May 25, 2014
I 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.
May 21, 2014
Hubris according to Merriam Webster is a great or foolish amount of pride or confidence. I meet and talk to a number of entrepreneurs and investors, I am always on the lookout for characteristics of Hubris. I am not being judgemental, but what hubris does is it gets in the way of learning. If you are super confident about yourself or pride yourself about what you know you are eager to learn. I see it mostly in those who have money, they act like they know it all, unfortunately nobody does. I have seen it even more when I used to work in the bank and when I walked into the trading room and when the market was going up, you could feel the pride and self confidence swelling in the room. Oh, yes, I have smoked this feeling too but I never inhaled (famous words spoken!).
I always remind myself to de-link my identity or my pride from the success or failure that I face. Believe me I have faced plenty of both, failure used to hurt me and success used to make me feel like I am the king of the world. I have been doing a lot of thinking and practising flipping the switch on these feelings, i.e be humble when I see success and become extremely curious, open minded and in a positive learning state of mind when I see failure, just like a scientist or explorer should. I think I am onto something here…
I have written about being humble, humble is the word that I would like to remind myself when I see entrepreneurial hubris. I find that I don’t learn when I am feeling hubris, I tend to think I know it and guess what? the Universe has a way of knocking me on my back. I have tried to learn from it but it is hard. Your ego is hurt, you start to look for escape clauses to lick your pride and start pointing fingers at everything else to absolve all responsibility. I think that is a wrong but normal human reaction. There are too many instances to write about and I will just stick to writing about my radical self inquiry around these events.
Startups or being an Entrepreneur is to be a problem solver. You cannot get every problem right, you screw up sometimes. The learnings that you get out of those screw ups is what I want to focus on. Most startup founders struggle with the 3 big milestones of starting a business and building a team. The 3 big milestones that every entrepreneur needs to focus on are:
- Product or Service to Market fit – the question you need to ask to achieve this milestone are, do you know the size of your market? do you know how to get in front of the market? do you have something unique, different or valuable to offer this market? Does the market value it the same way as you do? Are you able to make the market choose your offering? what is the cost of making the market to choose your offering? How long would it take to get in front of the market and in what quantity would it cover the cost of the offering? You would be surprised how many entrepreneurs that I meet who have not thought through this. The expectation is not that you have thought through everything but you need to have a clue on how to get in front of the market to experiment and find answers to the other questions.
- Revenue scaling – Do you know how to scale your revenue, given you have solved the first milestone problem? What rate can you grow the revenue? What is the cost of growing the revenue? How long will it take to pay for the cost of achieving revenue scaling?
- Internationalization – Most of the startups and entrepreneurs that I see understand the need to build products and services for the global market because you can. I have written about how cost effective it has become to start companies, but that is it… it is easy to start something but it takes considerable resources to build a company. Most entrepreneurs underestimate the capital requirement to scale businesses. I think the smart way is to know what market you are going after and what it would cost to become global. You don’t have to know all the numbers but a ballpark would help. For example, if you are building a Software As A Service (SaaS) business then it is relatively easy to estimate the cost of each of the above three milestones. And today every software business needs to be SaaS business otherwise you are doing something wrong or you are in a very specialised business which is going to take you much longer to achieve the first 2 milestones. Internationalization requires a huge amount of time invested in cultural understanding, communication and allowing international teams to absorb and volunteer their hearts and their minds to what you are doing. I have seen so many investors get so impatient with internationalization. They believe it is magic. I can assure you there are no miracles and magic in building teams. It is hard work, experimentation and building trust.
I am usually dumbstruck when I meet Investors who invest in Startups who have absolutely no clue on how to get Startups and Entrepreneurs whom they invest in to achieve the above 3 things. They just expect magic to happen. Building a business is hard work, it takes effort, skills, perseverance and talent. I have seen investors throw the baby with the bathwater because an experiment failed. In addition, I also find Investors who are from one industry apply the principles or what worked in that industry to work in another industry that is totally different. Again it is not going to work. If there was a cookie cutter methodology to build businesses we would have figured it out and everyone would know it. The classic mistake that I see with Investors is to think that they know the business better than the entrepreneur. The truth could not be far from it. An investor needs to be a mentor, a guide, someone with experience willing to help the entrepreneur or startup founder along the way and to bring connections and networks that the startup founder or entrepreneur does not have. I have seen very few investors who fit this bill and the ones who fit the bill are usually the ones who have survived the test of time.
