May 16, 2013
The cereal box sold by Team AirBnB to raise money to fund the company
You can really pass on a great deal based on how you think. Here is a great post by Fred Wilson with the title “You can do too much Due Diligence“, it is a classic case of mea culpa and analysis paralysis. I really admire Fred for coming out and admitting his mistakes, he did that with AirBnB as well. In the last couple of weeks, there have been many people who have reached out to me and do the same about CLARA. As I have mentioned before, we were very lucky to find Team CLARA and the work that we were able to do get the deal done. That being said, I am sure if me and my partners had put on the hat of figuring out what could go wrong with our investment and done too much due diligence we may have passed on the deal. Here is an excerpt from Fred’s post:
So what did I learn from this lesson? First, trust your gut. I was using Feedburner and knew it was a very useful service. I felt that others would see that too. They did, but it took some time. Second, I learned that a service can get traction with the little guys and in time, the big guys will come along. I have seen that happen quite a bit since then. And finally, I learned that you can do too much due diligence. It’s important to talk to the market and hear what it is saying. But you have to balance that with other things; the quality of the team, the product, the user experience, etc. You cannot rely alone on due diligence, particularly early on in the development of a company and a market.
I can relate to what Fred is talking about, I have really had to change my thinking to trust my gut. Our understanding of the world is very limited, we fool ourselves into talking and thinking ourselves into not following our heart or our gut. These tools have been given to us through the ages, over millennia of evolution. I surprise myself how we use our epistemological arrogance to suppress our primal instincts… there are times we need to do that, but not when it comes to investing in people or ventures. You need to take chance and work to mitigate the risk. All things are risky but the tricky part is no-one knows what is risky … that being said I would not do what Tom Hanks and Shelley Long did either :)
May 12, 2013
I 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.
May 9, 2013
New Zealand 1
Patent Trolls 0
In the world of bits and bytes, the above score means a lot. If you have been following my chain of thought, I believe Software is going to run everything we use. I have written about it before, the biggest hurdle in the exciting development is a cog in the wheel called the Patent Trolls ie. companies setup to just acquire the patent rights and basically bulldoze startups or any company trying to innovate by seeking high patent infringement fees. No-one is immune to this problem. If you want to understand how this whole software patent things has become convoluted and how to solve it read the post by Nick Grossman from Union Square Ventures. Brad Feld, Jason Mendelson, Brad Burnham and Fred Wilson have been writing (here, here and here), educating and lobbying for a better way to address this challenge. However, I think New Zealand has shown the way by completely abolishing Software Patents, in my opinion we need something as bold as that in Iceland. I don’t believe Software Patents work. In addition, since the patent process is so structured anyone with enough money and backing could define a problem and a possible solutions and patent it thereby prevent/block anyone else to approach or address the problem. This is silly. I think we need common sense to define laws and not allow laws to trump common sense. IMHO, Software Patents are for loosers! there you go I said it. I have worked in the software business long enough to say that there is nothing patentable in Software, it is like me patenting my thinking what good is that if we cannot create something of value that solves a real world problem? There are many ways to solve a problem using software and I think it behooves us as a community to allow anyone to solve it better and allow the consumers to vote with their feet. Look what happens with Software Patent troll:
May 8, 2013
Brad Burnham has been a big supporter of Iceland. He has invested quite a bit of time, influence and effort to push the idea of the Freedom to Innovate and Internet Enterprise Zone in Iceland. There have been many channels of talks, efforts to initiate projects and gather support through a research and development approach. Brad has also been providing a lot of leadership to policy makers on how to look at the internet. Union Square Ventures, which was founded by Brad Burnham and Fred Wilson, is a venture capital firm based in New York City. They are a small collegial partnership that manage $450,000,000 across three funds. Their portfolio companies create services that have the potential to fundamentally transform important markets. They can work with an entrepreneur whether she needs $250,000 to test an idea, or $25,000,000 to buy an undervalued asset. They invest in New York, San Francisco, London, or Berlin and most places in between. Here is Brad talking to RUV last year when he was participating in Startup Iceland 2012.
