Axel Toupane
Jul 2, 2018 · 6 min read

Immersion in my first startup: between excitment and discovery!

The night before publishing my first article, my goal was to touch, inspire, and show to people in the same situation as mine that they could take a different road. Motivated by encouraging and positive feedbacks, I decided to start writing again to tell you everything about my upcoming projects.

This season, I joined the legendary club of Zalgiris Kaunas in Lithuania. One of the most prestigious team in Europe, I decided to play for Zalgiris to discover the Euroleague (the best league in the world after the NBA), have more responsibilities and more stability compared to what I had in the US, but also to be closer to my family and my friends. And the first one to visit me, you guessed it: it’s Bruno!

Plotting, observing, learning, understanding, that’s what my days looked like outside of practices. We were discussing everything from politics to philosophy, marketing, sport, and the list goes on and on… We were debating, he was teaching, explaining, and showing me different ways to think and to see things from a different angle. Everything was like a daily test, and thanks to my progression he proposed me to be part of his new project: Heex! (Heex is the extension of the Greenlux car project).

New project, new country, new team, how Lithuania became the perfect place to star tHeex?

From Basketball to New Technologies

I did my first steps in investing about a year or so and here I am on the founders’ side, at the heart of the project. Heex is the evolution of Greenlux: a Greenlux 2.0 new generation, with a futuristic view.

At Heex, we want to solve 3 major problems: pollution, car accidents, and traffic jams. Indeed, these 3 threats are the source of deaths and injuries, damages to the environment, and time wasting. In order to solve these issues, we want to democratize: electric cars to reach no CO2 emission, autonomous cars to reduce accidents, and shared transportation to have a better traffic fluidity. This democratization will move towards what we call “smart cities”, where vehicles are interconnected with everything from other cars to road signs or parking places.

The long term objective is to create a platform (application or software) allowing users to control cars an external device. Due to new regulations to be determined, autonomous cars can only drive under certain conditions. That’s why we will first focus servicing electric cars before we can feature autonomous cars.

To accelerate the adoption of autonomous cars, we decided to base our project on the Blockchain technology. We discovered this new technology thanks to our small crypto investments and we fell in love with it right away. So what’s Blockchain? In simple terms, this technology works in a decentralized network and allow to safely process a larger amount of data at the speed of light (which is perfect since we are building a network where cars, road signs, or parking places all interact together). The Blockchain also allows the creation of an autonomous payment system giving more independence and power back to users instead of big institutions.

We want to make this world better, and making transportation more sustainable is a big step forward.

The Startup Life

Such a project is obviously a lot of work, especially at the beginning. That’s why once the Euroleague season finished, it was the perfect timing to start taking care of business and mix startuplife and basket.

To help us, we built a team of 6 people: Malik who’s also co-founder and CTO, Etienne as CFO, Basma as head of social Medias, and Franck responsible of community growth. We lived together, ate together, and worked long hours together. It kind of reminded me of high school and my early days playing basketball where team work and friendships go hand to hand.

After watching the YouTube series « Foundation » of Station F, I was already on board with the startup spirit and the atmosphere. In Lithuania, we didn’t have a Station F but we had our own co-working space: Happspace. A working place where we were welcomed with open arms by the Happspace team and the others residents as well. It was always interesting to exchange ideas and communicate with the other teams to get different point of views. Top notch infrastructure, great comfort (which is very important considering the amount of time we spent there), and a breath taking view on my other working place: the Zalgirio Arena.

In terms of work at the begining of our project, we were doing a lot of marketing and communication, we wrote articles, and we contacted journalists and other influencers. After a few days, the good habits come back but I remember having my hands on fire typing so much! I also forgot how to use Word and Excel which gave me a few headaches at first. When you really care about a project, you usually don’t see time passing by. This is where my work ethic, my rigour, and my organization helped me a lot. Also, even though most of the work is done as a team, being able to work autonomously and manage your free time is very important to work efficiently.

The Lithuanian Energy

In Kaunas and Lithuania in general, basketball is king. Zalgiris is the best club in the country and people make us feel that way every day. Fans are consistently showing us a lot of love, whether it’s a game or when we’re walking in the streets. I rapidly felt like I was part of the Zalgiris family. The Euroleague games are almost always sold out: 16,000 people wearing green from head to toe singing and cheering for us during 40 minutes in the Zalgirio Arena which is arguably the most beautiful arena in Europe. My favorite moment is when they start singing the national anthem a capela right before the game, goosebumps guaranteed.

On the basketball court, this season was a fairy tale. We finished 3rdin the Euroleague, an exceptional performance considering that we also had the 3rdlowest budget of the competition. We won the national cup and we are now competing for the Lithuanian championship finals.

Lithuanians are crazy in love with basketball but not only. Indeed, it was a great surprise but also an incredible opportunity to witness how dynamic and driven by business Lithuania really is. They are also pioneers in an industry we were really interested in: cryptocurrencies and Blockchain. It’s not unusual to see crypto commercials on TV which are banned or totally unusual in most countries in the world. Lithuanians are very advanced in these technologies and they won’t stop here. The Lithuanian government rapidly saw a huge potential in these new technologies and want to become a worldwide leader. The proof is, they have already set up the first Blockchain centre in Europe (a blockchain centre is an accelerator hosting blockchain startups with high potential)! This is a country that we would call “crypto friendly”.

When we started contacting people and different institutions regarding our project, the enthusiasm was up there. Everyone was very supportive and excited about helping us. This is evidenced by our collaboration with the Blockchain centre of Vilnius which came through very quickly. Once there, we had the chance to leverage the great resources and infrastructures available, but also to meet with industry experts. We met people that have made fortunes in crypto-currencies and that were more than happy to help us and advise us. We also had the opportunity to meet and exchange with people working with or for major institutions as well as for the government of Lithuania.

If you didn’t know, Lithuania was ranked 15th best country to do business by Forbes. A great opportunity for us to find a country that compatible with our project.

This season was certainly no easy ride, but we had the chance to make Zalgiris’ history finishing 3rdin the Euroleague and I was also fortunate enough to become part of the Heex project. A big step forward for a young entrepreneur like me. Today Heex, Lithuania, my best friends Etienne and Bruno, and I are moving forward in the fast lane. An unexpected turn of events brought us all together in Kaunas, creating a special bond and an alchemy that worked perfectly.

One thing is sure I learned a lot of things this year on and off the court, but I don’t believe in chance. This bond might seem opportune, but took hours of work and feels like a good omen for what’s ahead of us and our future projects.

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