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Explore Swift Travel Deals : a brand new startup related to unique traveling

Interview with Ileaa Swift

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Ileaa Swift opened Swift Travel Deals in February 2012, after spending 7 years of booking and researching travel for family and friends as a passion and a hobby. She studied the travel industry and researched several travel agency franchise options prior to starting her own travel agency in 2012. Since opening Swift Travel Deals in 2012, Swift Travel Deals has reached over 200,000 clients and potential clients worldwide and has a staff of 105 including travel and referral agents located in the United States, Europe and Africa.
Ileaa was recently awarded the Arkansas Business 20 in their 20’s Most Influential in Business and Community Award by Arkansas Business where only 20 people under the age of 30 were awarded in the state of Arkansas and has been featured in numerous magazines and news outlets around the globe.
Ileaa is a Certified Travel Agent, certified from the Travel Institute, a Travel Expert and a Travel Writer. She uses her presence in the travel industry as a platform for philanthropy through volunteer efforts and community service through Swift Travel Deals.

The Philippines’ startup scene: maturity is a matter of time

The Philippines’ strong economy plus the growing support from tech incubators in the country are good signs for budding domestic startups, according to according to senior executives from Philippine telco Smart Communications  and its tech incubator firm Ideaspace Foundation.

Smart co-founder and chief wireless advisor Orlando B.Vea notes that the Philippines postedover 7 percent growth rates in recent quarters, and that the economic climate and large Filipino market present an opportunity “to create and foster the growth of more world-class tech companies.”

Meanwhile, incubators like Ideaspace have helped new startups by organizing competitions and mentoring selected startups. Globe Telecom‘sKickstart and LaunchGarage have also lent a hand in contributing to the startup space.

With that said, can we now say the Philippines’ startup ecosystem is no longer in its nascency?

Before we dive in to this question, let’s first ask: what are the characteristics of a startup ecosystem that’s in its ‘early stages?’

The World Startup Report takes six factors into consideration when analyzing the development of a startup ecosystem: entrepreneurial culture, people (the pool of skilled and talented labor force), market (the consumers that the startups can tap), capital (availability of investors and its willingness to invest) , infrastructure (access to electricity and internet and the cost it takes to access) and regulations (policies in place to protect both consumers and startups). A fully-blossomed startup ecosystem must have high rankings in all of these categories.

In the report, the US earned the highest rankings for market, capital and culture (four on a scale of one to four). People and infrastructure ranged between three to four. So this might represent the ideal of a developed startup ecosystem.

The Philippines: the two sides of the coin

Meanwhile, a nascent startup country is one that needs to develop many or all of these factors.

According to the World Startup Ranking, The Philippines still faces challenges that need to be addressed: lack of funding, skilled individuals moving out of the Philippines, poor infrastructure, and more.

But despite these challenges, the same report emphasized the potential that lies in the Philippine startup scene such as a huge local market, low competition, e-commerce growth.

ecosystem rating

Ideaspace president Earl Martin Valencia says tech companies can significantly boost the country’s economy and it’s time for startups to reach their potential. “Someone can now support your startup from the idea stage to the expansion stage. […] We have to sustain our momentum.” Valencia says.

The bright side: startup activities here and there

Vea says the Philippines has seen “a spike of energy” in the developer and startup communities in the past two years. He adds:

We are seeing more activity among incubators, accelerators, angels, superangels, and VCs than ever before. There’s a startup conference or even a developer event or a hackathon almost every weekend.

True enough, we’ve seen these hackathons in Manila, and how they bring together talented engineers and developers. Even Silicon Valley’s AngelHack shared its intention to open up an office in Manila.

Likewise, the recent Geeks on a Beach held in Boracay was one of the bigger – if not the biggest – startup events to come to the Philippines. According to Smart, over 300 participants attended the event, ranging from developers, technopreneurs, and investors.

