VC Andrej Kiska: Czech Investors Not as Conservative as You Think

Andrej Kiska is a StartupYard mentor, and a partner with StartupYard backer and prominent central european venture capital firm Credo Ventures, joining in October 2011, originally on a part-time basis. Andrej is also a private equity analyst at Benson Oak, where he focuses on early stage investments.

Andrej graduated from University of Virginia’s McIntire School of Commerce with concentrations in finance and management. Andrej is the son of the prominent entrepreneur, philanthropist, and current President of Slovakia, Andrej Kiska Sr. 

Over the next few weeks, the StartupYard blog will feature a series of articles penned by Kiska on investments and investment strategy for startups, from a VC and angel investor perspective. If you don’t want to wait for them to be republished here, you can read Kiska’s fantastic blog on Medium.

Hi Andrej, why don’t you tell us a bit about your background, and how you came to be a partner at Credo Ventures?

After spending five years in the United States and graduating from college there, I wanted to come closer to home and ended up joining a Prague-based growth fund Benson Oak Capital. I had a pretty incredible time with Benson Oak, since we managed to execute the only IPO of a Czech company at the New York Stock Exchange in the history of our country, AVG Technologies. We were the first investors back in 2004 when AVG had about 3 million dollars in revenue, and it went public in 2012 with more than 350 million dollars in revenue. Thanks to AVG I witnessed the fact that companies from Central Europe can indeed become global, billion dollar behemoths. Benson Oak invested in Credo Ventures in 2011 and I joined the team in 2012 to help more companies achieve similar successes as AVG did.

About how many investments have you looked at in your 4 years with Credo Ventures. Of the companies you’ve invested in, what are a few things that make them stand out?

We see about 600 business plans a year, so it is in the thousands. Yet, we invest in less than 1% of what we see. This is because there aren’t too many companies like AVG, with a product that is in some way unique on a global scale with a team that has the capability to deliver the product to a global audience.

Praha, Andrej Kiska, Credo ventures


How has the landscape changed for early-stage investments in the Czech Republic since you started with Credo?

A: Back in 2010-2011 we would receive only about 300 business plans a year. But it is not just the startups. There were no accelerators, or coworking spaces, and very few angel investors. Heck, even Startupyard didn’t exist back then 🙂 The community has grown radically since then.

Where do you hope to see Credo Ventures in the next 5 years?

I hope we can create another AVG. The sale of our Cognitive Security to Cisco has shown that our startups can attract the attention (and a lot of cash:)) of the largest technology players in the world. I am confident that the stars of our portfolio can become the next Ciscos themselves.

What would you say is the biggest misconception that startup founders tend to have about your job, and about venture capitalists in general?

 I am not sure about general misconceptions, but I really enjoyed the surprised faces of entrepreneurs when they visited my apartment. I guess they expected a big pad or a villa, but the truth is that for the past six years I lived in a living room in an apartment with two roommates. Now that I am starting a family, however, that lifestyle has come to an end.

It is entertaining to see entrepreneurs realizing that many venture capital investors are not extremely wealthy guys who work for an hour or two per day while sipping margaritas at their swimming pool.

You were educated in the US, and you write quite a bit about how Central European startups can compete with US startups. Do you think the local ecosystem is getting better in this regard? How so?

 I think it is getting better only very gradually, and I don’t think this pace is going to change significantly in the next couple of years. The truth is that the overwhelming majority of startup founders we see have no prior exposure to building a product and a team with global potential. These things can in my opinion only be learned on the job, i.e. by doing them.

Therefore, until we will have a generation of founders with prior exposure to global startups as early employees or at least with a few attempts to build a global startup (and ideally succeeded at it), the ability of our startups to compete on a global scale will grow only gradually. We need to build a generation of Jakub Nesetrils, early employees (or founders) of successful Central European startups such as Good Data who decide to start their own startup and know how to do it. These people can then crush it on a global scale like Jakub is doing with Apiary.

Creating such generation will take time, and, of course, money. And I think we are heading in the right direction. Nonetheless, the one thing which is good today and has has not changed over the past five years is the fact that we are continuously able to find heavy R&D teams in Central Europe that are able to invent unique technologies. While turning these technologies into a product and then delivering it to a global audience remains a big challenge for these startups (and one that we at Credo are trying to help to mitigate), companies like Cognitive Security, Comprimato or Codasip serve as great examples that this can indeed be done.

We often hear that Czech and European investors in general are “too conservative.” Do you think this is accurate?

I think one could actually argue the opposite. In my opinion, most of the startups that Czech investors invest in would not receive an investment in the United States at a stage when Czech investors are willing to invest. From this perspective I could make the claim that Czech investors are actually more liberal than their Western European or U.S. counterparts.

 That’s an interesting point. But we hear this all the time- it’s almost a cliche now that Czech investors are overly conservative. So why do you suppose that this criticism is so often leveled at Czech investors?

I think it is a result of very effective marketing of U.S. startup success stories. The buzz around companies like Snapchat, Whatsapp or Tinder makes it look like as if startups in the U.S. effortlessly raise money with no traction and nice powerpoint presentation, while back at home conservative Czech investors require user base, revenue and financial projections.

But let’s take a deeper look for example at Snapchat. It received its seed funding of USD 500k in mid 2012, same year it achieved 50 million snap views per day. If there is an app in Central Europe with no funding that boasts 50 million interactions per day, I would be very happy to give it 500k as well. As a matter of fact, I would give it much more than that. At Benson Oak we invested in an Israeli startup with 40 million users 7 million dollars.

The criticism leveled at Czech investors comes especially from startups, which are misled by awesome self-promotion capabilities of the U.S. startup ecosystem. And this should be a lesson learned for our ecosystem: we are terrible at self-promotion. Look at AVG. On the day it went public, the prime focus of the Czech media was on the fact that shares went down on first day of trading, mostly ignoring the fact that there was no other company in the Czech Republic that even managed to IPO at the New York Stock Exchange. What do the Czech media say now, when AVG is trading 75% above its IPO price? Nothing. And that’s a big shame.

The Czech Republic has taken some steps, such as lowering the costs of incorporation, to be more competitive with Western European and American startups. Has the government here done enough to lower barriers to entry for startups and investors like Credo?

Current “direct” steps such as lower costs of incorporation are marginal improvements that don’t make or break a startup. We learned how to handle all of bureaucratic nuances of the Central European region by now anyways and can navigate these waters for any startup in our portfolio. I think the government will do enough if it simply doesn’t interfere with the ecosystem that is able to take care of itself.

If the government wants to help, the form of such help should be more indirect and long term: encouraging entrepreneurial spirit in young people and eliminating the negative connotation (and economic impact) of failing, motivating more people to invest in startups, providing better education that will help entrepreneurs compete globally and so on.

What are some specific governmental policies that you would like to see improved in the Czech Republic to allow the local startup ecosystem to compete on the world stage?

 I don’t think any governmental policy will dramatically improve the quality of the startup ecosystem, at least not in the short term. The quality of the ecosystem will increase gradually as the ecosystem will gain more experience with competing on the global markets, there are no shortcuts around that.

When it comes to long term initiatives, which I mentioned above, they require more of a mindset than specific policies. Let’s take encouraging entrepreneurial spirit. I heard some people in Slovakia say that Slovak Aeromobil has been the biggest boost to Slovak national pride since we won the Hockey Championship in 2002. I loudly applaud the fact that Aeromobil received government support: it will be tough to turn it into a sustainable business, but has done a tremendous amount of promotion of entrepreneurship in Slovakia. Or look at my father (the president of Slovakia) taking promising Slovak startups to Silicon Valley. I am very much looking forward to the day when Mr. Zeman [President of the Czech Republic] is going to pick promising Czech startups and take them to the Valley.

It is not easy for a government to think outside of the box, but that’s exactly what it needs to do if it wants to be helpful. How come Sweden has allowed autonomous cars on some of their streets? How much talent and innovation could we attract if we build an autonomous car zone/ecosystem in Mlada Boleslav?

