Meet Piixpay: Instant Crypto to Fiat Conversion

Piixpay is the first startup from Estonia attending our program. For the past 3 years, Piixpay has built a payment infrastructure to make the bridge between crypto and fiat as easy as a bank transfer. Transacting in crypto-currency can still be difficult and the volatility might deter a few companies from accepting crypto-currencies as payment vehicles but Piixpay has solved this by allowing real-time conversion to fiat..

Initially used by individuals to convert their crypto, Piixpay now sees more and more interests from eshops and crypto companies (exchanges, wallets) alike.

We sat down with Hannes Kree, the co-founder and CEO of Piixpay to discuss more about how Estonia is positioning itself as a crypto nation and how Piixpay intends to be a major player in the payment industry.

Hi Hannes! Tell us a bit about your personal journey towards founding Piixpay. How did you get here?

Initially, together with my partner, we launched a mining facility in 2014. Little-by-little we realized that we cannot hold all our crypto profit as we had to pay bills, which are of course in EURO.

We used exchanges to convert our crypto to Euros but our orders filled dead slow. On top of that, as the market volatility grew, and prices fell – we were losing money. We had to find a solution to make simple crypto-to-fiat payments.

And this is how Piixpay was born, where we do crypto-to-fiat transfers instantly and securely.

The instance and security are our focus from day one. No more exchanges, no more waiting, simple Euro payments with crypto just like your regular bank.

Moreover, it came really from our personal needs and it turns out that others share the same need. Now, with growing users we are at full speed.

Our long-term vision is to create a simple bridge between crypto and fiat with our infrastructure products. Imagine a platform where users transact in whatever currency they like and store their wealth like a modern crypto-bank

How long have you been involved with crypto and how has the landscape changed in your mind?

I started in 2013 when I bought my first mining machines. Back then, crypto was considered a hobby. The community was small and there were not many channels to gather information. Bitcointalk was one source, and some of our Estonian mining crowd. I believe crypto really got mainstream in 2016. This is when the technological and investment ecosystem really developed. It was the time when cryptocurrencies came out of the cellar.

Bitcoin especially stopped being connected only with Black markets. In 2017, during the ICO Boom, we saw a huge generational move. You see, we live in a very much digital penetrated society, soon ruled by young people. Nowadays for Millennials, crypto is the native asset to store value and transact.

On the other hand, Blockchain technology was recognized on a high corporate level. It is evident how much has been built for the past 2 years. We also see that some governments are embracing it and making regulatory frameworks. Of course, It’s not all rainbows. Cryptocurrencies are still used for ransoms etc. But nevertheless, the community and technology matured, and I think this is just the beginning. 

The Piixpay Team

You are from Tallinn, Estonia. Why are so many crypto companies coming from the Baltic countries?

I believe the case, especially for Estonia, is because of our e-government. 98% of Estonian services can be done online. With a combination of good IT talents and legislation, this gave a green light for many crypto companies. In fact, many acquired crypto licenses. That’s all good, but soon they have to comply with the new regulations. The good news is our Financial Inspection is working closely with the Estonian Cryptocurrency Association. We take an active role there to steer the dialogue into a fair and prosperous environment for blockchain startups.  


The Piixpay interface

What prompted you to start developing Piixpay? What did you see as fundamentally wrong with the way crypto to fiat payment work online right now?

We saw several problems and inefficiencies in the crypto-to-fiat payments.

Here are the two main points.

Firstly, customers find it difficult to transact with service providers. This is because those service providers don’t accept crypto.

That leads to another problem. These customers have to find a proper exchange to convert.

Let’s see they found it and now they have FIAT in the exchange. Now they need to make a transfer. But they are realizing that they cannot make transfers to 3-rd parties. And even if they do that leads to another problem, which considers banks. These transactions are automatically flagged as suspicious and now the customer is facing suspension. You see it’s a chain of events which show how the crypto and fiat world are divided. Not to mention the many unbanked people any cannot find any stable currency they can transact with you.

Which leads to my second point. Why service providers don’t accept crypto – it’s simple, it’s too volatile. How much did the Bitcoin price change per day? It goes up and down all the time but businesses want stability.

And this is where Piixpay comes into play. We allow the customer to pay the providers with crypto (Bitcoin, Ethereum… you name it) and on the other end, businesses receive and store EURO.

This is all done in a convenient experience for the customer and in a fully regulated and safe environment. 

Tell us more about your team. Why are you a good match for this project?

We have known each other for many years and our friendship started before we decided to become colleagues. We have complementary skills and have been in crypto since 2013. Our technical lead has been developing security software for big Telcos. From AML/KYC we have  one of the best intelligent officers in Estonia with vast experience with banks. Finally, we have a dedicated sales and business developers with international experience. This is crucial if you want to develop a world-class product. 

