best questions i ever got

December 8th, 2014 § Comments Off § permalink

here is a list of questions, i feel every entrepreneur should be able to answer anytime without thinking. i have received them over and over again, in many different situations, by very different people.

these questions describe the essence of entrepreneurship. i ask them myself every day.

  • what keeps you up at night
  • how many employees you have
  • elevator pitch
  • which transaction you sit on
  • how much cash do you have
  • how much you spend every month
  • who would take over if you got hit by a bus / who do you trust
  • how many users do you have
  • which little part of the world you’re trying to improve

happy to discuss any of them in more detail, vote for them in comments ;)

adria airways

December 4th, 2014 § Comments Off § permalink

Adria Airways Airbus A320-231 at FRA

Adria Airways Airbus A320-231 at FRA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“the articles and words on this blog do not necessarily represent the position of their author. strong sentences, especially such that describe people or companies or events are here to express an abstract point, and not to pass or enable or encourage judgement. please refrain from taking them as facts, but rather as building blocks of a story. author accepts feedback and complaints under comments and on email.”

i had to defend adria’s airplanes again. this happens a lot, against people who find the embraers ‘crap’, not fancy enough, obsolete, not real airplanes. i totally dissagree and tell them everytime that regional planes in USA are far worse, and that i find adrias’ planes cute. that usually shuts their mouths.

there is however a different list of complaints i have after using adria service for several years now. i had to write them up eventually as they don’t go away by themselves…

  • i’ve heard of stories of planes fully boarded, waiting for an hour and a half for the last two checked-in passangers to arrive, before taking off. never happened to anyone i know though. what did happen repeatedly, to me, my investors and friends, was that we were checked into a connection, inbound flight had small delay, adria took off without us, leaving us behind to spend a night in a foreign boring place at their expense. in my mind this positions adria as a service that doesn’t care about me at all, and kills any chance of customer loyalty they might gain in any other way.
  • hand luggage on small planes is an issue, i get that. giving passangers a chance to take hand luggage to the gates, stash it in luggage section, then give it back as they disembark, seems like a reasonable hack to improve service. but, i find it completely insane, to let the whole plane full of people wait in front of open doors of freshly landed plane, while waiting for the handful of hand-luggage is unloaded and prepared for those few who had to give it up. whatever insane regulations require them to keep everyone in the plane, rather than let everyone out while the few wait on their stuff, should have been oposed and overturned by airliners such as adria.
  • i book all my tickets trough a travel agency. yet, somehow, adria got hold of my email and started sending me spam disguised as flight notifications. i didn’t even bother clarifying it, but it sounds like data theft to me.
  • however, even though they clearly have my email and phone numbers, they are not using that for emergency communication. like for instance right now, when my evening flight home from munich was first delayed twice for technical issues, then at midnight rescheduled for midday next day, then delayed again for technical issues, until it was ultimately canceled 22 hours after original scheduled time, and each time we received only scarce information available to the airport staff, that we should wait another hour. and another. and another. i understand it’s hard to coordinate all the parties in such cases, but i’d expect the airliner to at least try to communicate with us what they know.

… i fly enough to know that adria is no worse than any other airline really. but being a small company in a small country sounds like it might be an opportunity to be better, if only they tried harder.

oh, and in case someone relevant reads this – if there is any way i can help, i will.

sizing slovenian markets, everything is 10M potential

December 1st, 2014 § Comments Off § permalink

lots of entrepreneurs in slovenia want to work with slovenian market first. nothing wrong with that, as long as you do your homework. marketing and go-to-market in slovenia must be very different than it would be in a larger society.

most important excersise of the go-to-market is always the sizing. and sizing a small market is particularly tricky – usually at least one of the important numbers is large enough to give you some slack, but in slovenia you must be careful.

i use a rule of thumb to quickly asses two variables:

  1. number of potential customers that would be interested in the given product / service; based on how many people are receptive of the problem the product / service is solving
  2. appropriate / expected pricing of the product / service, which is essentially what the disposable income of the population is – how much can your target customers spend without causing themselves existential threat

in slovenia, i believe that we have rule of tens.

for luxury items, this means:

  • 1000 people can afford to spend 10.000 eur
  • 100 people can spend 100.000 eur
  • 10 people can spend 1M eur

and for everyone else:

  • 10.000 people can spend 1.000 eur
  • 100.000 people can spend 100 eur
  • 1M people can spend 10 eur

so you have to know your potential appeal with the product, and then cross check with the pricing you had in mind, to see if your customers can afford it at all.

