Permission less Innovation

prime-air_high-resolution02It is painful to watch the obvious play out in the US. I don’t know if you have been seeing what is happening with legislation and regulations around all the innovations that Entrepreneurs and Startups have been doing and how the incumbents have been coming up with resistance through lobbying and permission raj. The latest is the FAA ban on drone technology to deliver packages. No-one knows if this thing is going to work but before that we need to go and get permission to experiment? Makes no sense to me… There a numerous accounts of this happening in the Hospitality sector vs Airbnb, Taxi services vs Uber, Privacy concerns, Net Neutrality and so on and so forth. I think as these debates play themselves out what is an entrepreneur to do? wait for the legislation to give them permission to innovate? I really do believe the machines have taken over, we just need to figure out a way to make this as easy as possible. I believe tremendous value can be created if one can innovate in a place where there is no need to get permission to innovate, say a place like Iceland, of course we have a legal system and regulatory bodies but I think value creating legal things can be built here and tested without causing any challenges to the livelihood of people or displacing a large population as it could do in some of the larger industries in the larger markets. Actually, innovation is needed in a small place like Iceland because there are not a lot of people here. Icelanders have innovated on many fronts, namely Energy, Education, Fishing and Home heating and Broadband (did I mention I get lightning fast broadband in my home through Fiber Optic Cables, and that is standard).

The biggest value is going to be in the field of Software that creates value on top of Networks. I think that makes a lot of sense in Iceland and I have enough case studies to prove that this works. I am not stopping with my arguments, I am putting my money where my mouth is. I am investing in all of these things in Iceland. So if you are scared about the legal ramifications of starting a business in Iceland with innovation as your core, just talk to me. We need to embrace change as change is coming… there is nothing we can do about it other than get ready and prepare and be well equipped to manage ourselves in the change.

Sherwood Neiss – Startup Iceland 2014 – Speaker Profile

Sherwood Neiss

I am really happy to start the series on the Profile of Speakers lineup that we have for Startup Iceland 2014. The US Embassy in Reykjavik, has been a big supporter of Startup Iceland since we started in 2010, and I am happy to announce that the Embassy was able to organize a fantastic speaker for Startup Iceland 2014. Here is a bio of Sherwood Neiss. Without much ado here is Sherwood Neiss and Crowd Funding.

Sherwood Neiss, Principal of Crowdfund Capital Advisors, is an expert at building successful businesses. As a 3-time INC500 winner whose company won E&Y’s Entrepreneur of the Year, Sherwood understands the keys to entrepreneurial success from concept to company to sale.

As a serial entrepreneur and investor during the credit crunch, Sherwood saw a need for a change in outdated securities laws and did something about it—as a co-founding member of Startup Exemption, Sherwood co-authored the Crowdfunding Framework used in the JOBS Act that was signed into law by President Obama on April 5, 2012.

Within Crowdfund Capital Advisors (CCA), Sherwood works with clients ranging from governments and banks that are looking for ways to boost economic development in their countries to investment firms looking for access to increased deal flow that crowdfunding creates. Sherwood serves as an advisor to several crowdfunding platforms and crowdfunding technologies giving him a unique understanding and view of the industry and market. As an industry leader, Sherwood contributes to several publications including VentureBeat and TechCrunch. He additionally wrote Crowdfund Investing for Dummies through Wiley & Son’s.

Sherwood co-founded the Crowdfunding Professional Association (CfPA), serving as Governing Board Member and co-chair where he leads the fight to ensure investors are protected while entrepreneurs have access to the capital they need to start and grow promising companies.

An avid public speaker, Sherwood speaks at universities and seminars around the world discussing crowdfund investing, what it takes to be an entrepreneur and how to build winning companies. He also does a large amount of work presenting to government bodies, speaking in front of the U.S. Congress, leading SEC and FINRA meetings, as well as, addressing foreign governments—testifying about how they can bring economic benefits to their citizenry through implementing their Crowdfund Investment Framework.

