April 11, 2013
Met Jon Gnarr, the Mayor of Reykjavik. I have to say he was generous, attentive and really wanted to help with Startup Iceland Conference… we will have to wait and see what that would be. I think the most important thing that I learnt was that there are several free WiFi Hotspots setup by the City of Reykjavik and apparently not being used. I was both surprised and delighted to hear about this. I think WiFi is the killer app of this decade. Like everything else the City of Reykjavik does, no-one knows about the existence of the free WiFi, and rightfully the Mayor was surprised that there was not much usage. We agreed that the reason is probably because no-one knows about it. If any of you know of a website which lists all the Free WiFi’s in the City of Reykjavik, please post them in the comments section. I found this website WiFiCafeSpots.com, that lists all WiFi hotspots in the City of Reykjavik
Free WiFi Hotspots in Reykajvik
, but I think these are all Cafes and merchant shops that have free WiFi. I believe a modern city like Reykjavik needs to have WiFi has one the core infrastructures and to that end the Mayor of City agrees. It was really inspiring to meet him and get his support for Startup Iceland. I think he is very smart man and an Entrepreneur himself and super funny. He even came up with an idea to start a business! I think it is so funny that it might just work. You heard it here first, Mayor wants to pitch his idea of “Bingo Bar!” in Startup Iceland, it is a cool idea, everyone who walks into Bingo Bar and orders a beer gets a Bingo Card and the bar tender is rolling and calling out the numbers through out the evening and anyone who wins a Bingo, gets a Beer! it is so simple, smart and visual that I think it could actually work. So if you are an entrepreneur thinking about starting a business and do not have an idea here is one! you maybe able to get the Mayor of Reykjavik to work with you
Check out the Entrepreneurial journey of Jon Gnarr to becoming the Mayor of Reykjavik. I think he is an inspiration, being entrepreneurial, we take ourselves too seriously and maybe doing what he has done is really cool, he says in the interview below that when people elected the Best Party, they were voting for more honesty and fun. He said that he was going to do something the next 431 days he is in office. I don’t understand either why we have made Politics so boring and serious! Below you will find the link to an interview and the link to the Documentary GNARR
April 9, 2013
I have been writing a lot about Entrepreneurship and Startups, but I am not a big fan of the Cluster concept primarily because getting established companies to be Entrepreneurial is very hard because they look at different metrics and the incentive for the established companies to participate in Cluster building is a long term game, however established companies are relatively short term focused because they are trying to increase their yield on invested capital by getting more efficient on the operation, sales etc. On the other hand a startup in the same sector is more or less not too focused on efficiency, they are trying to exploit a weakness or a problem in the existing solutions, therein lies the challenge. It would take visionary leaders in established companies to harness, foster and encourage the building of a ecosystem around the sector that their companies are built in. This is exactly what Dr.Thor Sigfusson has done with his startup/project Seafood Cluster a.k.a Sjávarklasinn in Icelandic. It is fascinating to see how he has convinced established companies in the Seafood sector and new emerging companies to co-located in a building in harbor of Reykjavik. He has ambitious plans to expand the facility to allow more startups and established companies to have meetup spaces. It was exciting for me to watch this because Seafood is the sector that is as traditional as they come, we are talking about really established fishermen looking into working with young new startups, mentoring them and seeing if they can improve the established methods using new technology.
There is a wealth of information and reports around the concept, I have not read all the reports but I believe this is something that I believe can work. I like the idea and the execution of the fact that if you put new companies and established companies near each other and once they start talking magic usually happens. In addition, the same location has some support services like legal, marketing and publishing etc Think of this as an Accelerator for a startup in the Seafood Sector. I think the missing piece is what typical accelerators do which is a 3 month bootcamp like environment that basically focuses on the validation of the new startups and also getting investors to be part of the project. I think Dr.Thor Sigfusson has already done that because the Seafood sector or the Fishermen are the richest cohort in Iceland and they are starting to see the value of having such a place and are investing in this.
We have invited Dr.Thor Sigfusson to be a Speaker in Startup Iceland 2013, I think this concept needs to be communicated in the Startup Iceland platform, and he has agreed to do that. In addition, it would be interesting to learn from his talk what were the challenges, opportunities and road block that he had to cross to get this project off the ground. If you are interested you should definitely buy the tickets soon as they tend to run out fast.
