exponential innovation

Exponential Innovation: Preface

We are on the edge of change comparable to the rise of human life on Earth.” – Vernon Vinge

Last week, StartupYard managing director Cedric Maloux spoke about “Exponential Innovation” at the “What About Innovation” meeting of the American Chamber of Commerce in Pristina, Kosovo, on the invitation of StartupYard alum Gjirafa.

The talk dealt with a simple, but broad based question: Is Exponential Innovation an Opportunity or a Threat to Society?

The talk proved to be very popular, and raised ideas that the StartupYard team felt should be explored in more depth. So, during spring and summer 2016, StartupYard will be working on a series of blog posts around this topic.

Exponential Innovation

The central premise of our series on Exponential Innovation will be this: exponential growth in the complexity of technology, reflected in increasing computing power and capacity, the explosion of data and increasingly complex and powerful material sciences, is a reality in our society, and will have an ever increasing influence over society and the world economy for the foreseeable future.

Exponential innovation raises important questions and concerns:

“What role will humans play in a society where most existing jobs can be done more efficiently by machines?”

“Is the current 40 hour model of work-based employment viable going forward?”

“What will be the roles of work and employment in the near future?”

“Which jobs are immediately at risk? Which ones are at risk long term?”

“What will be the role of education in a world where intellectual labor is increasingly automated?”

“How will innovation change the role of money in our lives, as the need for a traditional workforce decreases?”

“How will governments and societies adapt to rapid advances in artificial intelligence, and its growing role in business decision making?“


For more on this topic, check out this fascinating weekly newsletter from Azeem Azhar:

The Exponential View


Defining Our Purpose

For centuries, conversations around technological progress have been surrounded by, on the one hand, fear and apprehension about change, and on the other, excitement at the prospect of a better, happier, safer and more fulfilling life.

The world in the midst of the industrial revolution in 1840, and the world of 2016 are very different places, and yet these dual feelings of apprehension and expectation have not changed. In both eras, automation is viewed as both a threat and a deliverance. But whereas the industrial revolution replaced much routine manual work, the current technological revolution will replace many non-routine cognitive tasks.

At the same time, many of our startup founders and mentors express a certain fatalism about innovation. They say, in one form or another: “The robots will take our jobs, and so you’ll either have to own the robots, or you’ll have nothing.”

Is that really the case? Is it the inevitable outcome of rapid innovation?

Then, as now, governments and society had the capacity to evolve the function of money, ownership, and work to adapt to a changing technological reality. We are already seeing a rise in extreme political movements, from the mid-east to the Americas, fueled in large part by the diminishing role of the middle class in the new economy.

Will we see political changes as profound as those of the industrial revolution in the near future? Will innovations like Universal Basic Income (UBI), become essential elements of the new, post AI economy?

The primary purpose of this series will be not to argue in favor of one particular view of modern society, or to espouse one particular political or economic agenda. Instead, it will be to inspire conversations about pressing topics for the many millions of people, in Europe and around the world, who are facing a future that they find difficult to understand, and even harder to predict.

What are we, as workers, as entrepreneurs, as citizens, or as members of society and actors in our economy, working towards? What future are we building for ourselves? These questions are highly relevant to the work of StartupYard, and to every one of our members, alumni, mentors, partners, and investors, as well as the millions of people who will be touched by the technology we invest in, and help to foster.


Ludovic Neveu

Ludovic Neveu: Sell Confidence and Vision

Ludovic Neveu is a long-time StartupYard mentor, and since last year, an investor in StartupYard as well.

With over 20 years of sales and marketing experience in US software companies such as Symantec, Borland, CodeGear and Embarcadero, Ludovic brings a depth of experience to his mentoring at StartupYard, and has become a dedicated and active mentor. He is currently VP EMEA at Embarcadero technologies and is responsible for all sales and P&L in Europe, Middle-East and Africa.

I caught up with Ludovic this week to talk about his experience with mentoring startups on strategic partnership and sales: here is what he had to say: 

Hi Ludovic, can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Why did you get into sales, and how did you get to where you are today, professionally?

I’m a self-motivated Executive, I feel challenged and alive when I have the leeway to work as hard as I want. I feel pretty lucky with the position I have of running EMEA and also get the opportunities to travel to many places and meet extraordinary people, however, let’s make no mistake about it, I started to be lucky when I started to work hard.

I started my career in organizing marketing events and this was a great way to learn the reality of work life, and not counting hours, being a master of multi-tasking and being on top of details and all of this with tough deadlines. I then moved to regional marketing roles and very quickly, the boarder between marketing and sales functions became very thin. I found out that in software companies, you reward sales people when things are great and you blame marketing people when things don’t go as planned. I have now been running direct and indirect sales teams for the last 16 years.

I am a deep believer that people make an organization successful, so I highly suggest to everyone to get the chance to drive their own career and their own life. StartupYard is the right example, it’s all about people that want to make a difference in their own space; they believe in their idea and they work hard to make it happen

You’re an investor in StartupYard, and a popular mentor. Why do you work with startups? What do you gain from being a StartupYard mentor?

Primarily, I wanted to be a mentor to share my experience. As I see so many companies making mistakes or reinventing the wheel, which in my opinion is a pure waste of time.

Very quickly, I realized that my energy level had doubled after a mentoring session. It’s quite amazing to see the enthusiasm and the motivation that all the startup founders have. They have an idea, and whatever it is, they believe in it so much that they decided to change their life and work hard for it. If you can dream it, you can achieve it!

