Qoobus

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. 

Qoobus

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 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!