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Eastist: Startups in Central & Eastern Europe - Page 4

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Startup News
Funding and Accelerator News

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You might remember when Matija Kopic, the CEO of Farmeron, praised how useful a site called AngelList was to his fundraising efforts and implored “all European startups” to create a profile. He wasn’t exaggerating. All it takes is a few minutes of browsing AngelList to realize that almost every investor you’ve ever wanted to meet is on it. I talked to Naval Ravikant, its co-founder and CEO, about his advice for European entrepreneurs, about international venture investments, and about exciting startups.

AngelList launched in February 2010 and it has seen impressive growth since then. At the moment, it counts about 3200 approved investors, and more than 20,000 company profiles. In 2011, several hundred companies reported that they found funding through AngelList. You can browse many of them in the AngelList Yearbook, which just launched. Naval Ravikant (@naval) and his co-founder Babak Nivi (@nivi) are also nominated for the Crunchies award in the Angel category.

 

ZF: What’s your elevator pitch?

NR: We are bringing the entire Silicon Valley ecosystem online. What makes Silicon Valley great is the proximity between all the entrepreneurs, the companies, the investors, the lawyers, the accountants, the advisors, etc., and we’re making all that available online and transparent. We started by creating this free service to connect entrepreneurs to investors, currently about half of it in Silicon Valley, a quarter in New York, and a quarter spread around the world, and we’re continuing to grow it. It’s turning into a social network for startups, investors, and talent (people who are seeking jobs at early stage startups).

 

Why and how should entrepreneurs use AngelList?

We designed the AngelList profiles in a way that really distills the key information that investors want to see. Normally, people do 10-20 slide decks that are very complicated, everyone has a different style, and everyone puts in different information, when, really, what the investors care about are just four things: They want to know who the team is. They want to know what the product is and see the demo. They want to see if the company has any social proof, such as advisors or investors. And they want to see if the product has any customers, if it has traction. So we designed a one-page profile that lets you capture all that information, distill it down to simple, bite-sized pieces, and then we format it into a nice profile, as well as send it to investors by email, if we think they may be interested. Investors express their preferences: these are the people I trust (investors, or even entrepreneurs); these are the markets I’m interested in; these are the locations I want to invest in; and these are the sizes of investments that I’d like to do. And then we send them emails as well as personalize the website so they get visibility into matching startups.
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When I got a support email from Pinboard, an alternative to the bookmarking service Delicious, and one of my favorite tools, and realized that the founder was Polish, I thought it would be cool to interview him. His name is Maciej Cegłowski (@baconmeteor), he lives in San Francisco, and he founded Pinboard (@Pinboard) in 2009 as a personal project that would address his frustrations with Delicious. The service became popular when it seemed like Delicious might get shut down, and today it has over 20 thousand active users. However, it is still a one-man operation with no external funding.

What’s your secret to building such a loved service as a side project? And what are your plans for it next?

I really have no idea what I’m doing, so I feel reluctant to give advice. The one thing I’m sure about is that it’s important to build something you use heavily yourself, both to stay motivated and to keep a clear idea in your mind of what belongs in the product. Many of your users will have excellent ideas, and part of your job is to figure out which ones to say no to, which is not easy.

Most of my work on Pinboard right now is behind the scenes, making sure that the site is stable, fixing bugs, and automating as much of it as I can to free up my time for development. When I go back into development mode, I will be improving the archiving feature, adding support for people who want to bookmark in small groups, and making it easier to manage really big bookmark collections.

Of course, at this stage most of the work in a product is fixing a thousand little bugs and inconsistencies. I’m fortunate to have lots of users to help me find that stuff. Read more

As part of my quest to understand the Hungarian startup scene better, I sat down with Zsolt Bako, the co-founder of Colabs, a Budapest co-working space and startup community hub. We talked about the early days of the Budapest startup scene, the (shocking) abundance of VC money, building expertise, and lots of other things.

The “early” days.

Zsolt Bako got the startup fever after he started reading TechCrunch. (Someone should study how many entrepreneurs around the world have been inspired by this blog empire!) However, in 2008 very few in Budapest even knew what a startup was. According to Bako “people didn’t know what a startup really was, but they were interested.” Something had to be done, but there were no blogs, no meetups, no forum for finding other people interested in this mysterious “startup” thing. So Bako emailed a couple friends he thought might be interested, created a ning group, and organized Budapest’s first Open Coffee meetup. Three people came.

As the meetups slowly grew in size, the group realized it might also be interesting to work together, and they started organizing jellies (casual co-working sessions). One thing led to another and Colabs was born. First as a small co-working space with 16 members in a rented apartment in the center of Budapest, and now as a serious 600 square meter office.

And it looks like Colabs weren’t the only people getting busy in the last few years. According to Bako, the Budapest startup community is now very connected with a bustling startup scene full of meetups, conferences, organizations, and investors. To get a better idea, check out this map of the startup ecosystem in Budapest created by Colabs back at the end of 2010. They promised they’ll update it soon. Read more

To make sure you don’t miss any Central and Eastern European tech news this year, sign up for the brand new Eastist Newsletter, delivered weekly, full of stuff like you see below and more.