then you take those targets, and start devising detailed operational plan of activities that will get your product / service in front of those exact 10/100/1000/10.000/100.000/1M people.

and then you can come raise funds to execute the plan. ;)

sushi spotting

November 27th, 2014 § Comments Off § permalink

“the articles and words on this blog do not necessarily represent the position of their author. strong sentences, especially such that describe people or companies or events are here to express an abstract point, and not to pass or enable or encourage judgement. please refrain from taking them as facts, but rather as building blocks of a story. author accepts feedback and complaints under comments and on email.”

how awesome, we have sushi truck in slovenia!

every wednesday it goes from maribor to piran and dispaches sushi that customers have ordered a day in advance.
great idea, poor execution imho. let me explain why:

  • slovenia is a mediterranean country. fresh fish comes from piran, and i don’t accept any excuse not to switch the direction of the truck. sorry.
  • customers have to remember to order a day before, and i’ve heard many friends complain on wednesday at lunch time that they again forgot to do that. one of them exclaimed: “i’d pay them more if they just reminded me on tuesday!”
  • people working in creative industries in ljubljana traditionally go for hodok on wednesdays. nothing you can do here :)

i think it’s great that they started doing this, but in a normal market economy, these points would be huge weaknesses that would immediatelly create competition that would try to leverage doing it right, through better product and better marketing.

in slovenia however, we have 200k unemployed who can’t be bothered to think about such everyday details.

job creation

November 24th, 2014 § Comments Off § permalink

“the articles and words on this blog do not necessarily represent the position of their author. strong sentences, especially such that describe people or companies or events are here to express an abstract point, and not to pass or enable or encourage judgement. please refrain from taking them as facts, but rather as building blocks of a story. author accepts feedback and complaints under comments and on email.”

under our office is a parking lot. or better put, it is a long and narrow courtyard, used to park cars in two rows. it’s great, because it reduces costs for some of our colleagues who drive to work, and makes it easier for the visitors to find us.

however, it has a downside – since cars and in two long rows of five cars, inevitably everyone who parks here has to get up several times per day to move their car because the car before them need to get out. annoying, but doesn’t surprise anyone.
i believe there are three lessons to be learned here:

  1. we, the company, should have hired someone as a valley, to move those cars around. the valley could even park more cars in empty lots around the office, not just on the courtyard, because she would have all day to optimize the positions. maybe that valley could even do other useful things, like change lightbulbs (which is currently often needed and done by the COO) and such. we, the company, are behaving pretty idiotic not to that, but unfortunately the employees are not in favor of the idea either – slovenians are not used to trusting the keys of the car to a stranger. so i pick my battles and not create a possible job.
  2. but! if we were in america, we’d have someone knocking on our door every day, offering their vallet services, convincing us that they should get this job. and maybe we would give it a try and give them the job for a while! and maybe this person would then be encouraged and go find more lots like this, and hire more of their unemployed friends jobs. maybe they would even scale up into a services company for flexible workforce. who knows, but the point is, that of all 200k unemployed in slovenia, i have never ever heard of a case of creative job hunt. it takes two to tango.
  3. however, the real truth is, that quite possibly legislation forbids us from creating such a job position. quite sure there is regulation about work safety, property insurance, outdoor work conditions, flexible work schedules, that we would need to plow through before even doing an experiment. in this country, it’s simply easier to not create jobs.

in slovenia however, we have 200k unemployed and 200k public servants who can’t be bothered to think about such everyday details.

angel stage valuation

November 20th, 2014 § Comments Off § permalink

“the articles and words on this blog do not necessarily represent the position of their author. strong sentences, especially such that describe people or companies or events are here to express an abstract point, and not to pass or enable or encourage judgement. please refrain from taking them as facts, but rather as building blocks of a story. author accepts feedback and complaints under comments and on email.”

at a networking event recently a startup founder walked up to me and in a very shy manner asked if silicon gardens knows how to set valuation of his company. this burning question was preventing him from starting to fundraise, and with all honesty, it’s a great question that founders for unknown reasons don’t want to ask out loud.

my answer roughly consisted of three parts:

  • if you are pitching angels, that means your company is very early, probably doesn’t have market validations and years of financials that you need if you want scientific fair valuation.
  • because of that, you need to ask the angels / investors, how they can help you achieving your next milestone, which could be anything – develop prototype, go to market, expand to new market… and the help can mean many things, besides the capital – expertise, network, operations,…
  • then you ask yourself how much is that help worth to you, and compare with what the angel expects. more often than not, you realize that the deal is in your favor
  • keep in mind that there are some thresholds – minimum stake to make investor feel involved in the company is often 5%, max that you might want to consider is 30%, otherwise you’ll have problems with cap table in future rounds of financing.

very basic question, but important nonetheless. founders, don’t be afraid to ask basic questions. ever.

anything to add to the answer dear readers?

the clash of generations

November 17th, 2014 § Comments Off § permalink

“the articles and words on this blog do not necessarily represent the position of their author. strong sentences, especially such that describe people or companies or events are here to express an abstract point, and not to pass or enable or encourage judgement. please refrain from taking them as facts, but rather as building blocks of a story. author accepts feedback and complaints under comments and on email.”

i work with a lot of startups and startup organizations in slovenia and abroad. not long ago, a group of entrepreneurs even visited the president, who wants to help.
we were a diverse group, and first surprise was, that each of us had completelly different set of operational challenges that made it hard for him to develop their startup in slovenia and thus create more jobs.

  • some were having hard time raising funding from foreign investors because our legislation is exotic, continental, written in slovene, not simple for business and because not a single global law firm has presence in slovenia.
  • some where having hard time getting bank loans, not because their business plan would be shady, but for procedural reasons like not having 3 or 5 years of balance sheets to provide – because the startup is younger than that of course
  • some weren’t receiving responses from government institutions responsible for their fields when they asked for clarifications on legislation, increasing the risks of operating the business
  • most are having problems employing foreign high-skilled workers, because getting the visa is lengthy, because immigration office doesn’t speak anything but slovene, and because work taxes are so high, that workers receive less net salary than anywhere else in europe
  • some struggle because they want to issue stock options to employees, a concept that doesn’t exist in our system and thus requires a lot of improvisation, and where tax implications are not clear at all
  • some serial entrepreneurs complain that the capital they made in the past and paid capital gains tax for, should they reinvest it into new business, that will create new jobs, will get taxed again. and again. and again.

this is an example list of ‘small’ issues that we identified, and while it looks huge and diverse set of problems, everything boils down to two fundamental facts:

  1. previous generation and it’s institutions, that are currently leading the society, do not understand specifics and differences of our generation’s institutions. all those problems are essentially simple misunderstandings, that would improve if we talked more about them.
  2. but we don’t need them to understand, it’s easier to just move away. young ambitious person in a globalized world can choose from hundreds of work environments with different characteristics, and all these ecosystems are essentially on the market for talented entrepreneurs to come and make societies better. Slovenia doesn’t act as if it’s in the market for young people.

these two facts combined result in unprecedented void between the leading and the coming, which has no rational reason to cure. it’s unprecedented, because only now the borders are gone and people and businesses are more free to move around then every. young people have no rational reason to stick around in an environment that calls them “the lost generation”, their energy is more efficiently spent elsewhere.

new york is a fabulous example of government that extended their hand and proactively works with new generations to form policies to make new york better for them. and when i say proactively, i mean all the f**ing time. one month after i moved to new york five years ago, i received a call from the NYCEDC, asking when could their head visit me for a chat on my experience with establishing the business there and how they can help. i told him many things, including that for a european the streets feel dirty. the director of a public agency was performing a on-the-site customer interview, not because i am so important, but because that’s what he does – he knows the people who will shape the future of the city better than anyone else.

in slovenia however, we have 200k public servants who can’t be bothered to think about such everyday details. and we have 20k people who left because they weren’t heard when it was time.

dublin web summit 2014

November 13th, 2014 § Comments Off § permalink

 

“the articles and words on this blog do not necessarily represent the position of their author. strong sentences, especially such that describe people or companies or events are here to express an abstract point, and not to pass or enable or encourage judgement. please refrain from taking them as facts, but rather as building blocks of a story. author accepts feedback and complaints under comments and on email.”

coming home from the web summit early this year, watching the closing remarks and announcing the winners ceremony on the tv’s around the dublin airport. paddy looks great, relaxed as ever, as he announces the cto of coca-cola, who announces their programme of support for entrepreneurs.

the web summit and the founders conference are amazing achievements by paddy & the team. they started 4 years ago, bringing 500 tech entrepreneurs into dublin for a get-together. this year, they brought 20.000. in the years in between, they had the most amazing lineup of speakers and participants, like elon musk, bono and mark.

