In the time of social distancing, coworking might seem like an inconceivable idea, but at a closer look the coronavirus pandemic only reinforces the power of community and its role in connecting professionals to bounce off ideas.
Community is at the heart of the entire coworking concept, along with flexibility and the courage to try out new things. That’s exactly what Madeleine Gummer v. Mohl (a pioneering entrepreneur and one of our Top 50 most influential women in the startup scene) did back in 2009 when she opened up betahaus together with Christoph Fahle and Maximilian von der Ahe. What started as an experiment to create a more collaborative workplace in Berlin, became a great pan-European success and pioneered the idea of coworking on our continent.
We sat down with Madeleine, CEO of betahaus, to find out how her team navigates uncharted territories while exploring new ways of working in times of crisis, how she sees the future of coworking and get an EU-Startups exclusive on the next new betahaus hub the co-founders have in the pipeline. Read on and let yourself be inspired.
Hi Madeleine, it’s a huge pleasure to have you join us! With betahaus you’ve successfully shaped the European co-working space. We read about how you felt really knowing your co-workers was something missing from your previous jobs, and how that was part of your decision to start betahaus. Could you tell us more?
Thank you! It’s a pleasure.
When we started betahaus in 2009, we wanted to create something flexible and collaborative, a place where innovators and people who felt like misfits could break free from the traditional office environment and work differently. We later found out the idea was called “coworking”, but at the time we started it, it was all really just about creating a way of working and a future of work that we were excited about.
Coworking is all about community. What are, in your opinion, the top benefits of being part of a community at work?
We believe that many people want independence and autonomy in their work. The freedom to create. The flexibility to work whenever, with whomever, and from wherever they want. But with that can come a sense of isolation, and sometimes, limits on what one can realistically accomplish when working on their own.
What we have seen over the years is that the benefits of community at work are significant. It’s accountability and motivation for freelancers and entrepreneurs who would otherwise be working alone. Access to innovation and creativity for corporate teams. Collaboration and exchange of ideas amongst people from different backgrounds and areas of expertise who might never have met in a traditional office environment. Ideas born over a beer at one of our parties or lunchtime conversations that turn into full-blown startups. Not to mention having a community at work is actually fun. It gives you another reason to come in every day.
We have people coming back to betahaus all the time to tell us having access to a supportive network and community was a key factor in their success.
betahaus is now located in Berlin, Sofia, Barcelona, and Hamburg, with more spaces on the way. You also have a huge network of 150+ working spaces worldwide. Tell us more about how it is to manage this truly pan-European coworking and startup community and what makes these locations different from one another.
Some coworking spaces have a one-size-fits-all approach, but that’s never been our style. We want to grow and empower entrepreneurs in as many places as possible – especially in emerging markets – but we’ve intentionally avoided a top-down approach to opening new spaces.
We work side-by-side with local partners to design and operate the spaces to represent the communities that they work in. For that reason, our spaces in Berlin and our space in Tirana will have a completely different feel.
I think our growing partner network has been one of the coolest things to happen in the last few years. It’s given our community access to coworking networks and communities in cities around the world. It really supports our ideas of freedom in the workplace. You can now go to Bali or Mexico City and have a coworking space and community to slot into.
What new betahaus locations do you have in the pipeline? Our readers may be excited to expect a new hub coming to their city!
While we haven’t shared dates and locations just yet, you can be the first to know that we are planning to open a third and fourth location in Berlin!
You’ve been in this business since 2009. How has the coworking scene changed over the years?
There have been so many big changes since 2009! What was once a bootstrapped venture is now part of a billion-dollar industry.
There’s really no need to explain coworking to people anymore. It’s become a buzzword on the nightly news, in corporate boardrooms, in local governments and think tanks. We used to have to convince people of the benefits of coworking, and suddenly people just want to be a part of it.
But as this becomes a more lucrative industry, we’re also observing a shift in what coworking is. What we’re seeing is more real estate companies coming out as coworking spaces and offering amazing office facilities but no real community. There are spaces for every type of team in every part of the city. As the market gets more crowded, it becomes more important for coworking spaces to differentiate and focus on the things they do best.
You also founded BETAPITCH, a global startup competition, offering winners a trip to Silicon Valley, cash and 6 free months of coworking. It’s been running for 10 years now! What’s in store for the 2020 edition – is it still on, and how can startups get involved?
