Entrepreneurs of Budapest: Attila Bujdosó, opp.io
Tell me about your startup Opp.io. How did you get started?
Opp.io is a tool that saves managers loads of administration time. It’s very similar to Google Docs or Onenote, but the difference is that Opp.io creates intelligent tasks directly in your notes. These tasks can be sent in email or synchronized to Trello, Asana or any of the major productivity tools. This is something that none of our competitors is doing. So basically, if you take notes in meetings and tasks are assigned, Opp.io makes it transparent who should do what, when. The note taker or project coordinator can easily keep their teams informed, aligned and accountable with a minimal amount of work.
The company started with just Gergely Borgulya and I, we both previously worked as managers and coordinators, Gergely as a project manager at Graphisoft and I as a research coordinator at Kitchen Budapest [KIBU]. We both knew how it felt to receive hundreds of emails a day. If you’ve ever had to coordinate a team, you know that you’re in for an email tsunami related to team task management. That’s what got us to thinking — there must be a better way to do this! And so after lots of work Opp.io was born.
I’m the designer and marketer, Gergely is the main developer. We had dozens of companies use Opp.io but it turns out it’s not stable enough so we have begun to rewrite the beta. Because it’s a productivity tool, there’s a high expectation for reliability and speed. We are launching the new beta in March with more features, making it more dependable, faster, easier to use…we hope to get paying customers by Q1 2017.
Is this your first startup?
Yes. Previously I worked on a lot of collaborative projects, but more in the cultural space. For example I co-created a book, the Subjective Atlas of Hungary. Making cultural projects is a little bit like a startup, but not exactly.
Can you unpack that a little bit?
I think both [startups and cultural projects] work with the question, how do I gather people around an idea and work together to make it happen?
But of course startups and cultural project are ultimately very different.
For startups, at the end of the day it’s about revenue and being financially positive and for cultural projects it’s more about impact, which is harder to quantify.
I organized events like Pecha Kucha which I ran for 5 years in Budapest. There I took notes in Google Docs and then highlighted everything to organize them, I could’ve really made use of the tool that we’re building now!
The other big project I was involved in was Submap, a data visualization methodology where we visualized geographic data dynamically by distorting maps. Recently the UN-Habitat contacted us asking if they could put Submap on the cover of the publication of their global Habitat III conference on urbanism!
This is an example of a cultural project that can have a huge impact, but it will never pay. For startups, at the end of the day the questions is around sustainability. The number one reason they fail is because they run out of cash. If there is cash, people are happy to try and work out a solution to a problem, without cash it’s harder. I think that’s the basic equation.
Do you think we’re operating in a tech bubble?
There’s definitely a financial market bubble, and I think it is important for startups to understand that they’re just a side product of a financial model.
Money is being dumped into very risky businesses — every company is a risky business — but because tech has the potential to grow rapidly and and have access to millions of users within a few years, you do see even more money being thrown at extremely risky businesses because of these potentially high payoffs. New fields like Fintech and AI are booming. Social networks didn’t exist 15 years ago. There’s just so much new space to conquer.
In this way, the startup economy feels like a gold rush. Everyone’s rushing to the tech industry and the ones who find some shiny gold start digging deep, and they’re not necessarily interested in going to the next gold mine which might be bigger, but are thinking ‘oh we found something, let’s just keep digging and see where we can develop this.’ That’s the sound financial logic behind it. There are a lot of people who try digging around in several places, but they are not always looking to support sustainable ideas — instead opting for that ‘rare shiny nugget.’
Gergely and I are long time friends. We knew that we wanted to work together, build something really valuable and for us this was a good match. We could find some money to support us to work on the project. Now it’s on us to identify what works in the market, launch the beta and get revenue. We matched our interests with our investors. At the same time we just want to make a great product and then sell it. And of course, if it turns out to be a gold mine, then also mine the gold out of it :).
How did you take the leap from initial idea to startup?
For me, a big part of it was that I’m really interested in collaboration and cooperation, I think it’s wonderful. Two people can achieve much more together than alone. I am really interested in the dynamics of collaboration. I already did research on the culture of cooperation at KIBU, so I said OK, let’s dive into the tech part of it now.
