Archive for February, 2014

February 28, 2014

Price is what you pay, Value is what you get

President Barack Obama and Warren Buffett in t...

President Barack Obama and Warren Buffett in the Oval Office, July 14, 2010. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This blog post inspired by the article written by Warren Buffett in the Fortune Magazine, it is an excerpt from Warren Buffett‘s Annual Letter to his shareholders. I have read most of the Annual letters, but there are things that stick with you, like the title of the post. Price is what you pay and Value is what you get. So many of us miss this simple advice because we start chasing the next shiny object. I have learnt that patience, discipline and conviction are always rewarded as long as they are grounded by the right principles. I see people make rash decisions because the pain becomes acute and they just want to give up on a Mission. Even more damaging is the notion of just the change from the current scenario to another will some how solve the underlying problem. As I wrote yesterday all of us make mistakes, but the smart ones learn from it by introspection and by getting feedback. One of the biggest challenges that I have seen working with different cultures is that the notion of getting and giving feedback is dramatically different in Iceland compared to say the US or in Sweden or for that matter in Norway and Luxembourg. Every culture has a different way of looking at things. I have heard leaders talk about the teams that they work with complete lack of trust. I have learnt with many examples in my life that if you want to be trusted you need to be trustworthy. If you want respect from your team you need to show respect. The simple maxim is that what you give to the Universe it usually returns back with dividends. In the heat of the battle or stress or the pressures of the situation we forget the Prices we pay for the Values we get. It can be negative or positive value but a price we must pay. It does not matter whether it is an investment decision or a relationship decision it is always a the same paradigm. Price is what you pay for the value you get. Relationship are more than transactions… they are investments, you need to give it time and effort. When we treat Relationships like transactions they end badly. I have seen it happen so many times. The situations that end badly are always because the parties involved had not paid the price.

I love the post by Brad about TDC (Thinly Disguised Contempt), I have seen it happen in teams. As Brad says it

TDC is bad. TDC is toxic. It lingers. It spills out over everything. Your friends and colleagues notice, but don’t really understand, as you send them mixed signals. TDC is dangerous – it gets inside, around, and all over everything.

Be blunt. If you don’t like something, say it. If someone does something stupid, say it. If stuff needs to change, say it.

Stomp out TDC.

When you mix culture into this, it is a difficult balance. I have learnt through experience a lot of people are not ready to receive blunt feedback… it hurts, but as a leader you just need to do it. They may hate you for it at that time but it is the best value you give them for the price of being intellectually honest. Here is an intellectually honest answer by Steve Jobs on working with a collaborative team at Apple.

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February 27, 2014

Giving up is the greatest failure

Photo by Natalie Behring (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Entrepreneurship is life and life is entrepreneurship. I have been thinking long and hard about what is the one quality that I really admire with all the Entrepreneurs that I work with. And I always come back to Tenacity… despite all odds, they trudge another day and live to tell the tale. I am really inspired by that attribute. I was reading an article about Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba Group in China and there were some quotes in that article from Jack Ma…

Jack Ma: The 4 main questions the young generation must ponder on

What is failure: Giving up is the greatest failure.

What is resilience: Once you have been through hardships, grievances and disappointments, only then will you understand what is resilience.

What your duties are: To be more diligent, hardworking, and ambitious than others.

Only fools use their mouth to speak. A smart man uses his brain, and a wise man uses his heart.

The first one really stuck with me hence the title of the blog post. Life and Entrepreneurship throws a number of curve balls at you, the best you can do is ask “Is that the best you got?” and keep moving forward. Most times you get bruised, some times you are on your knees and other times you get lucky and it misses you. The more life experiences one goes through one gets more antifragile i.e you get stronger because of the event if you have the right attitude. Here are some thoughts on Entrepreneurship from Jack:

Jack Ma’s advice to entrepreneurs

  1. The opportunities that everyone cannot see are the real opportunities.
  2. Always let your employees come to work with a smile.
  3. Customers should be number 1, Employees number 2, and then only your Shareholders come at number 3.
  4. Adopt and change before any major trends or changes.
  5. Forget the money; Forget about earning money.
  6. Rather than having small smart tricks to get by, focus on holding on and persevering.
  7. Your attitude determines your altitude.

