LESSONS LEARNED AND SHARED BY BORIS HRISTOV FOUNDER OF 356labs.

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LESSONS SHARED

PURPOSE

1. Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur rather than an employee?

Surely it was not because of the hype in the last few years. Let’s start here. I started 356labs mainly because I was just sick of seeing so many ineffective presentations out there in the world. Together with that, however, I must admit that I am also one of those people that always asks himself “what if” and so the thought that I wouldn’t know what was about to happen if I started the company was going to chase me. That’s why I started a presentation agency even though I was a highly paid and respected IT Consultant.

2. What is the main reason that keeps you going when the entrepreneurial journey gets really tough and rough?

Our mission. We strive to see a world where everyone presents and communicates effectively. I know we are going to go through numerous rough moments while on our way to see that world happen. I have accepted it already and don’t even bother when something challenging is in front of me or us as a company.

3. What is the purpose behind your business? What kind of problems in your industry does it solve?

The reason why I created 356labs is because I wanted to see more effective presentations. You can say I started the company as a sign of protest! I am blessed to be able to speak across the world and it shocks me that almost every single time I see someone present, their presentation is just… bad. Like… bad, bad. That means that they lose their audience’s time. They also ruin their and their company’s reputation and last but not at least, they are missing a big opportunity to grow, get a new client, investment, whatever their goal was. This is sad and I believe we have to fix it.

DIRECTION

1. What is the real added value in your business/ industry that is felt by the raving fans of your brand?

Well, I believe we show people that through effective presentations they can achieve their goals. We now have numerous clients that closed multimillion-dollar deals and received investments for their startups because of the presentations that we helped them create, design and deliver.

2. What is the future of your industry in terms of upcoming trends and technology?

I think we are already seeing the first trend – online presenting is taking over like crazy. Many of us are presenting online way more than offline which means you must understand the specifics of online presenting because there are such. Together with that, AI (Artificial Intelligence) and ML (Machine Learning) are already part of products like PowerPoint. Let’s also not forget VR and AR. These two, I believe, can bring a huge disruption to our industry. Even though it won’t be a quick change, there will be such.

3. What is the one lesson you would share with a fellow entrepreneur when it comes to accomplishing your goals in the most effective and efficient way?

Build a great team.
 

TOOLS AND TECHNIQUES THAT REALLY LEVEL UP YOUR GAME

1. How did you evolve from a solo entrepreneur into a company owner with a team? How did you hire your first employee?

I needed a designer badly. However, I was not able to pay that person a lot of money because I didn’t have them back then. I tried to find that person in almost every single way I can come up with. Didn’t succeed. Then I remembered I have a friend who runs a training company specializing in design and begged him – please, please, tell me someone who was part of your courses and you think has the potential to really become a good designer. He told me the name, I called the same day, arranged the meeting and persuaded the person to join me on some kind of an “intern” position because she was just graduating from university. Now that I remember that story… gosh I was desperate for finding a person with those skills back then…

2. Which are the best marketing channels to reach your target market? What are the most effective strategies to share the story of your business and why?

For us our public speaking is the most effective channel to promote us and our work. We organize two free events per month where we share a ton of knowledge and experience. The other channels we use heavily are Facebook and Instagram but 90% of our work still comes from word-of-mouth.

3. What are your plans for the development of your business and its growth in 2018 and upcoming years?

I will just say that – expect a lot from us online. We are doing some heavy behind the scenes work setting up something special that we believe has the potential to impact just an incredible amount of people. Stay tuned as 2018 is indeed an important one for us.

 

LESSONS LEARNED AND SHARED BY STOYAN DOBREV CO-FOUNDER OF SPEEDIFLY.

 

LESSONS SHARED

 

PURPOSE

  1. Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur rather than an employee?

I remember when I was in high school, I was really passionate about reading biographies of successful businessmen and politicians. I was deeply inspired by the stories of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates and how both of them created products that had shaken whole industries (i.e the iPod and the Music industry), products that actually created new industries and products that completely changed our lives. That was when I decided that I want to build my own company and do or create something meaningful that could positively impact our lives. Back then I didn’t really know what this thing was, so every day I was having a new idea. A couple years later, when I was studying in Hong Kong, one of my best friends called me from the US with a really interesting idea in the travel space and he asked me to join them. I immediately said YES because I saw the potential in his idea and I believed that with a good execution and a little bit of luck we had the chance to change the way young people and students travel. That was when we started working on SpeediFly.

