This is your captain speaking...

Dear friends and colleagues,

After nearly 7 years on the magnificent flight called AirHelp, I’ve decided it's time for a new captain to take the pilot seat.

Sharing this is very emotional. AirHelp has been my entire life for many years. From an idea on a beach in Bali, through Y Combinator in Silicon Valley, to the global leader in air passenger rights with 750 employees worldwide! I can’t describe how immensely proud I am of what we have achieved. I owe so much to all of the AirHelpers who believe in this idea and have given everything to make AirHelp grow and prosper. I am forever grateful.

Stepping aside is a decision I have thought long and hard about. I could only hand over my "baby" to someone truly special. Someone who can take the company to the next level and continue the fight for consumer justice. Someone who can take good care of our employees and customers. Someone who can bring a wealth of international experience beyond my own. I am very happy to say that I have found this person in Jimmy Maymann.

Jimmy has supported AirHelp as an angel investor for more than 5 years and as chairman of the board since last year. He is a proven entrepreneur, experienced leader, and a caring manager, not to mention the former CEO of Huffington Post. Jimmy shares the same passion for helping air passengers and understands the great potential this company has. I not only feel incredible excitement, but also great comfort knowing that Jimmy will be the new CEO of AirHelp.

Many people ask me, what are you going to do now?

As Jimmy takes over my responsibilities as CEO, I will take over his responsibilities as chairman of the board. I look forward to supporting AirHelp in my new role. But first, it’s time for a break! I am taking a 6 month sabbatical which will include a world tour with my fiancée and getting married in the spring. You can follow our adventures here.

My decision to step aside comes after months of reflection and careful consideration. I have full confidence that AirHelp will continue to shape the world of consumer rights. With an experienced management team led by Jimmy, our amazing crew of AirHelpers, there’s no limit to where AirHelp can go. I look forward to continuing on this flight as chairman of the board.

Thank you all for your past and continued support, both personally and for my role at AirHelp. AirHelp would not be the company it is without you.


What Every Future Entrepreneur Needs To Know, Part 1

Recently I gave a presentation at Yale University on top recommendations to aspiring entrepreneurs. I probably could have shared 100 recommendations from what I’ve learned starting more than 10 companies all over the world, so this post will be the first in a series called, “What Every Future Entrepreneur Needs to Know.” Enjoy!

1.      There is never a good time to start

I meet a lot of people with great ideas, but they never take action on them. “I don’t have the money, I don’t have the time, I can’t because of x, y and z,” they say. These are all excuses created to justify why you shouldn’t take the risk of starting a company.

Instead, try to answer one very simple question: Do you want to be an entrepreneur?

If you really want to be an entrepreneur, the answer is simple. You’re not choosing a project to work on, you’re choosing an entrepreneurial lifestyle, and that life needs to be lived now and not next month, next year or next decade. There’s never a perfect time for that.

The second you start; all your excuses have a way of sorting themselves out, or fade in the light of the new exciting challenges your startup provides. Start now, not later.

2.     Choose the industry, not the idea

It’s a romantic fairytale that you have to have the perfect idea. The idea no one ever thought of. You must be the only one out of 7,4 billion people on this earth who thought of this.

But the second you get a good idea, you can rest assured that other resourceful human beings already thought of the same, or have been working on it for years. It’s your ability to execute on that idea that creates success, not the idea itself.

Any day, I would choose an entrepreneur with a mediocre idea, but great execution skills, over an entrepreneur with a great idea, but poor execution skills.

Ideas are a dime a dozen. Success lies in execution.

Also, your idea will change over time as you learn more about the industry and what your users want. And so, think about what you find meaningful and interesting. Think about what you would like to spend the next 3,5,10 years doing. Choose an industry you want to become an expert in, and that will eventually become your competitive advantage.

3.     Choose the right cofounders

AirHelp, my most recent startup, went through the world-renowned Silicon Valley incubator Y Combinator. And according to their research, the biggest reason for startup failure is founder disputes.

Picture this: You find out you can’t work together, or they didn’t have the skills they said they had, or they disagree with the company strategy, or they’re not investing as much time as you in the company. What do you do?

First, always see if you can find someone you’ve worked with before and who you trust. And agree to spend minimum a year full time without pay. That’s typically how long it takes before you either have enough revenue to start paying yourself a very low salary, or the time you need to show enough traction to raise capital. Also, be equal in your share distribution. The vast majority of work is ahead of you, not behind you. Everyone has to be equally motivated.

Choosing the right people for your startup is the most important decision when starting a company. Do not choose with your heart. Do not choose your close friends unless you’re willing to lose them or never return to the same friendship again. Instead, look at what skills your startup need in order to be successful (also called a gap analysis).

If you don’t have the necessary skills to get things up and running, you’ll inevitably fail. Do you need a technical guy, financial guy, marketing and sales to reach first traction. Choose someone who are experts in their field and where you couldn’t possibly do what they do better.

