Archive for May, 2013

May 31, 2013

What Startups Can Learn from Iceland’s Strong Brand Identity

StartupIceland_with_Sponsors

Strategic planning and branding are integral to establishing a company’s identity and reputation in the marketplace it is targeting. Startups often neglect this extremely important area, focusing instead on more immediate needs such as getting their idea off the ground and securing enough funding to afford staff, gear and materials—completely valid.

Experienced entrepreneurs will tell you, however, that establishing a brand identity early can help create significant opportunities for a startup, from seed and growth funding to customer acquisition and retention to positioning for a future merger or acquisition.

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Noah Ross and Mel Weinberger specialize in helping startups that are looking to establish a brand identity and major brands in transition looking for a refresh.

“Iceland is the perfect venue to talk about branding because it’s a country with such a strong brand and a strong sense of identity,” said Noah, who is a Partner and Executive Creative Director at Launchpad Advertising, which was recently acknowledged as one of INC. magazine’s fastest growing companies.

While it is true Iceland’s identity is very clear, the startup community in Iceland often laments the struggles with establishing their brand voice and launching brand and marketing initiatives, particularly when attempting to reach foreign markets. However, the Startup community is rich with local experts and marketing entrepreneurs like Thoranna Jonsdottir and Runa Magnusdotir who are making marketing consulting accessible to startups on both a small business and personal/executive brand level. Startups and entrepreneurs within Iceland can lean on these local resources to help determine their core message, identify their target customers and create an emotional connection to the startup’s product and service.

“Iceland, by and large, is a very unique, very special place,” Noah said. “At the end of the day, people are going to relate from what they feel, and for me, I’ve traveled to a lot of places where you feel different things, but few that inspire with the strong sense of pride and fierce independence of Iceland – a country that produces music, literature, fashion, and even landscapes like no other place on earth. Also, the puffin is delicious,” he added.

It’s this same confluence of creativity, independence, resourcefulness and exceptional ideas that can propel Icelandic startups and entrepreneurs to success as we’ve seen in recent months with Plain Vanilla, CLARA, FAFU, Mobilitus and others.

“The reality is that every startup is fragile. Having a community of likeminded peers who support you makes you/ it stronger,” said Mel. “That driving force and individual expertise, when pulled together across teams, is unstoppable. It might be as tangible as getting coffee and guidance once a month, or going to a perspective-changing conference, but it’s also the intangible thread those events that leave behind that is so necessary–and that’s the most enriching, invisible part. I think Startup Iceland is helping to create a rallying point and backboard for the community that is invaluable,” said Mel.

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Mel, who is active in the startup scenes of Austin, Texas and New York City knows brand both from the agency and entrepreneur perspective, as the founder and CEO of Fit Steady, a startup in the health and fitness sector whose tagline is “Finally, an easier way to get fit” and who won first place during Startup Weekend Austin in 2012.

“[Fit Steady] started from a passion for fitness that led me to become a personal trainer,” said Mel. “From that vantage point, I became a sounding board for my friends about all of their insecurities and how challenging it was for them to find the right path. How many times have you walked into a gym only to stare in longing confusion at all the machines and hop on the treadmill again? How many different diets have you tried? Why is it so hard to navigate our personal paths to health & fitness? So I set out to make it easier. I’m trying to make things better by making personal fitness more accessible to the average person.”

Mel reinforces the easy fitness message throughout the Fit Steady brand experience, from searching for a coach to incorporating easy-to-implement fitness tips in the company blog. The company’s mission and passion is very clear.