2. What is the main reason that keeps you going when the entrepreneurial journey gets really tough and rough?

Building a business is definitely amongst the most interesting things that have happened to me, but it was also one of the most difficult ones. I remember when we were in Prague and going through the acceleration program of the business incubator StartupYard, we were working 16-17 hours every day. Back then we were just the 3 cofounders and 2 part-time developers working remotely. I remember I was doing everything except for coding - from hiring to accounting to managing Facebook and Instagram pages to running marketing campaigns to looking for an investment. At the end of the day I felt completely drained of energy. What kept me going was first, the fact that I was working on SpeediFly with two of my closest friends and it was exciting for me and second I truly believed in the idea of SpeediFly, so I didn’t care how hard it was, I just knew that I need to find whatever energy was left in me and work - simple as that. Once our team started growing I thought maybe things would get a little bit easier, but they didn’t. In fact, when our team grew to 9 people we faced new challenges such as planning and synchronising everyone’s work so that we are on schedule, keeping everyone motivated, keeping everyone busy, keeping the investor happy. These challenges tough me a lot about business and management - much more than any book I read at University. So every time I faced these challenges with positivism and determination . 

3. What is the purpose behind your business? What kind of problems in your industry does it solve?

Booking travel is an impersonal, price-centric and unsocial process. It is impersonal because old-fashioned travel platforms such as Expedia and Orbitz do not invest enough in user analytics for recommendation purposes. Instead of offering someone who is a skiing fan a flight to Innsbruck for €70, traditional platforms would offer him a flight to Venice for €55 just because it is cheaper, which naturally makes booking travel excessively price-centric. Last but not least, travel platforms lack social functionalities such as sharing, inviting or messaging, and thus make it difficult for young people to organize group trips the way they are now used to doing on platforms such as Uber or Airbnb. 

SpeediFly is a social travel platform providing highly personalized travel recommendations based on last minute flight availability and users’ preferences for sports, music, activities, countries and culture. SpeediFly allows users to sign up with Facebook, invite friends to the platform, share with them interesting flight deals and invite them to specific trips. In addition to the data SpeediFly collects from Facebook, it asks users to indicate their preferences for activities, sports, music and culture. Based on these, SpeediFly makes personalized recommendations such as “Fly to Berlin to see Beyonce’s concert this Friday” and group recommendations such as “Fly to Paris with Jane and John and watch Nadal vs. Federer this weekend”. By tracking users' in-app activities, SpeediFly is capable of predicting what they are likely to book. This allows SpeediFly to make customized recommendations based on user behaviour instead of simply trying to sell the cheapest available flights. 

DIRECTION

1. What is the real added value in your business/ industry that is felt by the raving fans of your brand?

We always thought there’s something wrong with the way groups of people book their travel. What usually happens when a few friends are booking their flights on Kayak, Expedia or Skyscanner is that either one person books everyone’s flights and then collects his money back from everyone (which is not practical), or everyone goes and book their flights separately, in which case the people who book last pay 15-25% more because airlines employ differential pricing – first two tickets cost €200, the third cost €260 and the forth is €280 (which is also not very practical). So we though how could we solve this - how could we change the way people book group trips? To offer a solution we started developing a group booking functionality that allows groups of up to 9 people to book together and then splits the total fare equally amongst all travellers. So in the case of our previous example each of the four people would pay (€200+€200+€260+€280)/4 or €235. 

2. What is the future of your industry in terms of upcoming trends and technology?

The travel industry has always been at the forefront of technology adoption, especially with digital technology trends. Travelers have been equally enthusiastic about adopting the technological changes to make travel simpler and more enjoyable. This has given rise to tremendous innovation in products and business models such as Airbnb and Uber. Nowadays we are observing how the Artificial Intelligence (AI) entering the travel industry. The industry is adopting AI first approach betting on “relevance” becoming the winning factor. AI in travel and tourism is being used to predict travel choices, personalize services, complete bookings and manage in-trip and post-trip needs. 

