Soldigo, StartupYard

In Their Own Words: Zsolt Mathe-Laszlo, CEO Soldigo

“In their own words” is a series of interviews with some of our alumni about the stage they were when they joined our programme and where they are now.
Today, we are joined by Zsolt Mathe-Laszlo the CEO of Soldigo, which allow anyone to run an e-shop on multiple channels simultaneously without the need for coding.

At what stage were you when you applied for StartupYard?

When we applied for StartupYard we were at a very early stage of our startup. We had an MVP and a few clients and we thought that we would change the world but I had a feeling that something is missing from our company. This was the knowledge of running a business.

At what stage are you now?

At the moment we have a fully working online store creator platform and marketing toolset and hundreds of paying customers. We are a team of 5 people.

How much money have you raised since leaving StartupYard?

We didn’t raise any money since leaving StartupYard. We were focusing on market our service. Maybe in the future we will start to raise funds.

How many jobs have you created so far? What kind of jobs?

We created five jobs so far: customer support, designer, frontend developer, backend developer and sales manager.

What has been the most challenging experience when growing the company?

The most challenging experience when growing the company was hiring the team. We wanted to have a team who doesn’t follow the traditional 8 hour/day workflow. Our approach is that you should work as much as you wish but be effective.

What are you the most proud of so far?

So far I am most proud of the fact that our team is working very well together. We had our ups and downs, changed a few team members, but at the end of the day we put a good product on the table.

How did StartupYard help you?

StartupYard opened our eyes. We wanted to create a platform for everybody but as soon as we participated at StartupYard, we realized that we needed to focus on one niche and try to help them. Since then we are focusing mostly on handcrafters and fashion designers. Occasionally we have other types of clients as well but most of our clients are from the creative world.

What would you say to someone who hesitates to apply for our next program?

Do your business a favour and apply. You will see your product from a whole new perspective and you will benefit from more than 100 feedbacks that will shape your business into what it needs to be.

Tomas Gogar

In Their Own Words: Tomas Gogar, CEO Rossum.ai

“In their own words” is a series of interviews with some of our alumni about the stage they were when they joined our programme and where they are now.
Today, we are joined by Tomas Gogar the CEO of Rossum.ai, which automate data extraction from documents with Artificial Intelligence.

At what stage were you when you applied for StartupYard?

When we applied to the StartupYard we had just a lot of technical experience and knowledge of how the document understanding works. However, we had no idea how to build a product, find customers and run a business in general.

At what stage are you now?

There is now a team of 50 people working on our mission. Our technology is used by customers from all around the world – currently covering 4 continents. We proudly automate manual data entry for customers of various sizes – from promising startups to Fortune500 companies.

How much money have you raised since leaving StartupYard?

Unfortunately, I cannot disclose that now (stay tuned, by the time you read this, the answer is maybe out).

How many jobs have you created so far? What kind of jobs?

Around 30 full-time employees and 20 part-time. Obviously, our company was always full of programmers and machine-learning researchers. However, as the product matures our marketing and sales teams are getting bigger and stronger. And as we grow, operations and HR become an important topic as well. We’ve also introduced a completely new type of job “AI teacher”, those are very important people for Rossum because they train Rossum’s artificial intelligence to understand documents.

What has been the most challenging experience when growing the company?

There were (and will be) a lot of challenges but I’m lucky to have two amazing co-founders. Each of us takes care of a specific topic and it is difficult to say which one is the hardest one. For me personally, finding the right go-to-market approach and building the sales machine is the surprisingly fascinating challenge. It’s very surprising how the engineering approach helps in this field as well.

What are you the most proud of so far?

Of our team, no doubt. We’ve already solved a lot of challenges together and I know that a lot of other challenges are still ahead.
Without all the people, Rossum would be a just a logo, website and some source-codes … that wouldn’t have value for me.

How did StartupYard help you?

It’s simple – Rossum was born there 🙂

We had no idea how to use our tech when we joined StartupYard. We were that kind of technology-first group of people, we admit that. Thanks to StartupYard we managed to find the problem that needed to be solved and needed our skills.

What would you say to someone who hesitates to apply for our next program?

3 years ago, I was the most hesitant person from our team. I don’t know what would have happened if we didn’t join. But I really like what we are building now and I know that getting feedback and learning from other people is extremely important. During the last 3 years, we received good feedback as well as the bad one. We heard great bits of advice as well as the bits that didn’t work out. But I believe that getting any feedback is helpful because it shapes your vision, your point-of-view. StartupYard was a great starting point for that.

In Their Own Words: Itamar Yona, CEO PrintSyst

“In their own words” is a series of interviews with some of our alumni about the stage they were when they joined our programme and where they are now.
Today, we are joined by Itamar Yona the CEO of PrintSyst, which use machine learning to make 3D printing as simple as 2D printing.

At what stage were you when you applied for StartupYard?

This was almost one year ago. Before StartupYard we had an MVP with initial traction. We had many questions about business focus. We were looking for a program to scale our solution.

At what stage are you now?

We’ve developed a beta version based on users’ feedbacks. PrintSyst is implemented at the location of over 25 SME’s worldwide. We are working on PoC with some leading industry manufacturers.

How much money have you raised since leaving StartupYard?

We received an important AI grant which helped up approach SME’s worldwide. Now, we are raising our seed round.

How many jobs have you created so far? What kind of jobs?

We have 6 employees and a few interns. Starting from software development, AI and Regional Sales. Our focus is to developed collaboration with strategic partners.

What has been the most challenging experience when growing the company?

During the program, we had the opportunity to meet local prospects. It was fascinating and challenging to meet their requirements. Bridging the gaps requires many aspects and patience.

What are you the most proud of so far?

Recently we won the 3rd place of the Future of AI competition. We are proud to be recognized by industry judges as an innovative and unique startup.

How did StartupYard help you?

Before the program, we had many questions about business orientation and focus. The program helped us to understand the business point of view and execute our goals faster. StartupYard team and mentors helped us defined exaction methods which dramatically effect on our daily life and decision process.
The relationship with the StartupYard team continues after the program. Printsyst and StartupYard teams became a family. I’m happy to have the ability to share thoughts and get good advice from them.

What would you say to someone who hesitates to apply for our next program?

Don’t hesitate. Act. If you want to understand how to execute, this is your program.

Shota Giorgobiani

In Their Own Words: Shota Giorgobiani, CEO Optio.ai

“In their own words” is a series of interviews with some of our alumni about the stage they were when they joined our programme and where they are now.
Today, we are joined by Shota Giorgobiani the CEO of Optio.ai, which markets AI tools for financial institutions.

At what stage were you when you applied for StartupYard?

When we joined StartupYard, we had an early prototype. The beta version of the product we launched before the demo day, was mainly built during the StartupYard acceleration period (sounds little bit crazy but it’s true).

At what stage are you now?

