Checklist Manefesto – Book Review

TheChecklist-bookshot-432x550I have been listening to the Checklist Manefesto book by Dr.Atul Gawande. I have to say I am really digging it. Written by a surgeon about how we as humans overcome our ineptitudes by becoming disciplined and by creating checklists and by relying on team wisdom to make complex decisions. I can relate to this, I believe very strongly that once a good team gels together any complexity can be overcome, it is not blind faith but a measured observation of how great teams work. They communicate, create checklists, supplement one another and collectively work to achieve insurmountable odds. Putting a man on moon, constructing skyscrapers, brain and heart surgery, building complex machinery etc we should take time to look back and see how we as a human race have overcome incredible odds to survive as a species…despite our incompetence, wars, prejudice, fallibilities and epistemic arrogance and black swan events.
If you are building a startup or if you are an entrepreneur, I would highly encourage you to read the book. Building a company is a complex task and without yourself being disciplined and following disciplined process, you cannot build a disciplined team that is empowered to execute, make decisions and create value.

Stockdale Paradox

Let me give context before I jump into why I believe this is one of the most important philosophical ideas for an Entrepreneur or a Startup. We had a company retreat for Strategic Planning and Alignment within GreenQloud. We are starting to become a big enough team that we need to get away from our office. We used the material from the book Good To Great to set the context and ask some fundamental questions about what we are trying to do. It was extremely interesting and insightful for me to get input from everyone in Team GreenQloud. We went through the 12 Questions individually and discussed each ones input. While we are going through the question, one of the question wasstockdale_in_prison

What are the brutal facts, and how can we better live the Stockdale Paradox?

As Jim Collins explains it in the book

The Stockdale Paradox

Retain faith that you will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties. AND at the same time. Confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.

The idea is based on James Stockdale, a naval officers experience being a prisoner of war in Vietnam.  This concept was is also shared in another great book, “Man’s Search For Meaning” by Victor Frankl. I have written about Victor FranklstocdaleI am not sure why Jim Collins decided to call it a paradox because for those who go through the Struggle, it is not a paradox it is how you get through the struggle. One has to face the brutal facts and have faith that one will prevail. I believe this is what every successful entrepreneur does, those who walk through the fire understand and can relate to the above statement. I am fortunate to have had the above experience, there were many time in the last 5 years where I have stared at the abyss, with not many options in front of me but something in me provided the faith that I will prevail in the end regardless of the difficulties. It was not blind faith, but faith that allowed me to move one step forward by facing the brutal facts and reality. Look at problems as opportunities to improve a relationship or really work on my creativity at problem solving or use the problem to bring new people/ideas on board to try to work through it as a team. There are many strategies for dealing with things, but the most important strength is the inner ability or powerful Will to believe you will prevail.

Startup Genome and Startup Event Calendar – Iceland

The mission of this blog is to be a resource for entrepreneurs, startups and everyone who wants to learn about the entrepreneurial life. Why I do this is because I have made it my mission to build an antifragile startup ecosystem in Iceland. I have written a lot about how my analysis of why this is not such a bad idea and how I am also putting my money where my mouth is. In continuing with that development, I was happy to see that Startup Genome project has included Iceland as a region. If you have not explored it, you should. I would encourage you to go and enter your company in the Startup Genome Database, it is a easy way to keep track of all the companies that are being created in Iceland. In addition to thisStartup Genome Iceland, I would recommend that you go and register yourself and your company in AngelList, Crunchbase etc do the work needed to get your name out into those places where people are searching for Startups. It is important aspect of building a company and your startup.

Toti suggested another brilliant idea that came out of another Startup Community that is very similar in development stage as Iceland, Portland. Portland has an online calendar that lists all the activities that are ongoing in the Startup Community, called Calagator which is a unified calendar for the technology community of Portland, Oregon. It is an all-volunteer effort and they encourages anyone to import, create, and edit events. I think having something like that will be awesome for Iceland. I also think It is great way to schedule events and see in a glance what is going on in the area or region. Of course given that everyone who is part of the Startup Community is in one of the Facebook groups is a great thing in Iceland but it might also prevent new people from getting to know about the Startup Community in Iceland. Having an open calendar that is crawlable by Google or DuckDuckGo or Bing or whatever search engine of choice, enable serendipitous discovery of meetups and new community members joining this growing community.

Toti has volunteered Mobilitus and I have volunteered GreenQloud to host this application build using an open source software from  to have Iceland’s own Calendar of Events. I think both of these online resources need to be kept upto date, so we need you all to participate and update your startup or a startup you know into the Genome. Add a calendar event to the new TBA calendar for Iceland.

