Roland Siebelink – Topicmarks 1 of 2

“Manage the long-term vision and the short-term results.“ Topicmarks automatically reads and summarizes electronic text documents in the cloud.

Matthew: Hi. This is Matthew Wise with We empower entrepreneurs to have a voice and share their story with the world, and enable others to learn more about building products and starting companies.

So, we’re really excited today because were here with Roland Siebelink, founder and CEO of Topicmarks. Topicmarks offers a web service that enables you to quickly navigate through heaps of cloud-based content in seconds. With that said, Roland, we would love for you to give our audience a brief bio.

Roland: I got into the Internet world really early, already back in 1992. I was teaching university students about this newfangled medium called the Internet. I started the first website company in Belgium back in 1994, and by 1996 I was launching the first consumer probe and Internet in Europe, which, of course, took off tremendously. A 900% growth rate a few years after each other. I have done a variety of startups since, strategic work. I’ve basically been in the Internet business from many different angles, for almost 20 years now.

Matthew: Excellent. What is Topicmarks, what makes it unique, who is it for, and why are you so passionate about it?

Roland: We all suffer from the problem of information overflow. All of us get way too much information, and when it really turns into a pain point is when you not only consume the information but you also have to produce something out of this, like a presentation or a paper or maybe a proposal for a corporate client. 

The people we call information workers, the people that are producing some information with everything they find on the Internet, those are the ones we are trying to help deal with this information way more efficiently, simply by taking all the documents they’re supposed to read, but don’t really have the time for, putting that in the cloud, and we read all these documents for them, completely automatically in a matter of seconds. 

When you have to produce so paper or presentation or anything else, all that information is right there, actionable, for you, and you can produce a draft, or whatever you need to produce in a matter of a few minutes.

Matthew: Excellent. Given your domain expertise, what are some of the market and technology trends that you currently see and where you see things developing in the future for your space?

Roland: I think that these technologies have been around for a while. We’ve built a lot on the personalization and a lot on really giving people the exact information they need, which may be different from what you need, or different from what I need, because of my own knowledge and because of the documents that I have.

The trends that are now really bringing this all together are, one, that people are storing lots of information on the cloud, making it even more difficult to organize information. It used to be, you had everything on your computer. and, second, simply the enormous overflow of information that is occurring. When you look at kids these days, 20-year-old students, they already are aware. 

They couldn’t possibly read all the information that’s around on a certain topic. They need help. Now, maybe, they’ll just be trying to look at only the top five Google search results and reading those and thinking that’s sufficient, but why not just let some software read everything for you, look at the top 50 or the top 100 search results in an automated way, and that extracts all media information you’re reading.

Matthew: That’s fine. We’ve covered your background and overview of Topicmarks. Can you tell us what inspired you to start Topicmarks? Was there an aha moment? Did you do a lot of marketing research that led you to the opportunity? What’s the story behind it?

Roland: There was an aha moment. I have to say the one that started Topicmarks was my co-founder Karl. He worked on this for a matter of years because he was really trying to solve his own problem. He writes many papers. He is very scientifically oriented and he just has way too much information to deal with.

I was just on his board and I thought what he was working on was relatively arcane, until I was writing my own book, and I needed a summary for the back cover and for Amazon. It’s really hard to summarize a work you’ve written yourself and to focus on the essentials. 

So, what I did was, I said to Karl, “Karl, can I use your software to just make a quick summary of my book?” Assuming that it would just help me get through the first step but, what it did was, it produced this perfect summary that I didn’t have to change one iota of. It immediately was perfect for both the back cover and on Amazon. That’s where you can read that very summary that led me to join Topicmarks and start marketing this product as a cool product that everybody can use.

Matthew: That’s fine. From idea to product launch, how long did it take and when did you guys actually launch?

Roland: Oh, from the very first ideas in Karl’s head, that was already back in 2006, and we’ve been working on this with five or six engineers for a number of years, before it got anywhere close to a usable product for the actual user, because it’s really, really hard technology. We’ve invested over 20,000 hours of engineering time in this product before it got close to being ready. Only early last year, in 2010, we started to really look at what the use cases are and how people can use this. So, now early in 2011, were getting really close to launching this as a completely consumer-based product.

Matthew: Excellent. Are there any unique metrics or social proof about Topicmarks that you would like to share with the audience?

Roland: Yes. Absolutely. What you see online today is still little bit of a prototype version. It’s highly interesting for people who are already in that space, but even then, already today, 44% of people have recommended Topicmarks to their friends already. 69% would like to be involved in product development. I always say, you can take that both ways, of course. Maybe, that means we could use a little more product development, but, more importantly, 81% of people would miss Topicmarks if it were no longer available. That is the thing that makes us really proud and gives us the energy every day to keep developing this for all these users out there.

Matthew: Excellent. You guys recently received an award, correct?

Roland: We did, actually. We won the Founders Showcase. It’s this award I have right here. This was early in February. We were part of a lineup of, I think in the beginning, more than 50 start up companies. There were first a few rounds, of course, of selection, but in the end we got through it, got into the final of the 10 companies. Then, we got 66% of the audience vote and, I think, 22 out of 25 total points from the jury. So, we won it by a landslide, and it was a great experience.

Matthew: We know founders are facing new challenges when they want to build companies. What was the hardest part about building Topicmarks and how did you overcome this obstacle?

Roland: Well, of course, there are many obstacles that we share with other people, like how you move from a technological idea to usable product. How do you build a team? How do you get all the talent together? But all highlights one specific challenge that we faced, namely, we started this company when Carl and I were in Switzerland and [Yaro] our third co-founder was in Poland. Then we thought, let’s go to the West Coast, because we need to be close to where the capital is. 

Karl, being Canadian, said, “Let’s settle in Vancouver.” So, Karl was in Vancouver. I was still in Switzerland. Yaro was in Poland. Then, we said, “Let’s go fundraising.” I went to Vancouver. It took me a week to find out that there really is not much funding available in Vancouver, so I said, “Okay. I’ll just move to San Francisco, right away.” 

So, then Karl was in Vancouver and I was in San Francisco and Yaro was in Poland. The big challenge we faced was dealing, as a team, with this distance, for many, many months, and dealing with all the tensions through just meetings like Skype and teleconferencing, and things like that. 

So, I’m really, really, delighted and relieved that we have the funding to bring everybody over to sit in our common office and just work like a normal team, in one office, and be able to look each other in the eyes.


FounderLY Photos

			FounderLY posted a photo:	Future of Education - FounderLY			FounderLY posted a photo:	Future of Education - FounderLY			FounderLY posted a photo:	Future of Education - FounderLY			FounderLY posted a photo:	Future of Education - FounderLY			FounderLY posted a photo:	Future of Education - FounderLY			FounderLY posted a photo:	Future of Education - FounderLY

Press Mentions #1

Press Mentions #2