Lithuania: Up-and-coming startup ecosystem with talent and ideas

More than 25 years have passed since the Soviet Union collapsed, which resulted in 15 countries being free from the central administration and the communist ideology. The three Baltic states — Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania — were the first to declare independence and officially secede from the USSR.

The three countries still have a powerful presence within the avant-garde of the post-Soviet republics in terms of technology entrepreneurship and government support of innovation. Estonia, for example, is well-known as the country where Skype was born, as well as its e-Residency program. Another Baltic state, Lithuania, has recently approved an official startup visa program, which will allow founders from outside the EU to easily open business in the country.

“We are happy to be the bridge between startups from Central and Eastern Europe and investors from around the world,” Rimante Ribaciauskaite, head of the government-backed Startup Lithuania project, told TNW.

Lithuania’s capital Vilnius also hosted the region’s biggest startup event — LOGIN Startup Fair — earlier this year. We used the occasion to talk to the insiders of the country’s entrepreneurial ecosystem in order to learn more about it.

Although not as famous as Skype, Lithuania’s success stories are well worth praising. Among its first tech startups was GetJar, an independent mobile app store founded in 2004 and sold to Sungy Mobile in 2014. Its founder, Ilja Laurs, has since founded Nextury Ventures, which he called the only fund in Lithuania that “has purely private sources of funding, and no links to European assets or money whatsoever.”

Entrance to the LOGIN 2016 conference in VilniusCredit: Andrii DegelerEntrance to the LOGIN 2016 conference in Vilnius

The more current examples of Lithuanian startups include Pixelmator, a popular image editor for Mac OS and iOS, as well as Trafi, which was recently awarded as the best Travel Planner for public transport during the 2016 Olympic Games.

The best known success of the recent times, however, is Vinted, a peer-to-peer clothes marketplace that has raised almost $60 million to date and expanded across Europe and the US. Vinted’s co-founder Justas Janauskas sees a lot of potential in the local startup scene.

“The ecosystem is in a very early stage, it’s a first generation of companies which are created by enthusiastic people, majority of whom don’t have much experience in fast-growing tech companies,” he said.

Laurs, whose VC fund has invested in a handful of local companies, is also optimistic.

“I think the ecosystem is making a ton of progress, and it’s going really fast,” he said. “It would be fair to say that five years ago the ecosystem just did not look like this at all.

“One way to measure the progress indirectly is to go to the university and ask students, how many of them see themselves as startup founders. Five years ago, 99 percent would say they just wanted to work for either the government or a big business, and few would even understand what a startup is. But now I think that about half of the students would say that they really want to build a startup.”

Entrepreneurs and investors agree that the whole entrepreneurial movement in Lithuania is no more than five years old, which means it’s too early to measure it in the same way as Nordic or Western European ecosystems.

Rimante Ribaciauskaite, head of Startup LithuaniaCredit: Andrii DegelerRimante Ribaciauskaite, head of Startup Lithuania

“Five years ago there was nothing, right, there were no startups, it was just Skype in Estonia,” Startup Lithuania’s Ribaciauskaite said. “Now we have functioning startup ecosystems in the three Baltic states.”

The local government is also doing a decent job supporting the founders and investors, especially at the seed stage.

“We have the Practica Capital fund here backed by the European Investment Fund,” Janauskas added. “They’ve invested in a lot of early stage companies, and that’s cool, because people can learn how to spend money, how to fail, how to iterate.”

Compared to its Baltic neighbours, Lithuania is doing quite well. According to the data from the local venture capital association LT VCA, there are 422 startups in the country, employing over 2,400 people. In ten years from 2006 to 2015, Lithuanian startups had raised a total of €165.3 million, compared to €103.3 million in Latvia and €280.6 million in Estonia.

The director of LT VCA Inga Miliauskiene said that Lithuania’s local ecosystem started to take shape after the crisis of 2008 with  help from the European Union.

“As a result of EU funds flowing into Lithuania, we started to see some of the new local venture capital funds being structured and working and operating in the country,” she said.

Although constantly compared to each other in a number of presentations shown at the LOGIN Startup Fair, the Baltic states appear to collaborate less in the innovation industry than one might imagine.

“Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia are very similar, but the startup ecosystem in each of them is quite different,” said Laurs. “Estonia is considered to be the golden standard, and historically has very close ties with Scandinavia in general and Finland in particular. There’s a lot of Estonians joining Finnish accelerators and getting funding from Scandinavia.

“I would guess that each of the Baltic states has more links, for example, with Scandinavia and Germany independently as opposed to with each other.”

The general agreement is that while the three countries could get together for certain projects, they mostly consider each other as friendly competitors, as  often happens with neighbours.

Aleksander Tõnnisson, the CEO of Estonia’s BuildIt accelerator that focuses on hardware startups, said that having a head start isn’t always a good thing.

“I’m worried that Estonia has reached the point where we felt that we were doing very well, and this is where the development stopped,” he explained. “We’re not trying to make things better as actively as we used to. We’re now more concerned about keeping the status quo, and this is definitely what I don’t see in Lithuania or Latvia.”

Tõnnisson also named an issue that is typical not only of Estonia’s ecosystem, but of all the Baltic startups — a lack of ambition.

“I think that it is closely tied to being modest,” he said. “Yesterday, an investor from Israel said that people here in the Baltics are too modest and too polite, and afraid of upsetting someone. And I think it’s holding us back a lot.”

Aleksander Tõnnisson, CEO of Estonia's BuildIt acceleratorCredit: Andrii DegelerAleksander Tõnnisson, CEO of Estonia’s BuildIt accelerator

Ribaciauskaite agreed on this: “We have to be less modest, we have to be more aggressive, and we have to take the best we can from the outside world and integrate it in our country.”

This, however, could be the easiest problem to solve, with a number of acceleration programs and educational initiatives running all over the region. What could be much harder for Lithuania is to become attractive for entrepreneurs as a business destination.

“We are a small country, which lost a lot of people — not as a result of a war, but as a result of a financial crisis,” said Miliauskiene from LT VCA. “We’re facing the problem of attracting talent to our country or returning them to our country. A lot of young people are coming back to Lithuania, but we are still lacking high-skilled workers in certain positions. Attracting them back to Lithuania is one of the key issues.”

This also explains why the industry players have been so eager in lobbying the idea of the startup visa: countries like Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia could be a huge source of entrepreneurial and technical talent for Lithuania to adopt.

Talking about the challenges faced by Lithuania’s startups, Laurs brought up one particular issue that could be applied to most of the emerging markets these days.

“The number one challenge for the whole ecosystem is a lack of people not only willing, but also economically capable, of working essentially for free for a meaningful amount of time,” he said. “That is working for half a year to a year, and still staying 150 percent focused.

“If you look at England or Silicon Valley, one of the reasons why there are so many startups [now] is because there’s a lot of people who can afford [to work on them]. They have family, friends [to invest in them], they have savings. Many, many startups are launched by professionals who have savings since they have worked for twenty years.”

There’s no ready-made recipe for solving these kinds of problems, apart from waiting another few years for more entrepreneurs cashing out and bringing the money back to the ecosystem. This movement is already underway, Vinted’s Janauskas said, even though it’s not obvious from the outside. It’s also safe to say that if Lithuania keeps up the pace, we’ll hear more about its startups real soon.

This post is part of our contributor series. It is written and published independently of TNW.

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Take a virtual tour of an Amazon warehouse in 360 degrees

Amazon fulfillment centers are nothing short of awe-inspiring. A tangled web of over 3,000 humans, machines, and complex logistical software, each of these warehouses operate with almost seamless precision to get packages to your door in two days or less in most cases.

I’ve lived most of my adult life assuming this was magic, but a 360-degree video from Cnet gives us an inside look at how it all goes down.

The process starts with Kiva robots that bring shelves to employees. Each of these shelves is equipped with a screen that tells employees what to grab. Once ready, the order travels in a yellow bin down a conveyor belt to waiting employees. Upon arrival, Amazon employees pack each item to get it ready for shipping. From there, the order travels down yet another conveyor belt to a robot scanner that ensures the packing label has the correct address. Finally, the box gets put on one last conveyor belt where it’s sent to an area for items awaiting shipping.

Seriously, logistics on this level are mind-blowing, but Amazon makes it seem so easy.

See inside an Amazon warehouse in 360 degrees on Cnet

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Barclays tests smartphone cash withdrawals

Barclays Image copyright Barclays Image caption Barclays customers are able to trigger cash withdrawals via an app Barclays is trialling new cash machines that allow customers to make withdrawals via their smartphones.

The facility is limited to Android handsets, which trigger the money’s release via a “contactless” NFC (near-field communication) transmission.

The bank suggests the facility is more secure than slotting in a bank card as it avoids the risk of having the card’s details hijacked by a skimming machine.

