Wisdom comes from experience, they say. We agree. At BizSpark, we try to deliver bits of wisdom now and again to the community so that the founders, developers, engineers, and business folks out there in startup land can use it. We saw four founding teams succeed at DEMO Mobile 2013 last week, and we feel that part of that success came from looping them into the startup crowd.
Here's another delivery of startup wisdom from our Microsoft BizSpark startup community. This comes from Chad Eaves, one of the founders in our community.
1. What are bitcoins truly worth and what will happen to them in next two months?
Nothing. They are the today’s digital equivalent of beanie babies. They are riding a wave of hype. If they were to become valuable, they would be subject to taxes and other regulations (they probably are already) which would negate their attractiveness. Plus, there is too much volatility in its value for an effective currency. 2. Are salespeople the most important part of your startup organization?
In a healthy organization many people create a good product. Engineers, designers, PMs, support staff, marketers, executives and others. Without these people, sales people would have no product to sell. Are salespeople important? Yes, but not the most important person. If there had to be one person, it’s the one that signs the checks. 3. What is more important in startup marketing, character or charisma?
And how do you tell the difference? Character. It is what drives a person to persevere and learn in all conditions. Often “charismatic” people characters. It is better to have character than to be one. 4. Where are the biggest startup cities, not including Silicon Valley?
Chicago! But I am biased. 5. Who was your first hire, what role did they play in the growth of the startup?
Admin support. This person helped on routine office/business support tasks.
In your free moments, what do you think about? For many people there is a lingering idea, an interest attached to a "what if". What separates the average person from an entrepreneur is not genius, it's action.
I am an average guy from a small resort town in Montana who had an idea, then an experiment...now an all consuming burning in my soul. All starting on the collapse of a rapidly growing and previously successful business. With a few hundred dollars, creditors calling and the stress of "what now", I went to work. This is the experience of how I scaled a product from nothing to something.
This blog post was written by Microsoft BizSpark member Jerry Reynolds, founder of Plandree, who will be showcasing his startup at TechCrunch Disrupt Startup Alley this April 29. Plandree is a social planning calendar for your vacations.
Lesson 1: Stop talking and get to work
After attending a few meetings with local leaders, I bravely state "stop fighting with each other, you're not even competing, your not seeing the big picture." I was promptly attacked for being a "stupid young kid who didn't know anything" and to never come back. It was that moment, I knew my idea could work. Over the next two months I built version one and within 3 months, I had created the most used resource in the area. All too often entrepreneurs try to validate their idea for far too long, soliciting opinions from those who don't want you to succeed or are too scared to try. It has been more than 7 years and just last week while explaining what I do, someone said "there was a person doing something like that a few years ago but no one ever knew who he was."
Lesson 2: Solo, who cares just go
The key to early success was starting. It doesn't matter where you start, just start. Build as fast and as hard as possible, for as long as possible. The value of an experiment is not who approves of it or who uses it or who talks about it. The value is that someone simply can use or talk about it.
Lesson 3: Small victories
I created my vision and promptly sold the domains...with the full understanding that I was keeping the data, users and customers and would be expanding under a new name. I was paid to "we don't care what you plan on doing, just go away and do it somewhere else". Never underestimate your small victories, they WILL be the reason you win.
Lesson 4: The horse belongs in front of the buggy, not dragging behind it
My premise was that every resort destination faced the same challenges. I selected 5 for my second experiment but how do I get customers? The easy way was Google AdWords...$300 spent, no return. This was a great lesson: you can't depend on customers to come to you, you have to go to them. My competitors were very kind, they made their providers phone numbers conveniently available to their users and I used it. I started searching phone numbers to find associated email addresses via Bing and Google. Those with an email went in one document, those without in another. 25,000 numbers, 11,650 email addresses in total. Then built a simple email campaign for each destination and made contact. I still have not made the first phone call to sign a customer.
Lesson 5: The Formula
No one wants to be first: first to pay for a site with no one using or the first listing. So where is the threshold between "I don't want to be first" and "If I wait it will be too late"? When we hit 5 listings in a new destination, it would become 20 within 2 weeks, almost like clockwork. And every week we were adding at least one new destinations at $55 per listing. We were moving and fast!
Lesson 6: Be Bold, Be Brave
18 months had gone past, I finally figured it out. One man, one idea, now in 126 of the most popular destinations in 44 countries around the world. I was making money. But the business had shifted from the original goal of helping people explore the world around them. I yearned to refocus on my original idea and in July of 2012, I was selected to participate in the Betaspring Accelerator to do just that. Don't be afraid to follow your instincts, no matter how they deviate from your current path. Be wise and do what is best for long term success, regardless of the short term pain.
Lesson 7: What will you do when you want to give up, because you will want to give up!
There have been time when I wanted to move on, only to realize that I loved this idea too much. I loved its potential too much. It has been those moments when I re-re -re-recommitted to my company that I have had the greatest breakthroughs and largest gains of success. Its nature's way of asking "How bad do you want it and what are you willing to do about it!?".
After all this work, after all this time, Plandree is finally set to makes its debut April 29th at TechCrunch Disrupt. My final piece of advice is my first piece of advice. Stop talking, it doesn't matter, get back to work. It has been told to me by my mentors and some of the world's most well-known entrepreneurs. I pass it on to you. Now, go get it!
Start-up competition season is in full swing and a couple of the big ones - the annual TNW Europe and TechCrunch Disrupt NYC – are both coming up later this month (go BizSpark finalists!)
