Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Boys are back in Town!

On Monday, September 23, 2013 there was another Hive53 Swarm at the Stage in Krakow. the main guests were Jakub Krzych and Lukasz Kostka.  Jakub and Lukasz are the founders of Estimote.  Estimote provides sensor for retail services as well as hardware.   They wanted to build a device that makes smartphones aware of your location and provide you with some added value information. (Video here)

Although they have an office in California, they are mainly based in Krakow.   The hardware and software are designed, programmed, and manufactured in Krakow.   They came back to report on their experience at the prestigious Y Combinator and to give inspirational encouragement to the Krakow startups.   

A colossal  problem that they had was the time difference between California and Krakow.  
Because of the 9 hour difference, getting things organized was very complicated.  A good project manager was essential for them.    Another challenge for them was that in California, nobody walks.  Everyone drives cars, whereas here in Krakow, people do walk to places.   They also had some difficulty getting used to American food.  

One of the most important difference between startup communities in the US and Poland is the atmosphere.  In the US, you have people who will encourage you to pursue your dreams.  In Poland, people may be too pragmatic for their own good.  They wanted to bring some of the supportive atmosphere which they got in Silicon Valley back to Krakow.  Things are changing slowly here in Krakow.  You have many local investors like Richard Lucas, Piotr Wilam, Barbara Lemercier, and Rafal Han giving startups the support and funding they really need.  You also have some local accelerators like Lifescience Klaster, Innovation Nest, Chance Academy, Google for Entrepreneurs, and Lean Startup Circle mentoring and guiding the startups to building their minimum viable product and making pivots when needed.   There are also events like the Swarms, Startup Stage, Lifescience Open Space and Open Coffee giving the startups a chance to collaborate.  Developments like these makes Jakub and Lukasz feel that we are doing something right.  

They were very positive about their experience in the YC.  However, much of what they shared was off the record.  What I can say is, that in YC you are expected to work, work and work.  And after that you work some more.  You are doing product development, customer development, networking, getting investors, and establishing partnerships.  All these are done under the guidance of the top names in business and tech.   The YC difference is access.  It would be difficult to have some face time with people like Mark Zuckerberg under any other circumstance.  

They feel that startups should try to do more bootstrapping in order to keep control of their ideas.  They would like to see a more extensive network of investors here in Krakow.  They advised us that if you have a chance to launch your product, you should.  Revenue and growth will solve many problems.  If there are some bugs, you can catch it and fix it because it is happening in real-world use.  This practical data is more valuable than any theoretical data.  They also advise us not to underestimate the power of good PR and buzz generation.  
Jakub and Lukasz really wanted to emphasize the fact that the talent in Krakow is not that far from the ones they have in Silicon Valley.  The difference is that in Silicon Valley, you are going to pay a premium price for talent but in Krakow, high caliber talent is still relatively inexpensive. Furthermore, Poland has built up a good brand in producing good technical people.  

Like Mr. Gola from Poznan, Jakub wondered out loud why are there so many good success stories in Silicon Valley and YC participants from Waterloo, Canada.  Many people as well a Kaufman research will point to the faxct that in these places there was already a solid presence of established tech companies.  In Waterloo, you have Research in Motion, In Helsinki you have Nokia, in Silicon Valley you have Google and others.  It is companies that act like a seed or a magnet to other startup firms.  And the big boys help foster the creation of startups.  Now, Krakow have Estimote and Aplicake.  My advice is since things are moving in the right direction, enjoy the ride!  

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