So, while the Philippines’ startup arena still lags behind those in its developed neighboring countries, a strong talent pool resides here. Recent years have also proved how startups are really starting to grow in the Philippines. People are already recognizing the potential of the country, and this may be good enough for us to say that the Philippines, too, can become a developed startup ecosystem.

Maybe instead of asking, “Is the startup scene in the Philippines still in its nascency,” we should ask instead, “how soon will it take the startup scene in the Philippines to develop?”

9 Ways Co-Working Can Help Your Business Grow

Question: Share your best anecdote/lesson from co-working and how it helped your business or brand grow.

coworking

New Clients All Around

“I work regularly at coworking spaces. I routinely land new clients through a quick chat, especially since in a coworking space, I can immediately show the person sitting next to me exactly what I’m working on.”

 

Word Gets Out

“I belong to a community of entrepreneurs that work together and play together, and I started serving a couple of clients. Word started getting around the community that my service was good, and more and more people started using my service. This is a great strategy for those whose clients would be in a co-working environment.”

 

New Talent in Your Space

“If you’re in a space with other talented individuals, it’s the perfect opportunity to scout for new talent for your own business. We’ve hired some of our most talented employees just because they were working in the same proximity to our company in a co-working environment. Without being in a co-working environment, we would have never had met those future employees.”

– Derek Johnson | CEO/Founder, Tatango

 

Creative Problem Solving

“Co-working spaces bring together diverse businesses. Be open about your difficulties and support other companies with theirs to uncover clever solutions to your challenges. We’re a consumer products company and struggled initially with building our subscription program. We finally talked to a co-located company with deep tech expertise and were able to crack the issue over a weekend!”

– Aaron Schwartz | Founder and CEO, Modify Watches

 

Support for Each Other’s Business

“At 1871, a new co-working space in Chicago, I have the opportunity to work around awesome startups everyday. In my immediate area, I work with two very different startups, but we find ways to support each other’s businesses. Whether it’s through signing up for services, going to launch parties or promotion through social media, we have worked together to expand our businesses.”

– Mike McGee | Co-Founder, The Starter League

 

Co-Workers as Brand Ambassadors

“One of the things we do at my co-working space is “pitch meet-ups” where everyone has a chance to give an update on what they’re working on. I always use this time to let my co-workers know what they can tell others about my business, and having so many ambassadors for my brand has helped the word spread like wildfire. I act as an ambassador to their businesses too. Give love, get love!”

– Natalie MacNeil | Emmy Award Winning Media Entrepreneur, She Takes on the World
 

Quick User Feedback

“Co-working can be great for quickly getting feedback on design and product plans. When co-working, I’m often asked for feedback on projects, and once you get to talking, it’s a great way to get feedback on your own activities—from design to product roadmap, co-working space can be great for fast feedback from those who are external to your project, but close by.”

– Doreen Bloch | CEO / Founder, Poshly Inc.
 

Spontaneous Collaboration

“The thing you really get with a co-working space is those spontaneous chats and “bump ins” you have with other entrepreneurs that lead places you’d never be able to go if you were working by yourself in isolation. When I started our entrepreneur co-workspace, The Loft, that was a big reason people joined. To be around entrepreneurs, to have random conversations and brainstorming. Awesome benefit.”

– Trevor Mauch | Founder, Carrot
 

Accountability Audience

“Our company was born out of co-working space and has been growing inside of one for the past 11 months. One unexpected benefit I love about co-working is the accountability. There is a communal sense of showing up from work, getting stuff done, and motivating each other to do so. It fosters the work hard, play hard attitude.”

– John Meyer | Founder/CEO, Lemon.ly

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, the YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and email lessons.

Image Credit: http://www.geekpreneur.com

12 Myths about Starting a Business

1 I need to write a business plan before I start.

No you don’t. Start-ups are so unpredictable that writing a business plan is a pointless exercise.  You don’t exactly know who your customers are or what benefit/value they get from your product/service. If you think you need to prepare a plan to raise start-up funding see point 3 below.

