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.

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.


How to Spot a Startup Tourist

Applications for StartupYard’s second round of acceleration in 2016 have closed. Now, we dig into applications, looking at ideas, founders, and how founders talk about and express their ideas.

What we find is always enlightening, but also always an evolving challenge to parse and process.

The Idea vs. The Team

As I’ve written about before, it’s very hard to tell a lot about the scope and clarity of an idea from a narrowly focused written application. An idea that seems obvious might not be; an idea that seems obscure might in fact be a game changer. On the other hand, it can be easy to tell a few specific things about a person.

The way people talk about their ideas can reveal things about them as people. Is the person funny? Are they self-aware? Do they project confidence? Do they display arrogance? These qualities can be recognized in the way a person writes, and in what they choose to say.

But ideas are different. They are open-ended. They bring up questions rather than answering them. Great ideas are not always obvious at first glance, but can become “obvious” over time, after deep reflection and interaction. There is always a danger that a mentor projects their own hopes onto startup founders; thinking they can shape the team around their enthusiasm for an idea. That can create a disconnect between the motivation of the mentor, and the motivation of the team itself. Success and successful mentorship really ends up being about the quality and (forgive the cliché), passion of the team.

Startup Tourism

So what is a Startup Tourist? Put simply, it’s a person who wants to have a startup more than they want to actually do whatever it is that startup does. Startups, if successful, grow into regular companies, with all the responsibilities and daily obligations that come with them. Tourists aren’t interested in that type of success. They’re more interested in the status that running a startup confers on them– the appearance of success, more than the substance behind it.

Experience has shown us that some amazing startups don’t seem that amazing on paper. The passion may be obvious, but the idea itself may not be. Having difficulty expressing what you do, doesn’t mean you don’t know what you’re doing, though. And a big part of our job is to help square that circle, and make startup founders good at talking about their work. We always have to keep that in our minds when reading applications: lack of clarity is not a killer, but lack of passion and sincerity are.

Tourists Can Be Great Communicators

We’ve reviewed, collectively, around 800 applications for StartupYard within the last 3 years. The vast majority of those are clearly not a match for us. Most are poorly presented, and probably also not very well developed ideas.

That’s ok though. We accept around 3% of all applicants, so we expect most not to qualify. And the only way a startup founder can learn is by trying, so we laud those who do apply, no matter the outcome.

What we worry about most are the “tweeners:” the ones who appear to offer a lot of promise, because they are usually very good at talking about their ideas. They have the ability to project passion, but just enough self-awareness to avoid being seen as arrogant or full of bluster. These applications are more polish than substance, but they hide their lack of substance extremely well.

As Paul Graham of Y-Combinator famously said: these are the founders who live by “the rules.” They learn the system (such as it is), and how to talk and act, in order to appear to be what they wish they were- promising startup founders. These founders often know the “rules” better than we do, and well enough to convince almost anyone at first glance that they belong, even if they don’t actually have the passion they need to build a successful business.

And that works for a few meetings. Maybe a few weeks. But eventually, the results don’t match the apparent promise, and the Tourist becomes more obvious.

One of my favorite movie scenes is from a Martin Scorcese film called The Departed (Spoilers ahead).

In the film, a police Captain (played by Martin Sheen), asks a young police Cadet and misfit (played by Leonardo DiCaprio): “Do you wanna be a cop? Or do you wanna appear to be a cop?” This is a question I would love to ask many startup founders I meet. Of course, the irony in the film is that the Captain had, moments before, congratulated a new sergeant on his promotion in the department- and that sergeant (played by Matt Damon), is a mole working for organized crime. The best of us can always be fooled, especially when we are shown what we want to see.

The dream is of course to find a founder who is really good at communicating *and* has a lot of genuine passion for their ideas. The genuine article, in other words. That’s the stuff unicorns are made of, but it is rare stuff indeed. The ugly stepchild of the unicorn founder is the Tourist- the applicant who knows how to play the game, but doesn’t know how to win it.

Spotting A Tourist

Startup Tourist

There are certain things that tourists do to tip their hand, and reveal that their motivations are more complicated than a simple passion to be great at something nobody else can or has done before.