Currently we have several products that our customers love and are generating revenue, which is something that every founder dreams of...

How much money have you raised since leaving StartupYard?

We have not any official round after StartupYard yet, but we still got around 160K USD from Techstars and World Bank and currently are preparing for the first investment round, so numbers should be way more interesting near the end of the year.

How many jobs have you created so far? What kind of jobs?

Currently we are 8 in the company, engineers and business people and we continue to grow. Fun fact: recently 2 of our engineers left the company and moved to Facebook and Microsoft. I believe it’s the best metric – if someone decides to leave our company, they are welcomed by the best companies in the world and that makes me happy.

What has been the most challenging experience when growing the company?

It’s always different, based on the stage, geography and etc. Before StartupYard the hardest thing was to start, during and after StartupYard I believe it was finding product-market fit and addressing all the doubts that we had. Now it’s fund-raising and growing the company and I’m very curious what will be the next 🙂

What are you the most proud of so far?

It’s hard to choose one, so I’ll name a few: I’m proud that we started the company, back in 2016, despite the fact that there was a very little chance to survive and to grow. I’m proud that we’ve got into StartupYard and TechStars. I’m proud of being in the one of the first Fintechs that changes the landscape in Georgia and I’m proud of being a part of the company, where I can do the great things every day, with the smartest people I have ever meet.

How did StartupYard help you?

I’d say that in a many ways: It helped us to first lose focus (because of lot’s of opinions from the mentors) and after regaining it, way sharper than before. It gave us the ability to understand other country’s Fintech ecosystem, understand if there’s a demand for our product. It helped us to question everything and come up with the better answers and it helped us to reshape our vision, step-by-step. It also helped us to make next step in the development of our startup and get into Techstars and without StartupYard, it would not be possible.

What would you say to someone who hesitates to apply for our next program?

If you hesitate, it means you already see something in the accelerators and just are not sure about it. Give your curiosity a chance, you won’t regret. It will be hard, very hard, still it will help you in every possible way and not nessesarily you will understand it immediately, but maybe after some time.

So please – Go for it!

Startup fail, StartupYard

In Their Own Words: Mergim Cahani, CEO Gjirafa

“In their own words” is a series of interviews with some of our alumni about the stage they were when they joined our programme and where they are now.
Today, we are joined by Mergim Cahani the CEO of Gjirafa, the fastest growing e-commerce company in the Balkans. 

At what stage were you when you applied for StartupYard?

This was 2013. We were still early; we had a prototype and I would classify it as Alpha stage. We had a pretty good idea what we wanted to do in the years to come, and that was further refined with SY team and mentors.

At what stage are you now?

Currently we are at Scale phase. We have products generating high revenue and continuing to gain market share, and in a couple of instances, we already have double digit market share in our targeted market.

How much money have you raised since leaving StartupYard?

About $10M.

How many jobs have you created so far? 

As per last month data, close to 200 people are working for Gjirafa.

What has been the most challenging experience when growing the company?

Organizational change. Due to our high growth, almost quarterly we have to make organizational change to adapt to the new business requirements and growth. This can be very challenging at time.

What are you the most proud of so far?

1. Our Compound annual growth rate (CAGR).

2. Team retention.

3. Passion and energy; we still have the same passion and energy as when we started 5 years a go.

How did StartupYard help you?

Networking, fund raising, advice, and PR.

What would you say to someone who hesitates to apply for our next program?

I think they are missing out on a great opportunity to grow. It also depends on their reason on why not, but in general for us StartupYard has been a key/core element in our success.

Petr Boros

In Their Own Words: Petr Boros, CEO Retino

“In their own words” is a series of interviews with some of our alumni about the stage they were when they joined our programme and where they are now.
Today, we are joined by Petr Boros the CEO of Retino, a platform for e-shop owner to manage returns effectively.

At what stage were you when you applied for StartupYard?

We already had a very early product that was used by a few early pilot customers. We had no revenue. We had processed a couple of returns. We had some general idea about what we will do, but no clear strategy.

At what stage are you now?

We have 100+ merchants using our system, in 4 countries. We have revenue. We have processed tens of thousands of returns. About 1% of Czech eCommerce flows through Retino!

How much money have you raised since leaving StartupYard?

We have raised a seed round with angel investors Martin Rozhon and Jiri Hlavenka, who are legends of Czech eCommerce and local top tier business angels. StartupYard also joined the round and increased its stake in Retino.

How many jobs have you created so far? What kind of jobs?

Retino consists mainly of a development and business team. So, developers, sales reps, marketers and customer support. Our team is <10 people and we fit nicely in a beautiful office in the Prague’s best district (pay us a visit!).

What has been the most challenging experience when growing the company?

You see, with software development, everything is under your control. With business/sales, it is less so, but still, you manage to get some expected results from appropriate work done. With fundraising, at times, I thought this was completely out of my control. That was challenging for me. I guess you just have to persevere, do your best and keep your team in good spirits.

What are you the most proud of so far?

1. Our team, which is composed of highly competent people, who are also good friends.
2. Managing to partner with the largest local eCommerce platform quickly, which substantially boosted our business.
3. Getting two legends of Czech eCommerce on board as investors.

How did StartupYard help you?

First of all, there was the program itself. I think that the biggest benefit of the program is the networking part. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – for a startup, there is no faster way of meeting 100+ important business people in this region.

This alone would be enough.

But then, some year later, we started fundraising and StartupYard has come to help again. Nikola (StartupYard COO) was super-helpful with navigating our deal. He went well beyond what we could reasonably expect, and we would not be able to raise as fast and as good on our own.

So, thank you, StartupYard.

What would you say to someone who hesitates to apply for our next program?

Stop hesitating now, so you have more time to work hard and earn your spot with StartupYard. They usually take less than 10 startups in a batch. I promise you, you will not regret it – we surely don’t.

StartupYard Accelerator

In Their Own Words: Pavel Konečný, CEO Neuron Soundware

“In their own words” is a series of interviews with some of our alumni about the stage they were when they joined our programme and where they are now.
Today, we are joined by Pavel Konečný the CEO of Neuron Soundware, which recognise broken machines using sounds and machine learning. 

At what stage were you when you applied for StartupYard?

This was in 2016. We had many ideas and a few lines of code and that’s about it. The idea to apply the technology to machines came during the programme and the company was incorporated then. I was the only member of three, who was full-time dedicated to the company.

At what stage are you now?

We recently closed our Series-A. Multiple customers are using our technology. I would call our company as being in the scale-up phase now as we are looking to expand rapidly.

How much money have you raised since leaving StartupYard?

We raised 600k EUR within one year of leaving the program. Two years later, we raised 5.45m EUR.

How many jobs have you created so far? What kind of jobs?

The team is now composed of more than 25 people. We have experts in AI, IoT and we are now hiring our new, but badly needed, international sales team.