Another interesting trend Virtual Reality (VR). I believe that VR has two major usages in the Travel Industry: inspiration and demonstration. It is an extremely powerful selling tool most of all because it is visual! This technology takes you on virtual journeys in a complete immersive way. Each stakeholder in the travel industry can enhance user experience by adopting VR - airlines can showcase the aircraft cabin, so passenger can more easily select a seat; hotels can demonstrate the type of rooms and amenities; DMOs can show attractions and must-sees; restaurants can showcase dishes and allow customers to quickly choose their favourite table. The list goes on. 

Lastly, Google searches for “solo travel” and “travel alone” were at the highest they've ever been in January of this year. Travel companies are now building catered products to not only accommodate, but celebrate the solo traveler. 

3. What is the one lesson you would share with a fellow entrepreneur when it comes to accomplishing your goals in the most effective and efficient way?

We all have those days when there are a million things to do, and we don't know how we're going to get it all done. Sometimes we have so many balls in the air, that we may even lose track of some loose ends and forget to do important things. Figuring out how to get all of your tasks done in one day can be quite the struggle, and that’s where to-do lists can be so helpful. Nowadays, there are all sorts of swanky to-do list apps that take your agenda-completing to a whole new level, however I have always found it practical to sit down the old fashioned way with a list of paper and a pen and just write down my tasks. This way I make sure I am not going to forget or skip something. Then I prioritise what is important and needs to be done asap and what’s not so critical; I form a plan and start executing. Having a list is making me more productive and it makes me stick to my plan. 

TOOLS AND TECHNIQUES THAT REALLY LEVEL UP YOUR GAME

1.How did you evolve from a solo entrepreneur into a company owner with a team? How did you hire your first employee?

Building a company did not happen overnight. We started working on the idea in the summer of 2015 from our home town Burgas. It was just me and Alex - the CEO of SpeediFly, working on the vision and strategy for the company. It took us a few months before we were accepted to participate at the StartupYard Incubation Program. We spent 3 months in Prague, where we met hundreds of interesting professionals, some of which really liked our team and idea and later became our mentors. These were the people who inspired us to think big and think creatively about how to disrupt the travel space. At the end of the program we met our future angel investor - it was around April 2016. 

Our first full-time employee joined us in June 2016, so that was almost a year after we started working on SpeediFly. To be honest hiring the first person turned out to be more difficult than we expected. It took us more than 2 months and we interviewed around 15 people for this position before we eventually met Miro, who became our first employee. 

One thing you should keep in mind when hiring developers in Bulgaria is that  these people could easily find a job at a large corporation like HP or SAP Bulgaria, where they’d get a high salary and the job would be secure, unlike a job at a startup. So you need to be super creative when you are making them an offer. Think what would be the best way to attract these people. Is it money. Is it home office or gym membership. Is it learning opportunities? Or is it some kind of a mix? 

2. Which are the best marketing channels to reach your target market? What are the most effective strategies to share the story of your business and why? 

 We have been experimenting with a wide range of marketing techniques and campaigns, trying to identify what works best amongst students - offline campaigns at university events and giving away free trips, social media advertising, mass university emails, sponsored shares on Facebook and Instagram, a sponsored article on a university website, a post in a travel blog, influencer marketing on Instagram etc. The three methods that proved cost-efficient were Facebook advertising, sponsored articles (PR) and email marketing. 

In addition to Facebook paid advertisement, we also promoted the platform in popular Facebook groups related to travel, in groups related to specific hobby such as caving, diving kayaking etc. thus growing communities of people sharing the same interests, and in Erasmus groups, because Erasmus students travel more often than others.

We differentiate between two types of email marketing - mass emails and promotional emails. We send mass emails to universities and other organisations to attract new users. While, we will keep users engaged through promotional emails and push notifications, featuring hot weekend deals - on average these campaigns have 45% open rate and 7% click-through rate.

Lastly - PR. Publishing sponsored articles in respected media helped us build credibility and trust and establish reputation, which is essential for any travel company. On the other hand, travel blogs and social media are a powerful source of inspiration for travellers, which is why we have invested time and effort to keep in touch with writers and travel influencers who helped us reach customers and spread our message.

3. What are your plans for the development of your business and its growth in 2018 and upcoming years?

In the beginning of 2017, after spending a couple of months fundraising we did not have any serious leads from investors. In April 2017, we took the hard decision to freeze the project because it became impossible to sustain operations. That is why currently the SpeediFly app and website are unavailable. We did not turn SpeediFly into a success, but we learned a lot along the way.