Blendin – A Startup Profile

BlendinThis the second startup profile for 2014. Blendin in a Mobile first private social network, mainly to enable your smaller circle of friends to socialize, meetup and share. I can see how this could be valuable for a younger generation which pretty much want to hang out with their group of friends and they don’t want their Moms and Dads watching what they are doing. Facebook was suppose to be that but then it became popular with everyone, a big reason why many of the younger generation users have moved over to Instagram and the like. I believe this trend will continue, so there is a space for Blendin.

I met Kristjan Ingi the CTO of Blendin when he sent me a unsolicited message on Facebook letting me know about this website that he had created called apis.is, he had taken all the public data that was available in Iceland and had created an Open API on it. He wanted to participate in the GreenQloud Hackathon by sharing his website and contributing his API so the participating teams could build something using the API. I asked him to show up and he did, I was surprised that he was still in high school and was tall and lanky. He was extremely talented and he followed up with participating in the UT Messan Hackathon last year once again hosted by GreenQloud and he won the hackathon. I immediately asked him if he would join Team GreenQloud and he did. He was just brilliant in everything that was going on in us scaling GreenQloud. 3 months into the role, he reached out to me and said that he wanted to go do his own startup! My first reaction was WHAT? you are 20 years old, just out of high school and you are getting trained in GreenQloud about how to build a company and you don’t have the patience to stick around a little longer to really understand what it means to be part of a startup? … then I realised, his heart was with his buddies who were doing a startup called Blendin. I told him that he should go and do what his heart tells him to do. I have to admit it was really hard thing to do because it was particularly a tough time with Team GreenQloud as we were going through some rough issues with stability and all that comes with building a company.

I met David the CEO of Blendin, when he was part of another startup that was one of the teams in Startup Reykjavik. That startup was trying to build a roller coaster in Iceland, I could see that David was not the driving force behind the company. I met Asgeir, their designer through Kristjan Ingi, as we were looking to hire a designer for GreenQloud.

teens-leaving-facebookWhen I first heard about the concept of Blendin, I was not really convinced but I realised the target audience for this app is not me. These guys are all in their late teens and what do I know how to relate to that group? So I decided to put my prejudice away and decided that I will help them in whatever way I can. They asked me to join their advisory board and I did.

The team has decided that they are going to go to Silicon Valley and try to get traction there. I think it is a bold strategy, obviously a lot of wrinkles need to be ironed out. I think this is one of the hardest things that you do as a mentor, even if you believe something looks like a long shot, but take the time to be listener and let the entrepreneur find their own path. It is difficult but you have to do it. No one knows what works, the best way to learn is to tinker and try things. I am helping this team find their way.

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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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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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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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Innovation House one more bridge from Iceland

Source: Spyr.is

Source: Spyr.is

I attended the official opening of the Innovation House the initiative of Jon Von Tetzchner. I was excited and energized by the show up of the Startup Community, almost everyone was there and it was great to see the support of the Government of Iceland through the Minister of Industry, the Norwegian Embassy, the US Embassy and all other representatives from various other embassies. The keynote was delivered by Jon, the Minister of Industry and the Depty Chief of Mission for the US Embassy. The unanimous sentiment was the positive energy to support the entrepreneur and the startup community. I am really happy to see the momentum being built up for the coming year. We are starting to see success already in terms of participation, commitment and now more tools and avenues for entrepreneurs to start up, grow and build great companies and opportunities. As I say, there has never been a better time to really jump and do that dream company that you always wanted to do.

I think there are a number of unsung heros in these ventures, Kristjan Freyr Kristjansson and his team at Innovit+Klak, all the advisors and supporters who make things like this happen. I am really excited about what is happening in Iceland. As part of my give, we have instituted a Startup Program in GreenQloud. We are starting to see a lot of interest and application for this initiative as well. What entrepreneurs need is mentoring, infrastructure and bridge to bigger markets. Infrastructure could be in the form of Seed Money or Computing, Storage and Advice on utilizing the rocket fuel for Startups which is Cloud Computing. I believe very strongly that Software that is not built for the Internet and utilizing the Cloud is difficult to get into the hands of the potential customers. We are solving one of that problem through our Infrastructure in GreenQloud.

The really impressive thing about this Innovation House in Seltjarnarnes is that it connected to another one in Gloucester, Boston and to the one in Norway. It is a perfect bridge between the Nordic region and the US. It was inspiring to listen to Jon talk about how it is very exciting for him to have launched this Innovation House as he grew up in Seltjarnarnes and his belief that Iceland is the center of the world and great companies can be built out of the talent in Iceland. I am glad to see and hear more people start to believe in this notion. I have written about it when it was the craziest thing to say, but I saw it and I continue to believe in this crazy idea that we can build great companies from Iceland. So now there is no excuse to “Go Be An Entrepreneur!”

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On the road of building Startup Communities in Iceland

English: Jim Collins (James C. Collins), an Am...

English: Jim Collins (James C. Collins), an American business consultant, author of “Built to Last” and “Good to Great”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Brad Feld interviewing Jim Collins, two of my favorite business thought leaders and authors talking about a topic that I extremely engaged in and interested in developing in Iceland. I was pretty bummed that I could not make it for the Startup Phenomena Event in Boulder, Colorado. There are a number of pearls of wisdom in this discussion. The most important of which is the concept of doing big things, focusing on the who and the role of luck or chance. I believe that in order to build an antifragile or lasting startup community it has to be a long term thinking which makes sense because doing things like this well… takes a long time. I believe the startup community in Iceland is starting to hum, the biggest lead indicator of this is when a young software engineer who came to me and wanted to work at GreenQloud, he was brilliant, talented and with a lot of energy so I was only thrilled to get him to join our team. 3 months in he wanted to quit and I was baffled because he loved the culture and environment that we are creating in GreenQloud, really liked the people he worked with and was really on board with the Mission of GreenQloud… when I asked him what has changed, he told me that he and his friends are doing a startup and they wanted to go out on their own and do that. I knew then and there the vision I had for Iceland is starting to take shape.