So we thought it would be interesting to get some ‘behind the scenes’ viewpoints from start-ups who have themselves been on stage, presenting to a panel of judges. What did they learn? Did they love it or hate it? And would they do it again?
First we hear from James Scott, CEO of Theappbuilder.com (a multi-award winning global success story), which was runner-up at the 2012 BizSpark European Summit. This annual event involved 15 of Europe’s top BizSpark members presenting on stage in London to a formidable panel of investors and industry experts. What advice would James give to other start-ups thinking about entering a start-up competition?
“Start-up competitions are a great way to raise your start-ups profile at virtually zero cost (aside from your time of course) and to meet potential advisors, investors and partners all in one day! We really enjoyed taking part in the competition.”
Hendrik van Iterson is CTO and co-founder of Atomblock, one of the finalists at the 2011 European BizSpark Summit, held in Brussels. Would he recommend entering an event like that to other start-ups? “What’s bad about it? You get to bring your company and product to a competition. You get the chance to convince the jury that your company is THE one.”
So what lessons have our start-ups learnt from entering competitions that they’d pass on to other people? Over to James Scott again: “It's a start-up cliche, but hone your 30 second elevator pitch. The audience will be seeing lots of start-ups so make sure your pitch is punchy, memorable & communicates your key messages....in just a few sentences! It's tougher than it sounds! First and foremost be yourself: explain why you are passionate about your start-up and the rest will flow naturally.”
Sharing the experience
Standing on stage, potentially in front of hundreds of people who might have the power to transform your company’s fortunes, is nerve-wracking. So what’s the experience like and how well-prepared did our start-ups feel? Unai Olabarri is CEO of Spanish start-up Practice Your Music. The company was runner-up in the business category, at March’s EU AppCup event, which was organised by the IAMCP and sponsored by Microsoft BizSpark.
Says Unai, “this was the first time we’d done anything like this, so having the coaching was really important to us. We all got there on the Tuesday and did our presentations straight away. The coaches gave us immediate feedback then split us into groups for working on our presentations. The next day, we did our presentations again and got feedback from the coaches, who came from all over Europe and had a variety of expertise.”
“I saw everyone else’s presentations and could really see how much they improved across the two days. By the time we went on stage on the Thursday, we had come a long way. We presented first thing in the morning of the final day of the IAMCP event and remembered the judges’ advice to aim for 5 minutes, 6 minutes maximum. The judges announced their decision later in the day and we were delighted to be named the runner-up in the business category.”
Hendrik van Iterson: It was nerve-racking, with anxiety attacks flying in from left right to centre, but it was so worthwhile. When you hit the stage and start your talk and words come out of your mouth and the joy of sharing about our company made me love the experience. And even till this day the funny feeling in the stomach is there, but that will never stop me to say yes to events again.”
Winning isn’t everything
James Scott adds: We really enjoyed taking part in the BizSpark European Summit competition. Working in a start-up you can feel "out there" if most of your friends & family have normal jobs. So meeting the other start-ups and networking with an audience of like-minded people was energising and exciting.”
This is an important point to end on. Through all the start-upsevents we’ve organised or been involved in over the years, entrepreneurs tell us that while winning is great, the chance to connect with such a wide variety of peers and influencers is invaluable. As Unai Olabarri says, “It was a great opportunity to network with some useful people. I would definitely do this again.”
That said, we wish our European BizSpark start-ups entering TNW Europe and TechCrunch Disrupt NYC the best of luck. Trustev, Drippler, Itembase and Monolith – we will be keeping our fingers crossed for you guys.
Real Time, Online Identity Verification using Social Fingerprinting.
Drippler From: Tel Aviv, Israel Quick pitch: “Helping mobile users make the most of their smartphones and tablets.” Announcing news at TNW Conference
Itembase From: Berlin, Germany Quick pitch: ” Your personal digital inventory. Itembase enables you to build the digital collection of your belongings” Announcing news at TNW Conference
Monolith From: Tallinn, Estonia Quick pitch: “Monolith turns consumers into shoppers and shoppers into customers” Launching at TNW Conference
Guest blog by Alp Tilev
It's that time again! Foot thumping music, party glasses, luxurious cars… are a just a few of things that come to mind when … Oh wait sorry wrong post.
Let me try that again: Hackers, ruby on steroids, piles of awesome swag, red bull are just a few things that come to mind when we think of tech crunch Disrupt hackathon in NYC.
I can remember the excitement I felt a years ago as we lined up in front of a massive pier under the shadow of the intrepid aircraft carrier waiting in excitement for our first disrupt hackathon. Last Year, I was a search engineer at Microsoft and hackathons like Disrupt were my way to meet with startups and hackers to build cool hacks. Fast forward to today, where I am the startup evangelist for NY and get to do this for a living! As a startup evangelist for NY, I get to work with startups and developers building the next awesome apps and seeing how MSFT can help them become more successful. It doesn’t matter if you’re on android or Windows or Mac, Django or Rails, building on Heroku or Azure, as long as your hack is potentially disruptive you will get the spotlight.
Disrupt is the quintessential hackathon of the east coast where people of all backgrounds interested in technology flock for many different reasons. While, for some it's just meeting and watching awesome demos, others come to boost their products launched like group.me becoming an instant success. Others like me come to learn something new, making the next Frankenhack all while winning prizes in the process. We also have a pretty sweet hackathon survival bag lined up, that will hopefully take you through the night to a rocking demo the next day. You can grab one by visiting our workshops the day of the hackathon. Just look for the BizSpark table.
