Posts tagged ‘Silicon Valley’

June 16, 2014

Investing in people and teams

Marc Andreessen

Marc Andreessen (Photo credit: jdlasica)

I have been meeting a lot of people about my new project, the feedback has been extremely positive. What is key in this new project is the fact that we are going to invest in People and Teams with potential. I have written a lot about this. I believe very strongly that investing in people with courage and genius works and it is not new. Marc Andreessen with a16z constantly writes about it. I just finished reading a blog post by Trent Griffin titled “A Dozen things that I’ve learnt from Marc Andreessen“, here is the quote from that post

5/ Venture capitalists “spend a lot of time talking about markets and technology…. and we have lots of opinions. …but the decision should be around people…. about 90% of the decision [is people].”… “We are looking for a magic combination of courage and genius .… Courage [“not giving up in the face of adversity”] is the one people can learn.” When you have a team of strong people in a startup, their ability to adapt and innovate gives the company and the investors optionality. Weak teams which can’t adapt to changing environments usually fail. Identifying the right people is all about pattern recognition.

I could not put it any better. We do this constantly as a community, however when you meet Venture Investor especially in markets where venture investing has not evolved you see the investors talking a lot about their knowledge of markets, technology and what they know, what baloney! No-one knows, the best strategy is always to invest in strong teams, be their resource and help them win. I draw an analogy to being a Coach to a Basketball team. The fund we are putting together will play the role of a coach, be there in every practise session, see what the team is unable to see, tell the star player that he needs to straighten her shoulder and elbow before shooting, watching winning games and adopting best practices in building the team and be in every game on the sidelines but the team takes the shot and makes the plays. The fund team is a resource for the team on the floor. I believe this model works. I believe very strongly that VC business is a “Service” Business. Here is a quote from that post

11/ “You spend most of your time actually dealing with your companies who are struggling and trying to help them. Because it’s the companies that are struggling or failing that actually need the most help. The companies that are succeeding are generally doing just fine without you. The companies that are failing are really the ones that need help and support. And so a lot of what you end up doing at the job is supporting struggling entrepreneurs. It’s kind of continuously humbling. You are a trouble shooter. There’s always something going wrong. Psychologically–we talk about this with our partners–you have to be psychologically prepared for the opposite. It seems like it’s going to be a life of glamor and excitement. It’s more of a life of struggle and misery. And if you are okay with that–because it’s part of the package–then the overall deal is pretty good.” Bill Gurley likes to say that venture capital “is a service business”.  Venture capital isn’t sitting in expensive chairs “picking winners” and speaking at conferences, but rather day in and day out work in the trenches helping entrepreneurs succeed. An effective VC spends time on things like trying to recruit engineers for portfolio companies.  This is not glamorous work for a venture capitalist, but it is essential work.

The above two more or less outlines the strategy for the venture fund that I am putting together. I think it works, I have enough data points to show that I have walked the path to see this through. The trick in this is to be humble and be open minded about what you don’t know. So if you have the courage, genius and doing something with Software on top of networks please email me. I would love to meet and learn.

June 12, 2014

Why we don’t need a “Silicon” something in Iceland – Ben Kepes – Startup Iceland 2014

I really enjoyed the talk by Ben Kepes, who travels extensively and participates in various conferences as speaker, evangelist and technology blogger and investor. His advice for Iceland made the headlines in the local newspapers. I think he is right, there is only one Silicon Valley and we should not try to create a community with a name that has “Silicon” in it. I like Startup Iceland :) as a name for the Startup Community in Iceland.

It was interesting to read the Twitter Argument between Mark Suster and Kara Swisher about the story that was written by Nellie Bowles on Silicon Beach to describe the LA Tech Community.


Mark hates the name and it was interesting for me to read that and relate it back to what Ben was saying. I think every community should have the Silicon Valley mindset i.e Anything is possible, failure is another way to learn and people willing to take chances on each other to create value. When there is a lot of money involved a number of these things gets skewed. I don’t know enough about Silicon Valley to comment on it but Ben does. Listen to his talk, there are wise words there.

