Czech Out the Tech Scene: Our SlideShare on Startups in the Czech Republic

More and more often these days, StartupYard gets similar questions. What’s going on in the Czech Republic? Why should startups move there? What’s unique about Prague, about the Czechs, and about the current ecosystem? What about investors? Can a startup get funded in the Czech Republic?

Well, we’ve taken it upon ourselves to answer those questions, and a few more. So here is our slideshare: “Czech Out the Tech Scene,” a brief guide to the Czech Startup Ecosystem.

This is a work in progress. Think we missed something? Got something terribly wrong? Great! Let us know by tweeting @startupyard, and we’ll make it right.

StartupYard Partner SendGrid Talks Startups, StartupYard, and Central Europe

Last month, StartupYard was treated with an enlightening visit and a full day workshop from Martyn Davies, leader of EMEA Community Development for SendGrid.

For those not yet in the know, SendGrid, based in Colorado with offices worldwide, is a nifty cloud-based email platform that allows startups as well as large companies to handle large volumes of user-interaction emails, as well as automated messages, marketing emails and more.

Anna Bofil Bert with fellow StartupYard partner Softlayer's Michael Donoghue

Anna Bofil Bert from Sendgrid, with fellow StartupYard partner Softlayer’s Michael Donoghue

About SendGrid


SendGrid helps companies of any size to ensure that their emails are timely delivered, and that their customer communications meet industry best practices. According to Martin, SendGrid now handles a hefty percentage of total email traffic, worldwide. Strong odds are that you’ve already used SendGrid extensively, even if you don’t know it.

And SendGrid is known for taking pains to help the developer community and support startups.

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Martyn’s StartupYard workshop focused on customer retention and communication best practices using SendGrid products

I met Martyn and his colleague, Development Community Manager Anna Bofill Bert, at LeWeb, in Paris last year. I was struck immediately by how dedicated their team is to educating and working directly with startups.

Not only has SendGrid offered StartupYard’s current startups and alumni a generous package of free services, but they have also offered personalized, in-depth support and mentoring for all of our members.

Martyn’s full day workshop was a tremendous help, not only to our teams, but to the StartupYard team as well. I caught up with him afterward to get his thoughts on mentoring startups, and about his experiences with Central Europe. 

SendGrid has a unique relationship with accelerators and the startup ecosystem, why do you spend so much time working with startups?

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Martyn: We were once a startup ourselves, and even through we’ve grown beyond that point now we’ve experienced a lot of the challenges that face early stage companies, so there’s a lot of advice to be shared.

We’re in a unique position to be super supportive of these great companies at a time when they need the most help, and we’re there to help them out, not just with SendGrid credit (which is a given!), but access to our network and teams of experts.

Anything we can do to help them get to the next level, we’ll do it and we encompass all that support in a program that we call SendGrid Accelerate.

What do you see as some of the biggest early pitfalls when it comes to global SaaS startups, and their community building and marketing efforts?

 Not allowing people to experience your platform, for free, quickly, and easily will be the make or break. You have to create an experience, particularly for developers that allows them to experiment in a low barrier situation, keeping that time to ‘Hello, World’ as short as possible.

There are a number of ways you can do this and it doesn’t always have to be sending a Developer Evangelist to a hackathon.

Publishing regular technical content on your blog, being very active on Stack Overflow, creating hacks that mash up your service with other great services and then telling that company about it – these are all stay at home ways to increase awareness and get people talking about what you’re doing.

As for community, you don’t have to build one from scratch if you don’t want to. Just get out there and be supportive of interesting community efforts or meetups.

If there isn’t much community in your locale, then start a meetup/group/hacking evening (anything!) and say it’s powered by your company. Watch out though, community isn’t community if you aren’t supportive, so don’t see any meetup you organise as a straight up sales pitching evening.

Several of our startups noted that you had opened their eyes to problems they didn’t know they had. Did any of our startups surprise you in turn?

We were really impressed with the SaaS concepts we were shown and just how far down the line the teams were in terms of product and traction. I’ve signed up for Testomato to use personally and we’ll be keeping a close eye on the other teams around demo day and afterwards.

