Archive for January, 2012

January 31, 2012

Locals Recommended – A Startup Profile

Met with Helgi Hermansson, former TV program producer, now an Entrepreneur trying to create a platform for  video curation for the travel industry. What is that you ask? well, it is quite simple they want to be the filter of the videos that you see on YouTube but the filtering is specifically for the Travel Industry, Hotels, Airlines, Restaurants, City councils, Historic Sites, tourist attractions etc will be made into movies by you and me, the website will provide the guidelines on how to make the video and you can upload it to their cloud. They will market and sell it to the Travel industry and you get a cut of the revenue that your video generates. Not a bad idea for all those artists trying to make it in the TV business around the world. The website is called localsrecommend.org, as .com site was already parked and given that he is an Entrepreneur did not want to spend money on buying the domain. They already have a number of locals in their networks established in various cities and they control the quality of the videos that are uploaded into their platform just like it is done in a TV Studio or a Movie Studio. I like that, quality control on videos and providing a filter on YouTube like platform is a good thing especially from a business perspective. He wants to build this platform into a global business, the travel industry buys subscription to the content and embed the videos in their respective websites. We had a very long and good discussion on his pitch, which needed work, how he could make the business scalable, pricing, driving eye balls to his content etc This is a trend that is bound to emerge in the video content on the web, niche sectors will create their own curation channels just like TV channels now are targeted to a specific cohort Children’s channel, Sci-Fi channel, Comedy channel etc the same organization is bound to happen to content that has been created on the Internet.

January 31, 2012

Marketing on a Shoe String

As Entrepreneurs we are always faced with constraints related to marketing and selling our products and services, that is natural and true for every company. Very few companies have a unlimited budget to spend on marketing. I have had my pet peeves with the Marketing departments while I was working for a bank. The problem I had was, I never knew whether the money we spent was worth it. This is no longer a problem, today technology exists to precisely build-measure-learn from your marketing efforts. I saw this post in The Next Web with the title “10 Marketing Hacks For Entrepreneurs“, I think it is applicable to any businesses and I don’t know why they have the title as a Hack? I wish established companies would run their businesses like a startup especially in the marketing and sales organizations because they never give you the metrics related to the spending they do. Here is the list if you have not gone to the article to read it:

  1. Google Adwords
  2. ReTargeting
  3. Facebook Ads
  4. Twitter mentions
  5. Gist
  6. Craigslist
  7. Billboard space through ADstruc
  8. Facebook Insights
  9. WordStream
  10. Social Media – Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+, Quora etc
I would add your company blog is a great way to market your product or service or what you do. Marketing is a promise you keep with your customers. If you don’t tell them what you are doing they usually don’t know. All the above tools does not replace simple truth about marketing, as Seth Godin’s post on Marketing says:
The simple first rule of branding and marketing anything (even yourself)

Not a secret, often overlooked:
“Keep your promises.”
If you say you’ll show up every day at 8 am, do so. Every day.
If you say your service is excellent, make it so.
If circumstances or priorities change, well then, invest to change them back. Or tell the truth, and mean it.
If traffic might be bad, plan for it.
Is there actually unusually heavy call volume? Really?
Want a bigger brand? Make bigger promises. And keep them

Related articles

January 31, 2012

Skyr is the word – Icelandic Entrepreneur in NYC


Bloomberg – Taking Stock With Pimm Fox from siggi’s on Vimeo.

Watch the video of Siggi Hilmarsson, an Icelander who took the concept of Icelandic “Skyr“, which is a healthier version of Yogurt and built a business for it. I have found another mentor for our Icelandic Startups. Just think about the first day when he started making Skyr at home in New York, what boldness should he have had to think that he can compete with large global brands, I am sure he was not thinking about that at all. He did not go to the large stores, but built it organically. I would love to meet him and understand how he got started or why he got started. He also says that he manufactures his products locally in upstate New York and now he is going national with Whole Foods Market. What a fantastic story for the Icelandic Entrepreneur. He has innovated in the most crowded market of them all especially starting in New York City. He has done it in a relatively short period of time as well, he started in 2004… here is his story. Couple of things I think needs to be highlighted:

  1. He focused on finding the market by doing a validated learning i.e making it at home, going to the Green market and selling it first. Build-Measure-Learn
  2. Had defined his niche as a healthy alternative to the existing products, not just in marketing but also in how he made the product
  3. He started with the simpler version of the product, which he could build without a processing plant and scaled the business.

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January 30, 2012

Who needs another Silicon Valley?

