Archive for January, 2014

January 28, 2014

Happiness

English: Pharrell Williams performing on Septe...

Pharrell Williams (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Just got sucked into the song yesterday as we were watching the Grammy Awards and the live performance by Pharrell Williams. If you have not been to the 24hoursofhappiness.com website you should. If that does not make you want to get out of your seat and dance… I don’t what would. This blog post is to remind ourselves that Happiness is the goal. Find what makes you happy and continue to do that everyday. I have been told many times by my wife that I take things and life too seriously, so here is my attempt to slide in a happy song to keep it light. There is always bad news and craziness, but we all need to find the place where we are happy. I really enjoyed the Despicable Me movie especially the second one where I first heard this song. I really like the levity of the minions in that movie. I wish all of you out there changing the world to let loose once in a while and do something crazy like dance and enjoy the moment. This song is very good for that. Let me know what makes you Happy!

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January 27, 2014

Are we the horse?

Albert Wenger

Albert Wenger (Photo credit: Joi)

This is a talk given by Albert Wenger one of the partners in Union Square Ventures and Fred Wilson shared this. I highly recommend this talk as it goes into the Context of the changes that we are starting to see in the world today. Future is not something that is going to happen, it is what is happening now in a context that changes how we do things in the future. I think there is only one way to not be a horse… learn to be an Entrepreneur, everyone can be an Entrepreneur. There are numerous problems that need to be solved. Learn tools, process and technologies that prepares you to take ownership of your life and professional careers. I advice all the students that I meet to start looking for ways to solve problem with teams and create jobs rather than search for a job.  

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January 26, 2014

Learning from Failures – Better Place

Shai Agassi

Shai Agassi (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I believe Iceland is the best place for Electric Vehicles, and it was one of the first ideas that I thought I should work on right after the finance collapse of iceland in 2008. I even went to the then Finance Minister of Iceland and proposed to him a plan to incentivize the Electric Vehicle adoption in Iceland. I started blogging about all the Electric Vehicle ideas that were floating around in 2009, here I was writing about how “Iceland A Better Place“. You can see that I was impressed that Shai Agassi, the founder and CEO of Better Place was able to garner so much support all the way from the President of Israel to CEO of Renault and getting countries like Denmark, Australia and Israel to signup with his company to re-build the electric charging station infrastructure. Well, Better Place filed for bankruptcy on May 26, 2013 and the assets of the company was liquidated for $450,000 after private investors had poured over $850 million yes you heard it right, almost a Billion dollars. That is a spectacular failure.

What can we learn from this failure? I have pinged Shai Agassi to see if he would be interested to come and participate in Startup Iceland to share his thoughts and experience in this failure. I admire Shai for his courage and I think there are valuable lessons to be learnt from this. I still believe Electric Vehicles will replace majority of our transportation in the future, however it is going to take time. Here is Brad talking about “The Future of Transportation“. I don’t know enough to say what went wrong, but I am sure we can make educated guesses. It is always easy to look back and connect the dots either on success or failure, but for those who are walking the path it is a different story.

IMHO, Better Place did not do good customer validation or built a good Business Model Canvas to understand what are the main pain points in-terms of adoption of their mode of transportation. In addition, they took on the most expensive of the routes to change infrastructure. It is difficult to change infrastructure ground up. That is why what we are doing at GreenQloud is different, we are not asking companies to change how they use Cloud Computing but if given a choice where all things equal would someone choose a more sustainable, cleaner and easier to use alternative than what is available in the market for Cloud Solutions? and the overwhelming majority of the answer is a resounding Yes! We are also extremely bootstrapped, a different business model than Better Place. Spending money is easy, but building a sustainable business is more than raising money and spending it, it is about creating value to a point where the Value Proposition is so obvious that you reduce your odds of failure.

Why did I start thinking about Shai Agassi and my blog post from 2009? well, I am reading and listening to the book “Startup Nation“, and it is fascinating what Israel has done as it relates to Entrepreneurial Ecosystem development and the Government Policy framework that has created some outstanding results.