What has been the most challenging experience when growing the company?

We were quite good with finding customers. So it would be finding the right people to work with us. Not only with good CVs, but with real skills and also commitment.

What are you the most proud of so far?

We started with focus on the algorithms. Our expectation was that OEM would integrate the necessary hardware such as sensors. However that was a wrong assumption. So we pulled out our sleeves and entered the hardware business. How hard it could be, right? Quite a lot, in fact! So now I am proud of our nBox – an edge computing capable industrial IoT device.

How did StartupYard help you?

We have learned many very useful skills. However the most important for us was finding our business field. We had many options how to use our technology. The team of mentor helped us to identify what we wanted to do.

What would you say to someone who hesitates to apply for our next program?

It’s worth it! I recommended it several times during the last few years. I am glad that all the teams, who have joined StartupYard, are happy alumni too!

Meet Vistag: Making Visual Content Shopable

The past few weeks, we’ve introduced the StartupYard Batch X companies in a series of in-depth interviews. Last but certainly not last on our list is the one Czech company in our 10th accelerator round: Vistag, the visual e-commerce platform that is making images shopable, and re-inventing product placement and branded content for the modern day. 

I caught up with Premysl Koudela this week to talk about Vistag, and his vision for a more visually engaging e-commerce future. 

As the one Czech team in Batch X, you probably knew more about the program than your fellow participants. How has the experience of the accelerator matched up with your expectations so far?

Well yes. StartupYard is well known among Czech tech people, and I know a lot of the alumni personally or at least by reputation. I had nothing but positive recommendations, so the quality was not a concern for me at all. You can tell from the mentor group and the investors that this is a community that knows a few things.

The harder question for us was whether or not it was the right time to join StartupYard for acceleration. That is something you are never sure about, so we went into the interview process with this question in our minds. The SY evaluators thought we were ready, and looking back on it, I agree it was the right time. As I have seen now, it’s rarely too early for an accelerator like SY. If what you need is to expand your immediate network and get a lot of feedback on your ideas as quickly as possible, then it’s something you should start looking at from the first moment.

I am glad we did it, and yes it met my expectations.

It might surprise people to learn that you were originally a filmmaker, before getting into the tech industry and founding Vistag. Can you tell us about that journey?

I always loved films, even as a little kid. What some people don’t know about Czechs is that we are very serious about cinema, and have a strong tradition of great directors and groundbreaking films. Milos Forman, Jiri Menzel, and Jan Sverak are just a few examples. This tradition goes back to before communism, but we were also known as the autuer filmmakers of the former Eastern Bloc as well.

My father is a film director, and so naturally I also was attracted to the same field from a young age, and got work experience at Czech Television doing some of my own projects. In fact, this is the experience that brought me to founding Vistag.

In modern cinema and TV, product placement has become a necessary part of the economic model, and thus directors and producers have to look for ways of incorporating brand messages into their work without making undue artistic and narrative sacrifices. As in any medium, the economics will always have an effect on the final product, because someone is paying for a series or a film to be made, and very often that is advertisers.

Some people in film are quite ambivalent about that fact, but to me, if something is unnavoidable or necessary to get films and shows made, I would rather work within those confines and try to produce the best possible experience for the audience. We must keep in mind that art has never been free of commerce.

One of the problems with product placement is that it frequently runs counter to the storytelling process: it interrupts the story or distracts from it. So I began thinking how to make visual storytelling more interactive, and in doing so, offer more authentic opportunities to put brands and products into visual content.

It is not a new idea, to make visual content interactive and “buyable.” You can see this concept played with in films like the Truman Show, where in the fictional world of the film, the audience can buy anything they see on the TV just by calling a phone number. Television shopping is even older than this, but the more immediate, more e-commerce version of this kind of shopping was not really ready for the mainstream until very recently.

Today I think the market is ready for it. We are more used to brands acting as content producers on platforms like Instagram and Pinterest. We have a different relationship with the content they produce. People watch and share advertisements today as a form of entertainment. I don’t say whether this is a good or bad thing, it is simply true. So making those ads more useful by making them interactive and shoppable is a natural extension of this trend.

I also believe that ultimately this will allow creatives and brands to focus on higher quality content, because the interest of viewers should be driven by the stories being told. Right now, with the one-way communication style of TV adverts, people are well trained to ignore and skip advertising when they see it. That makes ads of less value, and in turn means you need to show people even more ads to monetize content properly.

But what if you could only show ads that are super-relevant to what a person is watching? An add that can say to you: this character’s watch that you noticed, which you admired, you can buy right now, for a special discount. Well, to me that’s a positive experience, if it is helping content creators to focus on telling a story, and still serving consumers with things they actually want to see.

Vistag is what some people would call “ad tech,” as an artist as well as a businessperson, how do you feel about the current role of advertising in shaping the direction of the modern internet?

 

Vistag, StartupYardAs I said, I think modern ad tech solutions can and should bring audiences better experiences than in the past. We often see ad-tech as only becoming more invasive and more “dystopian” in the future. However I think this tendency to view advertising negatively causes us to forget the ways in which advertising and brand messaging have improved a lot in recent times.

No longer can brands shout at us from the television, because we have so many choices of what to watch and where to watch it. Now advertisers must be more focused on their core audiences, and they must be careful not to overstep or annoy customers. I think that is the countervaling effect of new digital media, which is that advertising does not have to become increasingly aggressive in order to work.

One reason is that digital advertising is not just about performance and retargeting only, it’s also about content and offer personalization. Knowing much better what a person enjoys, and what kinds of stories interest them, we can much better craft a branded experience around that, which focuses on the viewer, and not so much on the needs of the brand.

Ultimately, when you see an advertisement, it is either helping you in some way (to make a decision that will benefit you), or it is wasting your time. So why not have ads that people can choose to engage with? If I’m watching something, and I say to myself: oh, I like that car, what is it? I can click on it and find out more. If it goes right over my head and I don’t notice it, then I’m not in the audience for an ad about that car.

More efficient advertising is better for customers and better for brands. Ultimately the goal should be to only ever show ads to people who are truly engaged with something. Ads shouldn’t function as mass behavior manipulation; they should help people make appropriate decisions, in a perfect world. Having more awareness of context and of user priorities helps us to waste less of your time as a viewer and consumer of content.

This also bleeds into the way we imagine E-commerce working. From my perspective it’s better to have an offer of personalised and curated products than hundreds of products on a grid. We should build e-commerce experiences around content which people are looking for, not on the merely chance-driven economics of a shop browsing session.

I don’t see Vistag as just a tool for e-commerce. I see it as a new way to approach e-commerce. A way to ditch the grid approach, and sell in the language of the customer. Go to them instead of making them go to you.

What are some ways that customers or mentors have envisioned using your technology that were surprising to you?

