We’re pleased to announce that this week, yet another of our 2016 Startups, this time the legal and travel startup ClaimAir, has raised an angel investment round, totaling 140,000 Euros.
Claimair helps travelers easily get flight and baggage compensation from airlines, averaging over 400 euros per claim. The round was led by notable angel investors including StartupYard mentors such as Philip Staehelin of Roland Berger, and Michal Kratochvil (now also CEO of SY Alum BudgetBakers). StartupYard also contributed follow-on financing to add to the total.Congrats to @Claimair, raising 140,000 euros from an Angel group and @startupyard. Way to go team! Click To Tweet
Claimair: Making Claims Seemless
The investment will enable ClaimAir to develop B2B focused technologies that will help partners such as booking engines and travel agencies serve their own customers better, and to expand its service globally, quickly ramping up the team to meet growing demand.
“The first time I spoke with Jakub, the CEO of ClaimAir, his pitch seemed almost too good to be true,” said angel investor Philip Staehelin of Roland Berger, “however, after a few meetings, it was his market knowledge, single-minded drive, intelligence and leadership qualities that made me into a believer, and eventually an investor. Jakub and his strong, dedicated team are quickly proving the market’s huge potential, and the group of angel investors is keen to help them rapidly scale up their business. ClaimAir offers a fantastic service that airline passengers love – their value proposition is easy to understand and simply a no-brainer for any one that flies.”
Room to Grow in a Multi-Billion Euro Market
Claimair, recently accelerated at StartupYard in Prague, has doubled its revenues since early 2016, and expanded its network of legal representatives and corporate partners around the world. They’ve has also been featured in the press, including Forbes and an interview on Czech Television.
The market in which the company operates is massive, and growing. About 8 million passengers fly every day, and more than 800,000 of them are affected by some kind of flight problem. However, less than 1% of those passengers actually get compensations owed according to European and other regulations, and many aren’t aware that compensation is even due. Claimair is working to make the claims process easier, and even in many cases, automatic.
“I am extremely happy that we have made our angel investment with such a great team of investors,” said ClaimAir founder and CEO Jakub Ladra, “It will help us to fulfil the main goal at ClaimAir, which is to develop a solution that allows people all over the world to get what airlines lawfully owe them, without any fuss. We have already helped hundreds of clients, but this is only the beginning. You may dread flight delays, but with us working for you, our hope is that we can bring a silver lining into the lives of millions of air passengers.”
Congratulations to the ClaimAir team! We knew you could do it!
For the second time in a matter of a few weeks, StartupYard is very pleased to announce that yet another StartupYard alum, SY 2016’s SpeediFly, has raised 308,000 euros in seed investment from Czech startup investor Petr Zamecnik.Congratulations @SpeediFly raising 300K from Czech investor Petr Zamecnik via @startupyard Click To Tweet
This is Zamecnik’s second investment in a StartupYard startup- it follows the recent announcement of his involvement with BudgetBakers’ (SY 2015) comparatively sized funding round. The investment includes follow-on financing from StartupYard, in the form of an equity-free grant, supplied thanks to the European Commission’s FIWARE Accelerate program.
Making Sharing a Flight as Easy as Sharing an Uber
The team, which will work from both London and Sofia, Bulgaria, has launched a private beta in London, where it acquired its first customers in April this year. SpeediFly is a mobile-first travel platform that aims to make booking a last minute flight, even as a group, as easy as sharing a ride on Uber.
The funding will be used to expand the Bulgarian development team, and launch SpeediFly in several European markets, including London, and other major travel hubs.
The team also plans to develop the social travel aspects of the platform, as well as interest based travel recommendations that will allow travelers to combine their favorite activities with the best last-minute travel deals.
Currently in beta for iOS, SpeediFly also plans to expand to Android and the web. The new funds will also be used to expand the platform’s smart recommendation and group booking systems, two core features that will differentiate the startup from other entries in last-minute travel.
A Czech Investor on the Move
Our own Managing Director Cedric Maloux said of the investment round: “It’s not every week that two great companies from our portfolio get the financing they deserve. Zamecnik has made two smart and gutsy moves with these two startups [BudgetBakers and SpeediFly], and we hope that his peers in the region and abroad will take notice.”
Also commenting on the investment was SpeediFly’s Co-Founder and CEO Alex Karadjian, who said: “this will help us scale super quickly and go to new markets, but what is even more exciting to me, at least at this early stage, is the natural bond our team has had with Petr from the very moment we met. Petr’s fast-moving style as an investor and businessman perfectly aligns with the spirit of our team and with our concept- which is all about spontaneity and fun. I am sure this is going to be a great journey together.”
SpeediFly was founded in late 2015, and joined StartupYard in 2016. It aims to be the market leader in mobile-first, social, last minute travel. In the UK alone, the company estimates that there is an untapped potential of 10.2 billion Euros in the last minute travel market. In addition, 56% of European travel searches for last minute bookings are for groups of 3 or more- while none of the major meta-search engines specialize in group bookings, social features, or shared payments.
We are incredibly pleased to announce that StartupYard 2016 team Neuron SoundWare, has won the prestigious competition Napad Roku. Napad Roku is put on by Vodafone Foundation to find the best ideas from Czech and Slovak startups, and bring them onto the global stage.
The prize includes 300,000 CZK (11,000 Euros) from Vodafone Foundation, additional funds for legal services, and new tablet computers.
Napad Roku: The Best of Czechia and Slovakia
Neuron Soundware, led by Co-Founder and CEO Pavel Konecny, won out against over 170 competing startups. The company is building a framework for neural networks to understand, learn from, and process sounds. As reported by Forbes recently This will enable their technology to, for example, diagnose technical problems in heavy machinery and sensitive hardware, including such things as 3D printers, car engines, and air conditioning systems, among much else.
The technology can also be applied to the voice: at StartupYard’s recent DemoDay, where Neuron Soundware premiered the pitch that won at Napad Roku, Konecny demonstrated how a neural network could listen to, and then perfectly reproduce a human voice, opening up the possibility of using natural human voices instead of computer generated voices in any range of applications, from call centers to robots. The technology also makes manipulation of the voice possible, changing accents, inflections, emotional tone, and much else.
