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!

Demo Day Batch X: Full Video and Snapshots

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

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

Watch Demo Day Batch X: As it Happened


Pictures from the Event:

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

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!:)