Here is Brad talking about how Policy matter for Innovation. I am extremely excited to see the developments in Iceland, maybe Iceland call pull it off but I am more excited to see that Brad is still committed to Iceland and has agreed to come back and talk about the Freedom to Innovate. I think everyone is Iceland is going to win big if Iceland become the leader is coming up with policies that foster innovation. We are very fortunate to have access to someone who has been looking at this since for a long time and he believes Iceland is a key player in this transformation.
April 21, 2013
English: Amanda Palmer Live 2008 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I watched the High Schools participate in the Song contest in Iceland last night and I was very inspired to see the talent here in Iceland in the performing arts and through my random video watches I started bumping into a number of videos that I think sum the challenges we face with regard to laws and how it chokes creativity. I want to draw attention to the talk by Larry Lessig below, the main idea around it is Artists choose and I wanted to follow up that video by another one by Amand Palmer who has implemented the strategy suggested by Larry… and I am of the opinion, Iceland can really play an important role this challenge. Check out the Internet Policy Institute setup in Iceland.
Here is a talk by Amanda Palmer on how to fix the challenge of rights to artists:
Brad Burnham, the Managing Partner at Union Square Ventures is participating in Startup Iceland Conference 2013 to talk about these policy challenges and how it can really influence the Startup Community in Iceland. If you have not booked your tickets to the conference this is the time to do it, don’t wait till the last minute because we will sell these seats very fast. We have some fantastic speakers coming to Iceland to talk about Startup Communities. If you are a startup, you can have your booth in the conference, send us a note through an email booth at startupiceland.com
January 1, 2013
Picture taken in Reykjavik by me
2012 was eventful. The Startup Community in Iceland is starting to thrive, we are seeing green shoots everywhere. More optimism, courage and eagerness to start and build things of value. I have been quite off-line from the blog-sphere due to my current role of building a new company. It has been a very interesting last 6 months. However, Startup Iceland is live and kicking. We will organize a bunch of events starting with the Startup Iceland 2013 – A Conference on Building Antifragile Startup Ecosystems in the first week of June, more specifically June 1,2,3 and 4th. I have adopted the word Antifragility thanks to Nicholas Nassim Taleb. I have written a lot about his work and I do believe his latest book on Antifragility is his best compilation yet. This years conference is going to be a 4 day event. We will have a hackathon, an Unconference Event and a TEDx like format day of talks and lectures. The website is under development and should be launched soon. All the details, how to sign up etc will be shared through the website. I am really excited to start the new year with so much momentum based on the work the community here in Iceland has done the last year. If we look back, here are all the Startup Related Events that happened in Iceland in 2012.
- Startup Weekend – more than 10 startup weekends were organized by Innovit with sponsorship from Landsbanki
- Grass root book club and entrepreneurship discussions organized through Hugmyndaráðuneytið - Lean Startup was the book we discussed. I blogged about it most of the meetups.
- Startup Iceland 2012 – Conference that brought Brad Feld, Brad Burnham, Ted Zoller and many other entrepreneurs from around the world to Iceland. Here is a summary of the event. If you missed the event here are the videos.
- Startup Reykjavik 2012 – First mentorship based accelerator launched in Iceland and the first class graduated
- Seed Forum – has been happening in Iceland for quite sometime but the level of participation and the quality of speakers and investors took a turn for the better this year.
I believe through this blog I have documented all the major things that have happened in Iceland the past year. I will continue to do that in the coming year. There are very few thoughts that fundamentally change how you view the world and this year, my focus in on Antifragility i.e how we can become stronger by having an affinity towards the random, uncertain events. I believe that is the world we live in and I have embraced it. There are a few principles that I want to live by and Brad Feld wrote a very interesting post on LinkedIn about it “Give before you get“, I have always lived by this philosophy and I will continue to do more in the coming year. Startup Iceland is built with that principle. There is no transaction involved in all the effort that I have and a number of other volunteers put in to building this ecosystem in Iceland. It is a testament to the power of Giving.
