Central Europe Accelerator

What Can StartupYard Do For You?

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

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


I have an idea, and a Co-Founder.

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

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



I have an idea, and no Co-Founder.

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


I have a prototype.

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

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


I have a beta version.

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

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

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

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



I have users.

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

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

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




I have paying customers

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

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

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

Pitch StartupYard Investors and Mentors at the Accelerator Open House

Nearly 100 people have already signed up for our Accelerator Open House, Dec. 4, which celebrates our recent move to Node5, and the opening of StartupYard as a more public resource for local and regional startups, and features exiting Chairman of Microsoft Europe, Jan Muehlfeit, who will deliver keynote remarks.

In addition, we’re happy to announce that we will hold a “pitch-off,” inviting entrepreneurs who can attend the event to pitch their ideas in front of StartupYard mentors and investors, programmers and entrepreneurs. Pitches will be 90 seconds, and will not include demos or slides. It’s just you, your charm, and a microphone, in front of a full house.


Applications close this Friday, November 28th (Edit: Applications are now closed).

This isn’t a contest, and there’s nothing to win, but rather an opportunity for you to pitch an idea you may be thinking about, or a startup you’ve been working on, and see whether it peaks the interest of investors, mentors, or others at the Open House. Your pitch will hopefully be the start of a conversation that may see you joining the StartupYard accelerator, or having further talks with potential partners, advisors, or investors.

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From Finland to Romania: What All Startups Have in Common

I’ve spent the past week at two conferences: Slush in Helsinki (aka: the geekiest rock festival in northern Europe), and HowtoWeb, Bucharest’s more demure, but also far more grounded take on a startup conference. Both events were enlightening to me for entirely different reasons. Here are a few observations on what I learned at the two conferences:

Everyone has Suddenly Discovered Community Management

Slush and HowtoWeb both had significant gaming communities in attendance, and it seemed that when companies like Dots weren’t talking about monetization strategies, they were talking about community management. Game design studio Seriously revealed a new approach to mobile gaming content, where the company will rely on its user community to help shape the experience of its game, iterating not just the software, but also the content, based on how users engage with it.

At HowtoWeb, the picture was much the same. I fell into conversation with Dan Olthen at HowtoWeb, about this change in the gaming community. In fact, his talk on producing a new Game of Thrones game for Bigpoint included his interest in community management as an integral part of pre and post-release QA for a game. He advocated for community managers to be involved with product design, particularly with UI, and to be part of every decision involving QA and product design. Feedback from communities, and the post-release lifecycle of a game are now much more important than they were 10 years ago, when a game might be released once, and never updated again. This reasoning applies to a most mobile products, Dan told me, but many companies seriously lack an understanding of how to integrate community managers into a product release lifecycle, meaning that when new mobile products *are* released, the people dealing with those communities often don’t have their fingerprints on them, making them poor advocates for something they don’t have any personal stake in.



Startups Still Don’t Know Why They Need an Accelerator

We’re going to get into this more deeply in a blog post this week, but I’ll mention it right here: Startups don’t know why they need an Accelerator- and the ones that do seem to be aware of what an accelerator can offer, often need us the least.

I spent quite a bit of time, particularly at HowtoWeb, talking to my opposite numbers from other accelerators like Techstars, and from VC firms in London, Berlin and elsewhere. The consensus was clear: too many startups with too many good ideas go too far into developing their products and seeking investments, when an accelerator would help them to narrow their focus, find out what kind of investments they really need, and prepare them to ask for it. Many seem to have become fixated on a particular investor who mentioned the possibility of money, but hasn’t invested yet. As one VC from London told me: “we talk to them and tell them, ‘this is what we did with a *similar* investment, but that doesn’t mean you’ll get the same valuation, if we invested,’ and anyway the startups walk away thinking that they have this valuation we mentioned even when we haven’t even agreed to invest.” Of course, by the time that founder talks to an accelerator, 30,000 Euros for 10% equity seems insulting compared to a theoretical post-money valuation they haven’t earned.

