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.

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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Two key deficits of the founder CEO…

source: GigaOm

source: GigaOm

… when compared with a professional CEO”. I had to complete the sentence because some of the founder CEO’s go on to become great CEOs but they don’t always start that way. I finished reading the book “The Hard Things about Hard Things” over the weekend and the last chapter captured the essence of where Startup Founder need help and how Andreessen Horowitz Venture firm was created to solve that. According to Ben Horowitz the two key deficits are:

  1. The CEO skill set – Managing executives, organizational design, running sales organizations and the like were all important skills that technical founders lacked.
  2. The CEO network – Professional CEOs knew lots of executives, potential customers and partners, people in the press, investors, and other important business connections. Technical founders on the other hand, knew some good engineers and how to program.

I think this is spot on in terms of the technical founders that I have worked with in the past. In addition to the above, I have seen investors who put money on technical founders with absolutely no idea of how to resolve the above two deficits and they expect magic to happen with the startup. I cannot imagine investing in a company and not knowing how I was going to help the startup founder in some tangible way to bridge the above two deficits. Ben goes on to explain the question that he and Marc Andreeseen tired to answer through their new venture Andreeseen Horowitz Ventures,

How might a venture capital firm help founder CEOs close those gaps?

http://a16z.com there is a story behind the URL as well. Go get the book, it is a must have for startup founders and investors alike.

Coming back to our small island north of the atlantic, what is lacking in Iceland is a venture firm that has the core mission of trying to solve the challenges entrepreneurs and startup founders have here in Iceland. I have written about this a while back when I had been working with the Team at CLARA.

What if a venture firm in addition to investing capital at all stages of the company development also provided the kind of mentorship that would accelerate the learning process for the founders? Also, what if the venture firm also systematize and professionalize the network and made the connections and helped build bridges from Iceland? That is exactly what Andreeseen Horowitz Ventures has done. This is not very different from what Brad Feld, Jason Mendelson, Ryan McIntyre and Seth Levin have done in Foundry Group… here is an excerpt from Foundry Group’s website:

What We Do

As true early-stage investors, we are comfortable making small seed investments (as little as $250,000 – $500,000) to help promising entrepreneurs get their ideas off the ground. We are equally comfortable participating in larger, more traditional Series A venture financing rounds. Regardless of the size of our initial investment, the size of our fund allows us to continue to support our portfolio companies through their entire financing lifecycles.

In addition to providing the necessary venture capital to get a company up and running, we are committed to leveraging our experience in starting and growing companies, our expertise in the technology industry, and our network of relationships to help great entrepreneurs turn great ideas into great companies.

How We Do It

We believe that success comes from building a collaborative and supportive relationship between Foundry Group and the entrepreneurs and executives in whom we invest. Having walked the proverbial mile in the entrepreneur’s shoes, we understand where we can add value—such as helping build out a management team, thinking through strategic business development and growth opportunities, or providing advice on exit strategies—and we aren’t afraid to roll up our sleeves and get our hands dirty.

Rest assured, however, that we also know the difference between being value-added investors and being micro-managing investors. As venture capitalists, we believe our role is to identify, help build and support the team that will make our companies successful, not to run those companies ourselves.

We also believe that, in early-stage investing, it is critical we maintain a direct relationship between our entrepreneurs and our managing directors, rather than using junior professionals to manage the work load. Foundry Group’s team structure, fund size, and investment process have been intentionally created to ensure this philosophy guides our interactions with all of our investments.

In most cases, Foundry Group will be the first institutional investor in the companies that we back. Because of our active engagement with our companies, we typically will take a correspondingly substantial ownership position in our investments and will join as a member of the company’s board of directors.

We recognize that sometimes the best ideas aren’t ones that generate broad investor consensus. Though we are happy to co-invest with other venture firms as part of a syndicate, we look to our own evaluation and interpretation of an entrepreneur, a market opportunity and a company’s prospects to guide our investment decisions. As a result, we view ourselves as “syndication agnostic” and are entirely comfortable investing in an early-stage company as its sole investor rather than seeking the validation of co-investors.

Would it not be great if we could combine the Andreeseen Horowitz and Foundry Group’s “How we do it” philosophy and have that firm based in Iceland to invest in Icelandic Startups? If you have read this far then it is not difficult for you to connect the dots… :) keep watching this space for more news on this.

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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.

