May 11, 2013
AP Photo/Paul Sancya
Picking a team to bet on is a tough one. I don’t believe ideas really matter, if you have one that you think is going to be the next best thing to sliced bread, believe me you are not the only one. The more and more I think about Venture Investing which falls in the low data, no metrics decision making category, the one true qualifier is the team and the entrepreneur. I continue to believe that I know very little about investing in ventures and I got lucky with our last exit. But I can tell you that there is a simpler way to increase your odds of success… you just need to look for Grit. Here is a TED talk by Angela Lee Duckworth about that, I think it really shows why this quality is a simpler measure of success. If you are a parent, if you can teach one thing to your child, teach her/him Grit.
I am not as smart as Angela Lee, I don’t know if intelligence is a true qualifier but I use a simpler heuristic, has the entrepreneur run a marathon or done any deed that challenges his/her mental capacity to bear pain… because end of the day being a entrepreneur is about absorbing the pain and continue to move forward. It is hard, it is super tiring but in the end it is worth it. I am starting to use this to build my team at GreenQloud… it is the true measure of someone who will stick around and not give up. This is also one of the main reasons why I believe Women are fantastic entrepreneurs, I wish we had more of them building companies. That is one of the main reason why I want more women in technology and in leadership roles. I believe strongly that women make excellent leaders because they care, they nurture and they can bear unimaginable pain.
May 2, 2013
Iceland: Viking Rune (Photo credit: vicmontol)
The financial markets generally are unpredictable. So that one has to have different scenarios… The idea that you can actually predict what’s going to happen contradicts my way of looking at the market.
- George Soros
I wrote a small comment yesterday about a news article that I read in Reuters, this article still comes up on top when you look for news about Iceland in Google. The title of the article is “Analysis: Iceland chooses lonely road back from economic segregation” by Balazs Koranyi. I am pretty sure Mr.Balazs Koranyi is standup gentleman and I don’t doubt his analysis is based on facts around what is going in Iceland because he writes for Reuters or atleast that is what one would think. The truth of the matter could not be far from it. I am sure Mr.Balazs Koranyi has never visited Iceland or met the people of Iceland. The article is based on quotes by some experts like “Investment Advisors”, “Former Bank managers” and “Economic Professors”, I don’t know these people but I would love to meet them to learn how they come to conclusion about something as complex as a country’s psyche because the article is about how Iceland is going to be lonely in its path to recovery given the current election results and the statements made by the leader of the political party which has been given the mandate to form the Government. Once again, I am not an expert and I usually remind myself to be humble when a part of my ego takes over trying to rationalize somethings that I observe and start making conclusions about them. The election results being one.
I believe that structural transformation of any economy even one as small as Iceland takes time. I have written a lot about this Structural transformation and I did not stop there I put my money, time and effort where my mouth is ie. I invested in startup companies in a space I believe can get Iceland out of the challenge of the Financial Crisis of 2008. Yesterday my bet was vindicated, the Software Company that we invested in CLARA (I wrote about it here and here) was acquired by Jive Software, a Nasdaq listed company in Silicon Valley. I will write a detailed post about the transaction later. There was a viral sharing and congratulations that was going on in Facebook. I am very pleased to see the result and it is even more sweeter when you read the analysis written by Mr.Balazs Koranyi.
My post yesterday on Facebook was
“While we are quietly creating value by Starting Companies like CLARA, GreenQloud, DataMarket, Meniga, Plain Vanilla, Mobilitus, ReKode… in Iceland mainstream talking heads are into pschyo-babble talk of economic isolation and what not. I am not sure who this Asgeir Jonsson is or Thorolfur Matthiasson but they are “investment advisors” and “Economic Professors”, they all should come to Startup Iceland and see how a country is reinventing itself out of a crisis.”
My invitation still stands, if you are a journalist or an expert or found this article searching about Iceland and Startups, come to Iceland, participate in Startup Iceland Conference, meet the young entrepreneurs who are changing the face of what Iceland is all about before you write about Economics of Iceland.
March 5, 2013
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.
March 2, 2013
Marissa Mayer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Image via CrunchBase
There is a lot of coverage and tweets about Sheryl Sandberg‘s new book “Lean In” and for the decision Marissa Mayer made to stop Telecommuting at Yahoo. If only there was this much coverage for all the decisions made by CEO’s of the Fortune 500 companies or for the books written by others? I am really happy to see them both getting good media coverage because as one of old saying goes in Hollywood “Does not matter what you write about me just get my name right!”, maybe it does not apply to these cases. I am big proponent and supporter of getting more women in the workplace, equal rights or actually increase the benefits, rewards and compensation primarily because they are a lot more committed to focusing on Work and Family, which is a very important requirement because without a proper balance anyone can burn out in the world of entrepreneurship. There are a number of women leaders today in many large organizations like IBM, HP, Xerox etc so I am pretty sure the Glass ceiling that people talk about is not as prevalent as it was a decade ago.