 We recently interviewed Ondrej Krajicek on this blog, and he pinpointed education policy and immigration as key areas of public policy that demand attention in order to foster innovation in the Czech Republic. Does the Czech education system put Czech entrepreneurs and investors at a disadvantage today? What about immigration policy?

A: Surely a lot can be done in both areas. With that being said, we invested in multiple university spin-offs already, one of them was already sold to Cisco and others are doing very well, so I guess at least something in education at the university level must be going right. 

In terms of immigration policy: this is obviously a big topic in Europe today, but has been in the U.S. for decades. It is fairly easy to answer from the point of view of startups: yes, we want as much as free movement as possible, so we can attract the best talent to the Czech Republic or move to the U.S. when our business demands it. Yet, looking at it from a holistic point of view, the solution becomes a lot more complicated e.g. if you have 200,000 immigrants (of whom many are unskilled or in unproductive age) heading to European Union annually.

You often write about company culture and organization as a key aspect of competitiveness for Czech and Central European startups. Does the Czech Republic have unique deficiencies in terms of company culture and employment habits or traditions? How should these be improved?

Well, Central Europeans are simply Central Europeans. We are affected by decades of collective ownership, distrust in entrepreneurs of the 90s and a host of other peculiarities. These obviously impact how we go about building businesses. We are proud when we rip off the state by optimizing taxes and frown upon people whose startup idea didn’t work. Many of us are hesitant to share the stake in our business with our employees. Or prefer owning a big stake in a smaller business as opposed to a smaller stake in a potentially bigger business. We want to be either CEOs or corporate employees, not early startup employees. We think we are going to win the World Hockey Championship every year, even though we are ranked number 8 in the world. But I guess that’s just Slovakia.

I think these traits make us who we are, there is nothing to feel ashamed about. As we try to compete in the global marketplace, we have to learn how to leverage our culture and skillset to turn it into a strength, not necessarily how to change it or improve it. Slovak startups for instance might want to consider buying a big TV for the hockey champs to boost team bonding (and don’t have to worry about loss in productivity since this tournament doesn’t last long for our team). But this is for every startup founder to figure out on his own.

You can Tweet Andrej @Kiskandrej

Co-working: the Future of Work? Our Interview with Prague’s Node5

StartupYard’s connection with Node5 dates back to the founding of both, in 2011. Born as an incubator/accelerator program, Node5 and StartupYard quickly split into two separate programs, with separate investors.

Node5, founded by Lukas Hudecek (an original co-founder of StartupYard) became an open co-working space, with a mix of public and private offices which companies and freelancers, as well as startups, share. The space offers a dynamic and social workplace for people who would otherwise be working in small teams without large offices, and is a cost-efficient solution for small companies who would like to offset and share some of the costs of running an office, including reception, food and drinks, meeting spaces, security, cleaning, and other services.
Last year, StartupYard returned to Node5, launching a new partnership, and making some of the accelerator’s resources available to members of the Node5 community.

Node5 is conveniently located near Andel, in Smichov, part of Prague’s “Silicon Valley” district to the west of the city center.


You can read about Node5 on their website, or tweet to them @TheNode5

Hi Petra and Lucas! First, give me some background on yourselves. How did you come to work together?

Petra: I’ve stood on my own feet since the age of 13 and the rough struggle of everyday survival made quite an “iron lady” out of me. I learnt to go and achieve anything in any profession, and make money for the next day under any circumstances. This heartless method helped me quite a bit  when I decided to set aside my university studies and enter the tough world of PR, marketing and sales in which I founded a company, later sold it and used the money to move to Amsterdam to finally pursue further self-development.


Petra Koncelikova managers Node5, and a team of between 5 and 8

Time spent in Holland was quite therapeutic, and an eye opener. I created a local business- a leisure programme for hard working women which kept me financially independent. But more importantly, it taught me to love and respect myself as I grew alongside my business.

I met Lukas through a friend of mine while still living in Amsterdam. Meeting a businessman who cares more about helping others than making money was in my world just as much Sci-Fi as flying a rocket to Mars to shop at a Bio market. We had a couple of discussions and after a while it turned out we complemented each other in many ways. Particularly in business matters.

We found each other pitching in where the other got stuck. His philanthropy and my rigid attitude proved to balance out perfectly and after just a couple of months, real results showed and it’s kept rolling ever since. We make money and do good at the same time.

Lukas: Being thrown into world of entrepreneurship since the early stages of life, I had my ups and downs starting a couple of companies.


Lukas Hudecek, founder and owner at Node5

Lukas Hudecek, founder and owner at Node5

I started a computer hardware store and B2B platform for local computer shops, a creative agency making websites in FrontPage 97, a hardware manufacturer of heavy-duty wifi routers for rural areas and finally, a retail shop for home automatization systems. I raised capital for future endeavors by employing myself in companies as a developer, one of which happened to be Skype.

After a while I thought it would be great to share my experiences with others, and so I started to support younger entrepreneurs by organizing events and hackathons. Those efforts turned into founding StartupYard, where I had the amazing chance as CEO to put our first batch of eight companies through the 3 month program. I founded Node5 soon after.

The two most significant events in the existence of Node5 were when we became break-even in February 2014, and when I decided to hire Petra and make her my General Manager. She proved yourself ever since, and as an extra bonus I’ve gotten a couple of lessons on how not shoot myself in a foot.

What problem did you originally hope to solve by opening Node5?

Lukas: When I was with StartupYard, companies were missing two things especially. A venue and community. Node5 was exactly this, just without the acceleration program. When we started, we thought using London’s TechHub franchise was the way to go, but later we decided to stay independent. It looked like a crazy decision back then, but worth it because now we have the venue, community and accelerator under one roof with complete independence.


This is simply something neither Node5 nor StartupYard would have been able to achieve on it’s own at this scale. And that infrastructure was something I’d originally been hoping to solve for companies like we use to be in the beginning. The time is now.

Was there a model that you followed when you founded Node5? How have the space and business diverged from your original vision?

Lukas: As we were in close talks with TechHub during the early stages of Node5, we knew some of the essentials. We knew some basics about community and real estate business around this type of work. Even though the purchasing power in London and Prague differ greatly, we saw an opportunity in combining community and real estate in a nearly non-profit business to engage talent in an equity-based program, to slingshot ready made entrepreneurs out to the world.

But I was thinking about Node5 from the wrong angle at that point. Very soon we realized we are unable to pay for Node5’s operations costs with equity, so we started looking for stronger monthly revenues. In Feb 2014 after a long hard 2 years, we became break-even strictly on the real estate and space rental business side.

At that point, we had something of an appetite to crank up the old acceleration program too, but then StartupYard fortuitously returned [StartupYard was located elsewhere from 2012 to 2014] and did a fantastic job on the last batch. I would say that this helped us to properly realize Node5’s original vision for the first time.

On the business side, what has proved to be the hardest part of running a co-working space? Has anything surprised you?

Petra: Running a co-working space of this size and form proved to be slightly schizophrenic, because you are internally dealing with different types of businesses and professions in a team of 3 – 8 people max. A thousand square meters require constant maintenance. We keep that space up and tidy 24/7. There’s always something going wrong, somewhere. You have to do not just your promotion but also promote your partners. You’re a salesperson, project manager, event coordinator and HR, all at the same time having only 24 hours in a day.

You have to deal with smaller unreliable service providers since we don’t reach wholesale quotes. Its hard to describe the hustle we arein when we have to find an alternative so our clients won’t spot the difference. Fair usage policy is NEVER fair enough. You always step on someone’s toes and your good intentions usually interest no one.

Sometimes we help enthusiasts to throw their own gig to support their community, while planning events 6 months ahead in the background just to try hold still on a tight schedule. We have this policy to do our best and always walk the extra mile for our clients. But we can’t fit it all in all the time, and there’s always something we miss. It can be pretty frustrating!

Lukas: I’ve been surprised by the diversity of core tasks that are essential to running a coworking space. On a daily basis, we bounce between being a catering firm, an event production company, and real estate and business consultancy agencies. Each of these functions require a great deal of brain cycles on its own, so it’s hard to keep them profitable and running.

