Posts tagged ‘Angel investor’

May 31, 2014

Jenny Lawton – Speaker Profile – Startup Iceland 2014

JennyLawton_Headshot-342x228

Startup Iceland Hackathon is today, we sold out all the tickets but everyone is welcome. If you are stuck in this rainy weather today in Reykjavik head over to Reykjavik University and see teams come together to make and build things.

Startup Iceland Conference is on June 2nd, we have over 270 participants. I think it is going to be an awesome event. What we have tried to do with Startup Iceland is provide a platform for Startups to showcase, connect, network and get mentoring with some key influencers, thought leaders and entrepreneurs. Jenny Lawton is one of those people, She has walked the proverbial mile as an Entrepreneur in High Tech and Retail, successfully transitioned from different roles, has networks and relationships in the Venture and Angel Investor communities through her association with Softbank and Mobius Ventures. She is available on a one-on-one mentor for any of the participants of Startup Iceland. Here is a brief profile of Jenny, I am really excited to meet her, get to know her and learn from her experience of being an Entrepreneur.

Jennifer Lawton is the president of MakerBot. She previously held the title of chief strategy officer.  Lawton has been with MakerBot since 2011 and has been responsible for the overall strategy and growth of the company, including strategic partnerships, product development, and retail.  In addition to her work with MakerBot, she is a respected company builder, technologist, and advocate for fostering entrepreneurship.

In 1991, Lawton co-founded Net Daemons Associates (NDA), an information technology consulting firm. With Lawton as CEO, NDA was recognized on the 1998Inc. 500 list of the fastest growing privately held U.S. companies, and on the Deloitte and Touche Fast 50 and Fast 500 lists for 1997 and 1998. In 1999, Net Daemons was acquired by Interliant Inc. (formerly Sage Networks), where Lawton served as a senior vice president. She later worked as an entrepreneur-in-residence with Softbank and Mobius Venture Capital.

In 2001, Lawton left the corporate world to become the owner of the independent bookstores Just Books and Just Books, Too, as well as Arcadia Café in Old Greenwich, Conn. After ten years running successful retail ventures, Jenny re-entered the business scene, serving as COO for Rockin’ Water and RAM Scientific, and SVP Operations for Mercury Solar Systems.

She is currently a board member of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership.

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April 9, 2014

Day 1 – CEO Bootcamp

The Flatirons rock formations, near Boulder, C...

The Flatirons rock formations, near Boulder, Colorado. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I started writing this post on the first day of the CEO Bootcamp, but the bootcamp was so intense on me personally that I could not sit down to write the rest of the program. I will do that in the coming days. This has been one of those life changing week and event.

I wanted to document and share the pre-work that I had to do as part of the Leadership/CEO bootcamp that I wrote about earlier. The camp has not yet started, I left Iceland on April 1st and reached Boulder around 10pm about 2am Iceland time and just did not have any energy to do anything. After a good 6 and half hour sleep, I got up at 4:45 am and did some work and did my 8km run and got some really nice Egg Benedict for breakfast. I was watching some of the videos that was our pre-work before the event. I have already shared some of them before, here is one that I thought was very relevant it is a bit long but totally worth it. I highly encourage all Entrepreneurs and Startup CEOs/Leaders to watch it, Jerry goes through a number of things that you are always afraid of asking.

In addition to the above video, here are a bunch of videos that I highly encourage all the Startup CEOs/Leaders to go through.

 

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October 10, 2013

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.

October 5, 2013

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!

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.

March 18, 2013

Startup Weekend Reykjavik

Startup Weekend Reykjavik happend this last weekend. I volunteered again as a mentor and it was a lot of fun.