 SendGrid pays a lot of attention to emerging players and markets, including the CEE. What do you see as the region’s biggest unique opportunities and strengths?

CEE is a gold mine for technical talent in my opinion. You’ve got a large amount of talented developers who came up through the outsourcing companies many larger, well known companies have used over the years. Now they’re out working on their own ideas and the technical aspects are top notch.

Likewise, what are, from your perspective, the biggest challenges that startups from this region face? What kind of help do they need most?

Breaking out of the mindset of being a CEE company is key. If you’re creating a product that works everywhere, then you’re a global company and you need to think that way. Your developer marketing, and some community efforts need to reflect that.

Introductions to people in different cities who can help out, desk space for a team member, anything that gets them out to new places when they feel they need it. That’s something we try to help with at SendGrid, we even have a desk for visiting startups to use when they’re in town at our office in London!

From Slush to LeWeb, 6 Things to Remember When You’re Pitching Anyone, Anywhere

I’ve been hearing a lot of pitches lately. Aside from last week’s Open House at StartupYard, where we welcomed 8 pitches from local startups, I’ve heard dozens more in the past few months. last week, I was at LeWeb, the French startup conference, and it seems that pitching is the new black.

Some have been elevator pitches, some casual and conversation, some long and more formal, in conference rooms, at booths, on-stage, and on the bus or in a taxi. Interestingly, an elevator seems like the only place I haven’t heard a pitch this season. But nevermind- all of this pitching has drawn a few little details to my attention, and as a frequent pitchee, but a non-entrepreneur, I’ve noticed a handful of things that I wished pitchers did a bit more often when talking to me, or a group I am a part of.

Some of them seem easy, but aren’t, and others seem complicated, but are actually easy to do.

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What is your Startup called again?

Wow, you would’ve thought this was obvious enough. But it is not. I would say that over 50% of the startups that pitch me mention the name of their company no more than once. And since I deal almost exclusively with non-native English speakers, they do so with an accent that ranges from the highly intelligible, to the marginally understandable. This isn’t as big of a problem when we’re both standing in front of a conference booth plastered with the name of the startup, and the founder I’m talking to is wearing a company t-shirt (which is a better idea than you probably think, btw), but I can’t tell you how many frustrating minutes I’ve spent pouring over a stack of business cards (I easily come home with 50 of them in a week), trying to match the company name on the card with the face of the founder in my memory. This happens because the founder didn’t say the name of his company often enough.

Adding to that, startup names can be fairly arbitrary, and can have weird or unexpected spellings. That’s fine, but if your accent isn’t perfect, or you’re not using any visual aids to pitch your startup, go ahead and repeat the name 2-3 times a minute. In fact, every time you would normally say “we,” or “our,” go ahead and try to say the name of your startup. It often works really well. Words to avoid are “our company,” “our startup,” and “our team.” Always say the name of the company, or “The X Company team.”

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Say My Name

Oh, go ahead and laugh. But as I’ve written before on this blog, a person’s name is the sweetest sound they will ever hear from another human being. If I’m at a conference, I’m wearing a nametag. And if I hand you a business card, my name is written on it. If you pitch me, I will always hand you a business card, and a lot of investors and most accelerator folk will do the same. So use my name when speaking to me.

I think this makes people feel uncomfortable- that is, saying another person’s name in conversation, instead of just saying: “you.” But believe me, even though I know it’s a sales tactic, it still works. Why? If for no other reason, because you took the time to learn my name. That will make me instantly like you, and instantly appreciative of your attention. It works, so do it.

Acknowledge your Challenges and Be Interested in Feedback

I’m a startup mentor, and I’m an angel investor. That doesn’t make me an expert in what you do, but it makes me someone who’s worth listening to- if only because I have the tendency, when I’m really impressed, to give people money. And I think it’s safe to say that I would only give money to someone who seemed interested in hearing what I have to say. You don’t have to agree with my feedback, and you don’t have to pretend that I’m an expert when I’m not, but you do have to be genuinely interested in what I have to say about your ideas. Why? Because I’m in a position to help make your ideas realities. A lot of the people you talk to will have opinions- they may be wrong, but it’s your opportunity to impress them by showing that you’ve thought about the problems already.

