Beta-i, together with 4 other Portuguese startups, was nominated for best European accelerator at The Europas, the European awards which highlight the best startups in Europe, in partnership with Techcrunch.
We couldn’t have felt more proud for being part of this list, along with some amazing Portuguese born startups such as Unbabel, Seedrs, Chic by Choice and Farfetch.
While Beta-i was nominated for our acceleration programs, such as Lisbon Challenge (we now have open applications for the Fall edition), the other Portuguese nominees go for different categories.
Chic by Choice and Farfetch are both short-listed for best startup in fashion, while Unbabel was considered for the growth category, and Seedrs for best European startup.
And guess what? You can now vote for the winners online. Just click here and give your votes to these Portuguese adventurers, who made our startup ecosystem shine across the globe.
The Europas, will be held in London, on the 16th of June.
And remember that if you want to be part of one of the best startup accelerators in Europe, apply now to Lisbon Challenge and be in Lisbon right on time for the Web Summit. Applications for the Fall edition are closing soon.
The Lisbon Investment Summit 2016 is getting closer and to tell you the truth, with so much that’s going on, so many awesome speakers who are coming to Lisbon, I can’t really tell who from our team invited Sumon Sadhu, top investor and founder of Muse.ai, to speak at #LIS16. I just remember sitting in the office the other day while Isabel Salgueiro and Inès Dartiguenave from Beta-i were telling me that I had to interview him because he had a very interesting investment philosophy as he only believed in working on things that will make a deep and meaningful impact on the world – often going against permission.
That short description was more than enough to get me excited about this interview. So, I took this suggestion and had a 40 min chat with Sumon where I pretty much just listened and felt like Jon Snow (I really knew nothing about artificial intelligence, big data or how to extend humanity’s lifespan). Sumon really has an exciting story full of minor funny details that make you wonder if anything in life is often due to chance.
The man who moved from a promising career in science in the UK to be an entrepreneur in Silicon Valley, because Paul Graham from Y Combinator misunderstood his business idea, has really a lot to tell. But, I’ll let him explain it through his own words in the interview below.
Why did you become an entrepreneur?
Because it was the only thing that allowed me to express my ambition. So, I was originally a scientist, and one of the things when you have an ambition and you’re a scientist trained in biochemistry, you normally want to publish a paper or cure a disease. And that’s a very noble goal, but the reality of being a scientist is that even though you have big ideas and big aspirations, which keeps attracting people to science, is that the end result doesn’t come with the same freedom as if you’re an entrepreneur. If you’re an entrepreneur you can imagine something that you want to do or something that you want to change, and there is no one but yourself to stop you from really doing it. So, being an entrepreneur comes down to taking things that you imagine and bring them to the world, without asking for permission.
How was it like having your first startup, Snaptalent, and going through Y Combinator?
At Snaptalent we were essentially students at Imperial College London and we observed the way that the world worked had sort of changed in terms of behaviour of young people online. And when Snaptalent came about, Paul Graham from Y Combinator reached out over the summer and the email he sent me essentially changed my life because it created a new opportunity. The idea we applied to Y Combinator with was very different from the idea that we did Y Combinator with. So Snaptalent was prompted by a conversation we had in East London. Paul Graham likes to reason about ideas and he misinterpreted something that we were saying. He ended up saying: “What if you guys built the adsense for jobs?”. So, we then explored that and built a prototype and brought that idea to market. Moving from the UK to having a fully funded company in Silicon Valley gave us the permission to do something – Paul Graham kind of gave us the permission and legitimacy to believe in yourselves and go after this. I dropped out of my Phd and we built Snaptalent through the duration of Y Combinator and started advertising. We made 30k during this period and we ended up raising 1.5 million dollars after YC. But it was a remarkable transition of us not believing in our ability in Europe and then being told like ‘you guys should do this and I give you permission’. For me this is the interesting relationship of permission with being able do something.
You ended up shutting down Snaptalent. What were the main lessons learned?
