Archives for the month of: June, 2012

This week we have an interview with MoRally founder and Berlin Startup Weekend winner Juma Al-JouJou. It is interesting to see how grass-roots entrepreneurialism is emerging through bootcamps and weekend hackathons in Europe. Enjoy!

Tell us a little bit about your background and why you founded MoRally?

I graduated in philosophy & economics for my Bachelor degree in Bavaria. Then I worked as SAP consultant for a while before starting a master degree in Innovation Management & Entrepreneurship in Berlin and the Netherlands. Right now I am writing my master thesis about the commercialization of MoRally, and (hopefully  graduate this summer).

I founded MoRally because 1. entrepreneurship is my thing where I can apply my multidisciplinary background and 2. via MoRally I can feel I can make real impact while having fun along the way

What is MoRally all about? What is your vision?

MoRally started as a classical strategy board game. By adding the theme of Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability it got a slightly educational touch, but it firstly is an excellent strategy board game.

However, the main idea is to develop MoRally as an online board game, just as one can play Monopoly online, too nowadays.

In the online game, companies can advertise their real sustainability projects (eg. their hybrid car or their environmental project) on the action cards. Players can play it for free. The coolest thing, though, is that the corporate sponsors commit to pay 1 cent for every victory point of the online players to charity projects. The players can pick the respective charity project to be donated to on a online charity platform. Thus, the player invests time instead of money to realize a donation. The player donates and companies pay his donation.

This way, even kids, or people with little financial resources can donate by playing. And the more a player plays, the more he can donate. This model links people’s genuine motivation to donate with companies’ big financial resources.
“Donate by playing instead of paying!”

How do you monetise? What is the business model?

Companies pay for the In-Game Advertising. Since these ads are actually content of the actions cards, they don’t distract but enhance the game play.

Furthermore, players can share on their facebook wall a post telling their friends that they made a company donate to a charity project by playing MoRally. This gives companies further publicity, so for these share companies pay additionally.

Finally, some online players will love to play the classical physical board game with their friends, and hence order the board game.

Tell us about your team.

So far, I am all on my own. I created and tested the game (more than 100 times with more than 100 different people in 9 months) and also came up with the business model. However, I need a developer/CTO and a web designer to make the online project happen. Finally, support in marketing, finance, and legal matters is welcome, too!

What stage are you at with the business and what comes next?

I am negotiating with investors who might financially complement the sum that MoRally will be able to raise via crowdfunding. So far, it went very well with investors, I didn’t even have to formally apply to any investor. Some contacted me directly and some were connected to key partners of mine.
Furthermore, first cooperation partners have been found for the corporate customer acquisition (sustainability communication consultancies) and I am approaching charity platforms.

After winning 3rd Rank in Startup Weekend Enschede February 2012 (see Pitch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GZ7xmOPJUY4) and the prize for “The most innovative Business Idea” in Startup Weekend Berlin May 2012, MoRally was awarded the Social Impact Lab scholarship in June 2012 (see Pitch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ofxOACckeH0&feature=youtu.be). This means 4 months intensive coaching and co-working space for free. Furthermore, the social business incubator RallyPad (http://rallypad.org/eu/about/?lang=de) offered free co-working space to MoRally for several months, too.

The Fraunhofer Institute, the biggest applied Research Institute of Europe, is already official partner of MoRally. They help MoRally to contact companies in sustainability conferences, sustainability summer schools, or present the board game to a broader public at “Lange Nacht der Wissenschaft” at Leipzig on June 29th (http://www.wissenschaftsnacht-leipzig.de/Einrichtungen/fraunhofer-moez)

The business model itself is 95 % complete, only minor things are still unclear.

What is the main challenge you face?

It is not that easy to find the right co-founders. Apart from the necessary competencies, co-founders should be interested in gaming (and board games in particular), and in sustainability/education. I’d consider myself as a social entrepreneur who is balancing idealism and pragmatism. Many people are either social or entrepreneur, but few are social entrepreneurs in that sense.

Tell us an interesting fact about yourself.

My hobbies are pretty diverse and include playing chess, singing in choirs, climbing/mountaineering, and dancing Lindy Hop/Swing (20ies dance style).