This opens possibilities for the NeuronSoundware team in a wide range of industries, from AI personal assistants like Viv, to industry 4.0 and distributed “contour” manufacturing technology, where more and more products will be fabricated in smaller factories, closer to their destination markets.
Congratulations to Pavel and the whole NeuronSoundware team!
Pavel with CoFounder Filip Sedlak
Pavel Konecny, CoFounder and CEO
Philip Staehelin is a StartupYard mentor and investor, and former StartupYard Executive in Residence for 2015. He currently serves as Managing Partner for Roland Berger Consultancy in Prague, with a particular interest in connecting startups with corporate partners. Philip is also a key investor in Gjirafa, a StartupYard company, which recently raised $2 Million from Rockaway Capital.
The following is a lightly edited translation of an interview with Philip that appeared in January in Lidové Noviny. The author is Jan Zizka. Some of the content has been slightly altered for clarity, and several questions have been shortened or removed.
Lidské Noviny: Few have as much experience with Czech startups as globetrotter Philip Staehelin, who has been living in Prague for over two decades. Staehelin merges two different worlds – he has not only been (and still is), very active within the ecosystem of promising startups, but he also has broad experience from various managerial positions in a number of large enterprises. As the new head of the Prague branch of the Roland Berger consultancy, he confirms in this interview that he has clear plans to recommend, even to traditional corporations, learning from the flexibility and the creative mentality of startups.
Silicon Valley, maybe Switzerland, or Israel, is what comes to everyone’s mind when talking about startups. But I’m not sure what the current situation is in Central Europe. Poland, perhaps? Do you think we have already made at least a small step forward for people to associate Prague and/or Brno with startups?
PS: Well, it’s absolutely clear when you include Berlin in the CEE area. There is a real, huge boom of startups, and many investments are now oriented towards Berlin‘s direction. In my opinion, there is enough interesting potential within the Czech Republic as well, but I am not convinced that Prague can become the next startup hub like Silicon Valley, London or Berlin. However, Prague may serve as a kind of funnel and launch pad for startups from the entire CEE region.
Alongside other roles, I’m a mentor and advisor in StartupYard, a startup accelerator which is helping to shape Prague into such a role. For instance, TeskaLabs, a company dealing in mobile communications and IoT (Internet of Things) security, went through our accelerator. Then they were accepted to a leading London accelerator (TechStars).
So people who focus on this business in Prague will be following all startups in the CEE region? Or will early stage investors still be found locally, and other investors from London or Silicon Valley will join them later?
This is one of the possibilities. The key idea is to achieve wider coverage ,which will help Prague become a startup gateway – a bridge from East to West. As for StartupYard, for example, it’s closely linked to Slovakia and Hungary.
The key question is what it will look like here for the investors. In the past, only very limited funds were available. Nonetheless, the appetite for risk, which is obviously closely associated with investments in startups, has recently increased. The competition exists even on the investors’ side. There is also governmental support, albeit still insufficient. However, it’s not the same money as in Silicon Valley yet. Investors here are not giving out finance into concepts or ideas; they rather go after companies that already generate some revenues.
Yes, previous governments experienced that weakness when they started to build up the so-called “Seed Fund” for projects at an early stage. Will it still be very difficult to find other investors for those projects in the research phase?
This surely is a weak point. Yet, I’m not suggesting the government offer money itself to anyone who applies with some “startup.” It would not lead to any better outcome. The state should provide resources to the existing venture capital funds. Or to accelerators, for example.
In StartupYard, we have utilized European funding for the past two years, which helped a lot. But our government can take a number of other useful steps. They can provide support in creating the right eco-system for startups. Although financial aid is very important, it is still just a side-effect in comparison with shaping simple and transparent entrepreneurial environments.
Speaking of the new state-owned National Innovation Fund, are you a sceptic?
Yeah, I am definitely skeptical, but at the same time I have some hope. We need something like this. However, I know how much of the state-provided money has disappeared in past years, without that being reflected in the improved performance of companies.
So I have strong hopes that is isn’t just another opportunity for corruption, and that this money would indeed assist in changing the whole business atmosphere.
The problem is to ensure such a fund is well-managed. Because if you take a look back at the history, you’ll see that similar projects here haven’t been managed well.
The Ministry of Industry and Trade wants the new fund to invest along with private investors. Is that vital to success?
Fortunately, our government representatives do realize that they aren’t much good at choosing startups with potential. The state is not a professional investor, and wants to be assured that someone else will be involved, and put their own capital into selected projects. The question is whether it can be guaranteed that this money isn’t being allocated to family, relatives and/or friends of those who would be responsible for managing such a fund.
You said that the state has other, more important roles to play.
They should definitely care more about the actual conditions under which new companies are incorporated in the Czech Republic. In comparison with other countries, we are really backwards when it comes to the difficulty involved. Surprisingly though, the situation is even worse in Germany. Still, most other countries in Europe have much more favorable systems. Poland, for example. And Estonia is the bellwether for innovation.
I often hear that we are fighting corruption, while the issues of the entrepreneurial environment itself are cast aside. Do you agree with that?
Well, fighting corruption is extremely important. If you grant hundreds of millions to startups, it can seem like a lot. But it’s still just a fraction of what has been stolen in this country. I was an active member of the Administration Board for Transparency International for several years, so the topic is close to my heart. Czech firms simply won‘t be able to reach their potential without ending all the graft. If the government could prevent the misuse of public money, and was able to use it properly with promising new companies, that would have tremendous effects.
Just to name a successful example – consider anti-virus experts such as AVG or Avast. They help our economic growth and they employ many people. And on top of that, they are promoting the whole country abroad. We can dare say we are leaders in internet safety because of them.
Some in Czech business circles would tell you that even today, banks will remain central to financing here. The Prague Stock Exchange has no particular reputation, but banks can’t be replaced, and VCs can’t save us. Moreover, banks have more liquidity, and tend to claim they can’t find good business plans or interesting projects.
Banks are too careful when it comes to risk, as part of their basic makeup. And definitely they are not the best choice for startups. As I already mentioned, even some venture capital funds here are risk averse. Which is obviously quite a difficult situation for startups – usually with no assets and frequently being “one-garage” style firms. They have computers and that‘s it. So very often, they have no other options but to ask their friends and/or family for seed money. Then, so-called angels might get involved – individual private investors. However, from all these relatively small investments you can end up with a nice sum to start with.
