Blog (51)

Official Blog of Banque du Liban Accelerate 2014, Lebanon’s 1st International Startup Conference

Darius Cheung – – Singapore

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Darius Cheung,
Founder & CEO,

Renowned technology startup veteran and serial entrepreneur Darius Cheung is the Founder and CEO of, a Singapore-based online rental portal. Prior to that, Darius was CEO and co-founder tenCube, a mobile security company, which was later acquired by McAfee. He is also co-founded BillPin, a bill-sharing app. In 2008 he was recognized as one of BusinessWeek’s Best Young Entrepreneurs in Asia and has also won the Singapore Youth Award in 2010. In addition to being a serial entrepreneur, Darius is also an angel investor, a venture partner at Golden Gate Ventures and serves on the steering committee for Action Community for Entrepreneurship. Darius is an alumnus of NUS Overseas College and has a National University of Singapore graduate with a minor in Technopreneurship. The university was a seed investor in tenCube.

Darius’s first startup was tenCube, an anti-theft software for mobile platforms called WaveSecure, and was acquired by McAfee for an estimated $25 million. This deal gave hope to many startups in Singapore that they could make it globally and Darius supports that wholeheartedly. He constantly explores consumer demands and tries to provide and deliver a flawless solution. This is how BillPin came about. Darius and the remaining co-founders of BillPin had come to realize that when sharing a household with others, problems can arise from shared expenses – both big and small ones. The solutions available on the market were not ideal for them so they developed BillPin to help consumers keep track of shared expenses while keeping their friendships intact.

It is that very same mindset that motivated Darius to found As renter for many years, his personal experience of facing the pain of dealing with the rental market has lead him and the rest of the founding team to find a more optimal solution. The portal is easy to use and provides users with relevant information much faster than any other platform would. Besides providing updated, accurate, and reliable search results, the portal provides information on the neighborhood such as commute time, guides to neighborhoods, food options in the area, and the general feel of the area.

It isn’t a surprise that Darius received numerous accolades and recognition for his work. He is a true inspiration for startups in Singapore and emerging markets.


International Knowledge Partners

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Our International Knowledge Partners will be sharing their experience, insights, and learning with over 1,500 entrepreneurs and investors at BDL Accelerate 2014.

Dragon Innovation
Dragon Innovation has simplified the journey for hardware startups. They provide them with a route to get from their powerful ideas to hitting the shelves, paving the way for innovative hardware startups to exist.  Dragon Innovation works closely and transparently with the hardware set up to make their items hit the market at the right cost, on quality, and on schedule a lot more efficiently.

Dialexa is a technology company that helps other organizations achieve innovative products by conceptualizing, designing, engineering, and launching them. Dialexa Labs is a self-funded venture lab and a development incubator for bold and innovative ideas where Vinli was developed.

Elias Ghanem – Telr – UAE

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Elias Ghanem
Founder & CEO, Telr

Elias Ghanem is the CEO & Founder of Telr, a multi-currency payment gateway. Prior to that, he was Managing Director of PayPal Middle East and North Africa, GM of PayPal South East Asia and India, after a long time spent as senior Visa executive. His leadership roles at PayPal, Visa and Accor Group across the world have generated breakthrough results. Elias is fluent in 5 languages and is a Business Science Graduate of the “Institut de Preparation à l’Administration et la Gestion”, a Business School in Paris, with a major in Finance, and received an MBA from the University of Miami.

Elias had a big leadership role at PayPal, one of the largest e-commerce companies in the world, but that did not fulfill his ambitions. He had to create something of his own. Elias was aware that most payment gateways did not support local currencies, which caused merchants and consumers to transact in USD at extra costs among other issues that did not aid regional e-commerce. His solution was Telr, which he launched in October 2013.

Telr empowers merchants to offer payment solutions in multiple languages and local currencies, offers logistics solutions, is integrated easily and provides loan options. Moreover, three months ago, Telr strategically merged with Innovate Payments, the best payment gateway in the UAE, aiming to boost Telr’s market growth. Together, this dream team can expand their products and services and accelerate expanding into new markets.