Tell us a bit about the Berlin Startup Weekend experience and being a winner.

Well, I had the privilege to win twice. Both times, it started difficult. In Enschede/Netherlands, I could not get enough votes after my initial pitch, so according to the agenda I was supposed to work on other people’s project. However, I could convince a whole team around another business idea to follow my idea instead, including the other business idea owner. In the end we won 3rd rank, although we were a very small team and lacked developers and designers. This experience taught me in the nicest possible way, that entrepreneurship is creating opportunities that don’t seem to exist.

Similarly, in Berlin we were a super small three-man-team, lacking any designers. Furthermore, we competed against 19 other teams with 10 team members on average! However, we managed to find two designers to help us online to make some nice designs. Both of them, we hardly knew. They were friends of friends and their contribution was crucial for the prize “The most innovative Business Idea” that we won. Again, the odds were against us. If you don’t try, you won’t win! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GZ7xmOPJUY4

Find MoRally on

www.PlayMoRally.com or

juma.aljoujou@gmail.com

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In the old days you had a business idea and kept it secret until you were ready to release it to the world in a blaze of publicity. Before the product hit the streets you would have tried to protect your Intellectual Property (IP) to make it as hard as possible for others to copy.

This is all changing, particularly for high growth, low capital intensive, internet startups. The key here is speed to market and customer feedback, which you need as rapidly as possible. It’s all about getting that minimum viable product out there and receiving as much input as possible. The channel for this is often social media with traditional PR playing a supporting role.

We see the change at our networking events. A few years ago, entrepreneurs were reticent about sharing their early stage ideas in public. Now they feel confident about receiving reaction. It’s all part of the PR strategy.

We have also seen increased focus on UX.  Great product design creates significant barriers to entry. When this is coupled with early product release and great PR it is difficult for competitors to make up ground.

A great PR strategy runs alongside product development. The use of Twitter and Facebook creates a buzz about the developing proposition and helps the founders gauge reaction to product features. This avoids the situation where a technical team work in isolation for months only to discover that no-one wants what they are building.

We will be covering some of this topic at this weeks Dreamstake Academy session on Agile Marketing.

Dreamstake is an online accelerator for startups.  We combine data from Linkedin and Crunchbase with other startup related details to provide a startup launch platform. A key feature is advanced profile search which allows entrepreneurs to find resources from across the 6000 members. We also connect entrepreneurs at our regular events and in the workspaces we partner with The Workspace Group. We are also organising #startupprevolution across Europe on 14 July 2012 http://www.dreamstake.net/dreamstake-startup-revolution-july-14th-2012

Mailjet is another great Dreamstake startup that we would like to tell you about.

We interviewed Julien Tartarin, co-founder and Chief Technology Officer at Mailjet (mailjet.com, uk.mailjet.com)

This is what he told us;

Tell me a little bit about your background and why you founded Mailjet?

I am the co-founder and CTO of Mailjet, a cloud emailing platform. I have several years experience as a web developer, especially for ecommerce platforms. Mailjet is my first business as founder and to date, it has been a real success. At the end of 2010, I met Wilfried Durand in Nantes (France), our city of origin. We chatted over drinks and I had an idea in mind: mutualise email sending. Our competences are complementary: we promised each other to do something together. We pulled all-nighters and the product took shape. A bêta version was launched after Le Web 2010. The first version went live in February 2011.

What is Mailjet all about? What is your vision?

Mailjet is a Cloud-Based service. We send, track and deliver emails. Our service is easy to use and easy to integrate via SMTP or with our API. We focus on real time and deliverability. We’re an all-in-one solution: Mailjet sends all your emails, bulk and transactional.

Sending emails used to be easy, but during these last years, delivering the messages to the inbox has become very complicated. I realised this in my previous jobs, where I needed to configure and optimize email servers.

According to Return Path, more than 25% of legitimate email doesn’t reach the inbox. This can be disastrous: think about apps, online retailers, etc.

For developers, making sure that email is getting delivered represents a huge amount of work. However, they often need to focus on their product rather than on email delivery. I recognised this and therefore came up with the following idea: provide a very simple solution, ensuring that the message is successfully getting delivered to the recipient.