From Finland to Romania: The Picture Stays the Same

HowtoWeb, a tech conference for mostly Romanian startups in Bucharest, had mentoring sessions across two days, so I talked to about 15 startups at the conference, and about half had unrealistic ideas of what a VC firm could do for them. None had even applied to an accelerator. A few expressed that they didn’t want to give up equity (despite having no investors, and thus no valuation), and others were simply unclear as to what we could provide them that they couldn’t get directly from a VC.

While many more companies in Helsinki had secured seed investments or even A-rounds, there were still loads of them who hadn’t, and they weren’t looking to join an accelerator.

I think this is quite a shame. The VC mentors in attendance seemed far more likely to tell startups to simply quit- that their ideas are not good enough, and that they would never invest in them. The Startups I saw in Romania may have had fewer conversations with VCs, and they might have had smaller pocket money, but they had essentially the same illusions about VC investments versus accelerators. They still didn’t see the value in an accelerator.

VCs and Accelerators all ultimately invest in human potential- in people. But we go about it in very different ways. Accelerators help founders shape a business and prepare it to be investable- we validate the basic questions of viability: is this even a good idea? What is the competition? How much money is needed?. But a VC is not as interested in that process- they are interested in companies that already have those questions solved. They have to be moving from point B to point C, have a direction, know it, and be able to show that it has promise. So talking to them before you know what they want from you, before you know what step A is, much less step C, is only going to doom you into being either led on by their vague promises, or disappointed and disillusioned at their firm reply of “no way.”

An accelerator invests in you up-front, and then our work starts. WIth a VC, the decision process is much longer, and it constitutes most of their work deciding whether to invest. Once they’ve invested, they want that investment ideally to work without depending on them for anything else. But in order to do that, they have to be very sure about it. We take bigger risks, but we work harder to make sure that you deliver on your potential.


A lot of Founders Think They’re Still in School

This is something else we’ll talk about in a future blog post, but it bears mentioning here, because we saw it a lot last week on the road.

Founding a company is not like being in school. But a lot of people who found companies we’re interested in accelerating are still in school. And this can show in a few ways. A very young founder I met in Bucharest, with a very interesting business idea and a great deal of technical knowledge, responded very oddly to a comment I made about his approach to the business. He wanted to start a kickstarter campaign, and start selling a very complicated physical product that he had not figured out how to mass produce, market, guarantee and insure, service, and price appropriately. 

In short, he didn’t know what he had from a business perspective. I told him not to start the kickstarter campaign, but to slow down, look for a business partner, seek some investment, and figure out how to market and sell his machine as part of a profitable business. He kept returning to a monologue about how he was going to start this kickstarter campaign and get the investment that way. I told him it would work (getting the investment), but that he would be defeated by the details of producing, selling, and supporting this product if he went it alone. He said to me: “but, I’m only 20 and I think I have a lot of experience and am doing pretty well for my age.”

He was treating the whole thing like a school assignment. He was probably used to being told he could do anything, because he was ambitious, smart, and exceeded the expectations that schools and universities had placed on him. But business has no such expectations. Businesses either turn a profit or they lose money. They don’t succeed because you’re precocious, and they don’t forgive you for mistakes you made at the beginning- they punish you for them. Youth convinces us that we know everything, but the more we learn, the more we understand how little our knowledge amounts to.


Startups with No Money Are Usually the Wallflowers



At Slush, the orgiastic celebration of all things technology that has put Helsinki on the startup and gaming map in the past few years, as I strolled past hundreds of booths and stands occupied by alternately hopeful, overwhelmed, meek, and overconfident startup founders talking up their products and their prospects, I found a sort of rhythm. While the technologies they were all working on were as various as the people themselves, they all seemed to more or less fit a few different “types.” Not as people, or even as businesses, but as founders. The selection was diverse: language acquisition apps, big-data and internet-of-things health and wellness companies, social media me-toos (though there surprisingly few), game designers and media companies were all represented. But the type of company they were didn’t seem to affect the way they behaved.

It seemed to me after a few hours that I could tell what stage a company was in, just by the way they treated the people walking by. Few of the startups had no money to work with, or else they wouldn’t have been able to buy tickets for their booths, but it became clear after a number of conversations, that more than a few companies were operating on a shoestring budget. What surprised me about many of these companies was that their founders were standoffish. They neither engaged with passersby, nor roped them into their booths to display their wares. They just waited, responding only to direct questions. 