Iceland is Starting up

It is exciting to see the developments in Iceland as it relates to Entrepreneurship and Startups. There has been a number of developments right after Startup Iceland 2013 that I think are watershed moments. I believe the Startup Reykjavik program has come of age even in a very short history of only graduating 2 batches. We still don’t have big funding or acquisitions right after Demo Day yet but I am pretty confident the teams that have gone through the program feel a sense of believing that they have a fair chance to win or atleast reduce their odds of failure. Jon Von Tetzchner in IcelandAnd it was great to see that Jon von Tetzchner has just launched a Co-working space for Startups right here in Iceland. He should know a thing or two about building a Startup and building an environment that is conducive for Startups and Entrepreneurs. There is more and more support for startups and I believe the community is starting to believe as well. Carbon Recycle International another startup that has been in existence for quite sometime now just got a big cash injection from a Canadian listed company. The startup ecosystem is starting to diversify. All this being said, I still think that we need more policy support to ensure that companies at the early stage can really get a fair shot at breaking out. And obviously we could do with more funding options. There is just not enough people wanting to invest their time and effort to really get their hands dirty at building companies from an investor perspective. I think I know why…  there are so many easier options to make money than to invest ones time and effort and everything else in a startup or an entrepreneur.  My partners and I believe that it is worth it and we continue to invest our time, effort and money in the Entrepreneurs in Iceland. We have some ideas brewing so watch out for more news coming from us.

Iceland Seafood Cluster

I have been writing a lot about Entrepreneurship and Startups, but I am not a big fan of the Cluster concept primarily because getting sjavarklasinn-70established 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. thor_sigfusson-145It 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.


Exporting Renewable Energy from Iceland

The Nesjavellir Geothermal Power Plant in Þing...

The Nesjavellir Geothermal Power Plant in Þingvellir, Iceland (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is a presentation that I will be making tomorrow in UTMessan the annual IT industry conference of Iceland. I strongly believe that value added export of renewable energy is in the best interest of Iceland. There is a lot of debate about exporting the raw electricity from Iceland to Europe, I could not disagree more. What needs to be done is Iceland needs to invest in developing the Startup Ecosystem that focuses on Software based companies, which in turn need to use the Renewable Energy to export value added services… just like GreenQloud

Startup Revolution

Brad Feld is working on 4 books this summer, he has structured his new blog based on those themes. I think he is spot on in identifying the themes that are relevant to the startup ecosystem around the world. The themes are:

  1. Startup Communities
  2. Startup Life
  3. Startup Boards
  4. Startup Metrics

I am looking forward to getting to read all those book. I think there is a revolution starting to happen around the world, some places more so than others. I think the global socio-economic shifts are starting to influence how communities structure themselves and find purpose. There is a struggle starting to happen, Brad Burnham wrote about the Freedom to Innovate, a paragraph in that succinctly describes what I mean by the socio-economic shifts:

For the last 130 years the economy has been dominated by firms structured as bureaucratic hierarchies. That model worked well to mass produce products for mass consumption, but the inefficiency of communicating customer needs up through the hierarchy and management decisions back down, and the natural tendency of any organization to protect its current organization structure makes it difficult if not impossible for bureaucratic hierarchies to innovate as quickly as the emerging network-based model of decentralized innovation.

The above shift is happening whether one likes it or not, Brad Feld‘s work on defining a structured approach to build communities, companies and markets is in my perspective a good roadmap or guide to counter this shift. I think Iceland is a great experiment in this change, there was no other country that was harder hit than Iceland due to the 2008 Financial Collapse. It would be interesting to see how Iceland is responding to the shift, we have started on an interesting path with Startup Iceland, Startup Reykjavik and a Number of Startups being formed in Iceland and Infrastructure being aligned to help startups. I think it is a good start and only time will tell if this experiment is going to give the right results but so far I like the path.

Startup Iceland Video Channel

Startup Iceland Channel in Vimeo has been created thanks to the Innovation Center of Iceland which sponsored the whole video shoot and the channel. It is a great archive of talks related to Entrepreneurship, Startups and Building an Ecosystem. For those who could not make it to the conference this is an awesome replay of the events, although we cannot re-create the positive energy that we felt in the Andrews Theater on that day, the knowledge and experience that was shared on that day is now freely available for anyone to absorb. Please feel free to share the content to your networks. I am very proud of the team that worked on this conference. I have catalogued as much of the journey as I can on this blog. It has been one heck of an experience and I cannot wait to start putting the team, the program and the list of speakers together for the next year, so watch out for the blog posts and the emails that I will be sending out shortly. If you have any feedback or comments please post them on the blog post or contact me and I will be more than happy to respond.