4.     Don’t start with fundraising

This is the biggest mistake you can make as an entrepreneur. Unless you’ve started a lot of companies in the past with a couple of successful exits, you’re not able to raise capital without showing traction first.

The first year of a startup you need to spend all your time validating your business model and getting traction. When you have a beautiful hockey stick curve to show, you’re ready to fundraise. Any time sooner and you’ll end up wasting your time and more seriously spend less time on actually building your company.

Imagine being the investor. Ask yourself: Would you invest in a startup with an idea, but no traction? Would you invest in a startup that shows an increasing customer base, retention and revenue?

“But I can’t afford a year without salary,” you say.

Of course you can! Ask your bank or your friends for a loan. If you’re not willing to make sacrifices, entrepreneurship isn’t for you. Going down in living standard is only the beginning.

5.     Get customer validation

The lean startup bible told us to always get customer validation first. It’s now easier, faster and cheaper to do exactly that. With a few hundred dollars you can start a Facebook campaign, direct people to a simple landing page explaining your service/product, and ask them to sign up to know more.

Despite that, it’s still one of the biggest pitfalls of entrepreneurship. The old adage, “If you build it, they will come,” hardly ever works. Therefore, launch quickly and get customer feedback.

Reid Hoffman, Co-Founder of LinkedIn, says it best: “If you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.”

6.     Implement sense of urgency

The day you decide to start your company, you also start the timer. That timer shows you how much you got left before you run out. You have to run as fast as possible to reach the necessary traction to pay yourself a salary or raise capital. That means you have to make your mistakes fast.

Here’s what I told the students at Yale: Work as if there was no day tomorrow.

The most successful entrepreneurs I know get shit done today, not tomorrow. And they are able to motivate their team to do the same, which is extremely important in those first crazy years. A startup is a marathon, not a sprint. But make sure to run that marathon.

7.     Bootstrap by breaking rules, not laws

Today you can get very far for very little money. The cost of setting up servers, building products, getting customer attention is much cheaper today than 10 years ago. Also, by breaking some rules (not laws) you can often achieve much better results and knowledge because you’re doing it yourself and not paying someone else to do it for you.

At AirHelp we used to buy cheap flight tickets that allowed us to pass security in the airport, so we could get to the gates with delayed air passengers and inform them about their rights to compensation. Eventually we were thrown out of all airports, but it got us our first customers for almost nothing.

It doesn’t need to be scalable in the beginning. Bootstrapping also creates a healthy relationship to spending, so that everything is carefully considered before spending your very limited capital on it. Check out my post on the global startup for more bootstrapping ideas.

8.     Focus on sales

Sales rules them all. Sales fixes everything. Get people to buy or use your stuff. Period.

I often talk to askholes, people who ask for advice, but never follow it, who don’t like to be told to grab the phone and start calling their first 500 potential customers.

It’s so important that you, as a founder, do this yourself. It will help you understand your customers and convert that knowledge into making a better product. You cannot delegate sales to others before you’ve done it yourself.

Partnerships are another way of saying, “I’m having sales trouble.” If you can’t sell directly to your customer or user, there’s no point in trying to convince someone else’s customers to buy it.

9.  Get used to wearing many hats

Startups are so much fun (and hard) in the beginning because you learn like crazy. You handle all aspects of your company since there is nobody else besides you and your cofounders.

If there is a need, you take responsibility, even if you have no prerequisites besides willpower and analytical sense.

When you wear many hats, you also do things in parallel. If you’re an entrepreneur, you are raising money, writing software, selling, recruiting and bookkeeping at the same time. You don’t have time to do one thing at a time. Everything has to move down the road at the same time.

10.  Enjoy the ride

Starting a company will be one of the toughest things you’ve ever done in your life. It will feel like one long, tough rollercoaster ride with ups and downs and a ton of sacrifices. But if you’re an entrepreneur, you wouldn’t have it any other way.

Besides, if you have a team of smart, hardworking people riding the rollercoaster with you, at least you can all scream together.

* * *

These are just a few of the lessons I’ve learned starting 10 companies all over the world. But there are more. And I’ve love to share them with you.

Here are three ways to do so:

  1. If you would like to read my exclusive white paper, “10 Lies Every Entrepreneur Tells Themselves,” send an email to

  2. If you would like to invite me to speak about tech, legal or entrepreneurship at your next conference, university or company, send an email to

  3. If you would like to learn more about partnering together with my startup, AirHelp, please visit


There’s a new wave of customer empowerment coming. It’s called Justice-as-a-Service (JaaS), and you need to know about it because it benefits you – you just don’t know it yet.

We’ve all experienced bad products and services. We’ve just come to accept it. We’ve learned to pick our battles and only invest our precious time in “making things right” when potential justice and retribution is within reach. But in most cases, we don’t do anything. We figure it’s not worth it. What are these injustices? Well, they range from all areas of B2C interaction. Maybe your flight got cancelled. Or your cable subscription got more expensive. Or maybe you bought something online and the day after the price dropped. Or the package arrived two days late. Sound familiar?