This year Microsoft BizSpark is a major sponsor for the event. For those who don’t know, Microsoft BizSpark is a Microsoft program for startups which helps startups get loads of free software and tools and even $6500 worth of hosting on azure. Together with Skydrive, Yammer, there are many sweet prizes lined for the most awesome hacks that blow our mind – which includes a Surface RT and cash prizes for the top Windows 8 and Windows Phone hacks.
Additionally we be awarding 10 runner’s up hacks on the MSFT platform (including Windows 8, Windows Phone, Yammer) $100 in cash prize.
I'll be holding office hours prior to the event around the city in GA and WeWork labs which you can book though ohours.org (http://ohours.org/officehours/35349). So if you're thinking about hacking on MS technologies you should stop by and say hi and we can get you bootstrapped with anything you might need prior to the big day.
See you there!
Get started with Windows Phone 8 – http://developer.windowsphone.com/en-us
Get started with Windows 8 - http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/apps/br229512.aspx
Keep the cash offer - http://aka.ms/KeepTheCashOffer
Startups and entrepreneurs in Stockholm are gathering in force this coming Saturday, 20th April, at the annual StartupDay. Hosted by the Stockholm School of Entrepreneurship, over 700 people have already registered to attend the event, being held at Münchenbryggeriet in central Stockholm.
Along with the likes of Paypal and Skype, Microsoft BizSpark is one of the event sponsors, so we’ll be looking forward to meeting lots of our local BizSpark community there, says Sweden BizSpark champ Therese Thorstorp.
So why come along? Well, the event in previous years have provided a great mix of speakers, covering a wide range of practical topics designed to help local entrepreneurs get their businesses off the ground and running fast.
I’ll be there all day to answer any questions start-ups have about working with Microsoft and how we can help them, from free technology to advice and market visibility. Come and find me at the Microsoft booth in the breaktimes. I look forward to seeing you there!
From one of our Microsoft Innovation Centers in Australia comes this new project, led by Emily Easterly.
This month the Microsoft Innovation Center in Queensland is kicking off A Nudge Start-Up Moment, in partnership with Nudge Accounting.
For the entire year, developers and founders can ask any finance or accounting questions they have using the hashtag #nudgemoments. Someone from Nudge Accounting will pick the best one each month and answer the question via a blog post and a video statement.
We look forward to your tweets.
How cool! Join the conversation & ask a finance question using #nudgemoments and @nudgeaccounting will answer the best one via a video...
— BizSpark_AU (@BizSpark_AU) April 11, 2013
How cool! Join the conversation & ask a finance question using #nudgemoments and @nudgeaccounting will answer the best one via a video...
We do a weekly analysis of the questions -- literally, these are questions -- that are being asked in our networks each week. So far this week, these are the five most important questions, based on how often we have seen them discussed in this form, or in other ways. Today we have contributions from two of our members. They have both sent in their thoughts about the five important questions. And here they are, from Adam Hooper, CEO and co-founder at RealCrowd and Jarred Capellman from NextLogik.
NextLOGiK is a subsidiary of COLA Inc, a nationwide laboratory accreditation organization. RealCrowd is an attempt at realtime crowfunding for real estate.
Do you want your ideas reflected in our blog, which reaches hundreds of thousands of people a week? Then follow us on Facebook and Twitter and tell us what you think. You might also want to join our LinkedIn Group, which has nearly 8,000 founders and startup CEOs in it.
Adam Hooper, CEO and CoFounder, RealCrowd
1. What are bitcoins truly worth and what will happen to them in next two months?
- Like any currency, their actual worth is nil, it's in this case a digital representation of "worth" that people can freely transfer. Whether or not their "value" is in a frenzy now due to the media and a potential bubble is being created, only time will tell!
2. Are salespeople the most important part of your startup organization?
- No, to me, any startup has to have equal parts sales/product/engineering/management. Without all four, to me at least, you don't have a viable startup.
3. What is more important in startup marketing, character or charisma? And how do you tell the difference?
- Character to me is genuine, where as charisma you can learn. You can learn to influence people (for both good and bad) and be very charismatic. If you have a good character, people will naturally be drawn to your leadership and message/proposition.
4. Where are the biggest startup cities, not including Silicon Valley?
- NYC, Boston, Boulder, Austin, Portland (upcoming)
5. Who was your first hire, what role did they play in the growth of the startup?
- Our first hire was a second technology guy. We are originally founded by two real estate experts (myself and Roman Rosario) with over $3B of industry experience and one technology founder. Our first key hire had to be on the tech side so JD would have somebody that spoke his language! His role has dramatically sped up the growth of our programming and implementation of the technology.
Jared Capellman, Software Architect, NextLogik
Not sure and to be honest I hadn’t been really following bitcoins with all of the other software development technology coming out over the last couple of months.
Initially maybe if you don’t have any clients to begin with. I feel like the quality of your work should be its own sales person. If you deliver on time, on budget and a product that more than satisfies the client, that will spread around.
I’ve personally been on both sides of a company: as a consultant and an internal employee. As a consultant I watched other vendors’ Project Managers and Senior Programmers come in and try to become sales men rather than doing what was best for the client. As a result they came and went, a couple years later I was brought on internally. That’s not to say, all are like that, but that has stuck with me going on 5 years now of what not to be, especially with a client who could provide you a long term business relationship.
3. What is more important in startup marketing, character or charisma? And how do you tell the difference?
Coming at this from an end-user perspective, I would think character. Going back to my previous answer – you can tell when someone is acting like a used car salesman by how they conduct themselves no matter how charismatic they are. When you get that feeling that you’re going to be used and manipulated into something you didn’t want to get into – that’s when you can tell character. Marketing can convey either character or charisma.
