Boston – New York – 2011
This is a recap of the Webmission written by Christophe Ledur.
It’s never too late to share with you guys the benefits and experiences we shared while meeting great people at great places… You got me… Once again, it was a successful Webmission trip.
This East Coast Webmission happened late June 2011 simultaneously to a Belgian Economic Mission leaded by Prince Philippe. Actually, our trip consisted of two halves: the first one took place in NYC whereas the other half took place in Boston.
Before unveiling interviews we made, good memories and pictures, here are the companies, entrepreneurs, VCs, academics, etc. we visited in New-York City:
The ones we visited in Boston:
- MIT Media Lab, MIT Entrepreneurship Center, MIT Computer Science & Artificial Intelligence Lab
- Tech Event with the Prince Philippe at Fenway Park, Boston
- Acquia (Dries Buytaert, Founder & CTO)
- Echo Nest (Tristan Jehan, Founder & CTO)
- Venture Café
- Matrix Partner (David Skok, General Partner)
- TechStarts (Ziad Sultan, Founder & CEO of Marginize.com)
- Spark Capital (Bijan Sabet, General Partner)
And here are the participants: Jean Derély (Woorank), Robin Wauters (TechCrunch), Roeland Vanrenterghem (HP), Nils De Moor (Scooptic), Alain Verdonck (Averdo), Jonas Dhaenens (Combell Holding), Philip Wittmann, Olivier de Decker (Be Connect), Sabrina Bulteau (Be Connect), Dirk Huysmans (Totix), Alexey Bogdanov (Copymetrics), Luc Jacobs (BlueTalk), Christophe Ledur (Auctelia), François-Xavier Bellot (Auctelia), Joris Leijssen (Numebis), Jef Minsart (Forward Initiatives), Tom Deryckere (Northpoint Solutions), David Ryckaert (Simont Braun), Georges Caron (Citendo), Dries Droesbeke (Solidshops), Geoffroy Verney-Carron (Wellness Paladins/Obiwell), Antoine Perdaens (Knowledge Plaza), Frederik Neus (Zentrick), Pieter Mees (Zentrick), Philippe Depuydt (Ph. Depuydt consulting), Mesut Celik (Zaventeam SPRL), Frank Gielen (IBBT), Jérôme Vasamillet (EarlyTracks), Serge Boucher (ULB), Martin van Wunnik (ARSIMA Projects), Nicolas Cambier, Sylvain Ansion, Dirk Mettlen, Muriel Uytterhaegen (PMV), Kenneth Wils (PMV), Bernard de Burlin (Mondial Telecom – Becherry).
ER Accelerator: Murat Akihanoglu, Founder/CEO
Early-stage technology investment fund and accelerator in New York City
What is ER Accelerator?
ER Accelerator is an early-stage investment fund which provides a 3-month program where we help startups accelerate their progress. We give them 25.000 USD and we provide them free collaborative office space here in the heart of New York City for 3 months, free advice from industry experts, and free legal services.
Why should entrepreneurs apply to ERA?
The whole idea is that we want our startups to keep focused on building their products. We do not want them to worry about incorporation or accounting. These 3 months period is actually a very-focused period where they can only focus on building their products and also get advice from 200 mentors. This is a great way to really make a huge progress in just 3 months.
First session, 10 great startups. What we are seeing is that they are really enjoying the program. They get so much out of it from the mentors and also they are helping each other. It is a great place to start a company and grow.
What happens after the 3 months?
After 3 months we have this big demo day where startups come and pitch to around hundreds of investors. We help them get funded. Then, they move on, they become big and profitable businesses.
When is the next session?
The next round will be in January. So we open for applications in September. We are very excited. We are also looking for international expansion. We want to bring international startups to New-York. We want to go to new countries and help startups with local partners.
What about Europe? Do you want to expand in Europe and in our country?
Brussels is a very interesting place for us and we want to explore that.
This video is for Belgian startups or entrepreneurs? What is the last advice that you would tell to Belgian entrepreneurs?
Just release as early as you can. Get it out to your target and use their feedback. Also, help each other. The Betagroup is a great place. If startups help each other, they’ll make much more progress.
Fab.com: Jason Goldberg, Founder/CEO
Daily sales website of design products
Can you present yourself and your company?
So fab.com is design. Fab.com is a website that features design inspirations and daily sales. Fab.com is an entrepreneurial startup company focused on offering great products to our customers every day.
Can you explain us how your previous experiences help you in building fab.com?
You are always learning and always making mistakes. You know life is like a product. You can have ups and downs. Ideally you want – no matter the curve – to keep growing up. That is how my career as entrepreneur is, just as other entrepreneurs’ is. Keep trying stuff. Keep learning from it. Do not make the same mistake twice. Hopefully build on your experience.
You worked one year in Germany. What is the big difference between Europe and the US on the business side and the entrepreneurship side?
A few things actually. One is the US entrepreneurship. In the European model, there is more fear that it has to be exactly right perfect. I think it will never be perfect and you probably have half of it wrong. You need your users, your customers to tell you the other half. The sooner you get your customers’ feedback, the better. The other thing is that in the US we have less fear of failure. The entrepreneurial system in place with angels, venture capitalists, what people have done before, there is a notion that it is okay to try, not all companies can be a success. Try to fund many successes along the way, learn your best and build a return.
What would be your advice for Belgian or European entrepreneurs?
I would say that you should try to keep in mind a mix of when you are passionate about, when you are good at, try to be honest about those two things. There is no sense building something you are not really personally passionate about.
What is the future for fab.com?
Well, we still are a startup and we are trying to build something users like.
Are you going to open a business in Europe?
No plans yet. But we are working on shipment to Europe right now.
Livestream: Max Haot, Founder/CEO
Real time event coverage provider
Can you present yourself and your company?
Sure, I am Max Haot, co-founder and CEO at Livrestream. We basically are No. 1 livestreaming video platform. So we help any event tourer that wants to livestream by using our free or paid service. We give them all the tools so that they can live stream on Livestream.com, on Facebook, on their website, on mobile device, on connected TV. They can also record it and offer the event as a replay after.
Can you explain us what your background is? You told us you come from Durbuy in Belgium…
Briefly I left Belgium because I wanted to do TV directing, which is funny because thanks to Livestream we enable people to direct live event. When I was 17, I got an internship at IMG in London which is the biggest sport management content in the world. Then I quickly came back and helped IMG develop all of their websites for big sport federations such as Manchester United, FC Barcelona, European Tour of Golf, the Patriot Golf here in the US… To keep it short, I spent 10 years there before selling the product to Verizon and I moved to New York in 2005.
As part of the acquisition of that product, I had the chance to make a little bit of cash, not that much, it was still incubated within a company. And I work 2 years at IMG and started Livestream in 2007 with 3 other co-founders: one is our CTO based in India – he was my CTO when I worked at IMG for about 5 years and he went back from London to India where we have 45 people -, another one is our Chief Product Officer with whom I worked in London. He is actually British and he came here to also start Livestream. Another one is our Swiss Chief Architect Officer. He isn’t here today but I met him here in New-York and we started Livestream in early 2007.
How do you see the future of Livestream?
The first thing is the market you know. If you look at our customer base, we work with all the movie studios, record labels, venues, and so on. That’s one side of the market. But if we look at the core of the market really, it’s all about the event tourers all around the world that want to connect with people online on mobile device. They want to extend their events from a physical event to being broadcasted on the Internet or on mobile device. And so that market today or tonight in New-York there is a few thousands events… In the United States there is probably a hundred thousand events professionally organized tonight, being sport events, religious events, personal events, and around the world, there is probably hundreds of millions events going on around about the same time.
As event tourers realized “Hey, I should be livestreaming, it’s more cost-effective, the cameras are easy to use, setting a fee to livestream is easy to use, upload a play to my website is easy to use, it now works on mobile device… More and more event tourers are waking-up every day and decide to livestream. Typically they find us, you know they google ‘livestream’ or they hear about us and they decide to use or free or paid service.
So if you look at the market, we’ve grown 100% year-on-year but we think we haven’t even yet started. The market is totally untapped. So for us, it’s about getting more and more events to be streaming on livestream and aggregating the audience and selling it to advertisers and getting brands and content on us to also market their content on our platform.
Is Europe already a big part of your business, or are you mainly in the US?
We have 150 people working in the operations department: some in India, some in Ukraine, some in LA and here New-York. We are not deployed in Europe from a business point of view. The core business is here. Most of our premium customers are based in the US. About 20% of our traffic is in the US and 80% is still international: Brazil, Italy, UK, Germany are pretty big. So Europe is actually from a traffic point of view pretty big but we haven’t yet translated the services, we haven’t yet opened an office. We are doing some ad sales there but from here.