Additionally, I think that if you want to be a better leader, you need to have a broader view of what you’re doing, look at other businesses, and experience other approaches. Ultimately, this has been very positive and I am also enjoying the networking with other mentors or investors, all very smart people!

Last year, I decided to go one step further and invest into the 2016 cohort. I really like this idea of investing into businesses that make a difference. if you’d have more people doing this, I am convinced we could solve part if not all the biggest issue of our modern world–which is unemployment.

I really want to encourage companies that want to drive innovation, disrupt the way business is being done and drive positive change.

Sales is perennially an area of difficulty for CEE startups. Why do you think that is, and do you see that situation improving with time?

To be successful in sales, you first need to sell yourself, you then sell your company, and then you sell your products. And if you look at startups, most of these 3 points are weak. Let’s take them one by one

When you sell yourself, you build trust. People buy from people. Some of the founders can achieve this but many are product guys, and would need to improve their interpersonal skills.

When you sell your company, you sell confidence and vision. Well, many might have an idea, but the vision is not clear yet, and the company doesn’t have any history.

Lastly, you sell your product, your features…but most startups only have a proof of concept, or just an idea, so no wonder it’s difficult.

I recommend all startups to find the right combination between selling a vision and what you have today. Just one or the other is not enough. And to build trust, give confidence, increase your company valuation, you have to do all it takes to get your first sale(s).

Please, stop delaying sales to have a better product. A sale today is better than a sale tomorrow.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel, as this is one of the benefits you get from the acceleration program at SY. All 9 startups gave great pitches, and you could see that they had all become more sales oriented.

Your mentoring is especially focused on strategic partnerships, right?

I am a deep believer in partnerships. A problem I have often had to solve in my career is was how to achieve more with less. How can you leverage your efforts? How can you be global without having a very heavy and expensive structure? How can you get experts in a field or local knowledge to work for you?

The response to all of that is partners; you can find sales partners, which are the most obvious, but you can also find partners to do your accounting, to help you in marketing, or to outsource R&D. Having a partner model also helps you to keep your base costs as low as possible. Financing is a major blocker for all startups. Partner margins have to be looked at as your cost of sales and not as a discount on your product, and remember, I’d rather give 30% of €100k than 10% of nothing!

On the topic of partnerships, what do you see as the most common mistakes on the part of startups who are looking to cooperate with corporations? What advice do you end up giving most?

 In general, partnerships work when both parties win. If it is not balanced, it fails. It’s about a willingness to do business together. It’s important to sign a legal contract, but then, if you need to look too hard at it, this means your relation is broken.

My advice to the startups is to work on the same level as corporations. Believe in what you have or what you could have (obviously realistically!). Don’t beg, don’t feel inferior and find what your mutual interests really are. Understand your benefits and the benefits you bring– because they are there.

From the corporate side, what are some of the biggest mistakes corporations make when looking to cooperate with tech startups? What can they do to fix these issues?

A: The challenge from the corporate side is that they are either not open enough or stuck in their business models, giving them few openings to be “creative”.

If your focus is to deliver Ebitda; if your licensing model is old due to VSOE issues, if your 3 years plan is set in stone, it’s going to be very difficult to integrate a new business model.

Additionally, most of the time, startups disrupt old ways of doing business and embracing change is challenging.

My advice for corporations is to integrate startups or startups projects as a separate business unit with its own rules. If it doesn’t fit into your normal structure, then you extend that structure; you don’t have to alter it completely.

You’ve got a lot of experience working with corporations and startups in CEE. How has the landscape changed in the last few years? What’s still missing from the region, when it comes to corporations and startups working together?

Over the years, many corporations have become more structured in CEE, but I am still amazed to see how many companies out there are still not doing business in the region. An easy benchmark is that your EMEA business should represent around 35% of your worldwide revenue if you’re a US company. Many US companies still have EMEA revenue representing only around 20%. Right now, the Russian and CIS situation is challenging, however countries like the Czech Republic are doing very well.

Startups should also have this in mind, your business should be global and not local. A bright idea and a great execution is not dependent on a country

Hiring sales people is one of the biggest challenges any of our startups face in their early stages. What do you tell a young startup that is looking for a sales leader?

A: Totally agree, by nature sales people know how to sell themselves so it’s one of the most difficult hire as the reality can be very different from the pitch. I’d suggest to look for the right set of mind and personality. This can be found with people doing sports, challenges. Look for their extra activities, responsibility outside of their job, in associations, clubs…

I was able to increase the success rate of new hires by over 30% by putting them in situations during the hiring process. Ask them to make a presentation, to behave in a different environment… you will have lots of surprises!

Understanding people’s strengths will also increase your success rate – check http://strengths.gallup.com/default.aspx for example

What has been your favorite experience with StartupYard, and why?

The overall diversity is great. Everyone has different experiences and priorities. Every meeting is different, and you need to adapt quickly to new situations, and behaviors. Although I’m open minded, I’ve occasionally had friction with some startups’ business models at the beginning, and some reminded me how old fashion I was.  Some of those companies aren’t around anymore; whether you’re a startup or a corporation, some fundamentals don’t change.

The most challenging job as an investor is to choose the investment which has the biggest potential. Overall, I always come back after a mentoring session with more energy, and I want to change the world!

The next step for me would probably be a board member position, to help startups be successful after their acceleration program.

What do you think StartupYard should do more, or differently, to advance startups and corporate/startup relations in the CEE region?