A good example, let’s say you’re a startup with one developer who can deliver pretty much anything and you have more than enough work for that one developer and no outside vendors to offload any work to. A Charismatic Marketing approach would be to say let’s use that’s developers skillset in the marketing with a tagline “We can deliver anything, anywhere”. Tons of potential clients roll in and then the reality of the situation arises: too much work and not enough developers. At this point you’ve dug your hole: do you respond realistically with an answer of “We are currently looking for a new developer, but we honestly can’t take on any additional work” or do you let your existing clients suffer at the expense of the new potential customers? Another character/charisma inflection point to be decided by how you want your startup to be recognized as.
4. Where are the biggest startup cities, not including Silicon Valley?
I have no idea on this question. Living in the “East Coast Silicon Valley” area right in between Washington DC and Baltimore, I really don’t see this area as a big startup area. Too many small to large software development companies have gone under in the last seven years I’ve been professionally doing software development in this area. And now I am hearing rumblings of more starting to get affected by government contracts in this area with CIA, NSA, DoD etc. because of the sequester. Previously that was the strongest aspect of this area, government had plenty of money, so starting up a government contracting software development shop made complete sense. Now those software engineers and companies are having to re-align themselves into new markets (Web Development, Mobile Development etc.). Those that can handle that inflection point will succeed, while those that don’t will dissolve like so many others in this area have.
What also hurts this particular area the most I feel is the mentality of developers. It’s always more about delivering right on expectations (aka lowest cost for the developers) rather than trying to exceed them and making things really unique and special for both internal and external projects. Having interacted with software developers in Silicon Valley and vacation there 4-5 times a year – it is a complete 180’ out there. For those like myself who constantly push themselves forward on their own in their off hours, the drive to be better is really influenced by developers that I follow on Twitter or read about who work in Silicon Valley. For me – Silicon Valley has the same effect it had on the Eastern Settlers in the 1800s as the land of opportunity as it does today, maybe even more so.
5. Who was your first hire, what role did they play in the growth of the startup? Technically speaking we haven’t made a new hire since splitting off of our parent company. My boss, the CEO and I have been looking for another developer to work under me for quite some time. The problem going back to question #4 – the developers in this area largely aren’t motivated nor have the passion to really excel on the same level that I have been driving our parent company for the last six years. Finding someone even with less years’ experience than myself would be acceptable as I could mold them into the caliber of a developer we need to keep pushing forward in our area. The idea for a new developer really is to have him or her, learn the different code bases of our parent company and provide a support role for that software so I can focus more on the development aspects. The role is crucial to our success going forward as the amount of work from our parent company for just myself is more than enough to fill a 50 hour work week.
Seriously, we are listening. If you send us your thoughts, or put them in the comments here, we will help you help others, by showcasing them.
What drives a successful start-up? A lot of things, but it definitely needs a founder (or founders) who are really passionate about what the business is doing. After all, when times are tough and sleep is scarce, having a strong belief in and love of what you are doing is going to help carry you through.
So, it is great to talk to student entrepreneurs who are starting out their working careers by doing something that they truly care about and one such example is Geneva-based Marios Karagiannis. Although he only finished his education at the end of 2012 and has yet to formerly launch his start-up company Kariosgames.com, some of his Windows Phone games are already high on the Windows Phone store ranking.
We asked Marios to share his experience of being a student entrepreneur, starting with how long he’s been a keen gamer:
“I started playing around with an Atari 65 XE 8-bit computer when I was about eight and have been making games for my own enjoyment since the 90s.”
Where are you from originally?
“I’m from Greece where I initially studied computer science, before moving to Edinburgh University in Scotland to complete my master’s degree. Then, in 2007 I came to Geneva for my PhD, which I finished in December 2012.”
What inspired you to create Kariosgames.com?
Although I’ve been playing and developing games for years, it is only recently that I thought that perhaps I could create games that other people enjoy too. Then when the Windows Phone platform was introduced, it was clear to me how easy it has become for people like me to develop games.”
The games I’ve launched so far are: MonsterUp, MonsterUp Lite, MonsterUp Adventures and Galaxium. They are all simple games but the emphasis is on fast and fun gameplay. They are the kind of games you can play on the way to work or while waiting for a train. I’ve also launched two other apps, one about Aesop’s Fables for children and one for the University of Geneva.
What is your business model?
“Initially the games were on a paid-for basis, but I’m moving to a freemium model. We’re getting a lot of traffic from the US, UK and Italy – so far we’ve had over 300,000 downloads!!
How are you funding the business?
“At first, the business was self-funded and I didn’t really need any start-up capital, but I recently got a Venture Kick grant that I will be using to build more games, with a focus on Windows 8 and the Unity platform. I’m also working with two other student colleagues who are going to look after marketing and communications.”
What has it been like working with Microsoft, both the company and the technology?
“Microsoft still has the best development environment and Windows Phone allows you to have fun while you are creating games. Plus, the company is really focused on developers: they know what we think and want. And they’ve been extremely supportive, they are very present at universities, approaching students to give access to technology and advice, as well as inviting them to student competitions. No other company is doing that for us students in the same way.”
“I was part of the Microsoft DreamSpark program and am now a member of Microsoft BizSpark. Apart from access to free technology and support, Microsoft has also been useful for networking. I have taken part in the Microsoft You Make It Smart competition since 2008 (and have won every year).