Gunnar Holmstein, the Colorful CEO of Clara comes up with interesting perspectives. He has a question about if startup ecosystems should do what Eric Ries talks about in his book The Lean Startup. Rather than trying to build a “Silicon Valley” clone in every city and country, should we be asking How can we build Sustainable Entrepreneurial Ecosystems the same way we build a company.  The challenges are the same, and we face tremendous uncertainty in both situations. Can we build better Entrepreneurial Ecosystem by asking the question how do we know it is sustainable? how do we know what we are building is wanted by the market? What should be the metrics that we should measure, so that we can apply the Build – Measure – Learn iterative cycle to even Entrepreneurial Ecosystem building. I think we have a very interesting question to ask our guests and participants for the Conference in Iceland in May. How do we Build a Sustainable Entrepreneurial Ecosystem. Have you signed up yet? if not you can @ http://signup.startupiceland.com.

Chris Schultz was fortunate to hear Brad Feld talk about his 5 components of a sustainable startup ecosystem and he has written about it here, and more recently Brad linked his post on Startup communities to a talk given by David Cohen in San Diego and David has 7 things that need to be there for Startup ecosystems to flourish. Is it possible for us to measure these 5 or 7 things? Can we build-measure-learn these things? I certainly believe so. I am going to list them here and see how we can measure each:

  1. Long View – a 20 year timeline – stakeholders must be committed to the community for long term. Can this be measured? even if we could what would be the purpose of measuring this?
  2. Entrepreneurial leadership – It has to be lead by Entrepreneurs, cannot be led by governments, non-profits, big companies, VCs, lawyers, accountants, economic development, universities.  All of those stakeholders need to be engaged, but entrepreneurs must drive it. This can be measured? basically who is running the show when it comes to Entrepreneurial ecosystem.
  3. Fresh Meat – Need new talent all the time, college graduates and people should move in and out. This is easy to measure, the number of new graduates coming out the universities and maybe a cross mash up between the Design/Creative group and the Technical/Engineering group. A Ratio of Creative/Analytical graduates
  4. Engaging Activities – engage the entrepreneurial community from top to bottom – startup to serial entrepreneurs – get all involved – you need a thing that engages all those people. You want really active engagement for a moderate period of time because its impossible to maintain a high level activity by someone on something that is not core focus. This can be measured as well, the example given is the TechStars program and other incubator programs in Boulder Colorado.
  5. Repeat – must have a rhythm with for a long time.  Must have a beat that last through economic cycles. The only way to build a community is to move beyond boom and bust and build something over extended periods of time. This again is not relevant to measure, but it should be interesting to see continuity.
So what do you think? do we have the necessary ingredients to create an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem here in Iceland?

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January 30, 2012

What does it take to be a great Mentor

Mentoring is by far the most rewarding and challenging role anyone can take on. It is much like parenting, but in a mentoring relationship there is no hierarchy. It is mainly give from both sides. David Cohen had a fantastic post a while back about the Mentor Manifesto. David is the CEO of TechStars, Boulder and has had the experience to work with hundreds of mentors and entrepreneurs. I could not agree more to the post. We have a challenge in Iceland, there are very few experienced, committed mentors. Whenever, I bring up the topic of mentoring, that question is always followed with What does the mentor get back for their time and effort? The whole point of mentoring is NOT TO EXPECT ANYTHING BACK! it is about giving, like unconditional love to your child. It is a service one does to pay forward. Why is it so hard to grasp?
When I joined Ernst & Young in their Management Consultingpractice a long time ago, the first thing I was introduced to was my Mentor who was different to my Counselor. What a fantastic concept. The organization had made it a institutional practice to make sure everyone who joins the team has a mentor and a counselor. Mentor guides the new team member on the workings of the organization and helps in any challenge the new team member encounters. A mentor to me was a friend, a buddy actually that is what EY called it. a “Buddy” is usually there for you to talk about anything related to work. Some of buddies become full fledged mentors and helped me shape my career at EY. I have played the role of a mentor to many of my friends and I take the role of mentoring very seriously.

January 29, 2012

Why do Startups Fail?

