to know me and my team as people. Business is about making a personal connection- and that was an important lesson.

You’ve been talking with investors recently. What have you discovered during this process? What are you planning to do with the funds when you raise them?

It takes much longer than anticipated. They all stated how simple it is. It looks nice as starts with an interview, a short two page document. Then you follow with more meetings and committee board presentations, longer documents and the whole process of due diligence.

It is difficult to imagine, even for me, what we could be capable of doing in two or three years with our self-learning AI technology. And how much value and money we can make. We will use the investment to expand our business. With a larger development team, we could quicker complete the self-service sound analytics platform we are working on. That would make our business highly scalable and we could ramp-up our sales team.

Neuron Soundware’s core technology has a lot of interesting applications. Where do you see your team focusing its efforts within the next few years?

We are working on a way to combine effectively the different datasets we are collecting.

That would practically allow us to skip the phase of training as the neural network would be already pre-trained to recognize a wide set of potential issues. This is basically the way a human mind operates: you use past experiences to gain insight on new situations, even if they are very different. A machine can be taught to do the same thing, once given enough data.

The goal then, would be to start shipping a small smart IoT device in large volumes, ready to be used within any machine. Imagine a kind of silent digital mechanic, always sitting and monitoring complex equipment, all the time, and getting better, and better at the job every hour of every day. That’s really the future we are building with Neuron Soundware.

The Startup Myth of “I Don’t Have Enough Time”

In advance of StartupYard Batch 7, we invited finalist 13 startups to join us for a full day of mentoring in Prague at our Startup Day. We do this every year, not only to evaluate and help decide which of the startups we will invite to the accelerator, but also to provide some value to startups that have taken the time and energy to apply, and to engage in the process with us.

What’s notable is that without exception, whether they are accepted to the program or not, when asked whether the day was valuable to them, startups tell us that it was of great value. Founders often go out of their way to let us know they’re grateful for the opportunity, no matter the outcome.

The Startup Myth: Not Having Enough Time

But every year, we invite one or two startups to the accelerator that don’t end up joining us. The number one reason? “We don’t have time for it.”

This reasoning is sometimes a little baffling. Yes, an accelerator takes time, but on the other hand, as we take care to stress, it is an accelerator. The program is about moving faster than a company would normally move on its own. This doesn’t just mean doing more work in a shorter amount of time. It also means doing more important work, and doing it at the right time.



When founders consider StartupYard, they sometimes start to see it as a kind of zero-sum proposition. If you spend 6 hours a day talking to mentors for a month, that’s 6 hours a day you can’t spend coding or selling. But let’s be real here- you aren’t going to code for those full six hours. You’re going to have your daily routine- the one you follow because nobody is telling you to do it differently. The one nobody challenges.

Being challenged on your everyday decisions by people who don’t know your company the way you do is sometimes frustrating, but it is also highly motivating. The time spent meeting with mentors is not wasted time. Just today, one of our founders told Cedric Maloux, StartupYard’s CEO, that every mentoring session so far had led to an actionable item for the team.

We have never had a startup come to us after the program, and say that the mentorship period was a waste. Even when they become frustrated at the constraints it puts on their schedule, in the end, they always see the value that it brings as being far beyond the time invested.

What happens instead, most commonly, is that startups simply work harder and better, accomplishing more meaningful progress in the limited time they have to actually build stuff, because they are responding to a constant flow of feedback and advice from people who bring them new ideas and new perspectives on what they’re doing, and what they aren’t doing.

Creative Destruction


The fact is that startups waste a ton of time on things they don’t need to be doing. It’s a fact of life, and it’s not a failing. Every engineer and creative knows that a huge amount of their work never sees the light of day. It’s not a mistake to waste time, because you need to make mistakes and do things that eventually won’t work out. Risks are necessary.

And yet, there are things that founders just never need to do, and never would do, if they had access to the right mentor at the right moment. We’ve seen countless examples. Startups operating without complete information just do things they don’t need to do, or that are doomed not to work at all. Mentors often know this, and know how to avoid these time wasters.

Is it a waste to talk to someone for an hour if he saves you 50 man hours of wasted effort? How many such meetings would justify one month of mentorship? Not that many, really.