Well, first, it’s really important for you to understand your co-founders in crisis, as well as in success, because people’s response in crisis is often different from their response in success. So, that’s the first thing. For us as a team when the chips were really hard we wanted to go in different directions. Another lesson is around market timing. Some things cannot be changed and market timing is one of those things. You can’t build a product that it’s too ahead of its market. There’s just too much friction to bringing something like that to existence. For example, building Snaptalent in 2016 would be very different to building it in 2008. In 2016 most of the impressions on the web can be purchased on an auction basis, there’s also increasing amounts of data about users. And so the funny story with Snaptalent is that in 2013 I became an advisor to a company called Worked For, which is now the top recruitment solution based out of France, and they were literally saying ‘we learned about what you did with Snaptalent and we want to bring this back into the market’. So, market timing is absolutely critical and it’s just one of those things you cannot change as an entrepreneur.
What about Quid? How did you end up joining them?
It was right after Snaptalent. I had actually been advising the guys from Quid because we were friends from Oxford University. That’s the big thing about my career, it has been very held to relationships. Bob Gudson, the founder of Quid, was actually the first person from the student entrepreneurship societies we created in the UK, to move to the Valley. He was head hunted by Max Levchin, the founder of Paypal, to join his incubator, which had companies like Yelp or Slide. I had known Bob for while, we were friends and we would help each other out with our ventures, so when we had to shut down Snaptalent I asked Bob if I could help out with Quid. I also needed to get a new Visa because in the US your Visa is tied to your company, so if your company runs out of business you have to go back to your country. So, at the time, the important thing for me was to stick around in the US and for that I needed to join another company. I told this to Bob, ‘listen, can you hold onto my registration and I’ll help you with what you’re working on?’. But obviously I also had something pretty significant for me to contribute in the development of Quid because of what I knew in terms of my background in science. Back at Imperial I was studying the evolution of the malaria parasites and the way you do that is you look at data for each of the different stages of the malaria parasite infection and the key part of looking at this data was looking at networks of information. So, with Quid I understood how to analyse networks from my scientific background and I also knew about how to analyse venture. And as it turns out Quid was trying to put those things together. I was in a unique position to help in tuning algorithms and figure out how users could use these insights and bring it to market.
What essentially is Quid? How does it analyse all those amounts of data?
So, the human brain is really good at understanding connections. For example, if we were to map the startups in Lisbon some of them would be fashion startups, others would be softwares for developers or computer vision companies, and so the way the brain works is it groups information together in clusters and then is able to visualise the arrangement between them. So, if I gave you a thousand pages printed out about the Lisbon companies you would manually read each one of them and you would then group together those who were very similar into piles and you would end up with sort of maps. And Quid just automates that. Quid reads information and then groups it into a map, that allows you to understand the connections between that information. If you want to read all the news about the Portuguese economy and you have a 2 day deadline for a talk you’re doing, you could have Quid do that for you and then present back the mapping of all that information for you. Quid automates the reading and the summarisation around any topic, and that automates the way humans do research.
Right now you’re starting a new company based in Lisbon and San Francisco. Can you tell us more about Muse.ai?
Yeah, sure. The company is called Muse.ai and it focusses on the problem of video. There is an increasing amount of video content on the internet and artificial intelligence can help you understand the content inside a video, like you can understand speech, vision, objects, motion, sound. So, artificial intelligence has reached the point where we can comprehend video to a similar level of comprehension of the human brain. At Muse, we’re building new ways of discovering video content by leveraging artificial intelligence. At the moment we’re focussing how to to analyse video and then later we’ll also see how to create new experiences around that. In the future you’ll be sitting in front of your TV watching a football game and you’ll say ‘show me all the goals by Messi’ and the TV will just take you straight to those highlights, through voice powered video search. And there’s always opportunities to create around how people can interact with video content.
Why build a startup in Lisbon?
My co-founder, António Roldão, is a friend of mine from Imperial College and he’s Portuguese. So, we decided to build an AI Lab in Lisbon because Lisbon has two main advantages. The first one is that the Portuguese are really good problem solvers, they are very pragmatic, and they’re open to exploration. And I think that another characteristic of the Portuguese is that they’re very honest and when you solve very hard engineering problems you need to be honest. The second advantage is that we noticed that there’s a real hunger to do something big, mainly because there’s been hard economic times but in general there’s a real optimism in doing something great. And I guess it’s also a matter of location. It’s the combination of weather, and food, and people.
And as an investor, in which industries are you particularly interested in?