It’s like running four companies simultaneously, and that is really the hardest part. I wouldn’t be able to handle it without the great team Petra has put together. Running a coworking space isn’t exactly the easiest job ever, but what is?

Are there some success stories from Node5 that you’re particularly proud of?

Node5 and StartupYard cooperated last month on PragueHacks- including over 80 local programmers.

Node5 and StartupYard cooperated last month on PragueHacks- including over 80 local programmers.

Lukas: I think that I am speaking for my whole crew when I say that there are many successes our members achieved over the time we’ve been here, but I’d rather spotlight something else I am proud of. That’s the current state of our startup infrastructure and its ambitions. I am proud of all those 2-4 year old companies that still push forward like crazy! I am amazed how many failures were forgotten over the past months and years. I am sure that if there is anything like the Czech Startup community, it has never been better. I am proud of what we have achieved together over these last couple of years.

Do you see this or other alternative work spaces as a viable path for a larger part of the workforce in the future? If so, what are its main advantages and disadvantages?

Petra:  Well as a former freelancer I’ve tried it all. I worked in a co-working space back in my early days, and I didn’t find it that awesome. But it was still better than being at home, where I either worked too much or not at all. Efficiency was quite arguable.


The open workspace at Node5

When I founded a PR agency with 10 employees, renting A-class office space in the city center, it was great at first. But every time we got stuck on something we had no one to turn our heads to. No doors to knock on. If there had been something like co-working for marketing agencies back in the days, I’d probably let the nice office go at least in a first 1-2 years of our life. Having like-minded people around means having opponents for your ideas all the time. It’s resources you could often use when you’re short handed or worse, when you have too many people. Just a simple coffee at the bar could save you hours of work. I see Node5 members get together everyday and I see them creating things, companies and values, helping and supporting each other. I find it simply priceless.

Lukas: There was a study by DeskWanted in 2013 saying that demand for shared workspace rises by 89% as the independent workforce hits 1 billion. There’s no current number of how many coworking spaces are there but back in the 2013 the number was 2.500 coworking spaces around the world. There are activities such as showing us, that people like to work not just independently, but also remotely. The same signal we’re getting from big corporations who sends their small teams to work from Node5 remotely and independently from the rest of the company departments. Working in shared workspace isn’t for everybody, except it is 🙂

What’s in Node5’s plans for the next year or so?

Petra: We were working extra hard in the past four months on event production to earn some extra bucks that will allow us to refurbish our residential area, to provide much better working conditions for our residents and bring back a high level of comfort. Other than that, we are also working on a couple of business deals that will provide our members certain perks, that’s something we’ll be releasing soon so you have to wait for that!

Lukas: Recently, we faced a hard decision whether to expand to upper floors to ramp up our revenues, or improve the comfort in the current setup. We’ve chosen improvement and are currently undergoing reconstruction in the residential space. This will provide our members with more privacy for salespeople, more meeting rooms, leisure room, various options of privacy in coworking space and more.

Additionally, what we might be looking at from the longer-term perspective is a program for further support of companies after graduating from acceleration programs, and on growing the real-estate in size and level of quality, as well as range of provided services . We hope our team will help us to build it up for an interview next year.

Exclusive Interview with CzechCrunch Founder Michal Ptacek

Founded in 2014, CzechCrunch has been the Czech Republic’s answer to a raft of English language tech magazines that focus on startups around the world, but have long ignored the Czech Republic and central Europe generally, focusing on London, San Francisco, New York, and other larger cities.

With original daily reporting from a small cast of local writers and editors, the magazine’s content has at times verged on the tabloid-style of ValleyWag, and at others echoed the work of Wired, TechCrunch, and the incumbent Czech tech publication Its slick styling and focus on startups sets it apart from other Czech publications.

Michal Ptacek, an experienced net entrepreneur who owns multiple online publications and other businesses, and is now CzechCrunch’s sole proprietor, wants to bring the attention of average readers to the Czech technology sector, inspiring a new generation of would-be entrepreneurs in the Czech Republic.

I sat down with him recently to quiz him about where CzechCrunch started, where it is now, and where it might be headed.

Here is the exclusive interview: 

Michal, tell us a bit about yourself first. What’s your background?

Founder and CEO of CzechCrunch: Michal Ptacek

Founder and CEO of CzechCrunch: Michal Ptacek

Well I remember when I was a kid I started playing with my uncle’s computer, it was a Commodore 64 running on Basic. Such a cool machine. We were mostly playing games but then one day my uncle bought me a book about programming, and I started to teach myself to program in Basic.

I remember my first program was just generating random numbers from 1 to 10 and then you had to guess which one it was. Then a few years later when I receive my first real computer from my parents, I started to learn Pascal and Delphi and to program actual freeware games with my friend. We were featured in some magazines, and stuff like that, but it was mostly a hobby.

Later I started some blogs and websites. For example when I was about 18 I launched a website called Starmagazin which quickly became one of the most popular entertainment blogs/magazines getting about 15 000 users daily. I basically took a very successful concept from a few U.S websites and applied it to the Czech market, and it somehow by a huge miracle worked, even though I didn’t know anything about marketing, SEO etc at all back then.

I think it was just huge luck and the fact that there weren’t lots of competitors back then. But what I loved about it was that I was just sitting in front of my computer in my room and was generating more money than my parents while still attending a high school. A year later I sold it to a digital agency and realised making websites is something I wanted to do in the future.  

On the flip side, I also had lots of failures. The biggest one from a business perspective was definitely a local “copy” of Yelp called It cost me lots of money from my own pocket and it just never really took off. A year ago I sold it to [ Founder] Tomas Cupr for some pennies. :laugh:

Today my main business is a big network of mostly U.S based websites which I monetize via Adsense. It is nothing innovative and it is pretty boring most of the time, but on the other hand, I think it allows me to live a very comfortable lifestyle.

Recently I also launched this project called: OfficeLovin, which is a sort of platform featuring the offices of tech companies. It somehow became very popular and currently it is getting thousands of visits per day and still growing. This was when I somehow realised that the more money I spend on projects the bigger failure it is going to be in my case! :laughs: So now my approach is mostly: MVP (Minimum Viable Product).

Just for pictures of offices?

Yeah! You know, because offices have sort of become a major perk when it comes to working with certain companies, I wanted to give people a sense of what was out there. What helped me was that the site actually made it into the top 3 of new products on ProductHunt, just behind a new Foursquare, which really helped us get a lot of traffic and recognition.

A good office feels almost like a hiring tool these days, so it’s really easy to find great pictures of all these different workplaces. Nobody wants to work in a garage anymore- they want to work somewhere nice. So the result is that huge companies such as Shopify, Spotify, WeWork, Thumbtack and many others exclusively send us pictures of their offices so we can feature them on Officelovin.

Can you tell us a bit about the history of Czech Crunch? How did it get started?

Czech Crunch started about 14 Months ago. We launched it with my now former partner, Robin Razska, who is a well-known mobile app developer (he sold Summly to Yahoo) and basically we wanted to make a local clone of TechCrunch. We saw that as a huge and cool opportunity.

How has your vision evolved since it started?

So, just for some context, a few weeks ago I bought Robin out, and got a new partner (Vaclav Bedrich in) There were some differences of opinion on where we were going. I think the site was a mix between more gossipy content -something like ValleyWag, which I don’t like- and more serious content like TechCrunch. Let’s say that I’d prefer to come up with a balance that is more like Business Insider and TechCrunch or TheNextWeb.

So you want to balance between general readers and industry insiders?

Yes, basically. I think more Czechs are interested not just in startups, but in the Czech technology industry as a whole, and I think the audience for that could be much bigger than the one we currently have. We obviously still have a lot of readers interested in startups, and we want to keep covering them, but there are a lot of other aspects of the Czech technology sector that are underserved at present.

Who is CzechCrunch current targeted at, and who is reading it?

At this moment, it’s mostly startup guys. :laughs: People interested especially in mobile apps visit CzechCrunch.  We also want to lean more towards the popular crowd. I want my mom to read it- you know? There are not enough purely tech people to support a great tech magazine, but if it is a magazine that also appeals to regular folks who are interested in what’s happening, and how the Czech Republic fits into that, then we might find a broader audience and get a better business model.

