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Bartlomiej Owczarek weblog

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Goldenberry in 2010

Officially, we started in February 2010, when our Ltd was finally registered.

Frozen above Crater Lakephoto ? 2007 Powderruns | more info (via: Wylio)

First projects started in May.

We don’t need to do annual reports just yet, but here are some highlights:

  • We started with a team of two, finished the year with a team of 7
  • We worked for 8 different clients during the year
  • We derived 75% of revenues from projects for new clients
  • 70% of revenues was generated in most challenging Financial Services sector
  • We completed our first project abroad

Next year… is going to be exciting!




Random thoughts about winter and the coming year

We spend winter holidays in Warsaw, looking after all details for setup of our brand new consulting vehicle.

Details include registering company (in fact two companies), selecting accounting firm, developing company’s brand and identity.

We are trying to be quite innovative and perfectionist in each of these, except for maybe the accounting.

Everyone left for skiing and all, but we are managing these details and it’s actually kind of fun.

Ogito, on the other hand, is closed for the time when I have time for another experiment.

I guess I should be more concerned about investing lots of time and then switching to something else without obvious return, but I’m really not. I guess I like experiments.

Jokes about global warming are probably tired already, but the fact is, I can hardly recall a winter like that. I mean the situation when you lost track of how long the snow has been around – it’s been so long.

I have a feeling that a proper winter spells a very good year. I don’t have anything tangible to back up this expectation, except perhaps how the frost is killing all the wormies etc.

In any case, this year for us is about pumping all the startuping experience into consulting, which is something we know best, and we have lots of ideas how to make it even better, therefore we are quite excited about it.

This post is due to the fact that I feel like writing rather than reading on this lazy Saturday.




EU subsidies

I never liked subsidies, just from perspective of avoiding rent-seeking, but this message from PARP (agency managing subsidies at least for innovative projects) gives some rationale to this stand at last.

PARP warns companies who were granted subsidies not to change their ownership structure, because it might be interpreted as breach of subsidy contract.

Google Waves goodbye to email (and Microsoft)

Google revealed its stealth Wave project, with the announcement timed, by the way, within minutes after Microsoft Bing’s coming out.

Wave is an attempt to redefine and merge communication media, possibly replacing email, IM and others.

The demo looked really cool. Sadly Wave is not available yet – but I am really eager to check it out when it opens.

Demo lasted more than an hour, the video is available at project’s homepage.

Briefly, Wave aims to replace exchanging messages back and forth, which is the current practice, with single threads, called waves.

Different stuff can be added to waves – messages, but also photos and instant messaging.

In fact they implemented IM in a way that allows to follow each keystroke of the counterpart – like in good old days of Talk sessions on unix systems.

Meanwhile, Microsoft rebranded its search engine to “Bing” and tries to promote it as a “decision engine”, tailoring search results layout depending on the recognized query context (e.g. travel related search) and presenting structured information on its own page, rather than rely on user to go to any of the results.

I like the direction Microsoft is taking, but at this point I would be more excited about Wave’s ability to change my daily routing rather than Bing.

Bing is at most evolutionary step in the right direction, while Wave has more revolutionary feeling to it.

Note: this doesn’t bode well for Microsoft, which is an underdog compared to Google. In this position it should be Microsoft coming up with revolutionary ideas, not Google. Microsoft fails to show real innovation for all the dollars it sinks into search (for years already).

Another note: Wave makes me think of tremendous advantage Google has thanks to it capabilities in mass scale, real time processing. Building a system like this would be a challenge for a small startup.

Just finished my first commercial project

Ogito is fun to work on and all, but it’s not going to be a huge money maker in a foreseeable future, so sooner or later there’s going to be liquidity problem.

I saw two obvious solutions: find an investor or do freelance consulting.

Finding investors is something I don’t have much experience in, and moreover the timing is not too good, crisis and what not. I was lucky to have some friends declare to invest if necessary (which was not necessary yet), but as far as investment funds are concerned, I talked to just two of them and that was it.

Consulting, on the other hand, is a proven and quite manageable (I hope) revenue engine. Having commercial activity in form of consulting, in which I have experience, would allow to finance all the other activities, in which I don’t have so much experience just yet.

A week ago on Monday I woke up to see an email which could go as an rfp, and voila, till the evening my first freelance project was sold (why bother to execute your strategy if you can just let it happen).

The client: an investment fund. Ironic.

Actually it’s not really my first freelance consulting, but I’m taking into account just post-corporate period.

We managed to cover quite a lot of ground in less than a week, and both sides are happy. Three sides even, since I don’t really like to work alone.

Maybe more will come. Will see. Need some business card eventually, if more are supposed to come.

