Demo Day Batch 11: Full Video and Snapshots

Wednesday night, February 19th, 2020, the Batch 11 startups pitched to a crowd of over 200 investors, StartupYard mentors and community members, corporate executives, and journalists, among others.

You can see the whole Demo Day, including opening remarks from StartupYard CEO Cedric Maloux in the video that was streamed lived on Facebook.

Watch Demo Day Batch 11: As it Happened

Pictures from the Event:

Scroll to the right to see all the photos.

Demo Day Batch X: Full Video and Snapshots

Last night, November 29th, 2018, 6 of our Batch X startups pitched to a crowd of over 200 investors, StartupYard mentors and community members, corporate executives, and journalists, among others.

You can see the whole Demo Day, including opening remarks from StartupYard CEO Cedric Maloux in the video that was streamed lived on Facebook. By the morning after the event, it had been viewed nearly 700 times already.

Watch Demo Day Batch X: As it Happened


Pictures from the Event:

Scroll right and left to see about 70 event photos, including all the startups and founders.

Intelligent Trading Foundation Team, STartupyard

Meet Intelligent Trading Foundation, Your Wealthfront for Cryptocurrencies

This week we were proud to announce the names of the 7 Batch X startups with Startupyard for our 10th round of acceleration. Traditionally this reveal is followed by a series of in-depth discussions with the founders of each company. 

We begin the series with Intelligent Trading Foundation or ITF, helmed by a team of three: Head of Engineering and Innovation Thomas Counsell, Head of Finance and Strategy Ben Lakoff CFA, and John Venport, the Head of Marketing. The team prefer not to refer to themselves as “co-founders,” and don’t assume traditional C-level roles that many startup companies assign their members. 

ITF will pitch for the first time to the public, along with the rest of the Batch X companies on November 29th, 2018, at our next Demo Day in Prague.

I caught up with the team this week to talk about their journey so far, and to get some insight into where the blockchain and cryptocurrency world is headed next. Here’s what they had to say:

Hi Ben. I think we should jump right into this conversation by first acknowledging, you’re the first startup we’ve ever taken post-token sale (or ICO). Can you tell us what that process was like for you?

Absolutely. Running a token sale turned out to be a LOT of work. Turns out the “easy way” of raising funds for a crypto project is far from easy if you want to do it right. We were terrified of being hacked, or having something go wrong with the process.

Both Tom and I were still working full time jobs at the time, so this was something we were doing (mostly) outside work hours. We thought running the token sale was hard, but the real work starts after that. You face the fact that crypto or no crypto, you’re building a real company and dealing with real company issues.

Intelligent Trading Foundation Team, StartupYard

Tom left, Ben Right

I think successfully raising funds via a token sale helped to validate our idea in our minds, but that did not eliminate the struggle to find product market fit. Like any startup, building up our tech stack does reveal potential directions and products that might work even better (not straying from the original intention of helping bring sophisticated tools to investors in cryptocurrency to make better decisions).

We raised funds by selling what’s called a “utility token,” which means that essentially the buyers of the token are buying access to the product itself, where the token can be used to transact with us and access the premium products we offer. There turned out to be a pretty big catch raising funds in this approach, and that is that many of the people who buy the token are not actually your end users, but people who want to speculate on the price of the token going up. As has happened with many, even most other utility token sales, the value of our tokens post-dropped dramatically, and suffered from low liquidity. This meanshat those who hold it are unwilling to sell it, and those who want it are unwilling to buy it at current prices.

This is predictable in a way. Although we had a working product at the time of our token sale, it was really only for early adopters and needed to be improved before reaching more users. It’s sort of like selling tokens to play in an arcade that hasn’t been built yet. There is not much reason yet for the buyers of the token to sell, and there is not much compelling others to buy it, so the market price dropped. However, there is one way to increase the demand for the token, and make the investment potentially worth it to those who have already bought in, and that is to make relevant products available, using the token as a way to access them. .

In a sense, I think one of the hardest things about a token sale is that in the end it doesn’t change the economics of human behavior in the least bit. People still behave the same way, whether a market is distributed or centralized. As a group, it is hard for people to make long term decisions about the value of things, which is what causes so much volatility in markets, including crypto markets.

The legal and ethical responsibilities for those startups who do token sales do not go away. They consume an inordinate amount of time if you approach them with the intent to do the right thing. That’s just the way it is. As much as we’d like to make it easier, our system is complex because there are many stakeholders to be considered and protected. Decentralizing technologies do not change the need to balance the interests of many players at once.

