Salutara, StartupYard

Salutara: Your Health Matters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Salutara

The Salutara Team: Martin Cvetler and Petr Vankat

 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

StartupYard World

A Day in the StartupYard World

Because we work around startups every day, it’s sometimes helpful to step back and take a look at the bigger picture. We asked ourselves recently: “what kind of impact do we really have on the world as a whole?”

While it’s true that StartupYard companies touch the lives of millions of people every day, part of the magic of technology is that the vast majority of those people have no idea that when they pick up their smartphone or buy something online, or search for something in an e-shop, or a host of other activities, they are touching a product or service that started in our “yard.”

So we thought we’d try something fun, and give you this- a creative imagining of a single day, from an ordinary person, who just happens to be constantly in contact with products and services we helped bring into the world. While probably no single day would actually look like this, it is a composite of a real day shared by many people, all around the world, who interact with StartupYard companies.

 

A Day in the StartupYard World

You wake up at 9am, and start off by browsing your favorite content online. These sites are monetized using NeuronAd, delivering you a fast, ad-lite experience. You notice an ad for a new movie coming out, and you check your budget with BudgetBakers, to be sure you can afford to go see it tonight, and pay for the babysitter you booked on Hlidacky.cz. You’ve been saving up to get a laser eye surgery, and you’re planning on using Salutara to book a trip to the Czech Republic, but the good news is that it will only cost a fraction of what it would cost at home.

To your delight, BudgetBakers informs you that ClaimAir has sent you 400 Euros as compensation for a delayed flight you had last month, which you booked at the last minute for only 50 Euros with Speedifly. You decide to really spoil the kids tonight, and order them their favorite pizza from DameJidlo.

You use Gjirafa’s search engine to look for an eshop that sells the best tablets, and you soon see recommendations for the best deals, with ads hosted on Gjirafa’s ad network, advertising products that have been identified and priced using TrendLucid’s ecommerce intelligence platform. The eshop you pick runs smoothly because it is being constantly checked for bugs by Testomato. You buy a new tablet, using Gjirafa’s own ecommerce solution, and register the warrantee with Warrantly, so that you’ll never be stuck having lost the receipt. You remember the tablet from an interactive display ad you saw at the local shopping center, courtesy of TotemInteractive.

After your purchase, which is secured by TeskaLabs’ secure mobile gateway, you see a one-question survey generated by SatisMeter, asking you to give feedback on your experience, which you gladly do. The purchase is automatically entered in your BudgetBakers budget.

Later that day, as you’re creating handmade crafts to sell on Shoptsie, you experience an internet outage. Logging onto a public wifi hotspot using Myia, you tweet at the telecom provider that you’re fed up with their lousy service. Thanks to BrandEmbassy’s social CRM platform, the telecom gets back to you in moments to resolve the issue, and a workman is dispatched shortly after. The call with the telecom sounds like it’s from a real person, but the friendly and pleasant voice is being generated by Neuron Soundware technology, which is able to understand everything you say, and gauge your emotional state by listening to your voice.

All this activity has made you tired, so you turn on StreamPlus, and watch a few branded videos from your favorite lifestyle companies to relax. Later, you check in on Works.io, and spot a few paintings from a new artist you’d like to keep an eye on. You decide to book a romantic private cruise on the water tonight with your partner using Boatify.

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

StartupYard DemoDay 2016, April 6th at the Royal Theater

It’s with great pleasure and anticipation that we announce that StartupYard DemoDay 2016 will take place on April 6th, at the Royal Theater. The event will feature pitches from our 9 startups, and keynote remarks from Mergim Cahani, StartupYard Alum and Founder/CEO of Gjirafa, the “Albanian Seznam.”

The event will take place on April 6th, at 18:00, at the Royal Theater, in Prague.

 

 

 About the Keynote:

NWJ3017-Edit-1Mergim Cahani is the Founder & CEO of Gjirafa, Inc (gjirafa.com), the Albanian Search Engine. Gjirafa has recently raised $2.5M in angel and venture funding, with investors including Ester Dyson, Ondrej Bartos, Phillip Staehelin, and Rockaway Capital. An alum of StartupYard 2014, Gjirafa is working to bring state of the art e-commerce solutions to emerging markets in Kosovo, Albania, and the surrounding regions.

Previously he founded iziSurvey, a mobile survey solution, and MatchBox, now a defunct dating application. Currently Mergim serves as the President of the Board of Governors at American Chamber of Commerce in Kosovo, and has over 15 years of industry experience with startups, technology, management, and investment experience. Previously, in New York, Mergim worked for Broadridge Financial Solutions, an Adjunct Assistant Professor with the department of Computer Science at St. John’s University, and an executive management consulting program at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney. His education includes a Summa Cum Laude BSc degree in Computer Science, an MSc degree in Computer Science from New York University, and an MBA degree with honors majoring in Executive Management from The Tobin College of Business at St. John’s University, all in New York.

About the Venue:

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The grand and historical Royal has stood in Prague for nearly 100 years. It recalls the glory days of the city when it was the capital of the First Czechoslovak Republic, from 1918 to 1938. After the 2nd world war, the theater was confiscated by the state, and it was not returned to its owners, the Maceška Family, until after the Velvet Revolution in 1989. It remains in the family to this day.

In 2014, the family agreed to rent the Royal to Jean-Christophe Gramont, who restored its look and feel to that of a First Republic public venue. Many of the original finishings remain intact, dating back to 1929.

StartupYard DemoDay 2016

Our decision to host StartupYard’s 2016 Demo Day at the Royal is a nod not only to our roots in Central Europe, but also to the Royal’s signature theme: of honoring the past while remaining unafraid to innovate into the future. As the story of those days in Prague just a century ago shows us: progress and innovation must be constantly defended and constantly re-energized by new generations, be they artists, engineers, or entrepreneurs.

The StartupYard 2016 Startups

 

Satismeter: Know Your Customers

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Czech Republic

SatisMeter is perfect for online businesses that lack qualitative feedback from their users.
It’s an in-app feedback platform, that collects NPS data based on specific usage patterns. Unlike a traditional email survey or various in-house solutions, SatisMeter is an easy to integrate, multi-platform solution, perfect for small startups with only a few customers, all the way up to enterprise scale clients.

Satismeter’s current customers include BuzzSumo,  Udacity, Mention, Adroll, Dashlane, and MailJet

 

ClaimAir: Know Your Rights. Get Paid.

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Czech Republic

ClaimAir helps travelers fight the airlines for compensation, because fliers don’t have the time and resources to do it themselves.
It’s is an automated platform that handles the end-to-end process of claiming owed compensation for delays, baggage mishandling, etc. Did you know that the average compensation owed was over 300 Euros?
Unlike travel agencies, ClaimAir is specialized in handling legal compensation claims in large volumes.