I saw this post on Business Insider with the title “Don’t do a startup, You WILL fail!” based on a presentation by Dave McClure. Dave is a colorful Super Angel and invests with an interesting investment thesis. But what Dave says is spot on and he is one of those who don’t Bull S#$%. Of course Dave goes on rant about all the wrong reasons that entrepreneurs start companies and then they complain that they were not successful. Go an flip through his presentation and ask yourself if you are doing your startup for any of those reasons. I like some of the tips that he has on the presentation, I like this one:

  • Doing a startup is a lesson in Pain & Sacrifice. If you are not ready to sacrifice and don’t like pain, just don’t bother because there will be times when you feel like you are scratching your fingernails against a rough sand paper. You need to have the persistence to ride those phases with optimism and positive energy.
  • You have not instrumented your market or your product, i.e you don’t know or have any metrics about how your solutions is changing market behavior. You don’t know what is a Lean Startup or Steve Blank‘s work on Customer Development. Dave has what he calls the AARRR Metrics. Which stands for:
  1. Acquisition: How are users coming to your site from various channels? Do you know the channels?
  2. Activation: Are users happy with their first experience?
  3. Retention: Are users coming back?
  4. Referral: Are users telling others?
  5. Revenue: Are users spending money or allowing you to monetize in some way? The most important of all is whether you are measuring all of the above and what do they tell you.
  • You focus too much on the solution and not on the problem, better still you are really not solving a problem at all. It is not about the idea, it is always about the problem, the bigger, the bolder, the world changing the problem the better are you chances of building a business around that problem. I have written about it.
  • Your team sucks. There is no way out of that problem! You just need A players to go win the world. As I always say you cannot make a Donkey run the Kentucky Derby… it would get the sympathy but it will never win! The under dog stories are great but they rarely come true in real life. You better have a strong team that knows what it is doing otherwise you are lost period.
  • You have no knowledge of how to market or sell your product. You have this view that if you build it they will come. It is just not going to happen.

You have no idea of how to address any of the above topics but you have a fantastic idea! I say good luck, but I am sure Dave would say something much less nicer.

Why Not To Do a Startup – Dave McClure from Seattle20 on Vimeo.

January 27, 2012

Autonomy-Mastery-Purpose Incentives that work


Daniel Pink is a Career Analyst or that is what the Ted biography describes what he does. I have seen both the videos embedded here. Daniel has been studying what motivates people to perform at their best. If you have not seen these videos it may surprise you. Ask yourself what is your incentive and motivation to do what you do everyday. Entrepreneurship is a funny business your success is so uncertain and you are in constant flux of going bust to hitting one out of the park, what keeps you going? well, Daniel explains it in his book Drive. I have written about how the world has been changing right in front of our eyes because a lot of what we do has to do with Cognitive skills and not conveyor belt mechanically repetitive stuff. But our companies and management methods were created in the industrial age and we are always trying to implement them in this new world. The sad part is we complain that this management and money/benefit/perks based incentive stuff does not work! of course it does not work because our environment has changed. We need new ways to motivate, incentivise and engage with each other. The new incentives that work are Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. If you are an entrepreneur and want to be successful in what you are creating make sure you have answered the questions to the above 3 incentives.

Autonomy: The desire to be self directed, if there is one thing common with all the entrepreneurs that I have met and the most successful ones, they exude this attribute.

Mastery: The urge to better at stuff. This created Linux, Apache Software Foundation, Wikipedia and every entrepreneur that I know whats to get better at something. They learn music or run marathons or do yoga or get better at managing their own time, help other entrepreneurs etc They seek challenge and mastery

Purpose: More and more organizations are looking for the Transcendent Purpose and he explains that the reason for this is that it attracts the best talent, it is more fun place to work and what is even more interesting is if the purpose gets misaligned due to the profit motive it basically makes people do bad things. Bad customer service, illegal or even criminal activities, crappy products etc. Profit is important but should not be the reason you are doing what you are doing. This goes totally against what was going on in the banking world before the financial crisis. I remember what motivated me to work with Glitnir, it was the emphasis on Renewable Energy and Sustainable Fishing, we did a lot of things that aligned with that strategy. It energized me everyday that I was doing something that actually impacted how energy was created in the world and our customers were not killing the source of fish in the sea. But we kind of lost our way during that journey and  we all know what happened next.

http://video.ted.com/assets/player/swf/EmbedPlayer.swf

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January 26, 2012

How many tourists are going to visit Iceland in 2012

English: Eruption of Strokkur close by. França...