November 8, 2012
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I had a bit of a disagreement with Fred Wilson, who is one of my virtual mentors through his blog avc.com. But I think Fred is wrong on this argument. I stand by what Fred wrote in his posts Tolerance and Prosperity and Immigration Reform. I strongly believe we have a number of monsters that run in our heads. We are all xenophobic and neophobic, but we need to rise above that if we are to build a better global community. Even Fred, who lives in New York which is suppose to be the melting pot of the world and a Venture Capitalist, took a stab at “Jobs being shipped to India” stance. It pains me to see this argument. Why do we as human beings always want easy solutions that are not resilient or sustainable? The easiest thing to do is close the borders of every country and make everything behind the closed walls, that way we can create jobs, wealth and what not within the Walled Garden… but is that the world we want to live in? I lived in that world and believe me it was not that much fun. India was a closed economy until about 1991 when the country was broke and had to open its economy to get life blood. We had 2 choices for cars, toothpaste, soaps and chocolates… everything.
I am not saying that having limited choice is bad but I am saying we can do better. Closed systems don’t work, they work for a time but they fail miserably on the long run. I think most Politicians like this closed system because it gives an illusion of control, jobs are created because we have limited demand of jobs and better than limited supply for jobs, so wages become high, we may more in tax et cetra et cetra. The problem with this notion is that it leads to sub-optimal or inefficient results. Closed systems maybe needed when there are huge structural challenges like a War or Technological gap (i.e some companies have superior technology or know how that would squash local business etc), but I believe we are passed that phase and it has been made possible by the Internet. However the old school thinking is actually putting cogs on the wheel of Freedom to Innovate. Brad Burnham, who is the partner of Fred Wilson wrote an excellent piece on his blog with the title “Freedom to Innovate“.
I think the leadership of the 21st century is going to be defined by countries and companies that are driven by leadership that subscribe to the age of Wisdom, as Late Dr.Steven Covey describes in his book The 8th Habit. I want to write against this foolish notion that we need to seek out for a Job, everyone of us is a Job Creator. Lets take the example of a startup, and the entrepreneur who started the venture has created something of value and in order to service those customers who want to utilize the value the startup has to create jobs and when you are in a closed system it leads to people fighting for the same resource and drive up the cost of the value creation thereby making the venture uneconomical and ultimately it fails. This is what I see today in Iceland, everyone that I talk to says that it is hard to find people with skills in Web Design or Programming or Software Development or whatever. I have never found that to be a problem, do you know why? because I take chances with people… I don’t have to have every skills checkbox filled to hire someone because I am totally ok with getting someone on board who has some basic skills and then train them on the job. It has worked very well for all the companies that I have worked for where I had the responsibility to build a team. I found the same attitude in GreenQloud, the company had hired students from Germany, Colombia and Argentina through a program called AIESEC and their Icelandic Chapter. I had a chance to meet Armina Ilea, VP Corporate Development of AIESEC, Iceland and I was surprised to hear that Icelandic startups or companies were not taking advantage of this wonderful program. I plan to use this program to get people from all over the world to come to Iceland as interns work with us and if we are able to make the experience mutually beneficial then they stay back in Iceland and become part of the team. I know a lot of people including Fred Wilson and Brad Feld have lobbied very hard to make it easy for Entrepreneurs and Skilled workers to get Visas to the US. I don’t know why every country does not embrace this philosophy? Yes, I am foolishly optimistic person but I never give up on people because when I don’t they surprise me and go above and beyond what is expected of them. Lets build more tolerance and inclusion and in my humble opinion it will lead to Prosperity not just for those creating the jobs but to everyone in the Ecosystem.
