Hacking Startups in 48 hours – Interview with Ragnar Sass, the Co-founder of Garage 48

Many people are afraid to start their own business. Common issues include lack of know-how and co-founders, lack of seed money, afraid of the risks, etc. Garage48 is dedicated to changing the mindset and show participants that it’s all about positive attitude, creative team members and motivating deadlines. Less talk, more action! Today we had a chance to connect with Ragnar Sass, the Co-founder of Garage 48.

Why was Garage48 started, how does it work and what makes it unique?

“Garage48 first event was launched in April 2010 by Estonian Startup Leaders Club. We saw that people’s lack of positive practice, experience, know-how and networking created a need for a 48 hour intensive ‘idea to service’ event. We received really positive feedback from our first event helped to prove the point i.e. this kind of event is needed to help IT communities network, connect people with ideas and shape leading teams as they come together to make things happen.”

From Estonia, where did the interest in Africa come from?

“20 years ago Estonia was not a country that had anything good to show to the World – except our Singing Revolution. But within 20 years Estonia has grown to become one of the most developed countries in the World in the field of ICTs. Therefore, we know what it takes and how much work needs to be done. We saw that there was a lack of similar events and startup driven mentality that needed to be supported. We had the feeling that the Garage48 event could also have a big impact in upcoming countries. Estonia is today the nr. 1 country in the World in terms of Internet Freedom. Also nice to recognize that Skype was born and is still developed in Estonia.

Africa has been really interesting. The 4 events we have had so far are just awesome. Uganda and Kenya in September and October. Nigeria and Ghana in May. They all showed that we are offering the right approach. Most importantly, participants saw and felt what it takes to make something work in only a short period of time. Many of them have told us later that they did not know before that this any of this was possible. Participants are always the most important – they are the ones who make the Garage48 event what it’s supposed to be. We offer them a place, mentors, keep them focused, encourage networking. It is a lot of work, but of course it is fun too. Creative startuppers need good jokes as well, then really the best things are born.”

Organizing in multiple countries, what are some of the common challenges Entrepreneurs are facing?

– “Finding right team members – this is challenge everywhere. You might have the best, most original idea in the World, but without the best team members you most probably won’t make it.

– Lack of Know-how in Marketing and business development. This is common challenge in Europe and Africa – how to actually offer the product that you have developed and market it. How to prepare the correct business plan

– Focus – You don’t have to start by building a huge new system from scratch – focus and build the features that are MUST HAVE, not NICE TO HAVE

– Develop projects that are actually needed – they might be niche products, but you have to have a proper target group in mind. When you try to offer something for everyone – usually you end up offering nothing useful.”

What are some of the interesting differences you see between the different communities?

“It seems like many developers still don’t appreciate how much can be done within a really short period of time. Just keep yourself focused. The challenge to overcome yourself, and believe in yourself and your team, is something that is valued the most.

We see a future for marketing, business people, graphic designers and web designers. These fields lack the people and talent today. That said, we do see really promising young talents coming up.”

Can you tell us about the most promising startups to emerge from the program and where they are today?

QMinder – started in Garage48 Tartu in August 2011, won Seedcamp Prague in October 2011. This shows how a focused team can bring a complex idea into the real world. There was need and the solution was found.

Campalyst –  (Garage48, Riga, March 2011) Campalyst is your personal analyst for social media campaigns (combining Facebook Insights and Google Analytics) and bringing the best of both worlds to you in one. It helps you understand how much money a Facebook Page brings to your business.

Kamatakab –  (Garage48, Nairobi, October 2011) KamataKab is a mobile solution that enables clients with GPS-enabled phones to LOCATE the nearest taxi cab within their area, pick the cab that is ranked highest (based on other users’ experiences) RIDE IT then RATE IT.

PribeSpot – (Garage48, Tallinn, April 2011) Bribespot is a mobile and web application that allows you to see how much corruption is going on around you. You can report locations where bribes are requested/paid, indicate the size of a bribe and area of government affected by it.

MafutaGo – (Garage48, Kampala, September 2011) Mobile application to locate nearest and cheapest gas station in Kampala/Uganda. Based on gps location and cell location.

These are just some of the examples from almost 200 projects developed at Garage48 events. Some other highlights.”

You have a busy schedule for the coming year, can you highlight what’s coming up/what’s next?

“We have received so many invitations from all the continents in the World …. except Antarctica :P It is important for us to guarantee the quality for Garage48 events, therefore we can’t be everywhere. Our core team members always fly to the events to give what is needed, mentor and support and host the event. But we also need really strong local activists who can organize the event from the local community i.e. from the grass-root level. They are the ones who need to have connections with the local ICT community and network needed to bring in participants.

New target is South America – we have received several invitations from there. We are really excited about it and to see what challenges startuppers face there. Also how Garage48 can give them input and belief to go out there and change something.

We expect to take Garage48 back to countries we have visited this year, but also offer challenging weekend hackathon for new countries in South America.”

Connecting with VC4Africa, what do you think the greatest potential is for the community?

“Investors and experienced entrepreneurs are always important to connect. Not only for the investment they might make, but also with their interest and useful questions and directions that they might give. The active participants that we see at Garage48 events today, might not conquer the World with their first idea, but with practice comes more knowledge and all the VC4Africa influencers are important.”

Any final thoughts you would like to share?

“One of the most important goals for Garage48 – bring together startup minded people in the ICT sector. Useful contacts, community and network will be beneficial for the participants in the future. I personally believe that Africa does not need so much aid, but more help building up successful entrepreneurship.”

Thanks Ringier. As always, we look forward to following your progress and supporting Garage 48 participants here at the VC4Africa community.