But one security expert said there were still risks involved.

Barclays is not the first lender to allow customers to make cardless withdrawals.

Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) introduced its Get Cash facility four years ago. It allows £130 to be taken out of an ATM by messaging the user a code via their smartphone that must be typed into the terminal.

But Barclays aims to simplify this further by just requiring the account holder to wave the handset near to the bank machine and type their normal Pin code into either one of the two devices.

Alternatively, a payment can be triggered by waving an NFC-enabled card close to the reader and typing in the Pin.

Apple is more restrictive than Google’s Android about access to its phones’ NFC chips.

But its NFC-dependent Apple Pay facility has been used by some US banks to trigger cash withdrawals. However, Barclays has chosen not to enable the facility in the UK at this time.

Barclays is piloting the “contactless cash” service in the north of England at 180 branches ahead of a wider rollout in 2017.

Image copyright Thinkstock Image caption Cash machine users are unlikely to notice skimming equipment hidden inside an ATM

The goal is, in part, to prevent criminals compromising or stealing card details, which typically occurs by one of three methods

Attaching a skimming device to an ATM to record details from entered cards’ magnetic stripes. The technique is often carried out in conjunction with the use of a miniature camera to record the Pin code being typed in for each one. The details can then be used to create cloned cards, which can be used in overseas ATMs that have yet to be upgraded to chip and pin technology, or to make online purchases via stores that do not require a CVV security codeAdding an entrapment device to a cash machine’s slot that stops the card being returned. The criminal fools the account owner into re-entering their Pin number. Once the victim leaves, the criminal removes the device, retrieves the card and then uses it with the recorded Pin to withdraw moneyEngaging in distraction fraud, whereby the thief looks over the cardholder’s shoulder to see them enter their Pin and then distracts them or pickpockets their wallet to steal the card

Last year, 92,670 UK accounts were defrauded because of the use of counterfeit cards and a further 152,727 accounts because of lost or stolen cards, according to Financial Fraud Action UK.

In many of the cases, it will have been the banks, rather than the cardholders, that will have borne the loss.

If adoption of the new system becomes widespread, such crime might be reduced. But one banking security expert said new types of theft might take their place.

Image copyright Thinkstock Image caption Criminals may find new ways to defraud bank customers

“There could be malware on your phone, which is recording the Pin as it’s typed in – that would be a new risk,” commented Dr Steven Murdoch, a cybersecurity expert at University College London.

“The malware might also be able to copy your credentials from one phone to another, allowing the other handset to make a withdrawal.

“Barclays probably has defences against that, but those defences are unlikely to be perfect.”

Dr Murdoch noted that RBS had to temporarily halt its Get Cash scheme in October 2012 after it was compromised by a phishing campaign.

But a spokeswoman for Barclays played down the risks posed to its system.

“We have no higher priority than the protection of our customers,” she said.

“Our Mobile Banking app has the British Standard Institute Secure Digital Kitemark, which is subject to independent testing, to make sure customers’ financial and personal details are protected.”

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Lunchtime liaisons

Dougal Shaw Image caption Dougal Shaw decided to give business dating a go Would you go on a business date at work? Would you think I was weird if I told you I did? Some apps are making this possible, so I decided to try it out.

Too late for Tinder. As a family man who has just entered his 40s, I am not going to be arranging romantic liaisons on my smartphone.

But maybe I haven’t completely missed the boat when it comes to the thrill of swiping, matching and meeting up with strangers. What if you’re hooking up for business not pleasure?

Date one

A few swipes on the Shapr app and I’m in touch with Carmel.

Shapr is an app that works like the dating app Tinder, but it’s for making business connections rather than romantic ones. You sign up with your LinkedIn profile rather than your Facebook one.

Knowing your professional interests, expertise, aspirations and geographical location, the computer algorithm offers you around a dozen potential matches each day. When two professionals independently indicate they’d like to meet, the match is complete – the messaging can commence.

Carmel is an event organiser with a company called Boring Money. Our eyes don’t first meet over a glass of Prosecco at a bistro after work. Instead, we meet at one of the conferences she organises. I easily spot her from her profile picture and we have a quick chat.

Image caption An unlikely place for a date: A conference for the financial industry

We are both short of time. She knows – because we’ve already messaged about it – that the person I really want to talk to is a speaker she has booked. I need an app developer for a story I’m working on.

Image copyright other Image caption This is Carmel’s profile on LinkedIn

All in all a very successful business liaison and we plan to keep in touch.

Date two

But can business really be kept strictly separate when organising liaisons between strangers? Could unscrupulous people use this as a way to seek romance by subterfuge?

There have been cases of unwelcome advances on LinkedIn before, after all.

Luckily Shapr suggests a meeting with someone who might know: Christina Leong, a matchmaker and relationship coach.

After some slightly stilted conversation, we slowly learn a bit more about each other’s line of work.

Image caption Business date two is with a professional matchmaker and relationship coach

Again, I’m open about being an inquisitive journalist.

“We’re all human, we will always be looking for relationships,” she says. The first person she met on this app was looking for love, she offers.

Then she turns the tables on me.

“I have to ask, are you single?”.

“No.”

This is not as awkward as it seems because this is also a work meeting for her. As a professional matchmaker she regularly “dates”, harvesting the most eligible for her time-poor clients. Weeding out the dating-scene duds – like me.

Image copyright Liderina Apps for business encounters

Shapr – The free app I’m testing was co-founded in January 2015 by Ludovic Huraux, the current CEO. He began by developing a dating app in France called Attractive World, which he sold this September.

Weave – Professional matchmaking site closed down this July after three years. It billed itself as “Tinder for LinkedIn” but evolved into a curated online service that facilitated weekly matches. The business model could not be made “financially viable”, the management team said on winding up.

Grip – Original incarnation Networkr was another pioneer of the Tinder for business model in 2014, but it failed to gain traction. Grip now focuses on facilitating meet-ups at conferences. It is chaired by Brent Hoberman of Lastminute.com.

beBee – Popular in Spain and Latin America, it seeks to forge business contacts by first matching people by their hobbies and interests.

Let’s Lunch – founded in 2010. Uses LinkedIn profiles to organise power lunches in your vicinity ripe for networking.

Date Three

In fact the Shapr app’s algorithm is designed to filter out Casanovas trying to use the platform for flirtation.

I learn this from the app’s founder, Ludovic Huraux. At Christina’s suggestion, I sought him out as my third date.

If you send suggestive, inappropriate messages, the app is intelligent enough to “de-prioritise” you, he explains.

He also admits that at the moment the free app makes no money.

However, he hopes business “dating” like this will become the new normal. Just as conventional dating sites have gone from “taboo to mainstream” in a short space of time, thanks to the rise of the internet and smartphones.

Ludovic is based in New York and London, but we managed to meet by Skype and you can watch our encounter here:

Media captionDate three: An online chat with Shapr’s founder Ludovic Huraux Date Four

I’ve swiped right for a roughly equal number of men and women. The gender ratio of my matches is roughly 50-50, too.

Now it is time for my first “man date”, with Anton Gu, founder of an app called Hitch.

“I know this area well, my girlfriend loves to come here”, is his opening gambit at the cafe – perhaps a coded reassurance that this is not to be construed as a romantic date.

Image caption Entrepreneur Anton Gu is the founder of Hitch

At any rate, it’s another metaphysical encounter where we discuss the very essence of our rendez-vous, the merits of digital meet-ups.

The problem with Tinder, he says, is that it has a very small conversion rate for turning matches into conversations. People just treat it as a game.

“You end up swiping endlessly and eventually get bored. And the choice can become overwhelming.”

Online conversations are a better route to finding who is actually relevant to you, he reckons.

This is a bit of a business pitch, because his Hitch messaging app is designed to do just that.

Post-date analysis

If I’m honest, my relationship with my usual colleagues had gone a bit stale. These lunchtime liaisons have spiced things up. Despite some awkwardness I enjoyed meeting new people.

And I’m struck that my dates all share something in common with me. They were all prepared to take a leap of faith with new technology to expand their business horizons.

Technology and social media are often accused of making us feel unhappy and isolated. But business dating is a reminder that they can also be used to create real-world encounters.

And nothing can quite match a face-to-face meeting, with all the surprises that entails.

The real test, however, will be when I explain what I’ve been up to at home.

You can follow Dougal on Twitter or Facebook

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CSSReference.io is a gorgeous visual guide to CSS

CSSReference.io is a gorgeous visual guide to CSS

The best way to learn CSS is through trial-and-error. You’ve got to write code in order to learn to be a coder. That’s the simple truth of the matter. But it’s always nice to have a helping hand guide you through the often confusing and contradictory technology used to style and illustrate webpages, which is where CSSReference.io comes in.

This site is a comprehensive reference guide to the CSS properties you’re most likely to use. There are a lot of these, like the authoritative and (justifiably) respected Mozilla Developer Network. But what separates CSSReference.io from the pack is that it’s actually rather beautiful.

Each property is accompanied with an illustration that shows how it works, which I imagine will take away a lot of guesswork for beginners. There’s no bullshit either. Each one is explained in refreshingly straightforward terms.

cssspec

Some CSS properties are used to animate elements shown on the page. This is a relatively recent inclusion, and was introduced with CSS3. CSSReference.io actually shows these in action, rather than just telling you how they work.

cssanimation

It’s free, and you can check it out here. If you, like me, prefer to learn about things from a dead tree, I’d also highly recommend Jon Duckett’s HTML and CSS, which is a similarly delightful reference guide to the technology.

Read next: This may be the world’s smallest camera drone, but it packs some serious flying power

Matthew Hughes is a journalist from Liverpool, England. His interests include security, startups, food, and storytelling. Follow him on Twitter.

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4 Cyber Monday tech deals you won’t want to miss

TNW Deals

In case you didn’t satisfy the shopping itch over the Black Friday weekend, TNW Deals is here today, doing what we do on a regular basis — offering up big discounts on stuff you want. And since it’s Cyber Monday, we’ve pulled together four of our most popular offerings, and giving you the chance to save even more with use of exclusive coupon codes (see each listing for details).

Java, Python, SQL, databases, and social media — this Complete Computer Science bundle offers everything you’d learn chasing a computer science degree. Except this package of eight courses can be taken in the comfort of your home… and costs thousands of dollars less.

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Buy now: We’ve already lowered the price from $888 to $19, but for a limited time, you can take another 25 percent off when you enter the CYBER25 code at checkout. Plus, browse through our extensive Cyber Monday Security Deals collection for more great offers.

Read next: Lithuania: Up-and-coming startup ecosystem with talent and ideas

Hot deals courtesy of The Next Web.

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Online shoppers ‘face disruption’ from EU payment plans

Woman shopping online Image copyright Thinkstock EU proposals to make consumers go through extra security checks for many online payments have come under fire from Visa and other payment companies.

Consumers would need to enter passwords or codes for online transactions above €10 (£8.50), under anti-fraud plans from the European Banking Authority.

The regulator said it was trying to balance security with convenience.

But payment company Visa said the plans could be “catastrophic”, and banks and retailers have expressed concerns.

Shoppers would face disruption, particularly during busy periods such as Black Friday – the annual discount day that falls this week.

One-click shopping and automatic app payments would also effectively be blocked for payments of more than €10, experts said.

‘Catastrophic’

Visa warned of “serious disruption” from blocking such express checkouts, which it said now accounted for half of European e-commerce sales.

The damage would be worst in the UK, because online shoppers there were the most prolific in Europe and e-commerce was important for economic growth, it said in a statement.

“We do not normally take such a strong position on regulation,” Kevin Jenkins, managing director of Visa UK and Ireland, told the BBC.

“It’s just that in this particular instance we feel so strongly that the risk of rushing into legislation, which could take you back 10 or 15 years, is catastrophic,” he said.

Image copyright Powa Technologies

Visa’s chief risk officer for Europe, Peter Bayley, also said there was no evidence the inconvenience would reduce fraud.

The changes are under consultation, and if approved, will come into force during 2018, several months before the UK is expected to leave the European Union.

Most of the responses to the consultation focused on the €10 security checks, Tim Richards, a payments expert at Consult Hyperion, said.

“All the UK banks and payment institutions are working on this. They do not think this is something they can ignore,” he added.

‘Unfriendly’

A MasterCard spokesman said it was concerned the “overly prescriptive approach of how fraud should be reduced” would undermine the regulator’s overall goal.

In its consultation response, Paypal said “unfriendly” security checks would affect “almost any digital payment, regardless of the actual risk posed”.

Mr Richards said under the plans, payments above €10 would require proof of at least two of the following:

a possession of the consumer, eg a card or phonesomething known by the consumer, eg a password or codea biometric feature of the consumer, eg a fingerprint

The European Banking Authority said it had to make a “difficult trade-off” between a high degree of security in retail payments and customer convenience.

“We are currently in the process of assessing whether the trade-offs we made achieve the right balance and which, if any, changes we will need to make before finalising the technical standard and publishing it at the beginning of next year,” it said in a statement.

The changes are part of the European Commission’s forthcoming Payment Services Directive 2.

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