Startup Feature: Teambox

We recently had the chance to talk with Pablo Villalba from Teambox about how he got started and what advice he has to pass onto new and budding entrepreneurs, better yet, Teambox is now inBloon’s project management solution. The trickle effects of Next Top Startup, but I digress.

So without further ado, the startup feature of : Teambox

How did you come up with the idea for your company?

On one hand, I was looking for something that would tie our team together as a group. We tried some online solutions, excel spreadsheets, blogs and Gantt planning, but nothing worked.

When a client asked to deploy a solution in his own server, I started some real research for a quality open-source project manager. There was not such a thing. So, with a little seed funding, we got started.

The first versions were merely proofs of concept, and were only available on Spanish. However, they taught us important lessons on software development and clients’ needs. All this made a difference for Teambox 2.

Any milestones that you’d like to share?

When Teambox 2 was launched, it was one of a kind. It was the first Twitter-style collaboration tool that grouped team communication and task management.

After exiting the beta period, we set up some pricing plans for users who needed more of what we were doing. So far, we have over 100 paid accounts for the online version and we’re starting to have our first corporate clients. This means a lot of new lessons to learn, and the need to adapt quickly.

We recently acquired an online group chat application in our space, and we have plans to integrate its functionality in Teambox while expanding its offerings. We’re very excited about the possibilities.

Can you tell us a bit about the team?

At the heart of Teambox, we’re very technically minded people with a passion for design.

We had endless discussions over little details, because we care about usability. You can spend months developing the coolest feature on Earth, but unless you make it simple nobody is going to use it.We’re currently 5 programmers and 3 mixed profiles for sales and marketing. We expect to keep things small and simple, scaling our service without a significant increase on staff.

For that, we only work with the best. Our open-source community has been a great talent pool, where people can learn our working style before joining the company.

Any difficulties you’ve experienced in the startup process of your company?

It’s been extremely hard to get funded during the hard times economy has been through. Nevertheless, we were lucky to find the right investors who trusted the startup and team and made it possible.

It has also been very disappointing to see how public grants have more to do with political reasons than real innovation and supporting research and development. Lessons learned from this: Private money is reasonable, and it’s always better to survive with your own money or customers than looking for money from others.

Any advice to pass on to budding entrepreneurs?

Just get started. Entrepreneurship is like a George Lucas film, where you meet your friends during a long journey to an uncertain destination

Startup Feature: InBloon

Back in May we asked Jose Mariano of In Bloon five questions about his startup, being that he entered the Next Top Startup competition we felt it unfair to feature him and not the others, however now with the first edition of the competition well behind us we feel it’s time to publish his answers to our 6 questions.

What is bloon?

It’s an experience by which you will see the Earth shining round and blue on the eyes of the person you love. All in a safe, clean, not requiring strenuous training manner. A flight beyond the blue skies into the starry blackness of the cosmos. And with zero emissions.

Here’s the official definition:

bloon |bəˈloōn|

1. a sustainable, cost-effective, inspirational and elevating device that enables out of this world experiences to her passengers, including unparalleled views of their planet while helping preserve it in the process; to be enjoyed by individuals, families, and other groups worldwide: inside the bloon we were one with the Planet.

2. zero2infinity first project.
verb [ intrans. ]

1. to feel elevated, to raise to a new level, to transform yourdreams into reality: We are about to bloon… ORIGIN Barcelona, early 2009 (originally denoting a previous concept from 2000): from French ballon ‘large ball.’

How did you come up with the idea for bloon?

I grew up surrounded by rockets, telescopes, astronomy and balloons because of my dad’s job. After graduation in 2000 I started to think about the possibilities of Space Tourism and it seemed obvious to me that the view is the core element of the experience and that balloons are the safest means to achieve the altitudes where the view can be enjoyed. I made a publication, then a business plan, technical design, patent and finally a company.

Any milestones that you’d like to share?

We are happy we just received our first piece of investment from Ultramagic, the world’s second largest producer of hot air ballons. Their qualified endorsement along with their expertise in the ballooning market, certification rules and technical acumen bring us closer to our goal.

Can you tell us a bit about the team?

Full time there are 4 Aerospace Engineers (Master’s level), there are many part time collaborators and interns. We are looking for a Chief Technology Officer and a Chief Marketing Officer. Our adivsory board is highly committed and comprises senior leaders in key sectors for our business.