Jack Ma on entrepreneurship

  1. A great opportunity is often hard to be explained clearly; things that can be explained clearly are often not the best opportunities.
  2. You should find someone who has complementary skills to start a company with. You shouldn’t necessarily look for someone successful. Find the right people, not the best people.
  3. The most unreliable thing in this world is human relationships.
  4. “Free” is the most expensive word.
  5. Today is cruel, tomorrow will be worse, but the day after tomorrow will be beautiful.

I struggle with all the challenges every Entrepreneur goes through every day. It is a struggle and it never gets easier. A wise mentor of mine advised me to handle life gracefully and learn from every event  and the attitude to learn from events is a powerful one. I hope we are all learning everyday and better ourselves in the process and maybe, maybe make the world a better place along the way.

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February 25, 2014

Internet trends

Mobile Traffic as % of Global Internet TrafficMary Meeker of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers has been putting out a presentation titled “Internet Trends” for quite some time now. It is a clear articulation of the trends we see year over year. In addition to that she also has written a number of Internet related research reports since the early days of 1995. So, she kind of knows what is going on in this space as she has been looking at it from its infancy. Here are a slide from that slide show which was made mid last year and I am sure she will come out with a new one this year probably in May. What I find fascinating and should not come as a surprise to anyone is the transformation that we are seeing in the Mobile Internet and there is so much more growth possible. In addition, this Mobile revolution is accelerating a number of Technological Cycles. Typical cycles used to take 10 years, however with the proliferation of connected devices the Network effects is creating a hyper loop of feedback on growth and monetization.Screen Shot 2014-02-25 at 09.24.50 There has been a lot of discussion around Facebook‘s acquisition of WhatsApp for $19 Billion. I am not as smart as Mark Zuckerberg or his Board of Directors or his leadership team but I understand it. I understand the reasoning behind it and maybe only time will tell. Another one of the presentation that gives more insights to the growth in the Mobile Internet is the talk given by Ben Evans, the first slide shows the number of mobile devices shipped vs PC and the second one shows the Revenue in $billion, it is quite obvious that the mother load is being made by the mobile phone carriers. There is a Winner take all attribute that is starting to show in obvious patterns. I would not be exaggerating if I said that the future is going mobile… well actually, Ben Evans already said it.Screen Shot 2014-02-25 at 09.03.28

Screen Shot 2014-02-25 at 09.04.38

The implication of this is that how soon or what is your strategy around mobile? If you don’t have one, you better start thinking fast as it is going to be what determines if you are going to be in the tail or not.

Here is the whole presentation by Mary Meeker

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February 23, 2014

Wearing armor to meetings

The Mark III armor as featured in the 2008 fil...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was reading the recent blog post by Brad Feld titled “Bow In, Bow Out” about a tradition that Matthew Bellows, the CEO of Yesware has established in their meetings. I believe in rituals and tradition and practices, they create habits. I respect them a lot more now as I am older than I did when I was younger. One of the statements resonated with me strongly about how Brad and his partners have managed to develop and sustain the deep personal and professional relationship, even with all the stress and conflict inherent in the venture business and his response to the question of how they have been able to do this…

I said that one of our deeply held beliefs is that we “never wear our armor to a meeting.” We call this being intellectually honest and emotional pure with each other. And it’s another example of linking respect with a scalable tradition – we never want to wear our armor in any of our interactions with each other.

I always walk into meeting with this mindset but how many times have I been burned, hurt and bruised because of me not walking into a meeting with my armour? Just too many times to keep count. What is one suppose to do? I think the right thing to do is to continue being open, emotionally pure and intellectually honest. When you are dealing with a conflict situation, it is expected that the other party brings the Armor and all their arsenal, do you have the courage to walk in unarmed? This phenomena is not just with conflicts, it is with colleagues, co-workers and friends, they wear their armours to a meeting you need to have the courage to walk in without one. I believe very strongly that this is a right Principle, you may not always get the right result but atleast you walk away knowing that you did the right thing.

This comes back to one of my deeply held beliefs of Win-Win, in order to have a win-win result you don’t need both parties to believe in that philosophy, just one of the party.