And local price levels help too. A few years ago, I personally invested in Video Recruit, a startup that was able to survive here with just EUR 300k for three years. In London, by contrast, you couldn’t live longer than six months on that.
Who are these angels? As far as I know, businessmen like Zbyněk Frolík of Linet or Eduard Kučera from Avast are investing in startups more and more. Do others invest as well, after selling their own businesses, or delegating management to others?
Yes, there is much more funding coming from people who are themselves successful as entrepreneurs. Still, they need better access to startups. That is where the aforementioned accelerator model might be useful, as many great entrepreneurs are involved there as mentors.
To become an investor, you don’t need millions. An investor can be managers who have just done well enough. Another example: a company that went through the StartupYard accelerator a few years ago was an “Albanian Seznam,” called Gjirafa. Our mentors were among their first investors.
As the new Roland Berger Managing Partner, you plan to focus on cooperation between large corporates and interesting startups. Why are you so driven to connect these two seemingly diverse cultures?
You’re right. I am very excited about this, and for multiple reasons. I used to work for T-Mobile, as a member of its international team for innovations. We came up with a few nice ideas, but the company then lacked the ability to work with and develop them. That was about eight years ago; and large companies, including T-Mobile, have changed a lot since then. Today, there ‘s much more understanding that driving innovation is important, and that there are lessons to learn from the flexible approach of startups. The question now, is how.
They can try to incorporate startups into their own structure, but oftentimes startups don’t want that. They don’t want to become just a smaller part of a big unit with overwhelming administration, with no room for development and growth.
What’s your solution?
Startups can stay outside large enterprises, keeping their uniqueness and creativity, but still working cooperatively. Corporations can then create, in collaboration with these startups, some kind of innovation lab where ideas can be worked on. This mode of cooperation is highly fruitful for startups, especially if they get at least some financial support from a bigger company. This is not to mention the advantage of an enterprise’s customer network.
Yet, there is another model available – creating corporate venture capital companies, and buying shares in prospective firms that are relevant to their overall strategy. As a big plus, you don’t have to put all your eggs in one basket.
It occurs to me that you personally represent a good example of combining these two worlds – you probably aren’t a very typical head for such a traditional consultancy as Roland Berger.
True. I have been a consultant before and wasn’t sure whether to return to the role or not. Though, I had a long discussion on innovation with a global head of Roland Berger, who aims to lead this company more deeply into the digital world and to a new mix of consulting, technology and private equity. This is a very nice, thrilling vision and also completely in line with my own convictions.
To what extent will this be attractive for Czech companies without foreign ownership? Merging trans-national corporations and startups might seem to far afield for them.
There are many types of innovation. Some Czech companies have agreed to try innovating inside their establishments according to the Industry 4.0 concept. In other words, to integrate the latest technologies and maximize the value of what they already do. And it can work out pretty well because a lot of local firms are very specialized in one particular segment. But it might be helpful even for them to be inspired by a startup mentality. I think also that Czech companies must stay open and try many paths. If something fails, it’s rational to try something different.
Do you think the whole concept of Industry 4.0 is more than marketing jargon? Is it an exaggeration to call this the 4th industrial revolution? Computerizing, digitalization – we’ve seen all this already as a part of the third one.
I am an eye-witness to the fact that this really is the fourth revolution, and I don’t think this is a matter of mere marketing. If companies succeed in gathering data from each & every machine and interconnect all processes ,from logistics to production, that’s an appreciable progression towards higher efficiency.
The Industry 4.0 principle relies not only in applying automation and robotics on your manufacturing processes, but also in integrating all data into your planning – wherever that data comes from (both inside and outside) – and working with it efficiently.
To put it simply, a brewery will be able to connect information on how a climate phenomenon like El Nino may influence this year’s harvest yield, together with historical details on how similar weather swings affected beer consumption in the past, and adjust their strategy for the future accordingly. Or you can easily detect in advance when one of the production line components might break down, or wear ou,t and avoid that by performing pre-emptive maintenance.
The Industry 4.0 concept came here from Germany. My question is a bit wider though – do you think it’s good that the Czechs are so strongly linked to the German economy?
Actually, this is more of a political question… Look, we are such a small country, there are just ten million of us.
Did you really say „we/us“?
Yes, of course. I’ve been living here for more than twenty-two years, I obtained Czech citizenship last year. My wife is Czech as well as both my kids. And I also became a big fan of the Czech national hockey team…
So you are eligible to vote as well.
I will definitely vote, but it will be a tough decision to make. Anyway, I do think we have no better option than our relationship with Germany. I am a bit worried about that element in Czech society that is pulling us back towards the Russian sphere of influence again. So I am willing and happy to be a German ally, vven if neither is perfect nor ideal. But we can benefit immensely from the German industrial base being as strong as it is.
On the other hand, that doesn’t necessarily mean Czechs shouldn’t strive to enter other markets. I gladly support market expansion. And well, if our local startups can be a part of the global scene, it will be a massive thing for the Czech economy.
StartupYard is very excited to be able to announce a day we have been anticipating for some months. It’s now official. Global investment firm Rockaway Capital has invested $2 Million in StartupYard all-star Alum Gjirafa.com. The investment is aimed at growing the Balkans’ internet economy, and making Gjirafa, which is based in Kosovo and Albania, the regional leader in search, ecommerce, and online advertising.
Mergim Cahani, Co-Founder and CEO of Gjirafa, joined StartupYard as part of our 2014 cohort, and has continued to stay in close contact as a mentor and advisor for our startups. Rockaway Capital is also a StartupYard investor.
The investment follows Rockaway’s aggressive moves in European e-commerce investments of recent years, and it follows earlier investments in Gjirafa from angel investors, including Yandex’s Esther Dyson, Credo Ventures Partner Ondrej Bartos, and Roland Berger Managing Partner (and former StartupYard Mentor in Residence) Philip Staehelin. Gjirafa secured its first angel investments while attending StartupYard.
This new capital will allow Gjirafa to expand more aggressively in the Albanian speaking regions of the Balkans. The deal also calls for Rockaway to commit considerable resources to bringing other internet properties to Albanian language audiences and businesses, building up the internet economy in the region in partnership with Gjirafa.com.