 

Neuron Software: Making Sense of Sound

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Czech Republic

Neuron Software is a deep tech startup, exploring the use of self-teaching, constantly learning neural networks in a wide range of audio analysis and audio manipulation applications.
Imagine having a car mechanic in your pocket, able to diagnose a problem just by listening to it. Or being able to accurately document the emotions of your customers, every time anyone from your company talks to them.
Neuron Software’s technology will enable a broad range of new capabilities that are just starting to be explored.

Stream.Plus: The Last Video Platform You’ll Ever Need

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Czech Republic

Stream.Plus is the future of branded video distribution. Brands who have quality video content often lack control over the distribution and monetization of that content. Stream.Plus creates mobile and web apps for branded, interactive online TV channels that create a direct connection between consumers and brands.

NeuronAd: Ads for Everyone

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Czech Republic

Online publishers rely heavily on advertising for revenue. But 20% or more of internet users now have adblockers installed. NeuronAd helps online publishers show relevant, unobtrusive ads to adblocked visitors, while maintaining the speed, security, and experience that led those visitors to employ adblockers.

 

Speedifly: When in Doubt, Travel

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Bulgaria

SpeediFly is for spontaneous travelers who want to get away last minute, but don’t know where they can go on a budget.
It’s a mobile travel discovery platform that locates the customer and finds the 15 cheapest flights departing from and returning to the nearest airport in the next 10 days. Unlike clunky old-fashioned search engines, SpeediFly combines social dimensions like group travel planning, with the ability to discover destinations based on activities and interests.

 

TotemInteractive: Make Ads People Love

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Poland

TotemInteractive enables Digital Out of Home Advertising to become more than just a one-way brand-to-customer ad channel.
It’s a cloud based advertising platform that supports interactive content, like games and contests, by allowing people to control ads directly from their smartphones.
Drive real audience engagement with your live ads, by making ads people love, and love to play with.

Salutara: Your Health Matters

Salutara, Startupyard

Czech Republic

Salutara is a full-service online platform for medical travel. Every year, 11 Million people seek medical procedures that are not accessible or affordable in their home countries. With Salutara as a trusted advisor and intermediary, patients can search and compare clinics, arrange procedures, plan, book, and pay for a whole trip in one place. Travel for your health, with Salutara.

boatify: hop onboard (a boat!)

boatify

Switzerland

Boatify is for people who want to go on a boat ride, but don’t have easy and affordable access to a boat. It’s a web and mobile platform, where boat owners can earn money renting their boats directly.
Unlike typical boat rental services, boatify relies on a network of partner “officers,” who take responsibility for the end-to-end customer experience of each boat rental, making it a snap to safely rent and take a trip in a boat near you, anytime.

We look forward to seeing you at the Royal!

NeuronAd

NeuronAd: Ads for Everyone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

The NeuronAd Team

The NeuronAd Team, Karel in the middle.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Speedifly

Speedifly: When in Doubt, Travel!

SpeediFly is for spontaneous travelers who want to get away last minute, but don’t know where they can go on a budget.
Unlike clunky old-fashioned search engines, SpeediFly combines social dimensions like group travel planning, with the ability to discover destinations based on activities and interests. It will allow friends and relatives to book flights together at one price, while splitting the bill, and to book truly last minute trips, even on the way to airport. 

I caught up with Co-Founders Alexander Karadjian and Stoyan Dobrev, the Bulgarian team behind Speedifly, to talk more about the young company that wants to take the next generation to the skies. Here’s what they had to say: 


Q: Hi Alex and Stoyan, tell us a bit about yourselves and the SpeediFly Team.

Alex: Hi Lloyd. Thanks for asking. Well, I spent the last eight years of my life studying architecture at Harvard, and a month after graduation decided to found a spontaneous travel startup!

I think that speaks to my spontaneous nature.  The truth is I have always been passionate for travel, which is why I took a semester off three times during these eight years and lived in Spain, the Netherlands, the Seychelles and Australia.

The other co-founders, Stoyan and Zahari, have been good friends of mine for many years. Actually, Stoyan dated my sister back in the day, and she always claims that she deserves a share in the company [smile].

Stoyan is also crazy about travel. He spent the last 4 years studying management in the UK and Hong Kong. Zahari is a friend from high school, whom I’ve known for more than 13 years. He is our tech genius living in his own world. In addition to his programming skills, he has quite a lot of experience with computer graphics and visual effects, which turned out to be invaluable for the team. 

 

Speedifly Team

Alex and Stoyan, CoFounders of Speedifly

 

Q: How did you come up with the concept for SpeediFly?

Alex: The idea for SpeediFly came up during a lunch conversation I had with a good friend at Harvard.

At that time I was working on my graduate thesis project, a proposal for London`s seventh airport, and all that occupied my mind was optimization of air travel, airport capacities and cost of airfare. We were discussing how every fifth seat on a plane that left Heathrow airport was empty.

I though that the business case for last-minute travel had not been pushed to its limits – as long as people can be convinced to act spontaneously and hop on the next plane, the opportunity is huge.

Now, it’s no shock that this isn’t a new idea by any means, but I thought previous attempts had been missing something. There was a lot of talk about “Uber for air-travel,” because Uber is also about managing the extra capacity of someone’s car.

But airlines and air-travel just don’t work that way. It takes a different kind of approach: something in between traditional travel agencies, and these on-demand service platforms.

So we built the platform to essentially tap into the benefits of on-demand functionality, in what is otherwise a more traditional, less on-demand business.

Q: What do you see as the last-minute travel industry’s biggest problem? How can it be solved?

Alex: Travel platforms featuring last-minute travel “sell” the price. It’s always the price of the ticket, the price of the hotel, the price of the car you rent.

But if you think about the nature of a last-minute trip, it’s all about the experience – it’s about seizing the moment and allowing people to discover fabulous destinations and share their adventures with friends. The price should be there only to show people that travel is not as expensive as they think – that they can afford it; but low price is not the key factor that motivates people to travel.

With all the information in social media, it’s so easy to analyze your customer’s interests and passions, and to customize the last-minute deals to their taste. Still, nobody does it yet.

This is one way to go about it. Also, just think about how difficult it is to make a group last-minute booking – by the time you call your friends, the deal is gone. We want to provide our customers with a platform where they can share flight information with friends in-app, invite these friends to join them on a flight and make the decisions live.

That’s much easier for people, and it’s about the experience.

Q: What makes SpeediFly different from typical metasearch platforms like Kayak, or booking platforms like SkyPicker?

Stoyan: Metasearch platforms like Kayak or Skyscanner simply aggregate large amounts of flight data and refer customers to the websites of airlines or online travel agencies where tickets can be booked.

It`s not uncommon for the price and the seat availability to change during this referral process, which, of course, disrupts the quick and easy nature of the booking and negatively effects the whole user experience. That`s why we don`t want to follow the metasearch model.

By contrast, Skypicker processes bookings and does not redirect customers to third-party websites. In this context, we will be a booking platform just like Skypicker. In fact, Skypicker is our flight data provider.