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February 21, 2014

Startup Iceland 2014 – Get your early bird tickets now

English: Bre Pettis at the 26th Chaos Communic...

You can get your Early Bird Tickets here… there are only 50 Students tickets so get your seats before they are all gone. We are getting the website and other logistics ready for Startup Iceland 2014. As I wrote before the theme this year is the same Building Antifragile Startup Ecosystems, with a twist – with the advent of Wearable computing, 3D printing, Self driving cars and every other disruption how do we continue to create an environment that embraces change is conducive and supportive for anyone to start a new venture.

Jenny LawtonWe have confirmation from the following speakers and mentors:

1. Bre Pettis – Founder of MakerBot

2. Jenny Lawton – President MakerBot

3. Liad AgmonEntrepreneur in Residence Bessemer Venture Partners


4. John Biggs – Technical Editor TechCrunch

5. Thor Fridriksson – Founder & CEO, Plain Vanilla Games maker of QuizUp

6. Ben Kepes – Forbes Contributor, Technology Evangelist

7. Paul Miller – Cloud of Data, Technology Evangelist

We plan to have some exciting new Founders and CEOs from Iceland present as well… Startup Iceland is the yearly event that brings the world of Startups and Entrepreneurs together in Iceland to discuss, share, learn and connect with everything Entrepreneurial. We are very excited about the level of interest we are getting from people wanting to participate in the event from outside of Iceland. The biggest problem is blocking Hotels in Iceland which is totally different conversation. watch this space for updates.Image representing John Biggs as depicted in C...

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February 20, 2014

Tinkering with the Business Model

Last evening we had Einar Gunnar Gudmundsson from Arion Bank speak at my Rotary Club, I have been a Rotarian for the past 7 years if you did not know. I have also been the President, Secretary and Treasurer of our club. Einar has been leading the effort to create Mentorship driven accelerators in Iceland, Einar is an entrepreneur himself and really understands the Entrepreneurial journey. I am very happy to say that we have 2 now in Iceland Startup Reykjavik established in 2012 and this year Startup Energy Reykjavik. It was an interesting talk about the journey to establish the accelerators, the process and the background why it was started.picture_business_model_canvas

A number of the Rotary Club members are owners of business but some are professionals in various fields. The questions that they were asking was very interesting, for example they really were amazed that a team could build something of value in 10 weeks, which is the length of time the accelerator runs. In addition to that they were surprised that there is no Business Plan development, and they really did not understand the notion of Tinkering with the Business Model.

Einar and I (given I am mentor in both these accelerators) were explaining to the group that when an Entrepreneur starts her journey, the path usually never clear so she needs to tinker her business model with customers. The Rotary members were also very surprised that the teams just did not spend a lot of time building the product or service. I have realised that the mainstream has so little knowledge of what an Entrepreneur does. Tinkering with all elements of the Business Model is what Entrepreneurs and Startup Founders do until you find the Product to Market fit, then you focus on building the product that is world class and they you scale the business and then you focus on efficiency of running the business. There is no change in this sequence. It is a business principle.

I like the statement that I usually make to those who have never built a business or gone through an accelerator or know anything about a Startup, a Startup is not a small form of a big company, it is an experiment, the entrepreneur has a number of hypothesis about the business model, customer segment, product features and delivery models but all these hypotheses have to be tested. The quicker you can isolate the pass/fail conditions for these hypothesis the better are the odds of continuing the startup idea forward. Doing this in an environment that has Mentors who have experienced this before and are able and willing to help the entrepreneur is a critical infrastructure need for any startup ecosystem.

The next set of question are common, does Iceland have enough ideas or deal flow etc Einar shared some of the data there were almost 73 applications for 7 slots for Startup Energy Reykjavik Accelerator and 253 for 10 slots in Startup Reykjavik this year. I have written about the Entrepreneurial Density before, I have seen it personally there is enough and more people in Iceland who want to take charge of their own careers and run their own businesses given the right environment, support, mentoring and funding.