so far, nothing new, everyone knows this is happening. even some slovenian vc’s were noticed in the crowd this year. what struck me when i saw paddy on TV with the guy from coke was, that paddy has probably the most impressive rolodex on the planet. his personallity and his vision and lots of hard work have given him access not just to PA’s of most influential and smartest leaders in the world, but even more importantly, for these events to work, he had to invest time to really understand each of their motivations and goals and visions and activities.

i expect paddy to have better understanding of where the global business is going than the nsa.

let’s meditate about this for a second, and repeat the logic – in just four years, he got best of the best to speak on his stage and support his cause. he didn’t bribe them. he trully got them on his side, with charm and with facts. he knows these people and organizations they represent personally. that’s power.

and what does he do with this power?

he organizes a party.

let’s meditate on that – yes, a f**ing party. a 4-days long pub crawl on the streets of dublin. an excuse for 20k of most productive people on the planet to get away from their routines of changing the world and … get drunk!

a lot of good comes out of these parties of course:

  • taxi drivers and airliners and hotelliers and pubs benefit directly. of course they also sponsor the event
  • participants get some rest / action and recharge their batteries
  • participants get their annual dose of brainwashing about changing the world and how awesome they are for it
  • the speakers and the corporations feel good about connecting with the community and giving back to the community, without noticing that they were actually kept far away from the actual audience, in separate hotels and lounges
  • the startups participating in competitions feel good about the hard work and energy they put into presenting themselves for one of the four days in one of the five startup halls with 500 startups each, and pitching those two vc associates that stopped by their 70cm of booth space.

obviously, this is a good thing. great thing even. getting 20k people on a remote island means you are doing something right for the planet. but i can’t help but ask myself, is there anything better that could be done with all that power?

every society needs connectors, people who facilitate connections between individual players, because of their unique abilities to make personal connections with various and diverse actors, accumulating social capital, and converting it into trust between the introduced parties.

one of the ways you can do this, is by throwing a party, and hope that the right people will connect by pure luck. completelly different approach is performing surgical strikes with direct introductions. in between these two is the third way – playing a good host – organizing the party, and intruducing the ones that showed up between eachother.

after this year, i feel that we only had the party, and absolutely nothing else good from paddy. i wish he would spend his time connecting the best startups with the right brand executives. the planet would be better off.

general disclaimer

November 10th, 2014 § Comments Off § permalink

i noticed that i often get ideas to write on this blog, but after thinking about them i realize that they might be misrepresented and thus decide not to write them. i’d hate it if this blog was the reason for any particular person or company to be misunderstood and damaged, but at the same time, i feel that each not published thought is lost opportunity for me and for the readers. so i’ve decided to write up a general disclaimer, that will be part of every provocative blog posts i publish in the future. i hope it will manage to frame my context well enough, to prevent readers from jumping to conclusions and judgements. here is the wording i’m thinking about, and i would very much welcome any improvements or feedback.

the articles and words on this blog do not necessarily represent the position of their author. strong sentences, especially such that describe people or companies or events are here to express an abstract point, and not to pass or enable or encourage judgement. please refrain from taking them as facts, but rather as building blocks of a story. author accepts feedback and complaints under comments and on email.

i hope this will relieve me from worrying too much, and to start writing more aggressive and controversial pieces, that will stir the conversations more. not because i would want to convince anyone of my points, but because i feel that not enough people are contributing to public debates, which gives unfair advantage to media and politicians and trolls. so bear with me, specially when you disagree.

welcome health tech community of slovenia

November 7th, 2014 § Comments Off § permalink

wednesday was a particularly heart-warming day for me – healthday.si happened, an event in ljubljana that got 180 local participants together to talk about what they are doing to change health industry for the better. startups, enterprises, doctors, beaurocrats. the organizers even published a ‘health book’ – showcase of the the community that was officially born there.

but really it all started in july already. gaja and I had some friends from NY visiting ljubljana. by coincidence two of the four worked in health-tech in the big apple, and we decided to drum up a themed tech meet up.

the email blast went out in the morning, 40 people and 12 startups showed up in the evening. after few hours everyone was excited to have met a number of likeminds they didn’t know existed in our town.

this turn up was an indicator that there is a community waiting to happen, all it needed was a catalyst. the organizers and key sponsor of the later healthday.si were there as well, saw it and started planning next steps.

i hope the community will continue, through such events, meetups, or simply direct contacts, but most importantly, by helping eachother at marketing the next revolution.