What led to the two of you working together? How did this end up as Intelligent Trading Foundation?

Tom, John, and I all met in late 2016 in Thailand through different tech conferences. It’s funny that we all met in Thailand, because we’re all from the midwest in the USA and we had all been living in Thailand for different reasons (Ben with RMA Group, John with entrepreneurial projects, and Tom consulting for startups and working at Agoda).

We immediately clicked and decided to work together in some way. What started as a “Young VC Club” – we eventually tested a couple of different business ideas that didn’t get much traction. Midway through 2017, John’s eLearning project took off and ended up being a lot larger than expected, so he was pulled away to focus exclusively on that.

In the meantime, Tom and I had been trading cryptocurrencies and were looking for a solution to make trading easier and more efficient. Classic scratching your own itch thinking. Since Tom is highly technical, he started building out a tool to help. Once people found out about the tool, we decided to do a token sale and raise money to further develop a suite a products to help investors in the cryptocurrency markets.

In September’17, we completed our token sale, raising $2 million dollars, and started building out the team. It was at this time that we opened our incubator in Prague, Blockchain Hub, to help ITF synergize with other Blockchain Startups. In February’18, John finished his eLearning project and was able to join the team as a co-founder.

Intelligent Trading Foundation Team, STartupyard

A part of the team assembled at Node5, StartupYard’s headquarters in Prague

Since then, we’ve been steadily developing our product and growing the team. Currently we have 12 members on the team, and are looking to hire more.

About Ben:

  • Head of Finance
  • Developed strong global finance experience through 10 years of international assignments in the US, Brazil, Afghanistan, Southeast Asia, Czech Republic and through the award of his Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) certification.
  • Broad and diverse experience across various finance roles including corporate finance, mergers & acquisitions, equity markets, and banking.

About John:

  • Head of Marketing
  • Owned and sold marketing agency
  • Sold various types of digital products and software online for the past 3 years
  • eLearning project in Thailand in 2017.

About Tom:

  • Head of Technology
  • Developed commercial payment software for small business owners in Morocco while he was living there in the Peace Corps
  • Owned software development consultancy
  • Served as CTO for startups in Morocco, Thailand, and Czech Republic

How does your utility token work, and what does the product do?

ITT, our native token, is a utility token used to access premium subscriptions on the ITF platform. We’ll continue to add new products and tiers to utilize the ITT token.

The flagship product of today is a predictive alert system that keeps a trader informed about potential movements in the crypto market, and points out opportunities that the trader is likely to find interesting throughout the day. This product is targeted more for active traders. Our next product, ready later this year, will be more targeted toward retail investors, offering a simple way for everyday investors to get more involved with investing in cryptocurrencies.

ITF’s mission is to provide sophisticated tools for cryptocurrency investors, and we’re doing everything we can to simplify their investment decisions. Eventually we want to be able to offer a suite of tools that rivals platforms like Betterment or Wealthfront, but in the crypto space, where traders are able to leverage sophisticated technologies and easily get involved in the cryptocurrency markets.

Intelligent Trading Foundation Team

By having our own token we’re also enabled to do some neat things, like staking, where HODL’ers will get access to premium features just by proving that they have the tokens in their account (they keep them). We also credit any payment for our premium products toward a user’s ‘staked’ amount, which is somewhat of a ‘rent-to-own’ model.  That’s something that cryptocurrencies allow that traditional software platforms generally do not.

The ITT token is essential to access our platform, but since it suffers from low liquidity and is traded on rather difficult / non-intuitive exchanges, we’re doing our best to make it easier. We’re currently testing many assumptions with our ITT token. We’ve recently attempted to make it easier to access our services by allowing users to pay in ETH and other cryptocurrencies, and in the background we’re buying the ITT token ourselves on the user’s behalf.

This I see as one of the core problems for the whole crypto market, which is to say that low adoption rates and trading volume of many tokens creates a poor environment for actually utilizing the advantages of the token. A classic tragedy of the commons.

What would you tell another company that is thinking about going the ICO route? Would you do it again yourself?

We definitely don’t have any regrets. Raising money via a token sale allowed us to build ITF into what it is today, and dream up what we think it can be in the future. It’s a fundamentally different thing to build a product for people who have already bought into the platform, as opposed to equity investors who are buying into the business. That’s a very different kind of relationship.