So what is the secret sauce?
There is no secret sauce, except that if you love what you are doing, then it shows in your final work. That is particularly true of computer games: the developer’s passion shows through. I play my own games on the bus, that’s how much I enjoy them!”
So now that you’ve completed your PhD and are free to focus more on Kariosgames.com, what’s next?
“Over the past few months I’ve been doing an entrepreneurship course organised by Venture Challenge and that is really useful because it is teaching me the basics of running a business. The start-up community in Switzerland is very strong and that helps. The big challenge for 2013 is getting the games to as many people as possible and to introduce even more games. My goal is to make three new titles this year that will be successful and be loved.”
The 13 companies that the Israel Microsoft Accelerator for Windows Azure selected for the second batch are already hard at work preparing for their demo days in Israel and Silicon Valley, and the team in Tel Aviv is now looking for the next batch of trail-blazing, top-notch startups to take advantage of the technical and community support offered by Microsoft.
Results of the first batch’s companies were amazing – 82% of the startups raised funds or have formal proposals to close rounds with the average of more than $900K, less than 6 months after graduation. Although we can’t go public yet with numbers for the second batch, we expect them to do well.
The Microsoft Accelerator is a 4-months program aimed at helping out early stage startups doing big things in Cloud, Internet and mobile. Microsoft provides the best workspace, top mentors, and all the tools needed to create the most successful startup.
Just to remind you, here are some of the benefits that startups get by joining the Microsoft Accelerator:
• Work with top Israeli hi-tech execs as mentors in business, marketing, product, technology and more
• Hands-on User Experience and creative work with top designers and design-studios
• Exposure to dozens of investors – including angels, micro-funds and VCs
• Business network expansion leveraging Microsoft’s and mentors’ business networks
• Intensive pitching practice
• Focused PR effort
• Practice of Startup Engineering processes that enable efficient and effective market understanding
• Israeli Demo Day (for investors) and Silicon Valley Launch Day (for business partners)
• 30+ sessions with leading speakers covering every possible aspect relevant to making a successful startup
• More than $100K of software and Cloud services as part of BizSpark and Azure special offers
• Hands-on technological help from top Microsoft engineers WW
• Complete set of Legal, IP and Accounting services from our partners
Registration site will remain open till June 6th midnight. Batch #3 will start on July 7th.
Here's this week's Tint Up, a little bit late this week because of travel. Here are all the popular conversations on our community page in Facebook. Please join us.
The new class for Microsoft Accelerator for Windows Azure just launched. According to Scott Guthrie, a Corporate Vice President in the Microsoft Server and Tools Business, we started the first Azure Accelerator because we wanted to give promising startups full access to Azure, so that they can build and grow. We're doing it again for the next three months. You can read Scott's full blog post here.
This spring’s Windows Azure class includes:
The Microsoft Accelerator for Windows Azure is powered by TechStars and has created some pretty successful startups in its short life has proven to help startups reach a level of reliable performance.
The Fall 2012 class has been busy since Demo Day. Here is what they have accomplished so far.
In a world where obesity is killing thousands of people a day in the world, it's almost joyous to hear that there are startups and app builders out there trying to use any means necessary to create the simplest apps to defeat life-threatening lifestyles and habits.
The folks at Bodeefit,one of the BizSpark teams I met at SXSW, has actually created a solution that is supposed to take away that mental barrier of not wanting to work out, and they are banking on the ease and simplicity of the Windows 8 (and formerly Metro) interface. And they are doing it fully committed to be in bootstrapping mode.
This blog post was written by Douglas Crets, Community Manager, Microsoft BizSpark
Blake Miller, co-founder of Bodeefit, says that in about thirty days the team will come out with a Windows Phone version of their new lifestyle and fitness app, which uses crossfit and paleo diet fundamentals to help people get off their butts during their work week and get in some cross-training.
The main hurdle was just convincing people that they can do it. The Windows UI made it easier for the team.
"The way that the UI worked out and played was easy," says Miller. "We limit [each workout] to two or three movements. There’s not a ton you have to do. And the way the UI displayed it…it doesn’t look that intimidating. It’s very clean, it doesn’t look like there is a lot you have to do."
The cross-fit app will eventually be on the phone, and when it is, aspects of the paleo diet and recipes that you can surf while shopping will be introduced, as well. Miller didn't say how long it will take to the get the Windows Phone app as fully capable as the Windows 8 app, but from talking to him it seemed like the team works very quickly. In fact, they seem to be wedded to the lean startup model, purposefully not seeking out investors because they want to make their money by generating revenue from consumers.
"We are purposefully trying to bootstrap this. We are investors as it is, we invested our resources to get it to market. The capital we put in is just the resources on our bench," says Miller. This is gutsy, or its necessity. It's apparently very hard for startups / app builders to get anything more than angel investing, given this ongoing rumor about a Series A Crunch, which is keeping serious Series A rounds from making it to the market.
This is even more gutsy when you consider what Miller says to investors with whom he just happens to have casual conversations. Their "addressable market" is gigantic.
"We are going after the entire fitness market. It’s a pie in the sky kind of answer, but this is great for entrepreneurs on the road all the time," says Miller. Though, I think that the market for fitness apps on the phone is bigger than just entrepreneurs on the road. That's a hint, though, about how this app was generated. It came from personal experience, and usually the hardest problems find their best solutions because the entrepreneur personally experiences them.
Miller says that in his work with Microsoft BizSpark, he's found it easier to work on the challenges of building a great app.
