Inspiration is Perishable

I meet people. I enjoy meeting people, learning about them, their background and why do they do what they are doing. I am student of body language, language, attitudes, bias and perceptions of everyone I meet. I learn a lot about myself when I become a student of other people’s behavior. I try very hard to be empathetic, helpful, inspirational and positive in my conversations. I always greet people with a big smile, ask them how they are doing and when they reciprocate I always respond back saying I am always doing great. Another classic question I often get is how is life? I always respond saying that Life is Wonderful/Great. Sometime those I meet get disappointed that I don’t tell them what they want to hear. My tagline is that I am an investor, so I should just solve everyone’s problem by investing money on them. My first response is always, lack of money is never the problem. Everyone wants a quick fix, if only this Bala guy invests in me my problem will go away. Really? Are you that entitled? why do you believe it should be that easy? is it that simple? believe me raising money is hard. If you have been reading my blog for sometime you know that I have written a lot about it, I struggle with it everyday. I raise money all the time, I invest all the time but expecting anyone to invest in your idea is just so Silicon Valley-ish, even there you need to show something before anyone throws money at you.

When I meet “Wantapreneurs” – my definition of people who want to build a business but have made no effort to take the first step – they think that I should just invest in them because I agreed to meet with them. I really wish we could move past raising money part, focus on building a business, focus on getting your idea to reality, focus on helping your customers, focus on scratching your own itch etc. If you are not willing to invest in making something with all the tools and technologies that are out there already, why do you believe money is going to make any difference. I try to help every entrepreneur and startup founder I meet, it is in my nature to help. I believe very strongly in the “Give” and “Service above Self” philosophies. I really get disappointed when I get feedback that our meeting did not uplift the “Wantapreneur”‘s spirits. Is that my responsibility? to uplift your spirit? Really? Staying positive and doing things to make progress towards your goal is your responsibility, yes a lot of people can help you along the way. There was a great post by Dave McClure about this title “Engineering Minimum Viable Inspiration“, with a classic Dave’s twist aka: do you give a Shit + can you get others to give a Shit.

Inspiration is perishable, it only gets you to get a little motivated the rest is hard work, dedication and focus. I have written a lot about Focus and Perception. All the tools, mentoring, advice, strategies, tactics etc are only sounds bites, it is the responsibility of the entrepreneur to launch, sell and build a business. Raising money makes things difficult, I have written about this before I have seen too many entrepreneurs and startup founders prematurely raise money from the wrong sources and then regret the rest of the time why they did that. Believe me I wish there was an easy answer but it is not easy. My advice is always delay raising money as much as possible, hustle, bootstrap and do what it takes. It is your dream, now go make it real!

Rework – Book Reveiw

Cover of "Rework"

Cover of Rework

I finished listening to ReWork, the book written by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson the founders of 37Signals. A software company. I think the no-bullshit prose and their approach is refreshing. No wonder the book has been on the New York Times bestseller list and the authors and the company have gained much respect. I think a lot of what they say in the book is common sense, however common sense is never common practise. I see the book in a number of company shelfs and I ask myself are they following what they read in that book? Is it difficult to follow? I have recommended many books, strategies and philosophies related to building startups and being entrepreneurial, these are learnings and teachings that I want to live by and follow myself. You know the saying if you want to learn something, you should teach it and that is the best way to learn. I love the teaching part of what I do, that is where the learning happens for me. Most of the time it is me asking questions, about why an entrepreneur thinks and does things a certain way. I learn a great deal. I try to read as many books and blogs as I can to see if there are learnings that I can apply and share everyday. I think this book made that real for me. The author recommend teaching as a way to be genuine and authentic, because you cannot posture when you are doing that. In addition, having a higher purpose and having a really long term goal of building sustainable businesses is a hard job, the authors force the reader to think that way, I think that is powerful. I highly recommend the book if you have not read it or listened to it. I know I will listen to it again. There are so many strategies and ideas that I consistently share with every entrepreneur and startup founder I meet, especially about Marketing and building an audience. Here is a classic summary of the book:

  • ASAP is poison
  • Under-do the competition
  • Meetings are toxic
  • Fire the workaholics
  • Emulate drug dealers
  • Pick a fight
  • Planning is guessing
  • Inspiration is perishable

Get the book you will not regret it.

Founder Institute – Reykjavik Chapter

fi_logo_leaf_transparentThis fall we are kicking into high gear with Startup Iceland initiatives, I applied to lead the local chapter of Founder Institute in Reykjavik and I got accepted. I had to take a test, the same test that every wanna-be-entrepreneur takes when she/he applies to a Founder Institute program. I am looking for Co-Directors for this initiative. I have reached out to some of you to help me but I would like to open it up and see if there is more interest to help me get this started. Founder Institute is an idea-stage accelerator from Silicon Valley. A local chapter will build new technology companies, and these companies go on to enter other incubators, raise angel capital and create jobs. For those who are interested, it is a part-time opportunity that is requires one night per week, and you receive equity in all of the companies created.