BETAPITCH has always been a project close to my heart. Whether in-person or virtual, it is definitely still happening in 2020! We have teamed up with some partners from the impact scene and will give this year’s edition a special focus on sustainable impact startups. This is very exciting because our first BETAPITCH back in 2010 also had a focus on impact!
We are now living extraordinary times with the Coronavirus outbreak. What’s happening to the betahaus coworking spaces and how are you dealing with the current unique challenges? Do you have any advice for startups on how to survive?
Like most businesses, our reality dramatically changed under Coronavirus. Our business is built around real, physical space and in-person interactions, so our first response was to take emergency measures to ensure the safety of our staff, members, and the neighbouring community.
With more time, we’ve been able to acclimate ourselves to this new way of working. We’re really investing in our online community and virtual events. And it’s been an opportunity to rethink how we work and experiment with new ideas and formats. No one has the playbook, so the stakes of making a mistake are much lower than they were before.
My advice to startups is to do your best to nurture your employees through this. A crisis is a time that requires collaboration and confidence more than ever. Be transparent. Ask what they need. Give them additional autonomy and freedom to experiment. Thank them and acknowledge them.
Besides coworking, betahaus is also hosting a lot of events. In the midst of this pandemic, most of them went virtual. Can you share with us a few tips on how you’ve successfully shifted from in-person to digital events?
This has been one of the biggest opportunities for us to throw ourselves into an experiment. Our events have had a virtual component for years, but this has given us the chance to plan virtual-first events.
Nearly any type of event can be made virtual, but of course the approach to planning and putting it on will be a bit different. Our innovation programme, betahausX, recently planned a 3-day conference and narrowed the success of a virtual event down to five factors: framing and decision engineering, adapting event activities to a format that works online, making sure that the people and technology behind the scenes are carefully planned, creating a holistic virtual experience for event guests, and setting a “virtual netiquette” or behavioural code so everyone knows what is expected of them.
Talking of events, betahaus is instrumental in organising hackathons. Will betahaus run any ‘coronavirus’ hackathons? And what are some of the coolest projects that have come out of your community’s hackathon weekends?
Yeah, there was one hackathon already! One of our former members “project together” with the help of the German Bundesregierung organised one of the largest ‘coronavirus’ hackathons called “WirVsVirus”. Many of our members supported as mentors or took part in the hackathon. This was a huge success – roughly 28,000 people participated and around 1,500 ideas came out of it.
Entrepreneurship is like a rollercoaster. How have you managed to stay motivated all these years through the ups and downs of startup life? How would you encourage more women to step into entrepreneurship?
I really enjoy the rollercoaster ride! It never gets boring! But yes, you have to manage to stay healthy and positive during the challenges, like this current one! Luckily, there are almost 50/50 boys and girls now entering betahaus as new members and there are many great programmes supporting especially women in the startup scene. I can highly recommend the FemGems podcast by Dora who is one of our community members.
Last, but not least, how do you see the future of coworking in Berlin and Europe-wide?
It’s a good question! Coworking is a fast-growing sector. Before the Coronavirus outbreak, it was projected that there would be an estimated 26,300 spaces and 2.7 million members worldwide by the end of 2020 (according to Deskmag’s 2019 Coworking Survey).
There are a few reasons why I think coworking spaces will have a more critical role once this is over.
The first is that people will be eager to get out of their homes and back to work. The second is that many businesses have felt the impacts of their fixed overhead costs. Teams will be looking for affordable and flexible spaces with the expectation that their business and teams will have to adapt in the coming years. And the final, most important reason is that coworking spaces have the unique role of community organiser in many entrepreneurial and startup networks. We’re positioned to offer critical guidance and community to businesses as they recover from the impacts of Coronavirus.
We’d like to think that this crisis could lead to the beginning of a new era, one that starts with the collective shock of a global pandemic, but ends up unlocking new potential to rethink how we engage one another, what we value, and how we want to live and work. We look forward to being part of that journey!
Swedish logistics tech startup Instabox has today announced launching in two new markets across Europe. Not bad considering the times that we are living in.
As the demand for online shopping continues to rise, it’s no surprise that merchants are increasingly expected to provide a fast and flexible delivery service to their customers. Coming to the rescue, the Instabox team has managed to successfully satisfy both consumer demands and retailers needs by offering a hassle-free, same-day delivery service through its smart parcel lockers.
Founded in 2015, in Stockholm, the company has been building its own systems and products from scratch, using modern technology to enable instant, 7-day-a-week smooth shipping service to more than six million Swedes. With the logistics industry rapidly digitizing, Instabox has gained momentum and recently secured a substantial funding round to further expand in their home country as well as internationally.
With all this in mind, we grabbed some time with the co-founder and CEO of Instabox, Alexis Priftis to deep dive into Instabox’s fast-growing innovative business idea and find out what differentiates them from their competition.
Hi Alexis, thank you for joining us and congratulations on launching in Norway and Denmark today! To begin with, could you briefly tell us what Instabox is and how you came up with this business idea?
Instabox is an e-commerce shipping service based on smart parcel lockers that combines low cost with great convenience and service for the consumers. We felt that a lot of the innovation in e-commerce shipping went into very high technical solutions (like drones for instance) that were not necessarily requested by the merchants or the consumers. Instead, we asked what people really wanted out of their delivery service. It turned out that they wanted cost-efficient, fast, care-free delivery, which is what we have created using smart parcel lockers.
Smart parcel lockers are becoming an increasingly popular solution nowadays. What main features does Instabox offer to its customers and consumers? How does your company differentiate itself from other last-mile delivery providers?
Smart parcel lockers are great for end-consumers but at the same time they can pose logistics challenges. They are great because it’s a smooth solution that can produce large cost savings, but they are very challenging because they are unforgiving for the provider – if we arrive with a parcel that is 1 mm too large, or 1 parcel too many, our delivery is going to fail and the user is going to have a bad experience.
What we have managed to do is to solve a lot of the problems associated with parcel lockers, for instance, we have a forecasting algorithm that calculates everything from how many parcels are going to arrive next Tuesday, to how big tomorrow’s parcels are going to be, to whether or not a single parcel will be picked up in the next couple of hours.
The result is that we can provide a better service at a lower cost. For example, we are able to promise an exact delivery time, like tonight at 20:15, already when you shop. We also transfer some of the cost savings to you as a user by investing in much faster deliveries, and also by investing a lot in customer service so that you can always reach us in 20 seconds when you need something.
What are the main advantages of smart parcel lockers compared to door-to-door shipment?
For the user, the main advantage is that you don’t have to plan your day around a parcel. Just do what you want – we’ll send you a text when your parcel is ready for pickup. No waiting, no hassle. We offer you flexibility and convenience in terms of time.
Then, of course, our service is much more friendly to the environment than home delivery. Imagine the difference if a car has to drive around to 50 addresses or if it just pulls up to our locker, makes the deliveries, and moves on.
Another advantage which might not be so obvious to the general user is that our service is less expensive to produce. This means that we can re-invest in added services such as same-day delivery or weekend deliveries, but also things like answering the phone immediately, or using fossil-free fuel instead of diesel.
Which sectors does Instabox currently serve?
We can handle parcels with maximum dimensions of 40x40x60 cm, which means basically all e-commerce categories except the obvious ones. Our best categories are beauty, pharma, fashion, and electronics. Overall, we have found that our best use case is for small parcels – it seems that the smaller the parcel is, the more likely a person is to prefer flexibility in terms of time rather than getting the parcel at the doorstep.
What are, in your opinion, the biggest challenges and opportunities facing the last mile sector?
I’m not sure, our core focus has always been and will continue to be centered around the needs of our consumers and our merchants. I think it is easy to lose track of yourself in industry predictions and large macro trends. We don’t do that, we just ask our users what they want from us and do everything we can to give it to them.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted your business? Can you share some tips on how your team is dealing with the current crisis?
In the early days of the crisis, there was frantic activity to figure out what would happen and how we could work through it. We have spent countless hours preparing for all kinds of eventualities, including making changes to our service like allowing users with symptoms to request a drop-off at home instead, new operative procedures around cleanliness and hygiene, preparing for different financial scenarios and much more. I’m proud of how we have managed the situation as a team.
Business, as usual, doesn’t require a lot of management time, but navigating through a crisis does. This is actually one of the huge advantages of a startup versus established players. We are built for innovating and adapting quickly. So this is really our home turf.