I expected, when I talked to people who didn’t seem interested in hearing about StartupYard, and asked no questions about the accelerator, that they must already have funding, and were looking for other types of contacts, or bigger investors. But most of the ones who didn’t ask questions didn’t have any major investors. That seemed incredibly odd to me. I represent investors, and make this clear, and that they probably desperately need investment to move forward, but more than a few seemed glassy-eyed at the prospect- as if they were sure it wouldn’t work out.

I mentioned this to another rep from an accelerator in Germany. “I know!” he said, wonderingly “It’s like we’re chasing them around trying to give them money, and they think we’re going to steal their lunch.”

Well, we won’t steal your lunch. Unless it’s pepperoni pizza, and in that case, watch out.

Companies with Angel Investors are the Most Friendly

I noticed too that companies that did have significant angel money were interested in talking to me, even though they had little reason to do so. I got 10 minutes into a conversation with a delightful co-founder of Lingvist (a language web app that is getting a free plug from me because they were so damn nice), before I realized that the company was way beyond the financial and organizational stage where StartupYard would be a major help. In fact, they had already been with an accelerator, and had a very good idea of how to move forward.

So why had he been so cordial with me? Because he understands something that startups without funding haven’t learned yet: you have no idea where your breaks are going to come from. I’m now a free evangelist for Lingvist, and it cost a co-founder 10 minutes of his time. If I had a check-book that was significantly fatter than my current one, he’d also have a potential investor.

StartupYard Announces Partnership With Node5, Making the Accelerator an Open Resource for the Local Startup Community

In another week of very big news for StartupYard, we can now officially announce that we have found our new home, Prague’s open-office space Node5. The move is part of a broader partnership, wherein StartupYard will become something of a public resource for entrepreneurs in Prague and throughout the region, hosting many more events and hands-on meetings with our mentors for those who can’t necessarily join the accelerator just yet, as well as a more active resource for companies that have already attended.

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Introducing StartupYard’s new home base: Node5

In a sense, this move is a bit of a homecoming for StartupYard. Node5 co-founder Lukas Hudecek was a co-founder of StartupYard, and the two companies were originally envisioned as a single entity. We’re very excited to return to Node5, and pursue a much more ambitious calendar of public events, to really engage with the local tech community. What’s good for entrepreneurs in the region is good for us, and the more smart, capable founders who find investors, make the right decisions, and grow, the more investment and talent will be attracted to this region. Our goal is to see this happen in a big way over the next several years.


Accelerator Open House, Dec. 4, 2014 Featuring Microsoft Europe Chairman Jan Muehlfeit.

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To kickoff the partnership, StartupYard Managing Director Cedric Maloux and Hudecek will host an “Accelerator Open House,” where local entrepreneurs, programmers, investors and StartupYard mentors will meet to discuss life in and after a tech accelerator. The event scheduled for Dec 4th, 2014 will feature keynote remarks from Microsoft Europe Chairman and popular StartupYard mentor Jan Muehlfeit, who himself recently announced his departure from Microsoft to focus on mentorship in the region’s tech community.

Sign up for the Event Now on Facebook
Register at Eventbrite

Muehlfeit said this week: “After stepping down as European Chairman at Microsoft, following a very fruitful 21 years with the company, it’s a great pleasure to give back to the tech community in Prague and Central Europe, focusing on helping individuals, organizations and whole countries to unlock their human potential. Being a mentor at StartupYard has presented me with a great opportunity to assess the potential of young entrepreneurs in the region, and to have a positive impact on their growth, so I’m looking forward with anticipation to the next evolution in our efforts as a community, in cooperation with Node5.”


Venture Capital and Angel investor Ondrej Bartos of Creedo Ventures, will be available to meet potential applicants.

Following the event, a panel of StartupYard mentors, including Ondrej Bartos, StartupYard board member and partner at VC firm Credo Ventures, Petr Ocasek, a StartupYard investor and co-founder/CEO of AngelCam, will field questions from potential applicants to the accelerator. Anyone at all interested in StartupYard, as a potential strategic partner, investor, mentor, or applicant company, is encouraged to attend, and get a sense of what StartupYard can offer the Prague tech community.