Do you feel CzechCrunch has had a positive impact on the Czech technology sector so far? What would you like to do better?

In general yes, we have. But I still see much more potential there. We want to make something much bigger from that.

We also want to lean more positive. That had been an issue of our vision, that sometimes we were somewhat gossipy and also negative.

Goal number one for us right now is to provide more articles per day. We need at least 10-15 articles per day, whereas we currently publish about 5… I’ve been talking to some authors recently, and it looks very optimistic. You will definitely see more interesting  content from us in the near future.

What will that content look like? Features? Interviews? Investigative journalism?

Well not just startups for sure, but tech in general. And yes, features and interviews will play a bigger part because that’s what the readers like. More in-depth reporting is something we want to be able to do more.

In our current model, if we have exclusivity, we can find out about a story maybe 3-5 days before it happens. We can do some research and gather some background. But on the other hand, if we don’t have a story, then we’re looking at having to publish something within 20 minutes of hearing about it, to stay competitive with sites like Lupa. That’s not easy, obviously, and having more authors will help us to get ahead of the stories more.

We definitely also want to have more subjective writing, including editorials and features. Right now, it’s mostly “Company A raises X Crowns,” that sort of thing. More insider stories and opinions will help distinguish us from others, and give us more of a voice.

Are you considering branching out into English language content as well?

A lot of people are asking me about this, and I can see some sense in it, but to be honest I feel that there aren’t enough people yet to support it- it would be a hobby, not a business. And I want to have a business.

Maybe one of the ideas we have for the future would be to focus on Central Europe, not just Czech Republic. There are not really any great magazines covering tech in the region as a whole but it’s really in the future. There isn’t a lot of evidence to show that the region could yet support that kind of thing. We’ll see.

Speaking of the region, how do you feel about the current state of the Czech tech sector? What remains to be improved?

It’s getting better. If you look back a few years, there was a lot of bullshit, frankly. Everybody was doing mobile apps for the iphone- Facebook for cats, etc- the problem was that there were no business models-, just “me-too” products with no potential.

It was more like a lifestyle for many people – but today I think they realize it’s mainly a business, and you have to come up with something serious.

Startups a few years ago became way too cool- everybody wanted to do it, but it brought a lot of people into tech who had no experience with tech whatsoever. But these days I think that’s less of a problem. Tech grew up a bit in Czech Republic.

Investors of course are much more careful than the ones in US, as we all know. I feel it’s still way too passive here and it should be more aggressive. They should be investing more, and faster. On the other hand, I realise there are still not enough interesting projects to invest in.

Do You see more interesting projects than you used to?

Yes, we definitely do.

There’s SocialBakers of course, but they’ve been around for a long time now, in startup terms. They just hosted Engage 2015. It was absolutely amazing.

Apiary I am a huge fan of as well. it has everything, and I’m a big fan. I feel like everything Tomas Cupr touches just turns into gold. I am a huge fan of his businesses, and everything his team does it top notch. He brings a lot of focus and a high level in terms of delivery and execution, which is great to see and get inspired by. It lifts the game of all his competition in the region as well.

Speaking of interesting projects, why weren’t you (CzechCrunch) at StartupYard Demo Day 2015?

Well :laugh: It’s not every day you  see John Sculley in Prague, it was something I wanted to see for a long time, and he was at Engage, which was on the same day as StartupYard’s demo day. That’s a shame, and it’s something I think should change when we have more authors, and can have a bit of a wider reach. It’s just bad luck too- you can’t predict what will be scheduled at the same time, and your demo day ended up on the same day as several other really big events. That’s tough.

What have been some of your most popular articles so far?

Articles about Czech companies are definitely the most popular.

Out of our top articles, number one was definitely our piece by Petr Ocasek- he wrote a very interesting piece about getting into 500 startups accelerator- it was so popular that it nearly brought down our servers :laugh:.

Pavel Kacerle: He’s a czech guy who moved to the U.S to pursue his dreams in the movie industry, and today he works for companies like Marvel, Disney, Lucas, and creates digital effects for movies such as Captain America, Avengers etc. He wrote 6 pieces for CzechCrunch where he described his journey, and that was very popular as well.

And of course investments in the Czech market. When Tomas Cupr sold [StartupYard alum] DameJidlo, the delivery service, that was really huge as well.

Czech articles are in general much more popular than pieces on foreign companies. You can read that stuff in TechCrunch or TheNextWeb, and I think many of our readers do, so we don’t want to necessarily cover the exact same territory.

How does CzechCrunch make money? Is it self-sustaining?

It is self-sustaining already, sure. It’s not as good as I would wish, but it’s mainly in advertising, including banners and sponsorships.

Sponsorships are like “PR articles,” but they’re real articles about the startup or company, and they also get a banner and mentions on Facebook and Twitter. We also interview them, so it’s really a complete package. It’s clearly labeled as sponsored content, but the thing is, if you look at it, it feels quite natural. We don’t want to do pure PR stuff, stuff that screams OMG this is PR.

Vit Horky of Brand Embassy: “Making People Happy”

One of StartupYard’s earliest success stories, Brand Embassy is an innovative, rapidly growing company, tackling “social customer care,” and customer relationship management.

Using this plug-and-play cloud solution, large and small companies can communicate directly with their customers via popular social media channels, like Facebook and Twitter- channels that are increasingly favored by customers looking for the convenience of chatting via social media, and looking to avoid playing email and phone tag with slow and unresponsive customer care teams.

I recently spoke with Vit Horky, Brand Embassy’s co-founder and CEO, about the history of Brand Embassy, what the company is doing today, and what their future plans look like.

How did you and Damian Brhel, the other co-founder, start working together?


It’s a funny story that starts off in Bageterie Boulevard on Vodickova [in the center of Prague] more than 10 years ago. I was looking to hire a developer for Inspiro Solutions, a Prague-based digital marketing agency I founded in 2004, and I didn’t even have an office to hold interviews. Even though Damian was only 14 at the time I didn’t let his age overshadow the interest I had in his CV. We met, we hit it off and decided to work together on a project. One project led to another and eventually led to Damian being appointed as Technical Director of Inspiro Solutions. He was a far superior developer than the rest even though he was outranked professionally and in terms of age.

Founders Vit and Damian. Photo by Libor Fojtik

Founders Vit and Damian. Photo by Libor Fojtik

I guess it’s also worth noting I was only 17 at the time. So a teenager managing an even younger teenager!

What are your professional backgrounds?

I’ve always been interested in entrepreneurship. When I was 12 years old at summer camp, and a temporary vegetarian, I would take the steak that was part of the canteen lunch and re-sell it to kids who wanted more. I guess that’s where it all began!

By the time I was 17 I founded my first company, Inspiro Solutions, which has since become one of the leading social media agencies in Central Europe. I diversified my company portfolio by launching Inspiro Creative, a software distribution company that became a Gold Partner of AVG Technologies and has served over 10,000 customers since that time.

After several years on the agency side of things, I was fed up working on other people’s projects. I wanted to build something that served a real purpose, that had meaning. It’s that desire to do more than just marketing campaigns that really pushed us to launch Brand Embassy in 2011.

As for Damian, he’s a bit a Mark Zuckerberg :laughs:. He didn’t go to university because he simply didn’t have time – he was already pursuing his dreams. Damian is self taught and has been doing development projects by himself since his early teens.

The agency world was heavily focused on the domestic market, and project driven. Damian wanted something that was more product driven with a global scale that could actually have a positive impact on the way people communicate. Both on the same page, we made a successful exit to focus on the launch of Brand Embassy.  

When Brand Embassy first applied to Startupyard, how did you envision the product and future of the company?

We went to Startupyard with a product that was a combination of software and people. Brand Embassy 1.0 was split between the software and the actual service – rather than focusing on selling the power of the technology, we bundled this with providing actual customer service for brands that didn’t know how to manage social customer service.

9 out of 10 contact center agents are only trained to receive or place phone calls, while 68% of customers prefer to use channels other than phone. With this in mind, Brand Embassy kept a part of their “agency” background, if you will, to help assist brands that simply didn’t know what do with social customer care – from both a technological and staffing perspective.