What`s unique about Speedifly is that it allows for interest-based searches like flights to skiing, surfing, concert or festival destinations. Birdwatching is also an option, although I don`t have high hopes for that one [laughs]. So, in a way SpeediFly is a travel discovery platform – the customer doesn’t have to know where he or she wants go, just what he wants to do.

What`s more, SpeediFly is a social booking platform where users can invite their Facebook friends, build their own travel communities within our app, share flights they are interested in, or flights they have booked, and invite others to join them on these flights.

Once we start understanding what the customer’s and his friends` preferences are, we will be able to recommend group getaways based on interests and budget. SpeediFly is all about making travel a social experience.

Q: Let’s talk a bit about your target market. Who do you see as your ideal customer, and what does that person value most? What will be special to them about SpeediFly?

Stoyan: Our go-to-market strategy is to target Millennials. Statistics show that on average Millennials travel way more than any other age group. Soon, millennials will account for a substantial part of the working population in Europe, enjoying more purchasing power than ever before.

We divide our target market into two segments – students (aged 18 to 24) and young professionals (aged 25 to 35). These are two groups that differ in their price-sensitivity and flexibility.

Let`s start with the students. They are very price-sensitive but have flexible schedules, which means that it is easier for them to take a long weekend or to skip the Friday class and jump on the next available flight. With SpeediFly, students will not only find it easier to discover relevant and cheap flights, but we expect them to use extensively the social dimension of the platform – it will allow them to share their travel intentions, invite friends and classmates to particular trips and organize group getaways.

Young professionals are less price-sensitive and less flexible, which has two important implications. First, the cheapest option is not necessarily the best one. Second, the timing of the trip and its duration really matter. That`s why I see the value for this group coming from the recommended deals we can make. SpeediFly can save busy young professionals a lot of time planning a quick trip – with us they can discover destinations related to personal preferences for hobbies, concerts, sport events, etc.

Q: Can you talk more about your go-to-market strategy? When and where will people be able to use SpeediFly for the first time?

Stoyan: On the 27th of March we are soft launching in London. We will make the private beta of our app available to 200 students from two different London universities. We want to see how people interact with the app, how they make use of its social functionality and where they see the added value.

A month later, we will officially launch the app in London and market it exclusively to university students. For 4 months SpeediFly will be available only in London and in September we will release it in Paris, Rome, Madrid and Amsterdam.

Q: What are your near term goals for the service? Where do you hope to be in a year?

Stoyan: Up to 3 months after the official launch we plan to integrate accommodation and event ticket (concerts, exhibitions, etc.) APIs, which will complete the cycle of organizing a spontaneous trip – book a flight, find a place to stay, and discover something cool to do once you are there.

Our next priority will be to enable collective bookings. You know how when you are organizing a trip for many people, someone usually pays for all the flight tickets? This is because if you buy them separately, most probably each one will have a different price, if there are seats still available.

Then the person who has made the payment has to collect his money back – it`s an annoying process. We want to allow one person to start a booking and then split the payment among all travelers. Just like Uber does it. Why isn’t that functionality already available to air travelers? It should be.

In one year? Well, as with every B2C startup we want to be viral among our target customers and have more than 100,000 active users. We will need to work hard to get traction in Paris, Rome, Amsterdam, and Madrid. We’re looking forward to the challenge and the new experiences.

Q: Long term, travel is very competitive. How will SpeediFly compete and stay relevant in such a crowded market? What will SpeediFly be in 5 years?

Alex: Relevance is actually the key factor here. The industry is indeed competitive but one of its major problems is that it lacks relevance in terms of the deals offered to customers.

It’s not a working solution to send email updates about cheap flights from Paris to Tokyo to a customer who lives in London; recommending a skiing destination to somebody who is not into skiing also doesn’t work.

Still, people are constantly bombarded with such irrelevant offers, and at SpeediFly we want to fight against exactly this problem. Constant analysis of our customers is a priority for our team – this is how we can make relevant recommendations and stay competitive in this market.

In 5 years we want to have a global product or at least to have expanded beyond European borders. After Europe, our next target geography is Southeast Asia.

speedifly launch

Q: In what ways has the concept of SpeediFly changed since you’ve joined StartupYard?

Stoyan: The first thing that pops in my mind is that we changed our name. (laughs) It was quite a contentious process at times. Now we are SpeediFly, and quite happy with that.

It is hard for me to express in a few words how much feedback and insight we were given for the last two months at StartupYard. Naturally, our concept changed substantially.

When we came to StartupYard, we did not even have a website. We had our core functionality – the 15 cheapest flights from the nearest airport within the following 10 days – and we thought we would be making money from selling cheap flights. In a sense, SpeediFly had a lot in common with any other online travel agency that sells cheap flights.

Now, after two months of mentoring and workshops, our ambition is to go way beyond the cost-saving concept. In fact, we realized that the full potential of the idea has little to do with cost-saving. It has a lot to do with social travel or collective travel.

If we go back to the basics of travel for a second, it is about experience, about the unknown and about the adventure. Unfortunately, if you go to the websites of our competitors, travel is all about price. We want to change that perception and at StartupYard many mentors helped us focus exactly on this. We want to escape from the cost-saving notion, create the largest community of spontaneous travelers and change the way people think about leisure travel.

Q: Are there any particular mentors from StartupYard who have had an especially big impact on the company’s development? How so?

Alex: You Lloyd, along with Cedric, have had an invaluable impact on our team. Sometimes, we take it for granted as we are together every day, all day long, but whether it’s for the landing page, for A/B testing or for fundraising campaigns, you have always been available to work with us.

Michal Jelinek and Wallace Green have been instrumental in fine-tuning our concept – they pushed us a lot to make the most of all the social interaction that is part and parcel of every travel experience. Wallace is a great believer in what we do and he has spent hours and hours with us working on the functionality and the definition of the added value of our mobile app. His enthusiasm about SpeediFly is contagious and we are really grateful for his input.

Central Europe Accelerator

11 Things We Say All the Time to Startups

You Just have to…

Paul Graham has an amazing post on his blog, called “Before the Startup.” In it, he talks about how his role as a startup mentor is often just to repeat the same things. We have much the same experience at StartupYard, and so we thought it would be useful to break down those things we say so often, and explain why it is we say them. 

For this piece, 11 Things We Say All the Time to Startups, there will be two contributors: StartupYard Managing Director Cedric Maloux, and Community manager Lloyd Waldo

“It’s Not About You”

Cedric: Startup founders tend to focus, particularly at an early stage, on what they want, and what kind of company they want to be, instead of the problems that they will solve for their users. When they first start talking to their customers, they will talk about “we,” and “us,” instead of “you,” and “our customers.” So it’s almost always necessary to refocus your messaging early on to make sure that you’re focusing on your customer’s problems, and are bringing them something of value, not just attaining a goal that you have as a company. Less “we need your support,” and more: “you need this product.”

 

“You Are Not Your Customers.”

Lloyd: Banish this aphorism from your speaking vocabulary. You created a business and risked everything to run a startup on the strength of one idea. You are not like the people who will be your customers. You may know a lot about them, and you may even use your product, but you also created it yourself. That does not give you an excuse to not talk to users, and try to understand them better than you do.