I invest in a very mission oriented fashion. I’m genuinely interested 4 main types of advancement for humanity as a whole. We live in a really complex world so, can we build tools that augment our intelligence? The intersection of artificial intelligence, big data, as well as systems to sort of visualise information and be close to the human brain, like extend its capabilities, are absolutely fascinating. So, that’s the first focus. The second focus is on life extension. You know, I’m a biochemist so I have a fascination for how our bodies work and how that impacts our well-being. There are many ways in which we can build systems to extend our lifespan or sort of improve our well-being, and if we can do that we can spend more time on this planet doing better things. I’m really interested in novel mechanisms to prevent disease and ways in which we can change environmental stimulus to prevent disease in the first place. For example, what you eat has an impact on your overall lifespan and so that’s the reason for my investment in Zesty, which has gone to raise 17 million dollars. They changed what people eat at work, which is a place where people spend a lot of time. So, when you do that at scale it’s actually impacting the nutrition habits of people and that has a direct impact in their lifespan. But there are also ways of doing that indirectly. For example, I’m an investor in a company called Benchling, backed by Andreessen and Horowitz. Benchling is an extraordinary company that everyone should know about. It makes life science more efficient and it’s being used by some of the world’s top scientists as well as pharmaceutical companies. Like, there’s a great technology called Crispa, and it’s a gene editing technology so, it’s like if you wanted to turn the genes of a bird and convert it into a dinosaur. And this allows us to manipulate the genome, it can be used for a lot of negative things but also for quite positive therapeutical effects. This gene editing technology requires a lot of skill to come up with the right ways of manipulating the genome and so Benchling software helps scientists design experiments with this Crispa technology in a really efficient way. And that is really transforming the way some companies do genetic engineering as well as manage their life science experiments. I mean if you can accelerate science you can then lead to the creation of new technologies that extend the human lifespan, because it has an extraordinary net effect.
The third main theme is companies that are able to improve or accelerate digital economies. A couple of examples in that area is my investment in ClearTax, which is optimising tax return in India. Like something really great happens when you digitise the transactions that are going through an economy, it becomes more efficient. Most recently I got involved with a company called Bonsai, from Y Combinator, and Bonsai created a software to allow anyone to work anywhere in the world. So, if you’re an american company and you want to hire a Portuguese freelancer and you don’t have a Portuguese entity, you can hire them. You can hire freelancers from any part of the world. So, in the same way Transferwise makes currency conversion easier between countries, they do the same thing for labour. I’m really just interested in things that can change economies, because if you transform an economy you can create jobs and efficiencies that didn’t exist before, and as a consequence that has a net impact for humanity.
The fourth big theme is that I love companies that are building national empires. An example of a national empire is like Alibaba, a giant company that made the Chinese economy more efficient, attract the best talent in China, and then was able to create such a powerful company that they were able to go global. These national empires are companies who have grown so big within their original market that when they go global they just scare others, because they’re so big. So my goal has always been to invest in the next Alibaba. My investments in Mobius Motors in Africa, in Clear Tax in India and Chaldal in Bangladesh, are for this reason, because these companies have a chance of building a monopoly. They’re just extraordinary companies at scale.
What are your main contributions as an early stage investor? What can entrepreneurs expect from you?
Well, I actually have a methodology. I work with entrepreneurs who are in phase 0, which is typically the first 1000 decisions that a company has to make. So, within these first 1000 thousand decisions are some of the most valuable contributions you can make. The first thing is choosing an idea and making sure market timing is correct, to get the entrepreneur straight on. They also need to be the right type of entrepreneur in terms of psychological profile. They have to be irrationally ambitious and want to pursue something with deep intensity, they have to be very talented, and feel like they could walk through walls. They need to focus and be precise when they chase the opportunity,a and that’s the first thing I help with. The second thing is getting that narrative straight to help them fundraise, and typically I would join those rounds but they need to convince other investors that they’re capable of pursuing the mission they’ve articulated. And the third thing I provide value with, is that being an ambitious entrepreneur is actually a psychological game, you have to keep your head straight. You need to have courage but also be encouraged. For example, I’m a very ambitious person so I like to surround myself with ambitious people so, naturally there’s an affinity between these ambitious people, the excitement and they’re sort of motivated in high times and low times. They can always call me for that psychological council. I have all my entrepreneurs on whatsapp. If they ever need anything like an email introduction, or advice on strategy I’ll always there to help and they we all go back to work. And then the fourth thing is that I’m really good at strategy and sort of understanding how a market may unfold, like what’s the chess game you have to play to get to the end goal. My main goal in general is to help entrepreneurs understand if they’re heading in the right direction and if they’re not feeling good about their work I try to help see how I can make them feel better. And because I’m an entrepreneur myself I can be very tactical but also pragmatic. For example, looking at product and understanding if the flow is intuitive or not, or editing a pitch-deck and telling them how the narrative should be better. And once you make these things right then the entrepreneur takes over and is ready to go out. So, it’s making things that are imperfect perfect.