I actually want more women to participate in Software development and DevOps, because I think they are excellent in it. We are running an experiment in GreenQloud, where any student especially women who are able to take a couple of hours in a week and are willing to spend that time in our office, will be paired with our Development and Operations team members so they can teach the students what we do. We now have 4 interns like that… all women! learning about running Cloud Computing Infrastructure and Software development in the real world and being part of a startup. I wish more companies would be open minded about taking on interns this way as it would really solve the skills challenge that IT and Software companies always seem to complain about. And I also believe it will solve the gender diversity problem, more opportunity for women to participate then there is no bias.
March 1, 2013
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 Feld – Dont 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.
February 26, 2013
The word Disruption has a negative context, the definition according to Dictionary.com is
||( tr ) to throw into turmoil or disorder
||( tr ) to interrupt the progress of (a movement, meeting, etc)
||to break or split (something) apart
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I feel the dictionaries do not do justice to the word. The use of the word Disrupt in the innovation context is more a positive one although it depends on which side of the table you are, are you an incumbent or a new entrant disrupting the established order. Disruption happens due to a number of reasons. I have written about it before, but what is fascinating is that all the things that we use today were disruptive technologies when they were introduced. Think of the Radio, TV, Video, CD Player, Automobile, Air travel etc they fundamentally changed how we perceive the service provided by these tools. I believe we are undergoing a major transformation in disruption, where business models are being disrupted.
Anyone can say what they want about Cloud Computing but it is truly disruptive in terms of the business model. The same is true for Mobile Commerce or for that matter Self Education. All these massive trends are in front of us and the change is not going to be like night and day but it is going to a gradual transition, where one day we wake up and see that 90% of us use Smart Phones not by using the keyboard but by giving voice instructions. I have been very impressed with how good Google Voice Recognition is on my Android. Fred Wilson wrote about it with the title “Simplicity, The Emerging UI and Machine Learning“.
The disruption occurs because of the ability of some entrant to see a new light to an accepted problem. I had a very interesting conversation with a buddy of mine who is in sales for very large network gear company, he was telling me about the conversation that he has with large organizations who basically dismiss the Cloud hype and how he disagreed with that argument. I agree with him, obviously I am biased because of my neck deep involvement in GreenQloud, where we were able to implement a small disruption in how you share and listen to music you own through our StorageQloud offering, it is so simple to do even my grandma can do it, mind you, she was a very very intelligent women. But the facts are facts… these technologies provide tremendous value to those who can embrace them and make the technology work for them, for those who are happy with the status quo it would look like a hype until that day when their competitors have moved over to this new technology and are eating their lunch in the marketplace… think Blockbuster vs. Netflix or Kodak vs. Digital Camera or Nokia vs. Apple, I can go on. You know who else is disrupting Volkswagon… I am sure you have seen this ad
February 8, 2013
The Nesjavellir Geothermal Power Plant in Þingvellir, Iceland (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
This is a presentation that I will be making tomorrow in UTMessan the annual IT industry conference of Iceland. I strongly believe that value added export of renewable energy is in the best interest of Iceland. There is a lot of debate about exporting the raw electricity from Iceland to Europe, I could not disagree more. What needs to be done is Iceland needs to invest in developing the Startup Ecosystem that focuses on Software based companies, which in turn need to use the Renewable Energy to export value added services… just like GreenQloud
January 25, 2013
Seth Levin of the Foundry Group has a very good post on the transition of a startup from the product focused company to a sales and marketing focused company. I can truly relate to this, I have been associated with a couple of startups that are going through this process. It is a difficult transition, because it is quite easy to hunker down and get into the maker mode i.e Design, Build, Test repeat cycle. Most founders come from the Product side and it is easy to see they struggle with the transition. But it is critical to get out of the Product mode to Marketing and Sales mode, it defines the survival of a startup. I have written about Sustainability, getting cash into the business is a economic sustainability necessity. All the hard work of building something beautiful and useful amounts to hill of beans if you are unable to get it into the hands of people to use it and get paid for it.