Every year, StartupYard’s process and work is better and better, and we get more quality startups and more investors are looking at them, so this is great.

I see 2 potential directions, one which is to put some structure around business angels and push more people to invest. Many people would like to invest in startups but don’t necessarily know how to do that.

The other direction is “Uberization,” and the next step for SY is to provide shared bandwidth for startups- employees who work as needed for different companies. Earlier on, we discussed the benefit of having your first sales, and you could imagine a model where startups could use a sales person on demand for a couple hours or days a month. I started that discussion with Cedric and other mentors and this might be a new way forward.

French Ambassador

French Ambassador Hosts StartupYard Mentors

Last week, the StartupYard team, our 2016 startups, and over 70 of our mentors were honored by a special gala dinner, hosted by the French Ambassador to the Czech Republic, Jean-Pierre Asvazadourian.

The event which included several speakers, a dinner and a reception, and was sponsored by Komercni Banka, Mazars, and Roland Berger, Cedric Voight of Ballou PR gave the keynote remarks. Voight spoke about the importance of storytelling for both startups and corporations, and on the need for corporations to foster innovation in their own regions. Ballou PR is a major PR firm based in Europe, founded by Colette Ballou, with current and former clients such as Facebook, Ebay, Pinterest, and Waze.

Among the speakers were also StartupYard mentors Philip Staehelin, Managing Partner of Roland Berger in Prague, Albert Le Dirac’h, Chairman of KB Bank, and Carlos Meza, representing Mazars.

This event was planned in cooperation with our partners as a thanks to our incredibly dedicated and helpful group of mentors, over 70 in all, who took part in mentoring our 2016 cohort of 9 startups.

All photos are courtesy of the French Embassy, Prague. 

France and The Czech Republic

A clear theme of the evening, given the speakers and venue, was furthering cooperation and knowledge transfer between France and the Czech Republic. StartupYard Managing Director Cedric Maloux, and Ambassador Asvazadourian spoke about the lessons that the Czech government and tech community could take from France’s experience, including greater tax advantages for technology startups, startup visas for entrepreneurs, more public funds for innovation, and greater corporate interest in funding new ideas.

Maloux also spoke about the need among corporations and governments, for touchpoints with the startup ecosystems in their respective countries, and abroad. He laid out his view of StartupYard, and other seed stage accelerators, as key points of interaction between older business and government institutions, and a new generation of entrepreneurs and technologists.

Philip Staehelin of Roland Berger spoke about his passion for bringing corporations and banks into closer cooperation with startups, and learning to adopt startup-inspired processes and entrepreneurial thinking within their own organizations.

Mr. Le Dirach, who has worked in banking for over 3 decades with Societe Generale, and now as the Chairman of KB, spoke about the need for smarter regulation of e-commerce, fintech, and information security. He also touched on KB’s efforts to open its doors to innovative startups, highlighting the need for corporate and banking executives to “get out of the office, and talk to real people outside our organizations.”

The French Embassy

The Ambassador also highlighted the role of the French Embassy as an organization with multiple missions. On one level, it promotes French business interests abroad, and on another, it seeks to promote mutually beneficial exchange of ideas between the two countries.

Ambassador Asvazadourian also pointed out the contrast inherent in the venue- the 18th century Buquoy Palace, with the topic at hand. He spoke about the need for older institutions, including those present, as well as the governments of both countries, to adapt and learn from startups, and new conceptions of working, and living.

6 things

6 Things Our Startups Learned in 2016

As our 9 startups leave us, and begin the real journey of growing into their own companies with their own bright futures, we thought it would be valuable to look back on some of the things that many of them learned in the past 3 months. I asked our teams: “In what way has your thinking changed in the last 3 months, and why? What lesson did you learn that you couldn’t have learned any other way? Some of the answers are collected below. Here are 6 things our startups learned in 2016: 

The Customer is Not Always Right, and a Customer is not a Client

Many of our startup teams have experience in business, but many have also spent the earlier part of their careers working on technology projects as consultants, engineers, or project managers. That’s vital experience for any startup founder, but experience is a double edged sword. We as often as not encounter situations where our founders’ experience in business works against their judgement as startup founders.

As a consultant, or a project manager, one works at the behest of a client who understands what they are paying for, and why. Their needs have already been laid out in clear terms, and the solution, including the work needed to solve it, has in a sense been sold even before the work begins. Because projects have clearly established parameters for success, a project manager or consultant has something to work towards, and clear feedback on the work already done.

But it’s just different with startups. Startups typically have customers, not clients. They produce something new, and find people (customers) who understand and want the value that product provides. A client asks for something, and it is delivered. A customer doesn’t know what he or she wants yet, but can be convinced that they need what the startup provides.

Most of the time, startups are working on concepts and products that customers not only didn’t ask for, but may not even understand. Much of the early work of a startup is to figure out what a product actually is, and how that can be communicated to a potential customer. Instead of working toward a common goal, a startup has to do the work, and then convince a customer that what they’ve made is worth buying or investing in further.

Because so many founders are used to tailoring their work to the needs of a client, they can start to adopt the objections of the potential customer as their own objections. Every week, we hear some variation of the result

SY Team: “What about x feature you were working on?”

Founders: “we talked to a potential customer, and they said they didn’t want that.”

SY Team: “How did you try to convince them that it would be valuable for them?”

Founders: “We were really just listening.”