Event Details:

Accelerator Open House
December 4th, 2015, 18:30
Featuring Jan Muehlfeit, Ondrej Bartos, and Petr Ocasek
Register at Eventbrite


Accelerator Open House, Dec 14, 2014



StartupYard At Slush 2014, Helsinki

An exciting first day at Slush 2014! Here are a few of our pictures and tweets from the day:IMG_0908 IMG_0910

This was the view from 9am, which is 8am CET. It was a bit overwhelming for that time of morning.

The conference is hosting a record 15,000 people, from all over the world. Particularly on display were startups in the fields of gaming, and wellness.

Talks are going on at 4 large stages simultaneously, and are being given by luminaries from all corners of the industry. The lighting is quite aggressive, a combination of red and green lasers, white spot lights, and fog, lending the whole occasion the atmosphere of a rock concert, with people constantly cycling between the stages, the packed venue restaurants, and the product booths scattered throughout he venue.

We can attest to the fact that the badges are huge, and easy to read.


I cannot confirm or deny the existence of this sauna at a startup conference.

Linda Liukas gave a brilliant talk about her evolution from a young fan of American Vice President Al Gore, into a coder and an entrepreneur.

The Slush 100 competition, originally planned as a 250,000 prize, was doubled at the last minute.

The winner was Enbritrly, with their innovative bot-detecting ad-web analysis engine.

5 Months out of StartupYard, Gjirafa.com Thrives

We caught up with Mergim Cahani this week to talk about the beta launch of Gjirafa.com, the Albanian Language Search and News Aggregator that is making a name for itself in Albania And Kosovo. Cahani took part with his core team in our last accelerator round, and raised substantial angel investments for the venture, which launched in October of this year with a public beta. 
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CEO and Founder of Gjirafa.com, Mergim Cahani

Mergim! A lot has happened since Gjirafa left StartupYard 5 months ago. What’s the latest news?

Yes, we’ve been quite busy. After leaving StartupYard, we launched our private beta by user invitation only. This has really helped us to fine-tune the Gjirafa engine, and allowed us to really tackle the UX perspective and the search quality. We’ve indexed over 20 millions of pages in Albanian so far. Our staff has grown to 18, which is fantastic, because we have all the talent we need, and much sooner than I thought we would be able to find it all. That’s really exciting in itself. We get to follow our potential, just as quickly as we can. A strong group is really essential to that effort.

Finally, on October 9th, we launched the public beta. We just had a one month birthday. We are really excited. The product is full-featured, it’s public, and we’re seeing some amazing numbers. I can’t wait to tell you about it!

left: Cedric Maloux, Director Startup Yard. Right: Mergim Cahani, Founder CEO, Gjirafa

left: Cedric Maloux, Director Startup Yard. Right: Mergim Cahani, Founder CEO, Gjirafa


What features did you launch with?

There is the core product, which is search in the Albanian language and English, news aggregation, and bus schedules. We have over 3500 Albanian language articles per day aggregated, and we have amazing user statistics, but it’s too early to share those. It hasn’t even been a month! The bus scheduler is also a core product, and we’ve added 8,000 lines in the region, covering big cities to tiny villages, making our site the only place where this information is available online. That has really engaged people, which is what we wanted to do: give Kosovars and Albanians the rich web experience that others in Europe just take for granted.

But beyond that, we’ve brought in a couple of features we didn’t expect to have so soon, because user feedback in the private beta was so strong. This includes a weather widget with weather in 320 cities, and a searchable used-car database which is really popular.


How are the features being received?

What we’re finding is that there is a huge hidden demand for all these verticals. We just launched this car-search service on Monday, and already we’re seeing enormous traffic. Our CTR for Facebook ads is also tremendous. Have you ever heard of a 10% CTR? That’s what we’re seeing right now for Gjirafa.

The news aggregator has also been doing really well, particularly our algorithm based “Daily Top 3,” which we’ve proven can consistently determine the most important news of the day on the Albanian web.

Pristina: Capital of Kosovo and home of Gjirafa.

Pristina: Capital of Kosovo and home of Gjirafa.