Here is a description of Founder Institute in their own words:

The Founder Institute is the world’s largest entrepreneur training and startup launch program, helping aspiring founders across the globe build enduring technology companies. In the Founder Institute’s four-month, part-time program, promising startup entrepreneurs “learn by doing” and launch a company through structured training courses, practical business-building assignments, and expert feedback from a large network of business mentors. Plus, aspiring founders are not required to quit their day job to participate, so they can begin building a business around their ideas without putting their livelihood at risk.

Based in Silicon Valley and with chapters across 66 cities and 40 countries, the Founder Institute has helped launch over 1,230 companies, which have created over 10,000 new jobs. The company’s mission is to “Globalize Silicon Valley” and build sustainable startup ecosystems that will create one million new jobs worldwide.

The Founder Institute was founded in 2009 by serial entrepreneur Adeo Ressi. It is operated out of a small office in Mountain View, California.

I really like the philosophy of Founder Institute, it also aligns with my vision of building great companies out of Iceland. We have all the ingredients here and the Silicon Valley mind-set. Here is a gist of the Vision, Formula and Approach of Founder Institute.

Our Vision

Starting a company is an arduous and lonely journey, and technology entrepreneurship is a constantly evolving discipline. The Founder Institute aims to improve the rate of startup success by creating local startup ecosystems that emulate the unique characteristics of Silicon Valley.

Our Formula

Great People + Expert Training + Collaboration = Exponentially Better Chance of Success

Great Companies Start With Great People

It’s very hard to judge a new founder by the quality of their idea, because there is too much subjectivity involved. To apply to the Founder Institute, you do not need to provide an idea. Instead, we use a proprietary Predictive Admissions Test to find the most talented people.

To date, over 20,000 people have applied, and the Founder Institute can predict with 85% accuracy somebody’s potential to become a successful technology entrepreneur. Our revolutionary entrepreneur research has been featured in The New York Times, CNN, and Forbes.

Structured Training

The best way to learn is by doing. Through a structured, 4-month curriculum of weekly training courses and business-building assignments, you graduate the Founder Institute as the Founder of an enduring company.

The curriculum was built using Silicon Valley best practices, and each training course is led by members of the Founder Institute’s worldwide network of over 3,100 entrepreneur Mentors, that are founders themselves.

So, if you have read this far and interested send me a note.

Video

Liad Agmon on how to get lucky – Startup Iceland 2014

This was one of the funniest talks in the history of Startup Iceland. Liad has a flare for delivery and timing. I am pretty sure he would have been a great stand-up comedian. He used to write jokes for scripts while he was in school. Of course there is a fantastic lesson in the talk about how to get lucky… no, no I mean with being an Entrepreneur and how to get your business up and going. Hint, persistence and having an open mind is the key. Listen to the talk, you will see what I mean.

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Voted the Startup Journalist of the year in Iceland

NSA_logo-fullI could not believe that I was nominated as a Startup Journalist of the Year in Iceland by The Nordic Startup Awards. You can guess how delighted I was when I saw a tweet last evening that I Won! It was a great feeling but also very humbling. I have been writing about the Startup Community and Ecosystem and Entrepreneurship from my eyes in Iceland since 2009, I never thought this blog was anything but a resource for Startup Founders and Entrepreneurs. I started writing because I thought maybe someone out there might see what we are going through in Iceland as Investors, Entrepreneurs and Startups interesting and could provide some inspiration, knowledge and resource so their journey is easier. Well, not easier but atleast they could relate and say, yes, I understand and I am not alone in this path. This award is a big recognition to the readers of this blog, without them reading, talking about what is being written here and sharing that with their community, it would have not got nominated in the first place.

We all seek connection, a sense of belonging. I almost naturally gravitate towards my tribe, which is the tribe of Entrepreneurs and Startup Founders. I made it my mission to help my tribe and this blog is nothing but that mission coming alive. To be recognized by the Nordic Startup Awards is another testament to the fact that if you are passionate about something and genuine about the mission and work hard at living the mission the recognition comes. I am constantly asked why do I do this? I do this because it could help someone like me struggling to find a path, I remember distinctly when I was fired from my job because the entire financial system in Iceland collapsed… I was searching for an outlet to release my inner voice, to say that it is ok and everything will be fine. I write because I was inspired to write by my mentor Brad Feld and Fred Wilson and Mark Suster and million other blogger who are relentless in writing and using writing as a means to express their thoughts, ideas, action and to build a community.

So, here is a last piece of thought…  There is nothing stopping us from putting down our thoughts, there is something therapeutic about writing. Use the tools like any of the blogging platforms like Tumblr, WordPress, Google+, Blogger etc Pick a subject that you are passionate about and be disciplined about writing about it regularly. I used to blog everyday, I do that at times but I also take breaks from blogging to gather my thoughts. I find blogging and writing as my creative outlet, it may not be the best or beautifully written but it helps me think. Brad wrote about this recently. I attended TEDx Reykjavik over the weekend and one of the speaker was Guðrún Ingibjörg Þorgeirsdóttir, and I connected with her talk titled “How writing changed a life”. Get your computers out and start writing.

