Top 10 #estonianmafia startups to watch in 2014

It’s end of the year and the annual list of top Estonian tech startups (also known as #estonianmafia) to keep an eye on in 2014 is out. Like each year, it’s based on survey of Estonian top startup leaders, angels and VC’s and other major players on the tech scene. It’s compiled by the main weekly tech & startup themed radio show & podcast Restart (run by MP of the Estonian Parliament and a ex startup founder Andrei Korobeinik and host Henrik Aavik).

The top 3

No 1: Transferwise, the currency exchange service that has been taking over the world by storm, is the winner for the 2nd year in a row. Since last year they’ve added $6m round by Peter Thiel’s Valar Ventures, now counting 2 of Paypal’s founders as their backers. The founders Kristo and Taavet were just chosen as businessman of the year in Estonia as well. Most important though has been their great uptake among customers and very high customer satisfaction. You try it once and you fall in love, as easy as that.

No 2: Plumbr Java memory leak detector that can predict and avoid software failures. Closed their $1m round recently. It already boasts paying customers such as HBO, Dell, NATO, TeliaSonera, and Ericsson.

No 3: Weekdone weekly employee status report and visual team dashboard service for managers (disclosure: I’m a co-founder). Weekdone won the startup competition at one of the largest European tech conferences Slush and closed $200k investment round from KIMA Ventures and existing angels. We also won the main Gold Prize at Estonian Design Awards.

Runners-up

4. Marinexplore ocean data analytics and collaboration. Raised their first round late 2012.

5. Cloutex cloud services sync. Raised a local seed round from 11 local participants.

6. Fortumo mobile payments. Raised growth capital and made a small exit at $10m from Intel Capital and Greycroft.

7. Testlio mobile app testing. Graduate of Techstars Austin.

8. Pipedrive sales pipeline and CRM. Raised additional $3.4m led by Rembrandt Venture Partners and Storm Ventures plus others.

9. Erply POS (point-of-sale) and inventory management. Raised additional $2.15m led by Redpoint plus others.

10. Signwise cross-border electronic signatures. Raised local seed round from Mobi Solutions, Linnar Viik and Tavid.

Honorable mention: Cognuse cognitive rehabilitation systems and devices.

You can review the last year’s 2013 list here and compare it to what happened in a year.

From personal standpoint, a year ago Weekdone had just started. So I set a goal then to make this year’s list. Thanks to our kick-ass team we succeeded by having a good year. My co-founders Veli and Janek, as well our new team members Zain, Merilyn and Ott rock! Still a lot remains to be done in helping managers and team leaders make their teams and companies better. We’re just getting started on our mission to make people and teams happier and more successful. Feel free to join us on the ride with using Weekdone in your team. Thanks for all the support!

See you in a year! Someone needs to win the top in 12 months time :)

weekdone-m-4

When founders get overloaded with tasks

Building startups is tough. As founders, we always have hundred issues in tens of categories on our todo lists. That’s stressful. It seems we have to finish those hundred tasks immediately or the world will crash. So we multitask, shuffle and hustle. Quite often, it drives us crazy. I’ve had many of such days when I’m not sure, where to get started or how to do all that.

Photo by Keoni Cabral

Photo by Keoni Cabral

Not good. Research shows that multitasking between tasks lowers your productivity by 40% and IQ by tens of points.

Faced with too many tasks, what happens is we start working on small easy tasks just to get the todo list shorter. That’s human. But it’s not very productive.

So what’s the solution? Just kill most of your task list. Keep just 5-7 most important things on it. The less, the better. Some keep just 3. Some 1 or 2. If you can do 5-7 big things per week, you’re amazing.

The main rule is: never do things that are not on your 5-7 big things list. Don’t even think about the other tasks. Sure, you can keep them in a separate file or hidden in your task manager, but get them out of sight and out of mind.

If you take the time to sit back, relax and think, not all of those 100 things are important. You could actually achieve much more by better prioritization and limiting the number of items on you todo list. Here are some of my old blog posts on the topic. First one is more generic, the other two about methods to manage your priorities better:

I’m using our own Weekdone team management tool to manage my personal productivity, mostly my big weekly goals, objectives and tasks. What had happened today was I had been human again and listed around 15 items I have to do this week there. Welcome, stress!