Spoke at conference on Tourism and Investment yesterday. I may have said things that were not in agreement with the rest of the speaker as it relates to the number of tourist visitors to Iceland. I think everyone wants to believe that the upward trend is going to continue but I disagree. My assessment is that 2011 was by far the best year and it was the peak, 2012 will be flat or can be lower than 2011. Here are my reasons:

  1. Travel today is easy, you can find remote places, book your ticket, learn more about the place before you leave your chair and get connected with local people and/or ask your friends/family/trust network how is this place you are visiting. Given this background, the choice of travel destinations have widened a lot. Iceland has to compete with all other remote, unique and different places. What is going for Iceland is the nature and the experience past travelers have had
  2. Euro Zone is going to go into recession and the first thing anyone cuts when you need to conserve is Travel
  3. However, US market is picking up so there may be more visitors coming from there to offset the slowdown from the Euro zone countries.
  4. Iceland had one of the best PR and marketing campaign conducted by the Global media in 2010 because of the Eyjafjalljokul eruption and then again in April of 2011 there was another smaller eruption. The pictures, videos and discussion of the volcano basically brought attention to Iceland and that drove the tourism numbers. Nothing like that has happened in the past 6 months.
Let me illustrate with the following three graphs, the first one is just the % change between years of Foreign tourists overnight stays, the second one is the absolute number of overnight stays by foreigners and the third one is a trend of searches for the word “iceland” in Google. If you look at the second graph, the absolute value, sure it is an upward trending graph but if you look at the % change the numbers don’t look all that great. It has rebounded but nothing to the level that we seen even in 2005. The bounce can be attributed to various reasons, the volcano, Inspired by Iceland campaign, Icesave in the news etc. The good thing is that those who have visited Iceland always have great things to say so the network effect might draw others to want to come. These are smaller effects compared to the forces of Recession. It is more like comparing a Tsunami to a ripple. My philosophy on predicting the future or forecasting is very similar to George Soros, “Markets are unpredicatable, so I don’t try to predict their direction”. The long term prospects of Tourism in Iceland is very attractive, however, our investment thesis in Iceland is not based on the absolute number of growth but Niche growth of the higher end tourists who are looking for something unique and Iceland fits that bit fantastically and that is where we are investing.

Here is a graph from Google Insights for Search:

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January 25, 2012

Validated Learning in Hospitality Development

I will be speaking in the “Ferðaþjónusta og fjárfestingar conference sponsored by Landsbanki and the Ministry of Industry, Iceland and organized by Promote Iceland. The words in Icelandic mean “Tourism and Investment” thank you Google Translate. I wrote about it when I got invited. The message of the presentation is “Apply the Lean Startup principles even before launching a hospitality development project”. Especially validated learning, Google Insight for Search is a fantastic tool that I have been using for all our projects. I highly recommend that you do too. It can give you insights on anything that you are working on or plan to work on. 

When we embarked on this journey to develop our presence outside of India in 2009, we wanted to build a scale able business which means we build teams around specific themes that we wanted to invest in. What we believe works well in Hospitality development is vertical integration of the value chain. What do I mean by this? Our company in India whose core business is to invest, develop and manage Hospitality projects owns a number of support businesses
  1. Furniture Manufacturing and distribution company specifically to serve our Hotel developments
  2. Food and Beverages distribution company that supplies our hotels
  3. Food Service business that runs all our restaurants in our properties
  4. A Taxi service company that runs a fleet of cars for all our properties
All our investments outside of India are in businesses that move up the value chain of Hotel development
  1. Buuteeq – A Digital Marketing system for Independent hotels (selling rooms)
  2. Clara – A Community analysis company for the gaming industry (to understand future buying trends)
  3. Boutique brand – A new boutique brand that is truly international and can be applied to any geography
  4. Hotel interior design company – A company that designs high end interiors for hotels and private residences
  5. Furniture distribution company – A platform to sell the furniture manufactured in India
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January 24, 2012

The Wealth Gap

Income inequality and mortality in 282 metropo...
Image via Wikipedia

BBC has been doing a documentary on the widening Wealth Gap in the world, I have a problem with the portrayal of the issue. I am not wealthy, far from it so I am not arguing for the sake of taking the opposite opinion, but I just think documentaries need to be unbiased. I had referred to Daniel Kahneman‘s new book Thinking, Fast and Slow. If you have not yet read it I would highly encourage you to get that book into your reading list. He addresses this issue, he says there is a huge difference in income between people because some people care more about having a high income vs those who do not. I am not saying it is a good thing, what is bad is lack of opportunities for those who want to climb the ladder of wealth, if for whatever reason that does not manifest itself then we have social unrest. I believe the opportunities are always there, all the post that I have written about entrepreneurs is geared towards that, I fundamentally believe everybody can do anything they set their mind to. Your focus determines your reality, if we focus on all the unfairness in the world then we feel miserable and depressed, however if one looks at all the opportunities that exist and all the problems that still need to be solved, then one gets a sense of purpose. I have discovered my purpose, I want to empower entrepreneurs to achieve their highest goals. Been doing that in whatever way I can. So if you are an entrepreneur or want to be one, contact me. I am always available to meet entrepreneurs.

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