Just listening is what a consultant does in the first meeting. But a startup is pitching something new; something probably unexpected, and something that customer doesn’t yet know that they want. First meetings with customers have to sound out the idea, in order to see if it is being communicated properly. If the customer doesn’t like the idea, then it may be time to talk to others, before changing the product.

We also hear a variation of that story, where the startup adopts the ideas of its first potential clients, instead of selling its own vision:

Sy Team: “Why are you doing x feature now? Why focus on that now?”

Founders: “Because a potential customer said they wanted that.”

Sy Team: “Did they agree to buy from you if you had it?”

Founders: “Well… not yet. But we think they will.”

This is of course an ideal circumstance of a customer,  They now have an expert team developing a dream product for them, and best of all, they’re doing it for free. If the customer doesn’t like the result, they lose nothing in the exchange; while the startup has invested time and resources into something it may not be able to sell at all.

A Pilot is Not Just a Pilot

We happened to have quite a few companies in this cohort that struck deals for piloting their products with prospect customers.

That’s great progress, and it opens the door to future business. But it’s not the customer’s job to push the sale, or to evaluate the pilot by themselves. A startup that runs a pilot without specific goals and success metrics is like a car dealership that finishes test drives by dropping the customer off at home.

Maybe the customer will come back after the pilot, maybe not. But you’ve failed to do your part in the transaction if the pilot you run doesn’t have a clearly defined goal.

If possible, a startup should run a pilot that can easily become a long term business relationship. There should be a conversation before the pilot begins, that covers these questions: “What will define a successful pilot?” “Who will determining that a pilot is a success?” “What will be the next step after a successful pilot?”

Ideally, a pilot doesn’t end, it just becomes a business relationship. If a customer wants to “evaluate” a pilot after it concludes, then very convincing evidence needs to be prepared that the pilot actually worked. It should not be a question of expense for the customer, but of opportunity: the pilot should prove that an opportunity exists, and that the customer can’t afford to skip it.

Customers can readily agree to a pilot, if it costs them very little of their time or focus. They can agree to a pilot just to get out of a meeting with a startup- and we’ve seen that happen plenty of times. The startup comes back with the good news that they’ve agreed to a pilot, but when it comes to taking the steps to make that pilot customer a paying customer, no progress has really been made.

Partnerships Should Cost Something

Like the aforementioned pilot, a partnership can be an easy thing to agree to. We’ll put your logo on our website, and you put your logo on ours. That is the extent of a great number of tech company partnerships, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. It is good to give customers a sense of who you are connected with in your industry.

However, a partnership in name-only is not as good as a partnership that costs both you, and the partner, something real and tangible. I’ve touched on this in the blog before, but it bears repeating here: you should partner with companies that need something real from you, and which you need something real from in return. Without a mutual interest on the table, a partnership is at best an unnecessary distraction

Play to Your Strengths as a Founder

One of the hardest things about being in an accelerator, from what I’ve observed, is that every mentor has a different view of the kind of company you should be. Often though, a mentor’s ideas about your company are as much a mirror of their own desires, as of what kind of company you should really be building.

That kind of feedback is very valuable- it gives you insight into what makes others passionate, but it can’t replace your own passion.

Founders sometimes run into what I have started to call a “passion gap,” between the passions of their advisors, and their own desires. They try to be like the mentors they admire, instead of trying to do what they really love doing. This can lead a founder to feeling frustrated and worthless, when he or she isn’t as good at what they’re trying to do, as at what they really love doing.

What we’ve learned over the last few years, is that you need to play to your strengths. You just have to do what you love- and you can’t make yourself love whatever you are doing. It can be a magical thing to see a founder find the sweet spot between what they love to do, and what makes sense from a business perspective. That balance can be very hard to find, and it may only come up after many brainstorming sessions, and a great deal of work that doesn’t go anywhere.

In one case in recent memory, a team in our program went from a pervasive sense of failure and disappointment, to make increasingly positive steps- and it all started when they took themselves off the hook for what they thought others expected of them. Once they started doing what they were actually good at, things turned around in a hurry.

How to Ask For Help

The startup life attracts a certain type of personality. You have to be a little crazy to want to start a company, with no guarantees that there is a real market for your product, or investors actually interested in funding it. We look for the type of person who is comfortable dealing with uncertainty, rejection, and oftentimes, failure.


We stepped down from being managers lecturing and teaching rookies in our business workshops to becoming students and listening what others had to say. Others that we by all means respected. So the chance to realize and re-discover humility or meekness was not only useful in the process of mentoring but also further down the road as this attitude helped us see things we might have not seen in our previous business, or wouldn’t have seen without Startupyard.

What that means, is that we attract founders who don’t take “no” for an answer. That’s a good thing generally, but it also presents problems. Knowing when one should listen to negative feedback makes the difference between a naive founder, and one who is able to adapt and thrive despite problems. Drive and independence of thought can as well lead a founder to ignore important feedback, as it can cause him or her to persevere when others would quit.

Listening well and actually getting the help you need often comes down to what questions you’re asking. To me, there are essentially 3 types of questions that founders ask most: “open” questions, “closed” questions, and “save me” questions.

An open question can be: “what type of email marketing service should we use?” That’s fairly straightforward- the founder is just asking for input and options. Nothing amiss here.

Closed questions are productive as well: “do you think this landing page is good?” While it’s a yes or no question, it starts a useful conversation.