“No One Will Believe Your Projections”

Cedric: When we talk about projections (user growth, revenue), founders can get too caught up in how to make projections that investors might believe in. But that’s backwards. Investors will never believe in projections, because they are just that- projections. Instead, you need to develop a plan that makes those projections seem attainable. Investors don’t invest in your projections- they invest in your plan, and if that plan makes sense, it doesn’t matter whether the projections are believable or not.

“How Will This Help You Grow?”

11 things

Cedric meeting with StartupYard Startups in 2015

Lloyd: Startups come across a lot of ideas about things that might help them grow. It’s important to keep in mind the goal of doing anything connected with so called “growth hacking,” which is to actually grow. Vanity statistics, like Facebook likes and Twitter followers, are not growth. But the logic often goes like this: Step 1: Likes on Facebook (or whatever), Step 2: …? Step 3: Growth. Focusing on how something will lead to growth is important- you can’t go from step 1 to step 3 without taking step 2. So what is step 2?

“What’s the Next Step?”

Cedric: Just like startups have to focus on how doing things will help them grow, they have to also make sure that every step they take has something after it. Everything has a desired result. You got a meeting with a potential partner? Great. What’s the next step? If there is no next step, then what will that meeting accomplish? What will that partnership accomplish without a clearly stated goal?

“Where’s the Call to Action?”

Lloyd: Simply put, you shouldn’t be communicating with your customers if you aren’t giving them something to do. Startup founders usually get a sense that they have to be activating their customers, but they also have to activate them to do clear and understandable things. There also has to be a clear way of measuring whether that activation is actually working. Enter the Call to Action: if you don’t have one, in an email, a post on social media, or a landing page, then you are wasting your users’ time and attention for nothing.

“You’ll have to test this and see”

Lloyd: Founders are prone to confusing advice with directions. As a mentor, I can give good and actionable advice, but just because I think it will work, doesn’t mean it works. The only way to see if the advice is sound is to try it, and pay attention to the results. Testing can’t tell you everything, but not testing tells you nothing.

“I can’t hear you.”

Cedric: When you meet with employees, with investors, or with anybody, remember that you’re the founder of a company. Your opinion matters, and you need to be heard, loud and clear. Some founders just don’t know how to make themselves heard, and make their presence felt. Instead of owning the room and controlling the conversation, they react passively, and let others lead. Instead, be the boss, and say what you think in a clear, audible voice. You’re the boss.

“It’s Your Company.”

Lloyd: Leading from that, remember that whatever you’re doing, make sure you believe in it. In an accelerator, you get a lot of advice, and a lot of direction. But it’s your company. If you aren’t happy with things a certain way, then the last word is ultimately yours. You should listen, and be open, but you shouldn’t do things just because people tell you that you should. If something doesn’t feel right, ask for help, but don’t “go with the flow.” It’s your company.

“Stop Selling, and Start Creating Visions”

Cedric:  Selling isn’t about getting money from people. It’s about giving them something they can believe in, and are willing to pay for. To sell in the long run, you have to build a vision that people can relate to, and that people want to be a part of. If you focus on your vision, and on communicating that vision to people, then the money conversations -the selling- are just a detail. A small part of the overall experience, and not the focus.

“You Need to Control This Process”

Cedric: B2B sales are very different from B2C sales. In B2B sales, you need to remain in the driver seat, not waiting for the customer to decide that they’d like to work with you. You need to own the process: move each separate piece like a conductor, anticipate every question and issue, and close the deal. Going at the pace that the client picks is, in effect, accepting the client’s own objections and doubts as your own. If you don’t set the pace, then no one will, and many deals that could happen just won’t.

ClaimAir

Claimair: Fighting For Air Passengers’ Rights

ClaimAir helps travelers fight the airlines for compensation, because fliers don’t have the time and resources to do it themselves.
It’s is an automated platform that handles the end-to-end process of claiming owed compensation for delays, baggage mishandling, etc. Did you know that the average compensation owed was over 300 Euros?

I sat down this week with Jakub Ladra, Founder and CEO of ClaimAir, one of our 2016 Startups. Here’s what he had to say about fighting for the rights of passengers all over the world:


Hi Jakub, tell us a bit about ClaimAir, and why you decided to fight for the rights of airline passengers.

Hi Lloyd, thanks for asking. Let me ask you a question: the last time you had a flight delay, or a lost bag, how much money did the airline give you in compensation?

Now, if you’re like most people, the answer is that you didn’t get anything, or maybe the airline gave you enough money for a meal at the airport. But what people don’t know is that the airlines routinely owe much more, often hundreds of euros per person, for a delay or mishandling of bags.

ClaimAir makes sure travelers get flight and baggage compensations when they are lawfully owed by the airlines. Since ClaimAir works as an automated platform which allows us to process claims in high volume, we can provide our service not only directly to the travelers but also to our business partners.

These partners are companies like flight booking platforms, travel agencies, travel itinerary management systems, etc. We believe that our service can help them improve customer relationships, loyalty and last but not least, it gives them a strong competitive advantage. On the other hand, these partnerships help us to overcome our biggest challenge, which is the fact that travelers are not well aware of their rights and airlines usually take advantage of it.

 

Jakub Ladra, Claimair

Jakub Ladra of ClaimAir. Jakub has extensive experience in the airline industry, and wants to fundamentally change the way airlines treat their customers.

Back to your second question, my journey with air passenger’s rights started at the university when it was the topic of my thesis. It was in 2007 and no surprise, the thesis ended up in a box – luckily, not forever. I went through a couple of aviation-related corporate jobs, but I always knew it wasn’t what I wanted. I love the startup environment and the feeling of freedom which, in combination with my knowledge, naturally led to ClaimAir.

Do you see your mission as more than just taking advantage of the laws and regulations?

For us it’s not just about taking advantage of the laws and regulations. We live in an experience economy where customer service should be a priority. Trouble with your flight just happens, and obviously brings a lot of stress and frustration into your life. So our goal is to make the rules around air passenger’s rights as clear as possible and make air travel an even more comfortable way of exploring the world. We also have some plans that don’t relate to the regulated stuff, but I can’t tell you more at the moment.

What are some of the most common mistakes that air travelers make when it comes to getting what is owed them for delays, disruptions, and lost bags?

I wouldn’t call them mistakes. Travelers simply don’t know they are owed compensation and that airlines are in fact legally obliged to pay them out. For instance, when your flight is delayed for more than 3 hours on arrival, you can get €600 paid in cash. Regarding the baggage, the compensation can be up to €1,500. These are pretty good sums that airlines wish to be kept secret. Moreover, when you complain by yourself, the airline usually responds by using complicated legal arguments that you have no chance to understand and work against. The average traveler feels powerless next to the airlines.

What does it take, legally, to get an airline to pay legal compensation? Why is it so hard?

