Posted tagged ‘entrepreneurship’

World changing entrepreneurs & companies start small

September 13, 2011

(not really back to blogging, but had a spare moment and thought to blog after a long time).

I was reading up today how Dustin Moskovitz (Facebook co-founder, now Asana founder), Peter Thiel & Max Levchin of Paypal fame et al were lamenting at Techcrunch Disrupt how the startups in the valley don’t do enough to “change the world”. I found myself nodding as well as shaking my head.

Sure, we’ve got enough of people trying to solve photo sharing. Like films (Deep Impact, Armageddon) there seems to be trends that follow-on entrepreneurs pile on. Cloning and iteration do benefit the industry, but you also want folks to working on something new and innovative. Agreed with these gentlemen there.

At the same time it boggles my mind that these awesome entrepreneurs are pooh-poohing companies that start small. Facebook started out as a hot-or-not clone called Facemash. Mark Zuckerberg gave an interview in 2005 that there probably wouldn’t be much more to be done outside of college & university audiences. Peter & Max started Paypal with a relatively small concept of beaming money from a Palm Pilot to another.

I believe world changing companies and entrepreneurs start small by necessity. When you find traction, you scale both as the company and as the entrepreneur. Dustin, Peter and Max have scaled and so have their ambitions and their point of view. I’m sure they remember exactly where they come from and how they started small, but they see “wider” now. I don’t think they are dishing the best kind of advice though. Yes, you need a vision for a big company that at best times will change the world for better, but you absolutely need to start small. Unless you already co-founded Facebook, Paypal, Genentech, AdMob, Google, … and can afford to short circuit the process (of scaling yourself as an entrepreneur & resources for your company).

Start small. Scale when you can. Work towards a big vision.

Why we didn’t apply to Seedcamp or running a startup in your 30s

September 10, 2009

Seedcamp is an amazing program for European startups. The best and brightest of European startups compete for a spot in the Seedcamp week in London. The week is stock full of amazing workshops, tutorials, hands-on training and perhaps most importantly world class networking with European and US serial entrepreneurs, investors and deal makers. If you are chosen as a winner the Seedcamp organizers (The Accelerator Group) will invest €50 000 at a quite rational valuation.

Sounds perfect for any startup. So why didn’t Everyplay apply to Seedcamp? Double why as I even participated as a mentor in the Seedcamp Helsingborg event?

The truth is yes, I really wanted to apply because I love the concept, but it is was made impossible by the “extended Seedcamp concept“. The main use for that invested €50 000 is to bring the core members of the startup team to London for three months to take the company further. By applying to Seedcamp you agree to this.

Let’s just stop there for a moment. This works perfectly for 20-somethings that don’t have obligations to anybody but themselves and who can just pack a suitcase and go. It also requires that your core team is quite small, so that you can get your whole core team over to London.

The concept fails when you or any core member of your team is married, has kids or in general has a life outside of the company. It also fails if you can’t bring all core team members over to London as otherwise you are totally impairing your company’s progress at a very sensitive stage by splitting the team into two (one part staying at home base and another part in London).

Everyplay’s core team has several people who are over 30 year old, are married and have kids. Packing up our lives and moving to London for three months isn’t an option, so we had to pass on Seedcamp. To be fair, this is not dig on Seedcamp. They are just doing the same as Y Combinator is doing in the States.

However, it is interesting to think about this selection criteria in the light of research results reported by TechCrunch that the average founder of a high-growth company launched his venture at age 40. I believe Seedcamp is limiting itself unnecessarily with this “move to London for three months” requirement.

(CC) by tibchris on Flickr

(CC) by tibchris on Flickr

Seedcamp aside, the bigger question is how can one succeed as an entrepreneur in a high tech startup and have a family life. Steve Blank recently posted about how he and his wife managed to stick together and raise their kids while going thru a couple startups. My own experiences and arrangements are very much like his.

The reality is that it feels like running two startups in parallel. It is physically, mentally and emotionally taxing, but also immensely rewarding. At the risk of sounding corny, seeing things thru a child’s eyes is eye opening. Being a parent is a monumental, continous learning experience. It does sound just like running startup =) and I actually do think that having an entrepreneurial mindset really helps in parenting.