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February 19, 2014

Servant Leader



I have been deeply influenced by the work of Dr.Stephen Covey and Dr.Scott Peck. There is one common theme that both of them refer to about leadership and that is the philosophy and model of a Servant Leader. The philosophy of Servant Leader is timeless going all the way to the early writings of Chanakya in 4th Century BC in his book Arthashastra:

“the king [leader] shall consider as good, not what pleases himself but what pleases his subjects [followers]” “the king [leader] is a paid servant and enjoys the resources of the state together with the people.”

I try very hard everyday to live by this model. I believe life is short and we should not waste it being self centred. We need to find a vision, mission and team that we should serve. I had written about how I had made it my mission to help Entrepreneurs and Startup Founders. Becoming a servant to the Mission, the Team and the cause is hard work. The individual is required to subordinate the personal ego needs to put the mission and cause before it is easier said than done. How do we inspire ourselves to graciously step up to the need of the hour? What makes one step above and beyond their personal needs to do what is right? I think we all need to ponder that. I believe aligning oneself to leadership philosophies like Servant Leadership is the right way to approach being a leader of a team or a cause. By no means I have mastered or even close to understanding this, it is never a goal it is the journey and the experiences during that journey that matters.  I believe everyone can be a Servant Leader, but the choice to be one has to come from the inside. I have written again about how Leadership is a choice and not a position. No one appointed Mahatma Gandhi as the leader of India Freedom Movement or Martin Luther King as the leader of the African-American Civil Rights Movement or every other leader that I have written about. No-one else is in Control You are…

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February 17, 2014

Leadership Lesson # 3 – Aspiring to be a Level 5 Leader

English: Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth Presid...

English: Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth President of the United States.(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have written about the book Good to Great by Jim Collins, it is one of those books that profoundly changed my perspective on how to build teams and companies. One of the key items that Jim Collins and his team talk about in the book is the presence of a Level 5 leadership in every company that went from just being Good to Great and accelerated their growth trajectory and left the competition in the dust. So what does it mean to be a Level 5 Leader you ask? Well, one thing that always stick to my mind when I think about the Level 5 leader is, when there are problems or issues in the team or company the Level 5 leader always looked into the mirror to see what she should do differently or work on herself to solve the issue. On the other hand when the team was winning and really starting to see success, the Level 5 leader always looked out of the window to the team and always gave all the accolades to the team. I think this is a very important quality of a servant leaders.

It is difficult to be a Level 5 leader, let me give you some excerpts from the book to highlight how a Level 5 acts.

Humility + Will = Level 5

Level 5 leaders are a study in duality: modest and willful, shy and fearless. To grasp this concept, consider Abraham Lincoln, who never let his ego get in the way of his ambition to create an enduring great nation. Author Henry Adams called him “a quiet, peaceful, shy figure.” But those who thought Lincoln’s understated manner signaled weakness in the man found themselves terribly mistaken — to the scale of 250,000 Confederate and 360,000 Union lives, including Lincoln’s own.

It might be a stretch to compare the 11 Level 5 CEOs in our research to Lincoln, but they did display the same kind of duality. Take Colman M. Mockler, CEO of Gillette from 1975 to 1991. Mockler, who faced down three takeover attempts, was a reserved, gracious man with a gentle, almost patrician manner. Despite epic battles with raiders — he took on Ronald Perelman twice and the former Coniston Partners once — he never lost his shy, courteous style. At the height of the crisis, he maintained a calm business-as-usual demeanor, dispensing first with ongoing business before turning to the takeover.

And yet, those who mistook Mockler’s outward modesty as a sign of inner weakness were beaten in the end. In one proxy battle, Mockler and other senior executives called thousands of investors, one by one, to win their votes. Mockler simply would not give in. He chose to fight for the future greatness of Gillette even though he could have pocketed millions by flipping his stock.

Leadership lesson 3 is to aspire to become a Level 5 leader. I aspire everyday for this. The critical thing is humility and always building and putting the team ahead of your personal victories. Every Level 5 leader in the Good to Great companies had built such a great executive team that there was no dearth of leadership when the Level 5 leader left the organization. That is the best legacy that any leader can build, make yourself dispensable by empowering the team to make tough decisions and lead each other.

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February 14, 2014

Leadership – Lesson 2 – Its always about people and relationships

Deutsch: Portrait von Rear Admiral William H. ...