April 14, 2014

Investor-Startup Ecosystem


The blog post is motivated by an article by knowledge@wharton business school with the title “The Next Generation of Investor-Startup Ecosystem“. I have written a lot about the need for Investors to be empathetic to Startup Founders and how value gets destroyed when that does not happen. I have seen it too often that Investors arbitrarily change the dynamics of a discussion with the Entrepreneur especially when it is time to commit on the amount of investment and value of the investment. There was also a blog post on Wall Street Journal based on a Twitter burst by Marc Andreessen about investors coming into Silicon Valley and get ahead of the other local investors by initially suggesting a very high value to the Entrepreneur only to use the Due Diligence phase to negotiate the value down and also to box out the Entrepreneur. A lot of dirty tricks to watch out for especially if you are an Entrepreneur and new to the game. These discussions also show an ominous sign that things are starting to get too frothy in the Startup Universe especially in Silicon Valley. A number of startups are taking in more money than they ever will need for the next 3 to 5 years.


Macro trends matter, the time of cheap money will end and then the cost of funding will go up and then this froth will dry up, taking that into account many large startups like Quora, Uber, Fab etc have taken in multiple Tens of millions of dollars. Here is the article that outlines this trend. All this being said, the important thing that remaining is the struggle of the entrepreneur and those investors who stand on the side of the entrepreneur to say be strong as I am on your side. I see so little of that with the investor community. I struggle a lot with the same challenges that I write about. My dream is that we are able to create a vibrant Startup Community in Iceland. I am happy to see that entrepreneurs have more options now with accelerators and the flurry of discussion arounds money flowing into the entrepreneurial companies, however ventures follow a power law where the top 1% take majority of the funds. Despite all these challenges if entrepreneurs have bargaining power to demand that Investors bring more than money into the game, that would be a great win. Here are some excerpts from the article by Wharton which I thought was great:


As investors ask for proof of sustainability, startups in turn want backers to help them grow instead of just writing a check. The explosion of incubators and accelerators like Y-Combinator, 500 Startups, RocketSpace, Rock Health, Plug and Play and others is in large part attributable to this need. Even many institutional VC firms, such as Andreessen Horowitz, Kleiner Perkins, and Sequoia, are selling more than money. “Other things like the operational metrics, recruiting capability, marketing and industry expertise and connections, these things have become hugely important,” says Chaudhuri.


Did I mention that I am big believer in Accelerators? I think creating more accelerators that are focused on specific industries is another way to create better Investor-Startup Ecosystem, for example there was a suggestion to create an accelerator in Iceland focused on Tourism and Hospitality. I think that is awesome, creates so many tangents of value that it solves big challenges for Investors and Entrepreneurs. I love the following video that shows the relationship between the some of the Entrepreneurs and Venture Investors. I would build the same relationship with every entrepreneur that I will back. That is a promise.





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March 28, 2014

Best of times to be an Entrepreneur and Venture Investor

marc_andreseenI cannot emphasize enough the exciting opportunities that are in front of us. In case you have not noticed, Andreessen Horowitz announced the closing of a $1.5 Billion Andreessen Horowitz Fund IV. Yes, that is a Billion. In addition to that True Ventures closed a fund for $350 Million. The announcement by a16z is what inspired me to write this blog post. Here is an excerpt from that announcement:

We believe this is an incredibly exciting time to be a technology investor. The ultimate market size that this current generation of tech companies can go after dwarfs that of previous ones.

The obvious reason for this is mobile internet penetration: We’ve gone from an internet population of 55 million users to nearly three billion, and smartphone users are expected to grow from 1.5 billion today to five billion in the coming years. The winners in tech today can become massively larger than those of previous decades because the markets they can sell into are enormous, and growing.

I believe these kinds of funds create tremendous opportunities all over the world it is not concentrated in Silicon Valley, although the bulk of the money goes into the Valley. According to the post the total amount of venture money raised by the industry is $16-$18 Billion a year, I wonder how much the investors in Iceland invest in this asset class? My educated guess would be about $20 Million in a year, yes you heard me right $20 Million that is about 0.11% of the amount invested in the US.