I also notice a tendency among very polished pitches, the kind that win pitching competitions, to do away with an acknowledgement of challenges that a company may face. I think this is can be a big mistake. In the case of LeWeb, for example, I was frustrated with the winning pitch, by a company called JukeDeck, because it completely ignored the enormous technical challenges associated with the product, which generates music automatically for videos and websites. When asked about these challenges, the founder avoided the question, and talked about his experience with music theory, and machine learning, as a competitive advantage. But this is a considerable risk. The founder was refusing to acknowledge a huge challenge, and having spoken afterward to a few people who viewed the presentation, I can say that this did not go unnoticed. You need to acknowledge and address doubts that you expect to be raised. Not ignore them.

I don’t know about all investors or accelerators, but we at StartupYard are not going to fall over dead if you politely argue your case with us. We are interested in the process of discovering what you know, what we know, and how we can work together to make your product a success. That, more often than not, involves a little spirited debate. If the person you’re pitching raises an objection, show that you understand the objection, and appreciate the thinking behind it, then attempt to politely rebut it. If you don’t understand the feedback, ask for clarification. Very often, founders dismiss feedback by saying they don’t understand it, or they respond to feedback in a way that shows they don’t understand. Don’t put yourself in this position- ask for clarification, and demonstrate that you understand the objection. You don’t have to have an answer, but you do have to acknowledge the feedback.


Consider that I may have something of value to teach you

I’ll give you an example: just recently at LeWeb, the Paris startup conference, I spoke to Alban Margaine, a co-founder from a startup called Braineet. He gave me quite a good pitch for their startup, which is an “idea engine,” of sorts for connecting retail brands with customers who have interesting creative or marketing ideas. I raised a few objections, and he handled the interaction beautifully: he showed that he understood those questions, and countered by showing me some data which supported his argument. He didn’t tell me I was wrong, he simply showed me a reason why my assumptions might be inaccurate. But then he did something that almost no startup co-founder ever does: he asked me about my own experiences, to see why I had drawn the conclusions that I did.

I think that pitching becomes an adversarial, game-like exercise for many of us. We begin to forget that it carries with it an opportunity to learn and profit in ways that we hadn’t expected, but ought to have been ready for. So remember who you’re talking to, and treat them as a resource. They will appreciate your interest, and your thirst for knowledge.

 

Success is the intersection of luck and perseverance.

LeWeb speakers Peter Pham and Jeff Bonforte touched on this during their talk this week at the conference. Bonforte relayed a story in which he had been working on selling a company for several months. Deals had fallen through, term sheets had been drawn up and abandoned, and the situation oscillated between hopeful and miserable. Then his electric car ran out of energy while it was near the Google headquarters in Mountain View. Google had not been part of the conversation about this company up to this point, though he had known people there. Events transpired, and Google ended up buying the company he had been trying to sell less than 12 hours later.

Benforte doesn’t attribute this turn of events to luck, nor to his own industry. Instead, he simply states that his perseverance, playing out over months of hard work, finally met with a lucky outcome. He had been plugging away at selling this company for a long time, and he would have continued. At the same time, he had been honing the sales pitch he had used for potential purchasers, and he had raised a lot of awareness of the deal in the offing. By the time it happened, his luck simply caught up with his hard work. Had he not worked hard, it’s unlikely he would have been prepared to make a deal in just 12 hours- but had he not been lucky, he would not have made the deal that day. Still- he probably would have found luck another day.

A lot of founders get burned out on pitching. They can’t be blamed for this- it’s thankless, emotionally exhausting, and harder work than it seems. But you shouldn’t let yourself forget this: every time you pitch, every time you talk to an investor or a partner, that could be the moment you write about in your own autobiography. Every pitch you do could be the one that gets you where you want to be. It isn’t plain luck, and it isn’t all hard work: it’s being prepared when the two meet that counts the most.

 

Know what you want to accomplish and control the conversation

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A panel can be a cruel mistress. Make sure they ask the questions you want them to.

When you pitch, you have to have a goal in mind. And that goal has to fit the venue in which you’re pitching. State that goal, in your pitch, very clearly, before finishing. If the person or group you’re pitching to has to ask you what you want, then you have not used your pitching opportunity to accomplish much. Worse, by not stating your specific goals and challenges, you don’t control the conversation about moving forward, and leave yourself open to being picked apart on one of a million details.