I like to compare running a startup to having kids as both bring with them higher emotional highs and lower lows at a lot faster pace than before. With that in mind, it is easy to justify Seedcamp’s and Y Combinator’s selection criteria  – less hassle, just focus on the startup. But with age comes victories, mistakes, experience, and possibly even expertise and insight. To quote a recent post on Both Sides of the Table, one of my favourite VC blogs:

Good judgment comes from experience,

but experience comes from bad judgment

The finalists for this year’s Seedcamp were announced today. Congratulations and best of luck to everyone!

I wish I could have been there too.

Thoughts after Mini-Seedcamp

May 5, 2009

seedcamp

I spent today mentoring fellow entrepreneurs at Mini-Seedcamp at Helsingborg. Going in I felt that most value I could add would come from sharing what we have learned on the road of getting Everyplay off the ground. It turned out that while that was valuable as a background for the day, most of the time was spent in brainstorming ideas for growth, monetization and financing together with the other mentors and the entrepreneurs themselves.

After each one of the twenty startups had given their five minute pitch in the beginning of the day, we started in-depth sessions with two startups at a time. It was great working with passionate entrepreneurs and experienced fellow mentors to dig thru the startup’s assumptions and try to nail down how they could get more customers, create more revenue, scale faster and finance all of that.

There were a couple of startups that had big ideas ranging from really creative and cutting edge uses of peer to peer technology (Peerialism) to transforming paper receipts into electronic ones on any point of sale terminal (Kvittar). On the other end of the spectrum it was great to see real operational and growing business like Red Apple Apartments, who are adding a lot of value to the apartment rental business and are struggling to manage the fast growth (what a happy problem! ;-)).

The high points of the mentoring sessions definitely were those couple breakthroughs where the entrepreneur and the mentors would jointly come up with a new twist to the startup’s take on the market and you could literally see the entrepreneur’s eyes light up in a heureka moment. One of those moments took place in the mentoring session with 1Calendar, who simplify the hassle that juggling university course schedules is. After thinking thru the market and how they could scale faster, we came up with a pretty nifty crowdsourcing twist for getting more universities rapidly into the system. I can definitely see 1Calendar running with that idea and scaling a lot faster than they could have done before.

Most of the startups were really early and one shared criticism between every mentor I spoke with was the challenges in articulating what they really were doing. Way too many dressed up their perfectly good business idea into a Dilbert mission generator-esque mumbojumbo that you’d need 10 gigawatt lasers to pierce thru. It was also obvious that many of the startups need more practice on pitching and presenting as the morning presentations were somewhat lackluster except for a five-six standouts. It’s easy to critize, but I’d hope that every single startup pitching would video record themselves pitching, analyze the recording and repeat at least 15 times before appearing in front of a demanding audience like the one at Seedcamp.

One thing I felt that could have been added to the mentoring sessions is the notion of methodologies or approaches that a startup could use to structure their business development activities. I’ve become a huge believer in Customer Development, and I can’t help thinking that every startup founder needs something similar to help guide them.

Personally I’m totally stoked after working the day with fellow entrepreneurs at the Mini-Seedcamp. The passion and energy totally swept me along. Each startup had their own unique approach and I could learn something from every single one of them.

Best of luck to all of the Mini-Seedcampers – follow your passion and execute relentlessly!

Mentoring at Mini-Seedcamp at Helsingborg on 5th of May

April 21, 2009

seedcamp

Seedcamp is a catalyst for European startups. The main event is a week long bootcamp for handful of pre-qualified European startups in London. Fellow Finnish start-up Scred was selected to participate last fall. I chatted with Kristoffer from Scred after the event and he was very impressed about the learnings they were able to take away from the event.

So I was definitely excited when I got invited to act as a mentor at one of the Mini-Seedcamps being held across Europe. Karri and the crew at the ever-so-fantastic Arctic Startup blog recommended me to the Swedish organizers of the Helsingborg event held on 5th of May and I jumped at the chance to participate.