Any difficulties you’ve experienced in the startup process of your company?

The fact that I had worked on the concept for 9 years prior to incorporating the company had me well prepared. One important skill that I wish I had before, and only now I am starting to grasp is the ability to tell the people that just find your concept cool from the ones that can really help you. Generally in the EU there is a lot of talk about innovation and entrepreneurship as the best thing since bread came sliced, however there is very little real action in this topic. I think politics has distorted so much the landscape that it’s hard to find people driven by pure entrepreneurial spirit.

Any advice to pass on to budding entrepreneurs?

Be open minded and get as much high-quality advice as possible but don’t forget you know more about your business than anybody else.

If you have a startup and would like to have it featured, please write to info [at]

Investment innovation – new fund to invest in 100-200 startups annually

Crowd-financing is a great tool to get your project off the ground, but it takes a lot of work and can often keep you from what you should need to, or are working on – the actual business.

There are of course other forms of crowd-financing, such as crowd financed managed seed/investment funds – but the legalities, specifically from the fund management side can get a bit tricky. That aside, company founders have a plethora of other options when it comes to raising capital – however often times these choices are only available to larger firms with positive income streams.

So what’s an entrepreneur to do in this world? Well the good news is that there has recently been some innovation on the field, and it’s a concept that fundamentally crowd-sources start-ups and invests in 100-200 of them per year, so at a minimum, you’re seeing 2investments per week. Compare that to your traditional model of 5-10 annually and you’ll see why this is financially innovative.

So who’s ballsy enough to lead the way on this – it’s a group out of California called Right Side Capital Management. And if you think about it, it makes a lot of sense.

You’re basically taking the roulette table approach, if you spread your money across the table, one will eventually hit, the difference here is, that in this start-up version of the popular Vegas classis, more than one may hit, in fact 2-3-4 may hit, and one of those will hit big – and then there’s your flip.

While there may be problems involved in startup corporate governance, and especially with the way they’ve got their logistics set up, the concept as a whole is absolutely brilliant when it comes to getting money out to those companies that need it.

But how do you go about making investments into 100+ companies, clearly aside from having to increase your deal flow by a substantial amount, you need to employ a very different project valuation methodology rather than the traditional VC model.

From the RSCM website, and specifically the application page, it seems that they are very heavily focusing on the team makeup, and those individuals cash position or personal financial health. Meaning, good credit, probably some money saved up in the bank, or similar – so that you as an entrepreneur can maintain yourself while developing said product and going to market.

After all, an entrepreneur that has no money is one that isn’t going to devote his/her full time to the project. So if we’re right, I bet the assessment criteria would be 1. Team 2. Project 3. Progress.

Any thoughts on this? Let us know.

The Business of a Start-up in Africa

Business Start-up Africa

Suzana Moreira is the founder of moWoza, a social enterprise adopting mobile phone technologies to aid food distribution in Africa.  Suzana has travelled extensively across Africa, and has developed significant insights into sustainability at the Bottom of the Pyramid.  It is from conversations with grass-root communities across Africa that moWoza was born.  Food security, nutrition, literacy, female empowerment and climate change are issues that Suzana is addressing through her work in social enterprise and community development.  Suzana regularly contributes research and articles to academia, NGOs and business institutions on the topics of innovations leapfrogging in emerging markets, social enterprise and sustainability.  Prior to setting up moWoza, Suzana worked on several large infrastructure development programmes in Europe and in the manufacturing industry in South Africa.  Suzana holds a MBA from the Imperial College London Business School.


On March 14th, the NY Times reported that the Washington Post was not using Twitter, YouTube or Foursquare to map road blockages and resource availability during the disruptive snow storm, but rather Ushahidi, an IT platform built in Kenya.  Because Ushahidi originated in crisis from a bedroom, no one tried to patent and monopolize it.  Because Kenya is poor, with computer systems out of the reach for many, Ushahidi made its system work on cellphones.  Because Ushahidi had no venture-capital backing, it used open-source software and was thus free to let others remix its tool for new projects.”  Ushahidi today is used all around the world in crisis and crowd situations.

Ushahidi, is an African start-up that has attracted the world’s attention, likewise, M-Pesa, African inspired Kiva and Integr8 are world renowned business models that were conceived in Africa and have overcome the usual African challenges of poverty, corruption and inadequate policies.  Each of these challenges should be viewed as creative catalysts in the knowledge that the resulting model will be at least innovative and at most disruptive.  It is the processes and systems that are adopted to overcome these challenges that turn the African start-up into the success stories we hear about in the developed world.