Sherwood started his post-MBA career on Wall Street and moved to Silicon Valley where he completed personal and financial goals in his late 20’s he hoped to obtain in his 30’s. Wondering what to do next and also left struggling with a debilitating family dilemma, he used his entrepreneurial drive to help turn his family adversity into a multi-million dollar company that today is helping millions of sick children, animals and adults get better by being more compliant with their medicines.

As the co-founder of FLAVORx (, Sherwood structured an approach and built a business model that threw off millions of dollars in cash and while growing the business from one pharmacy to over 80% of the pharmacies in the United States. He raised millions of dollars in capital and saw the culmination of his endeavors with the sale of the company in 2007.

When not working, Sherwood is an avid traveler. He lived in Japan for a year and post-sale of FLAVORx took his second backpacking trip around the world. In addition to speaking at universities and businesses around the country he invests in real estate in the U.S. and Brazil, is part of a private equity group in Los Angeles, is working on a clean tech project in Puerto Rico and is involved with several other start-up ventures.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Price is what you pay, Value is what you get

President Barack Obama and Warren Buffett in t...

President Barack Obama and Warren Buffett in the Oval Office, July 14, 2010. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This blog post inspired by the article written by Warren Buffett in the Fortune Magazine, it is an excerpt from Warren Buffett‘s Annual Letter to his shareholders. I have read most of the Annual letters, but there are things that stick with you, like the title of the post. Price is what you pay and Value is what you get. So many of us miss this simple advice because we start chasing the next shiny object. I have learnt that patience, discipline and conviction are always rewarded as long as they are grounded by the right principles. I see people make rash decisions because the pain becomes acute and they just want to give up on a Mission. Even more damaging is the notion of just the change from the current scenario to another will some how solve the underlying problem. As I wrote yesterday all of us make mistakes, but the smart ones learn from it by introspection and by getting feedback. One of the biggest challenges that I have seen working with different cultures is that the notion of getting and giving feedback is dramatically different in Iceland compared to say the US or in Sweden or for that matter in Norway and Luxembourg. Every culture has a different way of looking at things. I have heard leaders talk about the teams that they work with complete lack of trust. I have learnt with many examples in my life that if you want to be trusted you need to be trustworthy. If you want respect from your team you need to show respect. The simple maxim is that what you give to the Universe it usually returns back with dividends. In the heat of the battle or stress or the pressures of the situation we forget the Prices we pay for the Values we get. It can be negative or positive value but a price we must pay. It does not matter whether it is an investment decision or a relationship decision it is always a the same paradigm. Price is what you pay for the value you get. Relationship are more than transactions… they are investments, you need to give it time and effort. When we treat Relationships like transactions they end badly. I have seen it happen so many times. The situations that end badly are always because the parties involved had not paid the price.

I love the post by Brad about TDC (Thinly Disguised Contempt), I have seen it happen in teams. As Brad says it

TDC is bad. TDC is toxic. It lingers. It spills out over everything. Your friends and colleagues notice, but don’t really understand, as you send them mixed signals. TDC is dangerous – it gets inside, around, and all over everything.

Be blunt. If you don’t like something, say it. If someone does something stupid, say it. If stuff needs to change, say it.

Stomp out TDC.

When you mix culture into this, it is a difficult balance. I have learnt through experience a lot of people are not ready to receive blunt feedback… it hurts, but as a leader you just need to do it. They may hate you for it at that time but it is the best value you give them for the price of being intellectually honest. Here is an intellectually honest answer by Steve Jobs on working with a collaborative team at Apple.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Startup Boards – A Book Review – First Peek

Startup Boards

I have been reading the new book from Brad Feld and Mahendra Ramsinghani titled “Startup Board – Getting the most out of your board of directors“. I can only talk from my experience which is limited, but having the opportunity to learn from the experience from numerous boards that Brad and Mahendra have been on is an opportunity that I think is too valuable to miss. I have to say that my experience of being in a board started when we invested in CLARA, lo and behold, I was a Chairman of the Board of CLARA! I think I can say without exaggeration that I was clueless on what it means to be in a Board.