We’re beginning to develop the Gjirafa name. We want to be known as a product made for and by the Albanian community. So we see our whole user community as part of the effort, and we’re going to be listening to them very closely to see what they need and what they want from us. People are really speaking up and letting us know that they support this effort, and they want us to succeed. It’s been amazing.


So the reaction in the Albanian language community has been good? What do they like about it? What do they ask for?

The first thing they like about it is that it’s their language, and that it’s an Albanian/Kosovar company. They’re really proud of that fact, and they think it’s past due, frankly. They feel that Gjirafa is theirs and they identify themselves with it – and that’s exactly what we want. We are for Albanians, and the reaction has been really strong.


The Gjirafa Search Service

I’ll give you a great example: One of our users contacted us the other day, and wrote “I’m checking this bus schedule, and I can see this line from city A to city B, but there must be a mistake here, because you’re missing two stops on the way.” We checked and he was right, so we wrote him back to let him know we’d fixed it. He turned around and posted our email on instagram and proudly declared that he had fixed the problem, and made the information available to the people. He was putting himself, sort of, on our team. Which I think is right- he is part of the effort.

People are even calling me on my mobile and ask me about this and that line, and about how the site works! People create videos on how to use Gjirafa and put them on Youtube. We don’t ask them to do this- they just do it. We receive resumes daily, and people want to volunteer to help us for no pay. Comments on articles about Gjirafa encourage people to use the product patriotically. People are saying: “You have to use this, and help make this work, because it is our thing.” That’s so heartwarming for us. It’s amazing.


The Gjirafa News Aggregator

And it isn’t just people. Other companies in the region have also reached out, and let us know that they are on our team as well, and rooting for us. That’s so great.


How has your impact in Albania/Kosovo met with your expectations? Is this where you thought you’d be a year ago?

 In some ways yes, in others not at all.  We expected to have good traffic, but for the first month after the public launch, we’re on track to double our goals for total traffic.

And we never thought we would have such interest in vertical searches like cars- that was a big surprise.

Also, I didn’t expect to have such an all around well-rounded team. I thought we’d be missing a few key parts, or not be able to afford to hire the right people. But everything is now covered in terms of staff.

People really engaged more than we expected. Our research showed that 30% of visits would be mobile. But over 50% are now mobile. That changed our focus and direction. Prioritizing of new features was greatly affected by that. It is becoming a much more mobile market, and we have to focus on that. 3G is just coming to this region -I know, it’s so late!- so our services are more relevant than they’ve ever been. 4G is coming soon, so we have to be ready for that.


Where is the development of the site so far? What do you need to improve on, and what seems to be working well so far?

The development supports all the launch features. Fully mobile responsive. What we need to improve is our ranking algorithm. We have taken several items into consideration in ranking general search results, and now we are adding around 20 factors to take into account with ranking. Ercan for instance, the co-founder and the CTO, is working on Data Science of the Albanian Web, and this will have a big impact on improving the search results. This new ranked search will be available by the end of this month.

The general search often provides fantastic results- often better than Google in the albanian language, but sometimes it fails to provide useful results, so we’ve experienced a learning curve. We have identified those issues. Google probably uses over 200 factors in ranked search, and Seznam probably uses nearly 100. We “only” use 20 now, but you have to remember that Google has more to worry about in providing a personalized search. They have to worry about user history, location, language, and a much bigger base of data. We only focus on websites, and the content on those sites so far. It’s a smaller web, so we are starting with the brass tacks. That allows us to actually beat Google on speed, at 250 ms response times on average. We’re very happy with that figure, and it improves when many searches are occurring at the same time, so the more our index is used, the better it will be.


How did the StartupYard shape your trajectory over the last year?

I see everything that’s happened so far as ingredients in a recipe that got Gjirafa this far (although not there yet). They are: the market (our users), the team and the technology, and the support we received; starting and leading from angels and other supporters.


Cahani at the Gjirafa Launch, October 2014


The Gjirafa Team

StartupYard, on the other hand, was the secret ingredient that made the recipe work and pushed everything forward. It is like a hydrogen bond, that keeps the water molecules together. The investors and the customers are the atoms, but the bonds make them chemicals and compounds- they make them *be* something. I sincerely believe it would have been very difficult, maybe impossible, to have brought Gjirafa to where it is today without Startupyard. Without StartupYard’s management team, mentors, and the experience it brought with it. I don’t know how we’d be here.