How come companies can get away with this? One would think they would try to deliver the best product or service every time. But even though the intentions are right, it isn’t always possible. Some companies will downright speculate in delivering bad customer experiences to optimize for revenue. Luckily, there are consumer laws in place to make sure you don’t get taken advantage of. But laws are typically not worth much, unless you know they exist, and most people don’t.

Justice-as-a-Service is an on-demand service, powered by tech, that challenges private and public companies by representing the consumer in their fight for justice/compensation based on laws, consumers’ rights, and contract of carriage.

Why is there a need for JaaS?

  • You don’t know your consumer rights. No one has 2-3 hours to study international, regional and state consumer laws to find out if you are entitled and what you are entitled to.
  • You don’t know how to claim and neither does the service provider. The companies who stand to loose money will not make it easy for you to claim. Try calling any customer representative and ask about your consumer rights. Most likely they won’t know them or know how to make a claim.
  • You don’t have the time to fight for your rights. After you’ve read the law, found out how to claim and filled out the paperwork, you likely have to follow up in order to get an answer. Most people don’t claim because it’s simply not worth their time and frustration.
  • Success is very unlikely. If you finally succeed on getting an answer, the chances of your claim being rejected is very high. This is partly because the company delivering the service doesn’t know the consumer laws, but also because there’s a tendency to speculate that if they don’t answer or reject your claim, you won’t take any further action.

Litigation on consumer rights has existed for decades. Every time you see a “No Win, No Fee” sign you’re most likely reading an offer on legal representation to claim some form of compensation on your behalf. This can be anything from car accidents to failed hip surgery – hence the name “ambulance chasers.” So how is JaaS different?

Traditional litigation law mostly focuses on high value claims. Otherwise, it wouldn’t make sense for the lawyer to spend time on processing the claim and take legal action if needed. That rules out all small consumer right claims with low claim value. JaaS companies are different. The rise of big data and the access to this data has made it possible to build software that automatically validates a claim instead of someone manually assessing it.

As a result, a larger part of the claim procedure can be automated making the unit economics work for a much wider range of consumer right claims. Another way JaaS is different from classic litigation law is the use of online platforms such as web and mobile apps. This enables on-demand assistance and protection at the time of need – it’s the same reason Uber boosted the entire ground transportation industry by making it easy and convenient to order a taxi at the time of need. The combination of automation, online user interaction and legal tech pushes the development and allows scalability. All this wasn’t possible a decade ago.


Who is doing JaaS?

The first brave pioneers are already experimenting in many different verticals. The revenue model is mostly the same. “No Win, No Fee” either as a share of the compensation or a fixed fee. Here are some examples worth following and perhaps trying out for yourself:

  • AirHelp. Helps you get money back from airlines if you’ve been on a delayed or cancelled flight, according to air passenger rights laws. You type in your flight info or login with your email. AirHelp then fetches all of your flight confirmation emails from the past 3 years (statute of limitation) and shows you your flights that are eligible for compensation. They charge a 25% service fee if they are successful in getting you your money. If not, then it’s free. AirHelp uses flight, weather and airport data to automatically validate a claim. Then the law is applied and a probability analysis is made to determine the likelihood of claim’s success. Everything happens in seconds before claim docs are generated and then sent to the airline.

  • Fixed. Take a picture of your parking ticket. Send it to Fixed and they will challenge your ticket on your behalf. Fixed charges a flat fee (depending on your location) if successful.
  • Paribus. Paribus monitors your Amazon orders by granting them access to your order history through Amazon’s API. If the price drops shortly after you made a purchase then you’re entitled to the price difference, according to Amazon’s terms and conditions. Paribus automatically sends the claim to Amazon on your behalf and charges a fee of the refund.
  • BillFixers. For a percentage of the savings, BillFixers fix your mobile or cable bill by making sure you’re not paying more than what is being offered in the latest marketing campaign from the mobile or cable provider.
  • 71lbs. B2B service for shipping delays and lost packages. 71lbs monitors your UPS and FedEx packages, and if they are delayed the company claim compensation according to T&Cs. 

JaaS is about converting law into code and making it available in the palm of your hand. It’s legal tech and big data coming together to disrupt and expand an industry that has a bad history of being very manual and slow to adopt the latest technology, as their incentive is to invoice as many hours as possible. We’re seeing the beginning of an industry that not only will force lawyers to start thinking in code, but will also make life easier for you and I by standing up for the consumer and providing justice…and all that JaaS!