Having said that, business-wise we have mostly been impacted positively where customers now more than ever are demanding smart, sustainable, and safe parcel pickups with minimum human interaction, which has lead to an increase in sales, but at the same time, our production cost has increased as well as a consequence of very strict policies around sick leaves.
Personally, one of my biggest responsibilities is to keep our staff safe, and since we have drivers and other production staff who are not able to work from home as the office staff, this has been a key focus.
So far, we are on the good side of this one, but we are very humble and try to stay on our toes as the landscape shifts and changes.
You’ve recently locked down a new financing round of €36 million. Beyond the two new market launches today, what are your plans for international expansion?
The majority of the funding will be invested to expand further in our home market Sweden, but we are looking carefully at a couple of other European markets. Fundamentally, I believe that our service will be very attractive in other markets as well. Our strategy is to partner up with one or a couple of really strong merchants in the markets we enter so that we are able to ensure that enough people can use our service. This means that we prefer to find the right partner before deciding which market to enter next.
This time I had the opportunity to speak with David Cuartielles, co-founder of Arduino, an open-source electronics platform, which enables users to create interactive electronic objects. Arduino has grown into a company with over 100+ employees and has bases in Malmo, Budapest and Italy. On top of that, David is also a professor at the Malmo University, teaching interactive technologies at bachelor, master, and PhD levels.
A man of many hats, David has somehow managed to find time to be one of the minds behind Coronavirus Makers, a citizen-driven initiative, where people collaborate on a voluntary basis to solve the protective equipment shortage using 3D printing. Created by a group of Spanish makers on March 14, when the current crisis started to accelerate, it now has more than 18,000 members that have already produced a large quantity of material. Tens of thousands of protective gear items and face masks have been distributed to hospitals and other structures in need.
Hola David, it’s great to have you here. What’s your story? Have you always been a maker and a creator?
I have always been interested in hardware. Since I was a child I wanted to be an inventor. My dad was a technician and my room was built on his former “DIY room”. We shared a shelf he made where half of it was packed with his tools and manuals for different things he wanted to learn and maintain. I guess it was only natural I became a maker over time.
For those that don’t know already, could you explain what’s possible to do with Arduino? How has the original idea evolved?
For the non-technical person, Arduino is a platform made of software, hardware, and documentation, for people to learn about digital technology and create any kind of projects from controlling the temperature in a room using sensors and a fan, to making an autonomous drone.
Technically speaking, Arduino is an open stack (software) that can be used on top of any family of microcontrollers from any vendor. In this way you can, with the same software, run the same kind of function on different types of microcontroller boards.
The concept of Arduino has evolved over the years, when we started we only had one board and a software that worked only for that board. Currently we have 4 families of boards, some of them are specialized in complex subjects like IoT, while others are dedicated to education, etc.
So, what does it take to create an open-source movement?
It takes a lot of work, having a certain attitude, and keeping the conversation going. There are a lot of misunderstandings and therefore there are things that need to be talked through. Also, you have to listen to people and figure out how to come to a set of common goals and ideas. The development requires being structured and welcoming for new perspectives. It is a really hard job where people with different capabilities have to be represented.
You are working on so many interesting initiatives! What does your typical day look like? How do you combine your role as a teacher at the Malmö University with the other projects that you are involved with?
The university is very important to me. I meet people that range from the complete newbie in tech to the super expert. I am challenged all the time, which I like, and I have to be figuring out how to present things, how to talk about tech, how to present complex concepts, etc.
The company is a great way of reaching out to a lot more people. The work I do at the university translates into ideas for content, products, etc. that the company builds on and brings out to the whole world.
I prioritize my teaching, in terms of scheduling, and then I move into company meetings. I work from 10am to midnight everyday. But I don’t feel like it’s work, mainly because this is what I love to do.
One amazing thing happening in this complicated period is the makers’ community getting together, to help with the current medical shortage. You are one of the organizers of the Coronavirus Makers in Spain, could you explain a bit about that?
The CoronavirusMakers initiative is a community-driven effort to bring tools to those that need them. I am just volunteering with my knowledge and contacts to help that happen. It is the effort of thousands of people that make it possible. I am just one more.
3D printing is now suddenly reaching a whole new level of awareness. Do you think the work of the Coronavirus Makers community can continue even after the shortage of face masks, protective gears and ventilators, will be over?