The Piixpay team

What have been your team’s biggest personal or professional challenges in making this project a reality?

In the beginning, we had legal problems since cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology weren’t understandable. After overcoming this we had to build a top-notch security system. That meant that we need dedicated servers and autonomous power. Now, I am proud to say we achieved the highest level of security without hindering our customer experience. 

What do people need to get started with Piixpay? 

Just go to and sign up. Registration and KYC are quite easy. In no time you will be able to make your first transfer. 

Who are your customers today and what kind of volume have you processed in 2019?

We processed around 20 Million Euros last year. This is another record for us.

As for customers, we see two main groups.

Private ones.

      Individual traders and crypto holders

Business clients include;


      Wallet providers

      Blockchain Developers

      Gaming Companies.

Also, we see start to see interest from institutional investors and hedge funds. 

What do you think is the biggest problem right now in the crypto market, and how does Piixpay help solve that issue?

I see as the biggest problem the interoperability both in crypto and fiat world, but also on a protocol level. By that I mean that still, crypto is not quite streamlined to the traditional financial system. And on the protocol level, the connection between chains is not good, not to mention the connection to external systems.

I can also add to that the lack of education and misconception. For instance, people still consider Bitcoin a scam. But it’s all math there, a protocol just like the internet. This is very needed to be communicated in order to see mass adoption.

As mentioned previously, we want to make Piixpay a crypto bank. A place where businesses and consumers will transact freely. This is how we are solving the market issues. 

You are for the first time in an accelerator. What did you expect from the experience, and how has that compared to reality? What has been your biggest challenge in the program?

Essentially, the program was very useful for us in several verticals.

Firstly, we connected to the CEE Blockchain ecosystem. Furthermore, we established vital relationships with investors, while preparing for our next round.

I think one of the key aspects is that the programme is intense but not *too* intense, giving us space to develop our ideas, follow up on business opportunities and run our business as usual as much as possible. Some of the encounters with mentors are leading to large e-commerce players which is very important for us to scale. Finally, we love the StartupYard team and Cedric’s sense of humour.


Meet Qoobus: The OS for the Freight Industry

Qoobus is the first startup from the Republic of Moldova to make it into the StartupYard program. Qoobus is a LogTech company that provides transportation companies and their clients with the best freight and transportation solutions to make their operations more efficient, secure and transparent. 

A 3 trillion market in Europe alone, the logistics industry is experiencing disruptive innovation rapidly. We sat down with Mihail Cernei, the founder and CEO of Qoobus. Mihail has been working in the freight industry for the last 10 years and being an innovator at heart saw how to make the life of truckers and shippers easier. Qoobus was born.

Hi Mihail! It might surprise people to learn that you were originally a lawyer, before getting into the logistic industry and founding Qoobus. Can you tell us about your journey?
Actually it might sound even more surprising but I also have a CMA ( Certification in Accounting and Audit). It was something I needed to combine with my law practice when consulting corporate clients on their financials and legal issues.

Talking about my venture in the logistics industry, I can say that it was a pure accident. 

In late 2009 a friend of mine convinced me to invest in a transportation company. It was quite an encouraging time back then, 2008’s financial crisis was ending, ecommerce was booming and it was pushing the transportation industry to be faster, and more efficient than ever before. In some ways I was sure I invested in the right direction. But my ideas about it changed, when I found out that things were not going so well inside the company.

From one side, the company was growing at a fast pace but on the other side it just could not sustain its own growth. Because of lack of technology and market visibility it was being run un-efficiently, we were operating at very low margins and every mistake was hitting us “like a truck” financially. It was a real struggle. 

It took us four long years to finally stabilise the company by developing and implementing an inhouse technical solution to manage all the workflow, from client acquisition, to transportation management and payment optimization. At that time, I realised that we were not the only ones having this problem and that our solution was applicable to the whole SMB (small to medium-sized businesses) transportation market. 

So around late 2014 we started developing our first concepts of what later we called Qoobus. 

Are you saying the desire to help others is at the core of Qoobus?

I think back then, we did not know much about technological disruption or revolution. We, as a team, were emotionally driven and having that feeling of successfully helping somebody was our main motor to drive us into this venture. But it was a no brainer to apply all the knowledge we had, into a product that had very deep disruptive potential even in that “just an idea format” we initially were brainstorming on. 

What did you see as fundamentally wrong with the transportation industry?