Gjirafa plans to advance Albania and Kosovo’s first native AdNetwork. They will also introduce e-commerce into the region, where the majority of people own no credit cards, but where the internet population is mobile-first, with over 50% of internet traffic going to smartphones. 70% of the populations of Kosovo and Albania are under the age of 35, presenting a huge capacity for growth in e-commerce and advertising going forward.
“This investment is more than just a bet on the explosive growth potential of the Balkans’ internet economy,” noted Gjirafa’s Founder and CEO, Albanian native Mergim Cahani. “ It’s going to help us accelerate that growth by bringing online services to the region that have never been seen here before.” Cahani has built the search company into a fast-growing organization, boasting 650% growth from late 2014, over 10 million searches executed, and over 1 Million visitors in the past 10 weeks alone.
“This is a clear validation of the potential we have seen in Mergim Cahani and the whole Gjirafa team since we invited them to join StartupYard in 2014,” said StartupYard Managing Director Cedric Maloux. “It’s also a vote of confidence in the StartupYard community and program. This is a smart bet for Rockaway, and a big deal for every day people and businesses in Kosovo and Albania.”
If you follow us on Twitter, you probably know that StartupYard is constantly sharing great content with our followers. Internally, we also keep a “reading list” of items we think our startups should read before, during, or after the program. This is the StartupYard Startup Reading List.
With a new acceleration round beginning next week, we thought we’d share the list we’ve compiled. It’s organized into Collections, Launch, Sales and Conversions, Retention, Growth, Marketing, and Free Stuff.
Under each item is a short extract from the link. If an extract wasn’t available, we added a short summary. Enjoy!
-The StartupYard Team
40 categories of curated tools and tips for Startups. A must have.
28 categories of curated Marketing advice and tips. A must have.
There are plenty of blogs out there that talk about paid advertising, social media, offline distribution, content marketing, SEO, SEM, e-mail marketing and so on. But I will be focusing on actionable items you can do to get your first 1,000 users in a weekend’s time and with less than $500 of investment.
We have the privilege of meeting with thousands of entrepreneurs every year, and in the course of those discussions are presented with all kinds of numbers, measures, and metrics that illustrate the promise and health of a particular company. Sometimes, however, the metrics may not be the best gauge of what’s actually happening in the business, or people may use different definitions of the same metric in a way that makes it hard to understand the health of the business.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have a business idea today, and have that business up and running tomorrow? With today’s apps it’s totally doable.
Sales And Conversions
Getting new customers is good. Keeping a customer and getting them to continue paying is better.
Why are contrasting buttons effective? Why should you use 1st person CTA wording?Why (and when) are trust symbols effective?
Some call it – *cough* – growth hacking. Others call it optimization. But what we’re all talking about, really, is crazy smart, innovative, results-driven, product-focused marketing that has an outsized impact on your company’s growth and bottom line.
How GrowthHackers(.com) Uses “The Hook Model” to Foster Incredibly High Member Retention
You need to dig deeper into your app using a method called cohort analysis. That’s how you’ll identify how well your users are being retained and the primary factors that will drive growth for your app. Here’s how the most experienced and analytical product people like Siqi go beyond your standard cohort analysis to do it.
A video from 500 Startups on Retention, and why it is eventually more important than growth.
30,000 words of modern-day growth hacking strategies for the discerning SaaS growth hacker.
This article is a comprehensive and detailed look at the key metrics that are needed to understand and optimize a SaaS business. It is a completely updated rewrite of an older post.
Growth Hacking: VIDEO, Neil Patel
When thinking about Growth, most people think about CRO (Conversion Rate Optimization) on the ToFu (Top of the Funnel). They don’t really understand what is the power of Growth.
Frameworks help us organize and understand the world, and data helps us stay focused and monitor progress. So, it’s no surprise we use them both to help us project future growth and figure out how to hit our lofty goals.
Andy Johns has had the good sense to ride not one, but FOUR rocket ships. He has been a key member of the growth team at…
Growth hacking is the idea that an entrepreneur can take a clever non-traditional approach to increase the growth rate and adoption of his or her product by ‘hacking’ something together specifically for growth purposes. Most startups find themselves facing the same problem: they build a product that no one ends up using. Say you have…
Sean’s talk at the DEMO Traction Conference.
Today I’d like to share with you one of the biggest marketing struggles we experienced at Ivalua, the previous company I worked for and where I handled Marketing for over 2 years: content creation – and how we overcame it leveraging freelance writers.
Why You Need to Create a Content Marketing Strategy
The most popular digital marketing mantra in recent years has been “Content is King”, and while the mantra itself may be a touch overused, it is by no means inaccurate. Now more than ever it’s incredibly important to create a content marketing strategy and make it your your own unique content marketing strategy if you hope to drive traffic and boost brand awareness from online channels.
Persuasive Writing Techniques
Design, SEO, and advertising can only get you so far. If you want to accelerate sales online, you need persuasive copy. According to Harvard Business professor Gerald Zaltman, 95% of our purchase decision occurs in the subconscious mind. Most marketers ignore how our brains work and fight against human psychology.
153 succint reviews of SEO tools, by Brian Dean
Paddle’s guide to app marketing explores the techniques developers can adopt to drive more downloads and grow their apps.
A great list of the essential elements of a landing page, and why certain types of things work for conversion.
A fascinating, if amoral, view of online marketing and networking building
With content marketing, you can educate and engage potential clients while differentiating your company and positioning it as an industry leader.
In marketing, lead generation is the generation of consumer interest or inquiry into products or services of a business. For the purpose of this article, lead generation refers to the generation of consumer interest. A list of qualified leads is a priceless asset for your company. It’s cheap to build and works great for every kind of business, including “boring” B2B companies.
- Which words do you choose?
- How do you frame the offer?
- How can you sell without appearing sleazy?
Creative ways to use retargeting ads to improve lead generation. Learn how B2B marketers target site visitors based on funnel stage, industry and email contact information.
If your website isn’t trusted by Google, you’re basically consigned to the lowly, deep dark depths of search results pages ten and onwards.
Is SEO really a harder game to play as KunoCreative’s Dan Stasiewski put it in this excellent SEO guide infographic?