The Mini-Seedcamp mentors are VCs and serial entrepreneurs including Daniel Blomquist from Creandum, Hjalmar Winbladh from Rebtel and Thomas Weilby Knudsen from Northcap Partners.  And yours truly. It’s an interesting situation to be a mentor when we are down in the trenches at Everyplay (with nothing public to show yet). I can’t offer recent “here’s how I’ve succeeded” type of lessons. Instead I can offer “here ‘s what I think works” and “this is how we are doing it”. There are definitely war stories and lessons learned in how Everyplay got off the ground, the 17+ years spent as entrepreneur in running ASSEMBLY (6000+ participants every year, over 200 person volunteer workforce) and the parallels between pitching video games to game publishers and pitching startups to VCs.

I expect to learn at least as much from being a mentor as the startups can learn from the successes and follies I’ve encountered on my road to Mini-Seedcamp at Helsingborg.

Starting a new (game) business

February 17, 2009

So, what have I learned during the five months Everyplay has been operational? What would I loved to have known before we founded the company? What would be helpful to would-be entrepreneurs? And how much could I cover in 40 minutes?

With those questions in mind I set out to share my thoughts and opinions on how to start a new game business for the good people at the Casual Connect Europe 2009 conference. I was given the prefix “Confessions” so I used Everyplay as an example case in the presentation. We are still in stealth mode, so for those of you looking to learn about what we are building, there are a few tidbits in the presentation ;-).

I had a great time giving the presentation and luckily quite a few people found it to be useful. My thanks to everybody who offered their kind words after the presentation!

confessions

I’ve included quite a few slide notes with the presentation for links to further information, interesting blogs and books. To access those, please download the presentation.

If you found the presentation useful, please share your thoughts in the comments!

P.S. Apologies for the crappy audio timings on the slidecast. After spending three hours battling with Slideshare’s buggy-beyond-belief slidecast tools, thus is the best that could be done.

Speaking at Casual Connect Europe 2009

January 27, 2009

casual-connect-no-date

I have a very special relationship with the Casual Connect conferences. Back in early 2006 I was totally within the  core console games “reality bubble” and I thought I should learn something about the emerging casual games market, so I took the plunge and headed to the lovely Amsterdam for the Casual Connect conference.

It totally bursted that “reality bubble”. There was a completely amazing new sub-industry being born, where new game genres were created and new business models explored. Not only did I discover the downloadable casual games segment, but also the totally rule-bending Korean virtual goods driven online games segment.

In particular one session stood out: the “Hype or Real Deal” panel. Four CEOs and founders of diverse companies on the stage holding two large sign cards: Hype and Real Deal. The moderator would ask a question and each one of the panelists had to reveal their opinions simultaneously. It was a great format that stimulated a lot of heated discussion as the panelists had to defend their positions.

erikbethkeTwo questions that the moderator asked struck me: “Will virtual goods ever work in the western world?” and “Will casual games go online and become more like MMOs?”. Just about everybody in the panel called these “Hype” while Erik Bethke, the founder of GoPets, vigorously defended them being the “Real Deal”. Erik lost out then as the whole conference really didn’t think much of these trends. But I did. The opportunities were mind-boggling. I scampered immediately after the panel ended and waylaid Erik as fast as I could for a further chat.

I have to really hand it to Erik for single handedly blowing away my ignorance (BTW, you should read his excellent blog which he updates all too infrequently =)).

As we all know, those trends become the “Real deal” already in year 2008 and they are going a lot stronger this year.

casual-connect-no-date

casual-connect

Speaking about how to start a new game business

It is an honor to be invited to speak at Casual Connect and I’m delighted I can be giving back a little as I received so much at the 2006 event. I will be speaking about how to start a new game business – something that I have gotten a bit of hands on experience during the past 6 months =). The session is on Thursday 12th of February at 11:00.

If you are at the event, I’d love to meet!

Blog love: Altgate is awesome

October 21, 2008

Andrew Chen recently blogged about Altgate, and as avid reader of anything Andrew posts, I immediately jumped at the opportunity to learn more about Altgate.

Altgate is written by Furqan Nazeeri, a serial entrepreneur out of Boston. I’ve only gone thru a couple of his most popular posts and already I can tell this his blog is nothing short of awesome. I know I will be sending a lot of quality time with his posts – so should you if startups or VC deals are anything you are interested in.

Quick links to Altgate

For quick access, here are links to Altgate’s most popular posts:

Raising Capital:

Startups: