A bit about ISTA 2016, the killer of Slack and Blockchain

ista crosslend

This November I came back on stage at the ISTA conference 2016. The 2 day event gathered quite a crowd of geeks from the software industry and in particular from Bulgaria. Hosted in the top notch Sofia Event Center and with a great view to the Vitosha Mountain, the event allowed me to dust out after such a long break. In about an hour I walked with the audience through the evolving online consumer behaviour, and how the internet and ecommerce proliferation have opened the door for a whole new myriad of financial services innovations. That eventually brought me to cryptocurrencies, p2p lending and ultimately securitisation services through CrossLend. What struck me is that the hardcore financial language didn’t scare off the audience. I was actually a bit afraid that my topic might be too softy, yet the insights of how we run our IT operations rounded the talk and instigated plenty of questions from the audience. So all in all, a great event, amazing people and in support of a noble cause.

Another thing that I cannot not resist to mention is the lack of excitement in the media about the advance of a Slack killer from Microsoft. And from Facebook. And… no more big players, for now. So the rumours were true. Microsoft released its Teams product and bets it could beat Slack in their own game. Instead of buying Slack, MS goes for its own product for a second time in recent years. And it certainly has a scalable channel to get a sizeable chunk of the collaboration market. Same time there is the not so old mishap in the recent history of the company and namely building an awesome mobile OS, appealing mobile devices and still not succeeding to beat its equally powerful competitors. What failed MS was the lack of apps. What may fail them again is … the lack of apps (Slack has 750 of them). Yet, the main differentiator seems to be video calls capability. Well, yes, you may say we cannot compare Slack with Microsoft due to their vast difference in size. But keep in mind that Facebook has also launched Workplace and has won over 1 000 business clients. This is gonna be a heated one. Agree?

And finally, a bit about Blockchain.  It is officially my new darling to explore and you will probably get fed up with me writing about it again and again. Just saying 🙂

Quick update: Taking on a new challenge in the fintech industry

It has been exciting 2 years at the helm of my startup incubator Stark Founders. Without doubt this has been the most rewarding but also dynamic part of my life. Must admit my previous 3 year tenure at Rocket Internet has prepared me well for this rollercoaster as some of you might know. 🙂

Looking back, I have extended my understanding of technology and business ecosystems, venture capital, business modeling and marketing with focus on B2B/B2C cloud based products, IoT and nearshoring outsourcing. I can say for sure that what I loved the most were the entrepreneurial minded tireless people I met on the way.

Several companies later (including one exit), it was time for a change. Me being me – why not experience a whole new industry? Since few months I am part of the amazing CrossLend team sitting in the futuristic Sony Center at the heart of entrepreneurial Berlin.

So what do we do?

Undoubtedly money is the rocket fuel for business growth. Lending in the form of SME, mortgage or consumer loans is an essential vehicle to maintain consumption of goods and services. CrossLend provides a solution to redefine the lending economy as we know it for both consumers and business. With its unique securitization service it allows to convert loans into bonds and thus gives investors access to asset classes unavailable before while enabling financial institutions to grant more loans.

Unequivocally identified as a truly innovative company, I am really happy to be leading the digital effort at CrossLend. And for those who want to join our amazing technology team feel free to apply through our careers site. We are looking to grow our team of product managers and engineers with financial services background.

VCs spend an average of 3 mins, 44 secs on a pitch deck. What is the perfect deck then?

dollar-1164990_640DocSend recently published their findings from a research on the pitch decks of 200 companies raising funds. The companies raised a total of $360m so I believe this research could be treated as pretty representative.

Respected companies like Sequoia have long published their dream pitch deck.  Yet, DocSend has brought a bunch on insights that should be considered.

Here are the most important take aways in brief:

  • Seed raise takes 3 months on average.
  • Seed firms provide higher rounds with fewer meets than angels.
  • More meetings does not mean more money. 20-30 meetings should be enough.
  • Average time an investor spends on your deck is close to but under 4 minutes.
  • The perfect deck should be 20 pages or less.
  • Your deck should be mobile friendly, 1 out 8 investors views it on mobile.
  • The Sequoia suggested model seems to be ubiquitous in the industry as there were almost no big deviations on the slides required and their order. Check slide 7 for more info.
  • Investors spend most time on Financials, Team and Competition slides. If your financials are not ready yet, better do not include as they will be seriously scrutinized.
  • Do not include your deal terms in the deck.


Not yet another fluff leadership story. What a real leader looks like?

Being far from the idea to narrow down all qualities of a leader in this post, I am a firm believer that real leaders excel in leading by example. A recent story reminded me of that simple truth.

Rowan GormleyRowan Gormley, somebody who I was lucky to meet while studying at Cambridge, has just given up his £7 million share bonus. Not because of weak financial performance or other mishap. On the contrary, Rowan passes on his bonus to his employees if they meet their targets. Thus, incentivising them long-term with his company performance.

“I felt that the shares being allocated to me would mean a lot more to other people (..). And therefore would be a motivation, and therefore would increase the value of my own shares. It’s not an act of philanthropy. It’s an act of good commercial sense.”.

Simple but powerful example of win-win for a CEO and his team aligned with the company goal of turning around its fortunes. It also further strengthens the acceptance of Rowan on top of Majestic wine who is already highly regarded about his leadership qualities from his people.

This should not come as a surprise as he has undisputed in depth knowledge of building businesses and in the wine industry in particular. Rowan has had several high profile positions at Virgin working closely with Richard Branson. He ran Virgin Direct (now Virgin Money) and after leaving set up Orgasmic Wines. The firm became Virgin Wines in 2000 when Richard Branson bought into the business. Rowan left Virgin Wines in 2008 and set up Naked Wines. Last year Naked wines was acquired by Majestic Wine and Gormley was appointed CEO of the enlarged group.

The challenges as CEO are quite a thing – increasing revenue by 25% till 2019 while the British market is pretty much stagnating and facing established competition. And if that is not enough the weaker pound (thank you, Brexit) – which makes imports more expensive – could mean higher prices have to be passed on to customers in the future.

In any case, Godspeed, Rowan!

External sources:

How to build a business that lasts 100 years

Evernote is a company that wants to persevere through the years.  Whether it will achieve this is unclear, and we probably won’t be around to verify the outcome. Yet, it is not the first company with such a goal and even beyond.

Martin Reeves has made a spectacular appearance in Paris not long ago. He like many others has looked into the ways nature solves problems and connected his findings to building long-lasting businesses. I can surely give you his answer but strongly recommend to watch the video first. Believe it or not if you are a business owner you will probably watch it again.

The answer is taken from the human immune system and its core features: Redundancy, Diversity, Modularity, Adaptation, Prudence, Embeddedness. Ironically this is far from efficient but if nature has designed it efficient, we may not have survived our last flu. Plenty of food for thought and little need to chew the video for you. 🙂