What Startups Can Learn from Iceland’s Strong Brand Identity

Strategic planning and branding are integral to establishing a company’s identity and reputation in the marketplace it is targeting. Startups often neglect this extremely important area, focusing instead on more immediate needs such as getting their idea off the ground and securing enough funding to afford staff, gear and materials—completely valid.

Experienced entrepreneurs will tell you, however, that establishing a brand identity early can help create significant opportunities for a startup, from seed and growth funding to customer acquisition and retention to positioning for a future merger or acquisition.

noah and mel_2Noah Ross and Mel Weinberger specialize in helping startups that are looking to establish a brand identity and major brands in transition looking for a refresh.

“Iceland is the perfect venue to talk about branding because it’s a country with such a strong brand and a strong sense of identity,” said Noah, who is a Partner and Executive Creative Director at Launchpad Advertising, which was recently acknowledged as one of INC. magazine’s fastest growing companies.

While it is true Iceland’s identity is very clear, the startup community in Iceland often laments the struggles with establishing their brand voice and launching brand and marketing initiatives, particularly when attempting to reach foreign markets. However, the Startup community is rich with local experts and marketing entrepreneurs like Thoranna Jonsdottir and Runa Magnusdotir who are making marketing consulting accessible to startups on both a small business and personal/executive brand level. Startups and entrepreneurs within Iceland can lean on these local resources to help determine their core message, identify their target customers and create an emotional connection to the startup’s product and service.

“Iceland, by and large, is a very unique, very special place,” Noah said. “At the end of the day, people are going to relate from what they feel, and for me, I’ve traveled to a lot of places where you feel different things, but few that inspire with the strong sense of pride and fierce independence of Iceland – a country that produces music, literature, fashion, and even landscapes like no other place on earth. Also, the puffin is delicious,” he added.

It’s this same confluence of creativity, independence, resourcefulness and exceptional ideas that can propel Icelandic startups and entrepreneurs to success as we’ve seen in recent months with Plain Vanilla, CLARA, FAFU, Mobilitus and others.

“The reality is that every startup is fragile. Having a community of likeminded peers who support you makes you/ it stronger,” said Mel. “That driving force and individual expertise, when pulled together across teams, is unstoppable. It might be as tangible as getting coffee and guidance once a month, or going to a perspective-changing conference, but it’s also the intangible thread those events that leave behind that is so necessary–and that’s the most enriching, invisible part. I think Startup Iceland is helping to create a rallying point and backboard for the community that is invaluable,” said Mel.

Mel, who is active in the startup scenes of Austin, Texas and New York City knows brand both from the agency and entrepreneur perspective, as the founder and CEO of Fit Steady, a startup in the health and fitness sector whose tagline is “Finally, an easier way to get fit” and who won first place during Startup Weekend Austin in 2012.

“[Fit Steady] started from a passion for fitness that led me to become a personal trainer,” said Mel. “From that vantage point, I became a sounding board for my friends about all of their insecurities and how challenging it was for them to find the right path. How many times have you walked into a gym only to stare in longing confusion at all the machines and hop on the treadmill again? How many different diets have you tried? Why is it so hard to navigate our personal paths to health & fitness? So I set out to make it easier. I’m trying to make things better by making personal fitness more accessible to the average person.”

Mel reinforces the easy fitness message throughout the Fit Steady brand experience, from searching for a coach to incorporating easy-to-implement fitness tips in the company blog. The company’s mission and passion is very clear.

Noah and Mel will make a joint presentation centered around brand identity with the Startup Iceland audience on June 4th  at Harpa and will participate in Unconference  as well as hold “Office Hours” at Háskólinn Reykjavík on June 3.

 

 

 

StartupIceland.com and Blog to be revamped

I have been bootstrapping the blog and the Startup Iceland website. StartupIceland.com runs on GreenQloud, my favorite cloud platform, however the blog is hosted by WordPress.com. I have been able to hack and make this structure work, I think it is time I did a total revamp of the startupiceland.com website and the blog site. A number of you have given very helpful comments and suggestions on how to make the site better. I am going to get my hands dirty and start working on creating a clean structure that enables a seamless experience with the blog and startupiceland.com website.

Please let me know if any of you would like to work with me on this revamp. I am actually quite excited about getting this off the ground, as it has been high time that I spent some time on this.

Video

Why the publishing industry is broken – John Biggs – Startup Iceland 2014

John is funny and says it as he sees it. Here is a story of John working on a book with a publisher and then working on another book by himself. The talk highlights whats wrong with the publishing business. I think it outlines the challenges most established businesses have with the advent of the new networked model of connected consumers, businesses and value drivers. I think we are on the verge of a break out in rethinking business models and the ways we do things.

To give more data to support the notion that the publishing business is broken, read this post by Brad Feld on why he launched a brand new publishing company called FG Press

Video

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.

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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Startup Iceland 2014 – Done!

Ben at Startup Iceland

coverage in Channel 2 News in Iceland

Wow! what a ride, it was so much fun to hear all the great talks, meet so many young, upcoming and established entrepreneurs in Iceland participate in Startup Iceland. Startup Iceland this year engaged the whole stack of the community, we had people from the Government, Financial Institutions, Universities, Students, Entrepreneurs, Service Providers and people who were just curious to see what this is about. The mentoring sessions was also very well attended, although I screwed up and did not do a good job of preparing for the mentoring session. Oh, well, we learn and try to do better next time. I was impressed by the participation, networking and discussions that was going on during the coffee and lunch breaks. I am happy to say we packed the house and I believe everyone learned something new, got a new connection and built a bridge to cross some of the chasms one faces in this entrepreneurial journey.

John Biggs interviewing Jenny and Bre about MakerBot

John Biggs interviewing Jenny and Bre about MakerBot

I am so thankful for all the Speakers, Mentors, Sponsors, Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Center facilities and project team there, Reykjavik University leadership team and project managers there and all the volunteers who put their heart and mind into making this event come alive. I am truly blessed to get a chance to work with you all. I know my wife is going to kill me, I cannot wait to organize Startup Iceland again next year. I committed 10 years to building a sustainable startup ecosystem in Iceland and we are 4 years in and 6 more to go. I know with the momentum that we have gathered in the last years, we will continue full speed ahead… As Bre and Jenny from MakerBot continually reinforced to us with their MakerBot Way during the event.

I have to admit that this event is great personal learning experience for me and I learn so much from all these awesome speakers, leaders and influencers who come here and share freely their wisdom. What a way to learn. I am incredibly motivated to start working on a roster of speakers for next year. We will continue to get all the video content ready and start sharing the same through startupiceland.com, I will definitely blog about it so watch this blog post, or do me a favor and just subscribe to it that way you can get it in your promotions tab of gmail.

Lots of exciting ideas and suggestions came up during the event. I will be blogging about that as well so watch this space.

 

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Startup Iceland – Less than a week away! Shout out to all those who make it happen

Startup Iceland 2014 is less than a week away! I am so excited about meeting all the entrepreneurs and the great speakers who are coming to Iceland and to hear the stories of Icelandic entrepreneurs. Startup Iceland as an event will not be possible without you all buying tickets and participating and the generous support of all our sponsors, volunteers, vendors and key service providers. When I started on this journey, I had no clue how to get an event organized but with each and every years, our wonderful sponsors take a chance on us and make this possible.

Icelandair Group – Icelandair Group has been an anchor sponsor for Startup Iceland. Bogi Neil Bogasson the CFO of Icelandair Group and Addy Olafsdottir the Marketing Manager have been great supporters of us getting this event on the map. They understood right away in 2012, what I wanted to create, an Iceland Airwaves like event for Entrepreneurs and Startup Founders. Thank you again for your continued support and encouragement.