I witnessed a pitch at LeWeb for example, going horribly wrong. The startup was a “suggestion box,” app for large companies. The founder had been vague and unclear about what the unique competitive advantage of the startup was (since the technology was not new in itself), and the panel really wanted to know. Worse, the founder didn’t make it clear what the company was trying to accomplish by pitching. When asked whether they were looking for investment, and if so, what for, the founder didn’t have a good answer.

It struck me that if the founder had simply stated that he wasn’t sure what his advantage was, he would have elicited advice rather than criticism. But instead, he reached a bit too far, and started talk about how his company was “reinventing email.” Red flags rose, and the panel had nothing but more challenging questions about the company’s strategy. That’s where things went downhill. The founder and panel began vehemently arguing about whether the idea was innovative or not. The founder lost control of the message, and began desperately trying to list ways in which his product was unique- none of which sounded unique at all, given that he appeared so defensive. The crowd turned sour as well.

This problem is, I think, the most common cause of a pitching disaster, particularly on stage, when a pitching session includes a panel, which they do at many conferences. The pitch seems to go fine, but it becomes clear when the panel begins to ask questions, that the founder has not made clear what they want to accomplish by pitching. Raise awareness? Money? Recruit partners or employees? If the panel doesn’t know the answer, they don’t know what about the pitch was important, and they will simply target the weakest aspects of your pitch, bringing up things you aren’t necessarily willing or able to talk about. The point of focus will be the value proposition that the company is making, and that proposition may be difficult to support in a 5 minute pitch. In some cases, founders try to backpedal and cover for their weaknesses, in an attempt to head off the objections, making the situation even worse. Instead, acknowledge your challenges, and make them a part of your pitch. This will put you in control of the conversation, and steer it towards positive solutions, rather than highlighting problems you haven’t addressed.

Open-Sourcing StartupYard

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

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

 

Schroedinger’s Startup

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

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

 

Our Mission Goes Beyond our Own Teams

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

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

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

 

How Will This Work?

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

Cedric Maloux: 4 Tips for Targeting Your Elevator Pitch

We’ve gone in-depth in the past  about honing your pitch, crafting a position statement, and talking about your ideas in clear, relatable ways. Today we’re going to talk about what I’ll call the “Targeted Elevator Pitch.”

By the way, 20 Teams signed up in just 3 days this past week, to be a part of our Dec. 4th “Pitch-Off,” as part of the StartupYard-Node5 Accelerator Open House. Out of these, we have room for less than half, but each team will pitch for just 90 seconds, with no slides or other visual aids. If these teams can deliver a perfect Elevator Pitch, then 90 seconds should be easy.

 

Cedric Maloux pitching StartupYard

Cedric Maloux pitching StartupYard

We all know the elevator pitch of course. It’s the 30-second version of your pitch that tries to position your company with an investor, and sell them on the idea, if not the whole investment, within the space of time it takes to get from the ground floor to (hopefully) the penthouse.

You’ll deliver this version of your pitch in so many situations, and so often, that you may lose sight of its real purpose, which is not really to grow awareness of your company or your ideas, but instead to generate interest so your audience will be hungry for more and become your allies in your search for investment, partners, and other opportunities.

The problem is that it’s hard to keep in mind that different people will hear your elevator pitch in very different ways. Some people may be impressed by you and your status as an entrepreneur, while others may be having bad day, have heard too many pitches recently, or are not interested in your idea for the same reasons that others may be. Finding and exploiting the interests of your target are key to your success.

The elevator pitch is about aligning your audience to you, grabbing your audience’s attention in one sentence. How can you bring them to your level? You’ve been living/working/researching your subject for months, even years, and they have not. How can you bridge that gap in one sentence, and make sure they go from not knowing who you are, to being eager to hear what you have to say? The last thing you want to do is start blasting who you are, what you do to someone who is not fully ready to listen.

For this reason, the first sentence of your pitch should not be about you but WHY what you are about to say after is interesting/important/relevant/sensational/worth listening to. Your mission is to grab their interest in less than 5 seconds. Once you put them in that place/time where you know they are truly listening, then you can deliver your pitch efficiently. Otherwise you might as well talk to the wall. Psychology studies can help us here a lot as we’ll see.

