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GOING FOR INVESTMENT IN CENTRAL EUROPE: START-UP LIFE OUTSIDE A TRADITIONAL TECH HUB

A Q&A with Bence Jendruszak, Co-founder and COO at SEON

 

  1. At what stage did you realise you were going to need an investor onboard?

During the early stages of the development (when completing our minimum viable product), we managed secure a Central European payment gateway in order to start using our system (free of charge). From this point on our product development was user feedback driven. It was at this stage, that we realised that our product has gained enough proof of concept, that we were ready to pitch the idea to investors.

 

  1. How important was the investment to getting your business to the current point?

Our pre-seed investment (50k EUR in January of 2017) was the initial kick-start to arriving to the current point. That micro-investment allowed myself and Tamas (Co-founder and CEO or SEON) to start working on the project full time and also to scale up the development team (from freelancers to full time programmers).

 

  1. How did you start the process of looking for an investor? 

We started by setting up our very first pitch deck. Of course, a lot of market analysis and USP shaping went into this. Once we had our first deck, we started contacting investors and started pitching the project to them. That specific pitch deck was very different to what the current version looks like.

 

  1. Were you aware of the challenges you could potentially face as a tech start-up in CE?

We were very well aware of the challenges. The European investment mentality is different than that of the US investment mentality, for example. Investors tend to be more conservative in the EU. Now imagine what the investment mentality may be like in the CE region. Nevertheless, we were also aware of the advantages of setting up a tech start-up in the CE region. The talent pool of

engineers and the cost of labour is by far the best in our home-turf – so the challenge was worthwhile.

 

  1. What was your journey to finding an investor like? Challenges / milestones?

Initially, we were faced with multiple unacceptable deals. The terms and conditions weren’t right for us in the long term. We were always aware that in order to build an international start-up (that would later develop into a scale-up), we had to on-board investors that we were fully comfortable to cooperate with – and vice versa. We needed to be on the same page and have a shared vision for SEON’s future.

 

  1. How did you find your lead investor, Portfolion? What else do they offer in addition to financial investment? (international network etc.)

We met them by introduction from an acquaintance. Portfolion is a well renowned VC in the CE region. They seemed like a partner that we could on-board into our boat and we could steer the ship together with them. They are the subsidiary of OTP Bank, one of the largest banks in the CE region. A potential gateway to partnering with a major bank seemed like a mutually beneficial setup. Aside from receiving a financial investment from the fintech fund of Portfolion, we can happily say that we are providing our fraud prevention services to OTP Bank as of today.

 

  1. What have you learned about the investor landscape in CE?

We found out that European investors are even more sceptical when it comes to CEE countries. They tend to avoid start-ups that aren’t located in hubs like Berlin or London. For them, Hungary is still seen as a former Eastern bloc country playing catch up with the rest of Europe in terms of living standards and infrastructure.

That said, there are a lot of investors in the region, but you really have to focus on getting in touch with the right organization. Onboarding an investor is a long-term partnership, there has to be a fundamental alignment in terms of the vision and mission of the two teams. We believe that we’ve managed to partner with investors who share the same vision and mission as us (up to date).

 

  1. What role will investment play in the next growth stage of the SEON?

 The next growth stage is focused on international expansion. We will be seeking an investor that can provide not only funds, but also somebody that has a solid portfolio of fintech companies and a partner network of financial institutions.

 

  1. Do you have any advice for other businesses in your position that are looking for funding in the CE region?

Do not rush into any deal that is in front of you, time is on your side. If you are in an early stage, make sure to approach as many investors as possible, in order to be able benchmark each opportunity.

 

Interviews

HOW NEW TECH START-UP IS SHAKING UP THE IT CONTRACT MARKET

Neil How, CEO and Co-founder, ten80

 

1. What is ten80?

ten80 enables cost savings on SAP/software projects by an average of 43%. We do this by switching companies to an on-demand workforce – think Uber and how that has disrupted the taxi industry.

The ten80 marketplace connects companies with around 47,000 verified contractors, using algorithms to match companies with the very best experts that then deliver on projects remotely. This enables SAP customers to utilise a global workforce and break free from geographical borders, as well as take advantage of international market rates. In other words, it gives them the exact resources, when they want them, for however long they need them for and at a cost-effective price.

 

2. How did the idea of ten80 come about?

I’ve been lucky enough to work with SAP my entire career. My journey first started at the end-user side. I ran my first SAP implementation project in my early twenties and went on to form an SAP Centre of Excellence to allow for long term improvement.

Over the next six years, I ran three other major change programmes before joining the consulting world, and for the next 10 years I worked with various consultancies running numerous projects in a wide variety of sectors, including retail, utilities, banking public sector and government.

But having spent time working both end-user side and consulting side, it became clear that SAP clients were struggling to access the best in class consultants and contractors. Wanting to get this knowledge into the wider world, ten80 was formed to digitally link the global contracting workforce to a global customer base, while allowing clients to digitally access the ‘best in world’ not the ‘best in organisation’.

 

3. ten80 is solving business problems, but how is it helping contractors?

Consistency of regular work is becoming a challenge for many contractors, and the impact of ‘dead time’ becoming more severe and likely. This is made worse through an ever increasing pool of expert contractors.

In addition, selling time for money is not a sustainable model for financial freedom, and contractors are tired of being capped at an ever decreasing day rate. Contracting also puts a huge pressure on family life, especially if you have to be on-site away from home — missing out on time with family and loved ones is a huge drawback, and there is little work life balance.