Elias’s extensive experience in e-commerce and his desire to do something for entrepreneurs in his native region, lead him to become an entrepreneur himself. He left behind his stable Senior Executive lifestyle at large corporations. He took the risk and launched a simplified and innovative payment gateway as a solution for the rapidly expanding e-commerce businesses in emerging markets.


Q&A with Yasser Akkaoui

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Q&A with Yasser Akkaoui

Yasser Akkaoui,
Editor in Chief of Executive magazine & Founder of KConcept Holding
Beirut, Lebanon

 Yasser Akkaoui is the founder of KConcept Holding, the mother company of Capital Concept, Prime Job, News Media and the Center for Strategic Studies. Yasser has become one of the reference names in Corporate Governance activism in the Middle East. He has been a committee member of Human Rights Watch in the Middle East since 2010, a member of the Organization of Economic Development and Cooperation’s taskforce for MENA stock exchanges, and the regional consultant for the Center for International Private Enterprise. In April 2010, he was invited to Washington by US president Barack Obama, along with delegates from around the world invested in advancing entrepreneurship, to discuss the state of entrepreneurship in the MENA. Since 2011, he has been the chairman of the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies. From 2008 to 2012, he has been a board member of the Lebanese Transparency Association (LTA), Transparency International’s Lebanese chapter and through LTA, he has co-founded the Institute of Directors in 2010 which aims at promoting good governance in Lebanon. Yasser also created PrimeJob, a headhunting agency working alongside some of the biggest companies throughout the Middle East. He is the founder of the Center for Strategic Studies, a non-profit organization engaged in awareness creation for employment concerns and resource development strategies for the 21st century. Yasser has been representing the interests of Executive Magazine since 2001, a media platform he uses to advocate reforms in the Middle East. Executive, established in 1999, is dedicated to providing its readers with in-depth and forward thinking analysis, solid reporting and punchy opinion on Middle Eastern business, economy and public policy. Yasser is the Vice Chairman of Young Arab Leader, and is also a Business Ethics instructor at the American University of Beirut. Since its inception in 2010, he has been a strategic partner for the Beirut Art Fair.

 What kind of policies or regulatory frameworks Lebanon needs to work on in order to facilitate investments? Is there anything that’s currently being done in this regard?

In the absence of a modern private equity legal structure and a functional Beirut Stock Exchange, and without deeply rooted corporate governance principles, investors will shy away from our entrepreneurs. We are confident that the Capital Markets Authority is aware of its mandate – let’s hope they will be up to the task.

 Is there something unique about Lebanese ecosystem? What is it and how can the country use it to up its startup game and compete with other ecosystems?

Educated and creative entrepreneurs together with skilled and hardworking craftsmen is our competitive advantage. When provided with the right framework that allows them to discover each other and cooperate towards achieving their ambitions all while satisfying investor’s expectations is the only strategy that will – without comparing to other ecosystems – serve the nation building exercise.



Q&A with Adrianna Tan

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Q&A with Adrianna Tan

Adrianna Tan
Founder & CEO, WoBe

Adrianna works on the intersection of tech, content and social. From founding and growing tech startups in Southeast Asia to starting and running non-profits in India, she believes strongly that technology and social good can and should go together. 

In 2014, she founded WoBe, an innovative take on financial services for low income women in Southeast Asia. Headquartered in Jakarta and Singapore, WoBe will put the power of micro-entrepreneurship into the hands of millions of women who make under a hundred dollars a day, with the support of one of the largest telcos in the region.

 She also helps Silicon Straits, a Singapore-based innovation tribe, start and grow companies. In that role, she helped to start and run ideabox Myanmar, Mobile Monday Yangon, and a slew of other community-focused movements in Myanmar.

In a previous life, she did UX, community management and Asia launch work at Yelp, Uber, and other great startups. She also started and ran a small dev shop, Pen to Pixel, out of Malaysia and Singapore.

With a breadth and depth of experience across technology and social causes especially in the emerging economies of Asia, she brings a unique cross-section of skills that help to sell products, drive growth and grow communities of passionate users. 