If there’s one thing that I’m passionate about is marketing. Telling great stories and creating real relationships with people, is really the reason why I get out of bed every morning (after a couple of snoozes I must admit, I’m just not a morning person). So, when I found out that David Alston, who was considered by Forbes as one of the top CMOs in social media and founder of Radian6 (acquired by Salesforce), was giving a Masterclass on Marketing at Beta-i , it immediately grabbed my attention.
I spoke to David last week about all of this. About his unique definition of marketing, of how social media can change the way we interact with customers and help us create real relationships, of how content marketing is becoming a glory of the past and what a marketer can do to turn it around, and many other interesting topics.
If you’re as passionate about marketing for startups as I am or if you want to learn how to attract customers and grow your startup, check out these tips and advice from David Alston below.
Redefining the concept of marketing
When David first told us the main highlights of his Masterclass, he was very clear: “This Masterclass will re-define the way most people look at marketing”. This really got me thinking…
So, what is marketing after all? Well, according to David, “marketing is a bit of a journey, where you’ll learn as you go”. The whole point here is to learn from the people who are as passionate about your space as you are.
“Marketing, as I see it, is not ‘what do we want to tell everyone’, but what do we want to learn from the people we’re reaching and how we can create solid relationships with these people”. And when David generically says ‘people’ he’s not just talking about customers, but also advocates of your product and influencers in your industry that can help you grow your business faster.
However, even though most startups acknowledge the fact that social media and marketing is important, they end up not focussing too much on it. But, according to David, that’s a big mistake right there that can really be a deal breaker. “To me, marketing is the company, not the technology, because if you have a technology but no customers, you don’t have a company, you have an invention.” In other words, think twice when it comes to your marketing strategy.
Do your research and start talking
However, even though all of this looks good in theory, how do you get it started? How do you create these relationships? As it turns out, social media plays a huge role here.
Truth is, social media has definitely changed the way we interact with people and nowadays it’s much easier to find those who may truly care about what your product. “Many times people are sharing what they’re interested in, what they’re liking, retweeting, thinking about, commenting on… So, with a reasonable search, you can find a list of people that are interesting for you”, said David.
But, social media is not just a promotional channel, it’s probably the most interesting channel for customer development. When David built his own startup, Radian6, a social media monitoring platform that was later acquired by SalesForce, social media and listening to what people were saying, was baked in the culture of the company, at the executive level. So, while most startups look at social media and marketing like if it was an administrative task, Radian6 had all the founders, like the CEO, the Head of Product, the CMO, constantly interacting with people online.
“To me, social media, is an extension of the real world, you don’t separate the two – it’s a communication feedback channel, not just a promotional channel.” Therefore, social media plays a big role in the early days of any startup because, as David puts it: “in the really early days you don’t know if your product is gonna hit that nail on the head, you think you do, but you don’t, and the whole idea is that you need to get it out there in front of as many people as possible, to get their feedback.”
How to create real relationships with customers and influencers
In order for all of this to work, David kept on insisting on this thought: “think of customers like people and think of marketing like creating relationships”. You need to show people that you’re interested, that you care.
Be relevant, by creating interesting content and building things that matter to your audience, be personal, by creating a context that’s specific to that person in particular, and grab people’s attention, by telling them how you’re gonna help them right now.
And for this particular point, David gave me a simple example. “I get thousands of emails and it takes me like a quarter of a second to find out if it’s some generic message or a bunch of junk and then I instantly delete it. It’s the ones that actually care enough about what I’m up to and bother to check it out that get my attention, those who give me a reason to care. It’s someone that took the time to do some research and put some personality into the email.”
