Eastern Europe was featured prominently at the latest HackFwd event Build 0.7 in Berlin. During our conversation at an outdoor gathering of “pirates” during the European Pirate Summit in Cologne, Germany, Lars Hinrichs, the executive geek at HackFwd, a pre-seed investment company could not have been more positive about the region. Even he was surprised to realise that out of 14 current “Hackboxes”, or investee companies, three of them come from the region.
One is Filmaster from Poland, which has seen a lot of positive feedback on their progress during the Build 07 demo. The company has an innovative approach to recommending and discussing movies and just released a new version of the website. Another one is Outlanders Studio, a Lithuanian game developer that created Equilibrium, a 3D real-time strategy game for the Android platform.
The third likely addition is a WhoAPI, a Croatian startup providing bulk domain verification and analytics services founded by Goran Duškić and Edi Budimilic. Hinrichs admits, “They did a great presentation, showed a great product, and we hope that they will join HackFwd.”
WhoAPI is the technology behind a white label service that allows bulk domain availability checking and domain analysis. The users of such a service are the marketing and SEO agencies and domain brokers, as well as hosting companies, which now can offer their clients a tool to check domain availability and their relevant information, such as search engine results position, spam list checks and ownership data. The information is useful not only for the domain registration process, but also for link-building, as it is important to check whether or not the site is blacklisted.
The founders Duškić and Budimilic have worked together throughout their professional life. “Our beginnings are in game development. When we were kids, we enjoyed the creative process of making games,” says Duškić as we chat with him over a Skype call. Unfortunately, software piracy in Croatia was widespread at the time, and they had to compete on price with the top titles sold at four US dollars on the black market. Their games were also copied. “So we diverted to web development, hosting, and online marketing, and this is where the new idea came from,” he adds.
“We developed solutions from scratch every time we wanted to have information about domains, but then we found out how to automate the process,” explains Duškić. “Your competitors are the ones you understand the most. So when our own competitors became our clients, it was very easy to make a product for them.”
To get to HackFwd, the founders jumped through a few hoops. At first, Berislav Lopac, the founder of Crane, Croatian Angels Network, and one of the referrers in the HackFwd network, suggested that the WhoAPI founders look into getting an investment from the pre-seed fund. Soon Duškić and his partner were meeting David Bizer, the HackFwd’s talent geek, during his visit to Zagreb. After a successful presentation, the founders were applying to Build 0.7 in Berlin. And the rest is history.
The selection process developed by HackFwd is thorough. Hinrichs explains, “Right now we have 30 referrers in the country, and we plan to grow this number, so we have at least two referrers in each country: someone from a startup scene, and an academic.” After a successful presentation at the HackFwd Build event, all developers are then put through a series of tough coding tests before the investment is made. Incidentally, the tests also come from an Eastern European company called Codility, from Poland.
As the local venture capital market in Croatia is closed to non-existent, let us hope that the founders will successfully complete the negotiation process and become a new Hackbox. For those inspired by their stories, beware Hinrichs’ restrictions: HackFwd will invest only in geeks based in the broader EU region.