For me this startup is a way to understand how culture and tech can combine, but with an emphasis on the tech and business side of things. Role models played a big part in giving us the confidence to move forward. We knew Prezi from the beginning of their story, I worked with Adam [Somlai-Fischer] several times, and Gergely worked for Graphisoft which is a 30-year-old startup. Another role model for us is Peter Balogh, co-founder of NNG and now our advisor and investor.
These entrepreneurs showed us that you can make really big things happen from Budapest. It’s a challenge but I also like to think that it’s never good to work on a project that you know you can do, because it’s boring. If you know you can do it, from day 1, then what’s the challenge?
What are the two biggest lessons you learnt in the first 2 years of Opp.io?
For me, my biggest challenge is focus. I’ve improved a lot in this area. I’m far from where I want to be, but I have embraced the learning curve. I’ve gained skills in lots of areas like how to deal with people, how to talk to investors, how you can learn and develop your ways of learning about your product and market, but I think an improved focus is one of the most valuable things.
In a startup there are always ten different things that you have to think about at the same time.
We had a few months with no funding and it was very stressful. My friends and family asked, aren’t you stressed that you have no cash? I said, yes I’m stressed, of course, but it’s actually one of ten things that really matter at this moment. And maybe I was just trying to make this problem look smaller, but there were all these other things that had to keep happening for us to keep operating. I was looking for a programmer, a designer, I had to motivate them, create better working processes and I had to fundraise. You have to ask yourself which of these tasks are the most important? That is where having a clear strong focus really helps you stay on top of everything.
Where does your motivation come from?
There are a couple of things. Yes, I want to make a great product, but that’s similar to saying, I want to make a nice book or art piece. I have a vision for Opp.io and it’s pretty awesome. Right now, meeting notes are just documents, but if you really think about them, you see that they actually give a really special perspective on a project. Projects are like clouds: they are big and their shape is always changing. They have people attached to them, timelines, tasks, financials, and so on, and there are different views to all of these aspects depending on where you are looking from.
Your project will need a project brief which is a doc, you’ll need a way to track tasks so you could use Trello and see the tasks going from left to right, you might have a financial sheet where you see the project costs and revenues, as well as access to peoples agendas and calendars. All of this ‘paper’ organisation makes the meeting a very special moment.
Because people come together at the same time project planning is inherently a social thing. Everyone looks at the project from a specific angle, perhaps from the perspective of their role in the project or with an eye to their personal experiences and expertise. They all provide new insights on the project at hand and share their knowledge. This is basically why meeting notes matter.
The idea to capture this in a tool, and understand meetings notes as project views, has a lot of potential to extend a lot more to project management fields. You can integrate action points with your calendar, with task management tools, with messaging tools, and really get a good grasp on what was discussed in this meeting, what were the action points. And by the way, here they are already integrated in your Trello board, and in your calendar, because you’re going to work on them on Tuesday.
And did you use the app while you were building it?
So back to the original question — what is it that motivates you through all this?
It is definitely the making of the product. The mid-term project vision is really exciting because I see that we can be something like Trello, or bigger, but the long-term vision is really to build a task messaging protocol that synchronizes task between any kind of tool, even with tools we’ve never used or don’t exist yet! It’s like email, for tasks.
The nice thing about email is, it’s a free protocol that everyone understands. And we want to do the same for tasks. But that’s the long-term vision. This is where we started actually, but we realized that we have to go to market with a really specific product that solves a specific problem for specific users in a specific use case. So these visions are what motivate me from the product side.
The other main source of motivation is of course my co-founder Gergely. We’re really good friends, the kind you drink palinka with on the morning of your wedding kind of friends. So working together with a great friend, and being able to work with great people, with designers like Samuel Toth is definitely motivating. I mean we had really big fights, really big ones, about product details, design etc. But in the end they were so valuable, I learned so much.
It is pretty amazing to be able to work with people where you can fight during the day about a design problem but in the same day have some drinks and listen to music together. Working with these kind of people is so rewarding and I can learn a lot from them.