So at some point, we’ll go there, translate our service, do content deals there, and advertising deals there. So it’s important in the long run but we are not there yet.
Perfect! The WebMission is dedicated to promoting entrepreneurship in Belgium. What is your advice to Belgian entrepreneurs?
My first lesson learned is that you learn everyday. I think when we started livestream, I thought I knew it all: how to start and sell a business, how to manage a few hundreds people. But… looking back… actually you don’t know nothing. One of the classic example we talked about is that we were called Mogulus before and it was the first time I had to name a consumer product and I was totally wrong. So we called it Livestream and we are very happy with it.
But I think the biggest advice is you can’t win unless you play the game. I always thought even if I was like an entrepreneur within a company at IMG, that I was an entrepeneur. It’s only by making the step and really starting my own company that I realize how little I knew. But that’s very exciting because I’ve learned so much everyday and we learn all the time on every aspects: marketing is one of them, there is hundreds millions of other aspects that you learn everyday. So think that my biggest advice is that you can’t just be waiting and you don’t need necessarily to be perfect. You always might get it wrong. Hopefully we are far enough that we won’t get it wrong. But if you look back… Maybe there were many times when we wouldn’t have succeeded. We had a bit of luck as well. Luck in choosing the right idea, but the wrong name, but luck in being able to have enough funding to rectify it.
So yeah, jump in it, start it. The second piece of advice is about the importance of your cofounders. It’s a very emotional and very stressful adventure. It starts with friends and it takes a lot of energy to continue not only as friends but also as a scalable business partners with big teams working for you. You can be pretty relaxed at the beginning but later you have to become professional as you have a big team.
So yes, start it and choose the right cofounder.
Finally I would say that if nothing comes out of that, some of us will succeed, some of us will fail. There is no end… It’s only the beginning…
OLX: Fabrice Grinda, Founder/CEO
Free global online classifieds website
Can you present yourself and your different companies?
I am Fabrice Grinda. I am French originally, was born in Paris and grew up in Nice. I came to the US for college at Princeton and then I worked for the McKinsey & Company. Then for the last 13 years, I have been working in the Internet sector. My first big company was an eBay-like website for Europe called Aucland. We raised a lot of money, we had around 150 employees in 5 countries and I sold it in 2000. One year later, I came back to the US and I created a mobile content company selling mobile games and ringtones, etc. This was an European idea brought to the US market. This company did incredibly well: we went from 1 Mio sales in 2002, 5 Mio in 2003, 50 Mio in 2004 and 200 Mio in 2005. I sold it for 80 Mio in cash in May 2004. Early 2006 I decided to build a new company which is actually the company I am co-running today – with my Business Partner Alec Oxenford – which is OLX. OLX is basically a free classified website that is available on a global level. So we are not only one of the largest classified in the world but also one of the largest website with over 150 mio unique visitors par month. We are offering every day from cars to real estate to merchandising sales, to services or jobs. We are the leading player in Latin and South America such as Brazil and Mexico. We are also very big in Portugal, Spain and Eastern Europe, Southern Asia especially in India. That’s my day job. In my night-job I am an investor in a lot of companies. I have invested in 72 different companies. They are all consumer-facing and fall in 3 categories: either companie I have just invested passively, companies I have helped to raise money for or even companies I have initiated with my partner Jose Marin. Projects like Lofty which is a global vacation rental site.
What advice can you give to European entrepreneurs? Should they come here first? Should they be more open to failure? You know sometimes the mentality in Europe…
I mean there is one thing I have learnt over the years… There is no risk. People are always saying: “Wooooo, what if I fail?” The reality is that if you fail, it is a great experience that you can bring to any employer. I can tell you when you are in a job interview and you describe all the ups and downs, the great deals and the issues you faced etc., it makes you much more interesting and much more worth to have than anyone else. There is no risk of failure really. You can always bring something valuable to the next company you create or you join.
The other thing I have learnt probably is… If you want to try something, throw it on the wall and see if it sticks. There is no real underlying or classic strategy that is gonna be THE solution to all of your problems. You try things and you’ll see…
And move fast?