May 19, 2014
I could not believe that I was nominated as a Startup Journalist of the Year in Iceland by The Nordic Startup Awards. You can guess how delighted I was when I saw a tweet last evening that I Won! It was a great feeling but also very humbling. I have been writing about the Startup Community and Ecosystem and Entrepreneurship from my eyes in Iceland since 2009, I never thought this blog was anything but a resource for Startup Founders and Entrepreneurs. I started writing because I thought maybe someone out there might see what we are going through in Iceland as Investors, Entrepreneurs and Startups interesting and could provide some inspiration, knowledge and resource so their journey is easier. Well, not easier but atleast they could relate and say, yes, I understand and I am not alone in this path. This award is a big recognition to the readers of this blog, without them reading, talking about what is being written here and sharing that with their community, it would have not got nominated in the first place.
We all seek connection, a sense of belonging. I almost naturally gravitate towards my tribe, which is the tribe of Entrepreneurs and Startup Founders. I made it my mission to help my tribe and this blog is nothing but that mission coming alive. To be recognized by the Nordic Startup Awards is another testament to the fact that if you are passionate about something and genuine about the mission and work hard at living the mission the recognition comes. I am constantly asked why do I do this? I do this because it could help someone like me struggling to find a path, I remember distinctly when I was fired from my job because the entire financial system in Iceland collapsed… I was searching for an outlet to release my inner voice, to say that it is ok and everything will be fine. I write because I was inspired to write by my mentor Brad Feld and Fred Wilson and Mark Suster and million other blogger who are relentless in writing and using writing as a means to express their thoughts, ideas, action and to build a community.
So, here is a last piece of thought… There is nothing stopping us from putting down our thoughts, there is something therapeutic about writing. Use the tools like any of the blogging platforms like Tumblr, WordPress, Google+, Blogger etc Pick a subject that you are passionate about and be disciplined about writing about it regularly. I used to blog everyday, I do that at times but I also take breaks from blogging to gather my thoughts. I find blogging and writing as my creative outlet, it may not be the best or beautifully written but it helps me think. Brad wrote about this recently. I attended TEDx Reykjavik over the weekend and one of the speaker was Guðrún Ingibjörg Þorgeirsdóttir, and I connected with her talk titled “How writing changed a life”. Get your computers out and start writing.
Here are all the other winners in the Nordic Startup Awards, really proud to be in this list… all of the winners and nominees are doing a great service to the Startup Community in Iceland and I bow to them and I hope more people and companies volunteer their hearts and their minds to building a sustainable startup community in Iceland.
May 18, 2014
As 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.
The 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.
The 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.
February 10, 2014
Image via CrunchBase
The annual Startup Iceland Conference on Entrepreneurship and Building Antifragile Startup Ecosystem in Iceland is happening on June 2nd and 3rd, 2014. Mark your calendars. We have started planning and putting the program together. Our focus has always been about Building an Antifragile Startup Ecosystem, this year we will try to bring thought leaders and entrepreneurs to share and discuss the changes that is happening in the world of innovation and how it impacts a startup community.
One of the most intriguing innovation that is starting to make a difference is the world of 3D Printing, Wearable Technology and its impact on manufacturing. I don’t believe that traditional manufacturing is going away the same way people traveling on horses has not gone away, but it is going to be disrupted with the advent of the capacity for every individual to invest, create and participate in the manufacturing economy. I spoke to Jenny Lawton, the President of MakerBot and She has agreed to come and talk about the trend, and she is bringing Bre Pettis, the founder of MakerBot with her. I am so excited to hear them speak about this fascinating change we are seeing in front of our eyes. Someone told me that the future is now, because there are a number of people creating the future as I type this blog post.
As always, we will have a Hackathon before the Conference and we plan to have mentoring sessions and one-on-one meetings with the speakers and entrepreneurs who participate in the conference. More details about the conference to follow shortly. We are updating the website and starting on the promotion of the event this week. I just wanted to give a heads up and blog about what I have been thinking about this year.
October 15, 2013
The mission of this blog is to be a resource for entrepreneurs, startups and everyone who wants to learn about the entrepreneurial life. Why I do this is because I have made it my mission to build an antifragile startup ecosystem in Iceland. I have written a lot about how my analysis of why this is not such a bad idea and how I am also putting my money where my mouth is. In continuing with that development, I was happy to see that Startup Genome project has included Iceland as a region. If you have not explored it, you should. I would encourage you to go and enter your company in the Startup Genome Database, it is a easy way to keep track of all the companies that are being created in Iceland. In addition to this, I would recommend that you go and register yourself and your company in AngelList, Crunchbase etc do the work needed to get your name out into those places where people are searching for Startups. It is important aspect of building a company and your startup.