Nysköpunarsjödur – Helga Valfells one of our speakers this year has been a big supporter of Startup Iceland. I think Nysköpunarsjödur is an important investor in startups in Iceland and they have played another anchor role in the development of a Startup Community in Iceland. Helga thank you for your continued leadership.

Eyrir Invest – I respect and admire Thordur Magnusson, who has been a sponsor and supporter of Startup Iceland since the beginning. He has played a key role in the development of the startup community in Iceland and I know they will continue to participate and invest in the development of Iceland as a startup place.

Frumtak – Eggert has been a supporter of building a startup community in Iceland and this is the second year that they have sponsored the event. Thank you team Frumtak.

Nasdaq OMX – Kristin and Pall have been big supporters of our initiative to build companies from the grassroot level. They see the potential and opportunities these young companies show and I think a fully functioning capital market is an important piece in the puzzle of building a startup community. Most of the investors who invest in Startups and Entrepreneurs need to see a liquidity event and having a fully functioning capital market is a great value. We thank them for their support of Startup Iceland.

VÍB – Our new sponsors of Startup Iceland is VÍB, the Asset Management and Private Banking service of Islandsbanki. I used to work at Islandsbanki and the team there has always been supportive and I really happy to see them participate and contribute and really add value to the Entrepreneurs and Startups. Thank you Kjartan, Haraldur, Haukur, Bjorn and the test of the team at Islandsbanki.

The US Embassy in Iceland – Paul O’Friel the Deputy Chief of Mission, Paul Cunnigham, Brad Stillwell, Helga Magnusdottir and everyone in the embassy have been so generous and gracious about supporting this initiative that I am humbled by this. I am looking forward to the new Ambassador to take office and build more bridges for Entrepreneurs to the US.

Icora Partners – Gunnar Tryggvasson who is a speaker in the event has been successful in raising capital for Meniga one of the startups that came out the financial crisis in Iceland. Meniga has become a big company now in Icelandic standards. It would be interesting to hear how Gunnar was able to get this done for a Startup.

WEDO – GRE or Gudmundur Einarsson has been supporting and helping all our initiatives, through the design, development and maintenance of the StartupIceland.com website. GRE and his team are key members of Startup Iceland. We would not have been able to launch the conference without a platform like the website that was created by WEDO.

Reykjavik University – Ari and Kristinne have been instrumental in getting the whole Reykjavik University behind the entrepreneurial development efforts. They have given us the premises and hosted the hackathons, provided the infrastructure to facilitate creating an environment that fosters startup community building. Thank you again.

Deloitte – The leadership at deloitte have been very positive towards what we have been doing with Startup Iceland and they provide all kinds of help, for once they allow Agusta my wife who works for Deloitte to take time to help me with this crazy endeavor. They provide us with Administrative and Secretarial help during the event. Provide mentoring for entrepreneurs as it relates to the services they provide. I am very thankful for their support.

Practical – Helga, Marin and everyone in Team Practical were instrumental in coordinating all the speakers’s itineraries and schedule. They were such a pleasure to work with and they have the can do attitude to get anything done. I am very thankful for their service and effort.

Ölgerdin – All the caffine drinks and water during the hackathons are provided as sponsorship by Ölgerdin, Andri their CEO has been always receptive and wants to really help in the effort. Thank you Andri.

TeqHire – Stefan and Kristjan are key core team members who have been preaching the Startup Iceland gospel. I am really excited to see that they have found a business model that enables them to serve startups and companies all over with find talented IT team members. There is a big gap in the market on how to find these people and I believe Stefan and Kristjan are onto something here.

Paula Gould – Paula is tireless in helping put the event together, curating speakers, managing public relation and media, coordinating things and just being awesome and getting things done. She is a leader and a valuable team member in any team. Thank you Paula.

Last but not least my wife Agusta, she is basically brings balance to the force. I am really lucky to have married such a smart person. She bring sanity to our household when I go do crazy things like host a conference in Iceland, she makes it happen with her organizing, discipline, courage and love. Thank you Agusta mein. I don’t know how I will pull this together without you.