So, here’s my (totally unscientific), list of signs of Startup Tourism. In no particular order:

  • Knows the Lingo… a little too well

Startup Founders learn about seed funds, VCs, valuation, down rounds, convertible notes, equity dilution, and the rest of it as they go along. They have to. These are things you have to become familiar with if you want to succeed as a high growth startup, but it isn’t necessarily something you need to know much about before you actually start. At the beginning, an idea and a team that cares a lot about that idea can get a startup pretty far with minimal wisdom about the intricacies of fundraising and corporate structure.

Moreover, a team that isn’t focused on these “status metrics” is more likely to be focused on what’s really important- which is building enormous value for their customers.

Tourists tend to know the startup lingo a little too well for their own good. This can reveal a focus on the trappings of success, rather than the work involved in achieving it. That’s not always true, but sometimes it is. Good startup founders can always become good at this stuff because they have to. It’s a means to an end.

A Tourist is more likely to ask a lot of intricate questions about funding and corporate structure, but to do so well ahead of the time when knowing these things is particularly relevant. The tourist is fixated on valuation, instead of value. On “benchmarks” instead of forward progress. So focused on appearing to be in control, a Tourist reveals that they are not focused on doing what their startup actually promises to do.

  • Asks “How?” Instead of “Why?”

Mentoring startups often involves throwing a lot of things against the wall, and seeing what sticks. It’s the startup founder’s job to talk to mentors, and to then try and process what they’ve heard, and find out what’s really relevant for them. That means listening to people you might not completely agree with, and then checking what you’ve heard with others, to see what they have to say. It also means listening to people you agree with, and then digging into your own reasons for agreeing with them. It’s about jumping into a swamp of conflicting opinions, and trying to make sense of it all. It’s messy work. It’s frustrating, and it needs to be.

Mentorship is more valuable when the startup founders are asking searching questions. “Why do you think we should do this? Where can I learn more about that? Who should I ask about this?” These questions produce more work for the founders, who have to follow up on what they’ve heard.

When a founder more often asks: “how can I do that?” or “How would you do this?” These are not searching questions, but rather invitations to do the founder’s work for them. They don’t open up new avenues of thinking, and are not so open-ended. It’s like the student in university who asks the professor how many pages the term paper has to be. That’s not information that helps the student perform better and be creative, rather it’s information that helps the student do what is expected. It helps you get a grade, but it will not help you actually learn anything.

A favorite professor of mine once answered by saying: “as many as is necessary.” I took that to mean that the professor would know very well whether the actual ideas a paper contained were worth the number of pages actually consumed.

Searching my memory, I cannot recall a single instance in which a founder who has gone on from StartupYard to successfully raise seed financing and build a growing business asked me how to do anything. But I can recall many instances in which those same founders asked me why they should do one thing, or another. And many more instances when they asked for my feedback on something concrete. Opinions and feedback are generative. Building on ideas and being creative are what matter. There are no gold stars, and no grades in real life.

Figuring out how to do something can be easier than figuring out whether or not you should actually do it. Founders who ask why, are much more likely to get useful answers than the ones who ask how.

  • Talks about Opportunities Instead of Challenges

A few weeks ago, I heard a very funny story about one of our investors. He was a jury member at a startup competition, which is something startup investors end up doing a fair bit. A startup had stated something like: “the market is worth an estimated $100Bn, we aim to capture 5% of that, and if we do, we will be worth over 5Bn in recurring revenues.”

That’s a pretty prototypical tourist point of view. The investor in question had his own brilliant response: “why 5%? Why not 8%? Why not 15%” The implication should be clear enough- the size of the market can be impressive as hell, but the actual dirty work of building a business is not as sexy as talking about money. If you’re focused on getting a slice of the pie, then you’re probably not thinking about building a whole new market. You’re probably not interested in changing the way things work, but rather making the way things work, work for you.

And if the thing that matters most is the market opportunity, then what are you really passionate about? If you’re smart and you work hard, you can make money at a lot of things. You don’t have to found a startup to do that.

The founder that is fixated on market opportunity is less likely to be laser focused on creating value for the people who will actually pay for whatever they provide. That focus on creating inimitable value is everything to a successful and disruptive startup. It’s not about trying to grab a piece of an existing market, but about creating a new market nobody else is aware of yet.

Much more interesting are challenges. What does the market not yet provide, and why is that badly needed? Why couldn’t the market provide it before now? What problem is just waiting to be solved? Disruptive startups tackle the status quo, and change the way people and businesses and the world around them works on a more basic level. They make things that are not just faster and cheaper and prettier, but actually different.