There is always somebody who reveals some blindness we have about our technology. That’s a really important part of the mentoring process I really enjoy.

Surprisingly, I was not prepared to hear that there would be significant behavioral differences in the way different people of different cultures would interact with Vistag enabled content. That seems elemental, but when you are building the technology, you are thinking about how to design the interactions so that they seem to work for you. What you can easily forget is that for someone with a totally different consumer culture and context, these ways of working may not translate at all.

Therefore it is really important that we design ad products that help content creators integrate ads into their content. These are the people who understand their audience best, so making sure they are in control of how the ad experience works is important. Often the ad-experience is not in the control of the creatives, and this can create a jarring experience for viewers, who are good at noticing when something is not done according to the “rules” of the show or film they’re watching.

Basically, people can spot inconsistency very easily.

Is there something you think most e-commerce platforms or brands get wrong about product placement and content focused marketing?

The worst mistake, in my view, is to show customers something in a piece of content, like a picture or a video, but to try and sell them something that is only similar to that. No! That’s wrong! When you promise a customer one experience, and then try to sell them a different one, this errodes trust and kills the joy of the interaction and the discovery process.

So please, dont play games with us and give us what we see, and what we react to. Don’t try to cross-sell me when you haven’t closed the deal already. If I see a watch in the shop window, I want to try that watch. I don’t want to be shown 10 variants of that watch. I want the one I saw.

The concept of context aware advertising is older than the internet. Why do you think this has still not become a ubiquitous form of content monetization or ad placement?

I think its matter of time and technology. Six years ago, when I started thinking about Vistag, the market and technology weren’t prepared for such a thing. Still, whole advertising businesses were built around a different model.

Now, when internet connections are so fast you can download high res visual content in a blink of an eye on any device, now interactivity becomes more feasible. Context awarness is one thing, but you actually have to very smoothly integrate ads with content in order to make it work. That has always been the challenge.

Up until now, a tool to do this easily, which doesn’t rely on developers and custom technologies, was really not possible. Creatives really need a plug and play solution that just works, the first time. Otherwise it’s always going to be a gimmick that brands and advertisers are not keen to risk trying.

What prompted you to start developing Vistag? What did you see as fundamentally wrong with the way advertising and content marketing work online right now?

Actually the reason was my girlfriend. I told her about the Vistag idea and she said I am an idiot that I didn’t do it yet.

I dont want to judge current approach/market situation. I think its about quality and relevancy of content. “Content as king” is not as relevant as it used to be. There is so much content around us everyday that brands have to listen better to what their audience wants to and produce something special, unique, interesting that will distinguish the brand and attract an audience.

It’s not only about amount of content, but also about the volume of products on offer. When I shop, I dont want to be in the position when I have to decide between hundreds or thousands of products and variants. When I want to buy a blue shirt, I don’t have to have 10 or 20 very similar versions of one product, I dont want to suffer decision paralysis, because of something as simple as buying a shirt. Yet this is what e-commerce increasingly offers us.

I want my own curator. I want somebody, who will show me the right product for me from different perspectives.

How can an e-commerce platform or e-shop start using Vistag to sell their products? How can brands and content producers benefit from Vistag?

The tool itself is very easy to use. Implementation takes just a minute or two. “Vistagging,” which means actually making your content interactive, is the work of 10 seconds.

The harder work is making content that is very relevant to the intended audience. If you have a great idea of what content is hyper-relevant to your online audience, then Vistag

 is a perfect solution for boosting user experience and driving conversions from your content. We cannot save you from having the wrong content or the wrong products, but if you know your audience and you know they like your products, Vistag is an ideal way to connect the two.

Give us a try!

When I was getting into marketing, we used to say “content is king.” And this was before content focused platforms like Instagram became really dominant. Do you think there has been a fundamental shift in the way products are marketed in the mobile age?

Our generation could be described as mobile friendly, so its a legit way how to sell products or communicate brands benefits, but is Instagram the right place to sell? Do the numbers of conversions on Instagram, FB or Snapchat affirm this is what consumers want to do? Current form/approach of Instagram isnt something what we can call ideal selling channel. People wants to see nice picture at a first place and only few of them wants to buy it there. Highly likely Im total wrong, but answer and possible solution could be close – Instagram announced their new shopping app.

But i think the real shift will come in next few years with AR, it will be fun and vistags will be there!:)

 

Payowallet, StartupYard

Meet Payowallet: Customer Rewards for the Rest of US

In our continuing series of up-close, in-depth interviews with the founders of the StartupYard Batch X companies, we come to Payowallet, a Slovak startup founded by Klaudia Drabikova, and Gabriel Cegledi. Payowallet helps small retail businesses graft world class customer loyalty and rewards programs using their mobile-first application and payment platform. Unlike the loyalty programs of major retailers, Payowallet is accessible to any small business, and can be set up in minutes.

 

 

For this interview, both Co-founders chose to speak with me, so you will read answers from both Klaudia and Gabriel.

Klaudia Drabikova, the CEO, Has worked for 15 years in international non-banking and banking financial companies, specialized in consumer lending as Head of Direct business. Her working experience wass enriched in operations matters as a former COO and member of the Board of Cetelem Slovakia.

Gabriel Cegledi, the CTO, also has 15 years of experience, implementing loyalty rewards and payment cards programs for leading merchants and banks across Europe. Gabriel previously worked as Loyalty Products Owner at EMEA and International levels for First Data. 

PayoWallet, StartupYard


Here is what they had to say: 

Hi Klaudia,you come to building a startup from a position of more experience than a typical founder. You spent 15 years in banking, and you were COO and a member of the board at Cetelem in Slovakia. Why found a startup focused on small retail businesses?

Payowallet, StartupYard

Co-Founders Klaudia and Gabriel

Klaudia: That’s an interesting question, because in some ways it is a big leap. Still in another way, I see this move as a natural extension of my career long interests. At Cetelem, I learned that it is increasingly difficult to differentiate a retail brand according to pricing, or even the number and location of branches. Those may be the first things you think about when it comes to a retail bank, and these factors matter, however they matter much less in proportion to the impact that good customer experiences can have on brand loyalty.

One of the ironies for a big brand is that as you scale larger over time, you focus increasingly on these marginal factors such as price and location, because they are easier to quantify and manage using a data centered approach. However, customer experience remains a huge factor in creating loyalty among your userbase. That is harder to do as a company gets bigger, because the ways you execute customer experiences at scale are different from those of a smaller company.

What I found over time was that big companies are investing a lot into large-scale customer experience solutions, such as loyalty programs, apps, messenger bots, and such things. Still, these investments are really trying to mirror what smaller businesses do as a matter of day-to-day practice in customer service. The result is that big retail brands have very sophisticated technology, but still many of the best practices in retail come from smaller brands that are more free to innovate on a smaller scale. So, small retailers have great ideas, but no way to support them with technology. It’s too expensive, and too de-focusing for them to develop their own apps or programs.