Witcher for consoles on hold, Widescreen Games and CDP blame each other

I was very sad to hear that CD Project RED put their Witcher console version on hold.

Original PC Witcher game was a resounding success and the console port had a chance to steer the project into a much wider market.

CDP release cites quality as a reason behind the decision, meaning specifically that a French contractor they hired for the job, Widescreen Games, didn’t deliver neither on time nor appopriate quality.

WSG in press release defends their “propriety technology” and blames CDP for missing payments.

There is an interview with CDP founder at Polygamia (Polish), in which he explains in detail quality issues with WSG and asserts payment delay were only linked to WSG missing the milestones, with last payment not to be made since the milestone was not completed and the contract canceled:

We put an enormous effort to make sure the production goes the right way, and still the plans were becoming invalid, and there were new delays? After a few such incidents, we sent a large team over to Lyon. The group consisted not only of people involved in the project, but also of technology managers from RED and Metropolis. They spent one whole week to examine thoroughly the whole project and its technology.

As a result, we found out that WSG’s promises had no grounds in reality and that the game’s premiere date and quality cannot be guaranteed. So, after a long discussion, we decided to suspend the cooperation with WSG, because we understood there is too much risk in it. And actually we haven’t paid for the last milestone, but only because it wasn’t complete and we have already started the termination of the contract.

Michal claims that redundancies and savings at CDP, though they are unpopular and generate lots of gossip, will allow the company to continue its key projects.

In any case, the situation is pretty sad. The only good news is that CDP claims that their current flagship project, kept in secret but assumed to be Witcher 2, is on track.

Ogito (soft) launched!

Today is my birthday and aside from this fact, I’m writing to announce that the project I’ve been working on for some time already, called Ogito, is now accessible to the public!

Even though it’s a pretty early version.

Visit it at http://www.ogito.eu, if everything goes fine you should see something like this:

Ogito full screen

As a matter of fact it was open for something like a week already, but I wanted to fulfill some common requests of people who saw it first. Like, that it should work on Windows. Now it works (I think), even in internet explorer! (update: unless it’s IE 6 or 5.5. then not so much. thanks for a tip Elena:)

So what it does?

Main aim is to explore opportunities to invest your free time.

Like in “use every moment”.

It will have a broad range of content – not only mainstream ones, like movies & theaters, but also less common activities, like voluntary works. The stuff it presents will come with accurate information, including exact (personalized) prices.

The content will be easily searchable, so you can look, for example, into theater shows one month ahead or find israeli movies played right now in your city.

On top of this it comes with community and personalization features.

What of all this is available now?

Everything mentioned is represented, even though in often basic shape. So, for content we start with movies in all Poland and theaters in Warsaw, search works as described but not full text yet, there are profiles and comments but not yet ability to follow other people, etc.

Anyway, see for yourself. Granted, it will improve almost daily. Use the “walkthrough” link on the right for some quick help.

Main message: send me feedback what you think!

And drop by once in a while to see changes. Coming soon: concerts and events data from Eventim.

Learning from Twitter, Facebook

Lately I’m mostly busy with community functionality of Ogito and I’m trying to take advantage of some intuitions from Twitter and Facebook.

I’ve had Facebook account for some time, but was never an active user. Twitter I never used at all, even though I had some experience with blip, a Polish twitter look-alike. So I opened a twitter account to experience the original thing.

My initial goal was something very close to twitter – or how I imagined it should feel like before actually using it. Low barrier of entry, easy to use, one information stream carrying all the relevant user updates.

After playing with Twitter and reading reactions to Facebook latest redesign, which makes social network look quite similar to its much smaller competitor, my vision is evolving a bit.

In fact I wasn’t disappointed by how easy it was to start using twitter. The application is lighthearted and inviting, also because the community seems to radiate with enthusiasm of the early converts.

On the other hand, and maybe it’s my lack of experience with the app, the updates stream seems overwhelming, difficult to read continuously and unstructured. Figuring a conversation from exchanges of replies is one example when I’m quite lost (stream of given users shows replies he directed at someone, but not the other way round, so it’s hard to understand the context).

Facebook feed was supposedly better. It had intelligence to handle updates (status vs activity reports) differently. It lost this advantage after redesign and maybe this is why so many people hate it.

Given that we will have a lot of non-status related updates, Facebook (as of before redesign) might serve as a better inspiration.

Its latest redesign also suggests a number of points where caution should be applied (I’m basing it mostly on this summary in huffingtonpost): overuse of user thumbs, large fonts and trivial updates, lack of real time view.

Of course, many of the complaints (photos flooding the feed em masse etc.) will be resolved by subsequent fixes.