Amy Guttman: Don’t write business plans: Advice for startups from one of silicon valley’s top seed investors
1. Don’t write business plans; instead build prototypes & test them with customers.
2. Don’t create five-year revenue projections; create 12-month expense projections.
3. Do create marketing plans, but focus on unit economics and metrics/analytics of:
a. what customers cost to acquire,
b. what products cost to build/deliver,
c. how much customers generate in revenue and when
4. Test and iterate on your assumptions — turn your business plan into a business metrics dashboard of KPIs, and continue to measure and improve every week.
5. Don’t run out of cash. Check your monthly burn rate, cash in the bank; figure out your remaining runway and try not to get below six months of cash.
This guide is indispensable for all wanna-be Business Angels and those entrepreneurs seeking Angel Investment! It contains best practices and practical tips culled from Busi- ness Angels around the world. It is a must-ready, easy-to-read, and great-read for all those private investors interested in playing a major role in the early-stage investment eco- system and those entrepreneurs interested in attracting Business Angel Investment.”
– Candace Johnson, President, EBAN (Europe)
A cautionary tale about keeping your priorities in order as a startup founder. Great read!
Our best list of social media templates for scheduling, organizing, analyzing, and sharing better and faster than ever before.
Twitter is chaos, but in the midst of this beautiful mess is a ton of data that if you can understand
Marketers create a lot of content. Yes, content is king, but a king is powerless without followers. So, what’s the first thing that comes to mind when you want to reach a broader audience with your awesome new post?
The Facebook pages that are doing wonderfully well with likes, shares, and comments on their posts have so much to teach about new tactics and worthwhile strategies. Our friends at BuzzSumo analyzed 500 million (!) of these Facebook posts, and we’ve learned some amazing takeaways that you can implement on your page today.
A collection of sites that offer with-attribution, or free to use images for your startup. Always check the terms on individual sites before using an image!
Meta-Search for GNU Public and Free Stock Images
Last week, in a private meeting with StartupYard mentors and team members, Patrick “Pat” Riley, CEO of the GAN (Global Accelerator Network), hosted a Q and A, and presented GAN’s vision of the current and future landscape for tech accelerators worldwide.
Riley, who began his startup career at a startup helping hospitals and medical centers to provide affordable medication to underserved communities, joined TechStars as Director of Business Development in 2011, launching the GAN the same year. Today, the GAN spans 6 continents, and includes over 70 selected accelerators in over 100 cities. The GAN is a selective network of accelerators, including the top 3-4% of accelerators worldwide, that together have accelerated 2500 companies in 4 years, together raising nearly $1 Billion in financing, and creating over 11,000 new jobs.
Pat visited StartupYard’s homebase at Node5 Thursday, meeting with half a dozen StartupYard startups.
Here’s what he had to say about central Europe as a whole, and about the startups he met:
“Central European startups are incredibly unique. They have very strong technical skills, the wherewithal to think about other markets on Day 1, and a laser focus on building products that solve a personal problem. We’re also seeing groups like Microsoft set up their development shops in Central Europe because of how inexpensive salaries are in the area – and startups are taking advantage of that as well. Because of all of this, we’re seeing the Central European startup scene evolve and develop in very positive ways.
At the same time, there are headwinds facing these startups. First of all, capital is scarce. In the entire Czech Republic there are just a few early stage venture capital firms [ 2 of which, Credo Ventures and Rockaway, are both StartupYard investors]. For a country of 10.5 million people, there is a giant opportunity for greater funding sources.
Secondly, cultural, linguistic, legal and market differences plague many Central European startups. Starting in another neighboring market isn’t anywhere as easy as doing business in another state in the United States. That neighboring market in Europe is a completely different country with different currencies and regulations – making it very difficult to set up shop easily.
Third, while not all Central Europeans are this way, many are missing the “sales” side of their business. I heard over and over again how a customer’s problem was going to be solved technically – when in reality the tech is amazing– it’s the presentation that is lacking.
What many European startups are missing is the ability to sell their product well. During my meetings with startups, I asked many of them what was the vision for their startup, with the answer typically being around how the product has some cool feature. To sell investors, customers and partners, Central European startups need a vision about how they’re going to change the world – and why anyone should care about their startup – because unless you sell me on your vision, no one else is going to.”
The Need for More Institutional Investors
During his presentation at Node5, Riley mentioned the increasing role that accelerators have played in recent years as drivers of investment. Considering that startups have an average lifespan, according to Riley, of a little less than 8 months, early stage investment is one of the most common points of failure for startups across the board.
Riley discussed efforts that other accelerators, like Y-Combinator and Techstars, have made to bridge this gap in early financing, either by increasing the availability of convertible notes for companies who attend their programs, or by creating follow-on funds for their own startups.
Shifting Roles of Accelerators
Riley also discussed the shifting roles of accelerators on an east to west axis. Accelerators in Eastern and Central Europe continue to function much as those in California and Western Europe have for over a decade, as nurturing environments for entrepreneurs to grow their networks and experience level, as they test out and perfect their products and go to market plans.
But as accelerators in the West have matured, and competition has become more fierce not only between startups, but also between accelerators (as well as now between accelerators and other early stage investors), they have also continually provided more funding, been more selective, and offered less and less in terms of the kind of support that accelerators had been known for offering. Workshops, training, and team building have been reduced in favor of more intensive mentoring, and more focus on pitching and business planning.
This confirmed the experiences that Ales Teska of TeskaLabs, one of our startups from 2015, described in making the transition between StartupYard, and TechStars London. Riley pointed out that in countries with fewer institutional investors, and less “startup IQ,” awareness of how to work with and deal with startups is still a major roadblock to success, for which more “hands on” accelerator programs are still needed.
The Role of Mentors
According to data the GAN collects, up to 90% of startups accepted at accelerators are recommended by members of the accelerator community, particularly by active mentors. This again confirms our experience at StartupYard, where many, but certainly not all of the standout applications have come from personal referrals.
We’re pleased to introduce Jaromir “Mirek” Beranek, the latest member of the StartupYard team.
Mirek joins us as a full time team member and Portfolio Manager. It will be his responsibility not only to keep track of and stay in contact with the startups we have accelerated in the past, but also to advise and consult with startups during and after our program on matters of finance, financial reporting, and investment planning. Mirek will also manage StartupYard’s own budgeting and contracts with incoming startups.