Golden Egg, Seed Forum, Startup Iceland… a lot happening

The last couple of weeks have been incredible to watch, I truly believe Spring is in the air. First of The Golden Egg Competition

was conducted and the winner were announced. Second, Seed Forum has gotten a face lift and is happening tomorrow and some bird told me that there is going to be some major announcement… ok, I know what it is… Startup Reykjavik is going to be announced. So what is Startup Reykjavik? I have written a lot about this, lobbied with many people for it and I am extremely happy to see it take shape. I am very impressed to see Arion Bank is taking the leadership role in this effort. If you are a startup or want to do a startup I highly encourage you to apply to Startup Reykjavik. The deadline is May 7th, and it is not much involved. The requirement is NOT to build a business plan but to focus on how you are going to form a kick ass team focused on execution and building your Minimum Viable Product.

I know Kristjan and Eythor are going to work really hard to make Iceland the best place to incubate and accelerate a startup. My hope and vision is that Iceland becomes the magnet for early stage European companies and Startup Reykjavik becomes the best in the world for accelerators…

well, if you are going to dream at all dream big! Right? There has been an explosion of Accelerators around the world, I believe Iceland offers a unique advantage, once again I have written about it here, here and more recently here. With the Global Accelerator Network link established through Startup Reykjavik, there is absolutely no reason why Startups cannot build companies in Iceland that can scale, expand and solve problem around the world. It is one of the steps to build a sustainable startup/entrepreneurial ecosystem.am focused on execution.

The second piece to this puzzle is Startup Iceland the Conference focused on Entrepreneurship and Startups. We need to have a yearly event focused on Venture Investing, Entrepreneurship and Startups which kicks off ideas, initiatives and themes. This year it is going to be about building sustainable startup ecosystems. We will start marketing the conference soon given it has taken a little longer that we anticipated to get the website up and running. If you have not booked your ticket I highly recommend you do, it is well worth it. It is from 9:00 to 15:00, opportunity to network with other entrepreneurs not just from Iceland but from around the world, Matt Wilson, of Under 30 CEO is marketing a packaged trip for Entrepreneurs in the US to participate in Startup Iceland. The cost includes lunch, refreshments, coffees etc and it is going to be in Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre. Did I mention we are going to have very prominent speakers like Brad Feld, Brad Burnham, Dr.Ted Zoller and Alexander Osterwalder participating? As part of the conference we are going to have a Whole Day Hands-on Workshop conducted by Alexander Osterwalder on Business Model Generation. Here are the workshop details… It is jam packed day where you get the same benefit of attending an MBA program in a year.

Crowd funding Startups in Iceland

Infographic on Crowd FundingJust in time for SXSW, the House passed the JOBS (Jumpstart Our Business Startups) Act. This is a big step in the right direction, of course the US Senate has to pass this bill for President Obama to sign this into law. Venturebeat has the news about the bill here, and has a FAQ Page for Crowd Funding Bill go read it. The biggest advantage of this bill is the right to allow Startups and small companies to raise capital through Crowd Funding platforms like Kickstarter or Twitter. In addition, it reduces some of the restriction on the size of the shareholders needed to raise capital before going public etc I believe that is what is needed in Iceland. If a company really has the numbers and business case to really put themselves to the scrutiny of the crowd, I say that is true transparency and power. Check out the Infographics about Crowd Funding explosion around the world and here is a nice introduction to Crowd Funding.

I want to start a Crowd Funding Platform for Startups in Iceland, I think it will open up many options for Entrepreneurs and release them of the shackles of running behind investors or wanna be investors. I am positive that there are some legal restrictions on this in Iceland, I need to understand it. The biggest challenge I see many entrepreneurs face is the endless time spent on running to raise capital to build their business. The smart ones understand that Investors are not going to invest in them at an early stage so they straight go to their customers, but I think there is a middle ground. What if you need some capital to scale your business to acquire more customers or expand internationally? That capital raise path is full of mines… at least the way I see it. There are too many intermediaries and investors spend too much time trying to uncover what could go wrong. I think there is an opportunity to build a business to raise capital from the public as I am sure they are not making a lot of return on their investment sitting on bank deposits. What do you think? Do you think a Crowd Funding Model for raising capital for Startups and Entrepreneurial companies will work in Iceland?

Well, I told myself… there is only one way to find out. I am launching a signup page for Crowd Funding Platform. The design idea for the platform will be very similar to Kickstarter. Are you relentlessly resourceful? Can you pitch your business, show traction and attract an investor to get interested in your business in a 2 minute video? That is going to be the format, we will mashup the site sourcing from different applications that are already available like Crunchbase (a database of startup companies), Vimeo (video database platform) and WordPress (hosted domains) and a couple of resourceful teams that I have come to love as they execute so well. Lets Startup Iceland!