I see this problem as one in which the startup founder is too focused on what they think investors want to hear. They will say their market is growing, and hope that the mere implication of opportunity is justification enough to get funding for themselves, regardless of what they’re actually doing.

When making a case for itself, a startup can be much better served by talking about what hasn’t been possible before, than about what has already been accomplished by others, or things that would happen whether the startup existed or not. Yes, for example, the mobile gaming market may grow by 40% in the next two years, but that’s an argument in favor of investing in that market, not necessarily for entering that market with a specific product. The product itself needs to make sense, and the fact that it’s an expanding market is, perhaps, a bonus. 

Yet I hear this justification thrown out at virtually every pitching event I attend, over and over again. “The market is huge, and we’ll be a part of that huge market.” Yes, and?

  • Puts Their Fate in the Hands of Others

It can be as simple as this- a Tourist is a startup founder who is waiting for something. Waiting to get into an accelerator. Waiting to attract a VC. Waiting to quit their job. Waiting to be noticed. Waiting for the magic bullet.

This is part of what makes selecting startups so hard for an accelerator. We want people who are ready, but not people who are waiting. We ask startups when we first interview them: “What will you do if you aren’t accepted here?” The Tourist will answer: “I’ll try again,” or “I’ll apply to another accelerator,” or,  “I’ll stay at my job for now.”

A startup founder who is passionate about what their doing, and really believes in it, is more likely to say: “I’ll just keep going,” or “I’ll think about why I didn’t make it, and decide what to do next.” The genuine founder is already thinking ahead of the next failure, looking for the next challenge, and not waiting for success to strike them.

Soldigo, StartupYard

Meet Soldigo: An SY 2015 Alum with a New Brand

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

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

StartupYard, Soldigo

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

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

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

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

Soldigo, StartupYard

Zsolt pitching Soldigo at StartupYard’s 2015 Demo Day

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

What about your biggest challenges?

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

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

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

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

– we enabled the possibility to add subcategories

– connecting the store with blogs is also possible now

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

– new server makes it all work faster and better

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9 Things Not to Do When Talking to Investors

[Updated August 2016] We talk to a lot of startups, and we’ve talked to a lot of investors too, particularly since we published this piece way back in 2014. In that time, our portfolio companies have raised upwards of 4 million Euros, and many of the tips we’ve given them have been refined through their experiences, and our own.

You can now apply for StartupYard Batch #8.

  • Robots
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • VR/AR
  • IoT
  • Cryptography
  • Blockchain
Applications Open: Now
Applications Close: June 30th, 2017
Program starts: September 4th, 2017
Program ends: December 1st, 2017



We’ve seen people make every single one of these mistakes, and we’ve made some of them ourselves. Live and learn. So here, updated for 2016, are 9 things not to do when talking to investors.

9 Things not to Do When Talking to Investors

Talk About Exits

Perhaps your dream is to found a startup, get some investment capital, pump up the valuation for a nice fat IPO, and blow town with a suitcase full of €500 notes, headed for a major tax haven. A noble dream, to be sure, but not one that inspires a great deal of confidence.

9 things not to do when talking to investors

Your investment opportunity sounds lucrative, if a little violent…


No, investors like to see that the stake you keep in your newly minted company is going to keep you properly motivated. And motivation is more than dollar signs: it is derived from satisfaction with your position, passion for your product, camaraderie with your team, and, of course, also money. So focus on those intangibles that you have that will keep your business moving forward. Don’t count the profit that someone’s investment is going to bring you, when you leave them holding the bag in 2 years. That’s not nice. And as the old adage goes, no investor wants to give money to a company that needs the money. They want to give money to a company that can use the money well.

Investors don't want to give money to a company that needs it. They want to give to companies who… Click To Tweet

Be Oblivious and Don’t Listen

In StartupLandia, obliviousness can be a good thing. Who would start a company like yours without being at least somewhat unaware of the potential drawbacks, the sleepless nights, the stress, the headaches, and the thought of near certain failure? Obliviousness can preserve your sanity while you attempt to do something that most ordinary people consider to be basically insane.

The thing is, while that kind of youthful naiveté can even be attractive to investors, it so often comes with a far less attractive trait attached: you don’t listen. Investors at least like to think they have some advice and experience you can learn from. Certainly, they want to you to fully understand what taking their money entails, concerning your responsibility to them and to your company. So you need to listen carefully to what investors say.