So Payowallet is trying to provide that technology basis for excellent customer experiences. I believe, and I have seen it, that better customer experience can create customer engagement, which is more important today than ever to differentiate from competition. Small businesses only lack the technology to execute on their customer knowledge and ideas. They don’t lack for either knowledge or ideas. So we want to make customer loyalty programs and digital payment systems available to retailers of any size, in a format simple enough for anyone to use without a major investment of time or resources.

Why found a startup focused on small retail businesses?

Gabriel: There are two questions in this sentence actually. First question – why did we want to found a startup? Well, we both worked in big companies – each of us in a different one  – which grew from quite small firms to large corporations. From companies, where you knew all the employees – your colleagues, you all work together, you all work hard to get things done, all were personally responsible for every action, every success and mistake.

You had to find solutions despite different opinions, attitudes and varying personal characters within the team. The results and then also the joy and feeling of success from having done a great job were very tangible and personal, thanks to the real cooperation of all colleagues in the team and/or particular projects. We had really good times – both of us in our own companies. Now those companies have gotten very big, and these aspects naturally change to accommodate the new scale. We both felt it was time to search for something new, and begin again from the small scale.

Second question: Why focus on small retail businesses? The technology all retailers can now benefit from has progressed dramatically over the past few years. A few years ago, only large retailers, such as Tesco or Starbucks could have their own credit cards, loyalty programmes, analytics and proper full-stack marketing to end-customers.

Now, new technologies and new programming languages allow anyone to build marketing and payment systems in a fraction of the time for very little money. We saw these technologies evolving, we saw them coming, we were part of the process, we saw what impact they can have. And, these technologies small brands to be more relevant and personal when it comes to appealing to their customers. On the other hand, the end-customers have become more demanding – new generations (Y and Z) require more comfortable, easy-to-use and relevant products and personalized experiences when shopping.

Meeting all these new trends and requirements is not easy – but it is thrilling. It is extremely interesting to be able to help these small retailers who don’t really have the resources  to keep up with all these new communications methods (e.g. Facebook, instagram, chatbots, messengers etc) and technologies (e.g. analytics) – not because they can’t or don’t want to – but simply they don’t have time and money for it (as they are doing all the hard work around their core products)…

To me it is a shame if a big retailer beats a smaller one only because they can outspend them on technology to reach the customers. That does not encourage a true vibrant competition between small and large players in the retail world. Democratizing the technology used for marketing and customer experience means better experiences for everyone.

Q: How did you two begin working together? Why are you a good match for this project?

Klaudia: First of all we know each other from the past, when Gabriel was working for a company delivering payments and loyalty services. Both of us left our companies, and were looking for new opportunities. When we met, of course there were discussions what to do, and because we have seen the trends in other developed countries in areas we had a knowledge in, we started to be hungry to do something similar in this region. Why we are a good match? In my opinion it’s like this: Gabriel has many, many ideas, and me, I like them to get them done! Gabriel always has many questions, like when a kid ask you why, why, why? All the the time, so he forces me to think and to be more prepared. We fit together in that way: by being opposites.

Gabriel: I saw these new technologies and opportunities coming, I saw them hitting and scratching the surface of the corporation I was working in as well – but months passed and none of the promising new technologies was being realized. None of them took off in the corporation really. It was not easy – to quit a good and safe salary, but couldn’t do it differently.

When we both quit – literally at the same time – despite the fact that it was not coordinated, we started to look at a couple of new opportunities, potential startup projects and technologies together – with some other friends of ours and our former colleagues.

We tested a couple of projects over a period of 7 months or so, and then decided on Payowallet – digital loyalty and marketing, including payments with mobile and sophisticated analytics. Very cool.

Why are we a good match? Well, the thing is that we are quite different, we have a different nature, we have different ideas, we have a different style of work – I like to work alone, closed in a basement in a cellar.  But Klaudia needs plenty of people around her all the time. But when it’s time to get things done, we alighn. Obviously, we share a common vision and strategy. The differences help us look at the same thing from different angles, and so we are able to see new and more opportunities and options that would be overlooked otherwise – if we were the same or similar. This is a very good thing indeed. Obviously, different natures come with some disagreements, fights, arguments etc. But we respect each other well enough to overcome these in order to achieve a better outcome and result.

Q: Most people probably have some loyalty and membership cards. Why is it so hard for small businesses to run their own loyalty programs, and what are the benefits of doing so?

Klaudia: There has been research recently showing, that 44% of small businesses are focusing their marketing activities on acquiring new customers, but only 16% of them spend as much on existing ones. And there is other research showing, that 67% from existing customers are likely to buy another product from a retailer they go to regularly. These are not huge new discoveries in retail. It is an axiom of sales that an existing customer has ten times the value of a new customer.

So, why do they not focus on existing customers? I believe it is partly because in this technological age, they are not sure where their customers are, or how to reach them. It may often be as simple as not really understanding which of your customers is even a loyal customer, and past that, how to actually reward that person. Keeping track of these things as a small business is difficult to do. Loyalty programmes play a big part in customer retention and not all retailers see the value in that, because they don’t know how to measure it.

The second thing is, that old-school style loyalty programmes, like paper or plastic cards don’t tell you that much. They don’t provide any data, or statistics. Much of the effort that goes into them is wasted. It’s hard to know their impact, or even know how many rewards you’ve given away. Plus, today another issue is privacy and GDPR. You now need informed consent to store customer data, and you need to justify its use.

This all sums up to a situation where small retailers can’t justify the cost and now the legal risk of initiating their own programs, particularly not being able to identify a clear return on the investment. New technologies make that decision a bit easier. We help retailers bring loyalty programs direct to the mobile number of each customer, opening up a new marketing channel, and a direct link with a loyal customer.

Gabriel: It is not only about rewarding my customers (as a retailer). It’s about the whole approach to communication with them. It’s also about a customers’ shopping experience. Small retailers have a massive disadvantage compared to large players in terms of marketing budgets. And then – what will be the customer’s choice if she is bombarded with more than 4500 marketing messages per day – as one marketing professional/specialist confirmed to us?

it is easy to guess. So, being able to “stay on the customer’s mind,” by choosing the right communication channels, being able to handle them all – so called omni-channel communication – FB, insta etc, providing relevant and personalized messages and communication to the customers – this is deeply challenging to a small coffee shop or burger-bar owner. They don’t have the resources of a nationwide brand or chain.

On the other hand, the retailers now really can benefit from the technologies – technologies provide them data insights – about customer’s purchase behavior, and technologies enable delivering the messages and communication right to the customers and in a manner that doesn’t annoy them and doesn’t spam them.

