Time to say good-bye…

2014-08-07 13.50.48A morning coffee, two passwords entered, quick e-mail check, then – a glimpse of new leads in the deal flow… I opened a blank page and wrote down a title. Should it be “My last day at Deutsche Telekom”? Disaffected, I deleted the line. It’s not at all what I feel. The bitterness of separation is alien to this place, for farewells are part of its natural dynamics.

Hub:raum plants the love for innovation, and within its greenhouse  I’ve grown from a mere observer to the active participant in vibrant Berlin’s start-up scene. The people I’ve met here, the ideas ignited in my head, the hunger for technology I’ve been infected with – all of these have left a lasting mark on me. That’s why “My last day at Deutsche Telekom” would be too imprecise of a header, for I leave this  place with a brighter sparkle in my eyes than the one I entered it with. I can’t part with something that has become an integral part of me, and this makes the very notion of “last day” utterly useless.

I prefer to make it the day of Thanks, and the day of reviving the best of my internship months:

… Seed investments sound sexy, but digging out a needle in a haystack is a truer touch & feel. That was my perception of reality when tasked with a couple of hundred start-up ideas to screen. An invaluable skill: to develop an intuition for the good ones!

…Kicker (i.e. table soccer) has become a sort of teambuilding exercise for interns. One more thing to be thankful for: I was not kicked out for a seriously inferior performance in this one. After all, teamwork is about helping the weaker improve, right?

…Team breakfasts, farewell drinks,  birthday photos, and occasional football in the office. Well, hub:raum’s playground atmosphere has never ceased to amaze me.

Tickets printed, bags packed, investment leads handed over, and  lunchtime game of kicker played, I’m ready to embark on a new journey. For now, let me say, BIG THANKS to all the hubbies, to the Blind Applying team, and to Deutsche Telekom, for making this internship a truly transformative experience for me!

 

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In retrospective: The DOs and DON’Ts for a Blind Applying intern

1These are my last days as a Blind Applying intern at hub:raum. It’s sad to leave the vibrant Berlin, the always-hungry start-up spirit of Deutsche Telekom’s accelerator, and most of all – to say good-bye to people who have become my friends, mentors and role models…

Well, emotions aside, I’d like to share some practical tips for future Blind Applying interns, or anyone relocating to another country for work or studies… Besides, it’s a good exercise to remind myself of all the hard-learned lessons, before I move yet again. Stockholm is waiting.

…Oh, and I’ll try to add a tech/ app touch to every tip whenever possible. It’s a start-up world after all!

  1. Check the legal stuff yourself! As soon as you get an offer.

You’ve got an offer for your dream internship! Time to celebrate? Not until you made sure you are legally allowed to work in the country of choice. Your checklist should include visa, work permit, tax and insurance requirements. Do your own research: it’s always better to be well-informed, whether your employer offers you assistance or not. And remember that bureaucracy takes ages, so do not postpone visa applications – act as soon as you get an official  internship offer.

…never encountered an app for that. But embassy web-sites (and telephone lines!) are a good place to start.

  1. Start flat search early. Never give money in advance.

For most European capitals, it’s hard to find a place to live remotely. Shared apartments certainly require a visit, sometimes an interview, as people want to get to know you before accepting a new tenant under their roof. So try to come in advance, and allocate several days for apartment visits. Booking a 1-2 weeks temporary AirbNb place is certainly a better choice than staying in the hostel, especially if you are working at the same time. And be aware of numerous fraudsters on traditional flat booking web-sites (not AirbNb), so never transfer money before visiting an apartment yourself, and signing a contract.

… You know this one, right? https://www.airbnb.com/

  1. Do you speak the language? You’d better learn the basics!

It limits your social life enormously, if you don’t speak the language of the office, or the language of the streets for that matter. Whether to ask for directions , order a meal in a cafe or start a small talk at a club, it’s really helpful to know the most common phrases. Don’t get frustrated with your accent or mistakes, people normally appreciate it if you make an effort.