You don’t have to follow their advice, and you don’t have to take their money, but you do have to listen- now, and into the foreseeable future, until such a time as your leadership and the product you make have proved themselves repeatedly.

Ask for an NDA

Don’t ask for an NDA. You’re probably not working on anything sensitive enough to warrant this annoyance to an investor. I’ve written a more extensive piece on this, and you can read more about it there. But really, unless you’re dealing with technology so sensitive and valuable that some level of paranoia is truly healthy (cure for cancer, for example), then an NDA is not going to do anything but waste time.

Don't ask an interested investor to sign an NDA. It's pretty much never worth it. Click To Tweet

Say: “I have no competitors.”

We’ve all heard this: ‘if you have no competition, you have no market.” Besides, if your product asks for anything from a customer, be it money, time, or attention, you are by default in competition with all of the other things a customer could be doing with that money, time and attention. All businesses compete for customers. If they don’t, they aren’t businesses at all.

No, more often saying this is actually saying that you haven’t thought much about your market, your users, or your potential challenges. This past week, I ran a product positioning workshop with all of our startups. I asked them to position themselves against competitors based on relevant vertices for their market. The values on the X and Y axis are less important than the insight the teams can derive from comparing themselves to other businesses in the context of customer needs, wants, budget, or other factors. For example, a graph might look like this:

9 things not to do when talking to investors

Your graph has impressed us. Would you like that money in a suitcase, or do you prefer a novelty sized cheque?

As I noted, the values on the vertices can change to fit your market situation: is it about price, or time investment, or is it about the annoyingness of ad-support, or about some other value on the Y axis?

The X axis is also dependent on the market needs. But a successful business needs to find a suitable position graph that places their product somewhere that the competition isn’t competing well. In the above graph, the competition can offer good quality, but at the price of convenience. So my product has to be convenient and high quality. That is my market opportunity.

This sort of position graph also helps illustrate your market strategy. You wouldn’t market yourself as top-shelf quality if a competitor already holds that reputation- your quality would be a help, but it would not be enough to justify your product. If you can’t find a graph that shows a worthwhile market opportunity in concrete terms -something nobody and nothing else yet does well- then you may not have a viable product idea at all.

Tl;dr: If you can’t be better, be cheaper. If you can’t be better or cheaper, then you’re going to need a very good market strategy.

Don’t Have a Plan to Use The Investment

One VC I spoke to recently put this problem in terms of ambition. Wanting investment doesn’t make an entrepreneur particularly ambitious, except in the sense of possibly being greedy. Instead, a poorly laid or incompletely laid plan for go-to-market based on a number of possible investment outcomes is a sign that you don’t really care enough about your product and its future. If you did, you would have plans for any contingency, including a way to bootstrap your product.

Approaching investment this way, with an eye towards showing investors exactly what their money is going to do, also gives a founder much more leverage. It is a much more attractive argument to an investor that a founder *could* launch without his or her support, but that this support would only stoke the fire of success further. Being dependent on investment means being dependent on investors, and few investors want a founder who can’t stand on their own. This means being responsible, and having a solid, and detailed plan for how you would use money invested in your company.

In “A Unified Theory of VC Suckage,” which I recommend as good reading, Paul Graham theorizes that VCs suffer from perverse incentives to invest too much money into startups that don’t need it, and can’t properly use the investment. What can make such a situation doubly more dangerous (and frequently did in the late 90s and in the 2000s), is that founders also believed that a bigger valuation was actually going to make them rich. Which it did, at least on paper. This has caused more than a few companies to IPO when they shouldn’t have, and to crash spectacularly. It has also caused many worthwhile projects that needed much smaller seed-funding to struggle to get it.  But having a plan for what to do with the money you take in will show an investor that you’re ready for a big investment, or for a smaller one.

A high valuation does not make you rich. It makes you accountable. Click To Tweet

Project Your Growth Based on a Similar Product’s Success

Everyone knows a “me too” product when they see one. A “me too” market strategy may be no better than that. The old saying: “if it was easy, everyone would do it,” finds a perfect fit here. The success of another product, and that product’s similarities to yours, doesn’t mean much to the success of your product. Investors invest in people, just as much as in products, and execution, despite what we hear in the news, is 10 times as valuable as innovation for any company in the long term.