Finally, “save me” questions are where some founders run into real problems. “How do you reach out to the press to get good PR?” Or, “what should we do to improve our sales funnel?” Worse still, would be a startup founder asking an investor: “is there any appetite for this kind of investment?”

These are “save me” questions because they aren’t really questions, they are cries for help. The founder is really asking: “what should I be working on?” “What should I do right now?” These questions first fail to instill any confidence, and second, don’t elicit very useful responses. The response will depend almost entirely on the mood of the mentor, and put all the work on their side of the table.

A far better question is an open or closed one, which essentially asks: “Am I doing the right thing?” “Am I missing something?” A mentor or advisor is far better equipped to react rather than to dictate. And when a founder puts the work in ahead of time, shows their thinking, and asks questions that shed light on that thinking, they are much more likely to get substantive and useful feedback.

It’s Not About Dreams, It’s About Vision

StartupYard Accelerator

“It is not about dreams. It is all about a vision. And StartupYard helped us to find a path, how we can make our vision a reality. So we just need to roll up our sleeves and get busy. There’s a lot of work to do. “

One of our founders told me this week that for them, the realization that the work of a startup is about vision, instead of dreams, was a core part of their experience at StartupYard.

I had never thought about it that way, but I think he was on to something. A lot of founders have dreams, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But dreams don’t necessarily come with a coherent plan for dealing with the reality of any given situation. You may dream of big valuations and great achievements, but without a clear vision for how you will achieve them, they’re just dreams.

Vision, on the other hand, is about having a concrete, realistic set of objectives, and a way of achieving them that makes sense, is aggressive, and can be clearly communicated to investors, advisors, and partners. While we look for startups that have big dreams, we end up pushing them to pursue a clear vision.

StartupYard DemoDay 2016 Highlights

DemoDay 2016: The Big Moments

StartupYard last night introduced its 6th cohort of startups to the world. We are extremely proud, and judging from our community’s reaction, so were you.  Thank you for supporting us and encouraging us to do what we do. Your value to our startups is truly immeasurable.

But which of the companies at DemoDay 2016 were your favorites, and why?

Click on the picture of your favorite startup founder below to tweet about them. 

(Photos courtesy of Milos Potuzak. Check out his other work on his website, or on Facebook.)

Gjirafa Founder and CEO Mergim Cahani talks about the ups and downs of founding a high growth startup.

Gjirafa Founder and CEO Mergim Cahani talks about the ups and downs of founding a high growth startup. Click to Tweet!

Jakub Ladra, of ClaimAir, talks flight compensation.

Jakub Ladra, of ClaimAir, talks flight compensation. Click to Tweet!

Ondrej Sedlacek of Satismeter talks Churn.

Ondrej Sedlacek of Satismeter talks Churn. Click to Tweet!

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

Pavel Konecny, of NeuronSoundware, talks about machine learning and sound. Click to Tweet!


Alex Karadjian of Speedifly talks about social, spontaneous air travel.

Alex Karadjian of Speedifly talks about social, spontaneous air travel. Click to Tweet!

Marek Novy of Stream.Plus talks about the future of online video.

Marek Novy of Stream.Plus talks about the future of online video. Click to Tweet!

Piotr Piekos of TotemInteractive introduces the future of outdoor digital advertising.

Piotr Piekos of TotemInteractive introduces the future of outdoor digital advertising. Click to Tweet!

Karel Javurek of NeuronAd discusses adblockers and online publishing

Karel Javurek of NeuronAd discusses adblockers and online publishing. Click to Tweet!

Johanness Rohrenbach of Boatify talks about amazing boating experiences.

Johanness Rohrenbach of Boatify talks about amazing boating experiences. Click to Tweet!

Martin Cvetler of Salutara introduces the future of medical travel.

Martin Cvetler of Salutara introduces the future of medical travel. Click to Tweet!

Cedric Maloux makes closing remarks.

Cedric Maloux makes closing remarks.

The Royal, a classic venue, for a not-so-classic event.

The Royal, a classic venue, for a not-so-classic event.



The crowd at The Royal was impressive.

The crowd at The Royal was impressive.


Don’t forget to check out our exclusive interviews with each Startup from 2016:

TotemInteractive: Make Ads People Love

TotemInteractive, StartupYard’s first Polish startup team, came to StartupYard with a novel concept, and has executed on a broad vision to change digital outdoor advertising in a major way. The team, experienced in digital media and cloud systems, is creating a platform into which marketers and advertisers can put their creative energy to generate meaningful, lovable, interactive display ads in place of boring, old fashioned posters and billboards.

I caught up with Piotr Piekos, CoFounder and CEO at TotemInteractive, to talk about the future of outdoor digital advertising, and cloud based marketing. Here’s what he had to say:

Hi Piotr, tell us a bit about TotemInteractive and your team. How did you come up with the idea?


Pietor Piekos, CoFounder and CEO at TotemInteractive

TotemInteractive is a software platform that aims to help marketers with deployment and performance measurement of cross-platform, interactive marketing campaigns launched on electronic screens in public and in-store locations. Basically, interactive display advertising, instead of boring old posters.

The idea came from our observation of two trends: the propagation of digital screens in public spaces, and the fact that mobile devices have become an inseparable part of almost every activity that we do outdoors. TotemInteractive believes that digital advertising outdoors as often depicted in scfi movies in not just an imaginary future. We think that it is a natural consequence of the mobile and IoT revolution. TotemInteractive’s plaform aims to be among the first players on that market.

You have a background working with digital agencies. How does that help you when it comes to creating a platform for digital interactive ads?