So here are 4 keys to targeting your elevator pitch, so you’ll be sure your audience is ready to listen to you.

 

The elevator pitch is also suitable for most Prague escalators.

The elevator pitch is also suitable for most Prague escalators.

 

Create Consistency

People have a general desire to appear consistent in their behaviour. A famous set of experiments has shown that when someone is asked a hypothetical question, such as “would you consider volunteering for X cause?” No matter their initial answer, they are over 25% more likely to agree to volunteer after being asked directly, than those who are not asked the question hypothetically first.

This is commonly known as “foot in the door,” psychology, or the consistency effect. That is, if you ask someone a hypothetical question where the obvious answer is positive, then they are much more likely to answer positively when asked more direct questions.

Think about it: If someone called you and said: “Hi, do you think it’s unfair that telecom companies charge so much for data roaming in Europe?” If you’re like me, you’d say “hell yes, it’s totally unfair, and it makes me crazy.”

Now consider what would happen if someone called you and said simply: “Are you interested in getting the best data roaming rates in Europe?” :Click:

But in the first case, since you’ve already answered once with a yes, you will be much more likely to allow the salesperson who posed this question (and showed some affinity for your feelings along the way), to finish their sales pitch. You might still not buy, but you’ll feel much more inclined to listen attentively. This is the power of the consistency effect, and the building of rapport with your target. Getting a person to answer “yes,” to anything; literally to almost any question, is better than launching into a pitch directly. Saying “this traffic’s crazy… isn’t it?” Is better than nothing, and the more you can show that you share the interests of the target of your pitch; the more specific you can be in eliciting a positive response, the better.

 

Ask a Data Backed Question – Reach out to their logical brain

A fact is worth a 1,000 opinions, and when it comes to pitching, your audience is more likely to be interested in facts than in your opinion (who are you anyway?). For this reason, starting your pitch with strong data as an introduction is a great way to appeal to their intelligence, and make them realize that what you are about to say is big/important. A data backed question is a great way to grab their attention.

“Did you know that the worldwide mobile gaming market is going to be worth $10 Billion in two years, and that 52% of casual gamers are women?”

This has two immediate effects. First it shows your target that you do know how big a market you’re talking about, and it also shows that you may have an insight or an angle on that market that is unexploited, or has hidden potential that you can unlock.

There was a great example of this in the pitch from founder Nikola Todorovic of Warrant.ly, one of our 2014 alumni. He asked: “Did you know that X Billion dollars a year are wasted in unclaimed warrantee payouts, and that most of this money is wasted because consumers lose track of their paperwork?” That’s a very powerful question. There are potentially billions of dollars being left on the table, because the warrantee system is so broken. And that’s a prospect that is always attractive to an investor.

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The Power of Because

Dr. Robert Cialdini writes in his 1984 Best-Seller Influence, the Power of Persuasion, about the power of “because.” Below is a synopsis of his position:

It’s a well-known principle of human behavior that when we ask someone to do us a favor (in our case, listening to our pitch) we will be more successful if we provide a reason. People simply respond better when given reasons to do something.

A famous set of experiments asked grad students to request that riders on the New York subway give up their seats. Students who were tasked with asking for seats for no stated reason, had minimal success, and were even drawn into verbal conflicts with the people they asked. However, when students were allowed to ask for a seat, while giving an innocuous reason for doing so: “I am tired,” “my legs hurt,” riders were overwhelmingly willing to accommodate the them.

The effectiveness of this request-plus-reason is nearly total: Ninety-four percent of people asked in a similar experiment, if someone could skip ahead of them in line for a Xerox machine “because I’m in a rush,” allowed the experimenter to skip the line. Compare this success rate to the results when the request is not justified. Under those circumstances, only 60 percent of those asked complied.

Subsequent experiments further showed that the specific reason was not as important as the specific word “because.” In fact, if the experimenter simply stated that they wished to skip the line “because I need to make copies” (which is not a justifiable reason for skipping the line to a copy machine), 93% of subjects still conceded their place in line.