I believe that there is a huge opportunity to find strategic fits around the theory that a16z looks at, the broad theme is the Software is Eating the world and more recently the Full Stack development. These themes allow smaller startups to find a unique niche, create a market for that value proposition and typically get positioned to be acquired by those larger startups who are looking at the Full Stack to accelerate their development. I believe there is merit in this investment strategy and I believe Iceland can create, build and export those smaller startups. These startups do not require a lot of capital and with the current state of software and infrastructure it is easier to get to market and create value. Here is another excerpt which validates that thinking:

Yet as these markets have grown, the technology costs required to support them have fallen dramatically due to developer productivity tools and cloud-based computing. For enterprise in particular, the advent of SaaS and BYOD has expanded the market opportunity. Why? In previous tech generations, selling to an enterprise required both the support of the end-users of the application and the IT organization. The limiting factor on application deployment for enterprises was the finite capacity of the IT organization, since they would ultimately have to install, support, and manage the applications internally. With SaaS-based applications, however, individual departments within a large enterprise can find and adopt new technologies freed from the constraints of the IT organization’s support capacity.

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September 11, 2013

Building Bridges from Iceland for Entrepreneurs

I am a big believer that in order to really bring strength to the Startup Community in Iceland we need to build bridges to other Startup Communities. Nice thing about building bridges is that it allows for two way transport, Startups from Iceland could connect to other regions and the other regions can look at Iceland as a potential location or test market or whatever. This was the big motivation for me to launch Startup Iceland Conference. Conceptually, this probably resonates with everyone, however how do we do this practically?

I remember the time when Gunnar Holmsteinn, the CEO of CLARA, decided to go to San Francisco and build the business with Game Development Companies. Gunni is a very resourceful and resilient individual, I knew that and I supported his enthusiasm to venture into the deep end of the pool. He bought a one way flight ticket and just left for the US. It was very entrepreneurial and I was patiently waiting for the call that was going to come. Within a week he called me and was saying that he had basically contacted over 100 landlords in Craigslist to get a place to stay and none of them wanted to rent the place to him, because he did not have a credit score in the US. He had better luck with getting a working desk and he was crashing in a couch on his friends apartment. Luckily, my partners and I had a guest house through one of our other investments in the US, and he was able to base himself there and basically go about building his network and CLARA. The reason I am outlining the above story is because the practicalities of building a business involves going to places and markets where it makes sense for the startup to be connected.

Now, with Gunnar and Andri in San Francisco Bay Area, any startup in Iceland wanting to take advantage of the Silicon Valley can reach out to them and get their help. This is what I mean by building a bridge. CLARA and other startups (Mobilitus, DataMarket etc) from Iceland have been pioneers in actually building the bridge while they were building their company.

PivotDeskThere is a better way, what if we could get connected with other startups in different communities through a service in various different cities and you could actually rent a desk and seek the help of that startup or leaders in that startup community to get started in that community? That is precisely what PivotDesk does, I had a chance to get connected through Jason Mendelson, who participated in Startup Iceland. Jason is an investor in this company and I think it is brilliant.

PivotDesk helps entrepreneurs build great companies. We do that by eliminating one of the biggest barriers that all entrepreneurs face: Finding the right place to grow your business. By providing all the tools each side needs to make it a beneficial and no-stress relationship, PivotDesk will transform the way you think about office space.

So if you are a startup and are looking to expand or explore a market potential in the US, do yourself a favor and check out PivotDesk, believe me you will be thankful that you did. I plan to do that for GreenQloud.

July 12, 2013

Startup Reykjavik 2013

Source: GreenQloud Share

Source: GreenQloud Share

Startup Reykjavik the mentorship driven accelerator for Startups organized by Arion Bank and Innovit+Klak announced the new batch of companies in Startup Iceland. Last evening, I participated in the Pitch and BBQ event organized by Startup Reykjavik. It was incredible to see the energy and the number of people who participated. The Startup Community in Iceland is starting to really get formed and this is a great feeling. I dreamed of this day and I am so impressed that it is happening right now. I had written about the strategy to reboot Iceland on December 15, 2011, it is amazing to see how the Startup Community in Iceland has risen from the ashes and is rebooting. It was exciting to see more than 150 people, I know this number because the Startup Reykjavik team ran out of hamburger buns and they had bought about 150 buns :).