And as regards customers’ shopping experiences – you can see all those trends – order ahead and pay cashless – Uber, shared economies, buy online, get products delivered to your home, fine-tuned and sophisticated online shopping experience, after-sale care and services, in-store marketing and merchandising. All of these are available thank to progress in technologies, and the new generations take full advantage of these, grew up with these technologies, so they can’t even imagine doing any different. Keeping up with all of these opportunities and options is challenging for small retailers. That is where Payowallet is aimed at helping them out.

Practically speaking, what does it take to get set up as a retailer on PayoWallet?

Klaudia: PayoWallet is a mobile marketing platform, which consist fof components like digital loyalty, mobile payments, and data insights. For every retailer who is busy with their own activities and duties, but is looking for ways to engage with his customers better, we are the right solution. We help him to motivate his customers to come back more often, by providing technology to manage his loyalty program in a fully  digital way.

Customers love it. Retailer gets statistics and insights, which can tell them much more about their customers, comparing with paper or plastic cards. Imagine, that you can easily set up your next marketing campaign to the right person and send it straight to her phone within a few minutes. If you are a retailer, with no time, or skills to manage campaigns by yourself, we can do it for you as a managed service too. Mobile payments will be the feature which will complete our brand name (the wallet part) and will make the experience much more convenient. Payment and loyalty will be just one transaction, which will deliver new data about customer purchase behaviour to the retailer.

Imagine being able to conceive and sell a new offer to the right set of customers within moments. Have an idea? Test it out on a group of your customers, and see the results instantly. Get people to come into your store or restaurant at just the right time.

What are some of the ways you would like your users to change their relationships with their customers using PayoWallet?

Klaudia: For the moment, first thing is that retailers start to think more about existing customers; because this is the target group you can rely on and you can sell more. Remember the statistic I told you earlier, 67% of existing customers will buy another product from you. Imagine having a tool to delight your customers individually and invite them for a specific, contextual reason to come again and to spend in your shop.

We can see many validated products in other markets, like the US, or UK, where it’s important for retailers to start to think about mobile strategy, which will help them to engage with their customers. This will become a standard. And small retailers can be even more happy that there will be such a SaaS technology they can use afforably.

Gabriel: We help the retailers to analyze what is happening at their stores. We help them understand they have top customers – who are returning to them often – and WHO they are! Now, the retailers are able to thank them, stay in touch and delight these customers with special perks, treatment and personalized messages. They couldn’t do this before (except a very few small exclusive shops, where they know all their customers by name).

On the other hand, we can help them understand other customers who haven’t returned for a while. How could the retailers have a chance to reach out to these customers and re-engage with them? No chance! Now, we can tell who they are, how long they’ve been away, and enable the retailer to send offers to motivate the customers to come back.

Another thing – imagine announcing and sharing news about what is happening in my store with the customers – what options do the retailers have now? Posts on Facebook reach a fraction of their customers. But their regular customers, who shop with them quite often may really want to know if there is a new flavor of their favorite coffee, a new type of burger or a wine-tasting event. They would love to hear this. We help span all these missed opportunities.

What do you hope PayoWallet is going to be in 5 years, as a business, or as a technology. What would be your ideal scenario?

Klaudia: I would love to see a PayoWallet sticker on as many shops as possible. That means, that retailers are open to using mobile technologies. Their customers spend pm avg. more than 3 hours looking at their phones every day, so retailers have to adjust to be present there. Our goal right now is to increase the numbers of our partners, ideally in the Czech Republic and other countries of CEE and SEE  that we find a good match with.

At the same time, we are working on the technology, which will combine mobile payments and loyalty in one simple transaction, which will deliver insights to retailers to help them make sales. In 5 years it will be a standard to pay with mobile, but our standard will be to pay with mobile and deliver added value for both: a retailer – having more data on who is his customer, and for the customer to enjoy all the benefits of one click payments and targeted communications they actually want.

Gabriel: I see this from two perspectives: regional and technological. Technological – as Klaudia said – retailers heavily using the advantages of the technologies and services provided and all parts of it, reward programmes, analytics, and mobile communication. And end-users benefiting from the ease of use  of payments and of being rewarded.

What has been the biggest challenge for you, personally or professionally, in transitioning to the role of Startup CEO? How has the StartupYard experience affected that transition?

Klaudia: For me as a person it was like entering a completely different environment comparing to the  corporate world. I had to overcome the fear of not knowing many things. In a startup you do so many different things on your own, in most of them you are not an expert, or you have no idea “how to”, but definitely “you have to”, because it is your company. Sometimes it takes you really far out of your comfort zone.

Startupyard is helping us to focus on what is important and whe,n and showing how to make each next step. And of course the people here are willing to share and give us courage, when needed. You don’t feel that alone though.

Gabriel: Running a startup is really completely different to working in a corporation. Obviously, this has been said many times, but just to confirm – in a corporation, there is a distinct and limited and defined set of tasks and content you are responsible for. In a startup, you do everything on your own. From marketing, through product, technology, infrastructure, wording on your facebook and on your web page. Obviously, you have colleagues working on this with you, but it is your call. So, yes, it is about overcoming the fear of unknown waters, and about trying to learn as much as possible and as quickly as possible.

How can businesses start taking advantage of PayoWallet right now? How do they get started?

Klaudia: First of all, very easily. If a retailer has decided to become our partner, we just give him set of easy questions to be able to manage his offer towards customers, which will be displayed in our app. From loyalty rules, exclusive offers, or products, which can be sold in advance. We do the rest, set up in the system takes a few minutes. The retailer can start to create their own database of customers from Day one. No complicated integrations, no GDPR issues, just one smartphone and that’s it.

“I would like offer you rewards, use our app” is the only sentence they might use in the checkout process to create the engagement. The rest is on us.

You both have children. What is it like to be a mother or a father and founding your own company?

Klaudia: I feel good, because as a founder you are the owner of your time and you can adjust to the needs of your child. But I am not the mother with fashion bags anymore, because I need to carry my notebook everywhere, using every opportunity while waiting for my son at his guitar classes, or sport activities. My time is calculated to every minute. To watch another movie, is today a task for time management! As a co-founder of such a company it is very much about networking and this is a part you are quite often limited, but we are trying to manage and to share with Gabriel if needed.

Gabriel: Frankly, it’s extremely challenging and really not an easy thing. A friend of mine once told me: your first children will eat 90% of your free time. The second kid, she will require the remaining 60% of your free time! I fully agree. And now – I have 3 kids. And I’m telling you – a startup will eat through the remaining 200% of your free time. And it comes with so many uncertainties and unexpected situations. So, juggling with time, that’s priority number one for me. I’m dealing with it every day, and I’m considering every ten minutes of my time  – where and how I’m going to spend it. But running your startup is so interesting – it’s worth all the hassle.