So give a reason to your audience to listen to you by using the power of because. “Let me tell you about our project because….” Try to use a valid reason but remember that it does not matter as much as you might think. They now have a reason to listen to you.

These are just 3 simple tips. At the end of the day, put yourself in the shoes of the person in front of you. Is what I am saying interesting because I am saying it, or is it because I can justify its interestingness? You surely have been in a conversation where people were talking to you, and you are just day dreaming or nodding along, but not listening. The reason might be that they did not include you in the conversation: they didn’t make it about you. This leads us to our 4th tip.

 

Excluding To Better Include

Another way to include someone in your thinking is to actually exclude the person from something else. “I know you are not the target audience for this, but did you know that….” This intro is very powerful because the recipient mind thinks: “I’m about to learn something new here. I better listen”. We all like to learn new things and grow as smart people, so if you tell a person they don’t know something simply because they have not been looking at it, they are much more likely to listen and decide for themselves. But they have to listen to you in the first place to do that!

Central Europe Accelerator

What Can StartupYard Do For You?

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

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

 

I have an idea, and a Co-Founder.

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

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

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I have an idea, and no Co-Founder.

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

 

I have a prototype.

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

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

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I have a beta version.

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

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

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

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

Node5

 

I have users.

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

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

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

 

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I have paying customers

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

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

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

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

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

Lindsay Taylor of Prague Film and Theater Center

Lindsay Taylor of Prague Film and Theater Center

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

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

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

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

Josef of Senti2 gears up for his monologue exercise.

Josef of Senti2 gears up for his monologue exercise.

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

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

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

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

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

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“The Hang”

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

“The Roll Up”

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

“Balance”

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

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

 

Each founder had to deliver a dramatic monologue.

Each founder had to deliver a dramatic monologue.

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

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

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

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

 

About Lindsay Taylor: 

Taylor

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

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

 

You can Connect with Lindsay and PFTC via:

 

Her Profile On LinkedIn

The PFTC Facebook Page

Facebook Group for PFTC

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Irena Zatloukalova: Keep It Simple (For The Media)

StartupYard Mentor Irena Zatloukalova

StartupYard Mentor Irena Zatloukalova

Wednesday, startup teams from StartupYard spent the morning and most of the afternoon in PR training. PR and internal communications manager Irena Zatloukova,  of Seznam, grilled each of the teams for several hours, walking them through the experience of having to pitch their companies, answering uncomfortable or difficult media questions, and crafting and selling a narrative to the media. Here were some of the takeaways from the session:

Journalists are People Too

Irena Zatloukalova should know something about journalists. As head of PR for Seznam, she deals with all of kinds. The most important highlight of all of her experiences was this: journalists are people too. People know when they’re being treated fairly. They generally know when you’re lying, or when you’re not being completely honest. They know when they’re being used, and they resent it the same as anyone would. They also respond to positive inputs in all of the same ways that other people would: praise, trust, caring, and interest inspire journalists just as they inspire others.

Understanding Conflicting Motivations

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Irena and Cedric kicking off the workshop

Zatloukalova pegged the sometimes tense relations with journalists, especially among entrepreneurs, on the conflicting motivations that publications and their editors, and entrepreneurs have. As an entrepreneur or as a company, there’s a tendency to want to carefully craft a journalist’s take on your activities, and push a specific, self-serving narrative. At the same time, reporters have to justify, to their bosses and their readers, writing about a given company, or a given product. Often the interests of a journalist and a business are not perfectly aligned, and tension arises when a PR manager or a CEO is not able to accept those differences amicably- when the representatives of a company can’t respect the position a reporter is in. PR reps can form the destructive habit of “blacklisting” or cutting off disfavored reporters and publications for not toeing the company line, and they may also be tempted to distort the truth, or to lead journalists on with misleading intimations or false facts. This is a symptom of expectations that would be impossible to meet: that reporters be an apparatus of marketing, rather than a medium and means of communication.

Building a Story

 

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Team Evolso gives a mini press-conference

And to avoid these traps of poorly managed expectations and conflict, Zatloukalova talked about “building a story.” Story building is a way of approaching communication with media, that keeps in mind that media will always form its own conclusions based on the information provided, and the impressions of the journalists themselves. Thus, 3 elements are key to getting media to do what you need it to do, and Zatloukalova suggested that startupers ask themselves these three questions:

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Team Girafa in particular wants some of Seznam’s secret sauce

Is it News?

