On Bridges, Part 3: What Can Europe Give to Silicon Valley?

Bridge_drawingThis is the final post of 3 contemplating how Silicon Valley and European tech scenes could get closer to each other. The series are an expansion of a short speech I gave at Slush conference in November 2013 – video of which should be online soon. I believe this topic calls for more discussion and thinking along than 15 one-directional minutes on conference stage allowed. To get up to speed, read Part 1 and Part 2 here.

After looking at the widening gap between European and Silicon Valley tech scenes and establishing that the usual first priority, raising money from the other side might not be the most feasible way to fix this – the questions becomes: how can we build more non-financial ties between our scenes?

As US is not paying close attention I believe that the key to the solution is on the European side. And to succeed in driving this change in relationships, Europe needs a mindset shift.

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On Bridges, Part 2: Why Should Europe Care for Silicon Valley

Bridge_drawingThis post is 2nd of 3 discussing ways Silicon Valley and European tech scene could get closer to each other. The series are an expansion of a short speech I gave at Slush conference in November 2013 – video of which should be online soon. I believe this topic calls for more discussion and thinking along than 15 one-directional minutes on conference stage. As an intro, see Part 1 here.

Europe’s tech scene is buzzing. Those of us who have been on both sides can attest that the people innovating there, business models attempted and technologies applied in Europe are very much aligned with what’s happening in Silicon Valley, despite of the separation. So it would make sense to link up more, right?

As a healthy sanity check before jumping to that conclusion, let us ask: why would we need stronger ties? Looking from Europe, that is.

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On Bridges, Part 1: Realizing how Europe and Silicon Valley are drifting apart

Bridge_drawingThis post is 1st of 3 in the series aimed at discussing ways Silicon Valley and European tech scenes could contribute to and gain more from each other. The series are an expansion of a short speech I gave at Slush conference in November 2013 (video of which should be online soon) but I believe this topic is calls for more discussion and thinking along than 15 one-directional minutes on conference stage.

If you were to sit in the audience of any European tech summit these days you get soaked in action around you. Would it be TechCrunch Disrupt Europe, LeWeb, or the raising 5000-attendee rocket of the region, Slush in the November darkness of Helsinki – there is no arguing that the European startup scene is in its most bustling, vibrant shape ever.

Yet, a lot of this exciting renaissance seems still to be constrained to the Old World continent.
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VC Funds Go Where Immigrants Come From

Thinking about the linkages between US and European tech investment and startup scenes ahead of the Slush conference in 10 days, I found an interesting paper: Deal or No Deal: The Growth of International Venture Capital Investment (PDF here) by Pandya and Leblang of University of Virginia.

Recommended reading in full for anyone who cares about intercontinental talent and capital flows, but I just wanted to share this fascinating graph:

immigrantinvest

You can often hear how foreign investments and emigration are discussed as linearly opposite ends of a see-saw: if you get more of cash invested into your country from abroad your skilled talent can stay home and build companies there as opposed to seeking interesting challenges abroad. What the authors show here is rather a two-way street, another re-inforcing cycle where the movement of talented people will eventually build into increased cross-border investment of capital:

We find that US VC firms invest more frequently in countries that have large populations of skilled migrants residing in the US. In stark contrast to existing FDI research, we find that recipient countries political institutions have limited  influence over the volume of venture capital deals.


Weeks 28-29: Bootstrapping, Europe(?!), Options & Private Equity Operators

Stanford GSB Sloan Study Notes, Weeks 8-9 (28-29), Winter quarter

So there: it takes about 28 weeks in Stanford to finally have someone mention Europe in any other context than a semi-joke about Greek macro environment in the short term. And these two weeks suddenly opened the floodgates: there was the first European company case this far, we spent some time on the (quite miserable) comparative venture financing stats between the continents and – most importantly – the rotationally geography-themed Sloan TGIF parties finally turned to the European night (affectionately dubbed as the “Estonia & the Rest of Europe” evening). Relieved with a sigh with my Swedish, Dutch, German, Swiss, French, Italian etc classmates: we have not entirely disappeared from the world map as seen from the West Coast yet, and will keep working on that threat.

Partially supported by the annual Stanford Entrepreneurship Week, the last weeks were super-exciting for the flow of external speakers – there is a separate post summarising those you should not miss. And we did do the Final View presentations of the LOWKeynotes program, including your’s truly’s 9 minutes on how hard it has been to adjust to somewhat surprisingly lacking digital living infrastructure here, coming from Estonia – videos for which will be online in 1-2 weeks. Stay tuned.