… An awesome (and FREE!) app for language learning http://www.memrise.com/

… For conversational German, check out these Easy German videos! They are a lot of fun…

  1. Are you well-equipped for the job? Start before you start…

Learn as much as you can about your daily tasks and office culture. Web-site is the place to start, but talking to your future colleagues usually works way better. Fcaebook & LinkedIn rock!

…If that’s a start-up or Venture Capital job, here are some useful links to introduce you to the global start-up scene: AngelList, TechCrunch, CrunchBase, leading technology research by Gartner, Paul Graham’s blog – for some inspiration…

…For any job, some useful apps to boost your productivity:  WorkFlowy, Evernote, Pocket.

  1. Start with the end in mind.

What do you want out of this internship? Blind it may be, but not goal-less. As soon as you find yourself in an office of a global corporation, it’s easy to get dragged into small daily tasks, and loose the sight of the big picture. So take your time to think about how this internship fits into your big career plan, and then take every chance to attend events and network with people from your industry of interest. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to mention your plans and ask for help. Go out for lunch, arrange informal interviews, and stay positive!

…I’d be happy to share some apps on this one, but nah. I’m old-fashioned here. The best way to talk to people is …to talk to people. The best way to set goals is to write them down, and remember the SMART rule.

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Tech Open Air: A mind-blowing ideas mix

IMG_20140720_175436167It’s been Tech Open Air this week in Berlin.  They call it an Interdisciplinary Technology Festival. I’d call it a mix of craziest things in tech. 3D printing demos, discussions on transhumanism, along with talks on how to disrupt the prostitution market. Well, more down-to-earth topics, such as women in tech, smart cities and crowdfunding, were also on the agenda.

I guess most of us experienced the feeling when all those brilliant ideas are gone a couple of days after the conference. So, breaking my deep dive series, I’d like to share some random thoughts from Tech Open Air… Just because they might inspire a deeper dive some time later.

“It’s never been easier to start a start-up. But it’s never been harder to build a business out of it.”  – a casual remark from “Global Tech Hubs unleashed” panel discussion.

About financing: “First off, decide for yourself: do you build a company to sell it or to keep it.” About operations: “Identify one metric that matters and track it weekly.” – Jorg Rheinboldt of Axel Springer Plug & Play on Acceleration Lessons

“Ideas are overrated. Idea evolution is what matters,” – Ryan Matzer on How to test your idea for $100.

And some more – without quotes this time…

… Chill ran down my spine as David Pearce was arguing that we’ll soon be able to choose a couple of “right” genes to make our child perfectly happy, and perfectly healthy. No sorrow in the world to be!

… I realized why I did so well in high school: no computer on my desk, no smartphone. Ari Sten was explaining mindfulness. To me, it boils down to sitting a 45 min class without the need to check your device every 5 minutes. Tricky, isn’t it? Oh, and check out this book !

…I hoped for something spicy from Pia Poppenreiter, the founder of Peppr, an app for booking erotic entertainment. Turns out, she did just what AirbNb co-founders were doing: went out there to see what the market looked like. It happened to be a prostitution market. She’s got the guts to disrupt it.

Well then… Till next time! The weather is perfect for Open Airs and deep dives=)

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Corporate venturing: Can it solve the Innovator’s Dilemma?

2014-07-06 15.58.08-2Disentangling business failures is not always a straightforward task . But when it is, such as in case of Kodak, learnings are far reaching. In retrospective, Kodak’s story presents a strategic pitfall: they ignored the disruptive technology of digital cameras for the sake of traditional film business.  Indeed, Kodak is a classic illustration of going the wrong way when faced with the Innovator’s Dilemma.

Vince Barabba, a former Kodak Executive in charge of market intelligence, offers a flashback on what could have prevented the disaster. One of the four key elements of Barabba’s advice for corporate decision making, is adaptability of business design. Depending on how predictable its market is, a firm should choose the business design accordingly – make-and-sell, sense-and-respond, or anticipate-and-lead. Kodak chose the first one. Ironically, one of the earliest digital cameras was in fact invented in 1975 by Steve Sasson, Kodak’s engineer. But Kodak suggested that Mr Sasson abandon his project. Vince Barabba’s tech trends analysis suggested that Kodak had 10 years to keep up with the digital trends, yet  top management did not hear the wake up call.

So can big corporations actually lead disruptive innovation instead of running away from it? The case of Kodak suggests that even the brightest R&D efforts might be buried under debris of corporate politics or competing interests of business units.  Despite these obstacles, a recent article in Forbes suggests that large companies can still out-innovate start-ups. The author puts together  8 rules corporates should follow to make innovation happen. Some of those are absurdly trivial (like “Start from a clean sheet of paper”), others – common sense, yet hardly implementable (“Invest only small amounts and test a number of possibilities.”). In any case, I got skeptical: from what I’ve seen, it doesn’t happen overnight that old guys start playing by new rules, even if they bring along some clean sheets of paper.

When it comes to innovation, speed is the king. Unlike Kodak, which had roughly 10 years to act, modern firms face more pressing implementation deadlines. One way to react faster is to bring innovation from outside instead of relying on internal R&D efforts. If you want a ready-made solution, M&A is one way to go. It’s costly, however, and is said to destroy value. How about bringing external innovation in-house and making some money along the way? Josh Lerner’s Harvard Business Review article provides five compelling reasons why large companies might benefit from corporate venturing. 1 Corporate-backed VCs co-existed with R&D divisions for years. Lerner argues that corporate venture capital funds, if granted enough autonomy, can be a good hedge against R&Ds shortcomings, such as slow response time, sunk cost fallacy  and path dependence. But how to ensure that corporate VCs actually create value? Let’s take a look at some examples.2

Intel’s venture capital arm is a classic success story. Seeking both financial and strategic returns, Intel Capital outperforms its stand alone peers by the number of exits (see PrivCo 2014  ranking of most successful VCs). In terms of strategic returns, Ecosystem investment is one of the cornerstones of its strategy: VC fund can help raise demand for Intel’s products by investing in startups that rely on Intel’s technologies. For example,  the adoption of Intel’s new generation semiconductor chips in 1998 was accelerated by investing in hardware makers (often Intel’s competitors) that utilized chip’s new power. As a result, the chip was widely adopted around 7 months earlier than it would have been otherwise. Intel Capital’s portfolio companies come from a wide range of technology spheres, but the VC fund keeps following the original principles behind its investment decisions: Ecosystem (start-ups relying on Intel’s technologies), Market Development (start-ups accelerating technology adoption in the emerging markets), Gap Fillers (start-ups start-ups helping Intel market its products), and Eyes & Ears (start-ups with  potentially disruptive technologies). But the fund  claims not to be serving as a feeder to Intel Corporation, rather,  to seek the best exit possible. Well, judging from its astonishing 22 exits in 2013 alone, it seems to live up to that promise. 4

Establishing a whole venture capital arm of the corporation is not the only option. For example, Apple outsourced its corporate venturing activities from KPCB (Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers) Venture Partners. Apple’s iFund was launched on March 6 2008, simultaneously with opening iOS development kit to outsiders for the first time. The $100 mln. iFund managed by KPCB, helped Apple rapidly build a critical mass of applications for its new phone while spending very little. This way, Apple leveraged the power of iOS platform , thus increasing the demand for its own products. The fund invests mainly in companies developing games and tools relying on iOS SDK, and it did well enough for Apple to  double it to $200 mln. in 2010. Is this approach superior to in-house venturing efforts, such as in case of Intel? One consideration is the goal to be achieved. Creating a demand-stimulating ecosystem around a corporate platform (e.g. Apple’s iOS) or product (e.g. Intel’s new generation chips) can be accomplished just by establishing a dedicated investment vehicle within an external VC. The advantages of this approach is fast execution, minimized internal conflicts of interest (e.g. between corporate VC and R&D divisions) and bypassing the inevitable inefficiencies of corporate investment decision making. However, if achieving a wider range of objectives, such as sensing the latest developments in technology and reacting to disruptions strategically, is possible only with an affiliated corporate VC. Another consideration is transparency. As only a few iFund’s investments are disclosed  (5 companies revealed, out of 25 investments as of 2011), it certainly aligns well with Apple’s overall secretive strategy. Corporate venturing, on the other hand, would certainly require more publicity about portfolio companies at the very least. 5

Google Ventures, established in 2009 in the US and recently expanded into Europe , is a relatively new player on the corporate VC scene. They stand closest to independent VCs, claiming to provide funding solely on the basis of start-ups’ potential, without seeking any strategic returns for Google. It looks like Google is  doing it by the book (Lerner argues in his article that the more independent the VC fund is, the better it performs in providing financial returns). Placed 13th in PrivCo 2014 ranking, and with investments like Uber, Homejoy and Focusign, $300 mln. funded Google Ventures can become another success story. For now, it’s too early to make judgments about this 5-year old VC.

With quite a few success stories, but also plenty of silent failures, corporate venturing has established itself as an almost must-have for a modern tech-reliant corporation. Then, it’s just a matter of making it work. Such examples as Intel Capital, iFund and Google Ventures prove the importance of setting clear objectives for a corporate VC: be it financial returns, market sensing or ecosystem enhancement. But would corporate venturing have saved Kodak? In terms of innovation and VCs, it’s a question of the chicken or the egg. I’d argue there was little chance that  Kodak came up with a successful VC.

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P.S. Yeah, turns out, there was such thing as Kodak Ventures. No news about it though: the only links I found were this one, and a “page not found” message on Kodak’s web-site.

The World Cup, Goldman Sachs & start-ups

T2014-06-28 18.38.47he 7:1 outcome in Germany vs Brazil game! That might feel surreal, but to me, it proves one simple truth: football, just like financial markets, is unpredictable. It turns out, Goldman Sachs’ statistical models do not always work that well. In fact, the acclaimed Investment Bank’s prediction is a classic illustration of when statistics fails: when future is not like the past.

It’s no use boring you with stochastic regression models (I had a whole BSc thesis for that=).  But still, I cannot resist mentioning the resemblance: remember triple A credit ratings for toxic debt back in 2008? Well, same story there: Moody’s & Co just assumed a continuous growth trend in housing prices. The takeaway: don’t trust a model if you don’t believe its assumptions. By the way, those behind Goldman Sachs regressions suggesting Brazil’s victory can be found here.

3Ok, back to the start-up world. I even found a piece on the lessons start-ups can learn from the German football team. True, sports really offer plenty of cases to get inspired from. But what about the buy-side: which football teams (or start-ups, for that matter) should investors bet on? I see one clear message from yesterday’s game: team is a deal breaker. Lacking expertise in football analysis, I checked what experts say. It seems to me, most of the reasons behind Brazil’s poor performance boil down to absence of some key payers and uninspired play by others. Parallels with seed investing? For early stage start-ups, team is a deal breaker. Paul Graham recognized that when Y combinator made a bet on AirbNB. Fred Whilson of Union Square Ventures did not take Graham’s emphasis on team for granted.He hesitated about AirbedAndBreakfast’s market and scaling potential, which he later admitted was a mistake. Just like football, start-ups are unpredictable. A tip to those trying to guess the Next Big Thing on the start-up scene: look at the team first – they make it or break it.

Germany vs Portugal @hub:raum viewing                         1

How to secure funding for your start-up? Check out what investors are really looking for!

2014-06-28 18.36.13-1Financing your start-up can easily become a headache, especially  if you want to scale fast. Ever wondered what investors really expect from you? In this blog post, I’ll provide a roadmap for founders– how to make sure you come to investors prepared.