Throughout my professional career I had seen a number of solutions aiming to resolve the problem of unified and streamlined visual communication across different devices. Some of them already succeeded in industries like gas and oil (crisis centers) or places like decision-support systems for high-level corporate executives.

Budget constraints are less of a worry for these types of businesses, allowing the vendors to reach high complexity and sophistication with the systems they deploy. I have been involved with several dozen such products. Knowing exactly what our target market (advertisers) expects, we are able to provide a lean and user friendly answer to the market demand. In short: we want to move what is already possible with multi-million dollar equipment to the world of advertising, where price is always a consideration.

What about your team? How are you uniquely qualified to bring display ads into the modern age?

To answer this question, I will first need to explain a bit about the requirements for the platform. We had composed a team with very technical specific requirements in mind: such as quality of service (your ad has to be there at all times),  and scale (platform needs to work on hundreds of screens simultaneously).

Our team consists of people who are experts in building complex, distributed systems. Michal is a system-engineer who is a specialist in cloud based deployments. Kamil and Piotr have been working on large scale deployments of tailored B2B systems for years.


Leszek Knoll

Leszek Knoll


The TotemInteractive Team


The Totem Interactive Team Hard at Work


On the business side: Leszek Knoll, my CoFounder and COO, brings startup entrepreneurial experience on board. He had built startups in the past and knows well the rules of the game.

I have been working in professional audio-visual industry for several years: my expertise is based on several dozen deployed, consulted and rescued projects related to large scale visualization systems. Lastly, we are backed by several mentors who hold strategic positions in advertising segments: in agencies, brands, and large media-house conglomerates.

Tell us a little about how the TotemInteractive platform works. What does it enable advertisers to do?

TotemInteractive makes it possible to directly interact with a big digital screen in public spaces using your mobile phone. It can be a game, where you use your mobile as a controller, or a socially engaging voting system for your favourite band during the music festival. Whatever you can image.

Our platform stays hidden behind the scenes, a cloud based system that supports various applications for live screens. It’s a sophisticated enabler, allowing marketers to very easily create and deploy interactive campaigns, without a need to engage substantial resources to prepare, code, test and deploy their own cloud based or local solutions.

How is TotemInteractive different from traditional static display ads?

It is not boring! Our platform transforms traditional ads into something that delivers real value to the consumer. Suddenly, those displays become engaging, fun and an experience sharable with others.

You’ve already run a few pilot campaigns. Can you tell us a little about how these worked, and what the results were?

Even though our MVP is still in development phase, we had done a proof of concept campaign during a job fair, at Silesian University of Technology. Our results show that, first of all: people are really keen on interacting with this new type of medium, when the motivation for doing so is clear.

Registering more than 10 engagements per hour, per screen, gives us good reason to believe that such advertising can be much more effective than traditional display ads. Not to mention, that 42% of the people who played our game were willing to share their Facebook data with us through the platform. Try doing something like that with a poster.

You have spent quite a bit of time identifying market needs and exploring different approaches to the market. What has the exploration process revealed that you didn’t know a few months ago?

Major conclusion was that a seed-stage startup will have very hard times when it comes to deployment of a platform across multiple screen networks. We had found out that it is a very capital intense goal, that we simply cannot afford to chase at this moment.

What are your immediate plans for expansion? What does TotemInteractive have planned for the next year?

We want to reach the retail market (in-store digital signage, banking, car dealerships). Gradually we also want to move to the events market. In the next year we want to be recognizable by marketers in CEE and western Europe as these guys that can put their creative, potentially viral, ideas into motion.

Long term, where do you want to be in 5 years?

 Market leader in interactive digital signage! We want to provide marketers not only with technology, but with unsurpassed reach (network aggregation), for their digital outdoor campaigns.

How has StartupYard shaped the company’s growth in the past 3 months? Are there any particular mentors who had an outsized impact on your team, direction, or traction?

Well, StartupYard was immensely helpful in terms of momentum that our business reached during this time. Definitely, mentoring was a revealing and beneficial experience for us. It was about knowledge sharing, feedback (both positive and negative), but also some of the mentors allowed us to enter real sales opportunities that we are chasing at the moment.  Without SY it would not be possible. But not only that: I believe that our business development potential is now multiplied by your expertise in marketing and the power of your network.


Boatify: Your Boating Experience Platform

The boatify team joined StartupYard this year as our very first team representing Switzerland, and its emerging startup scene. Found and CEO Johannes Röhrenbach is passionate about boating, and lives the dream by making his home a boat on Lake Zurich.

Johannes Röhrenbach, Founder and CEO at Boatify

Johannes Röhrenbach, Founder and CEO at Boatify

The team has set out to build the world’s leading boat-sharing platform, centered around building enjoyable experiences for average people in Zurich, and in ports and harbours around the world. I caught up with Johannes this week to talk in detail about his dreams for the boatify platform.

Hi Johannes, tell us a bit about boatify. How did you come up with the idea?

Well, at the very end of August 2014 a friend of mine invited me on a short cruise on the Lake in Zurich, in the evening´s magic night atmosphere only a lake can have. It was a very old boat – 45 years old -, full of wood, lovely details and a breathtaking charm. And I immediately fell in love.

My friend was living on the boat – the Blue Ocean -, together with his family since the beginning of the summer. But they were considering selling it, since for four people it would have been too small to stay throughout autumn and winter. So I decided to buy it.