In the social space, she is also the founder and managing director of causes such as The Gyanada Foundation, an education non-profit which gives scholarships to underprivileged girls in India, and of Culture Kitchen, a grassroots movement for Singaporeans and migrant workers to learn more about each other through food and dialogue.

 Which startup are you keeping an eye on?

I’m watching Tokopedia at the moment, they are one of the pioneering e-commerce players here in Indonesia. Recently, they raised $100 million from Softbank and Sequioa. E-commerce in Indonesia has huge potential, clearly, for a country of 250 million people. As early adopters of mobile technology in this country, Tokopedia’s journey will also show us lessons which can be learned in mobile e-commerce.

At the moment there are still many regulatory obstacles which prevent e-commerce companies from taking off the way they can. I look forward to witnessing a liberalization of the industry, and of the creation of a local e-commerce giant, then with the involvement of a foreign competitor — the same way it happened in India with FlipKart, Amazon India, etc. This will be a huge market to watch in every way.

What’s the conversation like in the major ecosystems right now? What types of ideas are attracting the most funding, what are investors looking for, how is the startup ecosystem evolving? (This is a general question, but please try to give us insight into the trends and forecasts related to the global startup landscape)

Many people think that we are in a bubble, and perhaps we are. How many “Uber of Anythings” can we get? How many laundry apps do we need? (See ZipJet vs Washio, for example) I think we are seeing a proliferation of real world meets online with a bit of the ‘sharing economy’/collaborative consumption aspect thrown in. I think that’s great, and I personally use Airbnb to stay somewhere, get from point A to B with Uber or Lyft, sell things I don’t want on apps, get people to do small tasks for me on the likes of TaskRabbit…. to a point. I think these types of services have huge growth potential in developed markets. I also suspect we may be reaching saturation point in these types of services in these markets. I’m expecting to see that I can now get a hug off an app which will be delivered by someone riding a skateboard I can customize or swap, then I can swipe left or right on whether or not I liked this experience. And that I will find out such a service has been funded for $100 million.

I’m not personally confident that that type of trend will be sustainable. I say this out of an emerging markets bias — I think there are huge problems to solve with tech in the developing world, and that no amount of Silicon Valley backed anything is ever going to do those successfully. You can’t solve problems of access to healthcare or education out of an office in New York. You have to be doing it where you want to be doing it: in the Philippines, in Kenya, in Indonesia, wherever.

I see money and interest moving towards the emerging markets, but it will still be a while before we are talking about similar levels of interest and money. You’re not going to see an Indonesian company which hasn’t monetized living off VC money for 3 years before they get bought out for millions or billions of dollars. Or bought out at all. The landscape is evolving, and the money-scape is evolving too.

I am based in Southeast Asia and I see three massive markets here: Indonesia, Vietnam and Myanmar. They each have their own problems and that’s what makes it interesting. It’s fragmented, which is why it’s going to be hard to anyone outside of this part of the world to really figure it out. I learned today for example that when I sign documents for my Indonesian company in Singapore, I should take a selfie of myself with said document outside the Indonesian embassy. You learn something new everyday.

But for every “wtf” moment, I honestly believe it adds up to the kind of “wtf money” we can expect to see in the very near future.

I’m excited to live in a world where digital payments exist in Myanmar and you can buy fresh fruit off your phone in Indonesia. These things don’t exist yet — it will take a while for us to catch up with what’s already out there, but I’m of the school that thinks we’ll get there quick and also make massive steps forward in everything else.

 Where is the next digital revolution happening? What will it be about?

Access. We think the world is digital, but if it truly was, Mark Zuckerberg would not have been in Indonesia talking up Substantial billions of people are still unconnected. The big guess is they will get connected, eventually. Everyone’s trying to figure out how to hasten that pace.

I was lucky to have been able to have spent some time working on the ground in the startup ecosystem in Myanmar — heck, actually to have been able to be part of building that ecosystem — and we went from $2000 sim cards to $200 ones to $1.50 SIM cards with data, today. And when these people of extremely diverse backgrounds go online, people are going to want to build apps and businesses around these very different users.

I’m excited to see what that’s going to look like.

