Archive for February, 2012

February 29, 2012

#BMD – Value Propositions

This is the first of the posts on Business Model Design. The topic this post will cover is Value Proposition, it is one of the boxes in the Business Model Canvas. In my opinion defining the Value Proposition is one of the fundamental blocks in building any business. The definition of value has to be clear. Lets consider the example of Auro Investment Partners aka Startup Iceland. When I embarked on this journey almost 3 years back the value I wanted to create was to enable entrepreneurs to achieve their highest potential and goals. Although the fundamental definition has not changed, what is valuable has changed depending on the lifecycle and stage an entrepreneur or the company that we work with is in.



Alexander Osterwalder in the Canvas asks fundamental questions that we need to take the time to answer:

What value do we deliver to our customers?

We deliver speed in capital decision, know-how, networking and physical presence into the US and Indian markets, mentoring and experience in starting, building and scaling companies in the technology and the hospitality business. Characteristic addressed: Speed, Performance, Risk Reduction, Customization, “Getting the job done”,

Which one of our customers problems are we helping to solve?

At the initial phase it is providing the seed and angel funding, followed up with mentoring, advising and help in building  the team, a network and large markets of US, Europe and India. Characteristic addressed: Performance, Risk Reduction, Customization, “Getting the job done”, Cost Reduction

What bundle of products or services are we offering to each Customer Segment?

Our customer segment is broken down into Entrepreneurs in the technology space and Entrepreneurs in the hospitality space. For the customers in the technology space, we provide validation of the business model hypothesis, marketing and sales strategy, operational know how, team building know how and developing the market and customer know how. In the hospitality sector we bring vast experience in developing, managing and running hotels. In addition, we bring experience in advising investors in investing in hospitality business. Characteristic addressed: Customization, Risk Reduction, Performance, “Getting the job done”, Cost Reduction

Which customer needs are we satisfying?

We satisfy the need for early stage capital, mentoring and network development to validate product market fit. We try very hard to build relationships and partnerships that are driven by the principle of win-win. We want to understand and provide value for Entrepreneurs in the entire gamut of business development. We understand it is our previlage to have the opportunity to work with Entrepreneurs and not the other way around.  We want the entrepreneurs who work with us to see the value we bring to the table, if we are unable to justify the value we simply don’t waste the entrepreneurs time. We believe we need to be evaluated the same way as we evaluate the teams and entrepreneurs we work with.

February 29, 2012

Business Model Design

Business Model Canvas Poster download (http://...

Image via Wikipedia

Alexander Osterwalder’s book Business Model Design is an excellent workbook for all businesses, especially those that are already established and want to look for ways to transform, amend or update their existing business model. Of course for those of us who have been in the Consulting industry it all feels like deja vu but I have been impressed with the approach of the book. I have written about this before, what works for me in this book is the concise way in which to view, capture and focus on the elements that a business can strategize, prioritize and execute on. When I work with companies and try to help them through their trasformation the biggest challenge is identifying the most impact for the resources that is at our disposal. And when I talk about resource, I mean Time, Money and Teams. Time is by far the most important because that is the only thing that we cannot create. We can strategize about raising money or organizing teams. I want to run a series of blogs on breaking the Business Model Canvas into each component and explain. I believe that this work by Alexander is more important if not the most important work compared to the Lean Startup by Eric Rise. The Lean Startup sets the overall goals of embarking on either building a business or transforming an existing business or fixing a broken business, Business Model Design gives you the roadmap of how to do it. We are trying to put together a workshop during the Startup Iceland Conference, were we are working on bringing both Eric Rise and Alexander Osterwalder to run workshops in Iceland. If you have not signed up, please do me a favor and sign up. I guarantee it is going to be an awesome event.

February 28, 2012

Migrating this blog to WordPress

English: The logo of the blogging software Wor...
Image via Wikipedia

[This post was originally written in Blogger] I started blogging in 2004, it was just something I wanted to do because I never had a habit of maintaining a diary. Blogging was very easy with Blogger, stuck with it until now and I think the time has come for an upgrade. I am moving this blog to WordPress, I already did the migration over the weekend here is the new link, but I will continue to post in both platforms until I am fully satisfied that WordPress meets all my requirements. I found an excellent resource that helped me in the migration, that was Google Groups. The link here pointed me exactly to what I needed to do, of course there is a limit to the size of the file that you can export from Blogger and Convert, in addition the WordPress import tool does not work as well directly from Blogger. Here is what I did:

  1. Exported my blog from Blogger to XML – Settings – Other – Blog Tools – Export blog
  2. Ran the conversion program hosted in Google App Engine
  3. Imported the converted file through the WordPress import tool – Tools – Import – WordPress
Some of the challenges that I think I will have once I complete the migration:
  • Links – I think the links to my previous posts might break or go to the original blogger link
  • Google Search Results – Search Engines may not get my new URL until another month
  • Analytics – I like the Blogger analytics dashboard, will need to see how I like WordPress
  • I may have to move to a host – don’t like that because the interface is different for every host and I need to learn that interface, how it links to WordPress etc I am hoping that I can fund someone to do all the behind the scene dirty work and I can just write! well, as they say there is no free lunch.
February 27, 2012

And the Winner of Startup Weekend Akureyri is…

Drum roll… Entrepreneurship! Yes, the winner over the weekend is the concept of Entrepreneurship. It was exciting to see over 100 people working on a problem, listening to feedback and presenting their ideas and getting recognized for their effort. As much as I like the idea of people getting recognition for their ideas, Ideas do not equate to launching a business. I have written about “Startup Ideas – Why ideas are not the problem“. There were 19 teams that presented their ideas. The companies that I thought really created a business over the weekend were:

Video taken from previous Startup Weekend Events in Iceland

  • and - a booking and reservation application over the web for Camp sites around iceland
  • - a hyper local curated list of things for everything from Top 5 restaurants for business meetings in Reykjavik to Task list to do press release. You pay a small fee for not having to spend the time to research the list yourself

Of course both of these companies did not win the award because their idea was not revolutionary or “cool” but both of these probably will be able to build a sustainable business. I think the other ideas and teams need to be recognized as well. Here is the link to a slideshow of pictures from my Twitter stream.

  1. Whale Buddy – A Multilingual App for Smart Phones that enables a better experience for tourists on a Whale watching tour
  2. Life Line – Making the rescue suits and life jackets fitted with GPS device, Nano technology and Diode lights to enable finding the missing persons at sea.
  3. Viral Trade – An online market place for digital goods used in online games
  4. Tannstra – A toothpick made from Icelandic straw
  5. Active Site – A photo market for pictures taken underwater off the coast of Akureyri, I guess it could be applied for any all underwater pictures.

There were 12 more companies, I have to admit did not find them very interesting that is probably because of my lack of understanding of Icelandic.

February 26, 2012

Iceland should be proud!

Since I have started blogging, my goal has been to bring the attention of the Global Startup Community and the Global Venture Investing industry to Iceland. Yesterday was the best day of my 2+ years long effort. Here is the quote from Fred Wilson:

If you have not been following the discussions in Fred’s blog, I would urge you to look the post tilted “The Free Internet Act“. I think the grass root efforts that started in Iceland right after the collapse is starting to get noticed around the world. I think that is a good thing and we need to push the agenda further. Context for the above image is the post that Fred wrote yesterday, Reddit Community has drafted a Transparent Bill to Free the Internet, Fred blogged that he needs to analyze the document before having an opinion. I commented about the Thjodfundur 2009 effort and how it transpired into the Icelandic Constitution being drafted in a Transparent manner and how that model can be a good starting point to make any and/all bills in all Governments. It was very exciting to see Fred acknowledge that effort in Iceland and endorse that the World needs to take notice of that effort. If you are an Icelander, you should pat yourself in the back and for those that were responsible for the Grass root movement, your recognition is here!
February 25, 2012

Bill Gross @Idealabs

Bill Gross
Bill Gross (Photo credit: jdlasica)

To get a thumbs up for innovation from Bill Gates is nothing to sneeze about. Bill Gross has done just that. Bill Gates just wrote a note about Bill Gross in his Gates Notes. I have been following Bill Gross for as long time now. He is the quintessential ideas guy, he has been doing this since he was a teenager. I wish we had role models like him in India. We were taught that working for the Government was the best job one could get. I still remember my mother urging me to take up a job with the Indian Railways and how that would secure my future with at easy 9 to 4 job! what a concept! anyways, I digress. This post is about Innovation and how to make it sustainable and solve big problems because that is what Bill Gross has created in Idea Labs. There are 5 key things that he outlines in the video and so does Bill Gates. How can we create an environment that fosters these things?

  1. Embrace failure as learning: Employees don’t fear loosing their job if an idea does not work – it allows them to take risk
  2. Bold Ideas are important, but they can fail: Try bold things that have a high chance of not working, its still learning
  3. The market place is not always ready for a new idea: Old ideas that are shelved can come back if a market has changed
  4. Go places where others are too afraid to venture: Get excited about things that are in the white space of what others won’t do – the best ideas come at this intersection
  5. Analyze, Assess and Move on: It takes a dissection of the strengths and weaknesses of all systems, coupled with statistical analysis, to quickly cancel out the ideas that won’t work, in order to land on a completely new idea.
February 25, 2012

Entrepreneurial Density – Startup Weekend Akureyri

I jumped in a car with bunch of Entrepreneurs yesterday and drove to Akureyri. I am participating in the Startup Weekend in Akureyri. This is the 8th Startup Weekend run by Innovit, Kristján Freyr Kristjánsson, the CEO of Innovit and I have been talking and working through a number of things including the Conference in May Startup Iceland – Building Sustainable Startup Ecosystem. I wanted to volunteer and observe this event and also to test my own hypothesis.

Brad Feld, has the theory that there needs to be Entrepreneurial Density in a community to enable a sustainable startup ecosystem to form and function:
Entrepreneurial density = ((# entrepreneurs + # people working for startups or high growth companies)) / adult population

I wanted to test the Entrepreneurial Density in Akureyri, which is a smaller town than Reykjavik. There were more than 100 people last night split up into 31 teams working on a new idea to launch a business over the weekend. I will play the role of mentor and observer today and tomorrow. It is fascinating to see the energy, enthusiasm and twinkle in the eyes of the people working on their ideas. Entrepreneurism is alive and well in Iceland. I think the number might be small, but I am seeing a healthy trend that is pushing the density number up in Iceland.
February 24, 2012

Strategies to Test Business Hypothesis – 6th Meetup

A diagram of what Simon Sinek calls 'The Golde...

A diagram of what Simon Sinek calls 'The Golden Circle'. In his TEDx talk, he says 'People don't buy what you do; they buy why you do it." (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We had our 6th Meetup @Cafe Solon last evening. We once again had a very good turn up, around 30 people. The topic of the discussion was Strategies to Test Business Hypothesis, which was a follow up from last week’s meet topic “Business as a Hypothesis”, here are the Notes to that meetup and follow up write up. Björn Brynjar Jónsson, give a 5 minute brief talk about a topic of interest that he wanted to share with the group. The topic that he talked about was from the book “Start with Why” by Simon Sinek. It was very interesting and inspiring. Björn talked about the Golden Circle from the book. The premise is that we tend to focus our effort our vision etc on the “What”, whereas great leaders who inspire us usually start with the “Why”, which refers to the Purpose of why we do the things we do. When we understand the purpose and communicate the purpose we can inspire people to action. He gave the example of Apple. Here is the Video of Simon talking in Tedx.

  • We talked about Strategies that were used in Clara to test their business model through the product Vaktarinn. Originally, Clara had not created the software that automatically sources all the digital content and provides the visualization that they do on Textual information. Gunnar explained how they got 10 of their friends to manually enter all the text from different sources into Excel Spreadsheets and then manually created the visualization look and feel on the data to validate if anyone would be interested to buy the product. Their first revenue was in selling that manual work, once they validated that idea they went on to build all the software that powers Clara Insight and Vaktarinn now. This was a quick and dirty way to see if there is a market for what you want to build.
  • The second example was from the company Buuteeq, how the team there validated their hypothesis that Independent Hotel Owners are willing to share their contact details and everything about their hotels to a third party and host their solution on a third party platform. They validated that by creating a Hotel Directory Service for Independent Hotel Owners called Not only were they able to validate that business hypothesis they also created their customer funnel which they could target and convert into actual paying customers.
  • There was a discussion on a new business hypothesis that Safe Drivers would be willing to save money on their car insurance by allowing a tracking device to be installed in the car. We talked about how this hypothesis can be validated by just creating a web page with a simple button that says “Are you a Safe Driver? If you answered Yes, You can save 30% on your Car Insurance!” Sign up to be the First of the Safe Drivers to take advantage of the offer.” Ok, I made the actual sentences up but that is where the discussion was going!
  • The 4th business hypothesis was about non-availability of Icelandic Candy on Souvenir shops. One of the participants wanted to create a business on creating an attractive wrapper around the traditional Icelandic Candy and sell it to the Souvenir shops. The group guided her to actually pre-sell the candy to the stores with just using Digital images and depending on the demand she could build up her business. I was so happy to see how excited she was about being able to launch her business by this weekend! Entrepreneurs find the way!
  • Kristján Freyr Kristjánsson shared the story of how they created a business to sell the Eyafjalljokul’s volcanic ash. They sold this idea while they were stranded in the airport in London, they just used digital images to create a visualization of a fancy bottle with the Ash in it and they sold it even before the product was ready. Overall a fantastic meetup and the next meetup is going to be on Pivot Stories.
February 22, 2012

Marorka: A Startup Profile

Marorka (Photo credit: Finnur)

It is not fair to do a Startup Profile on Marorka as it is technically not a startup because the company has sailed the rough waters of the Valley of Death and it is well on the way of becoming one of the stars of the Icelandic startup story. The company was formed in 2002 so it has been a 10 year journey… However, there is a story behind the story, it took the company a while to break into the Shipping industry I am told. It is only in the last 3 years  that the company has really taken off and I believe the reason is because of their focus on the software side of the data that they gather from the ships and opening access to that data through the internet. In their own words “Marorka offers onboard and onshore Fuel Management and Energy Management solutions equipped with real time monitoring and decision support, an essential part of operational optimization. With Marorka’s energy management solutions for voyage tracking, inventory recording, reporting and data analysis, your business will be well on its way to maximized efficiency.” 
I was rather surprised to hear that Ship builders do not provide the necessary information to optimize energy usage in the vehicles, it actually makes sense, no car manufacturer tells you how best to drive your car i.e when to step on the gas and when to step on the brakes. It is quite interesting that the founders of this company saw the opportunity and built a business. What was very interesting for me to understand was the sheer volume of time series data that they capture transport to a central server process it and make it available on a portal for the Fleet or Ship manager on shore to see. There are a number of challenges one has to factor, connectivity to the Internetis not continuous and the amount of data that can be transmitted is limited so I see algorithms that were used in the early days of the internet data transfer protocol should serve them well. I don’t know their software architecture but it should be an interesting problem to solve or improve on.

February 22, 2012

Software and Sports

Software is going to drive everything! I have written about it many times and given examples of many industries that are being disrupted because of the explosion in Software Engineering and the rapid availability of Application Programming Interfaces and Sensor technologies. Here is another example of how software based specialized training is being adopted by High Performance Sports Athletes. Bloomberg‘s coverage of news articleJeremy Lin’s Training Program Aided by Software” shows how a lot of data could be captured, analyzed in real time to tailor make a training program to target an athletes specific need. What I found interesting was the result, in the video, Jeremy Lin was nursing his injured knee and since the NBA season was locked out he worked out at Sparta Performance Science. They helped him work on specific parts of his body and in the end he was able to Jump 3.5 inches higher and 30% quicker in movement than he could before the program. This is an example of how software and data was used to improve a players performance. The Money Ball is an even better story where software and data was used to improve a whole team’s performance. Why is all of this important? I believe we are in this inflection point of Software Technologythat things that we thought that were impossible are possible… to improve athletes performance, help people walk or whatever. It is the coming together of Software, Sensorsthat capture data and the processing power that enables analyzing and visualizing data to understand, learn and improve anything.


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