March 22, 2013
Image via CrunchBase
I started on this journey to build a Startup Community in Iceland right after the Financial Collapse of 2008. What is needed when you need to create a lot of startups is an acceleration platform and I searched tirelessly for it and I bumped into TechStars and the first video I saw of TechStars I knew that is what we needed to have right here in Iceland. Here is that video:
And then I started viewing all the videos in the Founders – Techstars – Boulder. I was so inspired 3 years back and I went and met with everyone that I could to get Techstars to Iceland. I was extremely pleased to see that dream come true when Arion Bank took the initiative to launch Startup Reykjavik, which is part of the Global Accelerator Network which is the network of accelerators that is part of the Techstars program. If you have not watched the videos, I really encourage you to check out the TechStars TV channel in YouTube. Go to the videos that were loaded 3 years back. I get really inspired even today when I watch those episodes. What is this got to do with Startup Reykjavik? well there is only 6 more days to apply for Startup Reykjavik. If you are stuck in a dead end job and really don’t enjoy what you do here is a fantastic opportunity to go build a business. It is also for those of us who have always been saying that one day we will be our own boss (actually that never happens because you are always reporting to someone, either your board or investment committee or whatever but thats not the point, its about taking ownership of your destiny).
The 2012 program was the first accelerator in Iceland and I was very happy to see to complete and as far as I know many of the companies are still in existence and trying to create a business some have actually made more progress than others. It is a marathon and not a sprint, so I am looking forward to seeing some of these companies build a sustainable business in the future.
I volunteer as a Mentor in Startup Reykjavik and in every other Startup or Entrepreneurship related activity in Iceland because I have made that my life purpose. I want to help Entrepreneurs no Serve Entrepreneurs… I think that is a pretty good goal. Anyways enough about me. Have you applied yet? if you have been telling yourself you want to do something this is your chance like Nike says Just Do It.
March 18, 2013
Startup Weekend Reykjavik happend this last weekend. I volunteered again as a mentor and it was a lot of fun.
This time around the organizing team at Innovit had brought an external facilitator from the UK, and I was also impressed that the organizing team nudged the participants to aggregate around ideas that actually had some meat in the bones. In the previous few Startup Weekend that I have participated in Iceland, the challenge has been that some of the team members were married to their idea but the idea did not have a big enough market or potential of becoming a business. Anyways, the teams that were working on the ideas this time had some programming resources with them and some designers. It was obvious as they could actually develop the websites and have some working apps within the 54 hours of the weekend. There were 13 teams presenting at the end of the day, I met with most of them and talked to all of them and I learnt a lot and I was tempted to write a check to a couple of the teams, but realized that it would be too soon and the teams were not ready for that. I intend to follow up with the teams to see how they are doing and who knows maybe I will invest
Here is the coverage of the event in Icelandic, It was great to see a lot more mentors participate in the event.
I think what is missing is if an Angel Investor would show up and write a check at the end of the Weekend to the winning team and get them started on the journey to becoming entrepreneurs. My intention is to be able to do that here and also in Startup Reykjavik. I think we are starting to see the green shoots of yearly activities showing up in Iceland which goes back to the strategy of building a startup community here in Iceland. In my opinion, we are on Year II on the journey to building an Antifragile Startup Ecosystem here in Iceland.
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.
February 28, 2013
I have been thinking a lot about how to get new breed of investors into the fold of supporting the Entrepreneurial Ecosystem. I think it would be great to have a mentorship driven accelerator just like TechStars or YCombinator focused on building Investors or Investment companies. I think everyone can learn from having mentors and advisors, even Warren Buffet had Ben Graham, time box the creation of the concept and get validation on a public forum and then go on to raise the money and build a venture firm. I wrote about the documentary “Something Ventured“, it was obvious all the early investors had some mentors and advisors who did not know much about startups or silicon valley but they acted as sound boards, what if we could create that here in Iceland?
I think the current club of investors is a crap shoot. It is an exclusive club of someone having pedigree, a wealthy family or should have been lucky to have been a entrepreneur who cashed in or lucky to be appointed as a fund manager by the government or a pension fund or a bank. I think this model is broken. I am sure there are very qualified people playing the role of investors in all these platforms, but I think there needs to be a better way to build a new generation of investors. Waiting for the new generation to successfully exit and return back as investors takes too much time. What if we could create an accelerator that allows anyone who is willing to go through the troubles and tribulations of an entrepreneur, but to become an investor?
The reason I have been thinking about this is because of all the nays I get when I suggest that we need to have more investors looking at startups and investing in startups. The more nodes we have in the ecosystem the stronger the node becomes and what drives people to take on the role of an entrepreneur is a supporting community that provides the environment but also the capital. I have said it before I will say it again, there is enough and more capital well within the confines of Iceland. I wrote about Local Capital a while back. I have come to believe the reason people don’t want to jump and do this is because it is a lot of work and you need to be willing to become a student even though you may have some money and success.
Now that we have a accelerator for Startups in Iceland called Startup Reykjavik, I think creating an accelerator for investment firms is not such a bad idea. The intention would be to create 10 investment companies, solicit applications, pair the teams with mentors, time box it for 3 months and at the end of the 3rd month run a investor day where the teams can present the idea of how they will run the investment firm. What do you think?
January 14, 2013
As we are starting the preparation for Startup Iceland 2013 (have you signed up and marked your calendar yet?), one of the elements of building startup ecosystem is to bring more investors into venture investing group. I think there are many avenues for Entrepreneurs to get started like Startup Weekend, Startup Reykjavik, Innovit Incubator and the University Startup Weekend class etc in Iceland, however, there is not a lot of activities that are centered around investors. I have been searching for model that we could adopt here in Iceland and I finally found someone who is doing this in Seattle – John Sechrest. You can read about John here.
Seattle Angel Conference
The biggest challenge in Angel and Venture Investing is not RISK, there I have said it it is not about Risk it is about not being able to devote enough time for the amount of capital that one invests. Just to give you an example, a typical angel investor may invest from $10000 to $100000 per company and in order to really spread the investments one needs to take 3 to 5 companies. Given with Angel investing one needs to spend 6+ hours a week for every company, investors need to spend considerable amount of time for a small size of the investment. In addition, one cannot make a living doing this, again there I have said it. If you think you are going to make a living doing Angel Investing or Venture Investing, the truth hits you quite harshly across the face when you are starting out. The pay window if you are successful in Angel Investing or Venture Investing is nothing less than 5 years, you could get lucky but that is kind of the average and the returns are lumpy ie you don’t get a steady stream of returns but one or two lumpy payments if the companies you invest in gets an exit. So, why would someone go through all this pain to make a living… well, the same reason why an Entrepreneur goes through all the pain to start a company and build things of value. There is a reason it is called Angel Capital
Back to practical matters, John shared with me a template for a conference that he has organized in Seattle, called the Seattle Angel Conference. I think it is a sensible model that could work to bring new investor groups into the world of Angel investing and Venture investing. For everything we need a few good women and men, and John has assembled that group in Seattle. I have invited him to come and share his experience in Startup Iceland. The gist of Angel Conference is pretty simple:
- A group of Angel’s come together form a Limited Liability Company (LLC or ehf in Iceland)
- Each of the members commit capital ie $5000 each
- LLC Manager is elected
- 6 to 10 weeks of due diligence is conducted by the group that came together
- 5 to 10 companies are picked to pitch during the conference
- A subset of the companies are funded by the LLC and all members can participate as mentors or advisors to the companies that were picked
This is an incredible value for Angel investors, a seasoned group can guide new Angel investors into the world of venture investing. This model is very similar to the Mentorship driven accelerators that have become so successful. Of all the things that have been said and done, everyone can learn when we collaborate and work together. I am big believe that bringing diverse group of people together and throwing a challenge to them and providing the right incentive can facilitate solution to any problem. I think Iceland needs a better class of Investors, other than the posers! we need someone really committed to building the startup ecosystem. koma svo!
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.
September 22, 2012
I started on this long term view that Iceland can be a fantastic place to create a Startup Community, some of my friends tell me that I
got desperate because I got fired from my banking job. Well, maybe… maybe not only time will tell whether this thesis is going to work or not. A lot of my actions towards engaging in the community and starting to push the envelop in Iceland are driven by well proven themes that have worked in other parts of the world. The famous statement made by everyone is “You don’t have a track record of building a startup community or starting a Venture Fund to invest in Startups“, well, that is true but neither did the first man who landed in Reykjavik or Iceland for the first time. Never the less he decided that he was going to live here. A community did get built and for all its flaws and issues Icelanders have a lot going for them compared to many other countries. Anyways, I digress… coming back to Startup Communities, Brad Feld‘s new book titled “Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City” is out and I believe it is a very clear road map of how to build a community, actually I want to say that Iceland already has a Startup Community and it was very clear to me when I met almost every entrepreneur after the Financial Collapse of 2008. All I am trying to do is to ensure that we implement the strategies outlined in the book. The famous question that follows is “Why are you doing this? what is in it for you?”, well let me think… I really don’t know, I want to follow Brad‘s advice on “Give – before you get anything back”. I have no expectation of what comes out of this exercise that I have undertaken but 10 years from now if we all can look back and say we were part of something that created a culture of entrepreneurialismwhere people living in Iceland or world over believed in themselves and created a sustainable system i.e a company or a business or a community that thrived and contributed to a better society then I think we can be proud of the effort and not only that we would have created a better environment for our children and our grandchildren… we would have created a legacy.