Some people think the money is in e-commerce. I think it will be about seizing this moment to build sustainable businesses across ‘aspirational industries’. Where do these billions of people want to be in 2 years? In 10 years? Can your company take them there?

What does it take for an idea to disrupt an industry? Are there any disruptive ideas at the moment? Where are they and what can we learn from them?

We often talk about disruption from a technological solutionism point of view. Someone builds an app which changes up something in an ancient/fading industry — transportation, laundry, dating, whatever — and we call that disruption.

I’m not a fan of technological solutionism. I don’t believe that teaching the homeless to code takes them out of poverty. I don’t believe in any of those things. I believe that technology is a mere tool — along with education, opportunities, infrastructure, and other forms of progress — but that it’s the tool which is most tangible, and in some ways the quickest and easiest to do.

The one I’m a huge fan of – and it might not be everyone’s cup of tea — is private space travel. I 100% believe in what Elon Musk and Richard Branson are trying to do (to varying degrees). I think it’s disruptive to imagine a world beyond the immediate one which surrounds us, and that people who can afford to indulge ideas which are hugely expensive and potentially world-changing have their hearts in the right place. Like Elon Musk, I am fascinated by the idea of a post-Earth/post-humanity world, and that’s not only because I’m a sci-fi geek. I don’t know what the outcome of those explorations will be, but I am glad that a ‘good guy’ is leading that charge.

On a more terrestrial level, I definitely don’t think wearables are disruptive in any way. I’m personally interested in anything which disrupts traditional energy sources. Solar doesn’t seem to be it though.

I’m also personally interested in disruptive forms of media and communication. There’s a company building a Star-Trek-like communicator device. I want to see how things like that change the way we communicate. In the greater scheme of media products and various challengers, tools which allow people to invert power structures are very interesting and disruptive to me. There’s a site in Bahrain which lets you crowd-source protests so you can record and document abuses of power and force. Stuff like that really excites me. The tech themselves may not be disruptive, but their outcomes are. I think we will see more of those in the near future.



Q&A with Dimitris Kalavros-Gousiou

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Q&A with Dimitris Kalavros-Gousiou

Dimitris Kalavros-Gousiou
CEO & Co-Founder, Found.ation

Dimitris G. “DKG” Kalavros-Gousiou is a 26-year-old web-impact entrepreneur and tech maverick. He is best known as the Founder and Curator of TEDxAthens and Co-Founder of digital content house Nest Media. As of March 2013, Dimitris also serves as a of Found.ation, a technology hub and educational platform in Athens, Greece. From 2011 to 2013, Dimitris served as a Referrer for pre-seed investment firm HackFwd, leading its pipeline from Greece and Southeast Europe. He also occasionally writes for TechCrunch Europe. Over the years Dimitris worked with Fortune 500 entities and multinationals such as COSMOTE (Deutsche Telekom Group), Diageo, Bacardi, The Coca-Cola Company, Piraeus Bank Group, Heineken, Samsung and others. DKG holds a Law degree from the University of Kent at Canterbury and an LLM (Master of Laws) in Computer and Communications Law from the Queen Mary University of London. He is also an alumnus of U.S. Department of State “International Visitor Leadership Program”, class of 2013, and a member of the Global Shapers Community of the World Economic Forum. Dimitris regularly speaks on the topics of entrepreneurship, technology, design thinking, digital storytelling and industry disruption.

What type of ideas are attracting the most funding at the moment?

In the last two years, we have seen a significant growth of actual VC deals in the ICT sector, mainly due to the creation of new Venture Capitals under Program Jeremie, a co-financed investments program by the European Investment Fund. Typically, Greek Venture Capitalists invest in later stage start-up companies in the areas of mobile and social solutions, with less focus on B2B startups. Due to the hype in the industry, we see that they are also looking for companies which belong to what we call the “Unicorns” (companies that have the potential to be the next European billion dollar company). Angel investors come in many forms, and mainly invest in startup companies that have the potential to generate revenues from their first 12 months of operation. Such investors enter an investment scheme, only when a strategic, institutional investor is also involved, typically by leading a round.