Admiral William H. McRaven, USN, Commander of US Special Operations Command Europe (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was reading an article in Inc. about 7 Leadership Rules from the SEALS commander and noticed that it was based on a talk given by Admiral William McRaven to the West Point Class. There were a number of valuable insights in the talk. The most important one that resonated with me was the following piece

Nothing–nothing–is more daunting, more frustrating, more complex, than trying to lead men and women in tough times. Those officers that do it well earn your respect, because doing it poorly is commonplace.

When everything is going well, the truth about relationships or challenges or conflicts do not surface, it is when the pressure mounts and things start to break that the true nature of relationships and people really show up. It is easy being a peace time leader but being a war time leader is the ultimate challenge. Every entrepreneur goes through this at one or several points in the development of the business. What helps is to invest time with the team, learn everything about every team member and be there and build relationships with each and every one of your team. If you don’t build those relationships, the level of trust needed to work through tough times will not be built.

I see it time and time again, companies loose sense of what is it they are in the business of doing the minute they start seeing success. The leadership in those companies forget that it is the team and every member of the team that makes the overall company function.

The other point that made a lot of sense to me was the topic of expecting the best from your team

Taking care of soldiers is not about coddling them, It is about challenging them–establishing a standard of excellence and holding them accountable for reaching it….You had better be up to the task, because I have learned that they expect you to be good….[They] expect you to hold them to high standards.

Setting goals and achieving goals is one of the fundamental aspects of building anything, I find it so strange that many of the startup founders and managers just go through their day to day with no goal, no purpose and no ambition. Being a leader is about expecting world class performance from your team, but as you leader you need to hold yourself to the same high standard.

The last but not the least, point that really struck to the core with me was the aspect of taking risk

The greatest risk is not on the battlefield but in standing up for what’s right, The truly great officers know that real victory is achieved when men and women of character take professional risks and challenge the weak-kneed, the faint of heart, the indecisive, or the bullies.

The minute you start building a team and creating a strategy to execute and scale your company, all the politics, whispers and game playing starts in the company. There is nothing more caustic than letting this cancer spread within the team. Empower your team to stand up for what is right, give them the mandate to take professional risk to challenge when the wrong thing is done.

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February 13, 2014

Leadership – Lesson 1- Vision

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Every leadership initiative starts with a Vision, “I have a Dream!” speech by Dr.Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela‘s Vision for South Africa built on equality and reconciliation or Mahatma Gandhi‘s Vision for Free, Democratic and Self Governed India are the quintessential examples. I believe strongly that everyone… I mean everyone, starting from a child to the President of Great Nations need to live by a vision. When the vision becomes clear leadership emanates from it. I don’t believe everyone starts with knowing the path, however having a vision is paramount. I will bring it to the context of Entrepreneurship and Startups. I meet a lot of entrepreneurs as part of the Startup Program that we launched in GreenQloud and because of the work that I have been doing in Startup Iceland. One of the biggest challenges that I pose to the Entrepreneurs is asking the WHY question. Why do they feel whatever it is that they are building is worth anyone’s time? What is the vision behind the effort? Without taking any names I would like to give an example, a very talented individual, excellent at selling and had a very successful career in Media and now wants to do a Startup. He has a very talented partner who is technical and the team behind them is quite good in Mobile Application Development. They had built a framework that allows media or telecom companies to deliver content to the Mobile Device. Not an easy thing to do. However, every time they request a meeting with me it ends up in a discussion where I am challenging their vision. Here is a classic case of a Solution trying to find a problem. One day it is a solution to the Media companies the other day it helps restaurants owners and what not. I believe this is the wrong way to build a Startup. The team is extremely talented and they are able to make ends meet due to their development experience and there are always more Professional Services need for new technology development like the Mobile Platform or HTML5 or whatever else technology that is going to come up in the future.

Entrepreneurs are leaders whether you like it or not, starting anything takes Vision, Discipline and Strategy. I also wrote about just having the Vision is not enough but you absolutely need to have one, otherwise there is no purpose. One of the popular posts that I wrote was titled “My Vision for Iceland“, it got one of the best viewings.

To summarise, Leadership lesson #1 is to Have a Vision, Create a Vision, focus on a Vision.

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