One can read books and understand the regulations or requirements of the fiduciary mandate of the Board of Directors, but really creating an effective board is an art and it is a collaborative effort of the Management and the Chairman of the Board… and I had no idea where to begin. This was also the time in Iceland when all the dirty laundry was being washed in public about how the Board of Directors failed in all the Banks and Financial Service companies that went belly up. Lot of doubts, lot of questions and a lot of reading and no sleep, to top it off my other board members were the founders of the company and had very little experience. I can say without a doubt that I would have very much liked to have had a book like this before I decided to be on the Board of CLARA. As they say you are a rookie in any job only once, it was true with the Chairman of the Board role and it also includes my current role as CEO of GreenQloud, I have never been a CEO or for that matter Chairman of the Board of anything. There was a lot of learning on the job. Making a book on Board of Directors interesting is hard, but I have to say it has been an interesting read so far. The anecdotes , the insight on specific situations and a flow of why, what and how of Boards is extremely useful and insightful. I am looking forward to digging in.

If you are a startup founder or a first time Board Member, do yourself a favor and go get the book and start applying the learnings, I can assure you that it will be worth your time and money. If you have not built a Board of Directors to keep you honest, please do that first. Building the board is a skill, making sure the right people with the right backgrounds are there asking the right or in some cases the wrong questions is an important journey in being an Entrepreneur or Startup Founder. This book should help you answer all the questions that you have always wanted to learn about the Board of Directors.

Ok, this video cracked me up… if your Board is doing this, then you definitely need this book!

Innovation House one more bridge from Iceland



I attended the official opening of the Innovation House the initiative of Jon Von Tetzchner. I was excited and energized by the show up of the Startup Community, almost everyone was there and it was great to see the support of the Government of Iceland through the Minister of Industry, the Norwegian Embassy, the US Embassy and all other representatives from various other embassies. The keynote was delivered by Jon, the Minister of Industry and the Depty Chief of Mission for the US Embassy. The unanimous sentiment was the positive energy to support the entrepreneur and the startup community. I am really happy to see the momentum being built up for the coming year. We are starting to see success already in terms of participation, commitment and now more tools and avenues for entrepreneurs to start up, grow and build great companies and opportunities. As I say, there has never been a better time to really jump and do that dream company that you always wanted to do.

I think there are a number of unsung heros in these ventures, Kristjan Freyr Kristjansson and his team at Innovit+Klak, all the advisors and supporters who make things like this happen. I am really excited about what is happening in Iceland. As part of my give, we have instituted a Startup Program in GreenQloud. We are starting to see a lot of interest and application for this initiative as well. What entrepreneurs need is mentoring, infrastructure and bridge to bigger markets. Infrastructure could be in the form of Seed Money or Computing, Storage and Advice on utilizing the rocket fuel for Startups which is Cloud Computing. I believe very strongly that Software that is not built for the Internet and utilizing the Cloud is difficult to get into the hands of the potential customers. We are solving one of that problem through our Infrastructure in GreenQloud.

The really impressive thing about this Innovation House in Seltjarnarnes is that it connected to another one in Gloucester, Boston and to the one in Norway. It is a perfect bridge between the Nordic region and the US. It was inspiring to listen to Jon talk about how it is very exciting for him to have launched this Innovation House as he grew up in Seltjarnarnes and his belief that Iceland is the center of the world and great companies can be built out of the talent in Iceland. I am glad to see and hear more people start to believe in this notion. I have written about it when it was the craziest thing to say, but I saw it and I continue to believe in this crazy idea that we can build great companies from Iceland. So now there is no excuse to “Go Be An Entrepreneur!”

Related articles


On the road of building Startup Communities in Iceland

English: Jim Collins (James C. Collins), an Am...