Jaromir studied International Management (CEMS) at the University of Economics and Law at Charles University in Prague, taking exchange semesters in Management at the University of Cologne and Law at NOVA Southeastern University in Ford Lauderdale. In 2011, he joined Telefónica’s Aspire Graduate Program and spend the following three years on different assignments in finance, strategy and marketing in Prague and Munich. Mirek is also a veteran of Wayra CEE, the Prague-based branch of a global accelerator network, where he took care of financial matters and portfolio valuation.
I caught up with him this week to talk about his new position with our team:
Hi Mirek, welcome to StartupYard! What makes you want to work with startups?
Let’s put the question differently: What makes you not to want to work with corporations? Then it would be much easier for me to answer: the corporations I have worked for are incredibly slow, most negotiations are very political, middle management often lacks both education and capabilities, no one outside the board has the authority to decide anything and many colleagues felt demotivated and transmitted their foul mood to others, including me.
I simply had to find a different place for self-realization where I could use what I had learned and make some impact. Luckily, the opportunity came at the right time and it was quite easy for me to get used to this Brave New World. First it was Wayra and now it is StartupYard. Of course, even startups can be slow, incapable and helpless at times. But in general, I feel that on this side of the fence I can see results quickly while having fun and doing the work my own way.
Can you tell us a bit about your background in the corporate world?
Being an alumnus of an international management program, I was almost pre-destined to be successfully lured by a corporation once done with the university. And I really liked it at first.
Having gained some internship experience from the time of my studies, I suddenly felt like I became a true member of the big world consisting of huge buildings with shiny glass façades. I wanted to work on interesting projects and be seen. But instead I found myself sitting behind a computer screen all the time and there was no one who would care.
Thus I started learning and learned quite a lot from finance, marketing and strategy. But the frustration began to snowball gradually. Once back from my foreign placement in Munich, I somehow resigned myself to it, and kept on going to work just to make money and make sure I have enough free time to do what I like most. All in all, it hasn’t been a very shiny experience, and now I know for sure that if I was to return to a corporation, I would have to design my own role first and have at least some executive power.
What made you want to become a member of the StartupYard team? What do you hope to accomplish here that will have a lasting impact?
Well, because you are all very nice guys in the first place, that’s an easy one! But seriously, people always make a huge impression and here I felt we would fit well together. Next, I wanted to follow up with my previous work for Wayra and give an afterlife to all those beautiful charts and models I have built. 🙂
Talking about my footprints, I want to make our financial reports at StartupYard more user friendly, both for us and the investors and then, hopefully, help create a solid and trusted alumni pool where investors could come and pick from them– sort of plug and play. Nice and neat.
And one more thing, I want to help build a strong community around StartupYard so we are heard and seen and more talented entrepreneurs join our acceleration program.
What do you think are important qualities for someone working in accounting, and financial control?
Clearly, to be a good financial controller you have to develop some kind of affection for numbers and tables. It’s definitely useful if you have strong computing skills and can visualize graphs and models you want to build. Analytical thinking is definitely an asset if you want to work with the results further and reflect them in your business.
When it comes to data collecting and work with excel, you have to be patient and thorough but at the same time be determined and know how to make the others give you all the information you need. If you work often with invoices and paperwork, it’s also quite important to be well organized and remember all due dates and deadlines.
You’ve been brought on as Portfolio Manager for StartupYard. How can StartupYard improve our support of alumni?
From my experience, whenever you leave an organization you have been a member of for some time, you tend to lose interest in a few years. Therefore, we need to communicate with our alumni more frequently, tell them about all important events but most importantly invite them for at least two community events every year and make sure they really come and talk to us.
However, this is only possible if you can offer something valuable. In our case, the key should be our contacts to investors and continued mentoring and business consulting. On the other hand, we shouldn’t promise what is impossible – there should be realistic expectations set from the beginning and a mutual relationship of trust. Eventually, I would like to make the StartupYard be seen as a “safe harbor”, a place where all alumni may come to for a piece of advice, sympathy and also a friendly kick if needed.
How do you envision your role with the incoming startups in 2016?
I could be talking about my big dreams and great ideas but the truth is that my role at StartupYard was defined quite clearly. Therefore I know that I will be responsible for a successful and timely negotiations and contracting in the first place.
In order to avoid the nightmare scenario of not having signed one or more contracts by the end of the acceleration period, I have to meet our new startup co-founders very early and build relationships with them. Then, hopefully, they will be also open to share their financials with me, which I need to work with not just to establish business value of the portfolio but also to help them set realistic goals and secure financing under fair terms.
To sum up, I would like to be a partner to them and make sure they make the most of their business.
On this topic, in your experience, what are some of the most common and problematic mistakes that startups make when it comes to their accounting and financial practices early on?
The biggest mistakes some of the startups make is that they completely give up on planning their revenues or only do a few “pro forma” tables.
I agree that it might be difficult to predict your business development if you have just started but it tells a lot about your level of competency and trustworthiness to potential investors. Also it helps to give the starting business some direction.
Another common mistake is that startups tend to rely heavily on first investment prospects based on initial meetings with potential investors or even only on declared interest. It’s important to realize that negotiations may last several months and if you aim too high, you may easily run out of cash and make a fool out of yourself. That was just to name a few common mistakes, but I could continue for hours and I don’t want to be evil! :laughs:
What are some of your hobbies and interests outside of finance and startups?
Most of all I love hiking in the mountains and outdoor sports. Usually, you would find me running, roller-skating, biking or skiing in the winter. Less than I used to but I still play drama with my friends in a student artistic group OLDstars. I also used to play music quite a lot before: clarinet, saxophone, guitar and a bit of singing. Over time, I started to prefer going to theaters and concerts as a visitor, having realized that I will never be as good myself.
Two years ago, I meet a group of very interesting and active people in Vacation School Lipnice, who organize one or two week experiential courses and workshops for groups of people across generations. There you learn by playing games, discover new things about yourself, fight your fears and make new friends. I would like myself to organize a course like that to promote political and journalistic engagement among high school and university students.
Last but not least, it’s also worth mentioning that my friends and I write a blog about Prague confectioneries www.cukrousi.cz.
We talk to mentors, investors, entrepreneurs, and startup founders on a daily basis at StartupYard. Just last week, we hosted an in-depth discussion with Ales Teska, of TeskaLabs, who recently moved his company to London, about the Czech startup ecosystem, and how it compares (or doesn’t) with its London counterpart.