Just one example of what we got out of it: the bus schedule idea was born in Prague, at StartupYard. It was that kind of insight into: “ok… you have a country full of customers… how do you reach them?” that StartupYard gave us. It made us believe that what we were doing was possible, and showed us the way forward.

And StartupYard was our access to angel investors, Microsoft BizSpark Plus, and the partnership with Seznam.cz, and the list goes on and on. Simply put, without StartupYard we would not be where we are today – we would be somewhere of course, but we would not be one of the fastest growing platforms in the Albanian web, that is for sure.


Has Google taken an interest in your activities so far? Any menacing phone calls or mysterious packages?

:Laughes: No… not directly, no. But it’s interesting, because Google does deep crawl us quite a bit, and they use interesting keywords when crawling us. We have over 6000 pages crawled, and they use random words like “barbie,” and then they index the pages, then move on to the next term – we’re not exactly sure what they’re doing. They seem to be figuring out how big we are- seeing how many pages we index. They definitely know we’re here, let’s put it that way.



You managed to hit your goals for an Angel investment round after leaving StartupYard. Are you still looking for more investment?

The most important thing for us right now, is to hit our targets, and surpass them. We’re doing that now, and the more data we collect on our user base, the better position we’ll be in to understand our own value in this market, and our future potential. That real, hard user data is going to give us a picture of our value, and allow us to show that we have traction.

I’m so grateful to the angel investors who took a shot on us this year. They’ve given us the space and time to do Gjirafa right, and we’re focused on making this a great product, with a great market potential. The more space we have to do that, the better position we’ll be in when it comes time for looking to new investments. But without them, we wouldn’t be here discussing Gjirafa.


You’ve had some communication from Microsoft as well, is that right? What’s that all about?


Yes! This was very interesting for us. We have been in contact with the Azure team from Microsoft, primarily.  We have a lot of servers with Microsoft, and that intrigued them. They wanted to know: “What is going on in Kosovo? What are you doing with our servers?”. They met us, and invited us to be Microsoft Azure Advisors, which provides us access to benefits like directly communicating with the Microsoft Azure team, and the ability to give detailed feedback and input on azure products that we need. If we see that we need something new from Azure, we can shape the development of new products to meet our needs directly with Azure. That’s been great for us.


You launched Gjirafa officially at a big press event last month in Kosovo. Tell us about that.

It was a really exciting day. Firstly for the team, because we saw this is a day for us. We’d gotten “the beast” Gjirafa, to the point where it was ready to be seen by the world! In addition to the marketing perspective, we saw it as a moment to be proud of our accomplishments so far. The organization of it was excellent, where the co-founder and the COO, Diogjen Elshani, with the help of the team, was able to make sure everything was going smoothly – from the invitations, the live stream and everything in between.

The event was really unique for Kosovo. For a startup in Kosovo, it was really remarkable. It made just about every TV channel, and I was doing live interviews all day on various TVs. A special was done by one channel, and we had a 7 minute exclusive on a high rated network, and we had the #1 news channel dedicate 20 minutes about Gjirafa, which was replayed for a full week. We were all over TV that week, and from that perspective, it was a huge success in getting the word out about our efforts.

Some important people also came to the press event. Diplomats and politicians were present, and some local celebrities as well. It was a really big deal, and an amazing day for the team. We really followed the launches that occur in Silicon Valley, and modeled it after things like Apple keynotes. We tried to make it exciting and not too corporate. Stay conceptual, you know? Talk about big ideas, but in basic terms. It really caught the public attention here.


Where do you hope to be with Gjirafa in one year? What services do you plan for the near future?

We’re gonna have several vertical searches, including cars, real estate, specific products like phones, job opportunities, and we’ll include product comparisons between sites. We’ll double the reach of our index, and we’ll have over 50 million pages available through Gjirafa. We’re also going to launch an app for iOS/Android, and that will better be able to serve the Mobile market, which is becoming dominant here.