Then and now, the vision remains “making people happy.” Better customer service as an industry standard means better service for you, me, your mother, your brother, your friends and your colleagues. Delivering happiness through better customer service, via our technology, is still our vision.

How, specifically, did those plans change during and following the accelerator?

During the period Brand Embassy was with Startupyard, the mentors we connected with pushed Brand Embassy to focus on product and scalability. They taught us to look further down the road and think about how we could eliminate the “service” or “human” part of our offering and focus on the technology.

The networking opportunities that we had, from conferences in London to introductions to some of our first clients in our home market, were irreplaceable.

How did Brand Embassy gain its first large investment?

We closed a $1 million seed round investment in February 2014 from two venture capital funds, Rockaway Capital and Spread Capital.

While the investors saw the connection and potential between social media and customer service, I learned that they were more interested in investing in people they believed in rather than the business. They viewed social media marketing software as direct competition to overcome. When in reality, the solutions and reason to invest – from a client’s side – in various technologies is very different. Brand Embassy is first and foremost built for customer service, not marketing – while the opposite can be said for “social media marketing” solutions.

Now, our investors have become convinced by both the capabilities of myself and Damian, as well as the product itself.  

Here’s a look at our growth to prove that point:


  • 300% YOY revenue growth for 3 consecutive years

Global expansion

  • 2013 client portfolio: 80% domestic / 20% foreign
  • 2014 client portfolio: 80% foreign / 20% domestic

Telco Market

  • late 2011: first telco client (Telefonica O2 CZ)
  • By 2012: all mobile operators in the Czech Republic
  • By 2014: global market leader in social customer service software for telco

Company Growth:

  • 2012: 5 employees
  • late 2014: 15 employees
  • mid 2015: 30 (doubled)
  • 2016: still hiring!

Can you share a few case studies and testimonials about Brand Embassy?

Sure! A recent case study showed that O2, one of the Czech Republic’s largest Telco operators,  reduced response time by 70% and increased customer satisfaction by 90% using Brand Embassy. O2 fundamentally improved their “guru” concept with Brand Embassy which put customer service and knowledgeable agents at the forefront for their marketing campaign. They were able to change their brand reputation and position themselves as a responsive company that actually listens to their customers.  

Dusan Simonovic, Social Media Specialist at O2, CZ said: “Brand Embassy connects all our social channels into one space with efficient team collaboration and good workflow for providing fast answers. Flexibility with customization is also a great benefit”

We also received this glowing testimonial from Phil Wilson, Social Media Communication Manager at Vodafone UK: “We’ve seen a major change in the way our customers want to communicate with us. They demand more than just marketing on social media, they want customer service. We believe it’s our job to deliver that exceptional service. That’s why we’ve invested in customer service technology from Brand Embassy, and together we’re well on our way to achieving our goals.”

Brand Embassy was also named a top rated enterprise social media management software by TrustRadius.

Has hiring been a major challenge? How has BE gone about hiring new people?

Yes, it’s been a challenge, but we are progressing.

Screenshot 2015-07-13 11.38.23

We doubled the number of employees in the last 6 months and are still actively hiring. We have a brilliantly diverse workforce across commercial, product and marketing and operations.

Our team of 30, all in Prague, now cover 8 countries including USA, Morocco, Uzbekistan and The Philippines. We’re like a mini United Nations here!   

Historically, we were focusing on hard skills and number of years of professional experience. We found that those people didn’t necessarily have the cultural fit or drive we were looking for. We had to part ways with some very talented people because of this disconnect.

We learned the hard way that it’s more important to find people who are a great company culture fit than those who have x years of experience with x,y,z skills. We want to be happy with them and we want them to be happy with us.

Brand Embassy has a unique brand story. How did that develop?

There are two reasons why we have the “Bee Story.” First, it’s because we don’t want to be another boring software company. The Bee Story helps us add some coolness and fun to our messaging and branding. It also helps us stand out in the crowd, as more than just a software company. We are a breath of fresh air in an otherwise pretty stuffy market.

In addition, the Bee Story helps us explain the benefits of integrated customer care in a very intuitive way. We found that we needed a strong analogy to help describe the importance that efficiency and a clean process have in digital customer service. Bees are fascinating creatures that work in an intelligent hive. That’s just what Brand Embassy aims to be. Our approach, then, is analogous with a natural one that is inherently easy to understand, when you think about it.  

What are the significant challenges of selling your solution to small and medium sized businesses?

A challenge we faced in recent years was the inability to service our smaller clients and offer a solution that fit their needs and budget. They wanted us and we wanted them, but we simply didn’t have the resources to work with them and enterprise clients were prioritized.

Only a few weeks ago, we launched our online sales channel (self-service) and we already have plenty of SME clients starting with Brand Embassy every week.

They are all small business and agencies from around the world.

We see big potential in small e-shops and small business owners who must effectively manage their impatient digital customers too. Especially for e-shops whose customers are 100% accustomed to doing things online. They shop online, they want customer service online.

Along with the introduction of our online sales channel, we are introducing a package for these SME’s that starts at $39 / user / month.

Which competitors do you see as vying for the same core audience as Brand Embassy, and why is BE a better choice for your core customers?

There are many solutions that claim to provide social customer service, however, they usually fall into one of two categories. They’re either legacy solutions that have added social as an add-on, but they are difficult to use because handling a public inquiry on social media is something completely different from receiving a phone call.

Or, they are marketing-first solutions designed for running campaigns and building online communities, but can’t handle high conversation volumes and are generally managed by people who have many other responsibilities outside of customer service.

We fill the gap, offering solutions that are built for social and customer service specifically, handling high volumes and making social customer service smart and enjoyable both for the customers and agents.

For Brand Embassy, it’s not only about social media customer service. It’s about unifying the entire customer service experience across all digital channels.

We’ve increasingly seen that non-loyal Zendesk clients from Central Europe are coming over to Brand Embassy. They’ve been using Zendesk out of necessity, but it’s too complicated and it’s not built for social media – social is just an add on to a more traditional help desk solution. It lacks efficiency – everything other than email is a plugin. Brand Embassy has these digital channels built into the core of our platform.

Mentor Abhishek Balaria, CEO of Zentity, on Enterprise Mobility and Startups

Abhishek Balaria is CEO and Founder of the enterprise mobile solutions company Zentity, a leading developer of mobile gateways for telecoms and banks in Europe. He is also a mentor at StartupYard, and a regular at many of StartupYard’s events.

Abhishek has been working in technology for nearly 20 years, with an interest in banking, telecommunications, and mobile. He founded Zentity in 2008 to produce mobile games, and has since expanded to provide mobile gateways for some of the Czech Republic’s and Europe’s largest banks and telecom providers, along with other services like major e-retailer, and, the Czech Republic’s most popular news portal.

Hi Abhishek, why don’t you start by telling us a little about yourself and your background.

I like to think of myself as a technologist who happens to understand a bit of business or specifically software related businesses. I was extremely lucky to have started my professional career at a startup in the early days of the Internet boom and had a dream to someday have a startup of my own.

Before starting my own business I had worked on three continents (North America, Europe and Asia), in startups and the world’s largest corporations, across various industries and with people from all over the world. I feel this background gave me a solid footing for creating my own business. I have been building mobile applications since 2000, when I first built a game for Palm Pilot.

I am married with two children and try to live a simple life.

My current focus is on mobility and cloud related technologies.

You are Founder and CEO of Zentity, which is responsible for a multitude of apps millions of people use on a daily basis. Can you tell us how Zentity started?

I have been interested in mobility since cell-phones became popular in the late 90s. I still remember when GPRS and WAP were first announced. I was also lucky to have worked at an early mobile based product startup called 12snap in Prague where I programmed some WAP based systems.


Later I went on to work for Oskar/Vodafone on SMS content based systems and Česká spořitelna where I worked with online systems. Since the beginning of the millennium we heard every year that it will be the year of mobile.

It started to seem like a real possibility in 2008-9 timeframe after Apple’s App Store was opened to 3rd party developers. So, over the years, I always had startups and mobility in my mind and when I held the first iPhone in my hand, it was crystal clear to me that this was the time for action.