Toti suggested another brilliant idea that came out of another Startup Community that is very similar in development stage as Iceland, Portland. Portland has an online calendar that lists all the activities that are ongoing in the Startup Community, called Calagator which is a unified calendar for the technology community of Portland, Oregon. It is an all-volunteer effort and they encourages anyone to import, create, and edit events. I think having something like that will be awesome for Iceland. I also think It is great way to schedule events and see in a glance what is going on in the area or region. Of course given that everyone who is part of the Startup Community is in one of the Facebook groups is a great thing in Iceland but it might also prevent new people from getting to know about the Startup Community in Iceland. Having an open calendar that is crawlable by Google or DuckDuckGo or Bing or whatever search engine of choice, enable serendipitous discovery of meetups and new community members joining this growing community.
Toti has volunteered Mobilitus and I have volunteered GreenQloud to host this application build using an open source software from to have Iceland’s own Calendar of Events. I think both of these online resources need to be kept upto date, so we need you all to participate and update your startup or a startup you know into the Genome. Add a calendar event to the new TBA calendar for Iceland.
October 10, 2013
I have more or less documented the journey since the day the Financial System in Iceland collapsed in 2008. There has been a lot written about October 8th, 2008, the day when the Prime Minister of Iceland addressed the nation stating the challenges in front of Iceland and the collapse and ending the speech with the most famous last words for a politician whose career was pretty much over… oh, yes the famous words were “God Bless Iceland”! there was total disbelief within the Icelandic community. I don’t want to go into the details of what happened after that I think many people have done that. What I do want to do is describe what I did, I decided right then and there that there was only one way to rebuild the business community in Iceland and that was through re-inventing what really creates value in Iceland. I was very impressed with the Design, Software and Infrastructure talent in Iceland and so I decided that I would invest my time, effort and money in building that sector. We invested in a team of Entrepreneurs and they won for Iceland. After I have been working with the Entrepreneurs, it was obvious to me that Startups and Entrepreneurs in Iceland needed more than just Angel Capital (it was non-existent then). I actually built a presentation on Why we would invest in Iceland and what Icelandic startups needed. Here is the first iteration of the Investment Thesis and Strategy that I created. What is important are the above 2 questions, in terms of What Icelandic Startups needed then and what they still need now are 3 things:
- More Seed and Angel Capital
- Mentoring and advising on developing, marketing and selling products/services to the Global market
- Bridge to a bigger market
the reasons why I felt we should invest in Icelandic Entrepreneurs was based on again a bunch of things:
- Young demographic
- Well educated and technology savvy population
- Excellent infrastructure
- Cost effective (hiring/training a software engineer in Iceland is much cheaper than say New York or London)
- Entrepreneurial culture
- There was lot of emphasis on Design, Innovation and Creative industry
- Small market is great for customer validation and to find the Product to Market fit and easy to pivot a product or service strategy
I naively thought that I could present this to the investor community and create a Venture Capital firm, I went to every pension fund and Asset Management company. Presented the idea, just to be laughed out of the office. It was rather humiliating, when they asked why I thought I could do this better than anyone else? it was a very valid question and I asked myself that question. At that time it was not something that I could quantify as we had just done a couple of investments and jury was out on those investments. Fast forward to 2013, we have the track record, all the investments that we have done are alive and kicking and are doing very well. CLARA was sold to Jive Software and I can say without exaggerating that every single person who invested in CLARA got their money’s worth. Buuteeq is growing leaps and bounds and I am pretty sure they are going places. The funny thing about these investments is that we went in with no expectation on when the companies will win or when we will get our money back, we wanted to help the Entrepreneurs and did some common sense thinking on the deals and made sure it was a Win-Win deal for us and the Entrepreneurs and we spent considerable amount of time helping the Entrepreneur. It is not for everyone… but we just love it. I love helping Entrepreneurs, I meet every single one of them and give them my time, my connection and whatever else I possibly can. Founding Startup Iceland the Conference was based on that philosophy of doing something to help the Entrepreneurial community in Iceland and to build a really vibrant community of Startups and Entrepreneurs in Iceland. That vision has not changed and I am pretty sure that we will get there, but we will not get there if the community does not invest.