A mentor driven accelerator is set up to save startups from wasting time in ways that truly don’t help them. The hours spent mentoring are usually spent stripping out many of the things that founders are wasting their time on, and prompting them to move faster in areas they are less comfortable with.

If you imagine your daily tasks piling up while you attend mentoring sessions, then consider also that the mentoring sessions are meant to savage those plans, and eliminate most of them anyway. Mentorship is not just about kicking around ideas- it’s about creative destruction.

Time Compression

Startup Myth, StartupYard

The other aspect of acceleration that is frequently overlooked is that of time compression. Acceleration puts startups in a position of having access to processes that usually take weeks or months, and having them happen in days or hours.

A startup on their own may wait a month to get a single meeting with one of our busy mentors. A follow up may be weeks more. But while they’re with us, these meetings happen as soon as they can be practically arranged. Our mentors place our startups higher on their list of priorities, and when they connect startups with other advisors and contacts, that urgency shifts to those contacts as well.

We ensure this happens by only retaining mentors who consistently engage with startups, and keep our startups high on their own priority lists. Try and get a C level executive at a Telco, a Bank, or a major software company to not only respond to a request, but to do you a personal favor. We’ll wait.

The biggest time waster for early stage startups isn’t having meetings. It’s waiting for meetings. And with an accelerator, the waiting is not a major factor. Startups frequently tell us that they accomplish more in 3 months, as a business, than they expected to accomplish in 2 years on their own. That’s the power of acceleration- we save time, we don’t waste it.

StartupYard Batch 7: Visualized

StartupYard is getting ready to welcome 7 startups, with founders from at least 7 countries next week, for the start of StartupYard Batch 7.

As we did before our last round, we find it very useful now to look back on the applications, and see what’s changed this time around. Where are people applying? What are startups working on? What are the hottest buzzwords? Previous experience has shown us that StartupYard applications can be revealing about the key trends to watch for in the next 6-18 months.

Here we’ll give you a visual trip through our applications for this round, with our analysis, and comparisons with previous years.

StartupYard Batch 7: Who’s Applying?

StartupYard Batch 7 will be the first time that StartupYard does two rounds of acceleration in one year. Given that, we expected a lower overall number of applicants. What surprised us in fact was that we had effectively the same number of qualified applications for StartupYard as in the previous two rounds (2015 and 2016).

In the previous two rounds, StartupYard shared an application pool with 5 other accelerators in Central Europe, in which startups could indicate their “first choice,” and “second choice” accelerators. Many startups that applied to StartupYard had begun their applications with another accelerator, sometimes closer to them geographically.

We were not sure whether there would be enough demand for a wide range of qualified applicants to apply, particularly given that this would be our second round in less than a year, and our reach would be reduced as we recruited alone. However, Batch 7 garnered virtually the same number of applications as the previous round did of “first choice” applications for StartupYard.

And the quality of applicants from that pool, again surprising us, only went up. Our selection committee invited around 40 applicants to interview with StartupYard, using the same criteria as in previous rounds. This means that out of the 120+ applications for Batch 7, about 30% were invited for interviews, a significant increase in overall quality from a year ago, in which less than 15% were invited.

Anecdotally, we detected that startups were much clearer on the focus of this round than any previous round, and more applications were within our area of focus than outside it. When comparing with previous years, when some 60% of applications were eliminated right away because they were too far outside our domain, this round, eliminations on those grounds were well below 40%.

This means that more startups seem to understand the acceleration process better, and to apply for programs that fit them- or at least not apply to those that don’t.

Where are Applications Coming From?

Startupyard Batch 7

As you can see, Czechia remains our largest single source of applications. Not surprising as in our experience, our name recognition among startups based here is near total at this point. We also saw a strong backbone of quality among Czech applicants, and a bigger overall interest in our current emphasis on the Data Economy.

Slovakia, somewhat surprisingly, continued to recede into the background, perhaps because of Bratislava’s own burgeoning tech scene giving Slovak startups more reason to stay put for now. 2 years ago, Slovakia generated more applications for StartupYard than did Czechia, today it barely registers.