There are already thoughts about how to move on. There is so much more to do and people are very driven by solidarity towards others. Right now we are reaching out to other countries to see how we can learn from each other’s experiences.
If someone reading this wants to get involved and help, how can they do that?
Simply visit world.coronavirusmakers.org … or join one of the Telegram channels, there are over 120!!
It all started in 2015 when Viktor Stensson and Mikael Eliasson were thinking of automating the traditional way of bookkeeping. Under their leadership, Bokio, the Gothenburg-born fintech behind an AI-driven accounting software for SMEs and self-employed has come a long way since then, facilitating accounting and offering an all-in-one solution to help people run their business smoothly.
The company has recently announced a €7.4 million investment (which comes on the back of its €4 million investment in Nov 2019) and has joined forces with competitor Red Flag, to create the leading accountancy and business administration platform for European SMEs and self-employed.
To learn more about Bokio’s impressive journey to disrupt one of the oldest industries and to get some tips on getting funding and staying afloat at a time of a financial crisis, we spoke with Viktor Stensson, CEO and co-founder of Bokio, who believes it is important to dare to do business also in turbulent times.
Hi Viktor, it’s a pleasure to have you here. To start off, could you brief us on the story of Bokio? What makes your approach to accounting unique?
Filing a tax return at the last minute is stressful. In fact, it was through finding ourselves in that very situation that inspired us to develop Bokio.
Bokio was founded in Sweden, in 2015, by myself and Mikael Eliasson, our CTO. It all started when I helped Mikael, a freelance engineer at the time, fulfil various accounting tasks he was struggling with. Together, we realised how intricate the tax filing system was, and saw a substantial opportunity to modernise the accounting industry by automating the bookkeeping process.
At Bokio, our primary focus is on helping people run their businesses smoothly by offering an all-in-one solution. Bokio has lots of great features for managing one’s own accounting, including bookkeeping, invoices, tracking expenses, and importing transactions with bank feeds, all of which are available for free. There’s no trial period, paywall, or hidden costs. Bokio is, and always will be, free for our customers to use. Meanwhile, Bokio’s premium add-on services are available to Swedish users at a competitive price, enabling them to receive round-the-clock support and/or be connected with a professional accountant.
You recently landed new investment. How will that help the company’s growth – any exciting upgrades on the way?
The money will help us to develop our product, and also scale the business internationally by offering next-generation automated and AI-driven services for business owners across the globe. We provide them with the most accessible and advanced software, to enable the successful running and expansion of their companies.
Could you tell us a bit more about the team behind the investment? What made them believe this was a golden opportunity?
The team behind the investment consists mainly of previous investors, who believe in our vision and the progress we’ve made so far. I am very pleased to have the continued support of our investors, and we’re delighted to welcome new ones on board to join us on our journey.
Why does the fintech industry need this new Bokio, merged with Red Flag?
Red Flag’s portfolio of business administration products completes our current offering, to make it easier and more efficient for all company owners and the self-employed to run their businesses. We are looking forward to joining forces with Red Flag, and combining our respective industry expertise to deliver the best possible service to our customers.
Bokio, like many startups, is using AI to drive its services. How do you see AI changing the accounting and business administration services in the next 5 years?
We are approaching an era in which users and customers will expect automation as a default, that includes bookkeeping and accounting, essentially because it makes the task more time-efficient and manageable. We will see AI disrupt even the biggest and oldest industries in the future.
Seeing as we are in the middle of a global crisis, do you have any tips for founders on raising at this time?
A lot of venture capital firms are trying to figure out how to boost their portfolio companies right now, and so I strongly recommend working primarily with your existing investors to secure funding. On another note, I believe investors are rewarding companies that can demonstrate that they can make a decent turnover, so my advice would be to focus on revenues right now since that actually is the best form of funding.
With the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the global economy being evident, fintech companies are becoming increasingly important. How do you see this trend evolving in the future?
If we look back to the financial crisis of 2008, it is evident that a number of large companies were able to arise from the ashes, in part, due to their versatile nature and ability to adapt. Examples include Slack, Venmo, Uber and WhatsApp, to name just a few. Companies that survive periods of financial turmoil are often in a great position to keep growing when the economy recovers.