Boatify Flagship, The Blue Ocean

Boatify Flagship, The Blue Ocean

It was a quick and spontaneous decision, all of a sudden. I needed to hurry up a lot, doing my skippers’ license and preparing everything to resettle. In the end of September I finally moved onto the boat myself.

Since then I´ve experienced the most magical moments one can imagine: the early morning´s dawn on the lake with the particular calmness the water only has in these hours, playing guitar in softly shaking sunsets, poker session with whisky and cigars – on a boat in the very center of the town. Most of that I experienced only on my own or with good friends – and with a strange feeling that these experiences should really be available for others. This is how I came up with the idea to start a platform, where people can share boating experiences: boatify.

What are some of the other ways that people can currently book boating experiences? Why is boatify better?

See, if you want to go on boat around Zurich, you can whether take a passenger boat, you can rent a pedalo, and in case you have a skipper’s license you can rent a motorboat from one of the few commercial providers – not very nice boats actually, without any charm, and for horrendous prices. There’s basically no access to these thousands of unused private boats around – and no platform offering easy and affordable experiences on boats.

In other locations, yacht charter platforms provide access to boats. But they don’t solve the problem of finding the perfect crew. So sailors use old school forums to connect and plan their trips together. We add the community dimension to the boats: boatify is a service to bring people together onboard. Boat lovers and those who might be ones in the future.

What sorts of features will boatify have in the first year? What can people do with the platform?

It´s all about the experience and the social interaction. Our key approach is to show impressions of interesting boat experiences on the very first visit – and to the right people. On our own website, but also in social networks and further platforms such as Eventbrite or Groupon. You will firstly show interest in an experience, later you can confirm your reservation. If you find something interesting, share it with your friends on Facebook and Co.

Boatify is all about connecting the right people and bringing them together on board, hence user generated content and user profiles play an important role: as boat owner you can find mechanics or other experts – and trusted officers, who care for your boat and the maintenance when you’re away. As officer you can list your own experiences and earn better ranks the more five-star ratings you get, and for the more boats you´ll become accredited for.

And also as a normal user, you can pin outstanding boating spots on the map, suggest itineraries and tell your last unforgettable boating story to the crowd.

We merge the schedules of the boats with the schedules of the experiences and integrate with further booking systems of our partners such as charter companies, so every involved stakeholder can easily manage his/her upcoming bookings.

Building a community around boating is an important part of your mission. Can you tell us more about how you plan to accomplish this?

Johannes in conversation with Executive in Residence Viktor Fischer

Johannes in conversation with Executive in Residence Viktor Fischer

It´s all about visibility. Boat lovers must understand that there’s finally someone bringing their community online.. So we must be on everyone’s mind. We’ll be present at boat clubs and magazines – and on the water of course: In Zurich with the wonderful Blue Ocean and in Berlin with the even more wonderful MS Fitzgerald. We’ll organize outstanding activities like a fleet parade or a boat sharing day, so everybody will talk about us.

It is our magic story we will tell. To build a particular atmosphere and to convince everybody to jump on board with us – as our first 23 early bird officers already did. It´s all about living the boating dream.

To leverage that, this summer we will start the craziest project ever: a Boat-Road-Show. As an international startup and the digital nomads we are, we will prove that it is in fact possible to run a company from wherever you are in the world – even from a boat!

So this is what we’ll do: starting in Barcelona, from July on, we will travel the coast line from Spain and France, to Italy and Sicily, hopping over from harbour to harbour, telling our story, organizing parties and other experiences – and convincing boat owners, skippers and all the others to follow the boatify dream and to continue to start their own boatify businesses.

We need to find the perfect sponsors and we will engage an army of talented interns to come with us to make this blueprint of experience come true.

You’re launching in Zurich. That seems an odd choice for a boating platform. What’s your reasoning, and what’s your growth strategy over the next year or so?

The boat stock in Zurich and the many lakes around is bigger than you think! There are more than 100.000 private boats of all classes existing in Switzerland; additionally Lake of Constance on its own (together with the bigger German and Austrian part) already contains over 65.000 private boats.

Additionally, Zurich is very attractive as a market, not just because it is one of the richest cities in the world, but in particular because the very city center embraces the lake. In summer, there are thousands of people spending time all around on the shore: a great chance to get visibility – especially on an eye-catching boat like the Blue Ocean. Adding some special attractions nobody has seen before, like small concerts from boat to shore, or a Boat-Sharing-Day in addition to the very popular Rooftop-Day will get us a lot of attention.

Our growth strategy: The Boat-Road-Show will give us a lot PR, but it´ll probably take another season until we will have serious operations going on in the Mediterranean Sea. For this summer, we focus our operations towards Lake of Zurich and Lake of Constance, where we want to sell 3000 experiences throughout the year. Our marketing activities all around Europe will bring as a lot of awareness online – and we’ll convert it to business back home in Zurich.

The key for being successful is an interesting portfolio of offers on the supply side, which is why we´ve already gathered most commercial providers of this region on the platform. Now we need to add the experiences on top of the boats, and there we go.

At the same time, we’re preparing to launch in the Mid-East. Our lead officer in Dubai has already organized the first partnerships with charter companies, so that we can test the market in the coming months and start serious operations there from October on – with the beginning of the season.

As with AirBnB and Uber, there are always legal concerns about liability and insurance. How will you give your users and boat owners peace of mind?