Naturally, it’s a common practice of a majority of airlines to keep their compensation budgets low. Therefore, if you don’t know the rules precisely and if you are unable to submit a strong letter of complaint by using relevant legal arguments, your chances to success are close to zero. The airlines usually respond by using some tricky legal provisions that exempt them from liability, but most of them are taken out of context. Overall, the legislation is damn complex and contains many grey zones, so it’s just difficult for an ordinary traveler to cope with it.

Let’s talk a bit about the numbers. How many travelers a day could benefit from your service? What are some of the other important industry stats?

Although I’ve devoted my professional career to aviation, I’m always amazed about those daily numbers. There are more than 9 million travelers transported by air every day and approximately 800 thousand of them are affected by any kind of flight disruption or baggage mishandling. It’s also worth mentioning that the average compensation we got for our customers in 2015 was €320. There are also projections that air travel industry should double in next 20 years.

Your team is growing quickly. What do you see as your biggest challenge as a company in the near term? What keeps you up at night right now?

A: Extremely quickly! If everything goes well and in line with our plans, we should have more than 100 employees by the end of 2016, which is the thing that actually keeps me up at night these days. Have I mentioned that we are hiring? (laughs)



What kind of people are you looking for?

Anybody who speaks fluent English, has a passion to learn new things from the aviation industry and is willing to use the latest technology is more than welcome to reach out. We are currently based in Prague, but our goals are far beyond the borders of the local market. If any of your readers want to be a part of an international startup environment with a vision and strategy to create something big, I can’t wait to meet them.

Where do you plan for ClaimAir to be, as a company, in 5 years time? What will be your mission then?

We’re still an early stage startup so I primarily hope that we will still exist in 5 years. (laugh) But anyway, I have a clear vision of a perfectly seamless process of customer care that I would love to bring into life.

I would really like to have our service integrated with various travel solutions, so every time your flight goes wrong, we would automatically notify you about important facts and we would get you money without any intervention from your side. In other words, we would like to solve your traveling troubles in real time so you can feel secure, and as a bonus, the compensation will be automatically credited to your bank account.

Have any of the StartupYard mentors had an especially powerful impact on your trajectory as a company? How so?

jakub ladra, Claimair

Jakub talks with other 2016 founders at a StartupYard workshop


Not only mentors but all StartupYard team members, including you Lloyd, are extremely supportive and dedicated. I can’t thank you enough for allowing us to be here and for supporting our goals. I am sure that we wouldn’t make such a progress in just a few weeks otherwise. We’ve met more than 70 extremely experienced mentors yet and sorry, I can’t mention anyone in particular because I value all of them the same. They are busy professionals and they give us their precious free time to move our businesses forward. We got numerous valuable insights into our business as well as several important introductions to our potential business partners. I’d definitely recommend other early stage startups to do their best to make it into the next StartupYard’s batch.

This space has some active players already. Why is there room for ClaimAir in this market?

Of course, but I always find competitors as an important part of every industry. Their presence confirms that our business is viable and they also help us educate and evangelize the market. Why is there room for us? Remember the figures? 9 million travelers are transported by air every day. Moreover, we are the only ones who deal with baggage-related issues and I hope that our focus on a technology will quickly make us one of leading players.

Are you looking to raise investment right now?

Yes. In order to carry out our business plan, we are looking for an initial €300k investment.

liva judic

Liva Judic: Storytelling Between the Lines

Liva Judic is a financial journalist turned entrepreneur. Born in Madagascar, she was educated in Europe and has lived and worked across 4 continents. As a StartupYard mentor, Liva stresses efficient communication, and connecting emotionally across cultures by telling compelling stories that resonate with all audiences. She works individually each year with our startups to open up new avenues of storytelling.
In 2010, Liva founded Merrybubbles Communications to help fuel the fire for technology startups wanting to expand internationally. She lives in Miami Beach and shuttles between there, New York, San Francisco, London, Paris and Berlin.

I caught up with Liva  after her latest mentoring session with the StartupYard 2016 teams, to talk about her views on the industry, startups, and storytelling. Here’s what she had to say: 

Hi Liva, welcome to our blog. Is there anything you’d really like people to know about you, that they can’t find out by reading about you on LinkedIn?

Hi! What’s not showing through my LinkedIn… a lot of things, actually. The thing that I really want to share and is connected to what I do with StartupYard is that I’m passionate about design, aesthetics, especially minimalistic approaches. You can see it through my Instagram account, mostly, and my personal site LivaJudic.com. In terms of work, it transpires in the way I approach things, notably how I structure my interactions with businesses and startups. Short and laser-focused with the goal to make a lasting impact on their progress.

You founded Merrybubbles (the branding and communications firm) in 2011. What was the original vision for the firm? How has that evolved?

At the beginning, the idea was to provide my international experience and journalistic background to companies needing to open their outreach to foreign markets, notably English-speaking ones and mostly the U.S. Our first client was GDF Suez Trading and from there on, we started working with startups with ambitions to move to the U.S. in general. We pivoted, as per startup language, last year from an all-marcoms approach to a strictly branding offer, both strategy (which precludes all communications for any company) and implementation. And instead of purely startups, we have both narrowed and widened (I know, sounds contradictory but you’ll see what I mean) our focus to change makers/game changers. It means first, recognizing that small businesses and startups with women or minorities at their helm are a force to be reckoned with: they are innovators, just because of that leadership choice. It also means that we want to find businesses/startups with technologies or products that are making an impact on their ecosystems, improving quality of life, one way or another.

What makes Merrybubbles different from a typical branding and communications agency?

We only offer one product now (see, the narrowing down is surfacing…) Our approach is very streamlined to ensure maximal impact and ROI for our clients: we only sell one product. Yes, really. We work in a two-step process: we first lead a discovery and analysis of the business/startup in order to put together their brand identity and give the client the one-pager blueprint at the end of the very same day. That’s what we call Primer. Then, we narrow it down with them to execute on it: we ask specifically that the client has access to a screen (phone, tablet or computer) during business hours so we can communicate with them seamlessly for the following four days after Primer. At the end of that fourth day, they will leave with a logo, website, 4 social media profiles or pages of their choices, business card design and a one pager or a landing page for their specific need. In five business days, they are ready to launch.

You emphasize that Merrybubbles is focused on women and minority led organizations, yet you also mentor at the very male, very European StartupYard. Women make up a huge part of the market for emerging tech products, but we’ve struggled to attract women entrepreneurs to our program since the beginning. What could we be doing better, from your perspective?

Bear in mind that I’ve always worked (and thrived because it never bothered me) in male-dominated industries: financial journalism, diplomacy and government, tech startups. So being with StartupYard is not something out of the blue. I’m always happy to represent women in areas where there are so few of us, and it’s part of my thinking to actually organically integrate where women are scarce, a bit like a statement that we can do it: if I can do it, we all can.  

What I would say is that StartupYard has three points of leverage. One, you can onboard more female mentors. There are a lot of women with incredible track records out there who would be amazing adds to your roster of mentors. Number two, encourage applicants who have women in their teams or at the helm of those teams. How you do that is by communicating your awareness and support for more diverse teams. I know there are great diverse teams in Eastern Europe. I have met a few, especially when I am in Berlin, where I spend a fair amount of time. One was from Croatia and is now doing quite well for themselves, as they went through YC.

And of course, what you’re doing now, by giving me this opportunity to speak, is a great first step! Let’s keep doing more such things, I’ll be happy to support your efforts.

You emphasize storytelling in your startup mentorship. What does good storytelling mean to you? Why is it so important

Let’s see. You meet a stranger and s/he tells you a story, random conversation. It’s really not bad. You part ways. Then, on the same day, you meet another stranger. S/He also tells you a story. But this time, it actually makes you laugh, or it reminds you of this one adventure you went on with friends a while ago where you had felt so empowered, or it made you shiver… you part ways. A week after, you are telling a friend about that weird day where you had random conversations with two complete strangers. You can’t remember their names. Not really. But the one thing that you will remember is how that second stranger made you feel. That will stick with you. And you are able to tell the story s/he shared with you that day. The first story? Maybe vague details.

Now, apply that to startups and pitches. Instead of you, the recipient of the stories are investors or users. That’s why it’s so important. You weave your story to make an emotional impact and that’s how you relate to your audience. That’s why it’s crucial to nail your branding: it’s not just the logo and marketing collaterals, it’s the unsaid, what is between the lines that will make your story the best — it’s what is invisible but can only be perceived emotionally.

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We hear quite a lot about “branding” these days. What does branding really mean to you, and what should it mean to startups in Central Europe?

I think my previous response gives you a good idea of what branding should be. Don’t focus just on your logo or website as objects. Focus on them as a medium to convey the full experience of what you offer. This is why, for instance, we offer the Primer phase: we find out everything about the startup, its team, its values, its mission, its goals, but also the story of how the team member got together, what glues them together. We want to find out what makes them tick, what they hate. Of course, we want to see their vision. I always tell clients that we are exploring their full universe in order to be able to activate all 5 senses. Touch, feel, smell, see, taste. That’s how we are able to then build a brand identity that aligns with the startups’ values and culture. As regards startups and businesses from Central/Eastern Europe, this is how they can be authentic and genuine — and that, in turn, will allow them to be universal, go to foreign markets.

We often hear that European startups are “behind” those in the US or in Britain, particularly as it concerns marketing principles and communication skills. Of course the real picture is more subtle. Do you think there are mistakes in the overall narrative that US startups are “ahead” of others around the world?

It is a reality that the level of maturity of startup ecosystems around the world are different. It’s like with electronics. Do you remember the beginning, when the U.S. was making calculators, fax machines and even computers? What was the economic phase in Asia? It was copying. Then comes innovation, they started iterating faster, then took over: look at what happened with Samsung, for instance. You can’t burn through the stages, it takes time. It’s not just the startups, it’s also investors. In a place like Berlin, investors are still very shy and the startups are still used to presenting perfect solutions instead of MVPs to those investors. So their development phase is slowed down by a lack of funding. In the meantime, investors in the U.S. have had quite some time to become familiar with the startup ecosystems. They are bold and bet very early on, even at the stage of ideas, with no product yet. I’m not saying it’s better, it’s just different paradigms.

One thing that is VERY important to be aware of, however is this: regardless of the maturity of the market, developers in Europe, and more specifically in Central/Eastern Europe, are extremely skilled. Proof is, some of the most successful startups in Silicon Valley have gone through the process of working with remote teams from the region.

It’s important to look at the whole ecosystem, not just one side.

You met with the StartupYard startups recently. What did you learn from the experience?

This is my second year mentoring at StartupYard. As you asked me before about startups in Europe vs the U.S., I have to say that the level of maturity of this cohort is striking. Last year, they were good, and this year, they are even better. I’m not bashing on last year, no, that’s not what I mean. On average, the level of readiness overall, for seed stage startups, was pretty damn good. I am still involved with some of last year’s batch. You know, it’s also about who you click with. I believe a few of them will do really well. And this year is no exception. I’m very happy to be a mentor for StartupYard and very grateful for this opportunity too.

 

Satismeter: Meet the Founders

SatisMeter is perfect for online businesses that lack qualitative feedback from their users.
It’s an in-app feedback platform, that collects NPS data based on specific usage patterns. Unlike a traditional email survey or various in-house solutions, SatisMeter is an easy to integrate, multi-platform solution, perfect for small startups with only a few customers, all the way up to enterprise scale clients.

Satismeter’s current customers include BuzzSumo,  Udacity, Mention, Adroll, Dashlane,and MailJet. I sat down with the founders, brothers Jakub and Ondrej Sedlacek, to talk about Satismeter, and their unique team.

 

The Satismeter Brothers

The Satismeter Brothers, Jakub (left) and Ondrej (right)

You two are not only Co-Founders at SatisMeter, but brothers. Have you always worked well together, or was that a later development? Is it an advantage to work with a sibling as a co-founder?

Ondrej: Before SatisMeter neither of us thought our professional paths would ever meet.
Even though we are brothers, we are quite different.
Jakub is a technical person and a product guy with experience of leading GoodData front-end engineering for five years. I, on the other hand, am a sociable person with a background in IT sales, marketing and NGO fundraising.
Jakub: Being brothers has a great advantage, in that we know each other well and we can rely on each other in good and bad times. We share the same values and because we have different expertise we complement each other well.

Tell us a bit about how you came up with SatisMeter.

Jakub: I worked in the [Czech founded and Prague and San Francisco based] analytics company GoodData before and we struggled with the direction of our product and keeping focus on what our customers need. We started collecting customer feedback and it helped us tremendously with further product development. I was surprised there was no such service that would help automate the whole process. That’s where the idea for SatisMeter came from.

How can SatisMeter be used to improve how SaaS companies develop new features or improve retention of existing customers?

Jakub:  SaaS companies live off of customer subscriptions. They need to keep their customers as long as they possibly can. SatisMeter can be viewed as a churn reduction tool. We identify unsatisfied customers, and let SaaS companies work with these customers before they leave for the competition.

Ondrej: Also, most online businesses do not get enough user feedback. They optimize the whole user experience and new features based on analysing the behavior of users, but know very little about the actual needs behind this behaviour.
SatisMeter gathers this feedback directly inside web apps and shares it back to the right people in the organisation. Unlike most in-house solutions, SatisMeter can send the feedback not only to Support, but also to CRM, Analytics and Marketing tools, as well as other communication channels like Slack. This way the feedback doesn’t stay trapped in some helpdesk database, and the whole organization can see what their customers think.

You signed some very prominent clients pretty quickly, like Buzzsumo, MailJet, Mention, and AdRoll. What do you think got you this early traction?