Finally, you are based in Gothenburg. What is your opinion on the environment for creating a startup there?
It’s certainly an up and coming tech scene with more and more investors looking towards Gothenburg than in previous years. I think the city will soon be seen as home to one of the key startup scenes not only in Scandinavia but in Europe too.
Have you ever landed in a city for a few hours, and wished you could dump your bag somewhere to explore? Well, then Stasher is around to come to the rescue.
London-based startup Stasher is a sharing economy solution to luggage storage. This means that it connects travelers with local shops and hotels who can securely store their luggage on a short-to-medium term basis. Having stored half a million bags in 1200+ locations, in 250 cities, across 6 continents, and raised money at the start of 2019, Stasher has been on a roll. However with the current pandemic, we wanted to catch up with their co-founder and CEO Jacob Wedderburn-Day to see how things are fairing in the travel industry, as well as get the chance to hear their tips on how they grew so fast, and what they have planned for the rest of the year.
Hello Jacob, thank you for joining us. To start off, could you tell us what inspired you to start Stasher?
Anthony and I both knew we wanted to become entrepreneurs. We used to talk about going into business together long before we had the idea for Stasher. The year we started it, we’d both just moved to London, and we said, “This is the best year to try and make something work.” Stasher itself came about because people were often asking to store stuff at Anthony’s flat, as it was so near the train station. The more we looked into the problem, we realised that storage in cities is a genuine issue, and the station lockers were not equipped to deal with the rising demand from tourism, especially from Airbnb.
There are a few luggage storage innovations in Europe at the moment but Stasher has already stored close to half a million bags in 1200+ locations. What is unique about Stasher and different to your competitors?
We’ve put trust at the heart of what we do. That means we vet locations and aim to have as many hotels as possible on the platform, whereas our competitors tend to operate with cornershops. We’ve been around the longest, which itself isn’t a USP, but it has meant we had first-mover advantage in a lot of territories and locked in some great relationships with big partners, such as Premier Inn, Hotels.com and most recently Marriott Homes and Villas.
We’re also the only platform to use a verified review system. We use it to make sure we are constantly monitoring the quality of our own network, so that we can put customer experience first.
I also like to think we have the best tech, but I admit I’m biased when it comes to answering that!
Stasher has already partnered with the likes of Klook, Sonder, Marriott, and Hotels.com. Do you have any advice for startups creating and maintaining partnerships with large corporations?
Creating those sorts of relationships is tough, and sometimes it takes a bit of luck. With Hotels.com, we participated in one of their accelerator competitions and won it – and that has given us a host of great contacts! Other times, you get lucky by reaching the right person at the right time. So far, I have never regretted going to a travel conference, because networking in person with people is crucial to building relationships and laying a foundation to work together. It is certainly going to be a challenge if physical networking is limited for a while in the post-covid world!
Working with so many partners, how do you manage the security of travellers’ possessions?
We uphold strict standards, modelled on the way hotels check their guests in and out. We have an insurance deal in place to cover incidents, but the wonderful thing about this model is that there are very few. Everyone is incentivised to do the right thing. Our hosts are all operating businesses – they care about their reputations, getting good reviews and driving more business, so we have never had any trouble with them looking after things securely.
You’ve expanded to 120+ cities in 6 continents! Could you give some behind-the-scenes knowledge on how you’ve achieved this so fast?
Well, when you put it like that! We’ve run some great trips – last autumn, our growth team toured Australia and New Zealand, which made a lot of people (me included) very jealous.
Deals with big companies certainly help you expand fast – the depth of coverage we have in the UK is largely thanks to our deal with Premier Inn.
Each year, we’ve planned out dedicated trips to key cities that we model will work well on Stasher. The team have also done a great job of opportunistically signing up places on their own holidays, which is always great to see!
Being reliant on the travel industry, how have you been managing during the pandemic? Have you pivoted/adapted in any way?
Yeah, this has been a really tough period for us – being a travel tech company, we have seen revenues drop to zero and much of our network close down during lockdowns. We’ve taken a pragmatic approach. This year, our goal is survival rather than growth. We’ve cut costs ruthlessly, although so far we have avoided laying anyone off (the UK government’s furlough scheme has been a blessing in this regard). The only thing we are spending money on now is product development. We figure it’s actually a good time to get ahead of our plans in this department, as it’s a rare time to focus without distraction.