"You guys sponsored our accelerator program. We [also] understood and saw the vision [of the App Marketplace], and we could own an entire section in a branded store. Business wise, we looked at it that way. We saw it in terms of downloads," says Miller.
Felienne Hermans is proof that it’s possible to start a successful company while still a student.
Two years ago, Netherlands-based Felienne started applying her research on spreadsheets to build Infotron. And now the company is not only generating revenue, it can count among its customers impressive names such as PWC, ING and KLM. The concept is brilliantly simple but powerful: Infotron analyses Excel spreadsheets so that companies can reduce the risk and cost that hidden errors can cause.
Like many successful start-ups, Infotron combines the vital ingredients of: a great idea; a strong team; and making the most of networking and useful contacts. Infotron’s story started with Felienne’s PhD project at Delft University, co-sponsored by Microsoft and Avanade. Felienne chose to focus her research on ways in which use of spreadsheets can be improved. Says Felienne, “It is estimated that 88% of spreadsheets contain an error, yet they support strategic decisions in over 90 per cent of businesses.”
Here's a slide share of Hermans' PhD work, which she applied in the building of her startup, Infotron.
Felienne – who has been experimenting with computer technology since she was eight – developed software that analyses spreadsheets and then, most importantly, visualises the dependencies within those spreadsheets. In essence, the software (which is built on the Microsoft stack) makes hard-to-find errors visible and easier for enterprises to then address.
The response to her idea was immediate. “As part of my PhD, I created a prototype for Rabobank and they loved it so much they said they wanted to buy it, as soon as possible! So, I talked to my supervising professor, who has himself been an entrepreneur and could see the business potential. We decided to create a company, together with another professor at the university, with myself as the majority shareholder. The university doesn’t have the software rights, but the agreement is that we will fund an additional PhD research student, again focused on spreadsheet development.”
Since then, Infotron has gone from strength to strength, attracting some of the biggest brand names in Europe and earning Felienne around 100,000 Euros in just two years: not bad for a student! “It has sometimes been a struggle juggling my PhD workload with growing a business, but I just finished my PHD, four months ahead of schedule. So, it’s possible.”
Felienne attributes some of Infotron’s early success to the support received from Microsoft. “The local team has been very supportive. We are part of BizSpark, so we benefit from free access to technology, but Microsoft has also given us technical and business advice, helped with market visibility and making useful connections. For instance, we were named as one of the top ten BizSpark companies in the Netherlands and invited to events, including ‘speed-dating’ with potential customers. That one event led to current discussions with a major pharmaceutical company, which has become our biggest client.”
So what’s next for Infotron? The company is about to appoint a CEO, someone with many years’ experience and who Felienne feels will have the expertise to work with increasingly high-profile customers. Felienne has decided that while she has enjoyed the past two years, her heart lies with research, so she is about to become assistant professor for her department at Delft University. She is also passionate about helping other females explore the potential that science and technology has to offer.
So what’s next for Infotron? The company is about to appoint a CEO, someone with many years’ experience and who Felienne feels will have the expertise to work with an increasingly high-profile customers. Felienne has decided that while she has enjoyed the past two years, her heart lies with research, so she is about to become assistant professor for her department at Delft University. She is also passionate about helping other females explore the potential that science and technology has to offer.
You can get the whole overview here:
Every week we show you something that was amazing in TechCocktail., one of our partners. Here's this week's example, a talk on humility by David Crenshaw, a business coach.
We have friends who are into the mobile experience. When we were in Austin, we saw this dude shooting video and interviewing mobile developers about their take on the mobile space.
The video that came out of that explores the future of mobile in the absence of "the next big app" and also captures the energy of SXSW. Here's a blog post written by Appboy's Director of Marketing Cezary Pietrzak that puts the video into context.
Appboy at SxSW 2013 + The Future of Mobile Apps from Appboy on Vimeo.
Here's a paragraph from the video:
This year, Appboy took over SxSW with a camera in hand and a simple mission: to learn about the future of mobile apps. We spoke with leading mobile entrepreneurs, including Ryan Holmes (HootSuite), Adam Goldstein (Hipmunk) and Brett Martin (Sonar), to get their perspectives on what is working and what isn't. We found that even though mobile lost the spotlight at the festival, there was plenty of excitement about the category and plenty of opportunity for disruption. We also found that the rules of the game had changed, with many mobile apps shifting their attention to user engagement and building lasting relationships with their customers. See what these entrepreneurs had to say and experience the energy of SxSW, from downtown Austin and Salt Lick's famous BBQ to Grumpy Cat and grilled cheese sandwiches at the GroupMe Grill, to the epic parties of Foursquare, WSJ and Made in NY:Austin.
Thanks to Jason Calacanis and his Launch team for letting Festomat use its software to help check people into the conference this year. Here is a video showing this BizSpark team proving to thousands of attendees that their NFC-enabled software on Windows Phones can handle massive traffic and then provide a swarm of crowd data to the organizer.
Realty Mogul, an online, equity crowdfunding platform for real estate is going live today and already has its first success story. AH Capital, a real estate investment company in Los Angeles, raised $110,000 using Realty Mogul’s revolutionary platform for real estate fundraising. The money was raised while Realty Mogul was in private beta and is being used to purchase and rehabilitate a duplex in Los Angeles, CA.
AH Capital structured the investment as a secured loan, paying interest of 10% to investors on an annual basis. AH Capital is a real estate company that specializes in finding and creating value in residential properties. They looked to Realty Mogul to raise additional capital to continue growing the business. CEO Nicholas Halaris said, “Realty Mogul allows us to reach new investors and benefit from economies of scale available only through a web platform”.