Image Source: TechStars.com
I come back to Steven Covey‘s teachings and the Legacy video that was provided as part of the resources section of the book “the 8th Habit”, I wish they had made it sharable… but it is not so if you want to see the video you need to register with at http://stevencovery.com and go to the Resources section and you should see the video link. I think those videos are inspiring and they are part of the 8th Habit book. Everyone needs to have a purpose in life and that drives us, I think all of us want To Live, To Love, To Learn and To Leave a Legacy. I think the purpose that I have undertaken for myself – “To Start a Sustainable Startup Community in Iceland” more or less addresses all those things. So, I am extremely selfish in being totally selfless in contributing my time, effort and resources… drives everyone around me crazy, but I just have a fire within that just wants me to push forward and I will continue to help any effort to support building a sustainable system in Iceland.
I plan to buy 100+ copies of the Startup Communities book, it should be available in Iceland in another couple of weeks, I think and I want to distribute it to every stakeholder that I think can contribute to building a sustainable startup ecosystem in Iceland. I am not going to stop there, I am going to talk to Brad and get connected with the publisher and make sure the book gets translated to Icelandic so those who are comfortable reading in Icelandic can also learn from this roadmap. The above video is of Brad, talking about the Boulder Thesis in Bloomberg… I think Brad is spot on. We have all those ingredients in Iceland, so what are you going to do to contribute?
September 4, 2012
We have a guest post from Ragnar Fjölnisson, the founder of Datatracker. Datatracker helps business professionals gather disperse online data and convert it into a structured dataset which then can be integrated with business intelligence software for further analysis. Our solution makes it easy for sales and marketing professionals to automate the collection of competitive data. Datatracker is one of the Startup Reykjavik companies and have been receiving good amount of media attention. They have now been selected as one of the finalists for the Artic15, a competition for startups in the Nordic and Baltic countries. Here is Ragnar’s experience of applying and being nominated for the award:
Arctic15 here we come!
Image Source: Arctic 15 The annual conference for Nordic and Baltic growth entrepreneurs
A couple of weeks ago I stumbled upon ArcticStartup.com, a technology news site which focuses on tech startups and growth companies in the Nordic and Baltic countries. The site is targeted at startup enthusiasts and reports on product launches, funding news and investor events similar to betakit.com but with focus on Northern Europe territory.
Since I discovered this website I have added it into my daily web surfing routine. Eventually I found out about their annual investor conference called Arctic15, where they select 15 startups to present towards potential investors based in the Nordics and Baltics.
After watching the Arctic15 trailer from 2011, we at Datatracker didn’t hesitate to apply. Because we had been preparing for our pitch in StartupReykjavik it took roughly 10 minutes to throw together a application to fit their format.
This morning we received news that we had been nominated as semi-finalists in the Best Enterprise Startup category. There are 14 categories, including Best Product Launch, Best Consumer Startup and Best Gaming Startup and the winner of each category, which is decided by public vote and a supporting decision by a secret jury, will get to pitch on stage at Arctic15 on October 18th.
We are absolutely thrilled to have been nominated. Arctic15 is the premier industry event for Nordic and Baltic startups and growth companies. The conference was organised for the first time last year with some 400 people attending, and last year’s Arctic15 finalists raised $12.85 million in 10 months following the conferences.
We did not have high hopes that we would be considered for this event, but it goes to show that you never know unless you apply! Now we are determined to win the public vote and we encourage all Icelandic startup enthusiasts to go to the Arctic15 website and vote datatracker as the best enterprise startup. This conference needs Icelandic representatives, don’t you agree?
For investors and entrepreneurs interested in attending the conference, don’t forget to check out the program schedule here: http://arctic15.com/program/