If we were to do it again knowing what we know now, I would say we would work on validating the product and achieving more of a product market fit prior to doing a token sale. We had an alpha, with some early users, but hadn’t proven that there was sufficient demand to build a successful company from our original product yet. That led to the situation of low liquidity we are in now.

Let’s get deeper into what ITF is doing on the market right now. How does the technology work?

In broad strokes, we’re attempting to provide sophisticated tools for cryptocurrency investors, and we’re doing everything we can to simplify their investment decisions.

We’re moving toward two products: A Telegram bot – targeted toward crypto traders, and a Portfolio Management App – targeted toward retail investors. These two products enhance each other, allowing us to reach crypto traders where they are already communicating with others, and build our own proprietary platform where investors can access the crypto market using our technology.

Intelligent Trading Foundation Team

We have developed quite a few sophisticated technologies, including AI and Genetic Programming that we’re currently working to incorporate into trading strategies and the portfolio optimization tools we will offer. Karla, our chief PHD data scientist, has made 4 discoveries that we could potentially publish in a scientific journal.

Our Portfolio Management App can automatically execute trades on users’ behalf and rebalance their portfolio to their desired allocations or apply our machine learning algorithms to trade and optimize their returns. We already have a beta version in testing and will release a version for the public in early 2019.

Think of this as similar to Wealthfront, but for the cryptocurrency markets.

We have a clear roadmap of where we are going, and we are testing many assumptions along the way.

How do you see this evolving as a business, including monetization?

SaaS is the current business model that we are targeting.

Currently, we have over 3000 free users, and a handful of paying users for our first product’s premium plan which costs $20 per month. Our payment and checkout process has proven to be too difficult for most users because they need to use our utility token. We are reworking everything so that users can pay with more easily with different currencies. We will launch additional products later this year that will follow the SaaS model as well.

How does the fact that you’re also dealing with your own token, either compliment or complicate the development of your products?

We raised funds via a token sale by issuing a utility token, ITT. Thus, any of the funds used will be to used with the goal of increasing the value of the ITT ecosystem. You can’t do a token sale and then not have a token, in other words. That’s what the token sale contributors bought.

Currently, the token complicates things due to liquidity issues, but we’re actively working on some solutions to that and thinking about additional ways we can further incorporate the ITT token with ITF’s future products. The truth is that you just have to have a clear offering of valuable products to justify the existence and use of the coin.

Where would you like to be with ITF in 5 years? What kind of a position in the market would be most desirable?

Many may argue that the cryptocurrency industry might not be around in 5 years, we don’t agree with that opinion.

We’re bullish on cryptocurrencies, and are taking the longer approach with all of our product development. We’re committed to provide sophisticated tools for cryptocurrency investors, and we’re doing everything we can to simplify their investment decisions. Our current best-guess is with the two products we’re working on, but we will be making things incrementally better over time and keep trying out new helpful products until we find something that works.

We are here for the long term. This is something we want to build for the future.

I know you’ve explored a lot of options with StartupYard mentors over the past few months. What have been some of the most surprising insights or ideas you’ve come across? How do you think the mentoring process has shaped the company so far?

Although we have worked very hard to build a great team and culture, our number one takeaway from all of these sessions/workshops is that we need to spend more time thinking critically about the business model and strategy for the product itself – many smart startups fail as they’re married to a product idea/features.

If the features don’t sell, you don’t have a business, right? If the product isn’t compelling to your target market, then either the product or the market is wrong. That takes a toll on your ego if you’re proud of what you’ve already built. It’s hard to see good work go to “waste”, but that is the nature of early stage startups.

Now, we need to really spend some time on what the goal is. As the StartupYard team says: “how do we define success?” Who are our target customers and how do we want them to use our products?  What outcomes will they experience with us? Do we simplify their lives? Complicate them? These are questions you must have answers for.

Is it a tool that helps them make more informed decisions? How do they use it? Having a builder mindset is great for making cool things, but an explorer mindset is equally important to actually figuring out what people need and what they will respond to. That is something we have gotten from StartupYard in the past few months – that explorer mindset that says “question everything,” and then do it again, and question that too. Test all assumptions rigorously.

Then, obviously, when you’re sitting down with nearly a hundred highly experienced people from nearly any imaginable business, you are bound to find out things that you had no way of knowing.