2 I need lots of business experience.

No you don’t. There is a little unknown principle called be, do, have.  But for some reason our society believes it is the other way around – have, do, be.  People think you need to have a certain amount of skills, knowledge, contacts before you can start a business (do) and be an entrepreneur/business owner.  A better way to live is first of all just be an entrepreneur then you will do all the things that entrepreneurs do and eventually have the necessary things you thought you needed before you could start.  Essentially fake it till you make it.

3 I need to raise lots of funding before I can start

No you don’t. This is a risky and unnecessary strategy.  What you need is a minimal viable product to send to potential customers to receive their valuable feedback. Then you can alter your product/service until it’s exactly what they want.  Let them guide you as in the end its customers that will eventually be paying you for it. If there is no demand for this product/service idea you will find out without wasting much time, energy or money.  An MVP is not just market research.  If you were conducting market research you would ask someone if they would find your product useful and they may respond yes – but there is a massive difference between what someone says they will do (during market research) and what they will actually do in the real world.

London based start up change the way of online payments

As GoCardless announces an integration with Sage accounting software, Tech City News catches up with co-founder Tom Blomfield to find out how the company is disrupting payments

GoCardless was set up in London by Tom Blomfield, Matt Robinson and Hiroki Takeuchi in 2011 with the aim to make it simpler for small businesses to collect direct debits online. Today, backed by $4.8m of investment from major UK and US venture capital firms including Accel Partners, Passion Capital and Y-Combinator, the business serves around 3,500 UK firms helping them to collect millions of pounds every month.

The idea behind the direct debit scheme is to allow individuals to give access to other organisations to collect varying amounts from their account. Once an individual has been given advanced notice of the amount due and the date of collection, the organisation can deduct the money automatically.

In the UK, the direct debit scheme is run by BACS. Thanks to its partnership with RBS, which guarantees GoCardless’s liabilities, the plugs directly into BACS’ direct debit framework, allowing the company to democratise direct debits to smaller businesses.

Forysta Ventures, a Mumbai based startup betting on loyalty programs & CRM

Loyalty programs as a concept is still finding its footing in India. While Indian retailers are yet not completely convinced of the idea, internationally most retailers have a well-oiled loyalty program. In India, Shoppers Stop which has been one of the earliest adopter of such a program, and today is reaping the benefit of their investment. A whopping 75% of Shoppers Stop sales comes through their loyalty program! Just as retail and shopping is moving online, we also have loyalty programs shifting mediums.
Kunal Mehta

We recently found out about Forysta Ventures – a startup that is leveraging technology to make a difference to the concept of loyalty programs. However what Forysta is doing is build a complete end-to-end model, where merchants can use the online space to sell, engage with customers and also have them be part of the loyalty program as well. Forysta has three products to do this. First – SalenOffers.com – which an information portal for customers to come and look for deals, offers and coupons across various cities. SalenOffers also has a B2B arm, which is working with companies like MasterCard India, Idea Cellular, Hindustan Times and Vodafone India to conceptualise programs for their customers. Forysta also has plans to roll out a mCoupon tech platform for these companies. Their other product is Wookart  — a virtual mall SaaS-based technology platform where retail merchants can create their own eCommerce and mCommerce sites. Their last product is inloyal — mobile app-based loyalty platform solution, which is programmed to take care of a company’s CRM activities on a holistic level. Via inloyal, a brand can have its own loyalty program created, integrated with its storefronts and hosted on cloud.