We often hear about innovation in the media, as if it were the sole distinction of success in technology. In fact, that isn’t remotely the case. While big companies that innovate create magnificent splashes and sell lots of their products, it takes just a bit of scratching at the surface to discover that the majority of that success is ensured by a strong execution of whatever plan the company has. That was as true a century ago for the Ford Model T as it was 10 years ago for the iPod. As true for Microsoft as for Facebook. These companies were not creating products that hadn’t been thought of before. But the background processes that they put in place to execute, reliably and efficiently, won them their market positions over time.

Think the Investors Must Be Smarter Than You

Our director Cedric Maloux told me a great story about an idea he had way back in 2008. He wanted to form a company to develop and market casual games for the newly launched iPhone. This was a market at that time, was worth much less than just a few years later. He discussed his idea with a VC he knew and respected, and the VC advised. “Video games need to be immersive and mobile phones don’t give this experience. Nobody wants to play games the way they used to [with the GameBoy],” the investor argued.

Cedric believed him and gave up on the idea. And today, the mobile games sector is worth 28% of the games market, according to ISSU. The market is worth some $13 Billion, which makes it bigger than the entire music industry. Growth in this sector has yet to slow since the release of the original iPhone. Investors are not necessarily visionaries.

Don't confuse smart money investors with visionaries. Click To Tweet

Last month, Techsquare hosted a meeting with StartupYard and another local accelerator. Its director and host listened to pitches from their startups, and from ours, and nearly without fail, addressed every single team with the same feedback, in sum: “I knew some people who tried what you’re doing. It didn’t work.” Experience is doubtless valuable. But failure in the past is in no wise a predictor of failure in the future. If that were true, the world would not know of most of the revolutionary products it has encountered in the past 30 years. Virtually every single one of them was tried without success, usually long before they were tried and succeeded. Listening to negative feedback like this is good. Letting it stop you is a shame.

Don’t Be Ready

Be Prepared. Always. Having and being prepared to share your financials, your projections, info about your team and your market is essential.

You can’t just chat up investors as a means of figuring out what they want to hear- that’s not the way the dance works. Your vision, your plan, and your goals are what the investors are buying into, so if you try to sell them their own ideas, they’ll know you don’t have a plan you really believe in. Having that plan, and sticking to it, only changing it for strong and valid reasons, is key to getting the right investors involved. So you need to be ready for what the investors might ask of you.

Luckily, there are plenty of investors who will tell you exactly what they would want to see from a potential investment. A great example is our own investment partner, Credo Ventures, and their own Andrej Kiska, who shares excellent tips on exactly that topic. He lists the number one failure point for startups as not building business forecasts ahead of a funding round.

in Kiska’s words:

The most frequent reason I hear for not building a model is that it is either too difficult or it just doesn’t make sense. But that makes me wonder what would happen if your startup will run into challenges that you consider too difficult or your market will desire a product you don’t believe makes sense and don’t bother to test it.”

There’s another pretty full-proof way of finding out what investors want to know before the meeting starts. Ask them. If the investor is a serious person you might actually want to cooperate with in the future, then they should be invested in you doing a good job, and making the best possible impression. The investor has a boss as well, in many cases, and needs to find justification in talking with you, just as you need to find justification in talking with them. So ask what they expect to find out from you, and plan accordingly. There’s no secret handshake. No checklist- every investor is different, and it’s ok to seek guidance.

Talk to the Wrong Investors

This seems basic, but it’s a mistake a lot of people make. You should know which kinds of investors you want to talk to. Don’t talk to a growth fund if what you need is seed money. Don’t talk to a VC firm unless you’re ready to do due diligence. Don’t talk to an Angel unless you’re looking for an Angel style investment. Each type of deal has its place, but not all money in investment is created equal. Each type of investment carries its own advantages and drawbacks, and you shouldn’t waste your time talking to investors who don’t have experience with companies in a similar situation. Andrej Kiska also has a lot to say on picking the right type of investor.


StartupYard Alum SpeediFly Raises 300K In Seed Funding

For the second time in a matter of a few weeks, StartupYard is very pleased to announce that yet another StartupYard alum, SY 2016’s SpeediFly, has raised 308,000 euros in seed investment from Czech startup investor Petr Zamecnik.

