Archive for April, 2012

April 30, 2012

Entrepreneurship in Reykjavik University

Image representing Startup Weekend as depicted...

Image via CrunchBase

I have agreed to participate as a Mentor for the Entrepreneurship 3 week course with the title “Startups and New Ventures” for the new incoming students in Reykjavik University. It used to be a Business Plan development course, this year the course manager changed it to be run like a Startup Weekend for 3 weeks. This would be a great training for Kristjan from Innovit before he starts running Startup Reykjavik, IMHO. However, what was fascinating to see was the number of students (there were more than 300 split up into 50 teams!) who were working with the Business Model Canvas and trying to create a new business that creates value. This is a valuable life lesson and I am very happy to see the transformation that is happening in Iceland. It is a great build up before Startup Iceland.

I started blogging this post in Akranes, where I was volunteering as a Mentor in the Startup Weekend organized by Innovit. I keep asking the question why am I the only “investor” participating in all these events? well, maybe we need more participation from the Investment community in Iceland. This is what I want to change. No-one from the Investor group ever comes to any of these events. I have inquired about this to Kristjan and this is probably the 10th Startup Weekend organized in Iceland and I have participated in the last 3 and I have not seen one Angel or Seed Investor. Ok, I will stop with the rant. I have written a lot about being a Mentor, it is hard work and it takes a lot of commitment… it is about giving without expecting anything back. I do this willingly because I learn a lot while listening to people talk about their passion and vision. If I can help even one of them realize that vision, my job is done. I will be part of the mentoring team this coming friday as well at RU.

I will give a lecture on May 7th on the following topic to those students – From a startup point of view: How to talk to investors?

  • What do investors want to hear
  • do’s and dont’s
  • What does a term sheet look like
  • what is fair for both startups and investors
  • how much should you be willing to give away in your idea?
  • Overall valuable lessons

Ok, I did not come up with the name for the topic or the key items, Kristjan did… I think. Never the less, I think it is an important topic from a startups and entrepreneurs perspective. I will try to publish this in the blog for everyone to see and use. I always have a disclaimer in any advice I give, this is my opinion it does not mean it is right or should be used to make decision. These are more like recommendations and you should always consult your lawyer or accountant before making key decisions related to agreements or finances.

April 29, 2012

Mobile First Web Second

View from Summer House

View from Summer House

Fred Wilson has been writing for a long time about the shift in the emphasis to Mobile. Mobile First Web Second. I believe in that shift and to prove that I am blogging with my Black Berry sitting in our summer house looking at Thingvellirvatn Lake. Yes I am still using the BlackBerry… No, I am not crazy, weird or stupid(well maybe a little). I downloaded the WordPress for BlackBerry app from the BlackBerry App Store (it sucks!) And started cracking right away. I could see my stats, posts, could author my post etc.
What I miss is a Zemanta Extensin for WP in BB. It is a little tiresome to cross link other posts and weblinks in this WP App but simple links like the one above is easy to do. I have got used to having multiple windows open and cross referencing articles, images and other media from my MacAir but with BB I have to be a minimalist and focus on the words I write and hope the message is relavant for those who read the post.

April 28, 2012

VC – Value Creator

TechCruch has the post about the Winklevoss Twins of the Social Network movie fame jumping into the VC bandwagon. I think the VC bubble story is now complete, well maybe in the US but it has not started in Iceland. I was informed that all the banks in Iceland are thinking about doing VC funds (it is a nice rumor and I wish all of them luck).

I wanted to ponder on the acronym VC, as I have written before for me VC stands for VALUE CREATOR. What should a value creator do to earn a living? well, that is obvious one has to create value. Do banks create value? I am not so sure and I used to work for a bank! The 3+ years I worked for a bank I was always thinking how do I create value, actually I remember a funny incident when I suggested to an Investment Banker that it makes no sense to me that we don’t try to help the companies that we lend into or raise money for. Like Management Consulting Services, my logic was we analyze their business, industry and everything else under the sun to make a credit decision or convince an investor to put money in the company, we know a lot more about the business because we spend considerable amount of time creating the material that is used to make the capital decision, why don’t we follow through and ensure all the promises we make during the fund raising process actually get done. The investment banking  professional almost fell out of the chair laughing, I was not sure why this was so funny so I asked him. He only had one question to me “Who is going to pay for the time and effort we put in helping our customers!” I could not believe that he asked me that question. My understanding was we DID get paid a fat 2% to 5% of the capital raised, is that not sufficient to pay for helping our customers? apparently he was thinking of the disproportionate bonus he was hoping to get at the end of the year and did not believe helping our customers after the capital is raised creates value for him. He really did not want to work hard to make that money! I should have quit banking then! I could not understand this logic, this short term thinking… no sense of purpose, no goal higher than whats in it for me. Well, maybe the “professional” that I was talking to was an exception to the rule and I am sure there are many professionals who work in the banking industry that work very hard to create value. But the fundamental problem is always, leadership and incentives drive behavior. The professionals within the banking industry have a very poor incentive mechanism, it is not the professionals, it is the weird income and bonus structures that create perverse incentives.

Thats why a strong leadership is needed to ensure that there is a grander vision for the organization. I believe there needs to be balance in an organizations vision, it needs to balance 4 things, Body, Mind, Heart and Spirit. I will write about leadership in another post. I believe if one wants to understand what drives someone to do something one just has to look at the incentives. I fundamentally believe the Investment banking business model is dead! yes, you heard it here for the first time. Not totally dead but it is like watching a train wreck in slow motion.

April 27, 2012

Screw Me Once Rule

Beers with Brad

Beers with Brad (Photo credit: nep)

I have written about how I take Brad Feld as one of my virtual mentors, and I am so excited to have gotten him to come to Iceland. I have been reading and re-reading the book written by Brad and David Cohen – “Do More Faster: TechStars Lessons to Accelerate Your Startup”. Haukur reminded me of a rule that I had forgotten. It is the Screw Me Once rule… I am going to institutionalize this in my everyday working. For those who have not read the book I highly recommend it, here is the excerpt -

I live my life by a simple rule that I call the ‘Screw Me Once’ rule. I permit everyone I work with to screw me over once. When this happens, I confront them, forgive them, and move on. However, if they screw me over a second time, then I’m done with them forever. While the definition of screw me is vague, I put it in the category of deceitful or immoral behavior. The phrase ‘screw me’ is deliberately aggressive and hostile in this context; behavior that qualifies is also deliberately aggressive and hostile. 

I don’t consider someone letting me down, not following through on a commitment, or failing at something to fall into this category. Failure is a fundamental part of entrepreneurship and I embrace it as part of the process. I fail often and I expect people whom I work with to fail also-either dramatically, or in lesser ways such as not following through on commitments.

Systemic behavior that doesn’t correct, such as an inability to get closure on things, or a regular mismatch between the expectations that one sets and what one delivers, becomes a problem, but is not in the Screw Me category. Instead, this will decrease my desire to work with the person, lower my expectations about what will be accomplished, and make me cautious about my own engagement with them. But it won’t cause me to be done with them.

If you lie to me, deceive me, purposefully hurt me (or someone I care about), do something I consider immoral, or do something that is illegal, that’s one strike. However, I view addressing this as my responsibility because many people don’t realize they’ve done this, or don’t realize the potential impact and implications of their behavior. I try to be emotionally clear in my reaction – dispassionate, but not passive; direct, but not hostile; specific, yet not accusatory.

Occasionally, this approach simply doesn’t work. In these cases, I just disengage and assume I’m not going to be able to develop a substantive relationship with that person. In my experience, however, a deep and thoughtful conversation usually ensues, which also serves to build a much stronger relationship or at least the potential for one.

Once the confrontation is resolved, I’m in a happy place again and don’t ever think twice about whatever issue caused it. However, like a yellow card in soccer, you only get to trigger the Screw Me rule once. If it happens again, we’re done. Forever.

I’ve handed out plenty of yellow cards and received a few. In a number of cases, my strongest relationships are with people who have gotten yellow cards. Fortunately, the list of people who have gotten the equivalent of a red card from me is very short.

enough said… Brad is a wise man!

April 27, 2012

Startup Iceland – Leaner, Meaner, Global and ON

Wow! what a difference 1 day makes! I want to say yesterday was a low day for me when the brutal fact hit me in the face that the product that I had been working on just did not have a market or customer. I fooled myself into believing what people tell me verbally and through email as their commitment but then again it is not their problem it is mine. I made a huge mistake in the whole process, I have been giving everything away and hoping that the Universe will return it back someday. Someone lets you down but Universe has a way of giving it back and Of course it did. I have been overwhelmed with support from young entrepreneurs in Iceland and around the world who are reaching out to me stating that they want Startup Iceland Conference to happen and they are willing to contribute to make it happen! I am humbled, excited and never been more energized about starting this initiative. Thank you all, the list is too long to mention in the blog but you know who you are.

Here is what we are going to do:

  1. We have cancelled Alexander Osterwalder’s Workshop – I cannot afford to taken on the personal liability if we are unable to sell the workshop tickets with no anchor sponsor. So he had to go. It is a shame because I thought the pricing of ISK 109.000 + VAT was a steal for someone of his caliber conducting a whole day workshop right here in Reykjavik and for the participants to interact with him one-on-one would have been a fantastic experience. But, I am sure we can get this organized again with enough sponsors and more publicity.
  2. We are changing the venue from Harpa – as much as I want to promote the facility. It is too expensive for what I am trying to do. The cost per participant just for Harpa comes to ISK 10.000 if we include food. Many have suggested that we skip providing the food and drinks during the conference but I am from India and too much of a foodie to not provide food during a whole day conference. This is a eastern tradition, when a guest arrives at your home, you HAVE TO serve them food. Maybe I am old fashioned but I think it is a good tradition. Harpa makes food too expensive! so it has to go
  3. We are skipping all other expenses and are going to go the lean way, we are going to bootstrap and organize this on a shoestring.
The overall agenda and speakers remain the same we may change some of the formats and events during the 2 day conference. May29th will be the Hackathon hosted in Reykjavik University (Contact Hamid if you want to help organize and/or participate) and May 30th will be the day of lectures to listen to our distinguished speakers and some young entrepreneurs and get inspired! It is going to be an awesome event and I cannot wait to make it happen!

So thank you to all those who have reached out to me and those who have been helping me till late last night. Watch our for the updated venue, schedule and more details about Startup Iceland. Lets DO THIS!

April 26, 2012

Startup Iceland Conference – Go/No Go decision April 28

I have been writing about all the challenges of hosting a conference. We have the speakers lined up, we believe this is a conference that would be a nice platform for us to showcase Iceland and Icelandic startups and celebrate Entrepreneurship. But I am faced with the brutal fact today… our main sponsor pulled out!

I am left with no other option but to give it a couple of more days before I can cut my losses and move on. There is only one way to host this conference and that is if there is participation. There are 294 people who signed up, 161 who have said they are  going to this conference but there is no ticket sales I have no recourse but to call it a failed show. The current ticket sales is obviously embarrassing… I have experienced the challenge every entrepreneur goes through. I have reached out to other businesses in Iceland who could sponsor this event but I am not holding my breath. I am hoping to get some good news to move forward but I also don’t want to wait too long to do this then I would have no recourse to gracefully manage expectations with the other sponsors who have committed effort into the conference.

If there is any way you all think you can help, please reach out to me. I know what would save the conference and the workshop and I think you know it as well.

April 25, 2012

Entrepreneurs from NYC in Startup Iceland

Hakon Agustsson pinged me on Facebook and mentioned that Matt Wilson of Under 30 CEO was going to be in Iceland. I was intrigued and checked out Matt on Twitter. Found out that Matt is a young entrepreneur out of New York State and had a huge following in Twitter and his blog is widely read by the young entrepreneurs. I reached out to Matt through Twitter and asked him if he had time to meet for Coffee while he is in Iceland. Matt responded right away and our meeting was set. Met him in the Reykjavik Backpackers hangout, told him that I was actually on the way to the largest business plan competition results ceremony in Iceland and typical Matt style, he asked if he could come with me. So we arrived in University of Iceland main entrance where the Golden Egg finalist were doing their 2 minute pitches and the winners were going to announced. Started talking more to Matt to understand what he was doing, he told me about Climate Unchanged, a documentary that he was filming with a crew from Sweden, UK and the US. He also shared with me the fantastic experience that he is having in Iceland, thanks to Sigurdur Bjarni Sveinsson (siggi) the 25 year old entrepreneur and CEO of South Iceland Adventure (blog post for another day). I shared with him what we are doing here in Iceland through Startup Iceland and about the Conference. Matt quickly jumped on it the minute he went back to NYC. He pinged me again to see if I could work with him on offering a package for entrepreneurs that he is planning to bring on a tour to Iceland end of May and they could participate in the Startup Iceland Conference. Here is the promotional website, defining the package “Venture Tour Iceland” a week long experience to travel to Iceland from the US, participate in Startup Iceland and head off to the mountains, glaciers and whatever else Siggi has in store for them in the Beautiful Nature of Iceland. Matt informed me that there is a lot of interest for this promotional package and I am looking forward to seeing how many entrepreneurs from the US participate in the conference. It would an awesome networking event for entrepreneurs in Iceland with entrepreneurs in the US. Building bridges, networks and connections thats the way of Entrepreneurship. Startup Iceland is a conference first of its kind in Iceland, it was organized to inspire, educate and celebrate Entrepreneurship around the world starting in Iceland. What a cool validation from young entrepreneurs like Matt.

April 24, 2012

The Startup is YOU

Here is an excerpt from the column by Thomas Friedman of New York Times with the title The Start-Up of You – “Hoffman argues that professionals need an entirely new mind-set and skill set to compete. “The old paradigm of climb up a stable career ladder is dead and gone,” he said to me. “No career is a sure thing anymore. The uncertain, rapidly changing conditions in which entrepreneurs start companies is what it’s now like for all of us fashioning a career. Therefore you should approach career strategy the same way an entrepreneur approaches starting a business.” he is referring to LinkedIn’s founder, Reid Garrett Hoffman, one of the premier starter-uppers in Silicon Valley — besides co-founding LinkedIn, he is on the board of Zynga, was an early investor in Facebook and sits on the board of Mozilla — through his book “The Start-Up of You,” co-authored with Ben Casnocha. Friedman says the subtitle could easily be: “Hey, recent graduates! Hey, 35-year-old midcareer professional! Here’s how you build your career today.” How relevant and valid are these statements given the discussions we have been having in Iceland? I cannot imagine a better place to be having this discussion, Iceland does not have a huge market, it is an island, if we are to rebuild this country for the future what should it look like? Those were the questions I was asking myself after the Collapse of the Financial System in Iceland in 2008. I am biased towards action and I invested in myself and Entrepreneurship, the jury is still out if that was the right decision or not, but I have never felt more energized, motivated and passionate about what I am doing (you can tell from the daily blog post, 24-7-365 on Twitter, Facebook, Email et cetra et cetra).

Startup Iceland Conference is a fantastic way to be inspired, connect and start on the Entrepreneurial journey. The word Startup has been hijacked by the technology based early stage companies and initiatives but I believe otherwise. Here is the definition:

The word is about setting things in motion, Startup Iceland Conference is about setting Iceland in motion. It has to be a community effort, and it is about the Ecosystem. When a single group of people in a community try to move things we have seen it always leads to sub-optimal results. The entire community has to contribute to make the initiative really make a difference. So what are you waiting for? what action have you taken to take charge of your career? your life? Startup Iceland Conference is an event created to celebrate this spirit… so go register for the workshop and take charge of yourself. You owe it to yourself.

April 23, 2012

Who should attend Startup Iceland Conference

Since I published my Status Report on organizing the Startup Iceland Conference, there has been very good discussions and feedback and criticism of the message of the Conference on facebook and by my wife. I am extremely thankful for all the feedback and discussion, I will work with those helping me to fix all the challenges. In the end, I want to see a successful conference organized in Iceland and it becomes a yearly festival of celebration of Entrepreneurship and Startup culture in all our activities. I agree that the website could do a better job of communicating the message. I agree that most of the links, posts and items so far has been focused on the startup community.
Here is what I believe:

  1. Startup Iceland Conference is not about Startups but about building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem.
    I believe that Iceland has gone through a difficult phase and we are not out of the water yet but what we need is an Entrepreneurial Renaissance, what does this mean? How does this look? I want everyone in the world to believe that anything is possible as long as we set our minds to solving it, starting here in Iceland. Entrepreneurs know the feeling, I wanted to organize the conference so we can hear from those who have successfully walked the path. Is the message only for Entrepreneurs and Startups? Absolutely NOT! everyone, including those working in Civil Service, Government, Pension Fund, Venture Funds, People Reading and Writing Business Plans (thanks Toti), Educational Institutions, Financial Institutions, Laborers working in Construction and in Aluminum Smelter and those venturing into the deep sea to fish, Students, Bankers, former bankers etc… everyone can learn the life skills of Entrepreneurship.  When one walks the path of an Entrepreneur, one learns to let go of the comfort zone, why is this important? well, it teaches us to take on any challenge and not hide behind our jobs or our position or our skill set or lack thereof.
  2. Alexander Osterwalders workshops is one of the hottest learning experiences in the world today. The book written by the team is used by the best of the best, global thought leaders and management consulting companies like Capgemini (I know, I used to work for them!), Deloitte, PwC, 3M, Ericsson etc I think it is important to bring attention to how we got Alexander to agree to visit Iceland. Alexander Richter contacted Alexander Osterwalder in 2009 and built a relationship with him, the same way I have been stalking Fred Wilson and Brad Feld‘s blog for the past 3 years. These people notice when someone is persistent and they want to help. That is why they have agreed to come to Startup Iceland Conference. We have an opportunity to attend this class right here in Reykjavik without getting on a plane, how cool is that?
  3. The Business Model Generation workshop is not just about rethinking your company or business model, it can be applied to rethink about your career. Alexander has written a book with the title “Business Model You – A One Page Method for Reinventing your Career“, the philosophy, the methodology and the core concepts are all the same. Who would not want to reinvent their career?

I want to see Entrepreneurs Win… I work hard everyday to make that happen. If that sounds corny you should listen to my “I have a Dream Speech!…”

April 23, 2012

Startup Iceland Conference – Status, Budget – Full Disclosure

In the light of organizing the conference, I have been getting feedback that the ticket price is too high. More importantly, we are not seeing the kind of ticket sales that would give comfort to us. As promised, I want to disclose the budget of organizing a conference like this. Here is the link to the Google Doc that list all the expense items. I have taken personal responsibility for the contract with Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Center. I have personally invited guests and Icelandair has been fantastic in working to get their schedules to fit the conference. So, if we cancel the conference because of poor ticket sales or not having enough participants for the workshop, I will have to explain to my wife and partners why I did this and personally be liable to pay Harpa ISK 314.000+VAT :), thats cool it would be an interesting story to tell on how NOT to organize a conference. But we are not there yet and I am confident that I will secure enough interest to get this conference organized.

When I embarked on the journey to organize this conference, I said, it would be fully transparant and I will share the troubles, challenges and excitement of putting something like this together through this blog. It would be a spectacular success or crash and burn, whats not to like? Everyone likes a drama and excitement and see someone taking initiative fail or succeed depending on which side of the table you sit. Our web sponsors Kosmos and Kaos and Gre, have been fantastic turning things around at a fast pace. We secured the workshop with Alexander Osterwalder, which is a rare feat because Alexander does not do workshops like this organized by anyone. It is a full day hands on workshop that can transform anyone’s business participating in it to rethink their business model and innovate in this new world. I have to thank Alexander Richter (ThinkGeoEnergy) and Kristine Helen Falgren of Reykjavik University for that. Gunnar Holmstein, showed why I bet on him. He is a true leader and wants to encourage fellow entrepreneurs to participate in the conference.Everyone including myself who have been working on putting this together have been doing this as a labor of love and passion. We want to see this conference happen in Iceland because that is good for the whole Entrepreneurial community and Startup Ecosystem here. I want to sell out the hall to show that Entrepreneurship and Startups are alive and kicking in Iceland.If you can help in anyway please feel free to contact me.

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