I´m a strong believer in and warrior for the Shared Economy! However, many liability and insurance questions still remain unclear across all kinds of solutions. Additionally, traditional businesses such as taxi companies or hotels suffer from smart peer-to-peer platforms all over the world – AirBnB and Uber are the blueprints for it.

But also in our case there´s already a lobby of commercial boat trip companies existing in Berlin, fighting against smaller boat businesses. And that´s not okay! There is so much unused property in this world and it´s not right not to let the majority of society access it – whereas nowadays technologies can make it so easy for us to share.

There remains a lot of work to do to clarify and solve all the open questions and issues. For us and for other shared economy pioneers. But the time has come to make the world a better, fairer and more efficient place – so let´s do it!

Can you talk about some kinds of experiences that users can have on your platform?

Sure! I´d love to! As I´m a hobby musician and play a lot of instruments, the first official boatify experience has been a Jam Session on board a river boat in Prague – three weeks ago. But there can be so much more: Dinner Cruises, for companies or privately, other cultural events like lectures, concerts, maybe even vernissages. On boatify you can buy a ticket for a trip or a venue, like for a boat party or something more special like a speed dating on a boat. Or, you can book entire packages, to celebrate your birthday – or even your wedding on board. Our vision: to enable you to do everything on the water that you could do on land – we want to bring life from land to water! This is also why we’re organizing our Boat-Road-Show: we basically live our idea.

At the same time an experience does not necessarily need to be something outstanding. If you like the water and you want to run your small business as boat skipping teacher without being dependent on a company, or if you want to offer fishing, diving or snorkeling trips, waterski, sightseeing tours, or even just spend your evenings in an exclusive surrounding with some hand picked people: do it with boatify.

It is up to the creativity of our officers: whatever concept you would like to offer on boatify, whatever is most requested in your home region, we’ll give you the tool to realize it.

What opportunities does boatify offer for boating professionals? What about boat owners?

Beside our customers, the two main roles interacting on our platform are boat owners and officers. Boat owners own the property, but often they don’t have time to use their boats. So the boats sit unused – which is actually not very good for a boat. Boats need to be aired, they need to be moved and they need to be continuously run to keep machinery and equipment in proper shape. So what boat owners normally do is to engage marinas or other professional providers to look after their boats, for a lot of money – and in addition to the high maintenance and docking costs.

Owning a boat is almost always a financial drain- sometimes unnexpectedly so. This is what we want to turn around: we want to make a boat not only financially feasible, but even profitable.

And we do it via our officer approach. In building a community of experienced boat enthusiasts, who don’t necessarily need to own a boat themselves, we bring the boat owners in contact on our platform with all the knowledge and capacities they’re lacking. They can get in touch with mechanics and other experts, who will always care for the boat, when the boat owner doesn’t have time himself.

In return, these boat enthusiasts get access to the boats: as soon as an officer becomes certified by us, he can get in contact with all the boat owners in his region; the ones already registered on our platform and new ones he can approach by himself, supported by the boatify team and other officers around. When a boat owner trusts an officer, he can accredit him for his boat and the officer is allowed to operate the boat, to create experience offers and to run his own business with it.

How do you plan to grow usership of your platform in the early stages?

We will provide the best tool to organize yourself around boating, but we must succeed building a particular movement around our platform. We do this gathering as many boat enthusiasts as possible around us and incentivizing them to do so themselves. It will feel extremely cool, to be part of the boatify crew – the more you contribute, the higher your officer rank gets and the greater benefits you get: it´s a kind of gamification factor we use here.

As soon as we´ve proven our concept, we´ll start with our „officer academy program“, hence we will provide the entire life cycle for want-to-be boat lovers: we offer young people the chance to do their skipper license with us for free, training them in all relevant aspects of security and safety and teaching them how to realize the most amazing boat experiences. Then we give them the boats and there they go.

In each region we´ll be active, we’ll employ a lead officer – the Fleet Admiral – organizing all activities and building the community himself: you can partly compare this to the Uber approach, they are an important example for us.

Where do you hope boatify will be in 5 years time?

The overall goal is to create the world´s biggest boating community. In five years we want to be active worldwide, mainly covering our starting market in Europe. We want to become the one tool whenever you think to start or organize something on board. We want to make boating accessible for everyone, to overcome its exclusivity and to take usage of the millions of private boats sitting unused all around the world.

With a properly implemented Sharing Economy concept we want to set an example against unfair distribution of goods and become an important player with a clear code of conduct in an industry that is not organized sustainably at all. The dream is to gain enough power to engage in some of the world´s biggest environmental problems like the pollution of the seas.

How has StartupYard impacted boatify’s development? Have any particular mentors been especially important in getting you to where you are today?

At StartupYard we finally learned to outline the boating experience as the core product on our platform. We had these visions in our minds from the very beginning, but were always pitching boatify as a marketplace solution for boats. With your continuous challenge of our positioning and its execution, Lloyd and Cedric´s, of course, Michal´s and Viktor´s, we’ve now become extremely focused and well-prepared on how to bring our vision to reality.

We had to face some major problems during our time at StartupYard as well – starting development over from scratch after one month. Our dear mentor Vladimir Kozak has helped us a lot in this time and he still is, continuously structuring and challenging all our development approach. We’ve profited a lot from personal introductions and the support of a lot of our mentors, especially Ladana Edwards with her unbeatable supportive friendliness, Daniel Hastik continually feeding us with valuable startup insights and Wallace Green, who helped us in building greatest visions with his endless creativity and enthusiasm.