So what I did was to leave just 5 items there and moved the others to a “Plans on hold” area. Now the only thing I can do is accomplish one of those 5 goals. As that’s done, I can choose an additional task from plans on hold, but not before.

Luckily one of my tasks was to do more blogging, so I could share this post with you.

How do you as a founder manage your huge todo lists? Do you use any tools or processes? Do you just use a mental task list and trust your gut feeling of what’s important at any moment?

The author, Jüri Kaljundi, is a serial entrepreneur and co-founder of Weekdone weekly employee status reporting service. Try out Weekdone for free and be up to date with your team’s progress, while increasing your productivity.

Startups are like DJ’ing

Many people consider DJ’ing being about playing the music you personally like as a DJ’ing. Working as a DJ 20 years ago I learned you could not be more wrong. It’s about playing music your audience likes and wants. You have to provide the music in the here and in the now, in real time. You have just minutes to react by monitoring your audience. You measure the trends: people on the dance floor, hands up in the air, smiley faces. At any moment these can go up, down or stay the same. Any failure gives immediate feedback in seconds or minutes. React, you make experiments, think ahead. Keep the things that work, throw out the ones that don’t and always try something new, which you again measure.

As a startup entrepreneur, be like a great DJ. You can’t do products that only you as a founder like. Make products your audience likes and then loves. Measure features and react. If a DJ can do that in minutes, so can you, even if it takes days. Keep you startup’s dancefloor full of happy people with hands up in the air.

The author, Jüri Kaljundi, is a serial entrepreneur and co-founder of Weekdone weekly employee status reporting service. Try out Weekdone for free and be up to date with your team’s progress.

Top 10 Estonian startups to watch in 2013

Based on input from Estonian startup thought leaders and investors (including yours truly), the weekly Estonian popular tech & startup themed radio show & podcast Restart (run by MP of the Estonian Parliament and a startup founder himself, Andrei Korobeinik) has selected the most promising Estonian startups to keep an eye on in 2013. Here is the list:

  1. Transferwise - cheap money transfers. Charges a fraction of the price that banks and others charge for currency conversion. $1.3m seed round from Index Ventures, IA Ventures, Max Levchin (co-founder of PayPal), TAG, Seedcamp and others. Co-founded by Skype’s first employee. Seedcamp alumni.
  2. Creative Mobile – mobile games. Hugely profitable. Drag Racing on Android has close to 100 million installs.
  3. Erply – POS and ERP tools. In use at close to 100k seats. Largest customers have 10k employees. Seedcamp alumni.
  4. ZeroTurnaround - Java productivity tools, loved by developers.
  5. Marinexplore - marine data place for the ocean community. Only one in top 10 started in 2012. Raised $1.4m from Intertrust Technologies Corporation, Fredrik Astrup, Lars Erik Baustad, Marek Kiisa (Astrec Invest) and Ivar Siimar (WNB).
  6. Grabcad - community of mechanical engineers & engineering workflow tools. $14 million raised from Charles River Ventures, Yammer’s David Sacks, Atlas Venture, Matrix Partners et al. Seedcamp and Techstars alumni.
  7. Pipedrive - CRM and pipeline management tool. $1 m raised from TMT Investments, Andy McLoughlin, Christopher Muenchhoff and Angelpad. AngelPad alumni.
  8. Vital Fields – farming weather forecasts. $318k from Estonian Development Fund et al. StartupWiseGuys alumni.
  9. Flirtic.com – dating service.
  10. Click and Grow – a self-watering flower pot. Over 80k units sold.

My personal goal for 2013 is to have my own Weekdone on next year’s list. Launched only 2 months ago, the beginnings for us have been promising, with first happy users from around 100 teams across the world, including some Fortune 500 teams. If you run a team of at least a few people – or even a few hundred – have a look at how we can help you communicate better and you as a manager always know what your team members are doing. Start here.

The author, Jüri Kaljundi, is a serial entrepreneur, micro-angel and co-founder of Weekdone weekly employee status reporting service. To try out Weekdone for free and be up to date with your team’s progress, register here or have a look at the walkthrough here.

Giving options in European startups

The author is a serial entrepreneur, micro-angel and co-founder of Weekdone weekly employee status reporting service. To try out Weekdone for free to be up to date with your team’s progress, register here

This week the CEO of one of the companies I’m involved with came to the board with a question of finalizing the option table of his team. While there is a lot written on options from the US startups perspective, I believe Europe is somewhat different in it’s history, culture, employee mindset and actual earn-outs like exits. Since this question comes up a lot, here are my thoughts specifically for Europe.

Expectations and motivation

Be direct with asking your employees, what motivates them and how options will affect their work. What are their expectations? Does it motivate them at all, does it make a difference? Quite often I’ve seen people accept options, saying “well I can take them” but not being really too positive about that. Stock is expensive to give out. If it does not provide additional motivation, you’d better spend some more money on salaries, new fussball table for the office and some kickass team parties.

What is the value they put on 0.1%, 1% or 5% of stock? It might sound like a trick question, but ask “is there a difference between if I give you 1% or 2% of stock?” Do they value it any differently? As a founder, if your gut feeling is that by raising the option amount there is no difference in how the person will act, choose the lowest possible option amount. [I use percentages here, what you really should do is talk of discrete number of shares.]

Asking “if I give you this amount, would you be willing to take less salary and how much” is another good test to see if they put some value to the equity. Ask them: “If I give you 1% (or 10k shares), how much do you calculate that is in real money for you?”

Besides asking the employees, ask yourself very clearly, why are you giving the options and what are the outcomes? Do you expect people to work longer hours? Take less salary? Feel more energized and have a better team spirit?

What I’ve seen a lot in European startups is the dilution of the option table, while at the same time seeing employees giving no actual value to the stock they get. They do accept it but don’t act any differently. In that case, forget it or limit it to really tiny amounts. Just doing because it works in the US is not a good enough reason.

Fewer exits, lower valuations

Equity has value when you can sell it at the end of the day. European exit market, be it acquisitions, mergers or IPO’s, lags strongly behind the buzzing action in the US. Be honest with both yourself and your employees about the chances of getting money out from the options. It is a lottery, even if a lottery which outcomes they and you can affect.

For whichever country you are in, discuss how many exits there have been let’s say last year and calculate your potential from that.

Talk also about the valuations in your country: not in the US, not the stuff you see on Angellist and Techcrunch. How much cash has been paid for companies in your country in the recent years? It is true that European startup valuations are lower, both at angel, seed and series A levels than in US, especially if you compare yourself to the top US startups that drive the high valuations and get a lot of press.

While as founders and angels we all shoot for the exits, we must be realistic about what our statistical chances are.

We talk a lot about European employees being more motivated by salaries and working conditions. Often the European founders who spend their days reading the US tech press live in an imaginary world, forgetting that the actual market is different in Europe. Don’t lie to yourself. Don’t lie to your employees and co-founders.

Your experience?

Please tell in the comments, what has your experience been as an European founder giving or and employee receiving stock and options? Any pitfalls to avoid or common mistakes? What are the differences to the US that you see in your European country in how people receiving stock take it? What are your suggestions?

edit: Follow comments on Hacker News here.

The author is a serial entrepreneur, micro-angel and co-founder of Weekdone weekly employee status reporting service. To try out Weekdone for free to be up to date with your team’s progress, register here

See what’s popular among friends: Utopic.me preview

Ever wondered, what’s popular among your friends right now? Which links are they sharing and reading? Which music listening to? What events are being attended? Even the simplest question – what movies your friends watch and like – has not had a good online solution.

We’ve now launched an early pre-beta preview of Utopic.me: a new service to see the hottest topics among your friends. You can browse the most popular links, videos, music, movies & events, shared and liked by your friends. You’ll get a personalized real-time view of what’s trending today among people who matter to you the most. Kudos to my exceptional team: frontend guy Veli and backend guy Janek, who made all this magic happen!

Utopic.me

Please test Utopic out and give some feedback, what you liked and what not, what should be added or changed. Feel free to also like us on Facebook or follow on Twitter.

Some of the problems we try to solve:

  • Have one service to unite everything popular amond your social network, not having to go to ten separate vertical websites.
  • Group popular items shared by your friends by object categories, be it videos, music, events or movies (others to be added later). We believe there’s currently no good services to see that kind of distribution. Head to Utopic sub-pages to see that in action.
  • See only the popular stuff that people interact with daily or weekly. Services like Twitter and Facebook are oveloaded with postings and many of us don’t really have time to go them through.
  • Make people tell their friends more, what do they actually like. Still we try to keep manual action to a minimum (see the end of this post).
  • Have a beautiful user interface with large photos, not just silly small thumbnails. You’ll be amazed how much visual content you currently miss even in your Facebook newsfeed.
  • Be usable across platforms: you can already use Utopic on iPad, Iphone and other mobile platforms just by going to utopic.me. Hopefully we’ll have faster native apps in the future as well.

Utopic is still a baby, so you’ll see a lot of things added over the coming weeks. Everything is not perfect yet, be it the popularity algorithms or general functionality (or the speed of IE, grr). Many things are still on todo list. For now, take it as it is, really a preview of things to come.

Currently we work mostly with Facebook data about you and your friends, but other data sources like Twitter, Youtube etc will be added soon. The goal is to have a quick view of popular topics among your friends across different websites. The preview might be Facebook newsfeed centric (although we process more than that, for example the likes, events & photos of your friends), but as we add more external interfaces, this will be changing.

Here’s how Utopic looks on iPhone:

Utopic iPhone login screen

Utopic iPhone content screen

Back in January 2010 I wrote about issues online I would like to be solved, first one of them being:

“Automatically collected structured recommendations and top lists from friends. How often have you wished to know, what your friends read, listen to, watch? Until we have to manually rate or like stuff, it will not work. More data must be collected and processed automatically, transparently.”

Year later, I still stand by that and would love to see the problem solved, with as little additional workload put on users. It’s so easy to say people have to share & vote, but who likes that? Utopic is one try to do that as smoothly as possible.

Now head to Utopic.me and tell me what you think. Any questions?

Startup Bullshit Bingo

Foto NAGI's: Startup Bullshit Bingo

Suggestions welcome: what should the January Edition include?

Upcoming startup incubator deadlines

UPDATE: Updated list for 2011/2012 available at http://startupin.me/incubators

Original post from 2010:

With so many Y Combinator style startup / seed / idea incubator & accelerator programs out there, you can lose track of upcoming deadlines. So here is a list of upcoming application deadlines for year 2010 (now outdated) for you (click on date for more information):

LaunchBox (Washington, DC, USA): May 31.

Techstars Seattle (Seattle, WA, USA): June 1

Extreme University (Toronto, Canada): June 12

Startup Bootcamp (Copenhagen, Denmark): June 30

Currently not open, coming up later this year:

Seedcamp (London, UK) – with Mini Seedcamp’s across Europe open until July

The Difference Engine (NE England, UK)

Bootup Labs (Vancouver)

Bizdom U (Detroit, USA)

Seed Accelerator (Australia & Singapore)

Past deadlines:

NYC Seedstart (New York City, USA): February 28

The Openfund (Athens, Greece): February 28

i/o ventures (San Francisco, CA, USA): March 1

Y Combinator (Mountain View, CA, USA): March 3

Morpheus (India): March 10

Startl (Philadelphia, PA, USA): March 15

Tech Wildcatters (Dallas, TX, USA): March 19

Techstars Boulder (Boulder, CO, USA): March 22

DreamIt Ventures (Philadelphia, PA, USA): March 22

Betaspring (Providence, RI, USA): March 22

Tetuan Valley (Madrid & Barcelona, Spain): March 23

SproutBox (Bloomington, IN, USA), March 28

iVentures10 (Champaign, IL, USA): March 31

Capital Factory (Austin, TX, USA): April 2

True Entrepreneur Corps (San Francisco, CA, USA): April 2

Excelerate Labs (Chicago, IL, USA): April 2

NextStart (Greenville, SC, USA): April 5

AlphaLab (Pittsburgh, PA, USA): April 8

Shotput Ventures (Atlanta, GA, USA): April 10

Lightspeed Summer Fellowship (Menlo Park, CA, USA): April 15

Please add any other in comments and I’ll update the list.

UPDATE: Updated list for 2011/2012 available at http://startupin.me/incubators

Areas for startups to tackle

Here are some thoughts what areas I would like to see startups to concentrate on during the coming year. Some are real life issues and everyday problems, some just broad thoughts where there might be new developments happening.

Automatically collected structured recommendations and top lists from friends. How often have you wished to know, what your friends read, listen to, watch? Until we have to manually rate or like stuff, it will not work. More data must be collected and processed automatically, transparently.

Personalized content selection. How old-fashioned is it to present all readers of a newspaper with the same news and articles?  Time to grow up and present everyone with their own newspaper, TV channel and mobile portal. Static stuff is dying. Google personalized search results is a step in right direction.

Better social grouping. Saying “friends” in paragraphs above might bring disastrous results. Let’s be frank, we all have nutcases and axe murderers hiding in our social network friend lists. Hoping they all read just intellectual stuff and watch arty movies might not work. Instead you might end up with Dan Brown and Steven Seagal. So we need API-accessible lists and grouping based more on similarities of people, akin Twitter lists. Manual lists might not work, so some automation and algorithm based stuff might be needed.

Cutting out the old middlemen. There are still many intermediaries in all sectors of life, that can be cut off. Based on previous, newspapers and schedule-based TV channels are prime examples: in some parts they are replaced with personalized, search and recommendations based solutions. For other content, many other current portals, destination sites can be replaced with people finding bits and pieces of content or functional small services directly. Two clicks are always better than 3 or 4. This will also erode many current business models, so as a start-up, see where you can bring the current price down or make stuff just simpler to use.

TV add-ons and Internet-enabling. TV is great as a screen and entertainment device, but it needs an Internet connection and real-time action possibilities. These might be either built into the TV set, into set-top boxes, USB add-ons, remote devices, mobile or tablets.

Wearables and mobile phone add-ons. As mobile processor power grows, we should put it to better use via add-ons. Might be health and movement related or just for fun. People love fun!

Health & medical 2.0 and life guidance. Not just software, but also hardware. Just have a gut feeling, there is something boiling. As a biomedical engineering & electronics drop-out, I am fascinated what next years will bring. Even if it takes years for good human-computer interfaces and electronic eye display lenses to go mass market. Then you’ll get your augmented reality.

Multi-channel solutions. Part browser, part mobile, part tablet, part TV – stuff hanging somewhere between them. Some new services will be successful if you use at least 2 of those channels in parallel or in succession.

Anything location-based. We have no idea today where Gowalla, Foursquare, Yelp etc will develop. There is a lot of room for others. Be creative.

Social gaming / education. It will be hard to draw a line where entertainment ends and learning begins. It will be a mash of fun, education, socializing, networking, doing business. Just don’t think that business and learning must be serious or that fun and games is a waste of time.

Modern enterprise IT. Let’s be frank, consumer technology is light-years ahead of solutions used in corporate environments. We need more social, more user-generated, more real-time in enterprise.

Saving money. Kind of no-brainer and probably a childish suggestion, but always a good starting point to brainstorm startup ideas. Study what private people and companies spend their money on, list it, analyze it, see if there is something where technology can lower the costs. Also: saving time – analyze, for what we use our personal and employee time.

Please add your ideas, problems, wishes and thoughts in comments. I might be also editing this post as I remember more stuff.

Online business model revenue gap

Everyone is abuzz regarding the sustainable income models for online companies – mostly advertising and paid services. Wherever you look, you see huge gaps between income from both consumers and corporate customers and the cost base of quality businesses. Downturn in ad revenues has made this even more visible from my last posting in January, to which this posting is a continuation. Some companies talk about going fully subscription based – both startups as well as huge corporations. Ad-supported and freemium models seem to work for just the selected few largest world players. In most niches as well as country-specific services, the two ends just don’t meet.

Currently probably over 90% of services and content online is ad-supported, but it can not stay that way. In print, advertising vs subscriptions + newsstand income has varied in different markets and niches, but has been more toward 50/50% or 60/40%. I don’t see a way for online subscription models to grow to cover the gap from 90% to 40-50%, which is now missing. And no, neither smart nor stupid VC’s and angels will cover that, which they unfortunately or fortunately have been doing until now. That’s I believe today the biggest startup opportunity: which business models and processes will be there to cover the revenue gap in business models. At least 40-50% of online business income does not exist yet. What is your solution going to be? Which income sources will there be in addition to current ones?

The latest research regarding subscriptions is not promising. Forrester research says 80% would just find another service and just 20% would pay. PaidContent research showed just 5% of readers would be willing to pay. For most online services, conversion rates fluctuate between 1-5%, making it viable only for services with millions of users. I have been a fan of paid services for quite some time and still believe we will see more of them over the years to come. Still we must agree with the simple fact: most people won’t pay for anything online any time soon.

Mobile will be huge in coming years. We will see better monetization via app and in-app purchases there. Mobile does not mean just small handsets. It means netbooks, tablets, e-readers, special 6-10 inch access screens, car terminals etc – all with wifi and 3G/4G access. We will be sligthly more willing to pay on those devices, just because of habits. Unfortunately the amounts paid per person per month will not be huge, probably around 5-15 EUR. People have their limits. Also still most won’t pay. That means the revenues even compared to current ad revenues will be somewhat marginal. For mobile we will also see even less advertising. The screen space is limited – no space for ads. Our time on mobile will be limited – not full office days, but 1-2 hours per day max. Most people will also opt for only a few top sites and apps on mobile, much less than on PC’s. Mobile should grow to 10-20% of income streams. For startups – both intermediaries and consumer facing businesses – this will be a great sector to focus on from now on, but it does not solve fully the revenue gap problems for most service and content providers.

In advertising we continue to have many problems. Last ad models favor few selected sites (most notably search engines) and neglect the others in earlier stages of the marketing tunnel. Most ad models are oriented on direct response models, forgetting about the attention and interest generation stages of marketing models. Direct response models (like search ads) again work for just a few, but are not a solution for most marketing budgets to come online for branding and awareness generation. Currently no good news on that front, until all sides come back to basic understanding of the larger marketing management process. It will take time.

Sponsored income stream marketplaces

People hate ads. People hate to pay. They still want content and services. Just someone else should pay. But who?

Companies and marketers have budgets online and these will be increasing. The biggest problem today is not the direct response / click & action oriented field, which already works quite well. One of the questions is mass market marketing, reaching a lot of non-customers, just getting the word out, fast and to big audiences. While display ads still work for many – even without the clicks – other marketing models must emerge. New methods like everything around social marketing is also oriented towards the end of marketing process tunnel, and it’s also not the fastest marketing action out there.

Advertising in general is companies paying for services consumers use. Why not make that more clear to the people and have them their action part in it?

How about having companies who do not fit the direct response, social marketing and display advertising models just pay for content and online services of private consumers in exchange for getting their name, brands and products in front of people? The main question is having a very strong connection between getting the service and understanding of it being paid for you by a selected company. Soft sponsorships, logos, display ads just won’t make a difference in comparision with current display ads.

One way to do this is sponsorship markets, where people in a way receive favors, almost like gift cards, from a marketplace of sponsors. It’s not just one company paying for content or services or subscriptions, but consumers having a choice who their sponsor is. Think Facebook fan pages meet offers and affiliates. There are huge problems with scam schemes to work out there and it won’t be easy. Still it’s worth to explore it further. Facebook might do this, but so could smaller startups. Initially it will be more between parties which are well established, so there are less risks for scams. As time advances, more smaller companies can join to receive money from large sponsors to cover their costs in exchange for promotion to their subscribers.

One caveat is, it won’t work purely trying to do it the direct response way, with sponsors being paid on a CPC/CPA basis or getting registration data of the subscribers. There must be a way to bring the marketing tunnel/model first stage dollars, not the last stage money into this.

This has been done in a way of sponsorships in some cases today, but it has been inefficient until now. It’s not automated, transparent or measurable. These are the parts that must be worked into the model.

In addition to that or instead of it, what is your suggestion to cover the current income gaps for startups and media?