Noah and Mel will make a joint presentation centered around brand identity with the Startup Iceland audience on June 4th  at Harpa and will participate in Unconference  as well as hold “Office Hours” at Háskólinn Reykjavík on June 3.

noah and mel_2

 

May 31, 2013

SI2013 – Big Shout Out to our Sponsors

StartupIceland_with_Sponsors

Click on the picture for a larger image

It has been crazy and everything seems like a buzz, but I know Startup Iceland 2013 would not be possible without the support of our wonderful sponsors. Reykjavik University for being extremely accommodating and having a Yes, we can! attitude about anything Entrepreneurial. Icelandair Group for always hearing us out and supporting initiatives. The US Embassy in Reykjavik with the leadership of Ambassdor Luis Arreaga and Eric Green. Siminn our new sponsor this year, coming up with a lot of new ideas to bring entrepreneurship from the largest telecom operator in Iceland. Nasdaq OMX, NSAFrumtak, Eyrir Invest, Arion Bank, Innovit + Klak, Deloitte, WEDO, NMI, GreenQloud, Olgerdin. The theme of this year is about building an antifragile startup ecosystem and community. With the diversity of sponsors supporting Startup Iceland, I think we have a fantastic base to build a bustling startup community. IMHO, Startup Iceland is about the entire community of Iceland and the World, it is not about high tech startups, its not about only the Internet or technology. We live in a connected world, and Iceland has a role to play as does every other country. Given the opportunity that lies before us, it is upto us to make hay when the sun shines (BTW, the weather forecast for the event does not look that promising, but I am an optimist). We have a very strong show of participation, over 217 (counted), possibly we could be adding another 30. We can only count the number of people who have registered but how many will show up, volunteer their hearts and minds and participate remains to be seen. I am forever in dept to many people who have volunteered their hearts and minds to put this event together (will follow up with a post about the organizing team of Startup Iceland). And of course all our speakers and mentors, who have been extremely positive about their participation and Iceland.

I am excited, thrilled, and beyond delirious about Startup Iceland, the event is 3 days away and I am nervous, lot of loose ends to tie up. Make the experience memorable for everyone participating and create a tradition of running events like this in Iceland. I would request all to bear with us, we are a Startup in our own right, if we screw up about anything… please accept our apologies. We mean well and I am eagerly looking forward to meeting each and every one of you and to the coming days. Lets do this!

May 29, 2013

Spoke to Nassim Taleb and Status Update SI2013

English: This is a photograph from the assortm...

Nicholas Nassim Taleb (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Just a quick status update on the Startup Iceland 2013 organization. We did our site testing in Harpa, worked with the Reykjavik University Events team to organize all the requirements for the Unconference and Hackathon. We wanted to test the Televideo link ie Facetime with Nicholas Nassim Taleb, I have to say I was very nervous and excited to finally talk to one of my virtual mentors. He was really cool and jovial and conversational. I glad to have got connected to him and get him to share his views on the Startup Iceland Platform. He had accepted to come on Video for Startup Iceland 2013, how cool is that? anyway, I am sure a lot of you are wondering who is this and why I am giddy like a kid in a candy store… well, what Mr.Taleb has written about in his 3 very popular, best seller books are gems of advice on how to live. Maybe not everyone sees it but I am a big fan. Anyways, we finally got through to Mr.Taleb who was actually in Northern Lebanon, his hometown. We really wanted to stress test the fragility of technology, to all our surprise everything went smoothly we were able to connect to his laptop, got him on video, he showed off how nice the weather was in Northern Lebanon and we talked a little about the format and schedule. Mr.Taleb is going to come online for 10 minutes talk about Antifragility and Entrepreneurship.

All the guests flights are confirmed, bought, hotels and accommodation booked. itinerary and other logistics planned, still have some loose ends like transportation within the city. We are still struggling to get more participation, i.e we are not selling as many tickets as we thought we would but I am sure everyone will see the value in this conference and participate. We are calling everyone today and do a hard sell. We would like all startups to setup booths in RU to present their startup during the Hackathon and UnConference, we want those startups that are doing anything with Software to publish their API and get others to build something using the technology. We want everyone to come to the Unconference and talk about how to build a sustainable and antifragile startup ecosystem in Iceland. Please note this is for the future of Iceland. There very few times in our lives we get a chance to redefine, transform and reshape an community or for that matter build one. We have been presented with that rare opportunity in Iceland, I think everyone from the community needs to contribute, volunteer and mentor the future generation on how best to walk the path. I am sure the message will get out, we have been doing a lot of media outreach and got coverage in the Grapevine, MBL, Arctic Startup etc We have the East Coast Editor of TechCrunch coming over and Renee Blodgett, a writer and columnist for Huffington post. We will get a lot of coverage post event but we are trying to get more coverage pre-event so people can participate. I don’t even know if anyone is reading this post but I think I should give an update on how I am thinking and here it is.

May 24, 2013

3 reasons why you should attend Startup Iceland

I am the Master of my fate

I am the Master of my fate

I have been debating this internally, I would really like your feedback on this. Do you feel that there is value in a conference like Startup Iceland? I think there should be, here are my reasons:

  1. Inspiration and Knowledge: The purpose of events and conferences is not just to listen to someone talk about their success but to get inspired to act. Take ownership of challenges and act on them. Having people who have walked that path share their experiences gives us motivation and courage. My guess is if you hear some of the speakers share their troubles and tribulations, you may say, hey, that does not sound so bad maybe I can do it. I think we have a fantastic line of speakers, any conference around the world would love to have this roaster…
  2. Networking: One of the most popular blog posts that I wrote was about the 2 Must have skills for Entrepreneurs, you guessed it right it is Networking and Selling. During the conference, you as an entrepreneur get the opportunity to have a booth where you can sell your idea and while doing that get a fantastic chance to network with local participants as well as all the guests who are coming into to Iceland. The guests who are coming are curious about Iceland and want to learn more about it and guess what you are the expert there, you live in Iceland. It is a fantastic opportunity for you to present Iceland and your company or your idea or your dream, whatever to build a relationship with someone across the pond. Having contacts around the world is invaluable to doing business. If your idea takes off and you need to go sell it in the US or Europe or wherever, having someone who you have met, connected in Iceland gives an excellent bridge into whatever you need to do in that persons home market. Don’t believe me ask Gunnar Holmsteinn, how he built CLARA’s presence in Silicon Valley. It is all networking and building relationships.
  3. Participation: Not everyone has the time or the energy to organize events like what we are trying to do with Startup Iceland, but we are doing this to bring value to the Startup and Entrepreneurial Community here in Iceland. We have fantastic press coverage, a lot of people want to come to Iceland and see this miracle of a recovery that is happening in Iceland. Dont you want to participate in this transformation? How can you contribute? well, it is simple, just show up! if you don’t have time to volunteer, then you can take the time to attend the event. There are 3 events, the Hackathon which does not require any fee, you just need to have a computer and know how to write software programs in any language, we provide the food, drinks and all the help you need to build something of value. The last hackathon winner got recruited into GreenQloud and the solution he build was released as a service by Twitter 2 week after he had built it. So, you don’t have software development skills no worries, show up for the Unconference event, where all we need is for you to participate and share your ideas on how to build a sustainable, antifragile startup/entrepreneurial ecosystem in Iceland and in the world over. All of us have ideas, here is a platform for you to contribute. You are shy and don’t want to do that, no worries, the 3rd event is a simple conference where you just participate and listen to those who have walked the path.

…all this being said, I hear people complain about the cost of the conference. I believe very strongly that the ticket price to participate in Startup Iceland is an Investment not an expense. An investment you are making in yourself, your company or your idea or your dream. Why would you not want to invest to build yourself? rather than focusing on the cost, focus on the value, what is the value you derive from participating? If you don’t think there is value in this event, I want to hear about it please share it with me, I have my email in the public domain it is bala at startupiceland dot com. We are here to build something and those who give feedback do it only when they care. So please care!

We had the same discussion last year, and I wrote a blog post on who should attend the event. Lets talk about costs, it costs thousands of ISK to get a flight ticket, hotel room etc to go to a similar event outside of Iceland. It should be obvious that having all these speakers come to Iceland would be beneficial to the local Entrepreneurial community. Still people complain. All I say is try organizing an event like this and provide food, drinks, venue for 250+ participants, flight tickets to 9 guests, hotels, taxi etc I have thrown the challenge out to many people, you have better ideas to organize this event please contact me and tell me how we can do this better. Every member of the group that is organizing Startup Iceland is a volunteer, none of us get paid to do this and if you thought this does not take time and effort, please reach out to me I will buy you coffee and you can tell me how we can do this better. I am not an expert but I am committed and motivated to build a startup ecosystem in Iceland to help the future enterpreneurs… help me to help them. Participate! nothing happens by magic or miracles, it is the age old saying, a lot of blood, sweat and tears have been spilt to build society. This effort is no different.

May 21, 2013

What the Hack?

GreenQloud Hackathon Winners

GreenQloud Hackathon Winners

In case you have been under the rock or not been following this blog, we are having our Annual Startup and Entrepreneurship Conference in Iceland on June 1-4, 2013. The first two days June 1st in the afternoon to the end of the day on June 2nd, we are organizing a Hackathon. Hackathons are a tradition that we are starting to implement in Iceland, we conducted one last year and found really talented software engineers and developers who created a fantastic solution in a very short period of time. I have gone on record to say that we are very serious about recruiting those who can “Show Us” their skill than “Tell Us” about their skill. Hackathons are a perfect platform for that. GreenQloud sponsored and organized a Hackathon during UT Messan 2013, the annual IT conference in Iceland, the Winner of the hackathon was hired by GreenQloud. The clincher in this is that both the winners are still in high school. I believe very strongly that this is the new interview process of the software industry, no longer are you required to have a piece of paper telling others what skills you have, you can demonstrate it and build something of value that can be launchpad for your career. Startup Iceland Hackathon is that platform, have you made up your mind about participating in it yet? It is free and we provide all the food and drinks during the entire hackathon event. What are you waiting for? contact us and we can get you registered to be a participant in the hackathon.

May 17, 2013

SI2013 – Unconference

We are trying a new addition to the original Conference format in Startup Iceland 2013. I was very inspired to participate in an UNConference event that was hosted by Landsbanki last fall and the Facilitator for that event was Joshua Kauffman. It was great to get connected with him and invite him back to participate in Startup Iceland and facilitate the Startup Iceland UNConference this year. I would really encourage everyone to participate in the UNConference, it is a great free flowing atmosphere and gives rise to a lot of new ideas. I wrote about my experience of last event here. The great team Joshua-Kauffman-Headshot1-342x342

Joshua is a globally active design strategist, facilitator and investor, and principal collaborator in the Quantified Self movement.

With the Quantified Self, he works on the emerging opportunities in personal data and self-tracking that can enhance existing systems and lead to the invention of transformative new products and services.

Joshua also operates a global design practice that consults on projects in technology, innovation and International Development, and has clients ranging from large global companies to governments and foundations.

A good part of  his work is in lecturing and leading workshops, including facilitating innovation gatherings, design exercises and unconferences. Some recent venues have included Credit Suisse, GE, the MIT Innovation Lab, the OECD and the Landsbankinn Innovation Unconference.

Joshua has a degree in Globalization and a Masters in Design from Harvard, where he instructed and remains an affiliate of the Berkman Center for the Internet and Society.

May 16, 2013

Analysis Paralysis

obama_oj

The cereal box sold by Team AirBnB to raise money to fund the company

You can really pass on a great deal based on how you think. Here is a great post by Fred Wilson with the title “You can do too much Due Diligence“, it is a classic case of mea culpa and analysis paralysis. I really admire Fred for coming out and admitting his mistakes, he did that with AirBnB as well. In the last couple of weeks, there have been many people who have reached out to me and do the same about CLARA. As I have mentioned before, we were very lucky to find Team CLARA and the work that we were able to do get the deal done. That being said, I am sure if me and my partners had put on the hat of figuring out what could go wrong with our investment and done too much due diligence we may have passed on the deal. Here is an excerpt from Fred’s post:

So what did I learn from this lesson? First, trust your gut. I was using Feedburner and knew it was a very useful service. I felt that others would see that too. They did, but it took some time. Second, I learned that a service can get traction with the little guys and in time, the big guys will come along. I have seen that happen quite a bit since then. And finally, I learned that you can do too much due diligence. It’s important to talk to the market and hear what it is saying. But you have to balance that with other things; the quality of the team, the product, the user experience, etc. You cannot rely alone on due diligence, particularly early on in the development of a company and a market.

