Romanian startup KeenSkim is one of the first 11 startups to attend the Bulgarian accelerator Eleven. Read on to find more about KeenSkim – how its founder chose the “startup way”, how the product was created and a few details about the Eleven experience so far, mostly in founder Tudor Vlad‘s words.
From coder to entrepreneur
How did he decide he wanted to be an entrepreneur and started walking this way? His story, I suspect, might be quite a common story for young guys in Romania. He built a kick-ass software project in his last year of high-school (a mandatory thingy in Romanian informatics high-schools), he got great feedback and encouragements to turn it into a business but chose not to. “I built a Driving School Questionnaire software. Everyone suggested I should sell it – either to a driving school or even better: to the Police. But I was too scared to do it because I didn’t have a commercial license for my development tools.
During my college years I joined the Microsoft Student Partners (MSP) organization. That experience put me closer to both the real world of software development and the business side of it. I worked in the industry, research, teaching & consulting. While each of them was a great experience I still felt something was missing. At that point, it was clear to me: I wanted to do more by building software. I wanted to grow a product from nothing, the same way I had done it before with my high school project. But this time it was meant to be a business!”
From idea, to KeenSkim
In a world filled with information, curation is a very important aspect people are trying to solve. While there are a lot of platforms working on selecting the few relevant articles that should reach you, KeenSkim comes in to help you find the most important pieces of information in the article you’re reading. How did this occur to Tudor? “As I was studying more about the software industry I started reading a lot of technology blogs via RSS feeds – this was the summer of 2005. By early 2007 I was also following business blogs and found myself overwhelmed by the number of quality sources of information. There was just too much information and too little time to read it all. The search for a solution gave no results so I only had one option: build it myself.”
Once the matter of “what” was settled, it was a matter of “how”: “At the time I didn’t really know exactly what or how to do it so I spent a few years learning semantic technologies, distributed systems and business. In autumn 2010 KeenSkim was started: an online service that condenses information by creating automatic summaries of news and articles, thus fixing the information overload problem.
In February this year I had the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) ready: a text summarizer that was working over RSS feeds. Two months later, the in-browser version was ready. In the next few months, the first version of the in-Twitter summarizer was working. Now KeenSkim summarizes the main sources of information on the web.“
“The team aspect is a little crazy because it’s both a thing I’m proud of and a big disadvantage from an investor perspective. And that’s because so far I built the product by myself.
However, I wasn’t really alone: I have few friends that were available whenever I needed advice –technical, business & motivational. This is a very important aspect because every entrepreneur faces “ups” and especially “downs”. It started with two friends that also work on their startup (and should launch soon) and as I made the project public, more and more friends and entrepreneurs joined the group. This is another very important point: having a great reliable network of people “in the same pot”, helping each-other out.”
Building the business around the product
“Having the technical product built, the focus will switch to building the business. In the next period, including the Eleven.bg acceleration phase, the plan is to improve the product from the usability standpoint, create awareness about it and last but not least, grow the team. And by the way: proud to say we’re hiring!
After getting more traction, we’ll see what the best directions for the product are. We have several ideas, but the best strategy in such cases (innovative products) is to test what works best / helps most the users. So far it was a very interesting learning process. ”
How did Tudor choose Eleven as the accelerator to apply to? Did he apply to other accelerators? “It was thanks to Alexandra from VentureConnect and you guys. This spring I was invited to VentureConnect and that’s where I met Max, from Eleven. Next, I listened to Bogdan’s “HTW Live” episode about Eleven. After a little research about the program & everybody involved, I applied.
In Sofia, I was really pleased with the people involved. I really like their motto, “innovation happens at the edge” and I believe KeenSkim is a great example of that. I did apply to a few other accelerators before. I think the main problem there was being a single-founder. Besides this the pitch wasn’t always the best. But with every rejection the pitch got better and better.”
The Eleven experience so far, and what’s about to come
“The application process was pretty straight-forward: you would present the team and the project from the business point of view. The pitch wasn’t perfect but I’m sure the working demo helped a lot. I’ll have better insights to give you after the acceleration phase.
Next, I’ll be moving to Sofia in a few weeks and staying for at least 3 months. Yesterday I spent most of my day checking flights and looking for apartments. The guys from Eleven are also helping me on this.
We’ll be working right in the city center, in the former Palace of Telephony, near the Grand Hotel Sofia. You can see some shots here .
I’m looking forward to it!”
As any startup entering an accelerator program, KeenSkim is about to face great challenges, great changes and hopefully great success. It’s time for all the support and feedback it can get! Cheering and “feedback-ing” are definitely allowed in the comments section! 😉