With ten80, contractors can benefit from the following:

  • An ‘always on’ demand for work
  • The ability to sell their knowledge and capabilities rather than a day of their time
  • Being able to carry out their role wherever in the world at any time, with total bulletproof security

 

4. What are the main challenges for your business?

ten80 is operating in a completely new area — outcomes-based delivery, so not being able to be ‘put’ us in a specific vendor box type is a challenge. Often corporate organisation’s procurement processes want to categorise us as a systems integrator or recruiter, but we are neither.

Being the first to market is always hard. We are offering some really powerful benefits to businesses and contractors, but we have no one to follow and are learning at every step of the way. There is a great saying that I have always believed in – “Success leaves footprints.” The big difference with ten80 is that we are making them! We are running agile processes on each stage of our journey. Everything is tested, iterated, refined, repeated. It’s the curse of being the first, but actually embedding continual improvement into our business has been one of our rocks of success.

Another challenge has also been controlling deal size. Big corporates have latched onto the benefits of what we are offering and are immediately referring us globally. It’s great but can quickly escalate and then take longer to close.

 

5. What’s next for ten80?

Our focus/goal is to secure a major investment over the next six months. That’s the first ticket to the major league and will give us the potential to grow to 150 people and some pretty big numbers revenue wise. We are entertaining some pretty important investment houses and are looking forward to one of them closing.

Running alongside that we have some really amazing companies in our pipeline, and I am looking forward to welcoming them onto our platform.

 

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Interviews

A PROPTECH FOUNDER’S BEGINNING, THE START OF KLEVIO AND HOW ACCESS-TECH IMPROVES FACILITIES MANAGEMENT

KLEVIO

An interview with Klevio’s CEO and Co-Founder, Aleš Špetič 

 

What is Klevio? 

Klevio is a smart intercom that allows individuals to enter a building using a mobile app, providing digital access and removing the need to use a key. Teams or individuals can manage access rights from our dashboard or the app, understanding the usage of their buildings better, whilst cutting costs and improving efficiencies. As well as Facilities Management (FM) professionals, Klevio’s technology has been implemented across numerous sectors including short-stay lets and longer-term property management, a recording studio that manages room bookings and a London pub which allows temporary access to delivery professionals via its solution. Klevio is also popular with private homeowners.

 

How did the idea come about? 

The founding of the team and the products we worked on came from several influences along our journey. I was still working on CubeSensors, a company I founded that created miniature sensors for both the home and offices, feeding back data on temperatures, noise, light, humidity and the likes, something of a Fitbit for the room.

Aleš Špetič

My co-founder and now Chairman, Demetrios Zoppos, was involved in the creation of Sherlock, the digital entry system that went on to be the underpinning technology for Klevio. When Demetrios exited his previous company, onefinestay, he held onto the intellectual property (IP) of Sherlock, knowing that there was a future for this technology elsewhere.

We quickly came to the conclusion that my IoT experience and history with physical products for consumers and offices, and the IP he had kept for Sherlock, meant that it would be criminal not to pool our experiences and so Klevio was founded.

 

How do you compete with the other access solutions on the market? 

We have merged the new and the old. Keys have been around for thousands of years in some way or another, so have been ripe for a digital upgrade. With our competitors, although there is some amazing technology, most add confusion or annoyance to the process. There are smart-lock providers whose technology normally requires the changing of locks or at least the installation of an ugly and not always user-friendly pin-pad at the door.

Other options require magnetic cards and in many larger establishments receptionists are paid to ensure that someone enters their email for data capture, further adding to huge setup costs. With Klevio you do not need an extra key, token, or card. Everything is on your phone, similar to Apple Pay.Klevio is installed inside the building and is connected to the existing lock.

For office spaces, co-working and other large blocks, key cards are just one more item that can be shared and lost. With Klevio there’s no need to provide a keycard to anyone and it can be connected to an existing system. Many access systems do not have this benefit, and for offices this means you can change the access to your own unit without affecting the rest of a building.

 

What are the main challenges for your business? 

Changing a mindset. People have used and trusted keys their whole lives. Getting them to accept a simpler alternative isn’t an easy thing to do.

The other difficulty is hardware, especially when it comes to security and people’s offices and homes. With software, if you make a mistake or something doesn’t quite work, you can patch it and update things. If a hardware product has a fault, a product recall is going to be a huge undertaking, and no startup will have the budget to ride the storm like a Samsung or a VW Group. We invested a huge amount of time to make sure that Klevio performs well.

Customers need to build confidence and trust in your offering, rushing to deliver and make a splash can backfire in a huge way.

 

What trends in tech do you see shaping the future of offices and homes in the next five years? 

In the IoT space things are moving fast with the world’s largest companies like Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook all vying to be the centre of the interconnected home and office. There are hundreds of startups carving out their own little corners too, so the next big shift will be consolidation. The industry leaders are already making moves to buy or partner with interesting startups to get ahead on IP and reach.

On a consumer level, people want smart solutions but are increasingly aware of their rights and privacy. Products that offer that on-demand feel, making lives easier and smoother, without taking too much data, will provide that personal touch consumers want and slowly start to manage the offices and homes of the future.

 

What is the one piece of advice you would give an organisation when looking to digitise its processes? 

Do your research – don’t rush to find a solution. There are companies out there that will be able to make your place of work run more smoothly. You just need to find the one that suits your systems, colleagues and budget.

 

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