There are a number of people who continue to support, help and be cheerleaders to this initiative, Toti and Helga with Mobilitus, Alex Richter with Think GeoEnergy, Haukur Gudjonson with Bungalo, The team at Klak Innovit. If I have left out someone please bear with me just been a whirlwind of activities that my brain in swimming. I thank each and every entrepreneur for being who you are, you are my tribe and I am at your service. Please reach out to me if there is anything that I can do to help.

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Winds of Change in Iceland?

nyskopunartorg-vefbordiI spent the last friday and saturday in Reykjavik University, participating in an event organized by SI – The Federation of Icelandic Industries. There was a number of startups, established companies and service providers and general public in Iceland participating, cheering and recognizing the efforts of the Icelandic companies. There were winners announced and it was really nice for me to see the recognition given to even those companies that have no revenue but were doing some incredible things. This was in the heel of a major announcement by the Government of Iceland as it relates to the Science and Technology Policy of Iceland.

The Government of Iceland approved an action plan designed to support and enhance business competitiveness and transparent use of public funds as it relates to Research and Development, Science and Technology and Innovation. Funding will be increased for science, technology and innovation, so that by 2016 it will reach 3.0% of gross domestic product ( GDP) and comparability among the highest in the OECD . The action is also designed to attract greater business investment in R&D, science and innovation. Here is the link to the Strategy and Action Plan of Science and Technology Policy of 2014 – 2016 (icelandic).

This is a big deal, when public policy aligns with the overall sentiment of the broader community which aligns with the market change this combination can really change the landscape for Startups and Entrepreneurs. For those who have been reading this blog and indulge me in discussions, understand why I am so excited about this. Almost all research and development, scientific process and innovation has something to do with Software. Thereby investing in Software based companies that leverage the new platforms of Social Networks and other forms of networks really catapult analysis and scaling.

I have been meeting with a number of companies, institutions and organizations to sell tickets for Startup Iceland (have you bought yours yet?) and across the board the collective sentiment is positive towards Startups and Entrepreneurs and supporting initiatives that creates new businesses and value. These are exciting times and I hope we build a sustainable startup ecosystem and community in Iceland.

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Startup Iceland Mini Events

nordursaltAs a build up to Startup Iceland at the end of this month, WEDO one of our sponsors and partners started organizing Mini Events to get people talking about startup and entrepreneurial stories, we had stories of Nordur Salt a company focused on making our food experience unique by making one of the best Salt in the world, using sustainable methods and sustainable energy. I think the message is fantastic. I love stories like this, an Entrepreneur going on a journey to build something sustainable and contrarian. Check out their website, and this feature of them in Iceland Design Center, it is really cool. Here is a small video describing the story.

140305_-_iglo_and_indi_1The mini events provides a platform for Entrepreneurs to gather, connect, tell stories and learn from each other what is working and what is not working. I think it is a powerful tool. Startup Communities are made of these kinds of activities. I continue to ask the question, why don’t investors and others who should have an interest to get to know these entrepreneurs and startups show up to these events? What is interesting to me is that there are so many small companies like these that are being created in Iceland, the creative force has been unleashed after the financial collapse in 2008. BTW, Iglo and Indi was formed in 2008. So was Meniga and Startup Iceland and CLARA and DataMarket and GreenQloud and Mobilitus and Plain Vanilla Games and Tulipop and many many more companies. I believe a crisis like what happened in 2008 has really created tremendous economic value in Iceland. I continue to get questions whether the economic troubles of Iceland like the currency controls etc really impact investments, sure it does, but Entrepreneurs and Startups are not thinking about those things, they are focusing on building value and creating products and services that are sustainable, unique and beautiful. Makes me very optimistic about the Startup Community development in Iceland. I have committed 10 years to this journey and I will continue to write about and do everything in my powers to create a vibrant sustainable startup community that is entrepreneur friendly and creates a culture that fosters value creation.