English: Jim Collins (James C. Collins), an American business consultant, author of “Built to Last” and “Good to Great”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Brad Feld interviewing Jim Collins, two of my favorite business thought leaders and authors talking about a topic that I extremely engaged in and interested in developing in Iceland. I was pretty bummed that I could not make it for the Startup Phenomena Event in Boulder, Colorado. There are a number of pearls of wisdom in this discussion. The most important of which is the concept of doing big things, focusing on the who and the role of luck or chance. I believe that in order to build an antifragile or lasting startup community it has to be a long term thinking which makes sense because doing things like this well… takes a long time. I believe the startup community in Iceland is starting to hum, the biggest lead indicator of this is when a young software engineer who came to me and wanted to work at GreenQloud, he was brilliant, talented and with a lot of energy so I was only thrilled to get him to join our team. 3 months in he wanted to quit and I was baffled because he loved the culture and environment that we are creating in GreenQloud, really liked the people he worked with and was really on board with the Mission of GreenQloud… when I asked him what has changed, he told me that he and his friends are doing a startup and they wanted to go out on their own and do that. I knew then and there the vision I had for Iceland is starting to take shape.

When really smart people are willing to risk their jobs, careers and possibly a lot of their time to build a company we have the right ingredients to building an antifragile startup community. What is really missing is the Big Hairy Audacious Goals that Jim Collins referred to in the talk. I have some ideas up my sleeve, GreenQloud is one of those big ideas. If you have not been following what we are doing with GreenQloud, you should really look at it. I believe GreenQloud could be a bigger company than any company built out of Iceland and I am not saying it because I am the CEO. GreenQloud is in the business of changing the world and it takes time, effort and passionate people. We are on that journey and starting to really accelerate our execution. I also have a couple of projects that I am really excited about launching, you will hear about it in the near future. We are currently kicking off the preparation for Startup Iceland 2014.

Team Engagement and Leadership

TinyPulse Happiness metricI have been on the road for the past 2 weeks related to my role as CEO of GreenQloud. We had a number of initiatives and the company is on a nice growth trajectory. We are starting to get great customer engagement and team engagement. The team has grown to 27 people from 11 a year back. While I was on the road got a chance to meet with Forest Key, the CEO and Co-Founder of Buuteeq, the company that my partners and I invested in 2011. It has been fascinating to see the growth of this team. Buuteeq now employs about 106 people and doing really well in terms of growth of customers, revenue and all the key metrics that drives the company. I was very happy to see that we are investing in the right kind of team culture and things that we believe in. While I was talking to Forest, I asked him how has he and his leadership team managed to build a great culture at the workplace and maintain the super aggressive growth in the number of employees and his answer was very simple… Team Engagement and a tool. He pointed me to Tiny Pulse, a simple tool that he and his leadership team use to engage with their team members. It is such a simple tool but brings a very high level of engagement as well as allows to get direct feedback on a regular basis from all the team members.

The important thing is to act on those feedback items and I congratulated Forest on really driving the engagement and growth of the company. I am pretty sure we will do well with this investment. If you are in the growth path as buuteeq or greenqloud, I highly recommend using Tiny Pulse, I was quite impressed with the philosophy behind the company, it is based on the book by Tony Hsieh, Delivering Happiness. We are strong believers in that philosophy at GreenQloud … so it was easy for me to institute the same with the team.

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.

Patterns and Fallacies

Image representing Om Malik as depicted in Cru...