How to get introduced to investors

If you’re an entrepreneur looking for funding for your startup, you’ve probably experienced the difficult task of finding investors.  It can be very challenging to get in contact with them, why it’s often best to get an introduction from someone they already know. I’ve probably talked to 100+ angels and VCs and done as many investor intros for other entrepreneurs looking for funding. Unfortunately, most entrepreneurs asking me for investor intros have done no or very little research before asking. Here are some basic recommendations you can do to increase your chances of getting a good investor intro:

1. Who are the investors? 

Knowing who you want to talk to is important. Who are the individual investors in the company you’re asking for intros? Imagine you’re asked for an intro to a specific person versus getting the question: do you know anyone? The former is fast and easy, the latter requires time to analyze what your company does and match that with a long list of investors. This is your job, not the person making the intro.

2. What do they invest in? 

There are as many investors as there are industries. Just because they have a lot of money doesn’t mean they invest in every good idea. VCs, as well as angels, have different expertise and prefer investing within their domain. Therefore, always check the investors’ portfolio before asking for an intro. They may not be active in your industry, so you would be wasting your time talking to them.

3. What is their sweet spot?

Another important thing to know when asking for investor intros is the sweet spot of the investor. Do they invest early stage, Series A or later? There’s no need for you to be talking to investors with minimum $10M ticket size if you’re raising your seed round.

4. Where are they based?

Investors prefer to be close to their investments so that they are better able to help you and have more experience with legal matters in your state/country in case things go sour, i.e., potentially retrieving some of their money.  You don’t want to be talking to a US VC who only invests in Delaware C-corps if your startup is based in Europe.

5. Make an intro blurb 

Always send your suggested intro blurb to the person making the intro. You’re probably much better at pitching your own startup, so why not ensure the intro presents the right story? Furthermore, the person making the intro, probably doesn’t have time to write it for you, so he/she will ask you for it anyway. No 10-page email with a never-ending deck attached—it will likely never be opened without a super short and appealing summary.

Getting in contact with the right investor for your startup is hard work and it's easy to underestimate the time and effort it takes. If you follow the above recommendations you'll definitely increase your chances of getting a good introduction. And more importantly, you and your co-founders save time on fundraising that can be spend on building your startup instead.

The Three Experiences I Got From My First Burning Man

It’s been a week since I got back from Black Rock City. Before going, I wondered why no one could give me a clear answer to what Burning Man (BM) was. “You just have to go and experience it yourself”. Now, a week after, being asked the same question, I too find it very difficult to answer. Maybe it’s just too early, as my mind is still processing and learning new things about what actually happened at BM. Maybe it just works better writing it down…

Let’s start with the facts. Especially for my friends back in Europe, who has never heard about BM or just seen crazy pictures on Google. BM began as a bonfire ritual in San Francisco in 1986 with 20 people building a wooden effigy in shape of a man and setting it on fire. (Reminds me of the North European tradition of building a witch out of wood and used clothes and burning her on midsummers Eve to release the evil from the local community). The ritual quickly grew in size and moved to the desert of north Nevada where it has since been. BM is a social and art experiment influenced by 10 main principles of radical inclusion, self-expression, self-reliance, gifting, decommodification and leaving no trace among other things. No phone reception, no Internet. In it’s 29 years it’s grown to 70,000 people, bringing people to the black rock desert from all over the world to burn the man and take part in one of the biggest celebrations of life.

I always wanted to go since I heard about it back in SF in 2005. It wasn’t so much the art, the community or the parties that sparked my interest it was my curiosity and desire to explore the unknown that made me decide to go. 10 years of detours later, it was finally time. My first offline “vacation” in as long as I can remember.

Prepping for BM is no easy task. Getting transportation, camp, costumes, desert gear and a place to sleep takes a lot of time and planning and shouldn’t be taken lightly. It seemed like a lot of work at the time, but I later realized that as a virgin burner you have no perception of effort and preparation that burners put into BM.

We arrived at our camp after spending 12 hours in line from Reno to Black Rock City. That sounds horrible, but actually wasn’t too bad. We spent the time meditating, shooting some drone video and talking to the other burners in the cars around us. It was a loooong queue…

After spending most of the first day setting up camp it was time to hit the playa for the first time. I got a lot of “see you on the playa” leading up to BM. I didn’t really get it. What and where was this playa exactly?
We jumped on our bikes and passed the Esplanade and reached the playa. I was in shock! I had dived into a big black ocean of millions of glowing led lights in unbelievable shapes and colors. Holy fucking WOW!

A warm feeling immediately hit my body followed by a big smile that would stick to my face the entire week. I was witnessing the imagination of 70,000 people all at once! Was this still planet earth? Couldn’t recognize it. Had to open and close my eyes a couple of times to make sure it was real. In a couple of seconds my cynical opinion of mankind, constantly fed by world news, disappeared and my faith in humanity was fully restored. If human creativity is capable of something so amazing what else can we accomplish? Only half a day in, and my life perceptions were already being pushed. The magic of Burning Man had begun…

The BM founders originally saw the white dusty desert playa, the size of a small European country, as a big canvas for burners to express themselves. For every 25 meters there was a new spectacular out-of-this-world art installation that had to be seen, felt and interacted with - a never-ending amusement park for adults.

I quickly realized that even if I went from artwork to artwork and camp to camp non-stop I would never get to see and experience everything! Normally, it would have been my ambition to experience it all, but this was different. I quickly became very calm and content with the fact that everything wasn’t suppose to seen. No chase, no checklists, just be present and enjoy… the playa would provide. 

One of the art cars I was really looking forward to see and hear was Robot Heart, known for its electronic music and epic sunrise sessions. For all of BM this was the only disappointment. In all my years in the US I’ve longed for an underground electronic scene similar to Berlin, but was always met by mainstream EDM disguised as deep house. Unfortunately Robot Heart was no different. Tycho, Skrillex, Diplo and a bunch of other big DJs whos tracks you can hear at any nightclub in Vegas. I was surprised Tiesto or Avici wasn’t playing! I quickly continued my search and went further into the deep playa. A field of neon colored circles in front of a spectacular art car that looked like it just arrived from outer space got my attention. It was the Mayan Warrior and Rebolledo had just got on for the sunrise session. Halleluja! The sun rose and changed the desert from complete darkness to a yellow dusty haze while parachuters came flying down eclipsing the sun. Every cell in my body was smiling as if 34 years of serotonin was released in one pop! I was right where I needed to be and at exactly the time I needed to be there. I had not been that happy since childhood. #permasmile

The next day we went to a 3D futuristic gallery that freaked me out after two seconds. My mind was over stimulated. An old woman and veteran burner quickly grabbed my hand, looked me in the eyes and told me I didn’t need to worry and she would guide me through the gallery and let me describe what I saw. With my 3D glasses I calmly enjoyed the journey. And this went on and on – one more profound experience after another. It simply doesn’t stop at BM. Wherever you go people, whom in the real world would have been complete strangers, meet you with a hug and a smile and usually a small gift without expecting anything in return. When 70,000 people lives by such principles it creates an atmosphere that is warm, loving and open towards everything. I started to think that BM was a snapshot of how the future would be. Had the experiment been a success? Had we finally cracked the code of making everyone happy by being kind, close and present? For a place where nothing should make sense, it just did.

The days blurred into nights or maybe it was the other way around. Time didn’t really matter. Suddenly, it was the last day of the burn. I had postponed my visit to the holiest of the art installation on the playa, the temple. I had heard about it before going and I was afraid to be completely overwhelmed by its sadness, so I decided to wait until I was ready. That right time didn’t really come, so it became Sunday before I took my bike and told my friends I was going there alone. 

I think the temple was created because the Man couldn’t possibly hold all the sorrow and sadness that comes with the burners who visit Black Rock City. Radical self-expression goes for all aspects of life, including the most painful, and the temple is a manifestation of that. Because I had postponed my visit to the last day, the temple was already closed and was being prepared for the burn that night. It is a tradition that after the Man burns on Saturday the temple burns the following day. A smaller temple had been raised in front of the main temple so people still had a place to go. As I got closer, I could feel a heavy weight on my shoulders and a powerful silence that was very unlike what the previous days had been like. I started reading the first letters, wall inscriptions and poems while glancing over the many pictures and personal items next to them. Lost family, friends, wives, boyfriends, children, physical and psychological pain and sickness, torn ties between loved ones, outcries from people barely hanging on to life. Most people were crying. I felt a rock hit my stomach and tears that usually stay inside came streaming down my face. Two people I didn’t know gave me a hug, not asking who I was or what I cried about. They were just there to provide a shoulder. The last week had stirred things around and the temple only had to give me a gentle push for all of it to reach the surface. I was inconsolable. After some time, I started to feel the weight on my shoulders lifting and the thoughts that were sparked by reading the walls of the temple were either disappearing or settling in a different location. I couldn’t really talk for a long time after. With the guards down, BM had given me another powerful emotional experience to appreciate. 

That evening the temple burned and I was sitting in the first row watching the massive fire. The fire mesmerized most people and I could feel how all that pain and suffering the temple symbolized was released into the black sky. The first person shouted, “I love you” out to the crowd. Thousands of people immediately repeated those words to each other as a last gift before everyone went their separate ways thinking, in 358 days I’ll be home again :)

Do’s and Don’ts at the Y Combinator interview?

Twice every year, I get bombarded by emails, LinkedIn messages or far out acquaintances asking for Y Combinator interview recommendations. These requests are from young hopeful startups who have made it through the application process and been invited to Mountain View for an interview with the Silicon Valley superheroes of Y Combinator. 10 minutes decides if their startup will be one of the 100+ startups, out of 10.000+ applicants, that get accepted into the program. Now, they want to know what to do, or more importantly, not to do?

As a YC alum, I’ve had the pleasure of going through the application, interview and accelerator program with my startup, AirHelp. Back when I prepared for the interview, I also reached out to my network and received great advice from a YC alum. That advice might have been the difference between Yes or No, so now it’s time to pay it back to the YC startups to come.