I understand that investing in Startups is risky, the results are not guaranteed and it is a lot of work but nothing worthwhile is easy. I am willing to work my fingers to the bone to get this community built in Iceland. The Angel syndicate is platform to crowd source capital. Everyone keeps talking about how Pension Funds should be investing in Startups etc I think that is baloney… Pension Fund Managers do not have the time to work with Startups what they need to be doing is investing in Platforms and People who are investing in Startups. Unfortunately in Iceland, this community has not developed because there is no history to really creating a huge win in a Startup until the last couple of years. Through the syndicate, we can really harness more than what everyone thinks is possible. Raising capital is hard anywhere but it is extremely hard in Iceland if you are not part of the inner circle. I want to disrupt this, I want everyone in Iceland to have an opportunity to participate in this journey.
October 5, 2013
Every city was once a startup, famous words spoken by Brad Feld when I have seen him position his book on Startup Communities. Where is the soul of the city, what makes cities thrive and fall? I think the basic building block of any city is the entrepreneurial spirit. That is why I believe the thesis that Brad has written about building startup communities resonates with me. I started on the journey to build a thriving or should I say Antifragile Startup Community in Iceland right after the collapse of the financial system in Iceland, because I believe the spirit of entrepreneurship was alive, kicking and can be rekindled. The motivation to organize Startup Iceland was rooted in that belief. How are we doing on this Startup Community building effort? well I think we are in Mile 1 of a 26.2 Mile marathon. There is a lot of work to do. I believe every entrepreneur needs to dream and have vision, but cannot loose sight of execution because Vision without Execution is Hallucination. I think the Startup Community in Iceland is executing. So, what else do we need to do? I think we need to harness a new breed of investors, create an investing platform and a market to clear the angel capital demand and supply. There is only one way to create a demand for Angel capital and that is by starting new ventures, we are addressing that with many initiatives like the Golden Egg Competition in January, Seed Forum, Startup Reykjavik and a number of entrepreneurial initiatives through Innovit+Klak, University of Iceland and Reykjavik University etc. I believe where we are struggling is creating a supply of Angel capital, in order to do that we need mentoring and a platform, I have written about creating an accelerator for Investors. I think we need to go further than that…
I think AngelList really provides the platform for anyone to build a syndicate to invest in Startups and Entrepreneurs. There is a lot of debate on whether it is going to kill the traditional VC business or not. I am not in the prediction business but any option that helps entrepreneurs and startups is a good thing. Those who have gone through the passage like we did with our previous investments, know that no-one knows how the future is going to turn out but one has to actively work to make any investment work. With that philosophy in mind, I am forming a syndicate to invest in Entrepreneurs and Startups in Iceland. I am no VC, but I think I have better track record than anyone in Iceland, we took a company all the way and in the process helped the Entrepreneurs and in the end every investor made money. I am not promising that we can repeat the process or the result, but we understand what we went through and that learning is valuable. Given what I have seen I think it is time for us to change the landscape in Iceland. Watch out for details of the initiative. Here is a Presentation of our strategy!
September 24, 2012
Entrepreneurship (Photo credit: Michael Lewkowitz)
Truth is reality. Reality can be distorted when we have wrong maps in front of us. To be part of a startup or running your own business there is nothing more detrimental than not dedicating everything about what is done in the company to truth. I believe Entrepreneurship is a Truth Game. You cannot lie to yourself that your product or service is great when your users don’t want to pay for it. The reality of running out of money hits you like a ton of bricks. Obviously it is hard, building something that is not yet there but getting someone to pay for it with all its limitations and crashes and bugs, but as long as you are honest about the status of things and are continually making progress you are doing the right thing. There is a reason why all investors want to see metrics, because metrics shows the reality of the performance of the team. So what are these metrics? Sarah Pervette, one of the speakers in Startup Iceland had this slide that she stole from Bessemer Venture Partners:
Source: Startup Iceland 2012, Sarah Prevette
These 6 metrics should be in front of every Entrepreneur, you need to measure this, monitor this and make sure that you are tracking progress on all of this. It is very easy to get caught up in the mix of things when you are doing a startup, there are million things you need to do and things are not working, people don’t show up because they are sick, whatever but being honest about the measurement of your business is the most important thing that you cannot take your eyes off from.
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?