Yeah. It’s like OLX. At the beginning you would say “Oh maybe you should focus”. You should roll out OLX in just one country. The reality is… it is not that expensive to launch globally. So we launched it in 96 countries and in 45 languages. In some countries it didn’t work at all such as in Belgium or France. In some countries it really worked such as in Brazil. We keep focusing on the country where it works you know and keep going.
So, your question ‘if you are in Europe, should you go to the US?’ Maybe, maybe not. It depends on your idea. Some ideas really work locally. If you do an ecommerce site, you know logistics, payments, supplies and inventory, that’s a local business. Then you should do it in one of the countries you are going after. If you’re doing a user-generated content site such as Facebook, OLX or Quora, these are very easy to make global. You just translate the site and the users fill out the content. For these I would tell you “go everywhere” and where you are located yourself – even if being in the Valley or New-York where there is an ecosystem you can benefit from – you can do it from everywhere. You can be based in an island such the Fiji’s island to the extent you have the right people to build the site with you, it doesn’t matter.
Do US investors invest in non US companies? Or does the location matter?
Most venture capital is local. Only 20% of venture capital is invested outside borders. If you are here looking for a VC, you are much better off being in New-York, Boston, San Francisco or the Valley. If you are looking for French VCs, you are better off in Paris. From an investor’s perspective, where you are located does make a big difference. From an execution perspective it doesn’t make that much difference.
You are investing in many companies. What kind of companies do you invest in so that European entrepreneurs can see whether they should contact you?
I only invest in consumer-facing companies not because there is something wrong with the B2B sector or Biotech or whatever, it is just an industry I know really well. I don’t really have time to do due diligence because I have a day job. I actually spend less than 5 hours a week doing investing. You know maybe if it is a tough week, maybe 10 hours. I need to be able to say rapidly whether or not the project is interesting. So if it is a consumer-facing website I can go to the site, I can play with it, see if I like it, then meet the team, look at the deal terms and understand the pitch whether I like the market size, etc. And boom I decide to invest, yes or no. If it was B2B, I wouldn’t be able to move as fast as I don’t know intuitively and I would have to worry about what is the sales cycle, what are the margins, where is the competition, etc. So No 1: Consumer-facing.
No. 2: If it is a new innovative idea, I am only gonna do it in the US. The reason is the US market is so big. Even if it doesn’t become a very big success, the market is so big, it might be a niche that allows you to be very successful. If it’s not in the US, I am looking at investments, projects or ideas that are already established. So I am not taking the idea or concept risk, I am taking the market risk. And there I mostly invest in Brazil and Russia. But to a lesser extent I also do deals in Turkey, in France, in Germany, in the UK and a little bit in China.
AOL Ventures: Mike Brown Jr, Founder/Partner
Early stage investing in technology-centric consumer Internet companies
Can you present yourself and present AOL Ventures?
Mike Brown, Founder and Partner of AOL Ventures: 30 Mio USD, Seed and Series-A focused, consumer internet companies, in content and advertising technology.
Could you tell us a little bit more about yourself?
I started two companies: one in the consumer-service space, one in the media. The first one… still going, the second one… sold. And then I went to work in the investment banking sector for a while. Recently before this, I worked for Richard Branson… investing his money in Internet startups, consumer-product and consumer-service businesses all around the world.
Where are your investments located? You are mainly in the US but you also are opening new branches. Could you explain a bit about this?
We’re in New-York and San Francisco: two partners here, two partners there. We have mostly invested in those areas New-York and New-England, and San-Francisco and Los Angeles. Recently we’re thinking about expanding a little bit internationally: the UK or broader in Europe hopefully by the end of this year.
What do you think about the European tech scene compared to here in the US?
You know still emerging. Obviously we wouldn’t be active and thinking about investing if we didn’t think it is a great area. I think definitely not at the same level as the US yet. But there is a lot more of angel investors, the institutional capital based over there are much more active. As a result, there is a lot of entrepreneurs interested in accessing that world and want money to be invested.
What is the advice you could give to European entrepreneurs?
Just broadly speaking… Obviously stay focused on building skill for your business, know who your key customers are gonna be, be really active on the ground in North Ameriaca developing relationships even before you ever have to really ask business development people. Often times I find a lot of peple not in the US geography tend to come over here and think they can get things done very quickly. it doesn’t tend to work that way. So I would just say have a kind of optimal lead time to really build your business effectively.
Boxee: Andrew Kippen, VP of Marketing/CEO
Media player software platform
Can you present yourself and what is Boxee doing?