The following recommendations are my own recommendations based on my experiences and have nothing to do with Y Combinator’s recommendations on how to prepare for the interview. My recommendations might be wrong for your startup, but I’ll let you be the judge of that…

·      Book early: Once you can choose a time for your interview, choose one of the first interview days. Why? YC is interviewing 500+ startups in a week. After each day, they inform the startups from that day, if they got in (phone call) or out (email). So you get an answer the same day! If YC want to invest, they will invest. They don’t have a daily maximum they can accept. This theoretically means, that the entire batch can be full after the first day[1]. Even though there is no limit to the batch sizes of YC, they likely won’t accept 500+ startups in one batch (…yet). So you don’t want to be on the last day after 99 startups already been accepted and all the YC partners are tired, hard to impress and thinking of the few remaining spots, so this better be good…

·      Arrive early: Don’t interview too early in the day. You want to spend a couple of hours in the waiting room familiarizing yourself with the atmosphere and talking to YC alumni (we are encouraged to hang around at interview days for advice and support). You should also be talking to the people coming out from the interview or just getting some pitch rehearsal and feedback from some of the other startups there. Remember that making it to the interview is very impressive in itself and chances are, there are some very smart people in the room that can help you.

·      Be clear and direct: We didn’t do a demo. We could have, but the risk of spending 1-2 minutes opening the laptop, getting Internet connection etc. is too high when you only have 10 min (Windows users, forget about it!). Instead, explain what it is you do in less than 20 seconds. It doesn’t matter if you’re making muffins or real-time analytics DBs. If you can’t explain what it is you do, so your grandmother understands it, then no investor, reporter or partner at demo day will understand it and YC would have wasted their time and money on you. So be clear, direct and to the point. No bullshit. No endless stream of adjectives that doesn’t tell anything about your product. No one cares about your unique, revolutionary, proprietary, disruptive, big data algorithms. From listening to a lot of pitches, it still amazes me how difficult it is for entrepreneurs to understand this.

·      Prepare to answer: Get ready for A LOT of questions[2]. The 10- minute interview feels like a 10 second interview because you and your co-founders are being bombarded with questions. The type of questions are similar to any smart angel investor, so if you already had couple of investor meetings or maybe even raised some capital, then you are better equipped for the YC interview. However, what’s different is that you only have 10 min instead of your usual 30 or 60 minutes. This means, you don’t have time for 5-10 min answers where the actual answer is delivered in the middle or end of your talk. You need to start your sentence with the answer. Because if you don’t, another question will cut you off, and you’ll find yourself not having answered one single question throughout the entire interview. What is the most important you want to communicate? Start with that – every time.

·      Be aligned: The number one threat for any startup is founder disputes. YC knows this because they’ve seen hundreds of their investments gone down the drain because if it. They want to know where you met, if you’ve worked together before and if you’re aligned on this project. That’s why they want all founders to be present at the interview, so they can ask them. At our interview, they started asking the same questions to each of us separately to make sure we hadn’t just met 30 min before the interview. Be aligned and ready to tell the same story – and don’t let potential disagreements influence the interview. You will always disagree on something, but the YC interview is not the place to discuss it.

·      Don’t be fooled: One thing I’ve noticed by talking to a lot of fellow YC companies is that they all felt the interview went bad. Either they didn’t get to say what they wanted or didn’t have enough time or just didn’t feel like it went well. The same happened for us. After our interview we felt they knew all our weaknesses, and uncertainties and we were pretty sure that we just wasted $3000 flying across the world. But later that day, after the 10th tequila, I found myself on the phone screaming Paul Buchheit’s ear off after he told me Y Combinator would invest. I am pretty sure he immediately regretted that decision, but I didn’t care… AirHelp was in!


[1] Not really, since they arrange certain days for certain types of startups

[2] You’ll find question examples here

The Global Startup

In the last 7 years I’ve worked with outsourcing. I’ve setup data entry teams in India and Bangladesh, dev teams in Philippines, Ukraine and China and done 100+ freelancer projects.

The underlying principle of outsourcing is the same for manufacturing in China as it is for hiring someone to setup a website in wordpress. David Ricardo (old British dude) describes it in his theories on comparative advantages:

“Comparative advantage refers to the ability of a party to produce a particular good or service at a lower marginal and opportunity cost over another. Even if one country is more efficient in the production of all goods than the other, both countries will still gain by trading with each other, as long as they have different relative efficiencies.”

For a startup with limited funds and resources this is fantastic news!

With the online availability of skilled workforce today, there are no limitations to what a startup can do for very little money. The same way as online tools have become free or dirt-cheap, so has skilled labor. Startups don’t need the funding they used to, to build, validate and expand their business concept. Online job marketplaces such as Freelancer and Odesk/Elance have not only provided startups easy access to cheap and skilled (also unskilled) labor, but also helped thousands if not millions of freelancers to a stable income, higher education through work and a better quality of life. Awesome concept.