It’s a highly fragmented sector, composed of hundreds of thousands of businesses (SMB), varying enormously in size, that are moving billions of freight of widely varying sizes and weights on a myriad of possible routes. It’s an industry using “backbone technologies”, stuck in piles of paper, fax machines, e-mails or in closed data silos. 

Given the scale and complexity of the freight transport system, it is just impossible to analyse and understand it in the absence of large statistical databases.

It’s like a linked chain of events. A lack of technological evolution and adoption, leads to a lack of automation, that leads to a lack of Big Data that leads to lack of transparency.

For us, “logistics is just broken”. 

The Qoobus Main Interface

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

First of all, Qoobus at its core, is a state of the art Artificial Intelligence freight matching engine, built on the latest available technology, not only to connect freight demand with supply but to also predict it by using big data. This enables us to empower SMBs logistics & transportation companies to operate efficiently in the market. 

Exactly the contrary of what big industry players are willing to do. Most of them are keeping it as complicated as possible by enabling layers and layers of legacy IT infrastructure and rigid processes that are hard to transform into the cloud-age. 

When we started building Qoobus we had only one thing in mind – to make life easy for truckers and their clients. 

Consequently, we are changing the rules of the game. It is no longer “the big eats the small” but rather “the fast eats the slow”

What have been your team’s biggest personal or professional challenges in making this project a reality?

Taking aside the financial factor that usually makes it hard for any startup in its initial stages, I’m convinced that the biggest challenge we had as a team was to learn to completely trust each other, be united and stick together. 

The Qoobus team

For our readers who are not too familiar with the freight industry, why do you think we are seeing so much innovation happening. What is driving this innovation?

Let me put it like this, transportation is the world’s second largest industry. All of its branches combined, generate a global market worth 7 Trillion Dollars a year and it’s an industry in growth mode. But also transportation is one of the most outdated industries in terms of technology. 

A strong digital DNA is a prerequisite for corporate success in the 21st century. However, to date, the majority of industry players still work with largely manual processes, relying on phone, fax, spreadsheets and e-mails. Using such “backbone technologies” means that its results are by definition slow, error prone, not exponentially scalable and come at high costs per unit.

Future industry players will be those who understand how to exploit technologies such as cloud based services, IoT/sensors, predictive data analytics and blockchain

Lack of digital DNA in this industry is not a secret, so everyone is well aware of these problems and of course there are a lot of startups trying to innovate it. In fact there are so many startups doing it, crying disruption, innovation, revolution that it got to the point of a “kid crying wolf”; it’s not raising eyebrows anymore. Disruption has been mentioned one too many times. 

Both enterprise and SMB customers nowadays expect to get shipments delivered faster, more flexible and with a higher degree of transparency at a lower price — like the “Consumer Market” did 15 years ago, driving the fundamental digital disruption that has happened to the travel & taxi industries.

So answering your question, yes, there is a lot of innovation but most of it failed. Because of too many reasons, maybe because it was addressing the needs of the big industry players instead of the ones that actually need it, we will never know.

But don’t get me wrong there will be a disruption in this industry in the very near future. A revolution so big that it will change everything, it will be a fundamental disruption. 

How many clients do you have today and in which countries are you seeing the biggest interest?

We started with operations in the Republic of Moldova in mid 2017 and naturally expanded to the Romanian market in 2018. At the moment we are expanding in countries like Belarus, Ukraine, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia. We should be hitting the 9,000 Registered Companies mark as we speak. The biggest interest doesn’t come from companies based in particular regions, but from companies that happen to be in a certain stage of their development. Our core user base is mostly small to medium-sized businesses. 

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

In an ideal world, our vision of Qoobus being the one stop shop freight marketplace should be materialised. By then we would have an army of partners all over the world and with our services we would be strong and viable enough to offer SMB transportation companies and their clients a platform where they can interact and do business with ease, in complete transparency. 


You’re based in Moldova which geographically and historically is a very multicultural country. Are there particular quirks about the Moldovan market or culture that you would say give your company an advantage or a fresh perspective?

Being based in Moldova mostly helped us gain valuable know-how of western and eastern ways of doing logistics. When it comes to doing business we are very flexible because of our understanding of western and eastern european culture. But I would say that our biggest advantage as a team, as a company, doesn’t come from our geographical location or our multilingual capabilities. It comes from us being at the right age to have seen and experienced the world without the power of the internet to actually being part of the internet revolution. 

Has there been a major surprise for you since joining the StartupYard program?

Actually the whole StartupYard program was a surprise for me, every single bit of it. I found it to be very challenging at first but then, with time, I progressed on a personal and professional level. It really is an accelerator, meant to accelerate things and challenge you to achieve your milestones.

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

“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, 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

“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, 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!

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.