News

  • Eskimi from Lithuania announced 5 million users and strong growth in Africa. Read on Arctic Startup
  • EPAM, perhaps the largest software company in CEE, announced its plans to list on NYSE. Read on GoalEurope
  • Russian hotel-booking site Ostrovok.ru raised a new round of funding. Read on TC EU
  • This was big news just hours after our latest news roundup, so it’s a bit old by now, but in case you have been living under a rock – Romanian-founded Summify got acquired by Twitter. Read on TechCrunch

Inspiring image of the week - Poland's youngest entrepreneur at Startup Weekend Krakow starting his day right. (Looks like he was the only one without a hangover on day 2.)

Nice coverage

Opinion

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This article was written for Eastist by Szymon Szymczyk, an editor at Proseed, a Polish magazine about entrepreneurs and technology. You can follow him on twitter @SzymonSz.

The Startup Weekend event held in Krakow this weekend might have been the largest in Polish history — 140 attendees who worked on 24 different projects. With mentors, judges, the press and the rest, the total attendance climbed to about 250 people.

But its size wasn’t the only record. The youngest participant, Krystian Gontarek, who came to Krakow with his dad Krzysztof Gontarek, was only 10 years old. We haven’t confirmed with the organizers yet, but this might have been the youngest Startup Weekend participant ever. You can view the initial (his first pitch ever) as well as the final pitch for his project, Game Teller, on youtube.

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This week’s news roundup is mighty long, which is great news for our region. To make sure you don’t miss any Central and Eastern European tech news this year, sign up for the brand new Eastist Newsletter, delivered weekly, full of stuff like you see below and more.

 

News

Media Love
  • Slovenian vox.io was featured in the January issue of the UK edition of Wired magazine and TechCrunch featured a very positive article about them the same week.
Opinion / Reporting
(By the way, it might be time for the wikipedia entry on Estonian mafia to be updated.)

 

General Web Wisdom
The Underworld
  • An interesting article on the Russian gang behind the infamous Koobface malware. Read on NYT
Events
  • There’s a startup conference calendar on Lanyrd that is worth checking out.
  • The next Pitch in Berlin event by HackFWD will take place on March 10th and the deadline to apply is February 10th. Do it!

 

Sign up for the Eastist Newsletter and you’ll get more of where this came from every week.

Slovak company Piano Media (@pianosystem) announced today that it will expand its service to Slovenia. When Piano successfully launched a group paywall system for premium online content from nine different media groups in Slovakia, world media watched impressed, but not hiding curiosity about how long this experiment will last. Nine months later, the system is going strong. Piano Media won’t disclose any numbers at this point, but it claims the business is going “according to expectations”. Today’s announcement about the first country for international expansion further confirms that Piano is pulling it off so far.

Nine publishers with 12 different brands in Slovenia are participating in the launch, giving Piano more market coverage than in Slovakia. The monthly subscription will also be higher. While in Slovakia you can get access to all premium content on the Piano network for €2,90 per month, Slovenians will pay €4,89. The largest daily in Slovenia, Delo, is part of the trial.

This move into Slovenia is not completely shocking. Piano Media raised €300K in Series A funding in the fall with the specific goal of international growth. They have also been on a hiring spree, judging by the tweeting activity of Tomáš Bella (@kvasinka), the CEO. Another country is supposed to join the ranks in the first half of 2012. My bets are on the Czech Republic.

Happy Friday! Lots of exciting news this week.

Croatian WhoAPI is building a large API for all sorts of domain-related needs, such as whois lookups, domain availability or spam blacklist checks, server uptime data, and much more. This week, they announced exciting news about getting a 40,000 EUR investment from angel investor Mihovil Barancic. Barancic is the president of CRANE, the Croatian angel investor’s association.

The two men behind WhoAPI are Goran Duškić (@duskic) and Edi Budimilić (@edibudimilic). This is actually their third company together. They got their start 15 years ago with a computer game development company, producing fun titles like this one. After that, they founded a hosting company GEM Studio, which they recently sold in order to help fund WhoAPI. The hosting business is where the idea for WhoAPI was born.

The experience with founding GEM Studio was also an intense startup training ground for Duškić and Budimilić. The first few years were difficult – they had no money, equipment, or experience. Just as business was starting to go well, the global recession hit. And it hit particularly hard in Croatia. Duškić described how difficult it was: “Unemployment was exploding, the news talked about thousands of companies closing, it was really depressing. But you have to keep going.” This is his advice to all the entrepreneurs out there bombarded with depressing economic news. “You have to look around for strength and motivation in books, speakers, or Youtube videos. Find inspiration to help you go to work tomorrow morning and change the world.” (Did we inspire you just now?)

The tough times taught them to cherish even small successes. When WhoAPI first started, googling it would result in a “Did you mean?” suggestion for “whoopi” (as in Goldberg). That’s pretty funny, but the day Google stopped doing that was an exciting baby milestone for Duškić and Budimilić. Read more