AR-140519160The next story was about Iglo and Indi, a children clothing designer and manufacturer from Iceland. The team at Iglo and Indi have done a great job of marketing their message, putting the kids first in terms of the clothing, comfort and family. It shows in the product the level of attention and care that has gone into making this product come alive. In the age of mass production at the lowest cost, sustainability and design is given the least of the attention.

Our second Startup Iceland mini event got coverage in one of the online newspaper in Iceland, here is the link it is in Icelandic but you get the story. We plan to run these mini events throughout the year to help everyone network, connect and share stories of what is it about being an entrepreneur and building a community of people who are creating value and deciding to take ownership of their lives.

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Tulipop Founders – Signy and Helga – Speaker Profile – Startup Iceland 2014

map Startup Iceland is almost here, if you have not booked your tickets please do it. We have a great line up of speakers. Two of the speakers are Icelandic Entrepreneurs Signy Kolbeinsdottir and Helga Arnadottir, the founders of Tulipop, a kids adventure land with a bunch of unique characters. What is interesting about these characters is that it breaks some of the stereotypes that we see in kids stories and characters. There is Gloomy, the adventure seeking and courageous female character and Bubble a cheery, fun loving and timid male character. The stories and settings are in an imaginary island. The story of Tulipop is unique in the sense that both the founders came together after the financial collapse and decided that they wanted to create things, Signy the illustrator and creator of all these characters and stories got really stuffy working at things that she was not really passionate about. Helga comes from the project management and MBA background to take the concept to market and build a company that both of them are passionate about. Tulipop characters and merchandises are unique, high quality, very well crafted and made and sold all over the world now.Helga_Arnadottir-342x227 It is a great story, but they are just in the beginning stage of building a great company. Learn how they are building this world that is now being loved by kids all over the world.

It was interesting to visit their office in Hverfisgata, where tourists stop by and buy the merchandize and get autographs from Signy on them. Maybe the tourists visiting Iceland see something in Tulipop. I believe companies like this are abound in Iceland, many ideas are being created and are on the verge of breaking out, but the funny thing is change itself happens immediately, but preparing for change takes time.

signy_kolbeinsdottir-342x227
Mission of Startup Iceland is to build a sustainable startup community in Iceland and to share the journey, so we can learn to build these kinds of communities everywhere. It is a great pleasure to see up coming and break out companies presented in Startup Iceland. The previous entrepreneurs who have presented in Startup Iceland are from companies like Clara, Plain Vanilla Games, reKode (skema), Mobilitus, Re-make Electric, GreenQloud etc all of them have gone ahead and are building great companies. I believe Startup Iceland is a platform for Startups in Iceland to be showcased. If you have a startup and want to participate reach out to me. All the speakers who come to Iceland have been generous to allocate Office Hours on June 3rd in Reykjavik University. All the participants have an opportunity to schedule time with the guests, connect, network and build bridges. I wrote a while back about 2 must have skills to be cultivated by Entrepreneurs and Startup Founders, you get to exercise both of those skills during Startup Iceland. Building a company is a hard job, initiatives like Startup Iceland really help local startups to learn and also to be found. In this hyper connected world of Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn, it is very easy to get lost in all the hype, but nothing is more practical and impactful and cost effective than participating in events like this and talking about your startup. Even if you are not a speaker, just being in the audience and networking during the breaks and connecting with other entrepreneurs in Iceland and from around the world can be a unique learning experience. I take every opportunity to meet an Entrepreneur as I learn so much, but it does not happen on its own, we all need to make the effort and take that first step and say yes when opportunity comes knocking. I am excited to learn about Tulipop and where they are going with their vision. Believe me it is not small! They want to give Hello Kitty a run for its money! thats bold…

Here is the video of panel discussion where Thor Fridriksson the founder of Plain Vanilla Games and Sessilja and Vala from Startup Kids talk to John Biggs from TechCrunch.

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