Aug 23, 2011

Like Putin - a new Russian web game. Don't pass it!

Today I would like to shere with you some fun. A new promo game “Like Putin. Прокачай свой ВВП” – new Russian web-hit. In this game you can lead Mr.Putin (x-president of Russia) through web sites while completing different tasks. It’s ridiculous because web sites content is also connected with those tasks. I would rather say that it looks like a Magnum Pleasure Hunt. With Mr. Putin (similar as a with a girl from Magnum Pleasure Hunt project) you need to run through web sites and gather some bonuses (gold coins) to increase your score in game. You can manage the hero while clicking on keyboard keys (left, right, space).
The main idea is that web sites conent is based on last popular news regarding Mr.Putin in Russia. For example, on the web site about auto Mr.Putin is getting into the car Kalina and driving directly to YouTube. Then he is singing well-known “Blueberry Hill” :) and finally fighting with some ninjas… That is not all! Just try it by yourself to see the end of game.

The project if not a part electioneering. It just… self PR for Agency One. From my point of view it is creatively different. The game was created during 3 months. And in first 4 hours of its launching it was played by over 50 000 users. And now try it and share your opinion regarding the Russian gumption!

Aug 12, 2011

Reshma Sohoni, CEO of Seedcamp: European start-ups should prove how commercial they are!

We continue to publish interviews with StartUp Week Festival speakers. Today I'm talking with Reshma Sohoni, CEO of Seedcamp - one of the biggest incubators in Europe. Our discussion is about European startup ecosystem, its perspective, global tech incubator bubble and why European investors are not so aggressive. 

- Do you think that the Seedsummit termsheet template favors one side too much?
- Yes, I think so. And I think the important thing I to understand sort of what is it. What the term sheet does is that it not meant to be a kind of a standardized. What it is doing is bringing transparency. So this term sheet, the versions of it, has been used by the VCs and business angels for the past several years but they have been quite private. What we wanted to do is to bring it to public. And this is a very big deal because they have never been put to a pubic like this.

- What could be next steps after it? I mean what do you see, how do you see them? 
- It’s a great step for standardization in Europe. For investors, this is the way to be more active. And for the entrepreneurs this is a possibility to have a generally accepted type of terms that they should expect in term sheet. And honestly, this is a really good step in education for EU startup ecosystem. This document should be something that entrepreneurs get to understand and figure out what parts they want to negotiate, what parts to accept, they can have more educated conversation with their own lawyers and investors.

- Why a lot less European VC’s than in the US for tens of thousands of startups funded each year in Europe? How to change the situation that European VC’s prefer to invest is less risky project and help in early stage European technology companies?
- I think the investors are part of the story but entrepreneurs are equally part of that story. I think entrepreneurs should continue to build differentiated businesses and really commercially exciting businesses. I guess I have 2 answers to that. One is it will take time. The European VC has been sort of burned in the past and also sort of it is more based in its own development. I think time alone will help us as European venture capital matures. Then secondly, actually what we see is IT companies they are able to attract both US funding and EU funding. I think the more US VCs invest in Europe, it will send even a clear signal to EU VCs that they need to step up the game and invest the European startups. So it’s probably both of those answers. And the third one is that the EU startups need to continue to prove how commercial they are, how aggressively they grow their businesses.

- From your point of view, is there a European tech incubator bubble right now? If yes, what kind of problems it could instigate?
- There is also tech incubator bubble in the US: large number of accelerators and incubators are appearing monthly. Maybe proportioned to the number of startups that we have, that sort of bubble seems even more obvious. I do think that in EU mentors do get stretched with different programs where they can be part of and the accelerator and incubators that are no different from each other, that are doing the exact same thing. So I would say that if you would want to start something up as an accelerator/incubator you should focus on something that should be really different, what’s you advantage as such. And I would look on such areas that aren’t addressed by accelerators to-date.

- So do you think that Europe really needs that everyone with actual entrepreneurial background would create an incubator now?
- I just say it’s a really hard work. It’s easy to set an incubator up. Being as it is a small capital to rise in order to create a company. But to actually out-value it and to actually help those businesses to succeed is a very difficult job.

- Seedcamps don’t have the infrastructure to do what a VC would do with ongoing help for start-ups. So what is the main adventure of Seedcamps? What you really can do better?
- We’ve been doing it for four years now, long before anybody else in Europe at least got into doing such. I think there are few things: approach is really something different; it’s extremely scalable compared to anybody else. We are able to mentor more than 200 companies a year. That’s a huge difference when compared to anybody else. Secondly it goes to the quality of mentor network, quality of the companies that have been funded by us for the past four years, where they’ve ended up, the level of cap that they’ve been able to attract. Those continue to be two big differentiators.

- It is clear that the US market is overheated. Another important point to make here is that the world’s top ten tech companies, based in U.S., more and more often invest or buy start-ups in Europe (remember Skype). What can European funds do to take advantage of this opportunity?
- I think its visibility. Both entrepreneurs and ecosystem that work with entrepreneurs need to bring European startups visibility in front of the US investors and the US corporate as well. So EU entrepreneurs really need to show that they have commercial ethic and commercial drive for doing their businesses. That is not just to get European startup for cheap. It’s potentially a better value investment. And actually you might have a huge business success in this.

- It’s very well known that the main risk for startups is to prove that they are really reliable and can reach result is to prove that they have a good team. The main risk is usually human resources because it’s quite difficult to find really good team, which will work together and stay together. What is your way to find such kind of leaders and young entrepreneurs? How do you see it?
- When companies apply to SeedCamp we take a close look at formation of the team:  who is working on the development, tech development, what kind experience do they have, whether there are superstars or whether it’s a competition and so on. Also we evaluate project in three aspects: design, development, distribution. And when we meet them in person at the SeedCamp it looks a lot like it. But in Europe we continue to see two skill sets that we need to improve on.  As I said, the commercial which goes into distribution I guess, roughly.