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January 24, 2014

6 Biggest Mistakes Founders Make

jerrycolonnaI have written about Jerry Colona the uber founder/ceo coach and former VC and partner of Fred Wilson. Here he is talking to Jason Calanis of This week in Startup. It is an hour and half program, I highly encourage you to listen to this. Jerry writes at themonsterinyourhead.com, a very self-awareness and psychology of being an entrepreneur blog. I cannot recommend this enough to anyone.

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January 23, 2014

Startup Summer – Exchange Program between Colorado and Iceland

boulder-co-large-gallery-horizontal

source: CNN

Brad Feld sent me one of those cryptic notes last September, with an ask “Do you know Eythor?” It is amazing how he has latched on to this notion that I should be able to get a hold of anyone in Iceland with relative ease, because I remember telling him when he came to Iceland in 2012 that everyone knows everyone in Iceland. Anyways, I digress, Eythor is the brother of one of my former colleagues in the bank, so I responded by saying yes I know of him and oh, btw, he is related to my wife through some distant family ties… it is Iceland :) Brad Feld connected me to Brad Bernthal, who had been interacting with Eythor about a joint initiative between Boulder and Iceland. Brad Bernthal introduced me to the Startup Colorado and Startup Summer program offered by University of Colorado, that embeds undergraduate interns into startups in Colorado. He continued that It is a great program as the interns get meaningful exposure to the startups and, in addition, they meet at least weekly as a full group to (1) learn from startup leaders in the area, and (2) develop their own business ideas.  The summer ends with an intern pitch night in which the startup summer participants pitch their own ideas. One idea is that we invite students in Iceland to potentially participate in the during Summer ’14 and, if something similar can be spun up in Iceland, we also could look to do some type of summer exchange. I was like… Awesome! heck ya, totally aligns with my philosophy of building bridges from Iceland to other startup communities, so I reached out to Ari the Rector of Reykjavik University and we immediately got his support to proceed.Colorado-Report-2 For those asking is Colorado is the right place? Here is a Forbes article which states that Colorado launches a Startup every 72 hours! We have been in a number of meetings and I just got message from Austin Chamers who is responsible for the program that the application materials for Startup Summer 2014 are up and ready.

The plan for applications is as follows:
For companies that would like to participate (both in Iceland & US):
  • Please send an email to StartupCoDirector@gmail.com, listing:
    • Company name
    • Company description
    • Intern job requirements/job title
    • Expected starting salary
    • Start and end dates
For students:
  • Follow this link and fill out the application.
  • The application process for students from Iceland will be expedited if they have a background in computer science or engineering. Applicants seeking positions in management, marketing, or ‘soft’ skills may be delayed, depending on the number of positions available and the overall pool of applicants.
  • We will work to pair applicants with a suitable company, and encourage these companies to take the exchange students
  • We will set up a Skype interview to make any final arrangements
Housing arrangements will begin shortly, once we start receiving applications.We are also looking in to funding to help students with travel and/or visa expenses.
So if you are a startup in Iceland and would like to get interns from University of Colorado to come and work with you for the summer, follow the steps above. If you are a student in Iceland, I highly encourage applying it could be one of the most important steps you take. Getting exposure into a new environment that too in a startup while you are still in School creates so many opportunities and ideas. GreenQloud is going to apply as it is a simple decision for us. We are growing the team and we are hiring. If you are startup and complaining about lack of talent or whatever, here is your chance to plug into a new group of people who can supplement your team needs.
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January 22, 2014

GuidetoIceland.is – A Startup Profile

GuideToIcelandTourism in Iceland is growing rapidly, this much is true and with the growth of tourist, the need for investment in infrastructure, innovation and services to cater to the market demand is also growing. I believe startups or entrepreneurs are more suited to rise to this challenge. It is difficult for established companies to move quickly, read why I believe this to be true.