We’ve also hosted several interviews recently with StartupYard mentors and investors such as Andrej Kiska and Ondrej Krajicek, that focused among other things, on the impact that government policies can have on the startup ecosystem.
We often trumpet the benefits of doing business in the Czech Republic, and those benefits are very real. A low cost of living, low cost of doing business environment with a high number of skilled IT workers and engineers makes the Czech Republic competitive in the world of startups.
But good enough, for us, just isn’t good enough. Here are a few ways we think we (and other startup ecosystems) could do better through smarter government.
Starting Off Equal
Here we’re going to take the long view, and look at Europe as a whole. While, as Andrej Kiska pointed out in his interview with me in July, incorporation may be relatively easy in the Czech Republic, from his perspective as a partner at Credo Ventures, that doesn’t mean that the current regime is encouraging people to start new companies.
Incorporation may be easy if dealing with corporate structures is your day job. But entrepreneurs are engineers, artists, artisans, and inventors. They are not lawyers or accountants, and most aren’t even sure of which kind of lawyers and accountants they might need to hire to get the job done.
Incorporation in the Czech Republic still takes time, paperwork, signatures, notaries, bank accounts, identification, and in-person visits to various offices and departments. Contrast that with founding a company in the UK, where the process is fully electronic and fully supported by Gov.uk, or even better, founding a company in Estonia, a world leader in digital entrepreneurship innovation, where it takes literally minutes to have a company off the ground.
An entrepreneur in Estonia is already off and running for virtually no cost, while one in the Czech Republic is waiting for a criminal background check, registering a trade license, paying for notaries and articles of association, waiting in line at the bank and many other details, and spending about 30 days (minimum) and over 1,000 Euros for the privilege of doing all that.
In startupland, the costs of failure determine our appetite for risk. We should be taking more risks, more often, and we should be minimizing the costs of failure.
A Europe-wide, single framework for starting a business should be created to allow companies in any European country to start businesses in a single legal environment, in as short a time as possible. The system should be flexible enough to allow different companies to operate under the laws of their respective countries, but simple enough to allow anyone to start a business anywhere, whether or not they are a citizen, or even a long term resident of that state.
Estonia has proven with its digital residency program, that a paperless bureaucracy can better adapt to the needs of the modern digital economy. We need such programs Europe-wide.
Startup ecosystems depend upon and thrive on the investments of angels and VCs who are aware of the risks. We have talked here often about the risk aversion of Czech investors, who are reputed for their conservativeness. While that may only be partly true, it is no secret that the Czech Republic does have a smaller volume of such investments than neighboring countries like Germany, or France, even accounting for their larger populations.
We need to encourage investment in riskier ventures like startups, by offering a combination of tax incentives and government backed investment matching programs for startups and their investors to take advantage of.
This year, StartupYard has taken advantage of FiWare, an EC grant program which has allowed us to tie our recommendations for the allocations of grants to the success of individual startups raising money after our program. Through this program, we were part of the fund that helped raise 337K Euros for TeskaLabs, the fastest raised pre-seed funding round in Czech history. Our ability to help TeskaLabs meet their immediate needs, grow their sales pipeline, and become a more attractive opportunity for private investors.
The Czech Republic, along with individual municipalities and regional authorities, should replicate that success by funding grant programs that go directly to startups, by supporting existing venture capital deals, and make them even more enticing to investors.
The prevailing system forces startups to seek grants alongside private investments. But as Ondrej Krajicek detailed in his interview with me recently, this is the wrong way around:
“It happens to us from time to time as well that companies approach us with projects that don’t really need our involvement, but need a corporate partner for government funding. I don’t accept these sorts of arrangements as a rule.
We have projects at Y Soft that also seek public funding – I find myself in an awkward situation thinking: how can we differentiate as a real project with these projects designed to get funding? We are a real project, not one designed to meet the specifications of a grant, so we ironically have less of a chance of getting the funding for that. And that isn’t the way it is supposed to work.” – Ondrej Krajicek, Y Soft Ventures
The government should not be in the business of deciding which startups deserve investment capital. That produces companies that get investments because they’re good at convincing the government to give it to them, not convincing customers to buy from them or real investors to invest in them. Instead, the government should support qualified investors by giving them incentives to invest, including matching funds on all their startup investments.
To push new investors and high net worth people to invest in technology, startups should be classed as a special investment category, and investors should be allowed to deduct their investments in startups from capital gains taxes.
Social and Employment Incentives
As Ales Teska noted in his talk with us at StartupYard FastLane last week, a startup founder can expect to spend most of his or her time during the company’s initial growth phase, in hiring new employees. The Czech Republic is not lacking in talent, but startups have few competitive advantages against big employers who can offer not only competitive salaries, but also benefits.
The government should incentivize startup hiring by making it easier and less costly to leave the corporate environment, and join a startup. It can do this by subsidizing the costs of health and social insurance for startups hiring their first employees, within the first few years of operation.
This would allow startups to cut the costs of hiring, and pass the savings on to their employees, and it would discourage small companies from only hiring “sole trader” contractors who subsidize their own social and health insurance, and have little to no job security. Today, a large number of small companies abuse the Zivnostenski List (Sole Trader) system, because the costs of hiring employees directly are prohibitively high.
The Czech population has remained virtually steady for over 50 years, while the population has continued to age. As is true in many developed European countries, the Czech birth rate dropped below replacement rate (the rate at which the population has enough children to replace themselves, about 2.1 births per couple), in 1980, with the average lifetime birth rate reaching a low of 1.13 in 1999, and rising slowly to 1.53 last year.
At current birth rates, without an increase in immigration, the Czech population could fall by as much as 30% in the next 30 years. Up to 100,000 fresh immigrants might be needed every year to keep the population steady at the current level, and avoid a demographic and fiscal crisis. Meanwhile, Czech government policy has been lax at best about confronting future challenges.
Shamefully, The Czech Republic waited until only last year to amend its citizenship laws to recognize Czech-born foreigners who had lived their whole lives in the Czech Republic as deserving of automatic citizenship. Before that, 2nd and even 3rd generation Ukrainian, Polish, and Vietnamese residents were not necessarily eligible for citizenship in the only country they had ever known.