Covered in this issue:

  • Bootstrapping, venture debt and swimming against the tide in Europe
  • Exit planning and IPOs in venture deals
  • Thinking like a limited partner, structuring PE deals, operational turnarounds and the visible future of Private Equity
  • Derivatives and options – both financial and real
  • Academic research on VC compensation and incentives
  • Guests from: The Foundry, Avik Ventures, AngelList, Astia, Makena Capital, TPG, TSG Consumer Partners, Sierra Ventures, YouTube, Trulia, OpenLane, Fayez Sarofim, Accel, Meritech Venture Partners…

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Extracurricular Fireworks: Friendster, Prezi, Rovio, Bonobos + O’Reilly & Doerr

With the end-of-quarter groupwork frenzy I am behind on posting the academic lecture notes – hope to get to that this weekend. But meanwhile, as the flow of new thoughts from extracurricular guest visitors in just last seven days has been mind-blowing I’ll post them for your enjoyment.

See further for tips, startup plugs, book recommendations and videos from:

  • Jonathan Abrams (founder of Friendster, Socializr, Nuzzel, Founders Den)
  • Peter Halacsy, Peter Arvai (co-founders of Prezi, Hungary)
  • Peter Vesterbacka (Mighty Eagle, Rovio)
  • Andy Dunn (CEO and co-founder, Bonobos)
  • Tim O’Reilly (O’Reilly Media, O’Reilly Alphatech Ventures)
  • John Doerr (Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Buyers)

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Week 26: Debt, Seed Money, Private Equity and Firing Founders

Stanford GSB Sloan Study Notes, Week 6 (26), Winter quarter

Tahoe Vista

 

The picture reflects the exact view I have from where I’m sitting posting this. When you live in Northern Europe, “good snowy ski weather” usually means you have to give in on other things (such as clear skies and light). Not in Tahoe – and that’s why a mission of Sloans have landed here again for a long Presidents’ Day weekend.

But no play without hard work, right. There were quite a bit of extra-curricular activities on campus (I made it to several BBLs even!), some long-planned and inspiring 1:1 coffees with MBA colleagues, a few guests I would bucket in “personal heroes” category. And a fun roleplay of 8am termsheet negotiations, with lawyers at each table and all.

Covered in this issue:

  • Differences in financing with debt vs equity – and some irrationalities caused by taxation
  • Seed financing – how to survive until Series A
  • Intricacies of convertible note structuring
  • European startups: plasma drilling in Slovakia and why you should move to Berlin
  • When and why founder CEOs get fired
  • Introduction to Private Equity
  • BBLs on Crowdfunding and Big Data
  • More guests from: Geothermal Anywhere, Soundcloud, Intellicap, Twitter, Benchmark Capital, Hellman & Friedman, PubVest, LinkedIn

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Estonian Faire in London: Seedcamp Week 2011

After I’ve missed a few events since I was last mentoring at Seedcamp in 2008 after its launch in 2007, managed to sync another London trip with being there again for Seedcamp this week – unfortunately just for the Product Day on Tuesday and a few evening meetups. You can look at full announcement, participants list and agenda here and daily summary clips on YouTube.

Besides a chance to sharpen your mind and spend time discussing their products with the cream of the crop of young European entrepreneurs, a good reason to show up was a recent invitation to join the newly formed Seedcamp Advisory Board, which got announced now. There is tons of action and tons of traction around the European startup scene and Seedcamp has earned quite a central role in this movement. I hope I can contribute to bridging that “center” with the Nordic corners of the continent, where there is tons of tech innovation action happening in my homely Baltic and Scandinavian countries – with the role model and community around Skype playing no small part.
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Summer of Startups 2011

Spent almost a full day last week in Helsinki by invitation of Aalto Entrepreneurship Society (See also: #aaltoes & on FB) to speak to 10 teams of their Summer of Startups program. All-in-all it was a worthy time investment for me, and I hope for the teams too – after a lecture on the history and learnings from building Skype I could spend about 20 minutes in a mentoring session with each of them.

Characteristically to being just in the middle of a 10-week intense effort of forming their products in such an early seed stage it is far too early to tell which one of them will actually fly as a company. It could be well just 1-2 companies and I have my hunches to which one(s), if any – won’t reveal that before their final pitches on August 10th though. Nevertheless that same hunch tells me that out of the people present the ratio of future success will be much higher, and even if their current concept fails they will find a new idea and potentially a differently formed team that will help them succeed in the future.
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Do Startup Weekends Help Create Startups?

The most recent Garage48 weekend event in Tallinn sparked some healthy discussion around the perceived and actually delivered value of this format towards the commonly accepted goal of creating more young, brave and hungry technology businesses in the country. The devoted fans of the time-constraint, playful and cutely random 48-hour hackathon were publicly questioned if their lack of attention to the big bad real world (business cases, marketing channels and Terms of Service legalese) were not accidentally misleading the youth to think that creating a real company is a joyride, lacking the need of solving the really hard problems.

Following the discussion (including further reading pointers in the end of this post) it felt like a bit more universal of a worry than just this particular event or our particular country. To share these concerns — and furthermore — seek further input from the international scene of startup support programs (and reacting to a random Facebook comment requesting the same) I decided to turn this conversation to English. And as it felt very little value add over Google Translate to start replicating the brightest arguments I decided to do something different.

Let’s try to visualize this conflict.
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