 

StartupYard, ShufflUp

Meet Shufflup: Bringing the Benefits of Crypto Trading to the Masses

In our continuing series of up-close, in-depth interviews with the founders of the StartupYard Batch X companies, we come to another of the 3 companies that join us this round are working in the field of crypto asset trading.  ShufflUp is working to make the growing world of crypto-currencies and crypto asset markets available to regular people. It’s a fully automated trading platform that uses techniques from electrical engineering and high-frequency trading to generate steady profits for small-time investors. The team comes from India, and has decided to locate its operations in Europe, incorporating in Estonia. 

Shufflup Co-Founder and CEO Shilpa Mitra is a data researcher with 5 years experience in statistical data analysis. During her engineering career she has focused on building software, and in the process got into close proximity with many programming languages. She was part of a collaborative research project with Tokyo Electron Limited during her Ph.D. studies which culminated into a full length academic research paper, published in one of the esteemed peer-reviewed journals. She is captivated by the possibilities of blockchain transforming the current inefficient financial system. I spoke with her this week about Shufflup

Hi Shilpa, first of all I want to highlight your career so far, because at 26 you’ve accomplished a lot of amazing things, including studying for a PHD in electronic engineering. Can you tell us how you got to where you are?

First of all, I want to clear this that I am not a PhD.

My Co-Founder Sromana Mukhopadhyay and I went to the US with the vision of changing the world through our love for maths and technology, like any other PhD student might think during their first year of study. By the end of the first year, we had published two research papers in two esteemed peer-reviewed journals, completed almost all the courses, taught a bunch of undergrad students, cleared the dreaded PhD qualifying exam but still somewhere the creative soul within me was not satisfied.

StartupYard, ShufflUp

Co-Founders Sromana (left), and Shilpa (right) come from the same region in Eastern India and studied in the US together

I realized that I can better utilize my data-processing skills to develop something which is useful for the people I care about and this realization brought me back to India. The tech-lover within me got fascinated by the revolutionary concept of digital currencies and the more I learnt about them the more I realized that they possess the power to change the future economy.

Going from electronic engineering to blockchain technology seems like a big leap. What got you interested in working on blockchain and cryptocurrencies?

You can say it began as an academic sort of curiousity. There are interesting mathematical concepts in blockchain technology, and the idea of distributed databases and trustless networks.

I started reading the whitepapers of various cryptocurrencies in order to understand the underlying blockchain technology. I started trading with crypto-coins on various exchanges but soon enough spotted the obvious inefficiencies of the crypto market. I realized these inefficiencies provided the potential of being even larger than the inefficiencies of the current unbalanced financial system. Upon researching more and after some days of digging deeper, my calculations proved that the inefficiencies that prevail in more than 15,000 crypto markets and 500 exchanges are capable of creating 440 thousand arbitrage opportunities per second, which are capable of producing 8-10% profit each month.

Now let’s dig deeper into how two electrical engineers have done it, considering we have always dealt with electrical signals and currents coming out of transistors. As electrical engineers we have used time series analysis to predict the useful lifespan of transistors. We realized that the data coming out of exchanges is also time-series data and the same time-series analysis tools can be applied to exchanges’ data as well. It is simply the source of the data that has changed, not the nature of it. Hence is not a ‘big leap’. It is because of our backgrounds that we are able to build everything we are building today.

Just imagine the global currency system as a series of outlets and inlets, just like an electrical grid. You have a peak flow that is predictable. You have a directionality in the system that can be modeled and observed. You can see that money and transactions flow across the system in a certain way, based on the capacity of the various parts of the network to manage the traffic, as well as the actual needs on the side of the users of these systems.

Now, whether it is crypto-currency or forex or electrical grid systems, the same type of statistical analysis can be applied to predict movements and to design the ideal way of managing those movements. What we do is called “currency arbitrage,” but it resembles electrical grid arbitrage as well. Providing liquidity where it is low, and sucking up liquidity where it is high, in order to keep the whole system stable, is the same whether you’re dealing with crypto tokens or energy itself.

Q: What are you trying to accomplish with Shufflup that you think no other platform has been able or willing to do?

Arbitrage and automated trading are not new concepts in the least. Our approaches to these activities I believe are unique, however I want to be clear why we have chosen this direction for our company.

Unlike other complex crypto platforms, which try to serve more sophisticated and more liquid investors, at ShufflUp we are trying to help that section of people in society who are neglected and not taken into consideration by other crypto trading platforms. There are 25 million crypto wallets in the world and out of which only 3- 5 million are in active use, whereas the world’s population is 7.44 billion.

The Co-Founders in New Jersey during PHD studies.

Other algorithmic trading platforms are making their tools available to this bracket of tech-savvy and the so-called ‘accredited’ investors who are already in the business of crypto trading. At ShufflUp we will initially target the rest of the 20 Million passive wallets of ‘HODL’ers who have bitcoins sitting in their wallets and doing nothing. Then we will move forward to target retail users. We are primarily focused on small investors and the minimum deposit is 0.025 BTC. At present in order to use ShufflUp, a user only needs to have bitcoins in his wallet, deposit them to our platform, sit back and relax to see his profit steadily moving up.

With ShufflUp, no complex setup or figuring out innovative trading strategies or 24/7 monitoring is required, ours is a no-brainer and hands-off platform. We want to be a sensible bet for the average low income person who wants to profit from a dynamic, changing economy.

Can you tell us a bit more about how your technology really works?

At ShufflUp, our mission is to bring cryptocurrency profit to the masses because we believe digital currency is the future. A part of making that future work is distributing the gains of growth in the crypto market, and getting more people engaged with it. Through our technology, we have been able to eliminate the long-standing issues of arbitrage crypto trading. To realize significant profit through this form of trading by a single trader, huge funds are normally required upfront. A person also requires his/her funds to be properly distributed among several exchanges and the right coin-pairs where the opportunities are occurring. Basically, you need a large reach and high liquidity to profit from helping to maintain the balance of the system.

 

ShufflUp aggregates data from several exchanges, analyses them based on historical data patterns to understand where the next arbitrage opportunities are going to happen and distributes the funds in those coin-pairs. As of now, our system processes 40,000 datasets/sec to identify the next set of arbitrage opportunities. Needless to say, this will go on increasing as we scale.

Identifying the opportunities is one thing, but not all of them are executable for various reasons, such as network latency, high associated fees and volume associated with the trade. In order to avoid order slippage our technology determines the exact quantity at which to place the order based on statistical correlation and then executes only those trades which it predicts to be executable.

So far our algorithm has correctly predicted and executed 99.62% of all the arbitrage opportunities that have occurred during the last 3 months in the integrated coin-pairs. One of the things that few of you who are familiar with crypto arbitrage trading must be wondering is the transaction time and transaction fees associated with the arbitrage trading. Our smart system distributes the funds in such a way that it reduces the transaction time & fee by 90%. Also it is important to mention that all the profit that our system has made during the last 3 months is after taking into account the maker, taker, deposit and the withdrawal fees in the exchanges.