Source: iceland.startupweekend.org

Source: iceland.startupweekend.org

This time around the organizing team at Innovit had brought an external facilitator from the UK, and I was also impressed that the organizing team nudged the participants to aggregate around ideas that actually had some meat in the bones. In the previous few Startup Weekend that I have participated in Iceland, the challenge has been that some of the team members were married to their idea but the idea did not have a big enough market or potential of becoming a business. Anyways, the teams that were working on the ideas this time had some programming resources with them and some designers. It was obvious as they could actually develop the websites and have some working apps within the 54 hours of the weekend. There were 13 teams presenting at the end of the day, I met with most of them and talked to all of them and I learnt a lot and I was tempted to write a check to a couple of the teams, but realized that it would be too soon and the teams were not ready for that. I intend to follow up with the teams to see how they are doing and who knows maybe I will invest :)

Here is the coverage of the event in Icelandic, It was great to see a lot more mentors participate in the event.

Source: MBL.is

Source: MBL.is

I think what is missing is if an Angel Investor would show up and write a check at the end of the Weekend to the winning team and get them started on the journey to becoming entrepreneurs. My intention is to be able to do that here and also in Startup Reykjavik. I think we are starting to see the green shoots of yearly activities showing up in Iceland which goes back to the strategy of building a startup community here in Iceland. In my opinion, we are on Year II on the journey to building an Antifragile Startup Ecosystem here in Iceland.

February 23, 2013

Startup Iceland 2013 – Platform to present your Startup

GreenQloud Booth – Career Day Reykjavik University

We had our planning meeting yesterday and Stefan suggested that we should have the startups from Iceland and around the world come and setup a booth during the Hackathon and UNConference event. We all thought that it would be a great idea so we are going to market and allow Startups from Iceland and all over to setup a booth space. This would be a perfect setting where more than 350 people who are interested in Startups, Entrepreneurship and Startup Communities will be present and a great audience to present one’s startup idea
pitch.

Remake Electric – UTMessan 2013

I have felt that it is a great way for people who are starting up to tell a story about their vision. The original idea was to give a 5 min slot to a handful of startups to present during the conference, which is too short a time and does not give enough depth to a startup and the audience will not have time to absorb why they should be interested in the company. So we are calling all startups to contact us by sending an email to booth at startupiceland dot com and reserve your space. This is a perfect opportunity to practice your pitch and who knows maybe you will find your angel investor. Let us know what you think of the idea as well.

January 14, 2013

Organizing Angel Capital

As we are starting the preparation for Startup Iceland 2013 (have you signed up and marked your calendar yet?), one of the elements of building startup ecosystem is to bring more investors into venture investing group. I think there are many avenues for Entrepreneurs to get started like Startup Weekend, Startup Reykjavik, Innovit Incubator and the University Startup Weekend class etc in Iceland, however, there is not a lot of activities that are centered around investors. I have been searching for  model that we could adopt here in Iceland and I finally found someone who is doing this in Seattle – John Sechrest. You can read about John here.

Seattle Angel Conference

The biggest challenge in Angel and Venture Investing is not RISK, there I have said it it is not about Risk it is about not being able to devote enough time for the amount of capital that one invests. Just to give you an example, a typical angel investor may invest from $10000 to $100000 per company and in order to really spread the investments one needs to take 3 to 5 companies. Given with Angel investing one needs to spend 6+ hours a week for every company, investors need to spend considerable amount of time for a small size of the investment. In addition, one cannot make a living doing this, again there I have said it. If you think you are going to make a living doing Angel Investing or Venture Investing, the truth hits you quite harshly across the face when you are starting out. The pay window if you are successful in Angel Investing or Venture Investing is nothing less than 5 years, you could get lucky but that is kind of the average and the returns are lumpy ie you don’t get a steady stream of returns but one or two lumpy payments if the companies you invest in gets an exit. So, why would someone go through all this pain to make a living… well, the same reason why an Entrepreneur goes through all the pain to start a company and build things of value. There is a reason it is called Angel Capital :)

Back to practical matters, John shared with me a template for a conference that he has organized in Seattle, called the Seattle Angel Conference. I think it is a sensible model that could work to bring new investor groups into the world of Angel investing and Venture investing. For everything we need a few good women and men, and John has assembled that group in Seattle. I have invited him to come and share his experience in Startup Iceland. The gist of Angel Conference is pretty simple:

  1. A group of Angel’s come together form a Limited Liability Company (LLC or ehf in Iceland)
  2. Each of the members commit capital ie $5000 each
  3. LLC Manager is elected
  4. 6 to 10 weeks of due diligence is conducted by the group that came together
  5. 5 to 10 companies are picked to pitch during the conference
  6. A subset of the companies are funded by the LLC and all members can participate as mentors or advisors to the companies that were picked

This is an incredible value for Angel investors, a seasoned group can guide new Angel investors into the world of venture investing. This model is very similar to the Mentorship driven accelerators that have become so successful. Of all the things that have been said and done, everyone can learn when we collaborate and work together. I am big believe that bringing diverse group of people together and throwing a challenge to them and providing the right incentive can facilitate solution to any problem. I think Iceland needs a better class of Investors, other than the posers! we need someone really committed to building the startup ecosystem. koma svo!
 

October 19, 2012

3 Ideas for a better Iceland

Original post was written for the Asbru Blog.

Idea #1: Invest in yourself and your local community

Source: Inspiration Monkey

I believe every Icelander can invest in their local community and in local entrepreneurs and in themselves. It takes very little to create an impact in a small community. I believe if 20 people get-together with ISK 2.000.000 each and invest in 5 entrepreneurial companies it can transform not only the entrepreneur but the investor as well. Investing is a lot of work, but that is the only way to grow value and wealth. I am not talking about investing in the Stock Market or Buying Government Bonds, which are perfectly acceptable methods to invest, but picking smaller companies and entrepreneurs in areas that each and everyone of us is familiar in and investing in them will transform Iceland. My partners and I did just that when we invested in Clara (http://clarahq.com), when I met with the founders they had a good idea and they were going places but lacked the mentoring and money to take their ideas to market. The business was in a field that I was very comfortable in (software, internet and computer systems), we decided to invest in the company. Today Clara is a 14 member team serving Gaming companies like Sony Online, CCP and many other companies. We achieved the team growth and value growth in about 2 years and my belief is that we could have done it faster if we had invested more money, the biggest challenge we faced was the lack of faith of Icelander in their own abilities and ideas. I think changing that would go a long way. I am not talking about some esoteric ideas, the concept of Angel Investor Networks and Angel Investing is starting to make a real impact all around the world.

Idea #2: Volunteer to be a mentor, helper or give something without expecting anything back
If you don’t have the capital to be an angel investor, you can volunteer to be a mentor or give something to the community to enable knowledge sharing or network sharing. I am not talking about charity, though charity and social work have a place in a society. I mean time and effort where you contribute something without expecting anything back. A mentor is that kind of a person, without spewing ideas but listening to a young entrepreneur or practitioner in your field of expertise. There are many avenues to do that Asbru Incubator, Klak, Innovit and more recently Startup Reykjavik provide the platform for everyone to participate and contribute to building a sustainable startup ecosystem.

Idea #3: Learn a new skill using a new technology
This idea comes back to the first idea, of investing in ourselves. Learning a new skill using the current or new technologies. The world of technology changes rapidly and there could be a point in time where everyone of us can be left behind if we don’t keep up. I would encourage everyone to take an hour a day to pick up one skill, whether it is blogging, tweeting or coding in HTML or reading about technology or learning how technology works. This is important not just for those in the technology field but for everyone. To quote my favorite mentor Brad Feld, “The machines have taken over, now they are patiently waiting to learn everything about us by asking us to input everything about ourselves into them”, don’t you think it is time we should learn how the machines work? not because any sinister agenda but just to be curious and asking questions.

My dream is that in 10 years we have a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem in Iceland that provides sufficient resources for anyone to start fresh, create value and make a living. I think Entrepreneurship is life, one of my favorite blogs is written by Jerry Colona, I could not have said this better so I am quoting Jerry:

“Those who seek to create their own startup do so more often out of the desires for freedom, dignity, validation and, ultimately, self-actualization (in the full Maslow-vian sense) than for riches. (Indeed, those who seek riches most often fail.) For them, and despite what most politicians and government officials blather on about, it’s not about jobs. It’s about life.”

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