Freelancers have played an important role in my current startup, AirHelp. They have without doubt accelerated the company through idea conceptualization, validation and expansion. Here are some examples on what we’ve outsourced to people from around the world:

  • Accounting and bookkeeping (Pakistan)
  • Market research and analysis (Portugal)
  • Sales and cold calling (Philippines)
  • IT development (Poland)
  • Design (Romania)
  • Data mining and entry (Bangladesh)
  • Testing (Bangladesh)
  • Presentations (Indonesia)
  • Personal task (Bangladesh)

Why couldn’t we do it ourselves? The reason goes way beyond financial:

  • You can’t do everything yourself. As an entrepreneur, you have thousands of ideas you want to try out, but with only two hands, you need people to help you. The faster you get those ideas knocked out (or confirmed) the faster you get to the right product.
  • You’re not always the best person to do it. You might like creating landing pages for Facebook campaign tests, but wouldn’t someone else with better design skills be able to do it for cheap and free your time to focus on something more important?
  • You might not like doing it. Designing a nice PowerPoint for your investors or logging all your expenses in a long excel sheet for bookkeeping might not be what gets you up in the morning. There are people in South East Asia who are very good at this stuff. Why not give it to them?
  • You don’t have the money. Every startup has to bootstrap, which sets irritating limitations to what’s possible. For $5 on Fiverr, you can get a student, at a big university, to print and stick 20 posters to school billboards. Do that 20 times and you have your first 100 customer/users. How’s that for cheap marketing?
  • You want to move your product and realize your goals and visions. Spending days on simple data entry and other tedious tasks doesn’t move your product. You need to free yourself from the less important task to work on the more important stuff such as talking to customers, defining, building and implementing the product that solves their pain.
  • Try it first. I’ve seen a lot of work and resources being put into something that hasn’t been tested first and I’ve done it my self, thinking that if I built it they will come. The Lean Startup told us to seek customer validation from day one to avoid such errors. Talking to customers is something all founders must do themselves and it cannot be handed over to someone thousands of miles away that don’t have the same product understanding as you. However, they can provide you with market research, data analysis and quantitative findings, which is a good start.

Delegating tasks in-house as well as outsourcing to foreign countries is a skill in itself.  I’m a strong believer in doing things first your self, before delegating it to others. If the project scoping, demand specs and success measurement isn’t crystal clear, you won’t be satisfied with the result and you end up wasting your own time and the time of the person you gave the task – who you by the way are paying to do it. Shit in, Shit out.

I’ve listed some of my recommendations below that you can use when you’re ready to outsource your first task:

  • Use estimations and deadlines. If you don’t set a specific time frame on a certain task, you’ll quickly see people spending way too much time that only marginally improve results. Always set a deadline. It doesn’t matter what country or culture you’re from - everyone understands deadlines. Use milestones to make sure he/she is on the right path.
  • Use online tools to manage and allocate tasks. Project management tools such as Asana, Trello and Jira are free (basic version) and very easy to use.
  • Track their time. Timetrackers such as HubStaff, HiveDesk, Timr and Tiempo tells you what they are working on (screenshots), for how long, and makes invoicing super easy.
  • Get a sample first. Make sure they understand the project/task.
  • Do screening sessions. Invite 10 people to a Skype chat and give instructions on a test case. Kick people off one by one if they’re asking too many questions or not doing as instructed. When you’re down to one, you got your superstar.
  • Use motivation boosters. Done before X, $X per X, less than X errors, etc.
  • Don’t forget to compliment their work. Making you happy makes them happy.
  • Don’t forget to criticize. If the task isn’t solved correctly, make sure they understand to avoid repetition.

There are million of people out there who are ready to help you and your startup. They were not there 10 years ago. Any startup that is able to utilize the online availability of skilled workforce will have an advantage to the ones who don’t.

AirHelp was built by people from all over the world. We are 38 people, 5 freelancers and 15 different nationalities. Born Global!

What Makes A Good Pitch?

1. Be VERY clear on what it is you do. The person you’re talking to should know exactly what you do as early in the pitch as possible. Try to pitch to your grandmother. If she doesn’t understand it, your pitch is not clear enough. And it doesn’t matter if you got a killer algorithm or baking muffins. Your pitch must be understandable by everyone. Don’t let the listener wait to slide 10 to figure out what you do (unless you are building up a story).

2. Skip the fancy marketing talk and (what you think) are intellectual adjectives. They have no purpose whatsoever. People don’t care about your DB being proprietary, disruptive, revolutionary etc. Stick to a clear cut value proposition and eliminate all the unnecessary words.

3. Don’t say you just need 1% of a 10 trillion dollar market. Your market calculations are probably off, and your competitive analysis doesn’t have to include obvious alternatives to your service. And getting 1% of any market is extremely difficult.

Checkout my pitch at TechCrunch Disrupt here.

The Difference between Rocket Internet and Y Combinator

As the first person to be member of the alumni of the biggest and most successful incubator in Europe (Rocket Internet) and in USA (Y Combinator), I would like to share some of my experiences that have helped me in my entrepreneurial endeavors.