Is the story actually of interest? Is it something unique? Does it have import for the readers? Just because you want the media to talk about you, doesn’t mean they will. Many young companies can be tempted to see any information they give to the media as an enticing gift, when in fact they offer little of real substance or interest. It has to be news.

What are the Details?

This part is about curiosity. Facts make the story real, and they are the juiciest part of the story. Providing the media with facts makes the story real for them, and gives them something to present to their readers. Without statistics, exact figures, dates or percentages, your story’s context can be unclear. How important is this news to you? To your market? To the reader? To competitors? What do the numbers actually mean? The details lend credibility, and offer the media something they can use to justify their story as important, and meaningful. Without facts, there is no story.

Is This a Trend?

Finally, what does this piece of news say about something bigger than your company? Reporters love to find and tell stories that demonstrate a pattern or an emerging condition in the market, or in society in general, that has not been fully described before. If your product is beating a competitor that was thought unbeatable, this could be part of a new trend. If your users are interested in your product for a novel reason, that too could form the basis of a new and noteworthy change in the way things work. Trends can be small, restricted just to your market, or even to your own company, or they can be big; saying things about society, about your country, about the future, and about technology, art, and the economy.

Not Making Journalists Think

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Zatloukalova also stressed the “Art of the Soundbite,” or the unique framing of a particular narrative your company is pushing, which expresses itself well in just a few words. The object when addressing the media is to speak in terms that are *evocative* without being too specific or conditional. The more a journalist evaluates what you say based on its internal logic, rather than on his or her own biases and experiences, the better of you are. So make these arguments and viewpoints interesting and memorable.

She gave examples like Apple’s “The World’s Thinnest Notebook,” soundbite for the introduction of the Macbook Air, and Cedric Maloux, our director at StartupYard, added his favorite, also from Apple: “1000 Songs in Your Pocket.”

Don’t Describe, Evoke

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All the teams had an opportunity to grill and be grilled. No one was spared in this workshop.

Evocative soundbites are those that make a strong statement, which forms a clear image in the mind of the journalist, which he or she can pass on to a reader. This process is one of positioning, as well as promotion; Zatloukalova gave the example of Seznam itself: pointing out that Seznam doesn’t speak in terms of itself alone, but evokes the images that reporters are familiar with, to contextualize the company: “Seznam: the only company in Europe competing on a level with Google,” or simply “Seznam is the Google of the Czech Republic.” These sorts of statements are strong, can be backed up with facts, and are easily understood and repeated. The simpler a statement is, the greater a chance it has of finding itself repeated and used again. As an editor, Zatloukalova will often take the writing of a marketing copywriter or a fellow PR rep, and remove, to their great frustration, all of the adjectives from the piece. The point in this should be clear enough: what is important is not your opinion by itself, nor how you wish people to see things, but rather statements of fact that can be argued convincingly. You can tell someone that your app is wonderful and innovative, but why should they listen? People listen to surprising and unexpected statements- even statements they don’t necessarily agree with.

One of the CEOs at the workshop voiced a doubt about this strategy. “The Macbook Air wasn’t the thinnest notebook in the world. What happens when your claim is only arguable?” But Zatloukalova pointed out that arguments of that kind aren’t particularly bad, for an established company or for a new one. If the media is arguing over or critiquing your claims, you’re in control of the conversation at a basic level: they are already talking in terms of how you see yourself.

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The Positioning Statement: Finding a Window Into the Mind

After accepting our incoming teams to the StartupYard 2014 accelerator, we sent all of them the same assignment. We asked them to fill in a “positioning statement.” It looks a lot like this.