Potentially, we are looking at a few other things like an academic search vertical, and a vertical on public government documents- business incorporation, laws, and public records.


Thanks Mergim, is that anything else you’d like to add?

I have a story I want to tell you! It’s a good one, I promise.

So we have somebody on the team in the role of “information coordinator.” This basically means that he actually physically has to go to bus stops and make sure that our database is correct, and that the bus schedules haven’t been changed. The Albanian government doesn’t have this information online.

One time a few weeks ago, and I swear this is true, he was doing this in a really small village, with just a couple of people in it. He walked past a couple of middle-aged people, and asked for information regarding bus station and bus schedule. “Where are you going?,” they ask him. “I’m just checking the schedule,” he says. “Oh,” says one of them, “You don’t have to do that anymore you know, there’s this thing called Gjirafa, and it has it all.” It made me laugh when I heard that one. He *is* Gjirafa, but people are already taking this service for granted. And that’s just fantastic. In my opinion, if the people treat this like something they deserve, then they will make sure that we deliver what they need from us. And that expectation is exactly what we thrive on.



StartupYard Triples Seed Investments to €30,000; €250,000 For Best Startups

Tech entrepreneurs have until Dec 15th to apply for our 5th round

The StartupYard team is pleased and excited to announce that our 5th accelerator round is officially set to kick off in early 2015. To cap off a really exciting year in 2014, in which we relaunched the accelerator with our new Director, Cedric Maloux, and accelerated some awesome teams (more on them later), while seeing other alumni reach new heights of success, this 5th round will be our biggest to date.

We think so.

Spend 3 Months in the Heart of Europe, kicking your Startup into high-gear.


Build Your Dream Startup With Us: Applications Now Open

We are now accepting applications. The last date to apply is December 15th, but don’t wait! Apply right now, and maximize your opportunity to get to know us at StartupYard, and for us to get to know you and your team. We love questions from potential applicants, and there’s nothing we’d rather do than start talking to as many of you as we can right now, so we urge you to get in touch with us on Twitter, Facebook, or by Email  or even come and see us in person: we’ll be at several events in the next month.



Data, Analytics, and Mobile


Our focus this round will be on projects in Data, Analytics, and Mobile, and we expect to see a broad range of projects and teams in these categories.

We’ll accept 10 qualified teams. Your Startups will be accepted on the strength of your ideas, which may be in various stages of development, or exist only on paper, and the strength of your team. Are you enthusiastic? Are you a leader? Are you slightly crazy, but in a good way? If your idea is crazy enough that it just might work, you’ll be invited to join us. You will receive €30,000 seed investments for a 10% stake, and will spend 3 months in Prague. We’ll help you incorporate, refine your pitch, go through intensive mentorship with our amazing mentors, motivate you to prepare to launch your business, all of it culminating in a major Demo Day, where entrepreneurs where you’ll pitch to investors directly. StartupYard expects at least 150 qualified startup teams to apply, So don’t wait.

Get to the Money!


How are we able to triple our seed investments to €30,000 Euros, while keeping our equity terms the same as they’ve been from the start? For most of the last year, StartupYard has been cooperating in what is now called CEED Tech, a consortium of Central European Accelerators. Together, the CEED Tech Accelerators have now secured €5 Million in grants from the European Commission, to be directly invested in newly forming tech startups. These funds will be combined with private equity, allowing us to offer applying teams much more capital, for the same terms as we’ve had in the past.

Follow-up Investments


Not only this, but the terms of the EC grant allow us to invest up to €250,000 more in those companies that show exceptional promise through StartupYard’s program. This is going to make investing in StartupYard companies even more attractive for our affiliated angels and seed investors, and give our best projects even more potential runway for their projects, meaning they’ll be able to secure better terms, have more time to seek investment after the program, and will be able to inspire confidence with investors from the get go. All amazing news for anyone who wants to kick off a project with us this year.

Apply Early, And Start Getting Ready Now

The sooner you complete your application, the sooner we can start to get to know you and your team, as you prepare to join us in Prague, in March 2015. So Apply Right Now! What do you have to lose? By not applying, you stand to lose €30,000 and a once-in-a-lifetime chance to build your dream startup.