Šarūnas Legeckas is only 30, but if you didn’t know that and only read about his experience, you would probably give him 5 years more the least. He comes from a generation which believes in acting, and which discovers very early on that education may be fine, but there is nothing like rolling up your sleeves and just getting down to work.

Background

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Šarūnas earned his Bachelor’s degree in telecommunication physics and electronics at the Vilnius University (which hesays that spurred logical thinking and quick learning) and also got a Master’s degree in Innovation, Creativity and Enterprise Management from the Newcastle
University. He quickly found out that physics is not really his thing, and was much more lured to the creative and people’s side that business development had to offer.

As he says himself:

While still being at the University, I had my first job experience, just to get my
feet warm. You see, I wanted to get into business to get to know it and learn
before doing something myself. I wanted to know how is innovation done
and driven? How do you build new products?

He adds:

It was then, while working at Barclays, that I started thinking of starting my own
business.

Probably modesty didn’t permit Šarūnas to tell us this, but has been included in the New Europe 100 (a list of outstanding challengers who are leading world-class innovation from Central and Eastern Europe) in their ranking of the most creative and promising entrepreneurs in Europe:

With a great sense of entrepreneurial spirit and more than ten years of project
management experience, Šarūnas Legeckas is definitely one of the most
interesting personalities in the Lithuanian creative market

And guess who appears in Geek Time’s “ballistic Baltic Startup scene: 20 hot startups from the Baltic states that you might want to know aboutlist? Yes, Šarūnas again, with his open source project, Place I Live.


We saw a niche

As it is often the case, real life situations become inspirations to ideas. Šarūnas tells us his story of how his adventure with his own company began:

A colleague of mine had just moved and planned to purchase an apartment. But as
it turned out, there was not a lot of information readily available that could
help him to get the best of the deal, predict what the area will look like, and
so on. We knew something, but felt that we are missing some statistics.
So we began with Google: we looked up crime rates and what the demographics
were. I remember that we were surprised that we could actually find this
information. Today there is even more data available, for example we can see
how many bike accidents happen, but the truth is that maybe some 0,0001% of
people know about it and use it. That’s when we saw a niche where we could
apply our technical knowledge, and which could help in real life
.
Here is the part where developers like us come in, to use this data to make places
better. With 3,5 billion people living in cities, you get a lot of problems
with sustainability and so on, and we saw an interesting opportunity in that.
For us, smart cities are smart people, who use the data to make
better informed decisions. This is where we are at – we are trying to
build an open data solution for the citizens of the world.


Place I Live – rating cities

As the project is described on the New Europe 100 site,  Place I Live (Kurgyvenu) was launched in July 2012. Its main aim is to provide all the important information about the quality of life in a given neighborhood by collecting data from municipal and state institutions, as well as taking into account social media and crowdsourced information. The data includes crime statistics, the distance to the nearest schools, bus, and train stations, air pollution, the average market value of an apartment, etc. Everything is presented in the form of info-charts, tables, and maps, which makes it really easy to navigate the entire website.

 

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screen shot of main page of PlaceILive.com

Šarūnas fills us in with more information:

One investor said that we are trying to build an IMDb model, but for cities – all
the movie info, like ratings, director, actors – but for houses. The problem
that we come across now is that people don’t really know what data exists and
what they can expect.

Šarūnas is a firm believer in open data, and these are the foundations that his project is based upon (we will be writing more on this in the second part of our interview).

But now, to give you a better idea of the scale of the project and stage it is in right now, we asked Šarūnas for a few facts and figures.

Numbers

As for users, so far Place I Live has 50 000 in Lithuania and 30 000 international (Germany, U.S., Lithuania, England). However, at this stage Šarūnas explains that their goal is not to acquire as many users as they possibly can, but rather to have some serious feedback sessions so that they can improve the service and product before its big launch. So 30 000 is a number of users they have planned on having for this moment.

Right now, it’s all about testing and improving. And keep in mind that we have achieved that basically without any marketing” Šarūnas stressesHe adds that “this is just first traffic, as we are still in our BETA stage”. Actually the big launch of the project will take place on February 21st, during the International Open Data Day (and no, this is no coincidence). 


Transforming numbers into information

 

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screen shot from PlaceILive.com

For data to be useful, it has to be legible, easy to use and read. So we asked Šarūnas how do you present the data?