We have not yet pivoted, but we are investigating new revenue streams, so we can diversify a bit in the future. It’s been quite fun going back to the beginning and brainstorming new ideas from scratch.
How do you think the tourism industry will move forward after the pandemic?
It will be badly scarred, for sure. Government bailouts will keep many companies afloat, but a lot are going to really suffer. Big layoffs across big companies are the start.
I’m closest to the accommodation sector, so I can only really comment on that. Airbnb are really hard hit, there’s no getting around that fact. A lot of “rentrepreneurs” with many mortgaged properties are going to be flushed off the platform and will need to turn to longer-term lets. I love Airbnb and it’s been a major factor in Stasher’s success, but in view of the problems it has created around housing shortages, this could be a good thing. So Airbnb’s supply will drop.
However, vacation rentals should bounce back faster than hotels, because hotels will have to make a cost calculation about when to re-open. For example, how many rooms do they need to fill before it is cost-effective to open their doors? Vacation rentals and Airbnbs will not have this problem.
Domestic travel will come back before international travel, because of the co-ordination required to re-open borders. Rural travel may actually exceed urban, for the first time ever.
Cleanliness will be a big theme in accommodation and hotels and vacation rentals will need to make concerted efforts to demonstrate their commitment to sanitation.
Outside of accommodation, my personal prediction is that cruises will suffer quite badly and airlines will be really set back by this, but that the assets won’t go to waste, so ultimately it won’t be the end of low-cost flights, but it will be a terrible year for them.
You raised €2.25 million in January of this year. Why was this the right moment for you to raise funds and do you intend to raise more in the future?
Talk about timing! Looking back, this was incredibly lucky. It was the right moment to raise funds for two reasons: 1) we had hit all the milestones we had wanted to achieve before raising this round and 2) (as is most often the case with startups) we needed it for runway! I dread to think how unlucky it would have been if the raise had been a few months delayed.
I would not rule out future fundraising – since travel may enjoy a great resurgence – but for now, our focus is on operating more profitably. It’s easy to get sucked into the world of burning money for growth, but with the risk that this pandemic may have future waves, I do not want to rely on venture funds being available to keep us afloat in the future.
What cool plans does Stasher have for 2020 and beyond?
This would have been a more fun question to answer before the lockdowns! Our plans are significantly less cool in light of the pandemic! We’re hoping to be back to serving customers soon, and we’re very pleased that our tech is looking much better than it was. If you don’t have it already (and if I’m allowed to plug this), please check out our apps now that they’ve been given a makeover and I’d love to hear your feedback (email firstname.lastname@example.org).
Rather than launching more new territories, we may look to consolidate the cities we are working in, and with luck we may have a new revenue stream to accompany our original one. Our hiring plans have slowed until the business proves it can sustain more people, but at the same time this is the sort of experience that can bring teams closer together.
But it’s not all gloomy. Operating more profitably may seem less sexy than growing fast, but this pandemic has reasserted the fact that for all businesses, cash is king; so taking a more proactive approach to cash management as a result of this is no bad thing! And ultimately, I can’t help but think that this is a good experience for Anthony and I to have so young in our careers (aged 25 and 26 respectively) – if we can manage our way through this crisis, I’m confident we can manage our way through almost anything!
Do you ever wonder why people really choose your product or service? It might not actually be your snazzy website or sales pitch. It could be because visiting your shop made the customer feel nostalgic, or because they overheard someone on the bus mention your company. There are millions of possibilities, and Tugce Bulut, founder and CEO of Streetbees, is on a mission to find out all of them.
Streetbees is a ‘next gen’ market research startup that lets real people record by video, photo and text the reasoning behind their decisions, to bring rich insights for companies. Its creator Tugce Bulut (who we recently included in our TOP 50: Europe’s most influential women in the startup and venture capital space list) has grown a community of 3.4 million users – or ‘bees’ – across 189 countries, and is backed by renowned investors and entrepreneurs. Sounds interesting? Then read on!
Hello Tugce! Thank you for joining us, we are excited about diving into your story and finding out more about Streetbees. To start off, could you tell us how the idea came to you?
As a consultant, I helped the world’s largest companies launch new products in developing markets. But one issue kept cropping up; we couldn’t find data that we trusted, because existing market research solutions simply weren’t good enough. All the data was based on claimed behaviour, and collected long after the moment of choice. This situation didn’t make sense.