Jakub:  We made the service very easy to start with and let the users see the value immediately. Also, unlike many surveys on the market, we really care about the experience of the end-user – Satismeter doesn’t block them from working and let them fill in our pop-up when they have time for it. This is why Satismeter has a 30% response rates on average.
Ondrej: Our first users came from partnership with customer data hub Segment.com. For example Mention’s Head of Growth found us on the Segment marketplace, and build their churn reduction process around our NPS platform. Later he even wrote a blogpost about this process, and the word of mouth started spreading. Satismeter have also been featured on ProductHunt, which helped as well.

Do you want to help Satismeter on their journey to the top? Click Below to Tweet about them now.

Have you seen any unexpected uses of SatisMeter since you launched? Something that surprised you?

Jakub: When we launched, we saw SatisMeter as a tool for Product Managers to help them build a product their customers need. It surprised us that most people interested in SatisMeter were marketers and growth hackers who wanted to optimize their growth metrics. We unlocked many creative uses by integrating with other platforms and letting our customers work with the collected data. We already took a lot these ideas and implemented them right into SatisMeter.

What’s the short term plan for Satismeter? Where do you want to be in 6 months to a year?

Ondrej: There are four areas where Satismeter will focus: new platforms, new markets, better understanding of user feedback and actionable advice. We want to cover all platforms where users are communicating with businesses and our mobile survey will be launched in March. We are working with several communication platforms to collect user feedback for their customers. Some of our customers collect tens of thousands of responses a month and we would like to give insight not only whether their users are satisfied, but why. Also we already know how to identify the customers with higher churn risk. We want to advise on how to work with them right inside SatisMeter.

Which players do you view as your biggest potential competitors in this market, and why?

Jakub: At the moment our biggest competition are companies that are collecting NPS using email surveys. A surprisingly large number of companies are still using email surveys, although it’s much less efficient than an in-app solution. There are also many platforms that are doing really nice survey widgets, but don’t work very well with the collected data. Satismeter is trying to focus on an easy to use solution that will help companies to dramatically improve customer retention.

Can you tell us some of the most common mistakes that SaaS companies make when surveying their customers?

Jakub: Common mistake is that they just survey users and don’t follow-up with them. It’s a great way to engage with your happy customers and opportunity to proactively resolve issues of the unhappy ones.

What are some of the most common misconceptions about how NPS is used, and how it works?

Ondrej: The most common misconception people make is to look at NPS score and ask “What does this number mean to my business”. The NPS score alone is an indicator of how satisfied and loyal your customers are, but every business segment, every culture and every country has different perceptions and thus different benchmarks. The right way is to watch the NPS trend, correlate it with product and service changes, and decide how these changes influenced your customers’ satisfaction.
Jakub: NPS can be also used in many other ways to improve your business, for example as tool for better conversion of trial users into paying customers, or a way for better targeted marketing campaigns.

Has StartupYard been a positive experience so far for the team? How has it affected your overall approach to the company so far?

Jakub: StartupYard is a combination of connections, knowledge and experience. This is invaluable for first-time entrepreneurs like us. The first month was intense but Satismeter moved miles ahead in vision of our product and company. We are really excited to see what’s coming next.

Philip Staehelin

Philip Staehelin of Roland Berger: Czech Republic a Gateway for Startups

Philip Staehelin is a StartupYard mentor and investor, and former StartupYard Executive in Residence for 2015. He currently serves as Managing Partner for Roland Berger Consultancy in Prague, with a particular interest in connecting startups with corporate partners. Philip is also a key investor in Gjirafa, a StartupYard company, which recently raised $2 Million from Rockaway Capital.
The following is a lightly edited translation of an interview with Philip that appeared in January in Lidové Noviny. The author is Jan Zizka. Some of the content has been slightly altered for clarity, and several questions have been shortened or removed. 


Lidské Noviny: Few have as much experience with Czech startups as globetrotter Philip Staehelin, who has been living in Prague for over two decades. Staehelin merges two different worlds – he has not only been (and still is), very active within the ecosystem of promising startups, but he also has broad experience from various managerial positions in a number of large enterprises. As the new head of the Prague branch of the Roland Berger consultancy, he confirms in this interview that he has clear plans to recommend, even to traditional corporations, learning from the flexibility and the creative mentality of startups.

Silicon Valley, maybe Switzerland, or Israel, is what comes to everyone’s mind when talking about startups. But I’m not sure what the current situation is in Central Europe. Poland, perhaps? Do you think we have already made at least a small step forward for people to associate Prague and/or Brno with startups?

PS: Well, it’s absolutely clear when you include Berlin in the CEE area. There is a real, huge boom of startups, and many investments are now oriented towards Berlins direction. In my opinion, there is enough interesting potential within the Czech Republic as well, but I am not convinced that Prague can become the next startup hub like Silicon Valley, London or Berlin. However, Prague may serve as a kind of funnel and launch pad for startups from the entire CEE region.

Philip Staehelin

Philip Staehelin of Roland Berger

Alongside other roles, I’m a mentor and advisor in StartupYard, a startup accelerator which is helping to shape Prague into such a role. For instance, TeskaLabs, a company dealing in mobile communications and IoT (Internet of Things) security, went through our accelerator. Then they were accepted to a leading London accelerator (TechStars).

So people who focus on this business in Prague will be following all startups in the CEE region? Or will early stage investors still be found locally, and other investors from London or Silicon Valley will join them later?

This is one of the possibilities. The key idea is to achieve wider coverage ,which will help Prague become a startup gateway – a bridge from East to West. As for StartupYard, for example, it’s closely linked to Slovakia and Hungary.

The key question is what it will look like here for the investors. In the past, only very limited funds were available. Nonetheless, the appetite for risk, which is obviously closely associated with investments in startups, has recently increased. The competition exists even on the investors’ side. There is also governmental support, albeit still insufficient. However, it’s not the same money as in Silicon Valley yet. Investors here are not giving out finance into concepts or ideas; they rather go after companies that already generate some revenues.

Yes, previous governments experienced that weakness when they started to build up the so-called “Seed Fund” for projects at an early stage. Will it still be very difficult to find other investors for those projects in the research phase?

This surely is a weak point. Yet, I’m not suggesting the government offer money itself to anyone who applies with some “startup.” It would not lead to any better outcome. The state should provide resources to the existing venture capital funds. Or to accelerators, for example.

In StartupYard, we have utilized European funding for the past two years, which helped a lot. But our government can take a number of other useful steps. They can provide support in creating the right eco-system for startups. Although financial aid is very important, it is still just a side-effect in comparison with shaping simple and transparent entrepreneurial environments.

Speaking of the new state-owned National Innovation Fund, are you a sceptic?

Yeah, I am definitely skeptical, but at the same time I have some hope. We need something like this. However, I know how much of the state-provided money has disappeared in past years, without that being reflected in the improved performance of companies.

So I have strong hopes that is isn’t just another opportunity for corruption, and that this money would indeed assist in changing the whole business atmosphere.

The problem is to ensure such a fund is well-managed. Because if you take a look back at the history, you’ll see that similar projects here haven’t been managed well.

The Ministry of Industry and Trade wants the new fund to invest along with private investors. Is that vital to success?

Fortunately, our government representatives do realize that they aren’t much good at choosing startups with potential. The state is not a professional investor, and wants to be assured that someone else will be involved, and put their own capital into selected projects. The question is whether it can be guaranteed that this money isn’t being allocated to family, relatives and/or friends of those who would be responsible for managing such a fund.

You said that the state has other, more important roles to play.

They should definitely care more about the actual conditions under which new companies are incorporated in the Czech Republic. In comparison with other countries, we are really backwards when it comes to the difficulty involved. Surprisingly though, the situation is even worse in Germany. Still, most other countries in Europe have much more favorable systems. Poland, for example. And Estonia is the bellwether for innovation.

I often hear that we are fighting corruption, while the issues of the  entrepreneurial environment itself are cast aside. Do you agree with that?

Well, fighting corruption is extremely important. If you grant hundreds of millions to startups, it can seem like a lot. But it’s still just a fraction of what has been stolen in this country. I was an active member of  the Administration Board for Transparency International for several years, so the topic is close to my heart. Czech firms simply wont be able to reach their potential without ending all the graft. If the government could prevent the misuse of public money, and was able to use it properly with promising new companies, that would have tremendous effects.

Just to name a successful example – consider anti-virus experts such as AVG or Avast. They help our economic growth and they employ many people. And on top of that, they are promoting the whole country abroad. We can dare say we are leaders in internet safety because of them.

Some in Czech business circles would tell you that even today, banks will remain central to financing here. The Prague Stock Exchange has no particular reputation, but banks can’t be replaced, and VCs can’t save us. Moreover, banks have more liquidity, and tend to claim they can’t find good business plans or interesting projects.

Banks are too careful when it comes to risk, as part of their basic makeup. And definitely they are not the best choice for startups. As I already mentioned, even some venture capital funds here are risk averse. Which is obviously quite a difficult situation for startups – usually with no assets and frequently being “one-garage” style firms. They have computers and thats it. So very often, they have no other options but to ask their friends and/or family for seed money. Then, so-called angels might get involved – individual private investors. However, from all these relatively small investments you can end up with a nice sum to start with.

And local price levels help too. A few years ago, I personally invested in Video Recruit, a startup that was able to survive here with just EUR 300k for three years. In London, by contrast, you couldn’t live longer than six months on that.

Who are these angels? As far as I know, businessmen like Zbyněk Frolík of Linet or Eduard Kučera from Avast are investing in startups more and more. Do others invest as well, after selling their own businesses, or delegating management to others?

Yes, there is much more funding coming from people who are themselves successful as entrepreneurs. Still, they need better access to startups. That is where the aforementioned accelerator model might be useful, as many great entrepreneurs are involved there as mentors.

To become an investor, you don’t need millions. An investor can be managers who have just done well enough. Another example: a company that went through the StartupYard accelerator a few years ago was an “Albanian Seznam,” called Gjirafa. Our mentors were among their first investors.

As the new Roland Berger Managing Partner, you plan to focus on cooperation between large corporates and interesting startups. Why are you so driven to connect these two seemingly diverse cultures?

You’re right. I am very excited about this, and for multiple reasons. I used to work for T-Mobile, as a member of its international team for innovations. We came up with a few nice ideas, but the company then lacked the ability to work with and develop them. That was about eight years ago; and large companies, including T-Mobile, have changed a lot since then. Today, there ‘s much more understanding that driving innovation is important, and that there are lessons to learn from the flexible approach of startups. The question now, is how.

They can try to incorporate startups into their own structure, but oftentimes startups don’t want that. They don’t want to become just a smaller part of a big unit with overwhelming administration, with no room for development and growth.

What’s your solution?

Startups can stay outside large enterprises, keeping their uniqueness and creativity, but still working cooperatively. Corporations can then create, in collaboration with these startups, some kind of innovation lab where ideas can be worked on. This mode of cooperation is highly fruitful for startups, especially if they get at least some financial support from a bigger company. This is not to mention the advantage of an enterprise’s customer network.

Yet, there is another model available – creating corporate venture capital companies, and buying shares in prospective firms that are relevant to  their overall strategy. As a big plus, you don’t have to put all your eggs in one basket.

It occurs to me that you personally represent a good example of combining these two worlds – you probably aren’t a very typical head for such a traditional consultancy as Roland Berger.

True. I have been a consultant before and wasn’t sure whether to return to the role or not. Though, I had a long discussion on innovation with a global head of Roland Berger, who aims to lead this company more deeply into  the digital world and to a new mix of consulting, technology and private equity. This is a very nice, thrilling vision and also completely in line with my own convictions.

To what extent will this be attractive for Czech companies without foreign ownership? Merging trans-national corporations and startups might seem to far afield for them.

There are many types of innovation. Some Czech companies have agreed to try innovating inside their establishments according to the Industry 4.0 concept. In other words, to integrate the latest technologies and maximize the value of what they already do. And it can work out pretty well because a lot of local firms are very specialized in one particular segment. But it might be helpful even for them to be inspired by a startup mentality. I think also that Czech companies must stay open and try many paths. If something fails, it’s rational to try something different.

Do you think the whole concept of Industry 4.0 is more than marketing jargon? Is it an exaggeration to call this the 4th industrial revolution? Computerizing, digitalization – we’ve seen all this already as a part of the third one.

I am an eye-witness to the fact that this really is the fourth revolution, and I don’t think this is a matter of mere marketing. If companies succeed in gathering data from each & every machine and interconnect all processes ,from logistics to production, that’s an appreciable progression towards higher efficiency.

The Industry 4.0 principle relies not only in applying automation and robotics on your manufacturing processes, but also in integrating all data into your planning – wherever that data comes from (both inside and outside) – and working with it efficiently.

To put it simply, a brewery will be able to connect information on how a climate phenomenon like El Nino may influence this year’s harvest yield, together with historical details on how similar weather swings affected beer consumption in the past, and adjust their strategy for the future accordingly. Or you can easily detect in advance when one of the production line components might break down, or wear ou,t and avoid that by performing pre-emptive maintenance.

The Industry 4.0 concept came here from Germany. My question is a bit wider though – do you think it’s good that the Czechs are so strongly linked to the German economy?

Actually, this is more of a political question… Look, we are such a small country, there are just ten million of us.

Did you really say „we/us“?

Yes, of course. I’ve been living here for more than twenty-two years, I obtained Czech citizenship last year. My wife is Czech as well as both my kids. And I also became a big fan of the Czech national hockey team…

So you are eligible to vote as well.

I will definitely vote, but it will be a tough decision to make. Anyway, I do think we have no better option than our relationship with Germany. I am a bit worried about that element in Czech society that is pulling us back towards the Russian sphere of influence again. So I am willing and happy to be a German ally, vven if neither is perfect nor ideal. But we can benefit immensely from the German industrial base being as strong as it is.

On the other hand, that doesn’t necessarily mean Czechs shouldn’t strive to enter other markets. I gladly support market expansion. And well, if our local startups can be a part of the global scene, it will be a massive thing for the Czech economy.