Realty Mogul provides a unique platform for people who want to invest in real estate but are unsure of how to get started and do not have time to manage investment properties full-time. Users have access to buy shares of investments for as little as $5,000. CEO Jilliene Helman says “we’re introducing our investors to new real estate investments and allowing them to invest in their own backyard alongside some of the best private real estate investment companies, like AH Capital.”
Among the investors in the transaction was Thomas Pham, a real estate investor who historically invested in condos, doing most of the work himself. Thomas said, “Investing with Realty Mogul was great. It’s much easier than dealing with the hassles of property acquisition and property management. The team made it incredibly easy.”
Realty Mogul looks forward to many more success stories as it launches the web platform to a broader audience today. For accredited investors, Realty Mogul offers two types of investment opportunities: Loan Purchase for Residential Rehab and Equity Purchase for Commercial Buy and Hold.
Realty Mogul will first launch in California and Washington.
About Realty Mogul
Realty Mogul is a marketplace for accredited investors to pool money online and buy shares of real property like office buildings, apartment buildings and retail centers. For accredited investors, Realty Mogul gives them tools to browse investments, do due diligence, invest online and have 24/7 access to an investor dashboard to watch how their investments are performing. Realty Mogul partners with private real estate companies to source quality deal flow and curates all the investments. For these real estate companies, they have access to a broader capital pool and tools to do investor reporting, investor communication and distributions.
About AH Capital
AH Capital is a real estate company that specializes in finding and creating value in residential properties. Founded in 2009 during the height of the Great Recession, AH Capital has grown rapidly through its commitment to providing buyers and renters with high-quality, inspiring and affordable living spaces. AH Capital currently has active operations in Southern California, Atlanta and Research Triangle Park.
If the discussions over the coffee breaks were any indication, delegates at the annual IAMCP Summit in Brussels all seemed to agree it was a great success, but for me the highlight was the first-ever EU AppCup competition.
This post was written by Soha Hohnecker, Software Startup Lead at Microsoft.
Taking place on the second day, this gave some of the leading lights from the European BizSpark and IAMCP communities, plus some very impressive young entrepreneurs a chance to showcase their talents (and win some great prizes!) For anyone who hasn’t come across the IAMCP before, it is the International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners. As well as providing a supportive network to help members grow their businesses, the IAMCP also likes to give something back (after all, many of its members can remember what it was like to be a fledgling business owner), so the EU AppCup was a great opportunity to do just that.
Co-sponsored by Microsoft BizSpark, a program that provides free software licenses to startups, the EU AppCup gave 10 contestants (6 start-ups and IAMCP developers and 4 in the young entrepreneur category) a chance to present their Windows 8 and Windows Phone apps to the panel of judges (including myself).
The winners were:
1st place: BulldozAir from France
2nd place: Practice Your Music from Spain
Young entrepreneur category
1st place: Spelink from the UK
2nd place: Hearing Test from Spain
As is so often the case, it was hard to pick a winner and I’d like to briefly mention the other entrants, who came from all over Europe: ExpensesFL from France; My Sorting Game from Denmark; Human Encyclopedia from Portugal; Taxibokning from Sweden; Metroduino from Spain; and Trashout from Slovakia. You can read more about them all in a blog by my colleague Bertrand Salord.
Differentiation is key
I get to attend a lot of startup showcases and competitions as part of my job, but one of the things that really set this one apart is how the 10 entrants really made use of the features within Windows 8 and Windows Phone features to differentiate their apps, which is essential in this highly competitive marketplace. For example, My Sorting Game makes use of the tilt feature to make an educational game even more fun, while Practice Your Music makes use of collaborative tools to enable musicians spread across the world to work together.
You’ll be hearing more from me about some of the winners and runners-up in the coming months, but in the meantime, congratulations to everyone who took part in the first ever EU AppCup Competition. I look forward to hearing more about your future progress!
Few things in life leave an impression quite like meeting Dave McClure….
The first time we met in person was at Le Web in December 2011.
Here we are at Brian Solis’ birthday drinks at the Intercon in Paris, sandwiched between Oren from Mashery and our mutual good pal, 500 Startups mentor and champion coach to startups, Mike Sigal. At that time Dave was mostly myth and legend to me. Our first exchange was ‘colorful’ (I had a lot of fine white burgundy on board by then) and I quickly realized that – beneath the controversy and Tasmanian dust devil persona – was a uniquely talented, smart and interesting, passionate and inspirational entrepreneur – and a leader.
Since then I’ve had the extreme good fortune to leave the sub-zero temperatures and sub-optimal transport systems of London and Paris behind me, relocating to sunnier climes in Mountain View, CA. The home of 500 Startups.
Quite by coincidence (not truly by design), I was just down the road witnessing 500 Startups growth and expansion (into Russia, India, China, LATAM and beyond) as they became a real player on the international scene. What a year they have had. Next stop for Geeks on a Plane is SE Asia. One of my colleagues will be on that plane. Lucky Peking duck.
Pretty much everyone who spends time with McCrazy develops a fond memory or two…
Dave does have an extensive vocabulary and amazing energy and, with it, a boat load of insights, eager to challenge the status quo. One of my favorite memories is watching him on stage at Mega Startup Weekend @ MSFT Silicon Valley – where he encouraged everyone to ‘give failure the finger’. Everyone loved his Friday night motivational speech. Teams were sending Dave pics of the bird gesture all weekend and they worked on ideas, formed teams and built prototypes.