Started by Kunal Mehta in 2009, Kunal claims Forsyta has grown well since their second year of operations and have grown about 60% year-on-year on an average in revenues. Kunal has done his Masters in Commerce from Mumbai and worked with Directi and RK Swamy BBDO for sometime. “I was very impatient and wanted to work on a lot of ideas. So I quit one day, gave myself some time and started work to build Forysta Ventures,” says Kunal. He says the opportunity for loyalty cards/services in India is huge. “The opportunity size walks hand-in-hand with the retail growth in India as more the retail market develops, more the need for a robust CRM platform which brands could roll out their programs on. But the main bottleneck lies in awareness,” he says. CRM, as a retail function, is yet to catch the attention of many retailers as many are busy with sales and operations and other factors which go into making a retail business click. “CRM has never been given its due importance by Indian retailers, barring a few, because it is not goal-critical, which is why many retail companies tend to put loyalty and CRM in the backseat. The truth is CRM can drive your business and the leisure of ignoring that is not going to be an option soon,” emphasises Kunal.

Forysta Ventures

Various industry reports peg the loyalty market in India to be anywhere between Rs 5,000 and 8,000 crore. And the sectors that will help grow this space is retail, particularly apparels & accessories, F&B, malls, jewellery and such. Currently Capillary Technologies, mloyal and Qwikcilver are other brands that operate in the same space as inloyal of Forysta. Talking about the difference between inloyal and the others, Kunal says they are the first players in the market where retailers can create their own white-labelled loyalty programs and also offer customers a mobile app-based interface through which customers can connect and engage with them and vice versa.

On the customer front, Forsyta provides individuals a single platform to manage their own loyalty programs by themselves. “We have built a platform where retail customers can directly engage with their various loyalty memberships via inloyal,” explains Kunal. Currently the venture is working with 60 retail brands across verticals. But despite the large client base, getting regular cash flow has been a challenge says Kunal. Most marketing and advertising for the company has been through digital marketing, using Google Adwords and Facebook Ads, and Kunal says they are now exploring conventional media like print as well.

Forysta has a team size of 22 people across their offices in Mumbai and Ahmedabad. Team members include people in business development & marketing, sales & alliances, content & operations, technology development and quality assurance. Getting good quality people to join them in their teams has equally been a challenge for him. As they continue to make inroads into the retail and customer mindspace, Kunal says his short term goal is to help establish a market for CRM in India and to do that he wants to educated retailers about the importance of having a CRM strategy and a loyalty program. While for the long term, he wants to make inloyal — an all-in-one CRM platform where both customers and retailers can come aboard and engage with each other to a create lasting retail experience.

Should I move my startup to Silicon Valley?

Some background – I’m a New Delhi based founder writing this in New York at the end of a three month accelerator programme in Mountain View with 26 international startups (including those from Asia, Middle-East and Africa). Being stuck indoors due to rains in a cafe with spotty WiFi in the upper east side, I decided to throw some gyan (Hindi slang for unsought founder advice) on the subject of relocating a startup.

 

PlaneWhen you’re building a prototype, you need to be at a place where you can do it most cost-effectively. Most likely this is where you live currently, or in case of shameless Indian kids like me it is where your parents live (so you can save on rent). All you need is a laptop with a dependable broadband connection, and relocating to a “Silicon Valley of X” where you shell out a huge rental and adjust to a completely different way of life doesn’t make much sense. This is the reason why the Morpheus isn’t based out of a single city and both Sameer and Nandini spend a lot of time traveling across the country.

Once you’re past the initial prototype and start testing it out in the market, it makes sense to be where the market is. If not relocating, at least consider traveling to familiarize yourself with the target geography (like the most important city) and the relevant communities. You might not get anything tangible (no cheques or purchase orders or WSJ stories) from this short visit, but it will pay off in some way later (believe in serendipity).

If your business has a strong local component (like manufacturing or local business relationships) the key team members responsible (the founders!) ought to stay put as far as possible. You’re more likely to hurt your progress than help it by choosing to handle things remotely. We might be living in the age of always-connected devices, but sh*t gets done FAR more efficiently when you’re not going back and forth on long email threads, especially across different time-zones.

The exception to the most of the above is if you get accepted into a YC or a500S, which, for most founders, is too good a deal to walk away from and comes with cash that can take care of those rents. Move your arse to Mountain View pronto, however boring and expensive it might seem, at least for the programme. After that you can let the other factors decide whether you wish to stay or move back.