So, I started playing with mobile apps for new smartphones and hired a few people to program mobile games. At that time there was no market for Enterprise mobile solutions, but the mobile games allowed us to learn the technology and were successful in their own right. In summer of 2010 it became clear to me that banking will eventually be performed on mobile devices, we called it a “bank in your pocket”.

My years of experience in banking and telecommunications allowed me to design, market and successfully rollout mobile banking products when the market finally came about. By 2011 we were on our way to become an important player in Enterprise Mobility.

Today we are a leader in mobile banking and related solutions in the CEE region, and probably in wider Europe. 

You’ve designed mobile gateways for huge enterprises, like Vodafone, CSOB, ING, and Alza. Why do these big companies come to Zentity to build their mobile solutions?

It’s got to be a combination of our product maturity, security focus, technical expertise, agility, scale and references.

The enterprise market is very difficult to get into. In the early days, we won because we were ahead of the game. Nobody was thinking in terms of mobile gateways back in 2010-11. Also, we were very clear about our focus and committed to things that mattered to our customers: security, time-to-market and user experience. We have stayed true to that vision through the years.

After successfully rolling out first projects we started winning on the strength of our references. Over time we have reached a scale which is hard to replicate for others in our space. I would love to say that this was the game plan, but we didn’t know how far we can push it.

So, I suppose the formula here is, first you win by correctly timing your product market fit, then you win by scaling through reference selling and then you win because of the scale (as it becomes harder for your competitors to be faster, better and cheaper than you). All the while you have to run a tight and efficient operation.

What are some of the unique challenges in working with such large corporations, with such complex needs?

I have had a long career on Enterprise IT side of things, so to me it came naturally. You have to be aware of long sales cycles. It took us 2-3-4 years to close some accounts, so you have to be patient.

You have to work with a big sales pipeline. On the delivery side, the projects have to be managed very tightly with constant evaluation of the risks. Communication is very important. As in everything I do, I believe that it all starts with putting together the right team for the project. Half of your job is done if you have put together the right team.

Working with large corporations is not much different than working with startups in that you are always delivering a piece of software to a group of people who need it to run their business.

What have been some of your “favorite” or most important failures in the process of building Zentity into what it is today?

We probably have made every mistake in the book as we were getting started 🙂 I always tell my team that the most important projects (tenders or RFPs) for us are the ones that we lose. Every loss makes us regroup, work harder and smarter.

Also, the projects we didn’t win often come back to us because competitors don’t do a satisfactory job or for some other reason. We work hard everyday to make sure that from an operational point of view we are absolutely world-class.

As a mentor at StartupYard, what is are some of the key mistakes that you see startups making most often? What piece of advice to you find yourself giving all the time?  

Timing and product market fit. Also, doing it for the right reasons. I generally lose interest when someone speaks of getting acquired or just raising a funding round. Unfortunately there are a lot of people who think raising money is the main objective.

I never discuss the idea itself, I only want the team to explain the product market fit to me. I want the team to have a deep understanding of their market, technical talent is not enough. I understand that pivots are an important part of a startup’s life and no plan survives contact with the enemy, or as Mike Tyson said, “Everyone has a plan ’till they get punched in the mouth.” But you have to let the team figure this out and not push them to your world view.

In the early days of Zentity, I was advised to open source our product, because we will never sell it. I was advised to hire a VP of sales or build bikini apps. But all I wanted to do was to build a “bank in your pocket”. It’s very important to stick with the core idea, but it will only work if you have deep expertise in the subject matter. I knew banking, so I knew what I was building.

Not pushing a startup to adopt your world view is incredibly hard. It’s something our team struggles with, and I know our mentors do as well. What would you say is the ideal role of a mentor for seed-stage startups?

Yes, it’s natural to try to comment the idea based on our experiences and beliefs. But it’s counterproductive on many fronts. First, young founders look up to you and will underestimate their own convictions, second, they get defensive about this and then you don’t discuss anything other than the idea.

You want the founders to convince you of the product market fit and that they have a deep understanding of their market. Peter Thiel calls it “the secret that you believe in.” Sean Parker didn’t change a thing in the core Facebook idea, he simply advised Zuck on how to stay in control of his own business (a whole different topic :-)) and scale it.

What has worked for me is to start with the assumption that I would never know the market and its product needs as well as the founders. Then you can start on a clean slate and may even learn a thing or two.

As a non-Czech who has adopted the Czech Republic, what are some of the advantages, and disadvantages, that you see in this market? What attracted you to it in the first place, and what keeps you here?

I will answer the second question first. What attracted and keeps me here is the love of my life, my wife and later our children.

Even though I always kind of knew that I wanted to run my own startup or company I could not have known where it would be. I believe that the fundamentals of business in the long run are the same everywhere. You have to build something or work in an area which others want enough to pay you, do it well, be straightforward in your dealings and keep things simple. I do not like complex business models or deals.

But I can share some observations of the Czech Republic compared to other places like US or India where I have lived or done business. The Czech Republic is a remarkably small market and everybody tends to know everybody, which can be an advantage or disadvantage depending on your reputation

 It’s also a very young market, which means sometimes there are no clear category leaders. An older or more mature company here simply means someone who got started in the early nineties. You can find world-class technology talent. I consider all those things advantages.

On the disadvantages side, I can only think of two things. First, it’s hard to scale and secondly, sometimes it can be hard to build meaningful and mutually beneficial partnerships.

The scaling problem is understandable, given the size of the Czech market, and its incomplete integration into the European market as a whole. But why would you say building partnerships is particularly difficult here?

Regarding partnerships, it probably has to do with the fact that if you are trying to create a software product in an industry vertical you will run out of accounts very soon. E.g. banking only has about 15 real accounts and Telco only 3-4 major accounts. The partners would not have enough incentive to invest in the pre-sales of your products.

Another observation I have had is that people and companies generally don’t get the idea of specialization. They want to do everything for everyone. Again, probably due to small market size or historically this is how it worked here. In US, for example, you normally hire someone to mow the lawn, here people just like to do it themselves.

We try to overcome this by explaining to companies about the whole value chain in a vertical market and that they don’t have to do the whole stack to add value.

We have been successful with partnerships like Microsoft, locally and globally, because of the mature partner ecosystem Microsoft has built. Let’s hope more companies will get this over time.

What do you think Czech corporations and startups should do in the near future to compete on a higher level with larger markets, such as Germany, the UK, and the US?

We have been reasonably successful abroad. To compete globally you have to run a very tight world-class operation. English has to be your corporate language from day one. You have to have diverse and international talent early on.

What has worked for us is to try to scale globally once we build a solid business locally. Every global market is unique and sometimes you may have to tweak your product and communications strategy. It’s also a timing issue, you can’t be too early but you can’t do it too late either.

A lot depends on your funding situation. If you have tens of millions of dollars in funding you can try to build full global operations, but if you are growing organically you are better off finding one deal and then grow around that deal.

StartupYard seeks Graphic and Web Design Intern in Prague, January 2016

Are you a self-starter looking for real, hands-on experience in graphic and web design, working with a diverse group of startups? We have a job for you. We are seeking a graphic and web design intern to join us in Prague for 3 months in 2016. 

Last year, StartupYard welcomed Ian Abildskou, from Denmark, as our in-house graphic design intern. Whatever Ian lacked in experience, he made up for in his enthusiasm, his willingness to try new things, and a very positive attitude. He made a lasting impact on StartupYard, and all the projects that he worked on with us.

Ian (right) with Exec in Residence Phillip.

Ian (right) with Exec in Residence Phillip.

Over the course of 4 months, in which he spent several days a week at the StartupYard offices, first working with the StartupYard team, and then our 2015 startups, Ian designed our new logo, and a presentation on the Czech tech ecosystem that was among the most popular content we have generated all year. In addition, Ian contributed to the designs of almost all of the 2015 startups’ logos, and to many of their websites and other marketing materials as well.