When really smart people are willing to risk their jobs, careers and possibly a lot of their time to build a company we have the right ingredients to building an antifragile startup community. What is really missing is the Big Hairy Audacious Goals that Jim Collins referred to in the talk. I have some ideas up my sleeve, GreenQloud is one of those big ideas. If you have not been following what we are doing with GreenQloud, you should really look at it. I believe GreenQloud could be a bigger company than any company built out of Iceland and I am not saying it because I am the CEO. GreenQloud is in the business of changing the world and it takes time, effort and passionate people. We are on that journey and starting to really accelerate our execution. I also have a couple of projects that I am really excited about launching, you will hear about it in the near future. We are currently kicking off the preparation for Startup Iceland 2014.

Where do great ideas come from?

Cover of "Where Good Ideas Come From: The...

I am the first one to reject the notion that Ideas don’t matter, but to a certain degree they do. Usually a problem drives one to think about how to solve the problem. I actually like this video that talks about this, by the author of the book Where Good Ideas come from? Steven Johnson. There is one element of the video that really appeals to me which is connecting with other people, sharing our thoughts and idea actually helps in formulating, incubating and birth of new ideas. It was the basis for me to found Startup Iceland – A Conference where Entrepreneurs from all over the world could meet in person, share ideas, thoughts and take away a great experience and do it a place like Iceland which is inspiring in its own right. I get inspired every time I leave my home and start running in the running trails. What if we could expand on this notion? Would it not be wonderful if we could have a retreat- a place to basically kick back and let our ideas run loose? well, that is the ultimate plan. My partners and I are also in the Hospitality business, ie. we build hotels, invest in hospitality technologies and run hotels as well. Our intention is to build this retreat in Iceland.

I think it is not a bad idea if I say so myself. Now we just need to Execute and make it happen. There are several insights in the video about Ideas. I have not read the book but I think Accelerators and Incubators that I have been writing about are the same things, they put a bunch of motivated, smart people in a single physical space and let them interact and solve different problem. That is the same reason I love Hackathons, and we are promoting the periodic hackathon events by GreenQloud.

Bootstrapping vs Raising capital

Ben & Jerry's

Ben & Jerry’s (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had planned to do a meetup this week and discuss the above topic. Never got around to it, but I thought the least I could do is write about it. Here is a Kauffman Sketchbook with the title “Where do Entrepreneurs get their money?”

Here are a couple of references on fund raising from some smart people who have done this before:

Brad FeldDont Forget to Bootstrap

Fred Wilson – Dont take the money

My 2 cents is that try to bootstrap as much as you can to eliminate most of the risks in your startup. Think of it this way, every risk you eliminate to build a business is value you are building into your company that is your equity. The equation becomes simpler when you don’t take money to eliminate or reduce the risk of starting a new venture. The biggest risk that startups have, I have said this many times and it is worth repeating, startups don’t fail because they have a bad idea… startups fail because they don’t have customers. Eliminate that risk first ie. go and get your customers first, solve their problem, get paid something for it then you have a product/service to market fit. Eliminating that risk really increases the value of your effort, even if you have to raise money the discussion is much different than when you talk to an investor when you have no customers and no revenue.

Obviously there are businesses that need capital to acquire customers or start out for example manufacturing businesses need machines, labor etc those cannot be bootstrapped, however software companies can be easily bootstrapped these days, all you need is a laptop a coffee shop that has WiFi and knowledge to use Cloud Computing infrastructure like GreenQloud or AWS or Rackspace or Azure. I encourage every entrepreneur to delay the fund raising exercise until the Product to Market fit has been achieved. Once you solve the Product/Service to market problem, raise capital if you are in the Land grab business. I wrote about organic growth vs grow fast a while back based on a talk by Joel Spolsky. The most important decision point for a startup to raise capital is based on deciding where is the business. If you are in a Ben&Jerry’s kind of business raising capital is a bad idea. If you are in Amazon Web Service kind of business then you need capital to do a land grab as fast as you can so not raising capital will spell certain doom.

Coding

My daughter hacking

My daughter hacking

I have been hammering the notion of Software development for as long as I can remember. I took up Computer Science when I was 14, it was just fun to do but I was never that good in programming what I was really good at was Strategizing on what computing could do to our lives. I stuck to Software through out my career, understanding how computers and software works in a global network is a life skill. Here is a video explaining why this is important to get our kids involved in this exercise.

Kids hacking RasberryPi and GreenQloud

Kids hacking RasberryPi and GreenQloud

I have had arguments with my wife about the utter lack of understanding in my daughters school on what they should be teaching them about computers. Wait for it… WORD!!! yes, they are teaching my daughter how to use WORD! arrg…the humanity! I still cannot contain my frustration. We don’t want our kids to be consumers of software, we want them to be creators and innovators and problem solvers. I am on a mission to get the power of cloud computing to every class room in Iceland. The video is aptly named “What they don’t teach in schools” and that is computer programming. It is understandable but sad. Teachers could learn something from the kids now a days. No teacher that I have met has taken the initiative to understand how the world of software works and included it in the curriculum. That is why I believe Entrepreneurs will solve this problem. I have written about Skema a startup that is teaching kids especially girls about computers and software. I believe this is the future, everything we do is going to involve computers or software or machine language. I urge you to allow your kids to learn this skill, they will thank you for it. The great programmers of the future are going to be the Rock Stars. I am buying a cool computer for my daughter soon, she is every interested and has taken a number of classes with Skema.