Track Record, Trust and Leadership

Screen Shot 2013-10-10 at 5.14.07 AMI have more or less documented the journey since the day the Financial System in Iceland collapsed in 2008. There has been a lot written about October 8th, 2008, the day when the Prime Minister of Iceland addressed the nation stating the challenges in front of Iceland and the collapse and ending the speech with the most famous last words for a politician whose career was pretty much over… oh, yes the famous words were “God Bless Iceland”! there was total disbelief within the Icelandic community. I don’t want to go into the details of what happened after that I think many people have done that. What I do want to do is describe what I did, I decided right then and there that there was only one way to rebuild the business community in Iceland and that was through re-inventing what really creates value in Iceland. I was very impressed with the Design, Software and Infrastructure talent in Iceland and so I decided that I would invest my time, effort and money in building that sector. We invested in a team of Entrepreneurs and they won for Iceland. After I have been working with the Entrepreneurs, it was obvious to me that Startups and Entrepreneurs in Iceland needed more than just Angel Capital (it was non-existent then). I actually built a presentation on Why we would invest in Iceland and what Icelandic startups needed. Here is the first iteration of the Investment Thesis and Strategy that I created. What is important are the above 2 questions, in terms of What Icelandic Startups needed then and what they still need now are 3 things:

  1. More Seed and Angel Capital
  2. Mentoring and advising on developing, marketing and selling products/services to the Global market
  3. Bridge to a bigger market

the reasons why I felt we should invest in Icelandic Entrepreneurs was based on again a bunch of things:

  1. Young demographic
  2. Well educated and technology savvy population
  3. Excellent infrastructure
  4. Cost effective (hiring/training a software engineer in Iceland is much cheaper than say New York or London)
  5. Entrepreneurial culture
  6. There was lot of emphasis on Design, Innovation and Creative industry
  7. Small market is great for customer validation and to find the Product to Market fit and easy to pivot a product or service strategy

I naively thought that I could present this to the investor community and create a Venture Capital firm, I went to every pension fund and Asset Management company. Presented the idea, just to be laughed out of the office. It was rather humiliating, when they asked why I thought I could do this better than anyone else? it was a very valid question and I asked myself that question. At that time it was not something that I could quantify as we had just done a couple of investments and jury was out on those investments. Fast forward to 2013, we have the track record, all the investments that we have done are alive and kicking and are doing very well. CLARA was sold to Jive Software and I can say without exaggerating that every single person who invested in CLARA got their money’s worth. Buuteeq is growing leaps and bounds and I am pretty sure they are going places. The funny thing about these investments is that we went in with no expectation on when the companies will win or when we will get our money back, we wanted to help the Entrepreneurs and did some common sense thinking on the deals and made sure it was a Win-Win deal for us and the Entrepreneurs and we spent considerable amount of time helping the Entrepreneur. It is not for everyone… but we just love it. I love helping Entrepreneurs, I meet every single one of them and give them my time, my connection and whatever else I possibly can. Founding Startup Iceland the Conference was based on that philosophy of doing something to help the Entrepreneurial community in Iceland and to build a really vibrant community of Startups and Entrepreneurs in Iceland. That vision has not changed and I am pretty sure that we will get there, but we will not get there if the community does not invest.

I understand that investing in Startups is risky, the results are not guaranteed and it is a lot of work but nothing worthwhile is easy. I am willing to work my fingers to the bone to get this community built in Iceland. The Angel syndicate is platform to crowd source capital. Everyone keeps talking about how Pension Funds should be investing in Startups etc I think that is baloney… Pension Fund Managers do not have the time to work with Startups what they need to be doing is investing in Platforms and People who are investing in Startups. Unfortunately in Iceland, this community has not developed because there is no history to really creating a huge win in a Startup until the last couple of years. Through the syndicate, we can really harness more than what everyone thinks is possible. Raising capital is hard anywhere but it is extremely hard in Iceland if you are not part of the inner circle. I want to disrupt this, I want everyone in Iceland to have an opportunity to participate in this journey.

Investment Thesis and Strategy

Since I announced that I am setting up a Syndicate, I have had some requests on what and how I plan to implement this. And I really happy that 2 people have already committed to support me in this initiative. I think more would join if they understood how all of this worked. I am going to write a series of blog posts outlining how I am thinking about this and why I believe this is the best way to disrupt investing in Iceland. For those of you wanting to see how Angel Syndicate Works, check out this linkFAQ is here.

I had posted a link to a Prezi presentation of the pitch for a Venture Capital Fund in Iceland that I started putting together in 2009, the vision remains. Here is the presentation:

Investment Thesis

Investment Thesis Prezi

I believe there is enough raw materials in Iceland to build world class companies in Iceland, like everywhere else it takes effort, networks, resources and strategy to execute on that. Iceland has one of the best infrastructures in the world, I am saying that after living in different continents and countries. I believe that software is going to run everything, those who are building software to solve some of the challenges that we are creating are going to create value. My investment thesis is very simple, lets look back each decade for the last half a century. In the 1960, it was companies like Digital, IBM, etc the micro computer manufacturers, in1970s it was Apple, Atari, etc the mini or personal computers, the focus was on hardware and devices, in 80s it was companies that wrote software for those devices like Microsoft, WordPerfect, Lotus, Apple, in the 90s it was the networking companies that connected these computers like Cisco, Sun Microsystems, Juniper Network, Nortel Networks etc, in the 2000s, it was the software companies that wrote software on top of the connected networks or the internet like Yahoo, Ebay, Google, Amazon etc and 2010s it is software companies that are building applications on top of the new internet infrastructure like Apple, Android, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Blogging platforms etc so my thesis is that any company that is leveraging the new infrastructure to build applications in an industry that is inefficient compared to the speed of the internet will be disrupted and value created. The neat thing about this is that the disruption can happen from any part of the world, including Iceland.