Image via CrunchBase

I read a post by Om Malik, the founder of GigaOm with the title “Patterns and Fallacies: Why they have no place in silicon valley“, it is a great read. I can empathize with Om, I moved to the US to pursue my graduate study in Louisiana State University. I had to take an English Writing and Speech test as I was a recipient of the University Graduate Assistance Program. I had learnt english all my life and as far as I can remember my instructions were all in english, and here I was taking the english test in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I passed the written english test with flying colors (it was just a pass/fail grade :)) but I had to take English as a spoken language class in the first semester. I was just dumbfounded, here I was thinking in English but the University thought my spoken english was not good enough. I took the class, met some wonderful international students and made some great friends as well, but what was interesting during the class was that all the students were made to change their accent that students in Louisiana would understand. “Go slow on the drawwwl”, you became “you’all” and many nuances of living in the South. It was fun and I learnt a lot. But coming back to our topic of Patterns and Fallacies, we tend to make decisions based on patterns, it is wired into our system. There is no fighting it, I have seen this with investors all the time…

The good investors (read seasoned ones with battle scars) see beyond the patterns and try to learn about the entrepreneur, spend time with them and understand where they are coming from etc. and then there are some investors who basically jerk you around for months and give you all kinds of signals that they are interested in your company and then flip you the finger. Rejection is a bummer but you know what life goes on. As an entrepreneur you need to handle rejection graciously, accept it as a signal that you are doing something wrong, learn from it and focus on your Circle of Influence. I have written about a good way to handle rejection. Whenever I get a No for any pitch that I am making, I get doubly motivated actually I get really excited because this is the challenge that I love. I love to prove the nay sayers wrong, is’nt that what it means to be an entrepreneur? I remember the time when we were going around meeting all the investors raising money for CLARA the startup that I invested in and recently got acquired by Jive Software… there were so many nay sayers, but in the end we proved all of them wrong, it was such a sweet victory. Sure we were lucky, but it would have not happened if we had not worked so hard to continue on for another day.

The message from this post is quite simple, if you starting to follow patterns and make decision just based on those… Stop, ask yourself is it a fallacy or you are really seeing a pattern. The problem with patterns is that it is very subjective, anecdotal and we don’t have enough data to draw broad conclusions. Our instincts are definitely something to rely on but reach deep inside and ask yourself some tough questions. If you are an investor, don’t jerk entrepreneurs around and keep them hanging… make up your mind quickly and follow through. I know I know I am contradicting myself by saying don’t follow patterns but act quickly… I never said this was easy. I know what works for me, I am in it to help entrepreneurs. I get intrinsic motivation by being of service to the entrepreneurial community and that is good enough for me. I don’t try to pick winners and I don’t try to act like I know it all because I don’t. If you are an entrepreneur and need help reach out to me I will try my best to help you.

To all investors out there help the entrepreneurs win, and if you focus on that you will win. Be humble and don’t act like you know it all, because no-one does. It is the hard work of the entrepreneur and the investors that makes companies succeed. You need luck but what I have found out is that the harder I work the luckier I get…

True Grit

AP Photo/Paul Sancya

AP Photo/Paul Sancya

Picking a team to bet on is a tough one. I don’t believe ideas really matter, if you have one that you think is going to be the next best thing to sliced bread, believe me you are not the only one. The more and more I think about Venture Investing which falls in the low data, no metrics decision making category, the one true qualifier is the team and the entrepreneur. I continue to believe that I know very little about investing in ventures and I got lucky with our last exit. But I can tell you that there is a simpler way to increase your odds of success… you just need to look for Grit. Here is a TED talk by Angela Lee Duckworth about that, I think it really shows why this quality is a simpler measure of success. If you are a parent, if you can teach one thing to your child, teach her/him Grit.

I am not as smart as Angela Lee, I don’t know if intelligence is a true qualifier but I  use a simpler heuristic, has the entrepreneur run a marathon or done any deed that challenges his/her mental capacity to bear pain… because end of the day being a entrepreneur is about absorbing the pain and continue to move forward. It is hard, it is super tiring but in the end it is worth it. I am starting to use this to build my team at GreenQloud… it is the true measure of someone who will stick around and not give up. This is also one of the main reasons why I believe Women are fantastic entrepreneurs, I wish we had more of them building companies. That is one of the main reason why I want more women in technology and in leadership roles. I believe strongly that women make excellent leaders because they care, they nurture and they can bear unimaginable pain.