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

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 So here is a list of upcoming application deadlines for year 2010 (now outdated) for you (click on date for more information):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

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?

Opencoffee Club Tallinn – August 6th

OpenCoffee Club Tallinn, our format-free and free-form meeting for startups, investors and tech people takes place August 6th, 9-11 AM, at Mercado Cafe (Ülemiste City, Lõõtsa 6, Tallinn, Estonia). Please join in, it’s fun and free!

For more information join our Facebook group (343 members as of today) and event information.

You can find background information on the international OpenCoffee Club page.

Shopping for a dive boat

As a diver that has always used a full face snorkeling mask and having lived by, on and under the sea my whole life, you always think of your own dive boat. What a better way to check out some virgin wrecks or cold deep black seas. So this Saturday I decided to step by the Tallinn boat market, to see what’s available. I’m quite picky, as most of the stuff out there is rubbish. It’s amazing, how many cheap, slow and ugly boats are produced. A good dive boat must have many qualities and capabilities. Still there were a few here in Tallinn, which I could have a second look at. Not good, but more or less OK for a starter.

First there was the Mayan Queen IV:

Foto NAGI's: Mayan Queen IV

The 92m Blohm + Voss manufactured displaces 4200 tonnes of water. Sure, she’s no 17 on world’s superyachts list. But you know what that means: 16 people in the world laughing at your face when you show up. The front deck is small. Yes you can park your helicopter there, but what about friends ones? And for this trip, someone had ejected a huge lamppost on the front deck, a sure way to break your ‘copter – a practical joke? Don’t get me even started on the back deck, no real room for good size RIB’s. Poor mexican, who owns it. I hope he gets it sold quickly.

Then checked out the P&O Cruises Ventura.

Foto NAGI's: P&O Cruises Ventura

She’s the largest ever British superliner, at 290 meters and 113000 metric tons. Fair enough. Ample room for your 3090 friends and loads of stuff. Then again, to get from your room to go diving takes you ages. And 5 pools, who needs that, for training? For gods sake, you have the sea all around you and you build pools. Argh! I don’t even want to know, what are the circus skills training school, bungee trampolines and rock school listed in the specification. It’s a dive ship, for gods sake!

Had a quick look at Cunard Queen Victoria as well. “Think fireworks, patriotic (British) song and oodles of pageantry — including the former Camilla Parker Bowles, now known as the Duchess of Cornwall, oh-so-royally pushing the button that sent a bottle of Veuve Clicquot champagne crashing toward the ship’s bow, presided over by England’s Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla. Alas, there was one hitch: The bottle didn’t break.” Sure in hell am I gonna buy a boat with such a curse!

Foto NAGI's: Cunard Queen Victoria

Must be the recession. No good stuff on the market, all the junk brought to Baltic waters.

Back to RIB diving.

Baltic Startup Scene – Techcrunch Speech

Here is more or less what I presented at Techcrunch Nordic in Stockholm, with some extra stuff that I cut because of time limits.

If someone would like to hear more about Baltic startup web and product development opportunities, feel free to get back to me. Besides our company there are tens of great software development companies, small and large, and hundreds of great private developers available.

Thanks to all participants, it was a great event. Hopefully we will have a Techcrunch event in Estonia soon, keep your fingers crossed!

My Background

I’m a very old man, in Internet years that is. I started with web development and online marketing 15 years ago, back in 94, designing the first commercial websites in Estonia.

Since then, half of the years I have been working focused on the local market of my home country, half regionally either across the 3 Baltic states or 10 countries in Central and Eastern Europe.

Half of the time I have been dealing with boring old enterprise IT services, pure corporate & B2B stuff, half with consumer-oriented online services.

Corporate vs Consumer – not presented at the event

One thing I have learned is that for startups, depending on what type of person you are, this is a choice each founder and startup has to make: what type of business you want to run.

Servicing the corporate clients has its advantages. In many cases the target groups and customers are easier to identify, market and sell to. The business model and revenue side are easier to be defined, and that can turn into significant revenues already from smaller number of customers. Then again, it does not have the sexiness of telling your friends what you do, having each of them use your services, being well-known on the market, having hundreds of thousands or millions of customers.

For those sexy consumer services, the revenue formula can be non-existant – well, may be not in these times anymore – and target groups hard to market to, as they are just too big. At the same time, many founders do have the urge to service consumers and absolutely hate serving the corporate customers.

Trust your inner feelings and act accordingly. You might be married to your startup for 5-10 years and you don’t want to be doing things you don’t enjoy, at least most of the day 🙂

While many B2B or corporate tech services can be sustainable in smaller countries – not huge, but profitable – it is not so for most consumer services. The markets and revenue streams are just too small. Which brings us to the Baltics.

The Small Baltics

To describe the Baltic attitude, we have to look at what the Baltics are.

Our total population for 3 countries together is just 7m people, a bit less than Sweden and more than Finland. But each of the countries on its own has a population of just 1-3 million people, which is tiny.

The total GDP of the largest Baltic country, Lithuania, is third of Finland, and even the total GDP for 3 of us is less than in Finland. Besides, the business cultures, nationalities and economies are pretty diverse.

That makes it quite hard for smart people to realise their dreams in our countries, just because of size.

Looking at online advertising markets in Baltic countries, these are near 10 million euros per year per country, 90% of which goes to large stagnant media companies, newspapers, leaving very little in online advertising revenues for the startups. The ad networks market share is tiny as well, most of the money going from top brand advertisers to a few top5 sites.

The Baltic Success

At the same time, looking at the technology startup scene, we have done pretty well, especially if you measure the success by exits.

We have had a few large international exits, where the local founding or very early shareholders have made sums of over 50 million dollars each. Most notably these have been two companies, Skype and one of world’s leading casino and online gambling software developers Playtech. I will talk about their models of success and connection to our countries later.

And we have had a multitude of local exits in the range of 10-50 million euros, mostly to Scandinavian media companies in the field of classifieds, car, real estate and job ads or auctions.

How so?

The Good

The Baltic countries, and that applies to most of Eastern Europe, has a long history of strong real sciences, cybernetics and electronics. Our educational system in these areas has been pretty good, especially in fundamentals like mathematics and physics, which has turned out great for technological problem solving skills.

This is the advantage of the Baltics and Central & Eastern Europe: having IT people and software developers with strong creative skills, coming up with new solutions, innovating. Especially when faced with well defined problems, the Baltic tech people take a very strong role in how to solve any problem. You define the problem or goal – our people find new or uncharted ways to solve them. That’s the key difference with for example many Asian outsourced software developers, where quite often you have to very clearly tell them, how to solve the problem. This is no selling of programmng hours.

Our creative and imaginitive designers, analysts and developers are our greatest asset. So what’s the problem?

The Bad and the Ugly

Let’s say your car engine breaks down. How many of you know, how to fix it? Or you have a piece of land and you have to build a house, stone by stone, wood on wood. How long would it take, until you learn it?

Each one of us can learn to fix car engines or build a house. The problem is, it takes time, you make mistakes and you learn much faster among people who have fixed cars or built houses. Doing it on your own, only learning from mistakes, can take years and not turn out a very good result. And if there is competition with existing skills, you fail.

Baltic and Eastern European missing skills are the international sales and marketing skills. We build great products. Exceptional products, in many cases. The thing is, we have no idea, how to sell or market them outside our home country, especially in US and Western Europe. Learning international sales and marketing is a cultural and emotional thing and can take years to master. Because of Soviet heritage, we have none of those skills. Our Estonian top marketing people who have moved from Estonia to run UK or US to run marketing programs for tech companies say, that they have had to learn everything basically from zero. In sales and marketing, we are in a situation like you would need to build a house or fix a car, but have to start learning only from your own mistakes.

This double’s our problems. Our own countries are too small to do anything significant. And going outside is hard, very hard – especially if you have no sales and marketing culture (in addition to no existing contacts) to do that.


One of our topics here today is local markets vs international expansion. We all want to go international, not just from the Baltics, but also from the Nordics. But it is very hard to market outside one’s home country.

Back in 2000 I tried to expand my online recruitment company in Estonia simultaneously to around 10 countries in Central and Eastern Europe. Big mistake! The idea was great, the execution sucked. It is so easy to stretch yourself thin and lose focus. I would have been much better off and actually making something by choosing 2-3 key markets and dealt with them. An European country, either small or big, needs a huge amount of focus for an online startup. In many cases you have to do local marketing, local face to face sales, partnerships, customise the product etc. There are only a few exceptions, which can be managed from a distance with little local physical presence. That’s the reason we have very little regional online service chains in Europe.

There’s also a question, where to expand. In Europe you might be much better off risk wise to choose a few EU countries instead of world dominance. Decreasing risks at the same time decreases rewards.

Cooperation model

How can Baltic and Eastern European startups be successful on world markets? One thing: cooperation with Westerners from day one. We doing product development, people from Western Europe or US handling the sales, marketing and business development side of things.

This has been the model to most success stories in our region: Skype, Playtech, Indextools (acquired by Yahoo), LogMeIn in Hungary, various others. One joint feature for them: East/West partnership from almost day one, both local developers and Western (or Israeli) managers shareholders from very early stage.

For tech startups, remember what I said earlier about the role of developers in our region. This is no outsourced software development. People in our region are the product, in many cases they are the ones defining the product or service with just a little help on defining the customer problem, goals and targets. You all use Skype and I am pretty sure most are happy with an Estonian product.

Here today, I urge all of you to consider this. We need to join forces, taking best bits from each country. Product people go and employ good Nordic sales and marketing people, with internationl experience. Those people at the same time should come to the Baltics to develop their products.

Baltic VC’s and Investors

From financing side, I would say the Baltics are in good shape. Our key tech investor is Ambient Sound Investments, the 4 Estonian Skype founding engineers, now having over 100 million euros of their own money to invest. We also have MTVP/MartinsonTrigon, with 3 exited and 6 existing portfolio companies. Most of this activity is focused in Estonia, with also over 50% of Baltic startups coming from Estonia.

There are also organisations nurturing and connecting startups and entrepreneurs, like Connect Estonia (I am a board member). Both Tallinn and Vilnius have OpenCoffee Club networks.

Baltic Startups

Estonia – biorobotics for fashion, allowing you to take a picture of yourself and a webshop will show a real clothes fit on a biorobot for you – no more ill-fitting clothes! They won the pitch contest in Estonia yesterday.

Fortumo – mobile payments, allowing anyone to launch revenue-generating SMS services in 5 minutes in many countries, being also well developed in Scandinavia.

Programeter – analytical information and report automation for controlling and managing software projects.

The whole ASI portfolio.

Please also check out Tigerprises, a blog covering Estonian startups.


Relenta – business collaboration Saas or even research chemicals Molport.


GetJar – the world’s most popular mobile application distribution and developer community, funded by Accel Partners.


To sum it up: our product development and financing are well in shape, if we would know how to sell and market, we would be in heaven!

Visit us, talk to us, let’s do things together!

Two startup pitch opportunities

Just a reminder to startups, there are two good upcoming international opportunities to pitch your tech startups. Of course, if interested, do join the events as well.

1. In alignment with the Second Annual Tallinn Conference organized by The International Technology Law Association in collaboration with Enterprise Estonia, ArcticStartup is cooperating to organize an Elevator Pitch Business Plan Contest with support from Connect Estonia. The contest is held in Tallinn, Estonia on May 26, 2009.

The deadline for pitch applications is now extended to May 13th, so 2 days to go. Please have a look at the ArcticStartup page.

2. TechCrunch Europe is putting together a round-table event in Stockholm on May 27. TechCrunchTalk Nordic will be an afternoon of panel discussions and presentations followed by a networking reception. We’ll be bringing together the startup, Angel and VC communities together to debate the next phase of the startup world in Scandinavia, Finland and the Baltic countries – which should make for a lively discussion.

More information at the TechCrunch Europe page.

Death of form, not content

Here is a short list of things I have seen die during my ~3 decades on the earth (please add yours in comments):

  • tube radios and short, medium and long wave broadcasts
  • vinyl LP’s
  • cassette recorders and reel-to-reel tape decks
  • rotary dial and analogue telephones (incl analogue mobiles)
  • black and white TV’s
  • film cameras
  • VHS
  • glass milk bottles

Here’s a list of things I will see die or become marginalized rather sooner than later:

  • tube displays
  • print newspapers
  • petrol and diesel car’s and other internal combustion engines
  • cassette camcorders
  • analogue TV
  • scheduled TV except for real-time broadcasts
  • CD’s, DVD’s, blue-ray and other discs
  • many that currently have a cable attached instead of wireless

The cool thing is, in any of these cases, it is just the form that becomes extinct, not the content or basic human need. We’ll still have journalism and news, music, transport, moving pictures. We’ll even have milk.

In many cases firms die with changes and development in format. Companies are too attached to form. Focus on content and function helps.

OpenCoffee Tallinn tomorrow!

Tomorrow March 5th 9-11 AM our montly OpenCoffee Tallinn startup and tech enterpreneur meetup will take place once again at Mercado Ülemiste City. Feel free to join. More info can be found in Facebook.