We have been organizing our private beta for the past 3 months with 12 investors – 2.5BTC and generated 55.2% profit for them. Also 250 users are in the pipeline eagerly waiting for our product to go public.

Many people including many mentors of SY have asked us, ’what if these opportunities gradually diminish in numbers as the market matures?’ That is a valid concern, because as a market matures technically and in scale, arbitrage becomes more common, and so less profitable.

But here I would beg to argue that even after so many years discrepancies still exist in the traditional market. Arbitrage always becomes more complex, but it does not go away. We will have to continue to evolve and learn from existing datasets. In that sense, our early mover advantage will be increasingly important, as we will have more data than others who attempt to enter the market later.

Having said that we have two very different trading strategies currently under simulation which will drive us forward in the path of our broader vision. One of them is based on complex predictive trend line analysis coupled with a few technical indicators which we know only the top experienced, disciplined, dedicated and the rich bracket of traders can take advantage of. The other strategy is based on analyzing market psychology because ultimately, market prices are created by the constantly fluctuating perceptions of market participants.

Here too, you can take some clues from understanding the flow of an electrical circuit or grid. The needs of a system can be understood through outside indicators. For example, famously, electrical grid operators must study television schedules to understand when consumer are likely to turn off their televisions at night, in order to ramp down the supply quickly enough not to over-power the grid. They must understand the upcoming weather patterns in order to provide enough power to the grid to run cooling systems.

You can apply the same macro forces analysis to crypto trading as well, which is something we don’t believe is common in this market yet.

Q: What do you hope that Shufflup will be able to do for its users in the next few years that they can’t do now?

As we are targeting the masses, or in other words retail investors, we will have our focus in developing an end-to-end solution for our users where they will be able to buy not only Bitcoin but also other cryptocurrencies because with arbitrage we will have an umbrella of cryptocurrencies. They will be able to buy these at a much lower commission than what is available at other exchanges/platforms.

We will also have two different schemes for our users based on a long-term and a short-term approach. If someone prefers to keep their crypto with us on a short-term basis, we would take a 20% cut from their profit, on the other hand if they stay with us on a long-term basis, we would take an even smaller cut from their profit. We are planning to go into partnerships with different companies which would enable our users to pay for their rent or coffee or pizza directly from our platform at a discounted price. Again, this is helping to spread the use of the currencies, and make them more attractive as a real utility to more parties.  At ShufflUp, we are dedicated to expediting the mass adoption of cryptocurrencies.

Why do you believe so strong that blockchain technology can make the financial system more efficient, or more fair?

I firmly believe that blockchain is the future of finance, and this technology will do to the financial system what email did to the postal system. Remember, the postal system is not dead because of email. It’s bigger than it was when email came along. But we use it very differently now. We use it for much more important things. The use cases that migrated to email did so because the electronic form made so much more sense than the physical, in almost every way. I believe the same will occur around blockchain.

Blockchain will have a profound impact on the consumers who will hugely benefit from greater efficiency, greater security and greater transparency. A new decentralized financial system would remove the intervention and complexity that exists in the existing financial system and would lower the barrier to entry for those people who are currently denied entry (the unbanked population).

Yes the financial system would also become more fair as blockchain’s underlying protocols support stronger identity management thus helping regulators combat illegal money laundering and terrorist activities. The truth is that the financial system as it exists today is not technologically backwards, but it is built largely to the benefit of the wealthy nations, the rich, and the powerful. It has few real incentives to provide tools for smaller investors and for the poor and unempowered to use modern financial tools. That is a growing problem that I believe blockchain technology can work to counterbalance, and help to democratize access to finance.

What other things can blockchain be used for that most people have been ignoring?

I think in the areas of e-voting by bringing more transparency so that election results are honest and accurate, coming from a country like India I believe a fair electoral system can bring much needed socio-economic change to developing countries.

I also think the sharing and gig economy can strongly benefit from decentralization, as many of the existing systems are designed to benefit a relative few at the top of organizations, and are not equitable to the people who use the system. You can see this with companies such as Uber, where the drivers are being pushed to work for the minimum amount possible, while the company itself needs to take a larger portion of their earnings to stay solvent as prices continue to drop. If this system were mediated by a cryptocurrency where the economics were more transparent, I believe consumers could make better decisions, and those working in the gig economy would get access to fair compensation for their work.

As it is, these markets today work on a “black-box” basis, meaning that you simply have to believe that a company like Uber understands its own economic model, and that the driver understands the cost/benefit of working for them, and that the price you pay is fair and equitable. You must take the word of the company on faith, without proof. However, in a black box model, the company at the center is incentivized to change the rules in its own favor, and to profit from a lack of information from the parties it transacts with. That is not a system in which the good of ordinary people is the focus.

Decentralization means that the ability of the rich and powerful to take advantage of your lack of information in everyday economic decisions is neutralized. That is the ultimate promise of cryptocurrencies, and what we should all hope for in the future.

How did you start working as a team? What makes you the right people to build Shufflup?

Sromana and I know each other since our undergrad days (about 8 years). We initially started preparing for several competitive exams together, cracked all of them, and got admission to the PH.D. program in the USA together. In that way, we became a team before we had a mission. We noticed the loopholes of crypto trading world in a joint effort and wanted to solve it together.

Data analysis and data processing, dealing with different statistical tools like Wavelet and Fourier Transform has been our forte and this project requires deep digging of data.

Coding of course forms the backbone of any startup and both of us are well-versed in a plethora of programming languages like PHP, NodeJS, Javascript, C, Java, Python, CSS, etc.In college we organized a national level technology festival where both founders were part of the managerial team. We together raised funding, and scaled the number of participants by 1500.

We are each other’s best critics, and constantly pushing one another to perform better. For all the above reasons we felt uniquely qualified to work as a team and solve the problems that we are solving now at ShufflUp.

How has your experience been at StartupYard, and in Europe generally? Did it match with your expectations, or did it surprise you in some way?

A: Prague is a beautiful place to live, extremely peaceful with an extremely systematic and well-connected transportation system. These are the kinds of things that I notice as an engineer by training: that this is a society that understands organization of public spaces very well. Europe in general has wonderful advantages for quality of life.

StartupYard has been great so far, I love the people here at SY as you let us be ourselves yet push us at the right time in the right direction. We can’t thank you enough for accepting us into this program as it was a huge validation as well as support for us that we are moving in the right direction. We got to learn a lot from some of the mentors, actually formed a lot of ideas that we are working on now, which would never have been possible without SY.

Being in SY and attending the workshops helped us ‘know’ about different core metrics of building a business about which we did not have any idea even a few months ago. The most important thing which I learnt is finding like-minded investors who will push your company in the right direction and not just crave to get manifold returns. Basically I can go on and on, on how being at SY has been such a learning experience and a much-needed one for us.