Smava launches as the first international P2P lender in Poland

Smava, a German social lending site, announced its official launch in Poland today.

Social lending (or p2p lending), for those unfamiliar with the concept, involves people lending money among themselves with intermediation of an Internet portal like smava.

In Poland three such sites operate already, and all of them started activity last year. I wrote about them after bootstrap meeting, roughly at the time when all three were launching, and then I organized a research between Accenture and Gemius to have some insight into how the Polish Internet users like this idea.

There is no doubt that P2P lenders like the Polish market, though, since very few countries have four players, like we now have after Smava opened.

How Smava wants to differentiate itself? I noted the following:

  • Conservative risk policy. They seem to have rather strict loan granting procedures. Scoring model was developed (and will be maintained) by BIK, the credit office. Documents and employment information are verified
  • Automatic and free of charge (from what I understood, updated: free of upfront fee) collections procedure. Other sites also claim to have collections, but perhaps it does not work as well as advertised
  • Anonymity. The parties don’t need to know each other unless collection procedures need to be launched. This would make me feel better as investor. Other players were missing this one when we compared them mid last year
  • Quantification of expected risk for the investor. Meaning one can see expected cost of risk based on borrower’s risk rating. This functionality was highly emphasized though I cannot verify how better it is that competition

Other features of the service seem in line with the market. Smava’s vice president Arek Hajduk told me, though, that the platform Germans have is 2-3 times more complex that the ones he had seen before. Arek is a P2P veteran who was launching social lending startups in Denmark (Fairrates) and in Canada (IOU).

Smava’s target group are “good” banking customers. People with poor risk profiles will be rejected and not allowed to use the site.

Down payment for mortgage was quoted as one interesting market niche, and recent experience that my mother had seems to confirm that this is an opportunity. Even if loan term of only 36 months might make the installments quite high. Banks started to demand down payment recently, and people often end up missing 10-20k euros to close their deal.

Business model is based on the fees. Borrower pays 1% of loan amount after loan is granted, investors do not have to pay. There was some discussion at the conference if the fees are not too low to built a sustainable business. Nevertheless, Smava wants to reach break-even point within three years.

What are Smava’s chances on the market?

Hard for me to say since I don’t follow it very closely. Everyone at the conference was taking shots at Monetto, the site which a year ago was boasting to have the most secure platform. They launched late, apparently raised the expectations too high, and failed to deliver. Perhaps Smava can take their place as the “high end” P2P player. Finansowo, on the other hand, is a rather different niche, more “social” than “lending”. That leaves us with Kokos, the third player. I don’t know how well they are doing.

Smava says that financial crisis didn’t reduce the loan volume in Germany, in fact it actually increased, so that shouldn’t be a problem.

Works on smava started in March 2008, and took about 6 full time programmers to finalize. Makes me a little bit uneasy about my 3-months, 1-non-programmer startup, but hey, they probably didn’t work seven days a week.

I wish Smava best. I would consider them for the time when I will have burnt all the money for startuping, but probably their advanced risk procedures would not let me in (if they are any good).

You can now run EC2 servers in Europe – how faster it is?

I just reached the first milestone – deploying my application into a production server. Roughly at the same time, Amazon announced that it is now possible to have EC2 instances running on data centers located in Europe.

What is EC2? It’s a platform which allows you to run your application on arbitrary number of virtual servers. EC2 charges for servers on hourly basis, so it allows, in principle, to scale very flexibly.

From the very beginning I wanted Ogito to run on EC2.

Having servers located in Europe is a good thing, because latency is lower – ie. requests get handled faster because they don’t have to travel back and forth over the ocean. But I wanted to have some idea what the difference would be and ran couple of pings from my home location. Results:

  • EC2 us-east instance: 120ms
  • EC2 eu-west instance: 60ms
  • Google.pl: 46ms
  • Progreso.pl: 17ms
  • Onet.pl: 15ms

60ms. Doesn’t beat local hosting, but better than hosting in the US.

For now my app is running in the us-east region, anyway, because ec2onrails AMI that I use (AMI is a server “template”) is not available in Europe yet. I was a bit surprised that one cannot access public AMIs across the regions, but that’s the way it works – regions are very self-contained.

Side note 1: I deployed my app successfully over the weekend, upgrading ec2onrails image to rails 2.2.2 and doing some other modifications. Hooray!

Side note 2: that said, the app currently is able to only display “come back later” page without any errors:)

Side note 3: I wish I had a place to write about more geeky stuff, I don’t like writing them here because my friends would find them hard to digest, while having another side blog never worked for me.

Vanishing point

So much for the healthier lifestyle: last month I’ve been working 7 days a week, eating junk food and outputting spaghetti code (hopefully my coding is getting better with time).

In contrast, I had no time for yoga, fresh air and friends.

And of course blogging.

But blogging is already dead according to Nick Carr, so maybe it doesn’t matter so much.

I’ve been trying fanatically to reach certain milestone that I set for October, but unfortunately, in the course of work, the milestone became a sort of vanishing point.

(side note/explanation: I am currently working on an Internet application that I want to reach some usable state beginning next year)

As expected, setting for a real work allowed to stress-test the initial concept. Some changes proved to take a lot of time. For example, I thought I would be able to classify the objects that I work with into a neat set of categories. It didn’t work with the real cases, though, and I had to change the data model to allow necessary flexibility.

On the other hand, number of smaller issues that emerge in the process and have to be taken care of is astonishing (and quite scary).

Start of new year is a mid-term milestone that I will use to see where I am, after 3 months of work.

What I find optimistic, though: I still very much look forward to reaching the target I aim for. The road up is steep, no surprises here, but I believe that it’s worthwhile the more the further I go. I prefer it this way rather than the other.

Predictions are getting really bleak

From a meeting organized by Sequoia for its startups:

Upin, who knows a thing or two about money and markets, told the room that we are in the beginning of a long cycle, what he called a ?secular bear market.? This could be a 15-year problem, he said. This comment was accompanied by many slides that showed historical charts of previous recessions averaging 17-year cycles. He pointed out that the issue here is not the equity markets but the credit market, and that will take a long time to recover. He was ominous in warning the startups that this is a global issue, it is not a normal time, and is a significant risk not just to growth but to personal wealth.

As reported by gigaom.

Some depressing, but maybe inspiring advice for startups follows.

Back from Google Day 2008 [Poland]

I came back from Google Day 2008, organized for the second time in Poland by Google.

The scale of the event was quite impressive, even though there were some organizational deficiencies (like, everything was running late).

Just before event the started, the light-spirited Google’s logos beamed on huge screens accompanied by pompous music, reminding of the strength and confidence of today’s corporation, made peculiar impression on me (like that of seeing a child suddenly grown into a giant but still looking like a child only a very big one).

Anyway setting was nice.

But the content I saw was rather uninspiring. At least from my perspective. Maybe the idea of the event was more community/brand building, than showcasing something truly new.

First there was a video message from Cerf who told us that innovation is important, then Mario Queiroz (Google Labs) presentation from which I remember only that Google will keep on innovating if only for the reason that Internet is growing larger and that there are still some difficult problems in search, like understanding context of the query. And reminder what is the strategic idea of Chrome, for those who missed it.

Then I endured one session structured around screenshots from Google Trends and went back to do some real work today.

Still I think Google didn’t need to satisfy itself with such boilerplate content – certainly there is no lack of opportunities to say something new. Say, display Android phones (instead there were labs of… Google Maps and Youtube). Or provide insight into details of cooperation terms for startup mashups (ok, this is self-interest).

Maybe I missed some good stuff in the other workshop sessions, but judging from the agenda, I do not think so.

The best thing to do was probably networking, but for this purpose I was poorly prepared due to lack of business cards (note to myself: need business cards). But one person turned out so relevant to my current work that meeting her just like that seemed an amazing luck (and a justification for the time spent).

Google News comes to Poland, go28days goes global

I neglected to post lately because of my ongoing adventure with Rails (apparently rails 2.0 made the book I have next to obsolete, doesn’t make life easier). Nevertheless there were some interesting things last week:

First – Google News finally launched Polish site. I use the global version all the time (parallel to Techmeme for geek news) and I’m curious if it will change the landscape here in Poland. My feeling was that we have still quite a limited set of web news sources for GN to make serious impact – even though some very rich sources have such a crappy web presence (I mean rzeczpospolita), that having GN figuring their updates instead of us might increase the readership significantly.

Second – go28days opened an English version of their site and even got covered by techcrunch.

I would love to see more companies go global. Given how few of them do, go28days might deserve more praise than they got (was there actually a Polish company covered by techcrunch before…?)

Tomorrow, actually today, Google Day 2008 (if I manage not to oversleep it).

There is no free lunch, except for EU subsidies

I attended a conference focused on EU programs for supporting tech innovations (programs 8.1 and 8.2).

The opportunity seems attractive enough to warrant some time to write an application… even though there might be important limitations under the surface, which I haven’t researched yet. For example, I’m not sure if ownership of the company can change during the period it receives subsidies.

So I have more paperwork to do. There is also a question if there will be time for it, because 55% of the budget was already applied for at the time of the conference (Monday).

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