What does it take for an idea to disrupt an industry? Are there any disruptive ideas at the moment? Where are they and what can we learn from them?

It definitely requires a detailed and deep knowledge of the target market (or segment) and customers that the startup aims [to reach out for]. Localization provides advantages to transform a range of different ideas into quality products or services. Different countries provide different competitive advantages for different industries. Greece, for example, holds one of the most attractive industries for the development of travel tech startups since it is a popular holiday destination. The sector has attracted both foreign investments and international customers, standing out as an emerging market. The tourism industry is a major contributor to increased economic activity in Greece. The broad scope of the industry means that it also influences other sectors (e.g.: development of instruments and technical solutions, including online, social networking, mobile, IT, etc.)

 Which startup are you keeping an eye on? Why?

There’s more than one, since the Greek startup scene has started to gain the visibility we think it deserves. From our experience running one of the first co-working spaces in the country, 3 teams that got their startups up and running are Truckbird, Captainwise and Susurrus. Truckbird is an online realtime freight marketplace. They have launched a technological project that works to advance the field of freight road transportation through online platform that connects shippers with carriers. Truckbird has come up with the right answer to problems of truckload utilization and issues of trustful collaboration and information sharing. The team of Captainwise created the ideal solution for those who need to find their perfect getaway, by simply entering their budget and the days they wish to travel. Captainwise has entered the Greek tourism industry with an alternative idea of online tourism that has changed the way people travel. Susurrus is a platform that matches bloggers with brands looking for a new way to increase their awareness. It collects data from fashion blogs regarding their audience and the quality of their content and if you are a designer you can find the bloggers that suit your characteristics and provide them with your ideal concept. There is not enough good quality content produced by and for brands and it seems that Susurrus has found the next big thing in online marketing field…

What can Lebanon’s ecosystem learn from Athens? What do you think is the country country’s biggest asset, which it can bank on to take its ecosystem to the next level?

Found.ation believes in, and actively supports, the creation of a sustainable startup ecosystem. A major challenge we must tackle is the transformation of good and promising ideas into sustainable businesses which can leave their actual economic footprint in the Greek economy. In addition to the variety of open, wide quality events and education of offerings for startups (Found.ation has organized and hosted so far more than 120 education and networking events on topics such as web and mobile development, design and business marketing), we produce and run in depth accelerator programs where we provide a holistic and comprehensive boost to startup teams and talented first time entrepreneurs.

We believe that the success of young entrepreneurs requires substantial investment in their craftsmanship and skills, especially in the high-technology sector. A successful startup ecosystem is best built through young entrepreneurs who are equipped with the right tools, educational resources and networking opportunities.



Q&A with Alexander Asseily

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Q&A with Alexander Asseily

Alexander M. Asseily
Chairman/Co-founder, Jawbone & State
London, UK

Alexander Asseily is the founder and Executive Chairman of London-based startup, State. State is an opinion network for the world: a kind of global town square, where people can connect to each other through what they think, rather than who they know. Prior to State, Alexander was the founding CEO of Jawbone, the largest venture capital-backed consumer electronics company in the world, where he currently maintains the role of Chairman. Jawbone is the industry leader in mobile lifestyle products including the award winning ICON wireless headsets, JAMBOX speakers, and UP wellness solutions. Alexander also serves as Chairman and Co-founder of Chiaro, a London-based personal wellness technology start-up, whose first product Elvie will be unveiled in November 2014. Alexander grew-up in Beirut and London before receiving his BSc & MSc in Engineering Design at Stanford University. He advises a number of startup technology companies and charitable organizations in the US and Europe.

Your story is about success, but the road to success is often studded with mistakes, or even failures. What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?

Not knowing how to hire great people from the beginning.

As a Lebanese entrepreneur who has had his big break outside Lebanon, what advice can you give to Lebanese entrepreneurs who are starting up businesses in the country?

Think Big. The local market is not big enough and often unstable. Aim for regional or global markets and leverage the location-agnostic nature of the web. It’s not easy to start a company anywhere—even in California—and although Lebanon definitely has some drawbacks, most of them are minor in comparison to the challenge of creating an amazing product. It adds overhead but you can work that into your operating model. It also has some advantages: for the internet, your market is what you make it but your costs could be considerably lower and your retention rate for partners/team is likely to be much greater. Leverage the best practices from other places like Silicon Valley and London, apply them judiciously to your own situation in Lebanon and leverage the key things that Lebanon has to offer: smart people, good education, good global connections, etc.

Do you think Jawbone would have reached its heights had you started it out of Lebanon? What do you think Lebanon needs to do to up its startup game?

Probably not in 2000 but maybe today. Hardware is tricky because sometimes you need some rare skills like PCB or firmware or DSP design that only thrive in dense eco-systems like Silicon Valley or Southern China. That said, it’s far from being clear cut. You could hypothetically outsource to other countries the things that Lebanon doesn’t have locally and ultimately take advantage of global connectedness to reach markets and suppliers that might have been impossible to reach 15 years ago.

Lebanon needs fast and reliable internet before it does anything else. The government should create incentives for people to start and operate companies painlessly: tax cuts, paperwork, etc.



Leen L. Segers – – Belgium

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Leen L. Segers

Leen Segers is an experienced online media and entertainment consultant who has worked for Accenture, followed by leading Strategic Marketing Partnerships with the European startup Netlog (backed by Index Ventures and Atomico). In this role, she collaborated with We7 (acquired by UK retailer Tesco) to launch the first music streaming service in Belgium. In 2011, she moved to London and out off the co-working space Techhub. She evangelized Massive//Media’s unique online properties Netlog, Twoo, Gatcha! and Ekko. Between 2012-2014, still based in London, she worked as an online video consultant for Kaltura (US/IL) and Saffron Digital (UK) and excelled in managing complex, strategic Media & Entertainment opportunities with unique use cases. Currently, she is COO with the only publication dedicated to covering the European technology industry in depth, She is passionate about start-ups, entrepreneurship, the collaborative economy, the mobile ecosystem, cloud video & music, APIs and (algo)-rhythms.

Leen started her career as consultant for Accenture, a multinational management consulting, technological services and outsourcing company. She later joined a very popular Belgian social networking website, Netlog where she was responsible for its marketing and strategic partnerships. Leen also architected a new product at Netlog, known as We7, a social music streaming service. In January 2011, Netlog became part of Massive Media, a global media group. Soon after, Leen moved to London to head Netlog’s operations as Business Development and Country Manager.

Leen later joined Kaltura, an open source online video company that provides tools such as online video player, open source editor and open source video for website. She headed the strategic business development and sales across EMEA and was responsible for several substantial partnerships with leading Media & Entertainment companies. After Kaltura, Leen joined a video technology agency, Saffron Digital’s team of EMEA sales team to develop business and build partnerships across the region.

A few months ago, Leen moved back to Belgium to join as COO where she heads business development, media partnerships, and marketing, and non-editorial services., launched at the end of 2013, is a digital publication dedicated to covering the European tech industry in-depth highlighting innovation and reporting on the trials and tribulations of its technology industry from a big-picture perspective.

Leen’s passion for startups and technology along with her savvy business development and sales skills have lead her to a promising skyrocketing career and we cannot wait to see what she will be doing next.

Q&A with Thijl Klerkx

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Thijl Klerkx
Amsterdam, Netherlands

Thijl Klerkx is a 20-year-old entrepreneur from Amsterdam, the Netherlands. At the age of 12 Thijl started a webhosting company which he sold at the age of 13. After this first entrepreneurial adventure Thijl started working on his current company which he started at 15. With help from an investor, Thijl started doing deliveries of organic groceries by cargo bike.
 Now, 5 years later, he is working on fine-tuning his business model and scale his delivery company.
 In addition to that, Thijl advises corporates like Randstad on the use of technology and the internet.

 What was the biggest mistake you’ve done as an entrepreneur? What did you learn from it?

You do not want to know how many incidents come to mind. However, the biggest mistake was probably that after running my business for about a year I thought I knew exactly what needed to happen to make it grow faster and I spent a year fixing that issue. Only then I realized other underlying issues were the actual issue. So I basically spent a year on fixing an issue that did not need any fixing… So from now on I try to spend a little more time analyzing the situation.

 What is the most critical phase in a startup’s lifecycle? How did you navigate the tides of this cycle with your own startup?

To me this would be the phase after launching but before scaling where you get the chance to use the feedback from your first customers to really improve your product and get it ready to scale. Many successful startups change their entire proposition in this phase. Efficiently using the feedback of your first customers is absolutely necessary to get your startup ready for successful scaling.

 What does it take to build a great product and scale it across the world?

I have no real experience scaling startups across the world yet. However, I am personally a big believer in the fact that in most cases you should first take time to make your startup successful in your region, before scaling very big very fast. A good business model, hard work and a couple of good people are not enough to really scale across the world. You will have to create a fluid machine that launches your product in a very structured, efficient and uniform way.


Q&A with Stephane Gatchev

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Q&A with Stephane Gantchev

Stephane Gantchev
Partner, LAUNCHub
Sofia, Bulgaria

Stephane Gantchev is Partner at LAUNCHub, a 9M Seed Venture Capital Fund, based in Sofia, Bulgaria supporting the most promising entrepreneurs and digital startups in the South Eastern Europe. With 40+ investments over the last 2 years LAUNCHub is one of the most active early stage funds in that region. Prior to Launchub, Stephane started his career in France, initially in the largest IT service provider company Atos Origin, moving later to Orange (France Telecom) where he was heading the Innovation program for Orange France Mobile entity, discovering and trialing start-up in the mobile/telecom space. Stephane has been very active in the Bulgarian startup and entrepreneur ecosystem contributing to its growth, involved and co-founded/co-organized various events, among them the local chapter of SiliconDrinkabout. More recently he co-organized DigitalK 2014, one of the largest digital conferences in the region

What is it that you’re looking for when funding startups?

At LaunchHub we invest in the pre-seed and seed stages, so companies that are in the very early phases of their development. What matters to us at this stage are the founders. Of course we require an initial version of the product/service, trial or sales reports with early customers, but what’s more important to us in this phase is what we think about the founders: how successful they are (previous startups, businesses), how knowledgeable they in the space they are in, how connected to the industry, etc. It is very important to have a rounded team. We always invest in teams, never in a single founder, with complementary skills and areas of competence for each co-founder. In our region (south-eastern Europe), except maybe in Greece, the majority of the teams are formed by talented engineers, but sometimes they lack the business/sales aspect, so a team with such co-founder has an advantage.

What advice can you give to new entrepreneurs who are just starting out and preparing to approach investors?

Do your homework. Spend time investigating who is the right investor for you depending on the industry, geography and startup stage/progress. Learn if the investor you are talking to is actively investing in companies right now or is in a ‘zombie’ or other transit stage (raising a new fund, not having enough cash left in the current fund, which means they’re investing very carefully or keeping the money for the existing portfolio). Learn who are the ‘cool’ VCs that you can approach, what is the best moment and way to talk to each one of them (networking event, twitter, conference, party, etc.) Don’t do cold emailing because this rarely works. Don’t rely on ‘agents’ that promise to introduce you to investors in exchange of money or shares. Find the right people to introduce you to each investor. Don’t cry if you receive a ‘no'; there will be many VCs who will reject you for many reasons. Have in mind that a ‘no’ often means ‘not now’.

 How many of the startups you’ve invested in have failed? What did you learn from that?

We are kind of a ‘startup fund’, which means we exist actively after less than 2 years. We also learn and make mistakes. We’ve had a few failed startups, but we account for this and it doesn’t affect the overall performance of the fund a lot. In these situations, we would have already had a very small bet on those team. In all cases, we have a ‘to-avoid-list’, which is the checkbox list we use when we meet new teams. Some of the items on this list include: single founders (potentially people that can’t gather people around them and/or work in a team); accelerator hoppers (teams that already went to 1 or 2 incubation/acceleration programs in Europe without knowing what’s the clear goal/benefit); and professional pitchers (people that go on every possible pitching contest and spend time at events/conference instead of developing their product and talking to customers).