What remains so important, I think, about the acceleration process is that it’s really the only way of getting this particular kind of feedback, and mentor-relationship with people who can really help you. You aren’t being criticized, or judged, you’re just being listened to, and being given the benefit of someone else’s experience.

There is no other medium where that can happen without any other ulterior motivations. Nobody is selling their advice. They are just giving it freely, because they want to, for their own individual fulfillment. That is so important to startups, and it’s the best part of StartupYard. The management team knows this, and they just sort of guide you through that process, and let the magic happen. It’s a great experience.

Demo Day Batch 9: Full Video and Snapshots

On Wednesday June 13th, the StartupYard Batch 9 companies pitched for a sold-out crowd of over 250 investors, mentors, media, and StartupYard community members. We can’t express our gratitude to the audience and our pride in the startups who worked so hard to get there, and did so well under a lot of pressure.

If you couldn’t make it, or if you’d like to take another look at your favorite team from the evening, we live-streamed and recorded the whole show, available right now.   

Replay the Live event on Facebook: The StartupYard Batch 9 Startups Pitch Live at Demo Day
 

 

Snapshots of the Event

Rossum Closes Seed Investment from Miton on DemoDay

It didn’t take long. Yesterday afternoon, as the StartupYard teams were relaxing and quietly gearing up to pitch at the StartupYard Batch 7 DemoDay, the Rossum team Petr Baudis, Tomas Gogar, and Tomas Tunys were signing a seed funding round.Rossum seed investment, StartupYard, Miton

A few hours later, live on stage at the biggest demo day in the region’s history, (and with nearly 1,000 tuned in live on Facebook), Rossum announced that the respected Czech investment firm Miton, had contributed seed capital to help propel the team toward global ambitions. This morning, CzechCrunch ran with the story on its front page as well.

About the Deal

The investment solidifies an existing relationship between the Rossum team and Miton, that began with Rossum’s founders consulting with Miton’s portfolio companies on machine learning projects. Miton Co-Founder Ondrej Raska had, according to the Rossum team, been looking for a way to enter the machine learning and AI field, but had so far not come across a project that was clear enough to dive into.

That changed when Rossum approached Raska and Miton with the idea of automating invoice management, along with a host of other challenges, using a unique approach to machine learning. Discussion quickly shifted to a strategic partnership and investment, with Miton to become an active part of the Rossum project, and Raska to play a day-to-day role in the growth of the startup. Rossum has already produced a proof of concept that they say can beat OCR technology, and is approaching human level accuracy: 

Co-Founder Tomas Gogar said of the investment and cooperation: “We think that Miton is an ideal partner for us. They are very active in the companies they invest in, helping to shape their products. Their history shows that this approach has paid off, and we believe that it will be a big help to us as well. For us, as a very technically oriented team, this is a new experience. We feel that we can help Miton push forward into the Artificial Intelligence playing field.”

Raska spoke to a similar sentiment, saying: “Cooperating with Rossum is a unique opportunity. They’ve built a great team, with big potential. Moreover, the timing is right, with deep neural net technology becoming a game changer.”

When asked about the role StartupYard has played in getting them to this point, Co-Founder Petr Baudis said last week: “StartupYard finally gave us the impulse to really focus on one single thing – we were busy people before, but now we had the reason to finally drop all the side projects for good.  We thought the first mentoring month would be the most intense phase, but the pace is only picking up since, and without the “little” pushing by the StartupYard team we would be much more comfortable, getting a good eight hours of sleep a night, but still at the beginning….it surprised us how eager the core StartupYard team was to help with their experience and feedback, these few people really became an important part of Rossum’s story.” 

About Miton

Miton, Rossum Seed Investment

Miton, which has backed a string of successful startup projects including food delivery startups DameJidlo (another StartupYard alum from 2012) and Rohlik, e-commerce platform Heureka, the booking platform Hotel.cz, and the popular coupon platform Slevomat, runs a portfolio of investments worth upwards of 10 Billion Czech Crowns (370m Euros).

Many of Miton’s investments are in Czech-specific consumer facing service companies, but they have lately made investments in more globally oriented projects, like innovative payment provider Twisto, the lifestyle ecommerce platforms Bonami and Biano. Rossum represents for Miton a growing interest in deep technology projects, from an investor with valuable experience in brand-building and scaling successful startups.