Here is our pool of applicants, minus Czechia for comparison:

Startupyard Batch 7

Again, the UK and Bulgaria, along with the USA, Hungary, and Russia are among the top sources of applications. We also saw a strong uptick in applicants from Kosovo, Poland, and Ukraine. Hungary also was strongly represented (3 companies from Hungary were finalists for StartupYard Batch 7), and Romania continued to be a strong source of applications as well. 

Perhaps the biggest surprise here is the sudden rise from Bulgaria. It may be the recent success of StartupYard Alum SpeediFly, which is based in Bulgaria and the UK, or the rising appetite among local entrepreneurs for acceleration, but our reception on our visit to Bulgaria, and the application pool demonstrated a growing interest from the country, particularly from Sofia, the capital.

Also of note was the smattering of applications from the near east, with applicants coming from Yemen, Jordan, United Arab Emerites, and Azerbaijan as well. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Baltic states are not heavily represented, possibly because of strong startup scenes already in Estonia, and Lithuania.

What Startups are Interested in

As with last year, the tags startups’ own descriptions, in the aggregate, say some very revealing things about the direction of the whole industry. Using the tags startups provided for themselves, we’re able to visualize the areas that startups are emphasizing in their applications. Keep in mind too, that startups use many different terms- these are those that appear most often.

StartupYard Batch 7There’s a clear emphasis here on Marketing, Data, and Management, along with Analytics, Development, Media, and Mobile.

There’s nothing that surprising in this word cloud, until we take a look at previous application rounds. Here is StartupYard Batch 6, for comparison. Notice what is emphasized in the older group, compared with the most recent one: 

A breakdown of keywords from the previous application round.

A breakdown of keywords from the previous application round.

If you noticed, a few terms have completely fallen off the map. Education, Advertising, and Media have been submerged completely.

Last year, we noted a big uptick in the number of advertising oriented applications, particularly Ad-Tech. This year, that blip disappeared, and was replaced by a re-emphasis on marketing as a whole, particularly on marketing tools that combine machine learning and big data. There seems to be much less appetite for media related ideas, including those in education or advertising.

This shift makes sense, if taken in context with recent moves by the biggest telcos to consolidate content and services into one platform. Verizon recently acquired Yahoo, with its advertising and content business, while AT&T is attempting to merge with Time Warner, putting content delivery and creation under the same roof there as well.

The jury is out  on whether that trend is good for consumers, however it is definitely real. If that trend continues, it means that a relatively fewer sources of content online will be increasingly bundled directly with broadband and wireless services- a trend that is probably not good for startups that work with 3rd party advertising or content creators. If fewer companies are competing with each other for audiences, instead bundling their services together and focusing on subscription businesses, that bodes poorly for the future of 3rd party content and advertising-based business models. 

At the same time, major tech incumbents are all pushing hard for advancements in consumer facing AI, and AI enabled technologies. Facebook has made a strong bet on VR, and Apple, Amazon, and Google have all bet heavily on the future of machine learning to bring advancements in their services. Magic Leap has also garnered increasing attention as it showcases how AR can transform our understanding of the role of computers in daily life. All this means a much bigger industry focus on Big Data, which is needed now more than ever to allow useful AI and AR/VR products to reach consumers.

Social remains a strong keyword, but anecdotally, we’ve seen that it now focuses on the big data implications of social media, including marketing and services, like chatbots, AI plugins, machine learning, and other tools to leverage data. 

What Startups are Working On

StartupYard Batch 7

Here is an overview of the words most used in candidate startups’ own descriptions of what they do.

This chart looks very similar to previous years, however it is much broader and less specific. Few terms, other than the obvious ones like Business, Platform, Data, Manage, and App, are given special emphasis. This is somewhat different from last year, in which terms like Marketplace, People, and Mobile were big standouts along with the most common tech terms like Platform and Data.

Is the way startups are describing themselves changing? Is there less emphasis now on mobile, or has it simply become an assumption that all products have mobile implications? Mobile may be taking its place alongside other words that are now seen as redundant- it may be shifting from an emphasis, to a more broad category that is easily understood, and thus little mentioned.