Rocket Internet (aka. Rocket)

Rocket has launched more than 75 different companies in as many countries, among those, e-commerce blockbusters of Zalando and Zalora (Zappos copy) and Lazada (Amazon copy) to name a few. Rocket was started by the Samwer brothers in 2007, who still run the incubator today, and who makes sure the incubator receives $1+ billion in venture capital every year to fund their existing and future startups. A very big number compared to Y Combinator’s $1,6B total follow-on funding for alumni companies since YC began in 2005.

Rocket is different than what most people associate with a startup incubator. Usually, an incubator looks for talented entrepreneurs with an interesting business idea they want bring to market. Rocket doesn’t look for new ideas; they copy already successful ideas and look for talented people to expand the concept to new countries in exchange for high salary, low equity and a Co-Founder title.

When I was first recruited by Rocket, I clearly remember Oli Samwer’s first email telling me “Ideas are dime a dozen, success lies in execution, jaa”. With 10 startups in my backpack I couldn’t agree more. I’ve seen plenty of great ideas die because the founders didn’t know how to execute, but I’ve never seen founders with great execution skills kill a business because the idea wasn’t good enough – they adapted and changed the idea based on their findings, until they got it right. Most startups – despite how awesome the idea is – will have to adjust the idea along the way.

Rocket’s focus on execution is almost fanatic. Everything must happen as fast as possible with no or very little attention to costs or quality. You don’t wait for the next day, but get things done immediately, also if you have to drop everything else. Deadlines are not months, weeks or days, but hours, which creates an intense and stressful work environment that only a certain kind of people thrives in. The upside of such company culture is a steep learning curve where mistakes are frequent and solutions are found incredibly fast. To give you an example, in my 8 Rocket startups, we went from 5 to 2000 people in 12 months with millions of orders across 8 different countries (and languages) with fully developed frontend, backend, WMS, DWH, UMS and much more. The downside is that it’s expensive and you loose 30% of the workforce during the process because people who prioritize free time above work finds themselves working 24 hour days – sometimes more when passing through different time zones.

The sense of urgency, focus on solutions instead of obstacles and never taking “no” for an answer, is fundamental to the success of Rocket Internet. Any startup implementing these core values increases their chance of survival and future success.

Y Combinator (aka. YC)

What Rocket is to execution, YC is to product. YC would never dream of accepting a startup copying an already existing product or business model. YC startups tend to have a new product or business model that builds or combines elements of other business models to offer something unique that solves a pain or makes life easier, faster or better for the user.

YC is more of an accelerator than an incubator (as they don't house startups) with a three-month program culminating with demo day where the startups present their company and the hockey stick graph with incredible growth. Different from Rocket, YC doesn’t employ and assign you to a startup. Instead, YC invests in you and your startup, typically for 6-7% equity, and provides guidance and advise on all the questions and challenge you and your co-founders might have. Every week, office hours are held, where you give a status update followed by an inspirational talk from one of Silicon Valley’s finest that leaves you amazed, wiser and most importantly - motivated. After 10-20 guest speakers, you start to see a clear correlation between startup success and amount of hard work (and shit) you have to go through.

Similar to Rocket, YC also focus on momentum and launching sooner rather than later even though quality might not be perfect. The reason for this is based on the fact that you’ll never hit a home run in your first try and once you’ve launched, you’ll have real user feedback (instead of your own presumptions) to further develop and build the product people want. Don’t overthink it, just launch.

A great thing about starting new businesses for Rocket was that funding was usually not an issue. Even though 1 star hotels and budget airlines were the standard, you had the freedom to try a lot of things despite costs. That scenario is not very useful when bootstrapping your own startup, where money is always an issue. YC knows this and wants you to get funding, so the company has time to figure out what its product is, who its users are and how to make money. YCs motto is “build something people want”, which confirms their focus on product development, but on the backside of that t-shirt, it should say: “in growth we trust” because growth (eg. users, customers, impressions etc.) is the single most important indicator of success and something you can’t get any funding without when it comes to demo day. A simple question to ask when prioritizing tasks for yourself and your employees is this: Does it give you growth?  If it doesn’t, something else is more important.

YC spends a lot of time teaching you how to pitch your startup. Each comma in your presentation is questioned and every word is discussed. In 3 minutes, your pitch has to be crystal clear, understood by everyone and leave an impression investors remember (and not “something with storing data”). In order to stand out from 80+ startups you have to deliver a compelling story – very American and very different to the European ways of modesty, arrogance and shyness. Read my previous post on my pitching recommendations and the video of the pitch I gave at TechCrunch Disrupt.

AirHelp got accepted to the W2014 batch after 10 min of third degree interrogation and 1001 questions. I was told that if I got an email, AirHelp was out, if I got a phone call, AirHelp was in. That evening I received an email – asking for my phone number.