So, in 2015, I started Streetbees to create a solution that would collect real stories from people around the world, including photo and video content – revealing how people behave, and why.
We heard you talking about ‘conversational research’ and ‘unstructured data’ before. Could you tell us more about how Streetbees collects feedback from the bees?
At Streetbees, we put our bees at the heart of everything we do – we want them to have full control over their data, and let them share as much or as little as possible, in their own words. We’ve built an incredible level of trust with our users – and that’s something Streetbees will never compromise.
In the age of WhatsApp and Instagram, people are used to sharing content – but unlike these platforms, Streetbees isn’t public. It takes away the pressure of creating an idealised view of people’s lives – allowing them to post the genuine, raw and unfiltered moments.
How do you then analyse all this data into useful insights for companies?
Streetbees uses natural language processing on unstructured data gathered – photos, videos and open text – to find what people want and what really matters to them. Deep neural networks are then used to cluster similar demand choices together – free from human bias – and can pick up growth opportunities and consumption trends that were previously unavailable.
As Streetbees is accessible on the smartphone of the ‘bees’, this allows for a kind of unfiltered and real-time honesty about the products and service they’re consuming. What else makes Streetbees unique from other market research platforms out there?
Streetbees is expanding the scope in what’s possible in the research and insights space – no longer do companies have to choose between quantitative and qualitative data, because of our technology they can have both at the same time.
On top of this, we’re able to move much faster than our competitors – our response to the COVID-19 pandemic is one example. As a technology startup, we’re able to adapt and innovate at a rate traditional research companies struggle with.
You have already 3 million ‘bees’ giving their feedback in 189 countries! How do you incentivise signing up, and what kind of feedback do you get from your bees about why they stay?
Streetbees is a marketplace and our value is both to the client and the consumer. The primary reason why our bees engage is because they enjoy sharing moments and stories from their lives through the app. When we ask them to share a story that takes a bit of their time or effort, then we have a fair pay policy and we pay the equivalent of a living wage for their time in any given country.
With so much data coming in, how do you make sure the ‘bees’ have control of what they share?
The beauty of open text questions is that our bees can choose how much to write – we don’t put any limits or requirements on these answers. The control is always in their hands, and this isn’t going to change.
Digitalisation of market research and consumer insights isn’t a new process – but obviously the current situation in the world has made the need for fully digitalised and real-time consumer intelligence very obvious. Therefore, we’re going to see an acceleration in the coming years, particularly in the following three areas:
Increased emphasis on foresight rather than just data collection/gathering. There is so much data out there – no one is suffering from lack of data right now. It’s the insights and analytics where the tech is needed, by using automation and smart technologies to make sense of that data that’s coming from so many sources. Some of that has already started – but we’re going to increasingly see machines doing a lot of the heavy lifting – it won’t replace the job of insights professionals, but their role will focus more on providing recommendations from those insights and helping the organisation to execute them.
Complete digitalisation of data collection. Surveys will become a thing of the past – it was already a dying form of research but this will be sped up. Face to face/door to door surveys will disappear. We will see consumers speaking to us more through videos, images and open text – in line with the way they consume media today.
Full automation of the entire research process. If we want people to talk to us in their own words, it’s going to require automation in how we ask the questions. Natural language understanding (NLU) is getting closer to near real-time capabilities – imagine a conversation where the NLU can understand what people are saying and adapt the questions in response. This help us get deeper and deeper and uncover the unconscious thoughts of consumers.
Finally, how has the current pandemic affected Streetbees, and do you have any advice for startups in the same sector on how to stay afloat?
While many startups have been struggling with the past few months, Streetbees has been in a very unique position thanks to our ability to adapt and our overall business model.
As we have bees all around the world, we wanted to know how the pandemic is impacting their lives and psychological well being. From this grew our COVID-19 Human Impact Tracker which is already being used by a number of the world’s biggest consumer brands – and we’ve been able to provide free access to a number of nonprofits and government organisations including Amnesty International, the NHS, and London Mayor’s Office.
My advice is to always keep your eye on the opportunities and what COULD happen, not just what IS happening. Even in times of crisis or slump, remember that the next big win is always just around the corner.