Guidetoiceland.is is one of the startups that has been accepted into the GreenQloud Startup Program. I believe for startups to be successful there are a number of requirements, the most important of all is the founding team. I met Elmar Johnson and Ingolfur Shahin, the CEO and COO. Elmar, wait for it… is a medical doctor with a passion for travel. I am very impressed with the team that Elmar and Ingolfur have assembled to take this company forward. Their concept is quite simple target bloggers and drive traffic through their content to sell services and packages as it relates to travel in Iceland. The emphasis is on locals blogging about the culture, what and where to go for the best sushi in Iceland etc I believe the long tail of this type of content drives Mavens to the site. They have built a booking engine connecting a hodge-podge of tour operators, hotels and destinations into a single source that any tourist can easily navigate and also solicit the services of locals to go on guided tours. The way the website operates is by providing free tours from tour operators to bloggers and thereby creating a affiliate program for real services. I think this is brilliant, here is a Google Adwords meet Tupper ware network marketing and selling. All of this surrounded by beautiful images taken by Iurie Belegurschi, who takes just amazing pictures.

The team is tenacious, detailed, and really passionate about how they want to build this business. This is the kind of team that I love to mentor. They are always bubbling with ideas and ways to drive the business forward. IMHO, you have seen nothing yet from this team and really excited to be working with them.

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January 21, 2014

David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants

David and Goliath Book Cover I have been listening to the new book by Malcolm Gladwell, the concept of underdogs, misfits and the art of battling giants is very close to my heart. Our tribe ie. Entrepreneurs or a Startup founders are always battling numerous giants and one cannot but categorize our tribe as underdogs. Why do I say this? is there any other group that is constantly told all the time that what they are doing makes no sense or crazy, maybe not in their face but one senses it. I think this is again a very interesting book on strategy, every startup or an entrepreneur takes on a giant whether it is opening up a new market, launching a brand new product or disrupting an established incumbent. When one is going through that exercise, it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking how the opponent is so strong and powerful and loaded with a lot of cash etc However, in the book the author focuses on what are the things that the underdogs had going for them. Here is a TED talk on one of the anecdotal stories about David and Goliath, the reason why Goliath was defeated is contrary to what we conventionally think. Actually David went into battle knowing that he had the upper hand. Following up on my post yesterday, if you are an entrepreneur or a startup figure out what your strategy is against the incumbent. Being an underdog and fighting a giant is an exhilarating exercise, I love it. I love to go against the grain and prove valuable things can be built against all odds. Go now and fight your giants, you have all the weapons you need in your arsenal.

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January 20, 2014

Startup Energy Reykjavik

Startup Energy ReykjavikIceland has one of the best infrastructures period. I don’t have concrete data to back up that claim, but I have almost no memory of a power cut or roads not being clean or no hot or cold water in the house. That is what world class infrastructure should be you just use it without knowing how the magic happens behind the scene. I have written about Geothermal energy harnessed in Iceland and also efforts to make more innovation and distruption in that space. I was excited to learn about Startup Energy Reykjavik, a Startup Reykjavik like Accelerator focused only on Renewable Energy based startups. It is fantastic to see many of the ideas that we talk about come into fruition. The program is run exactly like the Mentorship Driven Accelerator concept pioneered by TechStars and it is being applied to a specific industry vertical. It is great to see many mentors from the Geothermal and Hydro energy background volunteer and participate in this. I am really happy for Arion Bank to have taken the lead on fostering entrepreneurship and investment in this important field. I am volunteering as a Mentor, this is a very important vertical for startups to focus on and to create something new and disrupt the industry.

Here is a video of the Renewable Energy program in Reykjavik University, with Startup Energy Reykjavik we can build new sets of companies that can really make a difference. Building these infrastructures is the key building blocks to building an Antifragile Startup Ecosystem in Iceland. Without this infrastructure GreenQloud could not have been created and there are numerous opportunities and I am really excited to see what problems the entrepreneurial community will take on to solve through this accelerator program.