It was awesome to hear the pitches of 5 teams that are part of Startup Reykjavik, the positive energy, the optimism and a sense of building something new was all there. I was even impressed that the new British Ambassador to Iceland was participating and seeing the energy. Met with a team from Copenhagen that is part of the Startup Community in Copenhagen and a lot of new faces. I am pretty sure we are moving in the right direction in Iceland, there will be bumps along the way but I am lot more optimistic about the prospects of startups coming out of Iceland from now.

There is still one thing that is bugging me, while we are creating the infrastructure to build new companies, it is painfully obvious that the investors are not present in these gathering. I saw a couple of them but I am pretty sure if you go to a similar event in Silicon Valley or New York or Boston or Austin, half the room would probably be filled with Analysts from Venture Capital firms. We still have a scenario where Entrepreneurs are chasing Investors in Iceland rather than the other way around i.e Investors chasing Entrepreneurs. That is the change I would like to see in Iceland, when that happens we are on solid ground.

May 24, 2013

3 reasons why you should attend Startup Iceland

I am the Master of my fate

I am the Master of my fate

I have been debating this internally, I would really like your feedback on this. Do you feel that there is value in a conference like Startup Iceland? I think there should be, here are my reasons:

  1. Inspiration and Knowledge: The purpose of events and conferences is not just to listen to someone talk about their success but to get inspired to act. Take ownership of challenges and act on them. Having people who have walked that path share their experiences gives us motivation and courage. My guess is if you hear some of the speakers share their troubles and tribulations, you may say, hey, that does not sound so bad maybe I can do it. I think we have a fantastic line of speakers, any conference around the world would love to have this roaster…
  2. Networking: One of the most popular blog posts that I wrote was about the 2 Must have skills for Entrepreneurs, you guessed it right it is Networking and Selling. During the conference, you as an entrepreneur get the opportunity to have a booth where you can sell your idea and while doing that get a fantastic chance to network with local participants as well as all the guests who are coming into to Iceland. The guests who are coming are curious about Iceland and want to learn more about it and guess what you are the expert there, you live in Iceland. It is a fantastic opportunity for you to present Iceland and your company or your idea or your dream, whatever to build a relationship with someone across the pond. Having contacts around the world is invaluable to doing business. If your idea takes off and you need to go sell it in the US or Europe or wherever, having someone who you have met, connected in Iceland gives an excellent bridge into whatever you need to do in that persons home market. Don’t believe me ask Gunnar Holmsteinn, how he built CLARA’s presence in Silicon Valley. It is all networking and building relationships.
  3. Participation: Not everyone has the time or the energy to organize events like what we are trying to do with Startup Iceland, but we are doing this to bring value to the Startup and Entrepreneurial Community here in Iceland. We have fantastic press coverage, a lot of people want to come to Iceland and see this miracle of a recovery that is happening in Iceland. Dont you want to participate in this transformation? How can you contribute? well, it is simple, just show up! if you don’t have time to volunteer, then you can take the time to attend the event. There are 3 events, the Hackathon which does not require any fee, you just need to have a computer and know how to write software programs in any language, we provide the food, drinks and all the help you need to build something of value. The last hackathon winner got recruited into GreenQloud and the solution he build was released as a service by Twitter 2 week after he had built it. So, you don’t have software development skills no worries, show up for the Unconference event, where all we need is for you to participate and share your ideas on how to build a sustainable, antifragile startup/entrepreneurial ecosystem in Iceland and in the world over. All of us have ideas, here is a platform for you to contribute. You are shy and don’t want to do that, no worries, the 3rd event is a simple conference where you just participate and listen to those who have walked the path.

…all this being said, I hear people complain about the cost of the conference. I believe very strongly that the ticket price to participate in Startup Iceland is an Investment not an expense. An investment you are making in yourself, your company or your idea or your dream. Why would you not want to invest to build yourself? rather than focusing on the cost, focus on the value, what is the value you derive from participating? If you don’t think there is value in this event, I want to hear about it please share it with me, I have my email in the public domain it is bala at startupiceland dot com. We are here to build something and those who give feedback do it only when they care. So please care!