Africa is becoming a business destination and many start-ups are positioning themselves to become part of this growing business trend.  As Vijay Mahajan points out in ‘Africa Rising’, 300 million of the 900 million consumers are tirelessly working their way out of extreme poverty to become lower middle class citizens. The World Bank says the percentage of Africans living on $1.25 a day or less dropped from 59{abb65e2b6815f549a727af2ea9f3a377a727ddc064972a198a74f88a6b766686} to 51{abb65e2b6815f549a727af2ea9f3a377a727ddc064972a198a74f88a6b766686} from 1996 to 2005 and has decreased further since.  The Development Policy Forum (DPF) estimates that by mid-century, the greatest population concentration will be in neither China nor India but in sub-Saharan Africa. The region is expected to gain a billion inhabitants – from 900 million today to 1.8 billion in 2050. The urban population alone will triple from 300 million to over a billion in 2050.  Africa offers huge business potential in the upcoming years.

The principles of doing business in Africa are the same as doing business in any developed country in the world.  Emphasis however lies on conducting extensive due diligence, understanding that decisions take time and that access to capital is best sought internationally.  Depending on the scale and nature of the business, corruption can be an issue to be offset but as most Africans will attest to – there are options and an entrepreneur can proceed without being involved in these somewhat complicated and thwarting business practices.

Although Africa is not as connected offering the hi-tech wizardry of the developed world, Africans are overcoming electricity shortages and lack of internet connections by applying unique mobile phone technologies that deliver services which range from connecting farmers to agricultural cooperatives to mobile phone education aimed at youth, and, interestingly corporate companies are rolling out mobile phone training programmes for their staff.  As with any start-up, on the ground market research will expose countless opportunities.

Success in many African countries is in engaging and developing relationships with village elders or with church and health leaders in particular communities.  These are the people who can endorse the offering that you are taking to market.  This is familiar to the business ways of the developed world, where business success is associated with brand leaders and strong sponsors.  Village and community leaders are also useful in negotiating premises, recommending resources and providing the bridge between a start-up and the local authorities.

Perhaps most challenging in Africa, depending on the industry, is infrastructure capacity.  Whereby e-commerce and sophisticated distribution models are taken for granted in the developed world, logistics and distribution can turn the viability of a great start-up concept into a failure.  Start-ups need to carefully analyse supply chain complexities and the constraints of accessing marketplaces.

Many innovative start-ups are piloting there innovative technologies in Africa.  moWoza is a social endeavour that is emblematic of a new generation of African start-ups that have recognised the pressing need for transformation and empowerment amongst the people of Africa.   Initially operating between South Africa and Mozambique, moWoza, is servicing the low income economic migrant who regularly remits goods back to their dependants in the home country.

Most African migrant workers are extremely price sensitive and prefer to shop in South Africa where there exists a larger competitively priced product selection than in their home countries.  However, sending these goods across borders is costly and by relying on informal distributors to transport the goods across the South African borders to their home countries they are risking confiscation at the border crossing, extremely late deliveries and the dependant receiving damaged goods.

moWoza provides a unique mobile phone powered cash-to-goods, end –to-end service that guarantees the migrant worker that the dependant will receive the goods in the dispatched condition on a confirmed date. By committing the time and resources to conduct extensive market research across various African countries, forming focus groups and understanding what situations migrant workers faced, moWoza was able to develop a value proposition that delivers a superior offering to its target market.

Illiteracy and malnutrition are high on moWoza’s agenda.  The World Bank has set targets to reduce illiteracy and relapse into illiteracy – this has spurred moWoza, whose low-income migrant target market are predominantly illiterate, to design and deliver literacy programmes through its agent network.   In addition, most Mozambican migrants in South Africa originate from rural areas where malnutrition amongst children is acute.  By offering food packages that conform to the World Health Organisation basic food basket standards, moWoza is ensuring that its economic migrant workers’ dependants are consuming nutritional food.

There are many possibilities and with a good service offering, it is only a matter time before moWoza will pursue secondary revenue streams. Community leaders are opening doors and suggesting other services that can be commercialised.  This is Africa.  A new era has begun, and for start-ups that are willing to commit themselves to the development of Africa there are endless opportunities.

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