Dates:  January 2016 – April 2016

The Job

We are looking for someone like Ian, who wants to gain some professional experience working on real startups, with real users and real products. The designs that this person works on will be seen by potentially millions of people who use the products and services our startups create.

The candidate should be familiar with basic visual effects software such as Photoshop, visual design software like Fireworks, as well as basic website design tools like Dreamweaver. The candidate doesn’t need to be a photoshop wizard or a total ace when it comes to website design and CSS, but they have to be willing to learn, and interested in receiving guidance and feedback.

A “good eye” is essential. Someone interested in photography and drawing, with some experience in those areas, will have an advantage.

The internship will be what this person makes it. Whether they choose to come in just a few times a week, or to devote themselves more fully to the learning opportunity we offer, this person will have the chance to work with up to 10 new companies, all of whom will be looking for help designing logos, making web pages, crafting email templates, and making ads for social media, among many other creative tasks.

They will experience the day-to-day challenges of working with startups, including having to deal with unclear or incomplete ideas and requests, and having to tweak and re-work designs and ideas many times, until a consensus can be reached. Startups learn by doing, so the candidate will have to be prepared for shifting objectives and shifting focus. If you are willing to hear: “I love it… but we need to completely change it,” then this is the place for you.

The candidate must also be willing to have and to share their opinions and ideas. Startups don’t always know when they need help, so the ideal candidate will speak up when they think something needs doing. Startups also don’t always know what works best, so a great intern isn’t afraid to disagree, and to fight for their ideas.


As StartupYard’s program is conducted entirely in English, good communications skills in English are essential to this position. Czech language skills will not be factored into the selection of candidates, so Czechs or non-Czechs should not hesitate to apply.

The Benefits

Aside from small perks like free lunches (the first month of the program), and free coffee and other snacks while working, the intern will have the opportunity to meet and interact with many of StartupYard’s influential and interesting mentors, many of whom run successful businesses, and may provide valuable contacts for work and professional development.

During the second month of the program, StartupYard hosts dozens of challenging and informative workshops, which the intern will be encouraged to take advantage of. This will give the person an opportunity to learn about working in startups, picking up valuable knowledge about marketing, sales, UX/UI design, and other fields related to their work. We don’t want an intern just to put them to work- we want to help this person in their professional development, and the StartupYard team will spare time for guidance, direction, and encouragement when needed.

Over the course of the program, the intern will have a chance to build an impressive portfolio, and the bragging rights that go along with having their work featured by real, working businesses. The intern will have many opportunities to showcase their work to people who may be hiring, such as at StartupYard’s Demo Day, and StartupYard will reward hard work with strong recommendations and other help landing a job after the internship is up.

In addition, there will be startups leaving our program with the need for graphic and web designers. The candidate may have the opportunity for further paid work with those companies following the program.


As this is an unpaid internship, the ideal candidate is a student or young professional who will be in Prague during the internship period, and will provide for their own accommodations and living expenses during that period. We would expect the intern to spend a minimum of 10-12 hours a week at the accelerator, and any effort above and beyond that amount would be welcome and encouraged.

Join Us

If you’re a student or a young professional looking for a leg-up in the startup business, and real, hands-on experience in design, then StartupYard is offering you an unmatched opportunity.

In order to apply, please click on the button below and submit a CV, along with a portfolio or a few representative samples of your work. If you have a personal webpage, or a LinkedIn profile,  please provide a link to that as well.

Developing Content Your B2C Users Actually Want

“I know a guy for that.”

“We’re going to do content marketing. I know somebody who is gonna do that for us.” It surprises me how often I hear this line from founders in our program. “You’re just gonna get someone to do that?” I say. “Yeah, you know, somebody will do some content. Some blog posts, a newsletter, part time.” “Okay… and what will they be about?” “Oh, you know, about the product and you know, stuff in that area.”

As we often say, it’s much easier to teach an engineer something about marketing, than it is to teach a marketer something about engineering. We’re exposed to marketing, particularly content marketing, pretty much every day. You get email updates from services you’ve signed up for, or you click on links that friends have shared on Facebook. So we naturally assume that we understand the behavioral economics of content marketing pretty well.


And it’s become such second nature to also assume it must be easy- something you can just assign to somebody on a part-time basis. Set it and forget it.

But we also tend to assume that we are immune to its effects, while it’s really aimed at that mass of people out there who we deem “typical,” or “average.” Certainly I don’t shape my habits and thoughts around cues that are generated externally. I can’t be manipulated- that’s something that happens to other people.

On the one hand, our founders deeply understand their own products, and the importance of those products as experiences for their users, but they will also tend to discount the marketing around those products as a factor in that experience. As I’ve said often, marketing is not something to be “handled-” it is half of the product/market fit equation.

I would say that I hear some version of: “we will get someone to handle that marketing stuff.” From about half the startups we work with, at the beginning. I’ve come up with a the best answer I can to this refrain: “Yeah… it will be you.” And by the end of the program, most founders are devoting more energy to the marketing challenges they face, than to the development challenges they thought were more important when they started.

What Marketing Accomplishes

Founders commonly understand that marketing is about communicating the existence and benefits of their products. But that’s sort of like saying that the purpose of a car is to keep four tires in contact with the ground. It is something a car has to do- it is one way of defining a car, but it’s not the real purpose.

Instead, marketing is really about helping people to do things that they will want to do. Now, a person may not *know* that they want your product -because they may not know your product even exists yet- so your marketing has to start there. But it can’t end there. Instead, announcing that your product exists, or as in the worst cases of pointless email marketing, still exists, is just the beginning.

As with a car, whose purpose is to get people where they want to go, the purpose of marketing is to get people to do what they already want to do, or need to do- it is to eliminate reasons and barriers against using your products.

Content Marketing: The Why

As we know, there are a lot of ways that marketing can be used to diminish, eliminate, and circumvent barriers. Not sure if you want to pay? Take a trial. Not sure it’s worth the money? Have a discount. Does it do everything you need? Check the features page and the FAQ. These are the basics, and they help us to erode the gap between the decision to use and commit to a product, and the decision to pay for it. By the time people pay for our product- we want them to want to be paying for it.

And we want them to continue to want to pay for it. It costs 10 times as much to obtain a new customer, as it does to retain an old one. And that’s why, particularly in a B2C SaaS business where customer churn is naturally high, the most important metric you can focus on once you have any real number of paying customers, is how many stay with your products and continue paying for them for any length of time. Keep improving that number, and you’re unlikely to fail.

Many startups start off viewing their marketing as a funnel that leads to, and ends with, a purchase. That’s sometimes a fatal error, particularly if your growth model depends on repeat business. Many startups spend much more time, money, and energy on customer acquisition than they do on retention, even when retention accounts for much more of their revenue. Startups want to grow out, not up. They want to get bigger, but they often resist getting better.

The Who: Different Users Have Different Needs

Consider some numbers for a moment. And I’ll base this on a fictionalized version of a real company i worked with a while back. It was a mobile app and web platform.

The company had about 1M app downloads, and about 80,000 monthly active users. For active users, the product was incredibly sticky, with the average user accessing the app at least 3 times a week. Of the 80,000 monthly actives, about 5,000 were paying for a premium product. Again, the product was incredibly sticky, and had been around for a while, so it had a core user group that was really hooked. so churn for paying users was really low.  

Here’s where the math comes in. At €2 a month for premium, the company would be bringing in about €10,000 a month in revenue for the premium product. However, the churn for the premium product was 20% (which is still really great). This meant that the product needed to attract at least 1000 new paying users a month to keep its revenue at the same level.

But when we looked at the churn for users who were new to the premium product, turnover was much higher- up to 60% for the first three months after the user purchased premium, before it fell off and the product stuck.

So the company was only keeping about 40% of its incoming premium users for more than 3 months, at which point the >3 month churn rate was about the same for all users.

But the company was treating their marketing as if it existed in two tranches: paying and non-paying users. They were assuming that they would have to recruit at least 1000 new paying users a month in order to stand completely still. Which is a lot when you only have 80,000 active users to work with.