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January 20, 2014

Strategy is always about Action

Garry Kasparov and I, Luxembourg Q1 2006

I joined the Executive team in Glitnir in February 2006. The bank had an event in Luxembourg called “Meet the CEOs” and one of the keynote speaker was Garry Kasparov. The title of his talk was about Strategy, being a Grand Master of Chess, Garry probably knows a thing or two about Strategy. What I distinctly remember from the talk was that he emphasized on the fact that Strategy is always about Action. A deliberate, calculated and result driven action. As an Entrepreneur or a Startup, we are always faced with numerous paths based on a deliberate product, marketing, sales or funding strategy. I talk to a number of startup founders and entrepreneurs, the striking similarities between all those conversation when it comes to Strategy is that they always have too many strategic priorities and try to do too many things at the same time. This IMHO is a failing strategy. At the very early stage of the product/service development it might work because you are prototyping and you have not figured out the product to market fit, so it is fine to throw a number of ideas into the market and see what sticks. Again, the Strategy is deliberate, you are trying many things because of a hypothesis that one of those ideas will gain traction. It takes a lot of work to focus on a single strategy and execute around that. If entrepreneurs can get this one thing right the odds of failure can be reduced considerably.
Being an entrepreneur or a startup founder is f#$king difficult, and getting disciplined to focus on 1 to 3 strategic priorities is even harder. Even Elon Musk the quintessential serial entrepreneur has been focusing only on the Electric Car and leaves all his other ideas and companies to be executed by others.
Do yourself a favor, ask yourself what is your Product to Market fit strategy if you are in the early stage, if you don’t have one, get back to the drawing board and get that straight without that your startup will fail or run out of money or both. After you have crossed the chasm of Product to Market fit, you need to go back to the drawing board and determine your business scaling strategy. Yes, building a company is hard and takes a lot of work but there is nothing more insane than trying to do the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. You need different strategies for different stages of the company.
The founder/CEO of the company is responsible for the Strategy, the success of the company depends on the CEO who can morph into different modes depending on the stage of the company. Ben Horowitz, has a very interesting post about “Why Founders Fail: The Product CEO Paradox“. There are gems of advice for Product centric founders. Once you have a strategy then the mode you need to get into is action, tactics and expected results. Another one of the best of Ben Horowitz post is “The Struggle“, I wrote about it… one of the best paragraphs in that post goes like this:

This is not checkers; this is mutherfuckin’ chess – Technology businesses tend to be extremely complex. The underlying technology moves, the competition moves, the market moves, the people move. As a result, like playing three-dimensional chess on Star Trek, there is always a move. You think you have no moves? How about taking your company public with $2M in trailing revenue and 340 employees, with a plan to do $75M in revenue the next year? I made that move. I made it in 2001, widely regarded as the worst time ever for a technology company to go public. I made it with six weeks of cash left. There is always a move.

You always have a move without strategy you will not know which one to take.

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January 17, 2014

Culture as your competitive advantage

Image representing Reed Hastings as depicted i...

Image by None via CrunchBase

I got reference to this presentation from one of my colleague at GreenQloud before the Christmas break and I was just smitten. I want to create such a culture in every company that moves from a Startup stage to Growth or established company stage. What is difficult to implement in such a philosophy is that it goes totally against the command and control model that every company employs. I believe very strongly in this philosophy and I am glad Reed Hastings the CEO of Netflix captured it. I am not sure how much of it he has been able to implement in Netflix but even if they got to 50% of that it would be a great achievement. We started to implement this philosophy a while back in GreenQloud and I believe that Culture is your competitive advantage.

I have written a lot about what motivates people who are in the creative, innovative and cognitive type of work.  It is not difficult to see from a leadership or management or even an entrepreneur’s perspective, but it is just too hard to implement. If you are growing your team like we are doing in GreenQloud, it is important to think about these things. The worst blunders are done when the team scaling happens in a company, build a great culture and give the Freedom and Responsibility to your team and you never have to think about it until you get to the next stage of your cycle.

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