In addition, today, a foreigner’s time spent as a full-time student in the Czech Republic counts at only half the normal rate when it comes to qualifying for permanent residence. At the same time, foreigners who study in the Czech language attend university for free.
This means that the Czech Republic is financing foreign students to get university degrees, and then discouraging them from staying and contributing to the Czech economy by becoming permanent residents. This is not only unfair, it is idiotic. Foreign students are exactly the people we need in our workforce.
The government should abolish immigration laws which limit the eligibility of foreign students to obtain permanent residency and work permits after receiving university degrees in the Czech Republic.
Currently, fully half of medical school graduates in the Czech Republic emigrate every year. Figures aren’t available for IT workers, but the numbers certainly high.
Accelerators in the US, not a country where immigration is easy, manage to get visas for their visiting teams within about 2 weeks. StartupYard averages 2 months. In addition, companies incorporated by foreigners face a never ending string of pointless administrative challenges.
We need sensible but aggressive programs for attracting and retaining talent.
The government should also create special entrepreneurial visa categories for startups that are capitalized, and which choose to base their operations in the Czech Republic.
Hiring foreign workers should be getting easier as the population ages. Not harder. With the Czech Republic’s low unemployment, more skilled workers are needed to meet the needs of the digital economy.
Education and Language
Speaking of education, here is a point where the Czech Republic remains fairly competitive. There are a large number of high-skilled and medium-skilled IT workers, engineers, and programmers leaving Czech educational institutions and seeking jobs here and abroad.
While English fluency is stronger among IT workers than the general population, it remains significantly weaker than in the same population in Germany. As a whole, this country rates a score of 57.42 on the EF English Proficiency Index, ranking 19th of 63 countries ranked. That is better than Spain, South Korea, Italy, Slovakia, and even France, but we still lag behind Germany (at no. 10), Estonia (no. 8), Poland (no. 6), and all the Scandinavian countries (which occupy all the top 5 positions).
English proficiency is a key determiner of economic competitiveness. The Economist calculates that a second language (other than English) contributes to as much as a 4% rise in lifetime earnings for individuals from Britain. Though no comprehensive studies exist, some evidence suggests that English fluency for non-native speakers can increase individual earning potential by more than 30% on average. In the IT field, that number is bound to be even higher.
The Czech system should take cues from the most successful European education systems when it comes to English. Ample evidence shows that early childhood education in languages is vastly superior to education in teenage and early adult years. Denmark, the highest rated country on the EF index, begins compulsory English education at the age of 6. In addition, children’s programming from Britain and America is not dubbed, as it is in the Czech Republic.
In addition, there is little overlap in the Czech higher education system between engineering and hard sciences, and soft sciences like economics, business, psychology, and communications. American entrepreneurs benefit from a liberal education system, in which graduates are required to gain a rounded education to complement their specializations.
In California, for example, engineering students are explicitly exempt from the state cap on enrollment length in state universities, meaning that engineering students may seek complementary degrees in any subject offered. There is no need even to apply for enrollment in these programs as an engineering or computer science student. As a result, a majority of undergraduates in California now attend university for 5 years, and most now gain two undergraduate degrees.
Czech undergraduates should be encouraged to seek multidisciplinary degrees that bridge engineering, computer sciences, soft sciences and the arts. Entrepreneurs need to be well rounded in all these areas in order to compete internationally.
I touched earlier on the costs of starting a business in the Czech Republic. These costs should be zeroed out, and incorporation should be liberalized to allow anyone to start, and shut down a startup quickly and easily.
As Ondrej Krajicek noted on our blog earlier this summer: “[In the Czech Republic] failure equals punishment. When you fail and your project goes bankrupt, the state punishes you and the society punishes you. Instead of appreciating that you tried and failed, you are the one who’s bankrupt. Moreover, you cannot even establish new business for some time, not to mention the social stigma.”
Czech banks still practice the blacklisting of corporate officers who shut down companies and cancel corporate accounts, making it more difficult (and expensive) to found new companies. This practice should end, and the government should encourage banks to work more openly with small businesses and startups.
In addition, the Czech Republic should stringently avoid such anti-investment policies as Spain’s recent proposed tax reforms, which punish investors and startups that expand abroad by making them pay capital gains taxes on their market value, even when that position is not liquid.
Business and Political Culture
As Red Herring wrote last month about the Czech ecosystem, and the role of the government in supporting it, there is little practical support coming from the current government. There was not much anyone could say on the Zeman government’s behalf. Contrasted with Slovakia, and President Andrej Kiska’s bullish view of startups and innovation, the Czech government seems positively old-fashioned.
The Czech finance minister, Andrej Babis, recently attended the Czech Invest trip to Silicon Valley with startup alum Vit Horky of Brand Embassy, and our own Philip Staehelin, Exec in Residence at StartupYard in 2015.
This was a bit of an about-face for Babis, who famously called startups and small business development “ cliches and bullshit,” (in Czech: “klišé a kecy”), in an interview last year. He called for Czechs to focus on traditional, established businesses.
This rank of old Czech businessmen see startups as full of hobbyists and tinkerers who are long on ideas and short on real business solutions. That might have been true in 1992, but meanwhile, the Czech Republic has spawned Seznam, a one-time startup that now competes head-to-head with Google for the Czech search market. And we need not even mention Avast, AVG, SocialBakers, Apiary, or a dozen others. They were all startups once.
This is disappointingly myopic, but not atypical for a Czech politician, who sees the contribution of startups as secondary to those of large industries like heavy manufacturing, mining, energy production, or even tourism. But it’s wrongheaded too.
The startups ecosystem breeds innovative new solutions that can transform whole industries. Startups work best on the bleeding edge of innovation, and can afford to take risks and make predictions that large businesses can’t. A healthy national economy requires a healthy, competitive startup ecosystem.
Would Babis welcome a DropBox, a SoftLayer, or a SendGrid in the Czech Republic? He would have to accept that these billion dollar companies started out as “cliches and bullshit,” as all startups inevitably do.
The Czech Republic needs wise leaders who lean into the future, rather than dismissing the work of startups and innovators in this way. Politicians who are not captives to traditional business interests will see the potential for Czech startups to achieve success on the world stage. We need the government to take the startup ecosystem seriously, as its counterparts have done in Berlin, London, and Washington, and wake up to the 21st century economy.