Product Positioning Statement:

Our Product is

For (target customers):

Who (have the following problem):

Our product is a (describe the product or solution):

That provides (cite the breakthrough capability):

Unlike (reference competition):

Our product/solution (describe the key point of competitive differentiation):

Why A Positioning Statement Is Important

The positioning statement contains the core elements not only of a product, but also of its marketing and sales strategy. And while most of our teams have worked primarily on ways of describing their ideas, a positioning statement does more than this: it also justifies the notion of that idea becoming a business. As I’ve written here in the past, it’s important for a startup to have the concepts of saleability and market differentiation baked into the essence of the product. Writing a positioning statement, like writing a SWOT analysis, can reveal basic strengths and weaknesses in a product while it is still in the “idea” phase.

Even more importantly, a positioning statement is the basis for a lot of the work that will eventually go into making and marketing a product. By identifying the target market *before* developing the product, if possible, startups can save energy and time by focusing more on fulfilling the needs of the market being targeted, and not applying their energies to areas that are of little interest to that market.

And a positioning statement, well-executed, can be transformed virtually complete into the core marketing message for a product, once it is developed. Take this copy from Nest’s webpage. Nest was acquired by Google recently for $3.2 Billion.

“Our mission is to keep people comfortable in their homes while helping them save energy, and with the next-generation Nest Learning Thermostat, we’re able to spread that comfort and savings to even more homes – and to help higher-efficiency systems perform the way they were meant to.”

Here are all the elements of a positioning statement. If the Nest founders filled in our form, it would look something like this:

Our Product is

For: Upper-middle class and wealthy people

Who: Own homes and spend a lot of money on energy costs and heating/cooling systems

Our product is a: Smart Thermostat and related products

That provides: Savings and increased comfort by improving efficiency of existing systems. Unlike: manufacturer provided systems

Our product/solution: Learns and intelligently adapts to the inhabitants to increase comfort at all times, while saving money

Young lovers on the beach looking to buy seagulls? There's an app for that.

Young lovers on the beach looking to buy seagulls? There’s an app for that.

A Positioning Statement Tells the Truth

The above “translation” of the Nest positioning statement doesn’t say exactly what their marketing copy says of course. They don’t mention wealthy clientele for one thing. But at $130 for a smoke detector, and $250 for a thermostat, that is surely the market they are targeting. Their products are priced high enough to be clearly exclusive, but low enough not to seem extravagant or make a money-wise customer feel foolish for purchasing. And anyway, that messaging is not only found in the price, but in mention of homeowners, and of “higher-efficiency systems.” These subtle cues indicate to customers that the product is made for people who value performance, and are willing to pay to get it.

These are all elements of Nest’s marketing that are informed by the market segment they have chosen to address, from the quality of the products, to the design, to the sales language and the pricing. And so the marketing message that says: “this product is for you,” when speaking to its target client, is backed up by a product that is built with that person in mind. The mission is clear: this is not a product for anyone, but for someone very specific, so that when the customer comes across the product and thinks about buying it, he or she can immediately see that it is made for them. 

Also, while the statement doesn’t appear to mention the competition at all, it does backhandedly reference the existing market by calling itself “next-generation,” and referring to “helping higher efficiency systems,” indicating that the current competition, while hardly worth mentioning, is manufacturer installed equipment- equipment that is, again, not good enough for the demands of the target market; the market served by Nest.

The main difference between a positioning statement and a full blown pitch is that the positioning statement says in plain words, what is really true about who your product is for, and what you believe its market fit to be. This will help you to stay away from visions of (and talk about) your product changing the world, even if it doesn’t really have the capacity or the capability to be a real world changing idea. Not all products have to be for everyone, and many of the best products aren’t. It will also keep you honest and focused; force you to focus on the needs of the clientele you have identified and are targeting. In short, a positioning statement is more likely to change the nature of a product, than changes to the product are likely to change the positioning statement.

Position Statement as Framework

Positioning of a product has often been described as “the organized system for finding a window in the mind.” That’s what Al Ries and Jack Trout described it in their book Positioning, a Battle for Your Mind, a groundbreaking work from 1981. The positioning statement supports these efforts: it targets the product toward a window, an opening, that the founders believe exists in the minds of consumers, and it attempts to fit the product through that window.

What our teams will discover about their windows: where they are, how big or small they may be, will be subject to change for the StartupYard 2014 teams, and so their positioning statements must also change with these new realizations. But keeping and referring back to the statements will provide an excellent guidepost for applying these changes rationally, and purposefully.

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