We had the same discussion last year, and I wrote a blog post on who should attend the event. Lets talk about costs, it costs thousands of ISK to get a flight ticket, hotel room etc to go to a similar event outside of Iceland. It should be obvious that having all these speakers come to Iceland would be beneficial to the local Entrepreneurial community. Still people complain. All I say is try organizing an event like this and provide food, drinks, venue for 250+ participants, flight tickets to 9 guests, hotels, taxi etc I have thrown the challenge out to many people, you have better ideas to organize this event please contact me and tell me how we can do this better. Every member of the group that is organizing Startup Iceland is a volunteer, none of us get paid to do this and if you thought this does not take time and effort, please reach out to me I will buy you coffee and you can tell me how we can do this better. I am not an expert but I am committed and motivated to build a startup ecosystem in Iceland to help the future enterpreneurs… help me to help them. Participate! nothing happens by magic or miracles, it is the age old saying, a lot of blood, sweat and tears have been spilt to build society. This effort is no different.

May 4, 2013

Its the Entrepreneur…and the Team

Gunnar, Co-Founder/CEO

Gunnar, Co-Founder/CEO


Svenni, CFO

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard the news that CLARA was acquired by Jive Software (NASDAQ:JIVE) last week. Everyone in Iceland is talking about this deal. It was the first investment my partners and I at Auro Partners made in Iceland. We are very happy to have shared the journey with Team CLARA (a.k.a Resonata). If I am not wrong, this is the first Icelandic software company to be acquired by a NASDAQ listed Silicon valley company. This was a huge win for CLARA, Jive Software and for the Startup Community in Iceland!

Gummi, CMO

Gummi, Co-Founder/CMO

Sverrir, CTO

Sverrir, CTO

I continue to emphasize that the key to success is always the entrepreneurial team. Finding and assembling the right team to drive success is an art. CLARA’s success can be attributed to many factors aligning at once and at the right time. But the core factor in CLARA’s success was its team. Auro Partners was impressed with the technology CLARA was building, but we invested in its founders.

I have written about CLARA before and the team at CLARA. This acquisition effort was led by Gunnar Holmsteinn (CLARA’s CEO), Sveinbjorn Indridarsson (CFO), the dedicated members of CLARA’s team, a committed Board of Directors, and guided by our lawyer Justin Hovey from Pillsbury Law.

Maggi, Co-Founder/Designer

Maggi, Co-Founder/Designer

Jon, Co-Founder/Developer

Jon, Co-Founder/Developer

There were numerous late night meetings, legal documents to review, negotiations, round table discussions and hard work that brought this win home. Like the startup team itself, the people that comprise the Board of Directors of a startup makes a huge difference in the company strategy, direction and opportunity for success. We were very lucky to have had a wonderful and dedicated Board, that consisted of experienced business minds with diverse backgrounds: Egill Masson from NSA, Paula GouldRagnheiður H. Magnúsdóttir, myself and Bjarni Armansson. Together we had the right mix of people with the right backgrounds and the right attitude.

The last 3+ years with Team CLARA has been a huge learning experience for me personally and I would like to thank every member of Team CLARA to have given me that opportunity to be their first investor and the Chairman of the Board.


Steinn, Developer

Steinn, Developer

Tomas, Developer

Tomas, Developer

On behalf of Auro Partners, I will say we are extremely happy to see Team CLARA get to do the things they love doing, and successfully. We are more confident now than ever about our Investment thesis on Iceland and excited to be part of the Startup Community in Iceland. We will continue to invest time, money and effort into building a much more vibrant business community in Iceland.

Rick, Sales

Rick, Sales

If you are an Entrepreneur or a startup team, you should definitely participate in Startup Iceland 2013. Gunnar Holmstein will be among one of the many exceptional and experienced speakers this year. He will share with us his journey, stories and strategies that worked (and didn’t work) for Team CLARA. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to learn from someone who fought the good fight to bring Iceland a huge win.

May 2, 2013

Economics Shimeconomics

Iceland: Viking Rune

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.

November 28, 2012

Open Source Entrepreneurship

Logo Open Source Initiative

Logo Open Source Initiative (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Steve Blank has been one of the bloggers, Entrepreneurs and Gurus who has been writing about and teaching entrepreneurship in Stanford and a number of universities all over the world. He has compiled a blog post that has all the resources that any entrepreneur can use in this blog post with the Title “Open Source Entrepreneurship“. I am a big fan and I hope we all can use the wisdom and knowledge that has been aggregated in this blog post.

via Open Source Entrepreneurship.


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