Is there anything you would’ve liked to have told yourself two years ago when you were at the beginning of the journey?
There’s a lot yes, but even if I told it to myself two years ago I might not have listened.
There were times where, for example, when we had no cash, we hired an intern. He was a really nice guy, but we didn’t get much out of the relationship from either side. This was on the advice that we received from someone, and we shouldn’t have gone down this road. Because as a startup, you don’t have time in the early stages to work with someone who is a junior. He was a really talented grad student, but as a startup, you need more senior people. And that means that even seniors are learning a lot, but there’s just no time to start from the very beginning. Even if it’s cheaper, you’ll pay for it somewhere else. On the other hand, it was a much more social experience to have an American intern, and it was good for us because he was the first person we had to manage.
The second huge lesson was our focus on the product. This is an ongoing debate: do you develop the product or the marketing? If you build it then they will come, if you sell it then it’s worth building. But I think, this was a big lesson to learn, that for productivity software in general, you have to test the product. Productivity software makes your daily work better, more efficient, and this you can only judge by actually using the software. In this market you can’t really fake a product and even if you do fake stats, that it will make your meetings “10% more effective” or “save you two hours per week,” you may say it, but people will ask you to prove it, and you need a product for that. So this whole debate on whether you need a product, or just an idea at the start, in productivity software I think yes, you need a product.
I think if we had known this so clearly from day one, we could have saved a lot of time and spent less effort on experimenting with different marketing techniques.
Even then, when we built a really basic MVP, and cut off all the features, and launched the following month…we did it. We didn’t put caching into the software, it was so slow. Then when someone checked the app on mobile and told us that it isn’t responsive, we were like ‘Yea! We cut it off!’ You know there’s some things that you just shouldn’t cut off. The app should function.
There are certain things you can’t just cut off. Another thing is, we probably should have started with a bigger team. We were like ok, let’s just try, let’s do what we can. But team size is also up to the financing situation or context, how much liquidity you have and how much money is in the market.
Taking a bit of a macro view, what are your thoughts about the Budapest ecosystem, especially in comparison to the cultural scene?
I think it’s totally developing, the thing is you need more and more of everything and the quality things will rise to the top. And this will happen. There are good initiatives.
When we started thinking about doing a startup in 2012, we had known the Prezi founders from day 1 and we had seen the roadmap, joined their parties, for us it was already an existing phenomenon for the past 5 years so the idea [of doing a startup] was even a bit boring, so ‘2008.’ When we started we didn’t really startup to startup, we really wanted to make this protocol and really wanted to make it work.
We also started for reasons that are not particularly business related or technological, but rather cultural, because we believe that having more open, high quality tools to allow easy collaboration will build a better world. So we started more as a cultural entity in the startup world.
Compared to the cultural world in Budapest, startup world is much more glossy and tempting and shiny and trendy and it can attract more shallow people who are like ‘OK, let’s just do it! Let’s start a startup!’ Which of course is nice, we need these kinds of people, because we need different knowledge that they can give to the wider ecosystem, but in the end they’re just come and go people. They come in for three months, ‘Let’s do it!’, then when it’s not successful they just leave.
You don’t see this so much in the cultural ecosystem because it’s less shiny and buzzwordy and there’s less money. If you want to join a cultural association or non-profit it’s not because of the potential to IPO at $1B USD, it’s just not going to happen. Because there’s less money, people who join are led more by their values, there’s less money or often no money, so people have other motivations.
Is there anything you would like to see improve within the ecosystem?
I think bringing more international knowledge here is the most important. It’s happening a bit at Mosaik, and the conferences that Prezi and Ustream are organizing are really interesting too. Building networks with the international scene, providing exposure to international investors is crucial to the scene here.
Bridge Budapest is doing the vital job of highlighting the big successes and role models we have in Budapest. I think it will just get bigger. More people will leave these big companies because they’re tired of working in the same place for six years, and they’ll come out with a great body of knowledge that they can use to contribute to or start new projects. It is definitely exciting looking to the future!