Sure, I am Andrew Kippen. I am VP of Marketing here at Boxee. Boxee is basically a way to take all that stuff you watch on your computer and bring it to your TV. We started in Spring 2007. We launched our first product in June 2008 and since then we’ve grown to about 2 mio users wordlwide.
What is the future for Boxee?
Our goal actually is to be able – no matter where you are – to find, organize, watch and share video from Youtube clips, latest movies, a TV show you loves, we wanna be the place whether it is on iPad, on your TV, on your laptop or your mobile phone, where you go and discover it, find it, watch it and share it with your friends.
Lately, there has been a lot of changes in the industry. What do you think?
Specifically here in the US, there’s been a big transition and focus on what we do: Google TV, Apple TV, etc. Boxee box etc. We really see a kind of evolution of what we have been focused on up until this point: video on demand and being able to take stuff on the Internet and bring it to the TV screen.
I think now you are gonna start seeing content that is developed to be delivered through the Internet for the TV screen. You’ll gonna see a lot of editorials, apps for the TV-Screen that are bringing more content that feels a little bit like more professional TV through the Internet to all these different devices. There is an interesting mix: now there is enough devices, there is enough platforms out there that developpers are becoming really creative about how they tie all these: more content? more social media? more communication? How these all are tied together into a new TV watching experience.
Do you think the TV manufacturers will stop trying to get all the value chain and could switch to one of your products? This is your goal I guess…
Yes, we hope so. We definitely hope so… What we’ve seen in the TV space is very similar to hat we saw in the mobile space five or six years ago. Verizon, AT&T or Deutsche Telecom or some of the other operators were focused on owning everything: they built the phones, they built the software, they built the apps,… until the iPhone came along and shut that model down. Now there are iOS and Android, maybe WebOS we’ll see. I think we’ll see the same thing happen in the TV market where these guys like Samsung, LG will try to build their own apps and essentially come to the realization that – hopefully it’s us, maybe it’ll be a new entrant – there is such an amazing experience waiting to be developed out there. We think we already have this experience which is based around the consumer and giving them exactly what they want, providing them new ways to find content, easy ways to share and bringing in not only free content but premium as well.
Do you already have activities in Europe?
Yes. Actually early this year we brought on something explicitly for such an international environment and countries like UK, Germany, France, Sweden, Spain, Italy, Netherlands, Belgium, etc.
Betaworks: Antonia Abraham, Director of Finance & Operations
Real-time social web seed-stage business accelerator
Could you present yourself and Betaworks?
I am Antonia and I work at Betaworks. We do two things at Betaworks: 1. We invest in companies in the New-York Tech scene mainly, and 2. We grow companies. So we have a bunch of companies here with whom we work from day one.
You support a lot of successful companies…
It is mainly early-stage investment. So our seed investments are still in progress. TweetDeck was one of our core companies. I would obviously say that all companies we have here are successes: Chartbeat which offers new traffic analytics for news sites, SocialFlow which sends optimized tweets for their clients, Bit.ly which is a URL shortener, etc.
What kind of companies are you looking for to invest in?
We are very interested in real-time social media companies or projects. There must be key components in the things we invest in. We also very much like data and were are interested in tech-oriented companies. The technology is essential for us.
How do you see the evolution of the New-York Tech scene?
Great. We love it. There is lots of energy here, lots of talents and some great new companies…
You personaly moved from the corporate world to the startup world…
There is no one path. That’s clear. A couple of years ago, there were fewer jobs, fewer opportunities in some sectors such as finance, and some people left it for the tech side. For me… I was always interested in Tech. I started in Tech banking actually. I would say: In New-York the environment is such that people are very helpful. They see somebody who wants to work hard, who wants to learn and they are excited about that. So people were very helpful for me. Finally Betaworks was an amazing balance between early companies, working with them on the operations side with amazing people, and investing in amazing companies. So I was very lucky I have to say. Having a good Tech scene where people that are in it help each other is really important.
You told us about bringing students directly to the Tech scene. Could you elaborate a little bit more about this?
We are not directly involded but there a lot of organizations in New-York that are trying to get students coverage to see startups and this industry. Some organizations work only with the schools in New-York, some out of the city, some offer startup programs, internships, externships… but I definitely believe in that. I certainly would never have thought going into a startup when leaving school for instance. This is the reason why such programs are great.