(If you didn’t make it to Mega you can watch the video for a flavor of the event)….
Now on their 6th class, 500 goes from strength to strength. We are witnessing the “rise of the angels"..
We recently hosted the 500 Startups Mexican Demo Day at MSFT SV – some of the companies are brilliant. We wish them well. So many entrepreneurs, domestically in the US and from all corners of the globe, aspire to join the program in Mountain View. Their grads and alumni speak highly of their experience.
Last we heard, Dave was in Brazil.
At least his flip-flops are not out of place there. Check out his slides from the Startup Weekend Organizers Summit in Rio this week. F-bombs aside, I am tempted to use the same approach in my next team meeting: the sun is shining, the air is warm and the beer is cold. Let’s go and enjoy it. Life is too short for slides.
With that – let’s just say that we’re delighted to announce the next chapter of the Microsoft partnership with 500 Startups.
We love their energy, their mission, and their impact.
Felix is here to help startups @ 500 make the most of Microsoft platform technologies (like Windows 8, Windows Azure and Windows Phone) and the BizSpark program. We’ll post some updates during the year on our site and in the meantime, please welcome Felix to the Bay Area and feel free to reach out to him. Maybe Dave and he will get along (note: similar glasses)…. and I’m sure Dave can teach Felix a thing or two.. about birds.
Claire Lee is head of Strategic Partnerships for Microsoft Startups (@Claire0h)
If you have not read Dave McClure's thoughts on the 500 Startups business model, stop now, and go read it.
If you are maybe looking for a bit of light reading that explains the whole theory, culture and practice of startups and why he does what he does, instead, go to his slide presentation given at #sosummit, which I will embed here.
The second round of the Presidential Innovation Fellows (PIF) program is now live: it pairs top innovators from the private sector, non-profits, and academia with top innovators in government to collaborate during focused 6-13 month “tours of duty” to develop solutions that can save lives, save taxpayer money, and create new jobs.
Presidential Innovation Fellows have a unique opportunity to serve our Nation and make an impact on a truly massive scale.
The PIF Program brings top innovators, entrepreneurs, and change agents into government for 6-12 months to develop game-changing solutions that benefit the American people in a myriad ways -- saving lives, saving taxpayer money, and creating new jobs. Regardless of one’s political affiliation, this is a wonderful opportunity to engage in improving our country.
Each team of innovators is supported by a broader community of interested citizens throughout the country. The 1st round of five projects was launched in August 2012 with 18 inaugural Fellows. This round includes nine projects – four that are the second phases of Round 1 projects and five new projects.
They are looking to put together a dynamic, diverse, innovative class that will produce tremendous results for the American people.
Applications are now open for Round 2 Fellow from February 5th and close this Sunday March 17th
We encourage the innovators in our BizSpark Community to apply for this program.
You can apply here
More info http://www.WhiteHouse.gov/InnovationFellows
If you went to South by Southwest this week and were overwhelmed by garish colored posters proclaiming the next big app, then you were not alone. Oddly, it seemed as though there were a lot of pitches and a lot of judgment of those pitches, but that there was not a lot of buzz about any special apps. That's a good thing, I think. Spotted this week by Rebekah Ilif, co-founder of a new PR company called AirPR: a renewed focus on human capital, at SXSW, the interactive mecca for geeks. She wrote a good piece in Young Entrepreneur about a subtle shift in the conversation about startups at SXSW.
Her point: it seemed the conversation was more cultural and business-focused and that people seemed to be the most interesting aspect of every panel-- whether it was Elon Musk or Al Gore talking about the future of space flight and our ecosystem. It seemed that people were weighing human impact in the business world.
During a brief conversation with Microsoft BizSpark’s Doug Crets, he adeptly described an emerging theme in the startup world, validated by activity during SXSW: “I see a focus on business…entrepreneurs looking to create long-term sustainable solutions to systemic problems in the business world. There has been a recent shift to finding people to solve problems, rather than looking to technology to solve a problem.”
So what does this mean? In short, entrepreneurs will start focusing on infrastructure and processes by leveraging the wildly abundant (and cheap) technology solutions currently in existence. And people, smart people who can solve complex problems, will be a valuable asset during this re-engineering process.
You see this in a lot of the conversations we have in our Facebook community about what it takes to make a startup into a company.
Recently, we had a long discussion about the value of nearly free software and the impact that could have on building a strong business. The lower the cost of software and even hardware, the greater opportunities for iteration. While it takes a while to build a company, if it takes fewer dollars, you are eliminating some forms of risk -- risk to your balance sheet; risk that you can't pay your staff; the risk that you will run out of marketing dollars.
With a free software program, you can focus on your team and your business. And how valuable is that?
Alan Weinkrantz ran into Kobi Stok and his guitar at SXSW this week. Weinkrantz asked Kobi what it was like to develop something for Windows Azure and if it was easy to work with Microsoft in their Accelerator program in Tel Aviv. Kobi answered in the affirmative, even saying that the folks at Microsoft went out of their way to help him in almost every step of his app development.
Careful what you say in a pitch. Speek CTO Danny Boice, a Microsoft BizSpark member and fully tattooed dropout from Harvard, said at the end of his pitch in front of TechCocktail's pitch contest crowd at SXSW that if they won the pitch contest, then John Bracken, his CEO, would get the Speek mascot tattooed on his rear end.
Lo, and behold.
They won. He did.
Here's the full story in the Wall Street Journal, written by Danny.
And here is the full color slide show of the monkey tattooing.