In other words, you’re better off sending 10 quality emails that you’ve properly researched and customized, instead of some junk general email to hundreds or thousands of people.
Next big thing on marketing after content?
Everyone is talking about content marketing, everyone is doing content marketing, everyone is preaching content marketing. Why? Because for the past few years content marketing really worked. However, now that everybody else is doing it, content is not as efficient as before. When David started Radian6, 8 years ago, content marketing was still not a thing and they placed most of their bets on it. But as David puts it: “just because you blog about a bunch of stuff doesn’t mean you’re gonna get tons of traffic. Sure, it helps with the google juice in terms of SEO, but it has to resonate with your audience or the google juice won’t work either.” People still need to find it, read it, like it, share it…
So, at this point, that content is not providing the wanted results, what comes next? According to David, “there’s no one hit wonder on this thing. It’s not a matter of following the book, like, ‘oh if I do these 5 things it’s all gonna work’. It doesn’t work this way, anymore.” The trick is “to find your unfair competitive advantage, leverage on your assets because that’s something your competitors can’t do.”
In the end, it all comes down to passions and relationships, to learning and adapting, to hustling and pursuing. There are no silver bullets, it’s pure hard work, and it all depends on the business you’re building.
Would you like to meet Elon Musk, Stewart Butterfield or Marc Andreessen in Lisbon this year? Yes? Well, this could really happen since the Web Summit will be in Lisbon this year…
We know that building a startup takes focus, commitment and hard-work. But, it’s also about talking to people and creating relationships. From customers to investors, from partners to other entrepreneurs such as yourself…
You need to meet the right people. And that’s why you should come to Lisbon this year, right on time for the Web Summit 2016 this November.
In fact, we have just opened applications for the Fall Edition of our accelerator, Lisbon Challenge. Meaning, you would be in Lisbon from September to December.
Would you be interested in applying to one of Europe’s most dynamic accelerators?
Here’s what you should keep in mind:
- Alumni network of +200 startups
- Our startups have raised +50 million euros
- A network of +200 mentors you can reach out to
- Free office space in the centre of Lisbon
- Tailor-made workshops on the key challenges your startup is facing
- 150k in perks and no equity taken
Apply here until the 10th of June and grow startup in Lisbon.
What have people been saying about Lisbon Challenge?
“Lisbon Challenge can be the European Y Combinator”
Michael Seibel, Part-time Partner at Y Combinator
“The greatest thing about Lisbon Challenge is that it creates a cluster of entrepreneurs that are all going through the same journey. This means you get fantastic scalability and they learn a lot with each other. It’s also good for investors to meet several companies in one place.”
Mike Butcher, Editor at TechCrunch
“We were in the very first batch of Lisbon Challenge. At the time, we had just launched our student accommodation platform and it was the perfect time for us to get all the feedback from mentors and occasional speakers that Lisbon Challenge brought to us. Lisbon Challenge and Beta-i really helped us kick-start our business.”
Miguel Amaro, Founder of Uniplaces
“Popcorn Metrics was born during the Lisbon Challenge. During the program we were able to get our whole team working together in a super focused environment which enabled us to quickly get the insights to make a massive “zoom in pivot” and focus on building our current product to enable marketers to set-up their Marketing Analytics Stack without depending on IT. We built a hugely valuable network of mentors, investors and other cofounders – a network that still gives great value today. As a bonus from Lisbon Challenge, we also spring-boarded from Lisbon Challenge into London based Seedcamp (the largest seed investment program in Europe).”
Paul Boyce, Founder of Popcorn Metrics
Apply here and join us in Lisbon for the next edition.
Smart Open Lisboa is here! The new startup program that will revolutionise Lisbon’s city life by challenging startups to solve some of the city’s most interesting issues with open data, was just launched.
Yesterday, at Beta-i, we had the kick-off session to finally introduce this open data program to the world. Thanks to all the partners of this project, the Municipality of Lisbon, PT, Cisco, Turismo de Portugal and Startup Lisboa, startups will have access to all the relevant open data to build solutions for real problems within the city of Lisbon.
We’re officially turning Lisbon into a living lab. Find out more about the program in our recently released website and make sure you follow Smart Open Lisbon on Facebook and Twitter to get the latest updates.
In the meantime, check out some of the photos of the kick-off session below: