Archive for April, 2013

April 29, 2013

Disrupting the Food Industry

Vinod Khosla

Vinod Khosla (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I read this interesting tweet by Vinod Khosla, one of the Co-founders of Sun Microsystems and then of Klein Perkins fame and now running Khosla Ventures. Vinod Khosla is a VC and Tech industry veteran if you don’t know of him. Anyways, coming back to the tweet, it read:

Screen Shot 2013-04-29 at 7.28.05 AM

Source: Bloomberg TV

Brilliant! I have written a lot about thinking like a VC takes a totally different perspective on things and an open mind. A lot of us are brain washed into believing that what we know, see and experience is the end of it. There are a few among us who think outside that box to overuse the cliche. I believe that the food industry needs a disruption as well, we have been consuming food the same way and thinking this is the best way to consume anything. I think the biggest culprit in food is Sugar, I am not talking about naturally occurring sugar in things that grow out of the ground or things that roam the earth. I mean processed, polished, cleaned WHITE sugar. I have to admit that I have a streak of sweet tooth and find it incredibly difficult to resist a “Bragdarefur” or a “Snikers Bar”, and I am sure many have the same craving. It is incredible to note that Sugar was not part of the staple diet until the later part of this century, but it has taken over everything we consume. I always perk up my ear when I see someone laughing at a VC or an Entrepreneur, like the journalist or analyst referred in the above link by Vinod Khosla. Fred Wilson wrote about this as well with the title “Return and Ridicule“. I believe that disruption of the food industry is happening as I type this, check out this video from Bloomberg, about a Chef in Chicago who is really changing the taste buds to eliminate sugar from his cooking. I think that is really cool.

I think the mainstream media and journalists underestimate 10 years in Innovation and overestimate the next couple of months. Venture investing is a patience game, you need to take long term view of the world to be able to think what you see today can be displaced by something different or better in the future. I think we don’t know enough about anything to really become very good at predicting, but we should have an open mind to think what if it was possible? I would love to be able to have the sweet taste of sugar in my food without exposing myself to the serious risk of diabetes or obesity or cardio vascular diseases. I think we need companies like Klein and Perkins or Khosla Ventures to take these long bets on Health and Innovation.

April 28, 2013

Back to the Future

I love Yogi Berra‘s quotes:

The future ain’t what it used to be.

Yogi Berra – wise man this Yogi Berra

Iceland voted yesterday and I have to say watching the reaction of the Icelanders is always entertaining. I have to say, Iceland has Screen Shot 2013-04-28 at 10.31.33 AMproved me right again, that they are willing to change the way the world works in their own way. The biggest upset in this swing election is that the Pirate Party actually has 3 Members of Parliament elected 6 months after the party was formed. In addition, another political party that advocates direct democracy as its platform has 6 Parliament members. This is historic in any right. I cannot remember a time when any country has done the above especially for a party with a name that means practice of a pirate; robbery or illegal violence at sea. 2. the unauthorized reproduction or use of a copyrighted book, recording, television program, patented invention, trademarked product, etc. This should be a clear message to those political parties that are holding onto dogmatic views about policies and politics.Screen Shot 2013-04-28 at 10.30.04 AM

I am not a politician and I think they are all wonderful people but for some reason politics just seems to not move things forward. I think Fred Wilson and Brad Feld, both had posts that basically outlined their understanding of working with political establishments and loosing, Brad wrote about “Compromise vs Problem Solving” and Fred wrote recently about “Immigration Reform“. I am not half as smart as either of those two men so I will let you decide for yourself my views on politics. I am just excited to see one more uncertainty out of the way in Iceland. Both the elected parties were part of the political and power establishments for over 2 decades in Iceland and they were blamed for the financial collapse. In my opinion there are multitude of things that went against Iceland and like any democracy everyone blame the politicians and politics. I think it is a pre-requisite in a open society to blame someone else for all the challenges and the best party is the political party in power. I am not saying that the government before the last had no part in it or that the next one really solved the problem. All I am saying is that Sh#$ happens if we don’t have someone else to blame then we have to take responsibility for our actions and take on a corrective course. That is hard to do so we have the political establishments and Governments, which we can blame for anything and everything. I’d rather spend my time solving some problem and helping Entrepreneurs who are trying to solve global problems… usually my request to anyone including Government is stay out of my way, I can take care of myself. Thank you very much!

April 24, 2013

Disruption in how we learn

Fat Tony

Fat Tony (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I always enjoyed being a student and that is one of the main reasons why I wanted to teach… that did not pan out as planned because I wanted to do so much more. There are so many fantastic possibilities opening up with the connected world. Fred Wilson had a post a couple of days back of Startup Grind where Mark Suster was interviewing Clay Christensen. I have written a lot about Clay Christensen’s work around “The Innovators Dilemma”, where Clay talks about why disruption happens. The interview was about the disruption happening to higher education and venture capital. In my opinion the biggest disruption of all is going to happen to how we learn. I have to be honest, I am learning more about Price Actions, Reading Stock Charts and Technical Analysis from a very experienced trader, Dan Fitzpatrick, who is running an education website called StockMarketMentor.com and OptionMarketMentor.com. I am hooked I wake up every morning to watch his video analysis of the market, his perspectives on a number of stocks and how he thinks as a trader. This knowledge was usually locked up, but with the advent of the internet anyone can invest the time, learn a new trade or just learn about anything. This is just so mind blowing to me that I am surprise not many people are taking advantage of this. I wish there was more than 24 hours in a day for us to be able to learn all these new things that you always wanted to learn. Do you want to learn to play the Guitar? sure there is GuitarParty.com, do you want to learn to cook? sure there is LearnToCook.com, I am not vouching these are the best educational material out there but it makes education accessible to anyone who has access to an Internet Connected display device.

What the internet based education brings is engagement as opposed to watching a video in a TV or something similar. If you could put together a forum where there is interaction of the community, have a daily/weekly video feed of your thought process and a subscription model then you can start an education business. I have been extremely happy to pay $170/month to learn how to think like an experienced Stock Trader. No, I am not betting my house in the Stock Market and yes, I think the Market is rigged to be biased towards Institutional investors but the price action is fascinating to analyze and learn from, what is even more interesting for me is to learn how a stock market trader thinks, the experienced ones like Dan Fitzpartick admit to their follies, are very good risk managers and do not bet their house on what they know. They are nimble, street smart, think survival and usually are not too much into book learning. Much like how Taleb talks about Fat Tony in his books Antifragile, The Black Swan and Fooled by Randomness. So, what do you want to learn about? what is stopping you? I am sure if you look hard enough you will find a service on the Internet that teaches you something.

April 21, 2013

Laws that choke creativity – Iceland to the rescue

English: Amanda Palmer Live 2008

English: Amanda Palmer Live 2008 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I watched the High Schools participate in the Song contest in Iceland last night and I was very inspired to see the talent here in Iceland in the performing arts and through my random video watches I started bumping into a number of videos that I think sum the challenges we face with regard to laws and how it chokes creativity. I want to draw attention to the talk by Larry Lessig below, the main idea around it is Artists choose and I wanted to follow up that video by another one by Amand Palmer who has implemented the strategy suggested by Larry… and I am of the opinion, Iceland can really play an important role this challenge. Check out the Internet Policy Institute setup in Iceland. Screen Shot 2013-04-21 at 9.26.38 AM

Here is a talk by Amanda Palmer on how to fix the challenge of rights to artists:

Brad Burnham, the Managing Partner at Union Square Ventures is participating in Startup Iceland Conference 2013 to talk about these policy challenges and how it can really influence the Startup Community in Iceland. If you have not booked your tickets to the conference this is the time to do it, don’t wait till the last minute because we will sell these seats very fast. We have some fantastic speakers coming to Iceland to talk about Startup Communities. If you are a startup, you can have your booth in the conference, send us a note through an email booth at startupiceland.com

April 19, 2013

Icelandic Geothermal Cluster

Had a chance to meet with Hakon Gunnarsson, the Managing Director of Gekon and he has been leading the initiative to bring all the gekonlogoIcelandic Geothermal related companies in forming a cluster. I am not a big fan of these cluster concept, if you have read my previous blog post about the Seafood Cluster. That being said, I do believe creating an accelerator program for new startups in the Geothermal space is not such a bad idea. I think that is precisely what Hakon is planning to do. It was interesting to hear all the work that has gone into mapping the cluster, interfacing with all the service providers and research organizations. I am usually amazed at the amount of time that is wasted in doing all of this and the money that it takes to organize these things but I guess it is cost of engaging with established companies who really are not in the business of disrupting their own business model. Geothermal has always been a fascinating source of energy for me, I got a lot of knowledge about it while I was working for Glitnir.

There is an abundance of this energy in Iceland, Dr. Michael Porter believes that there is an great opportunity for Iceland in this space.michael porter I am not that smart but I believe creating an ecosystem where new companies can innovate and create value in this niche technology is not such a bad idea. I believe this because there is a reservoir of knowledge and experience and experimentable area in Iceland, however tapping it and using it in a responsible manner is always a debate. I think the challenge Geothermal Energy development companies have is the large capital need in the early stage and I believe software and data can solve this problem for the typical engineering challenge. I have worked with Engineering companies like Mannvit who are experts in doing feasibility studies and designing and implementing the engineering solution to tap this energy source. There is so much more that can be done, I think the biggest opportunity is in applying the latest software and data techniques to mitigate one of the biggest risks in Geothermal development which is the risk of sucking the water table below the earth and also predicting the real potential of the source of geothermal energy across the globe. Unfortunately, there is not a lot of work being done in this area and once again there is a huge generational gap in people working in this area. I am excited to see how Hakon is going to take this idea forward.

There is a calendar of events related to this starting to happen in Iceland and I am glad to see an entrepreneur taking the lead on this.2013-minversion If you are in the Geothermal space reach out to Hakon and be a mentor to the new generation of companies that he plans to facilitate through the establishment of Startup Geothermal… an accelerator for Geothermal entrepreneurs. I am starting to see a trend here :) What do you think?

April 14, 2013

Traction brings money; Money does not bring traction

seedforum-logoI was at the Seed Forum this year, but I could not participate for the whole day but I attended the cocktail hosted by the British Embassy in Iceland. It was fascinating to see the British Ambassador pitching to the startups to look at UK to locate or move their startups when they scale out of Iceland… he even went to the extent of saying moving to the US was not a good idea :) I am happy to see different countries pitching to startups and entrepreneurs in Iceland to move to their country, it is good for the Entrepreneur and it is good for the Startup Ecosystem that there is growth path out of Iceland. I got a good impression of all the teams that were pitching. I have written about why Startups should not be focused on raising money. I am going to repeat this until I turn blue, the focus of the startup should be to solve a really itching problem, win customers and raise capital from the customer first. As much as I support the initiatives like Seed Forum, I really believe that it muddles the real issue facing startups and entrepreneurs. The Seed Forum this year had a famous Icelandic Entrepreneur and Cofounder of Opera, Jon Von Tetchner, actually he lived and worked in Norway but he is Icelandic. He had a very good talk and Q&A session about being an Entrepreneur. His advice and the advice given by Brad Feld and every other entrepreneur who has walked through the fire of creating a company and successfully transitioning says the same thing – Delay taking money from Investors as much as you can. Sometimes it is not possible i.e if you need machines, or equipment or buildings you need Capital but with startups in Software you dont need any of that or Capital to get started… that is one of the reasons that I am so bullish on the fact that Software based companies that are building solutions on top of the new Infrastructure of Cloud Computing, Google, Apple, Amazon, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest etc will be able to bootstrap much better, faster and get through the valley of death without pledging your soul to the devil, no, not all investors are bad but there are different incentives if you are an investor vs if you are an entrepreneur.

In other news, Klak and Innovit merged into Klak Innovit… I am happy to see some movement in the Accelerator, Incubator and Institutions that help entrepreneurs collaborate and optimize in Iceland. Accelerators are a key ingredient in the Startup Community development and I believe Kristjan Kristjanson the new CEO of the merged organization has his heart in the right place. He also runs Startup Weekend, Startup Reykjavik and has been of great help to many startups since he started working with entrepreneurs in 2007-8 I think.

April 12, 2013

Overestimate 3 years and Underestimate 10 years

We are not very good at estimates or forecasts, which I have consistently written about we make educated guesses… I say educated with a pitch of salt because we don’t know what we don’t know and what we know is very limited so why do we consistently fool ourselves with our estimates? Well, the answer is always in a book, did I mention that before? anyways, I have been listening to Dan Gilbert‘s book Stumbling on Happiness, if you have not read it you really should. It is a great book that explains the psychology and mechanics of  our Brain, our senses and everything else that makes us human. The gist is that our brain is built around perception of reality, it is a great make believe machine, a really smart and cunning wizard. I think Dan will do a better job of explaining this than I ever can. Here is a small excerpt:cover-mini_trade

When I was ten years old, the most magical object in my house was a book on optical illusions. Its pages introduced me to the Müller-Lyer lines whose arrow-tipped ends made them appear as though they were different lengths even though a ruler showed them to be identical, the Necker cube that appeared to have an open side one moment and then an open top the next, the drawing of a chalice that suddenly became a pair of silhouetted faces before flickering back into a chalice again (see figure 1). I would sit on the floor in my father’s study and stare at that book for hours, mesmerized by the fact that these simple drawings could force my brain to believe things that it knew with utter certainty to be wrong. This is when I learned that mistakes are interesting and began planning a life that contained several of them. But an optical illusion is not interesting simply because it causes everyone to make a mistake; rather, it is interesting because it causes everyone to make the same mistake. If I saw a chalice, you saw Elvis, and a friend of ours saw a paper carton of moo goo gai pan, then the object we were looking at would be a very fine inkblot but a lousy optical illusion. What is so compelling about optical illusions is that everyone sees the chalice first, the faces next, and then—flicker flicker—there’s that chalice again. The errors that optical illusions induce in our perceptions are lawful, regular, and systematic. They are not dumb mistakes but smart mistakes—mistakes that allow those who understand them to glimpse the elegant design and inner workings of the visual system.

The mistakes we make when we try to imagine our personal futures are also lawful, regular, and systematic. They too have a pattern that tells us about the powers and limits of foresight in much the same way that optical illusions tell us about the powers and limits of eyesight. That’s what this book is all about. Despite the third word of the title, this is not an instruction manual that will tell you anything useful about how to be happy. Those books are located in the self-help section two aisles over, and once you’ve bought one, done everything it says to do, and found yourself miserable anyway, you can always come back here to understand why. Instead, this is a book that describes what science has to tell us about how and how well the human brain can imagine its own future, and about how and how well it can predict which of those futures it will most enjoy. This book is about a puzzle that many thinkers have pondered over the last two millennia, and it uses their ideas (and a few of my own) to explain why we seem to know so little about the hearts and minds of the people we are about to become. The story is a bit like a river that crosses borders without benefit of passport because no single science has ever produced a compelling solution to the puzzle. Weaving together facts and theories from psychology, cognitive neuroscience, philosophy, and behavioral economics, this book allows an account to emerge that I personally find convincing but whose merits you will have to judge for yourself. Read More…

The reason I started writing this blog post is because of article written by Padmasree Warrior (that is such a cool name!), CTO of Cisco Systems in CNBC with the title “Innovation may spark economic revival: Warrior” referring to the Economist’s cover story- Has the Idea Machine Broken down?- well, Padma thinks that “Internet of Things” (IoE) and Innovation around that would help us get out of the economic malaise that we have seen around the world after the financial collapse. She does have a point, but my perspective is not so narrowly focused… I believe we as humans always Overestimate our chances for the next 3 years and grossly underestimate the next 10 years. For more details on why refer to the first paragraph :) I will leave you with classic dialogue

“Dorthy: You a very bad man!

The Great Wizard of Oz: Oh, No my dear, I am a very good man but a very bad wizard” from a classic movie

April 11, 2013

Mayor of Reykjavik City, Free WiFi in Reykjavik and Bingo Bar!

Met Jon Gnarr, the Mayor of Reykjavik. I have to say he was generous, attentive and really wanted to help with Startup Iceland Conference…Jón Gnarr we will have to wait and see what that would be. I think the most important thing that I learnt was that there are several free WiFi Hotspots setup by the City of Reykjavik and apparently not being used. I was both surprised and delighted to hear about this. I think WiFi is the killer app of this decade. Like everything else the City of Reykjavik does, no-one knows about the existence of the free WiFi, and rightfully the Mayor was surprised that there was not much usage. We agreed that the reason is probably because no-one knows about it. If any of you know of a website which lists all the Free WiFi’s in the City of Reykjavik, please post them in the comments section. I found this website WiFiCafeSpots.com, that lists all WiFi hotspots in the City of Reykjavik

Free WiFi Hotspots in Reykajvik

Free WiFi Hotspots in Reykajvik

, but I think these are all Cafes and merchant shops that have free WiFi. I believe a modern city like Reykjavik needs to have WiFi has one the core infrastructures and to that end the Mayor of City agrees. It was really inspiring to meet him and get his support for Startup Iceland. I think he is very smart man and an Entrepreneur himself and super funny. He even came up with an idea to start a business! I think it is so funny that it might just work. You heard it here first, Mayor wants to pitch his idea of “Bingo Bar!” in Startup Iceland, it is a cool idea, everyone who walks into Bingo Bar and orders a beer gets a Bingo Card and the bar tender is rolling and calling out the numbers through out the evening and anyone who wins a Bingo, gets a Beer! it is so simple, smart and visual that I think it could actually work. So if you are an entrepreneur thinking about starting a business and do not have an idea here is one! you maybe able to get the Mayor of Reykjavik to work with you :)

Check out the Entrepreneurial journey of Jon Gnarr to becoming the Mayor of Reykjavik. I think he is an inspiration, being entrepreneurial, we take ourselves too seriously and maybe doing what he has done is really cool, he says in the interview below that when people elected the Best Party, they were voting for more honesty and fun. He said that he was going to do something the next 431 days he is in office. I don’t understand either why we have made Politics so boring and serious! Below you will find the link to an interview and the link to the Documentary GNARR

April 10, 2013

Plain Vanilla Games

Plain Vanilla Games

love their website design – it is cool

It was great to see Plain Vanilla Games, an Icelandic Game Development company raise $2.4 million Series A round with VC firms in the valley. I continue to believe that companies like this are and can be created in Iceland, that is the whole point for me to start betting my time, effort and money in the Venture space or really early stage companies here in Iceland. I saw the team pitch first in 2011 Seed Forum. When you think about it, why did it take so long for this company to raise capital? that too outside of Iceland when there is plenty of capital in Iceland? I am finding out the answers watch out for a blog post that dissects the funding problem in Iceland in the near future. I think this is fantastic news for the Iceland Startup Community, why do I believe that? well, now a young startup has a road map, a role model, a contact and a network that they can tap into which is the most important thing in this business. It was interesting to see the roster of investors in this round of capital raise:

  1. Greycroft Partners
  2. Tencent
  3. BOLDStart Ventures
  4. IDG Ventures
  5. CrunchFund
  6. MESA+
  7. Riot Games (makers of the massively popular League of Legends) CEO Brandon J. Beck
  8. Unity3D CEO/super-brilliant-dude David Helgason.

With the closure of the round, David Helgason and Greycroft’s Ellie Wheeler will be joining Plain Vanilla’s Board Of Directors.

I want to dissect this deal to show how an Icelandic startup can actually get to survivability, because typically what capital does is give Entrepreneurs time to fight another day until they don’t have to rely on external funding to keep the company going. I have met the founder of Plain Vanilla Games Thor Fridriksson, a couple of times, I want to understand from him soon how he pulled this deal together. My guess is that David Helgasson, the CEO of Unity3D who is an Icelander brought in the big boys into the deal. Unfortunately you need people like that to put deals like this together. Again, I am hypothesizing and I could be wrong. There are Icelandic links into Riot Games as well. So the learning from this is to leverage and build your network not necessarily to raise capital but to build your business. I think end of the day that is what drives people to going to creepy lengths like Thor mentions in his TechCruch article “Plain Vanilla Scores $2.4M Series A To Turn Its Multiplayer Quiz Games Into Something More“.

April 9, 2013

Iceland Seafood Cluster

I have been writing a lot about Entrepreneurship and Startups, but I am not a big fan of the Cluster concept primarily because getting sjavarklasinn-70established companies to be Entrepreneurial is very hard because they look at different metrics and the incentive for the established companies to participate in Cluster building is a long term game, however established companies are relatively short term focused because they are trying to increase their yield on invested capital by getting more efficient on the operation, sales etc. On the other hand a startup in the same sector is more or less not too focused on efficiency, they are trying to exploit a weakness or a problem in the existing solutions, therein lies the challenge. It would take visionary leaders in established companies to harness, foster and encourage the building of a ecosystem around the sector that their companies are built in. This is exactly what Dr.Thor Sigfusson has done with his startup/project Seafood Cluster a.k.a Sjávarklasinn in Icelandic. thor_sigfusson-145It is fascinating to see how he has convinced established companies in the Seafood sector and new emerging companies to co-located in a building in harbor of Reykjavik. He has ambitious plans to expand the facility to allow more startups and established companies to have meetup spaces. It was exciting for me to watch this because Seafood is the sector that is as traditional as they come, we are talking about really established fishermen looking into working with young new startups, mentoring them and seeing if they can improve the established methods using new technology.

There is a wealth of information and reports around the concept, I have not read all the reports but I believe this is something that I believe can work. I like the idea and the execution of the fact that if you put new companies and established companies near each other and once they start talking magic usually happens. In addition, the same location has some support services like legal, marketing and publishing etc Think of this as an Accelerator for a startup in the Seafood Sector. I think the missing piece is what typical accelerators do which is a 3 month bootcamp like environment that basically focuses on the validation of the new startups and also getting investors to be part of the project. I think Dr.Thor Sigfusson has already done that because the Seafood sector or the Fishermen are the richest cohort in Iceland and they are starting to see the value of having such a place and are investing in this.

We have invited Dr.Thor Sigfusson to be a Speaker in Startup Iceland 2013, I think this concept needs to be communicated in the Startup Iceland platform, and he has agreed to do that. In addition, it would be interesting to learn from his talk what were the challenges, opportunities and road block that he had to cross to get this project off the ground. If you are interested you should definitely buy the tickets soon as they tend to run out fast.

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