First off, a piece of advice from Paul Graham: “Fundraising is not what will make  you successful. It’s just the means to an end”.  Mistaking investments for free cash can be a dangerous mistake. Investors only provide funding to get handsome returns in the end. So  begin with the end in mind: show them the best way you can utilize these funds. Then, ask yourself what you can still do without the money.  Answers to both questions depend on the stage of your start-up. And although there’s an ongoing discussion about the purpose of each round, this brief guide should give you an idea about WHYs, HOWs and WHATs of the investment timeline.

1. Pre-seed stage (bootstrapping)

Here’s  a  simple infographic on How startup funding works. The time span from an idea stage to FFF (family, friends & fools) fundraising corresponds to the pre-seed round (bootstrapping) on the investment timeline. At this stage, startups usually survive from personal funds, FFF money, government grants or future customers’ pre-orders (e.g. crowdfunding).

Before you drawn in PowerPoint while chasing investors, make sure you  are ready to demonstrate a product prototype and back it with some market analytics. It is helpful to split the job among your team,  as it would afford you a more focused approach to the diverse tasks at hand:

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  1. Seed round

Once you realize that bootstrapping does not afford you the go to market speed you  aim for, turning for money to angel investors or early stage VCs might be a good idea.  This is also the stage when we are happy to talk about your participation in the hub:raum accelerator program. Whether you raise money from incubators, angels or early stage VC, some good reasons to consider seed funding include:

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Should you really raise seed funding for your start-up or you can make it on your own? One good argument to consider external funding is that it helps you  go to market and outgrow competitors faster. Joining hub:raum adds additional perks in terms of mentoring, networking and possible telco partnerships.  Eager to apply? Here are  some hints about what we (and angel investors, too) look for in your pitch deck:

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  1. Series A

 While seed investments are usually meant for the take-off, series A funding  should ensure scaling up the business – usually via rapid customer acquisition – either through domestic growth or by expanding overseas.  The recent trend suggests that getting money at this stage has become tougher, with series A crunch occurring notoriously more often.  As by this time your start-up is likely to be around for at least a year,  your progress to date is the key argument  in talks with VCs. So the checklist is getting lighter in wording, but heavier in terms of execution:

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How to prove that your business model works? Different metrics apply for different business models. Let say, number of users would be relevant for Twitter, while revenue growth would make more sense for Netflix. I any case, VCs would like to see how your business model works now, and how it is going to generate exponential growth stated in your spreadsheet.

  1. Series B

You’re already tired from the words “execution” and “performance”, aren’t you? Well, these are to be heard even more often if you proceed with raising series B. This round should ideally help you scale further, sometimes inorganically – via M&A.

As you probably guessed, VCs expect fewer promises and more performance-backed numbers with every round to come.  Paul Graham’s advice is to reach profitability with A and B fundraising, as further rounds might dilute founders’ equity way over the healthy incentive level…  Still, giants like Twitter or LinkedIn made it through the IPO without hitting the breakeven. So another option is to demonstrate rapid user base growth, with monetization postponed till later.

Hopefully, these tips will help you better navigate the investment cycle. And good luck in your funding efforts!

A deep-dive: #start-ups, #VC, #Internet, #hub:raum

It’s Saturday afternoon. Mid-summer. Hot.

I’m looking back at my internship days at hub:raum and… Well, not really: right now I’m actually looking at my blog. And I have to admit, the content doesn’t live up to my Idea of This Blog (IoTB). So… let me introduce a deep dive challenge: 10 pieces of the hub:raum Investment Mangement reality.

In other words: it’ll be a deep-dive into the ocean of start-ups, angels & VCs, pitch decks, milestones and KPIs, cybersecurity, IoT and BIG Data, TAM – SAM – SOM, BYOD and MEAP…Ah, start-up guys like abbreviations!

Diversity? Guaranteed! Agenda? None! Every time – smimming in a different pool: numbers & trends, PowerPoints & women in tech, the good & the ugly sides of start-up scene.

Let’s start right away! The first post is going to be about… money. Curious how to raise funds for your start-up? See the next blog post for a piece of inside advice.