A caveat – I don’t believe that founders of startups neither based nor focussed on the US markets should relocate to the valley (or say, Chile) just for a programme. Staying away from the target market and team can be injurious to (startup) health, and you should be absolutely certain you’re willing to pay the price for whatever you expect to gain from relocating for too long. People and cultures can change drastically from one city to another, or in case of San Francisco, from one micro-neighbourhood to another. For Seat 14A, the Marina guy is more likely a customer than the Mission guy. The point is, expecting to gain know-how about growing a business from the-place-that’s-done-it-all-several-times, and applying that to a completely different market, is being over-optimistic.

Of course, more often than not a startup will not be in a position to say no to cash, which makes this point moot. Apart from learning the repeatable know-how of positioning and growing a startup, the most important thing a foreign founder expects to get from spending time in the valley is investor interest (euphemism for ca$h). The latter is again hard to come by because an investor might not relate to the foreign market you’re going after, and is more comfortable with the several local entrepreneurs working in a space they understand better.

So, should you move your startup to the Silicon Valley? Think about:

  • are you in build-mode or sell-mode?
  • are you getting into YC/500S etc.?
  • is your customer in the US or your home country? if both, can you focus on the US customer?
  • does your business have a strong local component that would need remote-management?

Depending on your response to these queries the answer can switch from a resounding yes to a far less compelling maybe.

About The Guest Author

Aditya Sahay a.k.a Adi bites off more than he can chew. A serial entrepreneur, he’s currently helping men look good (at a budget) at Seat 14A. Follow him on twitter @adsahay.

5 Business Rules Worth Breaking — and 1 You Absolutely Must Follow

You can’t get through a semester of business school or a meeting with a loan counselor without learning the so-called unbreakable rules of business.  And, yet, some of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs ignored accepted business conventions.

Bill Gates, for example, attributes some of his success to reading, thinking, researching and being quick to call a dumb idea dumb.  But he’s never written a playbook for business success.  And Donald Trump, a perennial member of Forbes’ list of billionaires, suggests that rules don’t matter when he says “Everything in life is luck.”

Can only the lucky few get away with breaking the rules?  Or can anyone?  Can you?

Here are five business rules that successful CEOs have ignored:

1.  Never start a business with friends or family.

Taki Skouras, Jaime Brown and Joseph Brown wanted to work together after they graduated from college.

They opened a weight loss kiosk, and it failed miserably.

But their friendship and desire to work together remained intact.  They opened a second kiosk business, one that offered cell phone accessories.

Although they struggled initially, living together in a single room and taking home about $100 a week, they kept their faith in their friendship and the business.

Today, 10 years later, Cellairis has grown into a $350 million success, according to company spokesperson Andrew Park.

Startups Have 99 Problems, and Here’s Another One

In the immortal words of Jay Z, “money ain’t a thang”

And what’s this got to do with startups?, I hear you ask.

Well, more and more founders are telling me words to the same effect.

Or, as they are more likely to put it, “Money is not the most important thing I need right now”.

Talking to them, it’s becoming clear to me that there’s an increasing amount of unmet demand for something else. Something less tangible than money, and yet perhaps more vital in the early stages of starting a company. One thing which seems to be in short supply in TechCity and beyond:

Mentoring

A person to guide, advise and help think up solutions to those day-to-day business problems for which there are no textbook answers.

This is what a growing number of startups want over money.

It makes sense

It’s cheaper than ever to start a business. The supply of early stage capital, between all the accelerators, incubators, early stage funds, university funding programmes, government initiatives and crowdfunding platforms available these days, has never been greater.

As a result, startups may face 99 problems, but finding their first few thousand pounds apparently isn’t one (finding their next few is an entirely different matter, as I’ve argued here before).