July 7, 2012
Brad Feld is working on 4 books this summer, he has structured his new blog based on those themes. I think he is spot on in identifying the themes that are relevant to the startup ecosystem around the world. The themes are:
- Startup Communities
- Startup Life
- Startup Boards
- Startup Metrics
I am looking forward to getting to read all those book. I think there is a revolution starting to happen around the world, some places more so than others. I think the global socio-economic shifts are starting to influence how communities structure themselves and find purpose. There is a struggle starting to happen, Brad Burnham wrote about the Freedom to Innovate, a paragraph in that succinctly describes what I mean by the socio-economic shifts:
For the last 130 years the economy has been dominated by firms structured as bureaucratic hierarchies. That model worked well to mass produce products for mass consumption, but the inefficiency of communicating customer needs up through the hierarchy and management decisions back down, and the natural tendency of any organization to protect its current organization structure makes it difficult if not impossible for bureaucratic hierarchies to innovate as quickly as the emerging network-based model of decentralized innovation.
The above shift is happening whether one likes it or not, Brad Feld‘s work on defining a structured approach to build communities, companies and markets is in my perspective a good roadmap or guide to counter this shift. I think Iceland is a great experiment in this change, there was no other country that was harder hit than Iceland due to the 2008 Financial Collapse. It would be interesting to see how Iceland is responding to the shift, we have started on an interesting path with Startup Iceland, Startup Reykjavik and a Number of Startups being formed in Iceland and Infrastructure being aligned to help startups. I think it is a good start and only time will tell if this experiment is going to give the right results but so far I like the path.
June 21, 2012
Union Square Ventures just announced their investment in Duolingo.com. The company founder Luis Von Ahn is so smart and has a track record of really creating valuable solutions on the time people spending doing boring tasks on the internet. As Brad Feld says, the machines have taken over, they are just making us enter information about ourselves into them, they are being patient and eventually the machines will run the asylum. Luis invented CAPTCHA and re CAPTCHA two technologies on the internet that everyone who is reading this blog had to do many times while signing up for service or posting a link to Facebook or Google or Twitter or any of the Web Services that we use to let the machines know that we are human. What we all probably did not know is that this “data entry” is used to digitize all the books in the world! How cool is that? Here is the TED talk that Luis gave which explains how they did this, more importantly he explains subtly WHY he did this.
I believe this is incredibly smart investment by USV. The next frontier is language and sound, I have written about my investment thesis around sound and voice. The biggest problem we have with language is that machines don’t understand the semantics of translations and Luis is solving that using powerful motivators and incentives on the internet, the need of people to want to learn another language and making that affordable (read FREE) to everyone on the internet. Luis is nothing if not ambitious, but I have a feeling that he will be successful in translating the entire web. If you always wanted to learn another language and did not want to spend $500 to do it, Duolingo.com is the place to do it and BTW, you will be helping in translating the web which is 50% in english into a language that you are learning.
To Brad Burnham and the rest of the partners in USV, Congratulations! this ones a winner and keeper! you are really showing why USV is the top VC firm in the world.
June 20, 2012
Startup Iceland Channel in Vimeo has been created thanks to the Innovation Center of Iceland which sponsored the whole video shoot and the channel. It is a great archive of talks related to Entrepreneurship, Startups and Building an Ecosystem. For those who could not make it to the conference this is an awesome replay of the events, although we cannot re-create the positive energy that we felt in the Andrews Theater on that day, the knowledge and experience that was shared on that day is now freely available for anyone to absorb. Please feel free to share the content to your networks. I am very proud of the team that worked on this conference. I have catalogued as much of the journey as I can on this blog. It has been one heck of an experience and I cannot wait to start putting the team, the program and the list of speakers together for the next year, so watch out for the blog posts and the emails that I will be sending out shortly. If you have any feedback or comments please post them on the blog post or contact me and I will be more than happy to respond.