August 30, 2013
“If we knew what we are doing, we would not call it research” – Albert Einstein
I participated in the unveiling of a new research center in Reykjavik University called the Center for Research on Engineering Software Systems (CRESS), the focus of this center is to achieve usability, correctness, efficiency and scalability of software systems. Sounds abstract and vague like any typical research center in academia, however I am a big believer in supporting initiatives like this because Cost of research is extremely cheap in the academic environment as compared to the commercial environment. Let me qualify the statement, basic research done in universities and research centers actually cost less than if they are done by individual companies. Especially in the field of software and systems, and more so in biotechnology and pharmaceuticals. This is why I don’t understand why the big pharma companies just fund large research projects within the University system and target and focus their efforts on drug discovery, maybe they do that what do I know about Pharma or Biotech, I digress… coming back to CRESS, I think this is a cool initiative and I would like to see more startups and companies in Iceland support these kinds of initiatives.
Dr. Michael J. Franklin from University of California at Berkeley gave a talk titled “Building Effective Industry/Academia Collaborations- The Berkeley Lab Model”. The talk was inspiring to me and according to him, impactful collaboration between academia and industry at UC Berkeley owes much to a unique model for research. Dr. Michael J. Franklin directs the well-known AMPLab research lab which has gained a leading role in Big Data research, producing software and knowledge that has had major impact on industry. In his talk, Dr.Franklin used AMPLab as an example to explain the Berkeley Lab model, and how it has been used to foster collaboration between industry and academic researchers.
I have written about Big Data and why I believe the mere fact of sifting through noise to get to insight in Big Data is one of the biggest challenges we have and given the nature of how we as humans are wired we see patterns in everything even tea leaves and I worry how it can be abused. There is a lot of value in trying to resolve some of the system problems that get created due to Big Data, that is where I am really interested. At GreenQloud, we see enough Big Data problems and I think most of it is created by our day to day users without knowledge of them creating it. If we can improve performance, scalability and the user experience I am all for it. Doing research in that basic paradigm is very expensive for a startup like GreenQloud, so I am all for collaborating with Universities and Research Facilities if we can get a heads up on the direction to focus. This is what Startups should be doing, they can experiment with finding the Product to Market fit, but sometimes startups and entrepreneurs from the academic area get stuck on basic research, it can be really costly and can kill the company. Dr.Franklin gave examples that their software stack that has been open sourced has been used by Twitter, Yahoo and many of the technology companies and I think that is smart.
I think this blog post has already become too long, as this is a topic that I have not written about. The gist is this if you are startup or an entrepreneur thinking about something new, try to collaborate and find out if any university or research center will be open to collaborate with you. I have written about another institute called Icelandic Institute of Intelligent Machine (IIIM). We need more of these initiatives to create a vibrant Startup Community and Ecosystem in Iceland. End of the day a number of these initiatives need funding, so if you are able to support them I really encourage you to do that because only good things come out of it. Worst come worst, you will find your next best talented engineer in some of the graduate students who work on these centers.
August 29, 2013
Image via CrunchBase
I read a post by Om Malik, the founder of GigaOm with the title “Patterns and Fallacies: Why they have no place in silicon valley“, it is a great read. I can empathize with Om, I moved to the US to pursue my graduate study in Louisiana State University. I had to take an English Writing and Speech test as I was a recipient of the University Graduate Assistance Program. I had learnt english all my life and as far as I can remember my instructions were all in english, and here I was taking the english test in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I passed the written english test with flying colors (it was just a pass/fail grade :)) but I had to take English as a spoken language class in the first semester. I was just dumbfounded, here I was thinking in English but the University thought my spoken english was not good enough. I took the class, met some wonderful international students and made some great friends as well, but what was interesting during the class was that all the students were made to change their accent that students in Louisiana would understand. “Go slow on the drawwwl”, you became “you’all” and many nuances of living in the South. It was fun and I learnt a lot. But coming back to our topic of Patterns and Fallacies, we tend to make decisions based on patterns, it is wired into our system. There is no fighting it, I have seen this with investors all the time…
The good investors (read seasoned ones with battle scars) see beyond the patterns and try to learn about the entrepreneur, spend time with them and understand where they are coming from etc. and then there are some investors who basically jerk you around for months and give you all kinds of signals that they are interested in your company and then flip you the finger. Rejection is a bummer but you know what life goes on. As an entrepreneur you need to handle rejection graciously, accept it as a signal that you are doing something wrong, learn from it and focus on your Circle of Influence. I have written about a good way to handle rejection. Whenever I get a No for any pitch that I am making, I get doubly motivated actually I get really excited because this is the challenge that I love. I love to prove the nay sayers wrong, is’nt that what it means to be an entrepreneur? I remember the time when we were going around meeting all the investors raising money for CLARA the startup that I invested in and recently got acquired by Jive Software… there were so many nay sayers, but in the end we proved all of them wrong, it was such a sweet victory. Sure we were lucky, but it would have not happened if we had not worked so hard to continue on for another day.
The message from this post is quite simple, if you starting to follow patterns and make decision just based on those… Stop, ask yourself is it a fallacy or you are really seeing a pattern. The problem with patterns is that it is very subjective, anecdotal and we don’t have enough data to draw broad conclusions. Our instincts are definitely something to rely on but reach deep inside and ask yourself some tough questions. If you are an investor, don’t jerk entrepreneurs around and keep them hanging… make up your mind quickly and follow through. I know I know I am contradicting myself by saying don’t follow patterns but act quickly… I never said this was easy. I know what works for me, I am in it to help entrepreneurs. I get intrinsic motivation by being of service to the entrepreneurial community and that is good enough for me. I don’t try to pick winners and I don’t try to act like I know it all because I don’t. If you are an entrepreneur and need help reach out to me I will try my best to help you.
To all investors out there help the entrepreneurs win, and if you focus on that you will win. Be humble and don’t act like you know it all, because no-one does. It is the hard work of the entrepreneur and the investors that makes companies succeed. You need luck but what I have found out is that the harder I work the luckier I get…
August 27, 2013
It is exciting to see the developments in Iceland as it relates to Entrepreneurship and Startups. There has been a number of developments right after Startup Iceland 2013 that I think are watershed moments. I believe the Startup Reykjavik program has come of age even in a very short history of only graduating 2 batches. We still don’t have big funding or acquisitions right after Demo Day yet but I am pretty confident the teams that have gone through the program feel a sense of believing that they have a fair chance to win or atleast reduce their odds of failure. And it was great to see that Jon von Tetzchner has just launched a Co-working space for Startups right here in Iceland. He should know a thing or two about building a Startup and building an environment that is conducive for Startups and Entrepreneurs. There is more and more support for startups and I believe the community is starting to believe as well. Carbon Recycle International another startup that has been in existence for quite sometime now just got a big cash injection from a Canadian listed company. The startup ecosystem is starting to diversify. All this being said, I still think that we need more policy support to ensure that companies at the early stage can really get a fair shot at breaking out. And obviously we could do with more funding options. There is just not enough people wanting to invest their time and effort to really get their hands dirty at building companies from an investor perspective. I think I know why… there are so many easier options to make money than to invest ones time and effort and everything else in a startup or an entrepreneur. My partners and I believe that it is worth it and we continue to invest our time, effort and money in the Entrepreneurs in Iceland. We have some ideas brewing so watch out for more news coming from us.
August 6, 2013
As most of you know I also have a day job as CEO of GreenQloud. I go to my mentor Brad Feld for getting a fresh perspective on things and in one of those sessions, he recommended that I read the book Startup CEO: A Field Guide to Scaling Up Your Business by Matt Blumberg, the CEO of Return Path. I mentioned to him that I have ordered the book and waiting for it, Brad got Matt to give me access to a reviewer’s copy and I am really thankful for that. I was suppose to be on vacation last week and I took this book as reading material, it was a bad idea. I could not put the book down, I was itching to get back to work to start implementing a lot of the strategies and ideas that Matt talks about. What was fascinating to me was the tone, language and the heart of the book. I felt like Matt was talking to me, giving me advice, knowing exactly what I am going through as a CEO. It was uncanny, I am pretty sure this book will become an instant classic among the Startup Founders and Startup CEOs. I am not going to go through the details of the book, go and get your copy, you will be pleasantly surprised. If you are a Startup Founder or CEO, you definitely need to read this book. For an excellent exclusive review of the book check out StartupManagement.org‘s William Mougayar’s post.
The book is broken into 5 Sections. I like the sequence of the sections:
Section 1: Story Telling
Section 2: Building the Company’s Human Capital
Section 3: Executing
Section 4: Building and Leading a Board of Directors
Section 5: Managing yourself so you can manage others
There were so many instances in the book where I felt my own voice in Matts words. It was just transforming to me. I am excited to get started on these ideas. It was exactly the material that I needed. Thank you again Brad Feld, for connecting the dots.