- What was the most creative “take break” that you have heard the startup has gotten? What kind of thing they did? 
- That is cool, that is quite an interesting question. One of our companies, what they do is they spend one weekend a month and they work on something totally different from the business at hand. It’s taking Google’s 20% and making it actionable inside of small startup of four or five people. They work on a project that is completely not part of their business. That really helps them get refreshed. The other thing I always say is even for startup companies you just have to kind of go exercise, go do something fun, not just work 24h a day every day of the week. You do need to step out of it and get refreshment. So that is sort of exercise or being around family and friends or as there guys do work on a completely different project, using their skill set, do something different.

- The last question is what do you actually expect from Startup Week Europe Festival in Vienna? What results would you like to achieve there, what is your vision?
- I think it’s incredible to have a week and to there are these people coming from different parts of Europe. So hopefully,  I will just meet a lot of really interesting startups and people from ecosystem. For us is we just see a lot of good startups coming from the NL and coming from Eastern and Central Europe, continue making SeedCamp relevance to them.

Aug 5, 2011

Esther Dyson: The worse mistake for business is to invest in bad team with good idea!

3 -7 October in Vienna will take place a significant event StartUp Week Festival Europe, which will gather more than 70 international speakers: investors and business men, top managers and startuppers, journalists and bloggers. It will last 5 days and consist of 30 sessions and workshops from experts.
Why it’s important for start-ups to be there?
If you are startup with international ambitions and looking for fundraising or networking – you should be part of this event!

Welcome words from Esther Dyson
Before StartUp Week Festival Europe we proposed you to ask some questions from our great speaker – Esther Dyson, investor (Evernote, Flickr,, 23andMe, Meetup, WPP Group,, Boxbe, Yandex, XCOR Aerospace, Space Adventures/Zero G, Constellation Services, Icon Aircraft, Coastal Aviation Software and Airship Ventures). Thank you very much for your interest!

- How young start-ups can convince the market, while presenting a new business model, especially if it has potential to change the industry in general? What are main steps you would recommend in this case?  
- It really depends. If it was easy or there were a single answer, it wouldn’t be really new.  But you do need to think about how it’s useful for the customer, not about why it’s new or different.

- What is a driving force of a start- up: idea, management or a founder’s creativity?
- The combination, but without leadership and execution, an idea is worth nothing.

- Do you have own secret in leadership for the start-up team?
- Remember to listen more than you talk! Admit your mistakes early and then fix them.

- Do you think that innovations and technology open new horizons for women in business?
- Not really.  It’s more an issue of culture – both among men and among women.

- Looking back, what was your biggest mistake in the business?
- A few cases where I fell in love with an idea and invested in a person who was not as good as the idea.  If the idea isn’t good enough, the management can improve it (this process is called a “pivot”), but if the people aren’t good enough you have a big problem!

- Cloning of US projects seems to be the latest hot trend in the global startup community (i.e. and CityDeal clones of Groupon). From your point of view is it: 1) legal/moral, 2) needed/unavoidable?   
- It’s legal and moral  to reuse an idea and do it better, and ideally, to do so creatively with an understanding of the local market.  It’s not moral to copy an interface and in extreme cases it’s illegal.  In the end, as I said above, innovation is not interesting without implementation.  Personally, I like to invest in new ideas.
FWIW, I don’t think Groupon itself is a very good idea.  It’s basically e-mail marketing, and the current margins are not sustainable.

- Do you think, American investors have prepossession against European and Russian market?
- Generally, investors prefer to invest in markets they know – which makes a lot of sense.   However, yes, outside investors generally have a pretty negative opinion of Russia.  In fact, it’s justified in many parts of the Russian economy.  But in the Russian consumer Internet, there’s a culture of honesty and transparency just as in the rest of the world.  In short,  you can bribe one person for a small amount to win a big contract with a big business, but you cannot cost-effectively bribe consumers to use your products and services…

- From your point of view, is necessary for the Russian/EU start-up to move in USA (Silicon Valley) in case of success on global market?
- That really depends on what kind of company it is.  But no, it is not always necessary.

- What kind of risk assessment usually investors are using for evaluating start-ups?
- Personally, I believe almost nothing they tell me… but then I invest anyway.  One or two real wins make up for a lot of mistakes.

- In what stage of project development is better to look for investor?
- That depends.  Usually you should go as far as you can before raising money so that you get a better valuation, but you should make sure to raise the money before you get desperate for cash, because that will *lower* the valuation (if it doesn’t put you out of business).

- When was the last time you have faced a real challenge full of passion that made you not to sleep at nights? Would you like to have one?
- I’m going through a couple of these right now.  They have to do with management issues… CEOs who aren’t managing effectively, conflict between managers and the like.

- Do you think with the hyper inflated IPOs that we are headed for another crash?
- I do think there’s a bubble in some parts of the market, but I hope that it’s not broad enough to cause a crash when it pops.

- Do you have to be in Silicon Valley to have a chance to succeed with your startup? Would Europe work? How about Vienna?
- Perhaps the best answer to that question is Yandex, based in Moscow, which just went public at a valuation around $8 billion.  I am on its board.

To meet Esther Dyson personally  come to StartUp Week Festival. You can buy tickets here. Till 10th of August price for “early birds” is only 149 euro.
And we will continue to publish actual interviews and posts with speakers for you. Keep in touch and don’t miss a chance to be part of historical European startup event!