Here are all the other winners in the Nordic Startup Awards, really proud to be in this list… all of the winners and nominees are doing a great service to the Startup Community in Iceland and I bow to them and I hope more people and companies volunteer their hearts and their minds to building a sustainable startup community in Iceland.

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Startup Iceland 2014 – A Reason to Visit Iceland

This post was originally posted through the LinkedIn Publishing, LinkedIn has launched a publishing platform and I was invited to publish through it. I did what every startup founder and entrepreneur should always do… plug your idea and what you are passionate about. You don’t get any points for guessing what I am passionate about… ok, if you don’t know it here you go it is about Building a Sustainable and Antifragile Startup Community in Iceland through Startup Iceland. If you have not yet booked your tickets please do we are limiting the number of guests to 300 and we usually sell out and the promotional rates are still on…i.e 50% off for Entrepreneurs and Students.

islandskortI founded Startup Iceland in 2010 with the vision of building a sustainable antifragile startup community in Iceland. Fast forward to Startup Iceland 2014, this is the 3rd year we are hosting the event, it is still organized as a grassroot initiative with support from companies in Iceland that see the opportunity of Entrepreneurship and building a community that is resilient to the ebb and flow of the business world. We have a fantastic line up of speakers, what is usually fascinating to me during Startup Iceland is the interaction and networking that happens. Every Icelandic entrepreneur who has presented and/or participated in the event has gone on to do great things. It has created new businesses in Iceland based on the discussions that ensued during the conference, people have quit their jobs to follow their passion and people got jobs who were unemployed. It is a great feeling to see the unbounded energy that this simple concept has unleashed in Iceland. A number of fantastic companies and startups have emerged out of Iceland in the last 5 years, for a more detailed list of companies from Iceland that have broken out go to Startup Iceland Blog and Pick the Category Startup Profile.

You can book your tickets for Startup Iceland 2014 here. If you need help with travel and other logistics contact Guide To Iceland (disclaimer: I am an advisor to this entrepreneurial team, but they do an awesome job of taking care of the guests who come to Iceland) or me and I can connect you.

So what are you waiting for? Iceland beckons…

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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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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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Startup Iceland 2014- June 2nd and 3rd – Mark your calendars

Image representing Bre Pettis as depicted in C...

Image via CrunchBase

The annual Startup Iceland Conference on Entrepreneurship and Building Antifragile Startup Ecosystem in Iceland is happening on June 2nd and 3rd, 2014. Mark your calendars. We have started planning and putting the program together. Our focus has always been about Building an Antifragile Startup Ecosystem, this year we will try to bring thought leaders and entrepreneurs to share and discuss the changes that is happening in the world of innovation and how it impacts a startup community.

One of the most intriguing innovation that is starting to make a difference is the world of 3D Printing, Wearable Technology and its impact on manufacturing. I don’t believe that traditional manufacturing is going away the same way people traveling on horses has not gone away, but it is going to be disrupted with the advent of the capacity for every individual to invest, create and participate in the manufacturing economy. I spoke to Jenny Lawton, the President of MakerBot and She has agreed to come and talk about the trend, and she is bringing Bre Pettis, the founder of MakerBot with her. I am so excited to hear them speak about this fascinating change we are seeing in front of our eyes. Someone told me that the future is now, because there are a number of people creating the future as I type this blog post.

As always, we will have a Hackathon before the Conference and we plan to have mentoring sessions and one-on-one meetings with the speakers and entrepreneurs who participate in the conference. More details about the conference to follow shortly. We are updating the website and starting on the promotion of the event this week. I just wanted to give a heads up and blog about what I have been thinking about this year.

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Investing in Startups

Warren BuffetI had no idea what to do when I first decided that I wanted to invest in Entrepreneurship and Startups. It all looked so crazy and uncertain to me, however I had a background in Software Engineering and Management Consulting thanks to my 7 year education in Ernst & Young and Capgemini. I searched all over the internet and read all the books that I could get my hands on to learn about Venture Investing, I have written about what Fred Wilson wrote to me when I asked him what advice he would give to a new Venture Investor… it was quite simple, he said “Hold onto your money, it always takes longer and more money!” I took that advice to heart. It is rather futile to go into Venture Investing if one does not take the time to learn the sequence, apply strategies, tinker/pivot and skill required to be an venture investor. As an Entrepreneur it is also very important to take the time to understand the total capital need to build a sustainable business. I meet so many entrepreneurs who don’t take the time to really understand the actual capital need to build businesses. Even worse are those investors who are doing this for the first time but are totally unaware of the total capital need. They jump in with some money and then decide we will figure it out along the way, not a good idea. I have noticed experienced investors know how long it takes a startup in the B2C or B2B or any other service sector to get to scale. Me and my partners got lucky with CLARA, but we knew the business we were investing in. I cannot say the same to a number of other investors. I wrote a blog post titled “Organic Growth vs Get Big Fast” on a talk that Joel Spolsky did on Y Combinator Startup School. Knowing the total capital need and the strategy to acquire it is paramount. Not knowing will push you to the poor house very quickly. There is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path… it is the difference between knowledge and wisdom.

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