Anyone can come up with the above idea, as I have written before ideas mean nothing if not followed through with execution. Through the Angel Syndicate I plan to invest in this thesis. I have a proven track record, and of course I got very lucky with our investments. We sold the first company that we invested in to Jive Software, the second company that we invested in is growing nicely. The third company that I am involved in is moving in the right direction but still a lot of work to do. The thing about what we do is that it is hard to predict success but what we do know to do is work with entrepreneurs to increase the odds of success and reduce the odds of failure. Most of the challenges in Icelandic startups is related to Marketing and Sales, Team development and scaling the product or service. Those challenges are not easy to solve if not impossible. The motivation to do this is always to build a sustainable startup community and ecosystem right here in Iceland, if we are able to make it worth everyone’s while who are willing to participate in the journey so be it.

Building Startup Communities

Every city was once a startup, famous words spoken by Brad Feld when I have seen him position his book on Startup Communities. Where is the soul of the city, what makes cities thrive and fall? I think the basic building block of any city is the entrepreneurial spirit. That is why I believe the thesis that Brad has written about building startup communities resonates with me. I started on the journey to build a thriving or should I say Antifragile Startup Community in Iceland right after the collapse of the financial system in Iceland, because I believe the spirit of entrepreneurship was alive, kicking and can be rekindled. The motivation to organize Startup Iceland was rooted in that belief. How are we doing on this Startup Community building effort? well I think we are in Mile 1 of a 26.2 Mile marathon. There is a lot of work to do. I believe every entrepreneur needs to dream and have vision, but cannot loose sight of execution because Vision without Execution is Hallucination. I think the Startup Community in Iceland is executing. So, what else do we need to do? I think we need to harness a new breed of investors, create an investing platform and a market to clear the angel capital demand and supply. There is only one way to create a demand for Angel capital and that is by starting new ventures, we are addressing that with many initiatives like the Golden Egg Competition in January, Seed Forum, Startup Reykjavik and a number of entrepreneurial initiatives through Innovit+Klak, University of Iceland and Reykjavik University etc. I believe where we are struggling is creating a supply of Angel capital, in order to do that we need mentoring and a platform, I have written about creating an accelerator for Investors. I think we need to go further than that…angellistlogo

I think AngelList really provides the platform for anyone to build a syndicate to invest in Startups and Entrepreneurs. There is a lot of debate on whether it is going to kill the traditional VC business or not. I am not in the prediction business but any option that helps entrepreneurs and startups is a good thing. Those who have gone through the passage like we did with our previous investments, know that no-one knows how the future is going to turn out but one has to actively work to make any investment work. With that philosophy in mind, I am forming a syndicate to invest in Entrepreneurs and Startups in Iceland. I am no VC, but I think I have better track record than anyone in Iceland, we took a company all the way and in the process helped the Entrepreneurs and in the end every investor made money. I am not promising that we can repeat the process or the result, but we understand what we went through and that learning is valuable. Given what I have seen I think it is time for us to change the landscape in Iceland. Watch out for details of the initiative. Here is a Presentation of our strategy!

Being Humble

I read a post in Forbes titled “Arrogance of Growth“, it was written by Rajeev Peshawaria. It struck home, literally… the article was about how Indian Business Leaders and Managers are looking west thinking that they have it all covered and are better. I really don’t believe we should stereotype based on an anecdotal incident, but I do believe there is a lesson to be learnt from this. I believe that when success comes your way it is very easy to get arrogant and vindictive, ie. you have struggled a lot and this is time to show all those nay sayers that you have won. But that is not the right way, this is the time to be humble and bow low.
Wildly SuccessfulIt is not easy, but it is the right thing to do. As the old chinese saying goes

If you bow at all, bow low

Only those who have total control over their emotions, intellect and ego are capable of this. I struggle with it a lot and I am trying to work on it everyday. Being humble is knowing that you don’t know everything and having the courage to have an open mind to listen to another irrespective of their background, experience or education. I work with a lot of entrepreneurs and I meet those who are very young who are full of exuberance and confidence. I think it is an incredible quality. I also meet veterans who have been around the block a couple of time or those who are taking the plunge for the first time. It is scary, it is uncertain but don’t let your insecurity get in the way of being open and learn from the experience. Learning only happens when we listen and objectively evaluate feedback. I saw the above picture posted by my colleague and it spoke to me. So the next time you are tempted to act like a Jerk, stop and think where you have been and where you come from and see if your loved ones will be proud of how you act. The below clip from Gandhi, shows what being humble is. As I publish this blog post today on Gandhi’s birthday. I would like for all of us to learn to be humble and let go of our ego.