Our ultimate vision is to change the email industry by making it more accessible to everybody, not only to developers: even a rookie can create and send a newsletter with Mailjet.

How do you monetise? What is the business model?

Our business is built on a Freemium model: we provide a free plan where a user can send up to 6,000 emails per month.

The premium plans are payable on a monthly basis and this goes from £4.95 for 30,000 emails to £499.95 for 2.5 million emails (we have bespoke offers over 2.5 million emails). Because of all the other options that come with it, the functions of real-time analytics and tracking, the pricing is very competitive. Our service is more like a pay-as -you go contract, there are no long term commitments. We want people to use Mailjet because they love our service. We have therefore reached scalability on one side with “real” cloud and flexibility on the other side with our pricing model.

Because we are continuously looking for more flexibility, we are currently working on a model where the “credits” will be still bought on a monthly basis, but would remain valid for 60 days. Our philosophy is really to offer a fair service, which is flexible and provides the best value possible. We do not restrict or lock our clients into long term commitments.

It is also important to note that beyond the number of emails that the user can send, the paid plans allow clients to start building a reputation. After a certain volume, our clients benefit from a dedicated IP.

Tell me about your team

There’s me of course 🙂 But if Mailjet is doing so well it’s also because we’ve been able to set up a terrific team. Wilfried Durand was working for tuto.com but he loved the idea I had. I knew him from college. After I spoke to him about the idea, he did a bit of networking and convinced Thibaud Elzière, Founder of Fotolia, to join the project. Thibaud seed funded the venture, with the help of Quentin Nickmans. Quentin is now Mailjet’s CEO. Nicolas Chaunu, the Founder of tuto.com also joined as a strategic advisor.

Now Mailjet is made up of 18 collaborators, all very talented, successful and with plenty of great ideas. I believe that we are building the perfect team.

What stage are you at with the business and what comes next?

After only one year, we are now expanding globally. Naturally, our business has no geographical boundaries as we are in the “cloud” but we want to remain close to the customers and locally implanted. Now we have country managers in Spain, Germany, UK and two guys in North America to respond to the demand in these key markets for us. This is why we don’t only make our platform accessible in different languages: we also want to have a local implantation.

What is the main challenge you face?

Mailjet is still a young company and is expanding rapidly. Our biggest challenge at the moment is to manage the high growth of the business. It is definitely a good challenge to face but it is a critical point for our development, which will help us to achieve our vision in the emailing business.

Our team is also working on a number of interesting features that will drive even more growth. We are really looking forward to releasing the new functionalities.

Tell us an interesting fact about yourself.

If there was a dream place on earth for me, it would be Iceland. It is a beautiful and peaceful country. There is so much to visit like volcanos, glaciers, the Grand Circle and it is impossible to get bored. A road trip is definitely the best way to visit Iceland and meet its people.

Dreamstake is an online accelerator for startups.  We combine data from Linkedin and Crunchbase with other startup related details to provide a startup launch platform. A key feature is advanced profile search which allows entrepreneurs to find resources from across the 6000 members. We also connect entrepreneurs at our regular events and in the workspaces we partner with The Workspace Group. We are also organising #startupprevolution across Europe on 14 July 2012 http://www.dreamstake.net/dreamstake-startup-revolution-july-14th-2012

There are lots of good reasons to create a great tech startup right now. It is has never been easier from a financial perspective. The cost of technology has gone down and social media has slashed the marketing budget. The economic climate has cut out many of the other attractive options. Plus it is both exciting and fulfilling.

However, a lot of people just don’t know where to start. So I thought I would write down 12 simple rules to help those looking to become tech founders;

1) Learn from the experts

The theory of creating successful startups is well documented and although it is far from a science there are many obvious things that you can learn to increase your success chances. Attend networking events and workshops and meet entrepreneurs as often as possible. Read books about startups and learn from people who have done it before. Attend Dreamstake Academy if you happen to be in London.

2) Evaluate the risk before you start

Don’t kid yourself that it won’t be risky. It is much more a question of whether you are prepared to take that risk and how to minimise the effect. Taking on board that you will have lose the material things in life for a few years is a good idea. You may have to sell the car, re-mortgage the house and live in poverty for a while. Make sure you are prepared for this.