The last 7 months have been very interesting for me because I have never been a CEO, this is my first time on the job (for those reading this blog for the first time, I took on the role of CEO of GreenQloud the worlds first cloud computing company that is powered entirely by renewable energy). I can see the challenges of the product team looking at the marketing and sales team as this Evil that is polluting the pure thing that was created by them. It is understandable, we even refer to the Marketing team as the Evil Marketing team for fun in the team standups.
I have been on both sides of the table, i.e built products and solutions and sold products and solutions. There is nothing harder than convincing someone else that what you believe is worth their time. It takes a lot of effort, positive attitude and chutzpa. There is a reason why very good sales people are paid top dollars because they can bring cash into the business. I once heard from Gunnar Holmstein the CEO of Clara, that “Sales is not Rocket Science but it is much harder”.
In addition, people confuse the difference between Marketing and Sales. Even Fred Wilson wrote a very controversial post and changed it with a Bug Report. Fred has a post from Rand Fiskin (who BTW was suppose to participate in Startup Iceland 2013 but due to schedule conflicts could not make it, maybe we will get him next year ), about Marketing and the Bubble where Rand has a great picture.
This picture illustrates the need for focus, what happens in early teams is that you are strapped for resource so you basically need to put all your emphasis in finding the Product to Market fit and to make it a Minimum Viable Product, once there is a glimmer to light in that direction you need to have someone else focused on the Sales and Marketing focus. This is hard if you are one man team, unless you know how to do it. I have also written about building killer startup teams. The trick is always to make sure you surround yourself with the people with the right focus to execute. Knowing when to swing the pendulum within your team is an Art, but the signals are usually very clear.
January 4, 2013
We have started the preparation for Startup Iceland 2013. While the full blow website is getting ready to be launched, I have created a Sign Up page. If you are already signed up for Startup Iceland 2012 and this blog, could you please sign up again and share with your network? We have created an Executive Summary for the Conference, check it out. We are going to have some very interesting speakers and discussion on Building Startup Communities and Ecosystems. Those who are part of the mailing list will get the updates and the journey. I plan to document the journey leading up to the conference just like I did last year.
We have confirmation of participation from:
- Brad Feld Managing Director of Foundry Group
- Jason Mendelson Managing Director of Foundry Group
- Ryan McIntyre Managing Director of Foundry Group
- Helga Waage Co-founder and CTO of Mobilitus
- Angela Jackson, Managing Director of Portland Seed Fund
- Howard Lindzon, CEO of StockTwits, Angle Investor and Twitter personality
- Alex Torrenegra, CEO of VoiceBunny and a lot more check out his LinkedIn profile
- Rebeca Hwang, CEO of YouNoodle
We may have cancelation and updates to this group but we will have more mentors as the momentum builds up. We will have them in different roles for their participation as Speakers, Mentors and other activities. As I mentioned in my previous post, we plan to have an Unconference Event the day before the lectures, where some of these participants will play the role of mentors so everyone who is going to participate in the conference gets a chance to block time with them to ask them any question and pick their brain. So if you are not into listening to lectures then you may want to participate to meet these people one on one and build your network.
As more details role out, you should get updates on a regular basis leading to the conference. We have some wonderful Sponsors already and they are in the order they have signed up:
- U.S Embassy in Reykjavik – Ambassador Arreage and his Team have shown true leadership in signing up to be the first sponsors of Startup Iceland again. I would like to thank them at the outset. I will do a more detailed profile of each sponsor like I did last year in subsequent blog posts.
- Reykjavik University – Rector Ari Kristinn Jónsson, Kristine Helen Falgren, Kristinn R. Thorisson and Björn Þór Jónsson have been extremely generous with their time and resources to support any effort that helps the Entrepreneurship and Startups in Iceland.
- Icelandair Group – Icelandair group has always been a great sponsor for our initiatives. I would like to thank Addy Olafsdottir and Bogi Nils Bogasson and the whole Icelandair team that supported us with travel arrangements and accommodation last year. They have once again shown leadership and have agreed to do more this year. We are very excited to have them as our sponsors once again.
- WEDO – The Web design, development and marketing company is sponsoring the design and development of the website. I would like to thank Gudmundur R. Einarson (GRE), Orri Helgasson and Charles Christie for their support, participation and commitment
- GreenQloud – The Startup Iceland 2013 Conference website will be hosted in GreenQloud. I think building sustainable antifragile startup and entrepreneurial ecosystem should use sustainable energy sources to run the infrastructure. I would like to thank the GreenQloud team for sponsoring and helping with this initiative.
- 2013 – A New Beginning (startupiceland.com)
- Startup Slovenia (startupiceland.com)
- StartupVille (startupiceland.com)
- Tolerance, Inclusion and Prosperity (startupiceland.com)