I’m familiar with the view that says “who needs a mentor when you have the internet”. Indeed, I used to think this way myself. However, I’ve recently come to realise that this is the wrong way of seeing things.

While there is a wealth of information on the internet, the vast majority of human knowledge and experience – two essential ingredients of good mentoring – remains, and probably will always remain, in people’s heads. There’s no substitute for an actual mentor.

He/she can have a transformational impact on a fledgling startup.

There is some great startup mentoring taking place out there so it wouldn’t be fair to say mentoring is fundamentally “broken”. But it isn’t reaching as wide an audience as needs it.

To solve this problem, I’d love to see a few things:

1. An open, national platform for finding mentors – as opposed to the walled-garden / velvet-roped set up in which a lot of mentoring currently takes place

2. Mentoring with no strings attached – a standalone offering

3. Structured mentoring – a formal approach instead of throwing people into a room and seeing what happens

4. Free at the point of delivery – at least to begin with, or for a certain period of time

5. An assurance of quality – standardization of quality is required

6. Personal / individual – group mentoring has its place but 1 to 1 mentoring is key

This is hardly a blueprint, much less a magna carta. Call it a starter for 10.

I’d love to hear if you have any ideas too. What I have I left off this list? Is there something on it that shouldn’t be?

Startup founders are unlikely to ever start going around TechCity hollering “mentoring ain’t a thang”, but until they’re expressing sentiments to that effect there’s work to be done.

Can we make finding a mentor as accessible as initial startup capital has become?

That’s the holy grail. Yep. Hat tip to Jay Z again.

Mawuli Ladzekpo formerly worked in VC, and now coordinates startup loans at the Brightside Trust.

Lingua.ly Transforms The Web Into A Language-Learning Opportunity

Lingua.ly Transforms The Web Into A Language-Learning Opportunity

Learning a language with the help of texts that were specifically written for learners is one thing, but over time, that tends to get boring and once you venture out to read “real” texts, you quickly realize how artificial the texts for learners are. With Lingua.ly, a smart language-learning startup out of Israel that is officially launching today, the entire web becomes a platform for language learning.

Thanks to a patent-pending natural language processing technique, Lingua.ly indexes texts on the web in Spanish, English, French, Hebrew and Arabic. After you’ve taken a few vocabulary quizzes and used the service for a little while, Lingua.ly will be able to recommend real texts for you based on the vocabulary you already know and the difficulty of the text.

Lingua.ly is a Chrome plug-in, so it’ll automatically prompt you to take new quizzes, personalized for you, as you browse the web. You can also use the plug-in to get recommendations for texts that are appropriate for your reading levels and mark up texts or browse Lingua.ly’s dictionary as you visit any site on the web.

Lingua.ly will remember the words you looked up and will start including those in your quizzes and base its reading recommendations on your knowledge. That’s definitely the strength of the service: it integrates with your daily web browsing habits and lets you learn new words as you go along.

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The company’s founders Orly Fuhrman, a Stanford Ph.D. and Jan Ihmels, a Weizmann Institute of Science Ph.D., told me last week that they realized that the web presents a new opportunity for language learning that most language-learning startups have ignored so far. If everything on the web is personalized, Fuhrman said, why is most language-learning software still based on pre-written lessons? Language learning with artificial texts, she argued, will allow you to get the basics down, but it also makes language learning boring.

Lingua.ly, then, finds the online content that’s right for your learning needs and even takes your personal interest into account (say you want to read about sports, business, travel, politics or celebrity gossip). With this service, even your Facebook feed could become a language-learning opportunity.

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The focus here is squarely on vocabulary, but as the founders told me, as you read new texts, you will automatically pick up some grammar, as well. It’s worth noting, though, that Lingua.ly is probably best used as a complement to existing language learning programs, and maybe even a traditional classroom setting.

The founders say they may expand to more languages, grammar and launch some paid features, as well. For now, Lingua.ly is already well worth a try if you are learning a new language.