Rising star Portuguese entrepreneur, Sérgio Santos, is organizing the web with Bundlr
Who are the young, up-and-coming entrepreneurs of Portugal who will help lift the country from its economic woes? Meet 23-year old Sérgio Santos, co-founder of Bundlr. The company’s bundling software organizes web content about users’ favorite topics.
This is not rocket science; it is computer science. Forsaking academia to start his startup, Sérgio epitomizes what I found in my visits to Portugal as part of the Carnegie Mellon/Portugal Program and our participation in the University Technology Enterprise Network (UTEN) program. As described in my previous post, the purpose of my visits has been to give a series of seminars and workshops around entrepreneurship American-style, in particular on entrepreneurship and innovation at Carnegie Mellon.
Sérgio is a member of a highly-educated class of young folk in Portugal who are turning their talents to new venture creation. Why? Why not? Sérgio has nothing to lose. Jobs are hard to find in Portugal. And he is smart, really smart. And he bumped into an opportunity that leverages his computing skills to fill a market need.
Sérgio is also the student of computer science professor turned entrepreneur, Mário Zenha-Rela, founder of Dognaedis, which is turning bank security upside down. Mário will be profiled on an upcoming New Venturist post. Maybe some of the entrepreneurial bug jumped from Mário to Sérgio?
Origins. Sérgio had no thoughts of abandoning academia for entrepreneurship when he noticed on the Internet a “bundle” of images of the London riots in late 2010 that got over 70,000 unique visits in one day. The image bundle was was created by a journalist who works for a local Birmingham newspaper website.
Sérgio got the idea to enhance what the journalist did by grouping the photos and using crowd sourcing to gather more visual content about the riots. And he became an entrepreneur overnight!
Bundlr’s tag line is “organize the web.” Bundlr does this by organizing content about users’ favorite topics. So, each page can be about a specific topic. Sérgio realized that people manually do this for themselves all the time. Others do this automatically.
But Sérgio wanted people to do this because they do it best. So he uses the crowd to reap the benefits of manual search but with the speed and comprehension of automatic.
Bundlr only becomes relevant when a topic reaches critical mass, and then you get network effects.
The origins of the Bundlr technology started when Sérgio was at an event and a lot of people were taking photos and posting them online. He tells me, “And I thought, wouldn’t it be great to aggregate all of the photos? And there really is no tool to collect content on the page. So I just had to come up with Bundlr!”
While Bundlr is currently free to use, Sérgio is releasing a premium version soon. They raised a small amount of seed money (€15K) from a regional VC in Portugal.
Sérgio’s vision is big: “We want people to start searching for content in Bundlr instead of Google. We know that in some cases we deliver better content than Google. We have all kinds of topics organized. Whatever you like, you can find it.”
Bundlr has 4,000 users today, and they have had 92,000 unique views since launching in June, 2011.
Education. Sérgio has a Masters in CS from the University at Coimbra. He met his partner, Filipe Batista, at the university as an undergrad. While Sérgio went on to attain a masters, Filipe didn’t finish his BS or masters. But he worked on a lot of cool, complicated technical projects. Sérgio and Filipe have been working together for four years.
Sérgio traces his metamorphosis from scientist to entrepreneur back to an experience called Junior Enterprises where students get together and form a company. The purpose of the internship-like program is for the students to get a feel of what it is like to do work: “You work there, manage projects, make things, do consulting, but it’s just for students.”
Junior Enterprises is a non-profit. They make money but they have to reinvest the money into the organization for future cohorts of students. Sérgio attended some events and started to think about starting his own company someday. He didn’t realize that someday was so soon!
Challenges. Portugal is not widely known for its entrepreneurs. That said, there are successful companies that had their roots in Portugal: cardMobili, Vision-Box, Vortal and others. Fred Oliveira of Webreakstuff, previously with TechCrunch and a mentor to 500 Startups, is Portuguese. Fred’s blog, Helloform, is known worldwide and he has over 10,000 Twitter followers!
But young Sérgio needs mentors. And he can’t find them in Portugal. “We get the Brad Felds and Fred Wilsons here. They come here to speak for a conference but hundreds of people wait in line to talk to them; you can’t get them to sit and talk with you.”
Bundlr needs funding. They will run out of money shortly. And Sérgio is thinking about raising money outside of Portugal because, “Money from within Portugal has the same contacts as we have. I need a broader reach.” 60% of early-stage funding in Portugal comes from the government, Sérgio tells me. That’s not bad, but he wants money that comes with strategic help.
The other issue Sérgio faces in the short-term is to decide upon and focus on a single market. “Who is our market,” he asks me? “Are they teachers, students, journalists, bloggers? And how do we reach them?” Not to mention how to monetize the site.
Dave Mawhinney, entrepreneur, and my good friend and colleague at Carnegie Mellon (as Associate Director of the Don Jones Center for Entrepreneurship), tells him one of the great rules of entrepreneurship: “You have to brutally prioritize.”
Conclusions. Sérgio dreams of being successful outside of Portugal and then going back to Portugal to make a difference. He is contemplating the trade-offs between seeking investment and mentorship in an incubator program like Y Combinator, TechStars, and Pittsburgh’s AlphaLab, vs. staying in Portugal.
Sérgio is willing to work hard and do what he needs to do to succeed. When I reported in my previous Portugal post about workers receiving 14 months’ salary for 12 months’ work, one commenter was distraught that I was calling Portuguese workers lazy. My intention was to point out the reliance on the government, not to fault the people.
It is the rising star entrepreneurs like Sérgio who WILL make a difference in Portugal. They have the drive, they have the vision, and quite frankly they have the hunger. Entrepreneurship is more than a job or an opportunity. It’s a way out of the economic doldrums!
These young and up-and-coming New Venturists are ripe for shaking things up, for creating change, and for achieving success.