3) Focus on the vision not the idea

Visions stay, ideas change! Find something you want to change in the world. Make it easier for people to travel, find a home, deal with their finances. Solve real problems or open up real opportunities. Think big. Tell people about your vision at networking events and online. If people buy-in it is a sign you are on the right track. Don’t obsess about the solution at this stage. It’s going to change anyway. Share your vision with other Dreamstake members

4) Start building your team from the outset

Your team is going to be your secret to success. It is never too early to start looking. If you don’t have funding your team will be the people who most buy into your vision and will help you to achieve it. Network like crazy and tell people what you are planning. Don’t expect anyone to buy-in immediately. Would you work for someone that you have just met for little or no money? Get to know your potential team members over a few months. Let them help you shape your ideas. Use the team finding functions on Dreamstake to find your Dream team. It works!

5) Use professional advisors

There is plenty of free advice available for startup entrepreneurs. Talk to both an accountant and a lawyer about your startup plans. They will give you the basics on setting up your company in the right way and ensure that your don’t fall into any major pitfalls. The professional advisors on the dreamstake platform have been selected because they are prepared to give a lot back to the entrepreneurial community.

6) Be prepared to work like never before

Being an entrepreneur isn’t glamourous. It is hard work. Success is directly relational to the amount of effort you put. It is both mentally and physically exhausting. At times, the only thing that will keep you going is the pursuit of your vision and the desire to make a difference.

7) Build the best possible team

The quality of the team is the key to success. It is good to realise this from day one.  A strong team will enable you to develop ideas quicker, build prototypes and attract investment more readily. Identify your gaps from day one. Even if you are multi-talented don’t contemplate going it alone. Investors don’t like single founder firms. If you are a business person, find a great technical co-founder. If you are technical look for business or marketing support. Find them on Dreamstake.

8) Bootstrap

Don’t get a fancy office. Work from a co-working space. It’s cheap and you will get lots of free advice from other occupants. Cut costs wherever you can. Don’t recruit staff until you really need to. Make sure that your co-founders are happy to work for little or no reward until you receive funding or generate revenues. Don’t pay large amounts to attend events. Many are free or low cost.

9) Watch out for charlatans

The startup world is full of people selling snake oil. Beware of easy solutions to getting funding. It is a difficult process. Do not pay to pitch. Do not pay large upfront fees to financial advisors, angel networks or anyone offering help with funding. Check people out. Most people offering investment dont not have money. They will simply charge to help you find it. Use linkedin to check credentials and then double check with others in your network

10) Enter contests, join accelerators

Entering contests raises your profile and gets you PR. If you are fortunate to win you can often get enough cash to seed your business. Accelerators and other online platforms can also be extremely useful. Some give quick effective access to mentors and investors and speed up your time to get your product launched. Join the dreamstake online accelerator, its totally free.

11) Start marketing from day one

A common mistake is to think of your idea as unique and hide it from the world. It is not unique and you will only find this out when too late unless you share it as widely as possible. You need market feedback from day one. You need to know you are on the right track and get buy-in from potential team members and future clients. You need to test whether there is demand for what you are creating and that people will pay for it.

12) Network like crazy

Your network is probably the single most important thing in the early stages of entrepreneurialism. Before you jump into creating your startup, test ideas with others, get feedback and judge whether people are prepared to join you in your quest. If they are not it maybe that you are on the wrong track and need to change your proposition or that you are not pitching it right. Either way the feedback is invaluable. Join dreamstake, its a network for tech entrepreneurs

I hope that these tips are useful. They are aimed at first time early stage entrepreneurs. The key message is to make sure you are at a stage in your life where you can manage the risk and give it a go. It will be an exciting roller coaster ride like  no other but the rewards can be extremely high both financially and in terms of fulfilment.

Dreamstake is an online accelerator for startups.  We combine data from Linkedin and Crunchbase with other startup related details to provide a startup launch platform. A key feature is advanced profile search which allows entrepreneurs to find resources from across the 6000 members. We also connect entrepreneurs at our regular events and in the workspaces we partner with The Workspace Group. We are also organising #startupprevolution across Europe on 14 July 2012 http://www.dreamstake.net/dreamstake-startup-revolution-july-14th-2012