I can relate to what Fred is talking about, I have really had to change my thinking to trust my gut. Our understanding of the world is very limited, we fool ourselves into talking and thinking ourselves into not following our heart or our gut. These tools have been given to us through the ages, over millennia of evolution. I surprise myself how we use our epistemological arrogance to suppress our primal instincts… there are times we need to do that, but not when it comes to investing in people or ventures. You need to take chance and work to mitigate the risk. All things are risky but the tricky part is no-one knows what is risky … that being said I would not do what Tom Hanks and Shelley Long did either :)

May 14, 2013

Lauf forks – Startup Profile

Magnús Ragnarsson

Magnús Ragnarsson (I really liked this picture, he looks good doesnt he?)

LaufForks_Heimasida6_900x514Magnus Ragnarsson was the host of Startup Iceland 2012 and we requested him if he would oblige us the same service this year for Startup Iceland 2013 and he agreed. Yay! Thank you Magnus. Magnus has been part of the media, entertainment and startup scene in Iceland since the very beginning days of OZ and Lazy Town etc and in addition to that he is avid cycler and is organizing the WOW Cyclothon. He pointed me to a new startup in Iceland called Lauf that has designed a shock absorber for bicycles that is 500 grams lighter than the competitors out there and it is all carbon fibre based there is no metal involved. I am no cyclist or know anything about bicycles but the design of this shock absorber is pretty cool. I think this startup has potential, that being said, I always come back to the same notion that it is not the idea or the product or how ingenious the solution is, it all comes back to how well you sell the story, tell the story, in what platform you tell the story and do you get attention from the main stream media to attract potential partners, investors and customers. Talking to Magnus it looks like this startup is going the same route as many startups in Iceland, i.e trying to figure out how to make this thing rather than trying to figure out how to sell this thing. I think Lean Methodology to sell this is best way to build a company. That being said, maybe the founders are doing that and I don’t have enough information to say what they are doing is right or wrong. I believe very strongly that there is a lot more to building startups and companies than a great idea. Anyways, check it out. The global bicycle market is massive multi billion dollar industry and providing parts to that industry is not a bad business.

May 13, 2013

SI2013 – Speaker Profile – Angela Jackson

Angela Jackson

Angela Jackson

We are keeping with the theme of Angel investors following yesterday’s post about John Sechrest. I got connected to Angela Jackson through Helga Waage of Mobilitus, a startup from Iceland that is growing at an impressive pace and has an office in Portland, Oregon. Angela brings a decade’s experience placing 30+ angel investments (multiple sectors) and a serial entrepreneur family history to Portland Seed Fund. She has advised hundreds of entrepreneurs and seed‐stage companies across a broad spectrum of industries at AB Jackson Group, and also oversees the Portland State University Business Accelerator, with 25+ resident bio-tech, technology and clean-tech companies. She is current President of the Portland chapter of Keiretsu Forum, the largest angel network in the world, and was Chair of the state’s premier angel investment event, Angel Oregon, in 2010. I am looking forward to hearing her survivability story as an Angel investor and what keeps her doing what she does and also learn about how she got started, or more importantly why she got started as an Angel Investor.

Angela and John, are at the core of building startup communities. There are a bunch of people of Iceland who are doing the same things as what Angela and John do, but they have not followed through in getting the story told. I believe strongly that there are many success stories in Iceland, maybe not Billion $ exits but through Angel and Seed Funding companies reaching a point of self sufficiency where the Entrepreneur has created something of value. There are many local businesses and services that have been around for many decades and they all once were a startup. The city of Reykjavik or Akranes or Akureyri were once startups in their own right.

Coming back to our theme of the conference Building Antifragile Startup Communities, I read a very interesting blog post titled “Antifragile Book Notes” by Taylor Pearson for the “Antifragile” book by Mr. Taleb, who has accepted to be on live broadcast through the Internet during the conference on June 4th provided the technology works and we are able to make the technology work fingers crossed. Anyways, coming back to the book, there are two ideas that falls squarely into Angel investing, Entrepreneurship and Startups, they are:

The Barbell Strategy

A dual attitude of playing it safe in some areas (robust to negative Black Swans) and taking a lot of small risks in others (open to positive Black Swans), hence achieving antifragility. That is extreme risk aversion on one side and extreme risk loving on the other, rather than just the “medium” or the beastly “moderate” risk attitude that in fact is a sucker game

Antifragility is the combination aggressiveness plus paranoia— clip your downside, protect yourself from extreme harm, and let the upside, the positive Black Swans, take care of itself. We saw Seneca’s asymmetry: more upside than downside can come simply from the reduction of extreme downside (emotional harm) rather than improving things in the middle.

An example is Mark Cuban’s investment strategy. He keeps most of his assets in cash (robust, not going to crash with the market) and it allows him to move quickly when he sees large opportunities (anti fragile).

Optionality

Options, any options, by allowing you more upside than downside, are vectors of antifragility.

If you “have optionality,” you don’t have much need for what is commonly called intelligence, knowledge, insight, skills, and these complicated things that take place in our brain cells. For you don’t have to be right that often. All you need is the wisdom to not do unintelligent things to hurt yourself (some acts of omission) and recognize favorable outcomes when they occur. (The key is that your assessment doesn’t need to be made beforehand, only after the outcome.)

Option = asymmetry + rationality

The mechanism of optionlike trial and error (the fail-fast model), a.k.a. convex tinkering. Low-cost mistakes, with known maximum losses, and large potential payoff (unbounded). A central feature of positive Black Swans.

Central to optionality is Taleb’s assertion that prediction in the modern world is impossible. Instead of trying to predict what is going to happen, position yourself in such a way that you have optionality. That way whatever happens, all you have to do is evaluate it once you have all the information and make a rational decision.

If you have not read the book, I highly recommend it as I have done before many time :)

May 12, 2013

SI2013 – Speaker Profile – John Sechrest

johnsechrest_headshotI got connected to John through Kristjan Freyr Kristjanson, CEO of Innovit+Klak and who runs Startup Weekend in Iceland. I had always felt that what we lacked in Iceland was broader participation of investors and mentors in the Startup community. John has been solving that problem in Seattle and in the greater Washington state. I am excited to hear about how he has been able to get new Angels to invest into the startup companies. I am also really excited by the philosophy that John has put into practice through his Seattle Angels Network. Startup companies need a lot of due diligence and investors need to play a role in actually helping the startup get off the ground. I believe strongly that Investor group has to work as hard as the Entrepreneur to make the startup a success. I have been writing about Brad Feld, Brad Burnham and Fred Wilson, in my opinion the successful venture investors work much harder than any entrepreneur I know. Check out the documentary “Something Ventured“, it is obvious how much effort the early VCs started to invest much like Angel investors and how much effort they put into each of the companies that they invested in. I think the advent of the Investment Management profession has killed the spirit of each and everyone to become an investor and entrepreneur. I think we have some really smart people working in the Investment management and Asset management business but I don’t think Investment is something that we should outsource. By getting involved with early stage companies with the partnership of experienced angel investors and investor mentors I believe anyone and everyone can invest in Startups and be successful. Don’t believe the fear mongering that your Financial Advisor gives you, Risk is misunderstood consistently by everyone so Investment or Fund managers are no different or better than any of us.

Anyways, I have digressed enough. The post was about John, John Sechrest is the founder of the Seattle Angel Conference and the Willamette Angel Conference, each providing a venue for new angel investors to explore the process. He is a co-organizer of the Lean Startup Seattle, helping entrepreneurs get focused on stronger company processes. As a global facilitator for Startup Weekend, he has worked with several communities take a step forward on entrepreneurial ecosystem development. The motivation to get John to visit Iceland and participate in Startup Iceland is to bring some knowledge on how we can create an Effective Angel Investor community here. I want to expand on the idea that John and other successful Angels have created. Maybe we will launch as I had wrote about before an Accelerator for Investors so young and new investors can get started early and participate in building an Antifragile Startup Community in Iceland.

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