And if you consider that only 8% of app downloads led to active use, and only 1 in 16 of those active users were willing to pay for the product so far, then you would have to gain 200,000 new app downloads a month in order to add 1000 paying users. To break even, you’d need to pay just 0.02 Euro per new app download. Maybe that’s possible, but it’s definitely not easy.

The key then, would be to focus on retention of paying customers, and on selling the premium product to more of its active users, earlier in the process.

When I talked to the company about their content marketing efforts, they said they were emailing all their active users with the same messaging- a newsletter with a few blog posts about their subject area. They were also developing a trial lifecycle email campaign for new trial users, but once someone bought the product, they were in the “already purchased” camp. There was no specific effort to engage new paying users when their churn was at the highest levels.

Worse yet, there was no specific communication targeting any paying users. Everything was focused on active users.

This is a mistake that a lot of startups make, and it’s not even always a mistake. We’re trained to view our monthly active users as our measure of success, and according to that metric, this company was doing really well with retention. They had clearly achieved some degree of fit with the free product, because a lot of people were using it a lot of the time. But the premium product wasn’t taking off in the same way.

They hadn’t achieved market fit with the paid product. So their answer to that problem was to develop the premium product with more features (another issue we can talk about in another post) But just because you’re having trouble selling a premium product, doesn’t necessarily mean the product is not worth paying for.

Sometimes, users who are paying for it just don’t know what they’re getting. And users who aren’t paying for it may not know what they’re missing. That’s an experience many of us have had. Who hasn’t paid for a premium product for a month or two, and been unable to name the benefits? Maybe they existed, maybe not, but we certainly don’t want to pay for something we can’t see as better than something free.

Working backward from Your Goals

This can all get very granular and very hard to deal with as a small startup. Once we start treating our marketing efforts as these very multifaceted and complex operations, it can be difficult to understand why we’re expending all the effort. And if we don’t keep an eye on the results, then it can be quite demoralizing to write great content and send it off into the ether, not knowing whether it does you any good or not.

So we encourage startups to work backwards from their marketing goals. By looking at their data and identifying a specific retention or engagement failure, they can devise ways of directly targeting that issue, and potentially fixing it. In the case above, I would encourage the startup to focus on developing engaging content for the users who have bought the product within the last 3 months. At the same time, they should put all their new users into a trial of the premium product, supported by the same content- spelling out the benefits of the premium product.


Motivational infographics, blog posts, and data about how the app is helping those users to achieve something are a good start. Specific walkthroughs and highlights of premium features can also work.

They might also launch a post-purchase retention lifecycle, including personal notes from the customer care or community team, asking for feedback and gathering survey data on the product. This helps users to feel they’re being cared for and listened to, and it can improve retention, even if you don’t act on the data you gather from them.

Whatever they do, the important point is to work backwards from a specific goal. Not “improve retention,” but “increase 3 month retention by 50%.” If you can target and execute on a goal like that, while continuing to do everything you’ve already done to gain new users, then you could potentially increase your overall retention by a huge amount, while actually growing your user base.

The How: Developing Positive Associations and Behaviors

This is all very easy to say. How is it done?

I’ve talked quite a bit in the past about how Startups should think about their marketing team. A community manager who is empowered to affect the development of the product is key. But that person also has to become an expert on the users. They have to have access to data on what the users do with the product, and with that data, they need to find ways to engage with those users to give them small, positive experiences, and reinforce the behaviors that lead them to use the app.

What does this look like? Suppose that this company had a community manager. That person should look carefully at user data, and find specific insights about specific types of users. Do certain users always use the app in the morning? Or at night? If a large group of users opens the app in the morning, then why do they do that? Is it because the app prepares them for their day?

FitBit uses location awareness to tell when you're on a trip, and offers you content that is useful in that situation.

FitBit uses location awareness to tell when you’re on a trip, and offers you content that is useful in that situation.

Try a blog post including a few tips on how else these users can make their mornings more productive. Perhaps motivational morning messages inside the app would get a good reaction. If they do, and you see the users reacting to them, then follow that pattern, and make it a positive experience that the users can expect from the product on a consistent basis. If, over a few months, that technique has been working, you can consider how else you might apply it across your whole user base.

And you don’t always have to follow user behavior in order to produce a small win with users. Perhaps there is a feature that users are not engaging with much. Try a newsletter that highlights a few of those features and their benefits, and see if the users start using them more.

In addition, use your knowledge of your users to generate data that may be interesting to them. If your app saves people time for example, employ that data in a post about how much time you’ve been saving your premium users, and exactly how that has been working. Whatever your app does that is a benefit to its users, highlight that in real terms.

Form is Function

We tend to get locked into one type of content marketing over time. For me, it’s always blog posts, because that’s what I like to do. I enjoy writing, and I enjoy the structure. But even StartupYard does other forms of content marketing, despite the fact that we don’t have an app to promote or a service that applies to more than a handful of people.

Content marketing can take many, many forms. Aside from the “traditional” types of content like blogs, email, videos, infographics, and other static content, you can also generate user specific content that can serve to reinforce positive behaviors and feelings with each user. We often call this “gamification,” even when it really isn’t that. It’s just content that reinforces positive behaviors.

For example, I used FitBit for over a year, until my FitBit recently stopped working. FitBit, if you don’t know, is a fitness tracker that sits on your wrist, and lets you know how many steps you’ve taken throughout the day. Mine stopped working, but I plan to replace it, and keep using the service.


Here’s why: every day, usually in the evening, I would take a look at my stats, and find that more often than not, I had not completed my “step goal” for the day, which was around 15,000 steps. So almost every night, after we put our son to bed, I would go out for a walk to “make up” my steps.

Over the course of a week, I would look at my stats to see whether I was meeting my weekly goals. At the basic level, this is a form of content marketing. It is employing user data in order to reinforce certain behaviors. It doesn’t scream: “USE ME!” Instead, it gently reminds the user of the best way to use the product.

Internal, and External Content Marketing

As the above shows, content marketing is not defined by click-bait articles on mashable that get users to download something new and cool. You can use content marketing to recruit new users, but you should also be using it to engage with the users you already have.

Again, StartupYard practices both kinds of content marketing- with the dual goals of engaging with new people like potential mentors, investors, or applicants to our accelerator program, but also engaging with and improving our relationship with our existing companies, mentors, and investors.

Recently, for example, we emailed all of our mentors, asking them to fill out a short survey. It took about 5 minutes. The response rate was nearly 50%. While many of the mentors were probably not consciously aware of it, the survey served two simultaneous goals. It allowed us to get insights into what our mentors think about us, what they want from us, and what they want to get out of mentoring. But it also subtly reinforced certain behaviors that we want our mentors to have.

For example, we asked mentors whether they had “personally connected” a startup to at least one of their contacts. 100% of the responding group had done so. But when we asked the mentors whether they had “personally connected” one of our startups to an investor, only 50% of them had done so.

The question is aimed at gathering valuable information for us, but the survey was also anonymous. We can’t judge specific mentors, or their worth, based on what connections they have provided for our startups. However, that this question was asked in exactly the same way as the previous question, reinforced to our mentors that providing connections to investors is something StartupYard hopes our mentors will be able to do.

A mentor who answered “no,” may then think about whether they have been trying as hard as they can when it comes to mentoring. Perhaps they mentioned an investor, but did not make a personal connection for the startup. Perhaps they talked to the investor, but didn’t then follow up with the startup to see whether the connection had really been made. In sum, the mentor may act differently the next time, and may try a little harder.

The survey was full of these types of questions- it reminded mentors of events that StartupYard holds for mentors, and checked to see if they had attended our demo day. It asked our mentors to rate the progress of our startups, but it combined those sorts of questions with subtle cues about how active the mentors themselves have been. A mentor that rates our startups’ progress as middling, but who indicates that they haven’t been to any of our events or the demo day, may turn the question on themselves: “have I done enough here? Do I have a right to this opinion?”

This is not manipulation. As I’ve said often, and as I always stress with our startups: you cannot make people do things they wouldn’t normally do. But you can help people to see how valuable they are, how included they are, and how they can make a difference for themselves or for others. You can show people what positive results look like, and content marketing, whatever its form, has to follow that function above all others: it has to make people aware that life is better with you, than without you.