Congratulations @SpeediFly raising 300K from Czech investor Petr Zamecnik via @startupyard Click To Tweet

This is Zamecnik’s second investment in a StartupYard startup- it follows the recent announcement of his involvement with BudgetBakers’ (SY 2015) comparatively sized funding round. The investment includes follow-on financing from StartupYard, in the form of an equity-free grant, supplied thanks to the European Commission’s FIWARE Accelerate program.

Making Sharing a Flight as Easy as Sharing an Uber

Speedifly Team

Co-Founders Alex Karadjian, and Stoyan Dobrev

The team, which will work from both London and Sofia, Bulgaria, has launched a private beta in London, where it acquired its first customers in April this year. SpeediFly is a mobile-first travel platform that aims to make booking a last minute flight, even as a group, as easy as sharing a ride on Uber.

The funding will be used to expand the Bulgarian development team, and launch SpeediFly in several European markets, including London, and other major travel hubs.

The team also plans to develop the social travel aspects of the platform, as well as interest based travel recommendations that will allow travelers to combine their favorite activities with the best last-minute travel deals.


Currently in beta for iOS, SpeediFly also plans to expand to Android and the web. The new funds will also be used to expand the platform’s smart recommendation and group booking systems, two core features that will differentiate the startup from other entries in last-minute travel.

A Czech Investor on the Move

Our own Managing Director Cedric Maloux said of the investment round: “It’s not every week that two great companies from our portfolio get the financing they deserve. Zamecnik has made two smart and gutsy moves with these two startups [BudgetBakers and SpeediFly], and we hope that his peers in the region and abroad will take notice.”

Also commenting on the investment was SpeediFly’s Co-Founder and CEO Alex Karadjian, who said: “this will help us scale super quickly and go to new markets, but what is even more exciting to me, at least at this early stage, is the natural bond our team has had with Petr from the very moment we met. Petr’s fast-moving style as an investor and businessman perfectly aligns with the spirit of our team and with our concept- which is all about spontaneity and fun. I am sure this is going to be a great journey together.”

Alex Karadjian of Speedifly talks about social, spontaneous air travel at StartupYard's 2016 DemoDay

Alex Karadjian of Speedifly talks about social, spontaneous air travel at StartupYard’s 2016 DemoDay

SpeediFly was founded in late 2015, and joined StartupYard in 2016. It aims to be the market leader in mobile-first, social, last minute travel. In the UK alone, the company estimates that there is an untapped potential of 10.2 billion Euros in the last minute travel market. In addition, 56% of European travel searches for last minute bookings are for groups of 3 or more- while none of the major meta-search engines specialize in group bookings, social features, or shared payments.

Neuron Soundware - StartupYard Alumni

SY Alum NeuronSoundware Wins Vodafone Napad Roku

We are incredibly pleased to announce that StartupYard 2016 team Neuron SoundWare, has won the prestigious competition Napad Roku. Napad Roku is put on by Vodafone Foundation to find the best ideas from Czech and Slovak startups, and bring them onto the global stage.

Neuron SoundWare, Startup Central Europe, StartupYard

The Neuron SoundWare Team: Photo by

Also among the top finishers was our own Salutara, enabling medical travel worldwide. This win represents yet another in our alumni’s series of recent successes.

The prize includes 300,000 CZK (11,000 Euros) from Vodafone Foundation, additional funds for legal services, and new tablet computers.


Napad Roku: The Best of Czechia and Slovakia

Neuron Soundware, led by Co-Founder and CEO Pavel Konecny, won out against over 170 competing startups. The company is building a framework for neural networks to understand, learn from, and process sounds. As reported by Forbes recently This will enable their technology to, for example, diagnose technical problems in heavy machinery and sensitive hardware, including such things as 3D printers, car engines, and air conditioning systems, among much else.

The technology can also be applied to the voice: at StartupYard’s recent DemoDay, where Neuron Soundware premiered the pitch that won at Napad Roku,  Konecny demonstrated how a neural network could listen to, and then perfectly reproduce a human voice, opening up the possibility of using natural human voices instead of computer generated voices in any range of applications, from call centers to robots. The technology also makes manipulation of the voice possible, changing accents, inflections, emotional tone, and much else.

This opens possibilities for the NeuronSoundware team in a wide range of industries, from AI personal assistants like Viv, to industry 4.0 and distributed “contour” manufacturing technology, where more and more products will be fabricated in smaller factories, closer to their destination markets.

Congratulations to Pavel and the whole NeuronSoundware team! 

The Neuron Software TeamPavel with CoFounder Filip Sedlak

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