And here comes the tricky part, we heard. Šarūnas tells us why:

This
is most tricky
. I feel that with some visualizations we are getting there, but
still we have a long road to go. In general, people find it difficult to read
graphs. We are trying to think how we can read data and interpret it for
our readers, 
draw conclusion and automate it in order to simplify it, make it less
technical and easier to read.

The Place I Live tech team uses a special, in-house algorithm written into their code, to help make sense of the tons of data.

With so much energy, experience and perhaps most importantly business intuition, we were wondering what else is in the pipeline
for Šarūnas. But he quickly straightened our thinking:

“I’m not Elon Musk, and I know I can’t handle a few big projects at the same time. Instead I chose
to do one and focus 150% of my time and effort on making it successful.”

As you see, this conviction is based on experience. And here we come to the part which all startup founders know very well: that we all make mistakes. They pave the path to the good things, that’s just how it works. Šarūnas has walked his path, and has his share of making the wrong decisions. He also had his

Oh-oh moment

You know that moment? When you thought you had it all figured out, but you really didn’t? You have to stop or sometimes take a step
back just to deal with this issue. And this is how he sees it:

Number One: People

“My biggest oh-oh moment was not related to the product, but to the team. There are a lot of people interested to work with you after you get the media attention. Currently we have a team of 10 people. The lesson I learnt is that I have to be more selective and careful in terms of who I chose to work with.”

Number Two: Focus

“We had global ambitions, but I learnt that you need to be methodological on how you do it. We wanted to go to 5 cities – all at the same time, but it would have been better to first chose NY, then go on. This time the lesson is – take it one step at a time.”

Number Three: I started too late.

What was your single most difficult decision? We asked Šarūnas about that too, and thankfully he was open to share with us his feelings on this one:

“Taking the first step.

Honestly, for me, the hardest part was to quit my job, say bye-bye to
my salary and be on my own. I started calculating how much I
could lose. Now it looks stupid. After a month I felt a huge
relief. I would say if you want to, just give it a shot. Make some savings,
try. What could be the worst that could happen? I think it is better you regret
what you do, than the opposite. Now I feel I started too late.”

Support

As for all startups, the beginnings were tough. You have to face the phase when you need a lot, and are  still waiting for the results. That is why any help that you can get can make a  difference between making it or not, and means less struggling to get where you want to. Microsoft has a special program to support startups, which is BizSpark, and Place I Live participated in it.  How was it? What
is the general feeling of being part of this program? It’s best you hear this from Šarūnas:

We were part of the BizSpark program, so we benefited  from help concerning
the usage of different technological solutions. We got that for free, which
really is the most awesome thing when you are in a situation when
you are counting how much you can spend on a cup of coffee
.

We also felt the support and help of the Microsoft team in Lithuania. We worked
together, and I can say that it was a hands-on experience, for example with
helping us to migrate. We received very close support, and I have to
say that I very happy about the decision.

Azure helps startups

As a member of the BizSpark program, Place I Live benefited from free hosting on the Microsoft Azure platform. Did everything go
as expected? Here is what Šarūnas has to say:

What surprised me was how smoothly it all went. We didn’t encounter any problems, we
didn’t have to think whether we have enough VMs or CPUs. We use Azure
and find it very useful.
 We could just focus on other things relating
to driving our project forward, and that was in a great part thanks to the
Microsoft team and awesome technology.  

From the user perspective, it is important that whatever technology you use – you don’t have to spend endless hours on learning it (even if you are a developer). Šarūnas told us about his experience with using the Azure cloud:

It’s quite simple, as it is a matter of a just few clicks and we can add new VM, so
we can experiment in development and then production. From the technical point
of view – it is easy to manage. This is especially important when you are
working on big data sets, like we are. Actually, we are about to finish the
BizSpark program, so I would like to take the opportunity to thank Microsoft
for being a part of it.

What can we say either than you’re welcome, and if we have been able to help in the slightest way on your road to success, then we can be your vehicle any time 🙂

We may have come to an end of today’s article, but this is not the end of the story yet. Šarūnas says:

I cannot call myself successful, but we have moved a step or two further than
other people, thanks to our investors. 

Join us again soon for the second part, where Šarūnas  will tell us about the open source technology that his project  uses, he will share some insights on servers and databases, but we will also talk about VC financing and the marketing that he is doing.

Thanks for being with us today!