The feature photo for this post appeared originally on CzechCrunch

StartupYard Accelerator

Pitching: Form Over Function

In the past few weeks, the StartupYard Batch 7 startups have been practicing their pitches for DemoDay. Tonight, they’ll be live online and in person at Kino Svetozor, at 18:30 Prague time.

The pitch gets a lot of attention in the startup world, but for good reason. Done well, it is an effective way of communicating your ideas, and also challenging yourself to define the problem (or problems), you’re really solving.

Form and Function

Though you do hear the stray complaint about the emphasis pitches receive in the tech world, I generally find most objections miss the point. Certainly there are bad pitches, and there are ways in which founders and investors are not served well by them.

A startup pitch is very predictable. You introduce the theme in an exciting way, framing the pitch in the broader context. Then you address the “problem” you are solving. Then you present your solution. You then talk about the competitive landscape, and why your competitors (or whatever solution your customers currently have), are silly and outdated, and then you talk about your business and your team, and maybe ask for money.

Pretty simple. And anywhere you go, the format stays the same. Investors from anywhere, going anywhere else, know with some certainty that they will hear those things. The discussion is then about whether they agree with the conclusions the startup is making.

But every round, our startups struggle with staying in those boundaries.

This is at least partly because pitching is quite unlike the other ways in which founders are asked to prove themselves. We expect startups to break rules. To get around the usual processes. To “disrupt,” as the jargon word of the century puts it. But pitching is just not like that.

It’s the Problem, Stupid

For starters, pitching is form over function. It’s a tool of rigid constraint, that is meant to contain “out of the box” thinking inside a narrative box. Consider that at StartupYard, we spend 3 months helping founders to see that the normal rules don’t apply to them. And then we insist that they follow a pretty strict set of rules in order to pitch.

But we do that because the format shouldn’t matter. The only thing that matters is the content. What is the problem being solved? What does that problem mean in a broader sense?

The format is standardized because formal variations on that standard tend to draw more attention than the content of them. Anyone who’s been forced to write a haiku in school will know what I’m referring to. Constraints can force us to be creative in ways that we are not used to. Attention getting can work, in some cases, but it also carries a different set of risks.

I can give you an interesting example: a startup I heard pitch back in 2014 at LeWeb, called JukeDeck. Now what’s interesting about JukeDeck is that they use neural networks to auto-generate music according to a few simple parameters.

Of course, if you had been at that pitch, you wouldn’t have known that, because almost all of the pitch was taken up with the whole team dancing and rapping over music that had been generated using their software. It was certainly entertaining.

I did understand from their pitch that companies would probably use such software to auto-generate background music for corporate videos, and maybe even retail environments. But I learned nothing about the current solutions on the market, the business case for this one, or the actual pain point it was solving.

JukeDeck won LeWeb. And they won TechCrunch Disrupt a year later. If it’s a competition, certainly breaking the rules can help you win. But did that pitch actually help their business? I’m really not sure. The panel’s questions following the pitch were revealing: “why would a business want to use this?” and “how much would a company pay for this software, when stock music is relatively cheap?”

The whole panel was taken up with answering basic questions about the business- questions that could have been answered in the pitch itself. That instantly puts the founders on the defensive. This exciting, crowd-pleasing pitch, which generates buzz, might not actually help people understand what you do. And while the panel asked basic questions about the business, they consequently had no time to ask questions about the underlying technology.

Boring Works

StartupYard startups have won numerous awards for pitching themselves. Not least would be companies like Gjirafa, Neuron Soundware, and Speedifly. I’ve seen our startups pitch outside our program, and heard the feedback they get. Clarity, honesty, strength. These are none of them mind-blowing, but nevertheless more important.

I can tell you one thing about all of these pitches: they are not outwardly exciting. If you were to watch them from behind a pane of glass, you’d have no idea why they win awards.

Instead, they are exciting in the sense of what they talk about, and what new ideas and thinking they illustrate. But they contain no gimmicks. There’s no real flash. The founders, too, are practiced and calm. Everything goes according to plan.

Our thesis at StartupYard, when it comes to pitching, is that your plan better be exciting and game-changing, because trying to spice it up after the fact is putting lipstick on a pig. The drama is not in the performance, but in the story itself. If you hone in on a real, emotional storyline, involving real human beings and real world customer pain, then the pitch doesn’t need bells and whistles: it’s made of gold already.

 

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!

startupyard2016-4362

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.

startupyard2016-4509

 

The crowd at The Royal was impressive.

The crowd at The Royal was impressive.

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