Spent half a day today at legendary research hub SRI International, for Xconomy-organized robotics forum (see full agenda here), listening to an impressive lineup of industry pioneers of mass-market appealing robotics talk about their businesses. Some speakers were still physically on stage, others embodied inside telepresence robots, of course. And answering to a recurring moderator question if robots will take away human jobs with a recurring “no”.
As Steve Jurvetson (yes, we keep having these sweet Estonian reunions) put it well in the final venture capital panel: it would be absurd to think that “we should pull Excel out of organisations, because we would create more jobs when people tabulated numbers manually again.” The times they are a-changin’, and for sure not back towards a robot-less world.
See brief notes from all the sessions (and a bunch of videos of cool commercially available robots in action!) below the fold.
Stanford GSB Sloan Study Notes, Week 7 (27), Winter quarter
After the public holiday last Monday (which I realized could not have been more eclectic between sick kid babysitting, running, building a unit economics model for a startup business plan assignment and babysteps in hacking social graph analysis in Mathematica) there was no breathing room throughout the rest of the week.
Eric Schmidt taught his legendary IPO class, we took a bunch of convertible note based seed financing setups apart and put them back together, the original mad-scientist-turned-CEO Art Levinson shared his thoughts on scaling innovation, we discussed how different can be the approaches to seemingly similar private equity investments, I finally made it over for a long-overdue visit to Stanford Technology Ventures Program and there was a fun reunion with ever-joyful Meg Whitman whom I hadn’t seen since the good old pre-politics and pre-HP days of her more regularly hanging out with us at Skype, in Tallinn and elsewhere.
When I was walking towards the study rooms on late Friday afternoon to get at least a bit of the two different finance group projects due Monday on the way, ahead of the expectedly busy Estonian Independence Day weekend, I got rerouted in a room where Craig Barrett, long-time Intel chairman & CEO was having a candid small class discussion about navigating global business structures despite of government interventions. Only in Stanford. Good news: what he figures competitive nations are supposed to do is pretty much aligned with where the 95-year-old birthday state of Estonia is heading.
And after all this, the most unexpected meeting of the week? Perry, the original Shrek donkey. (He is on YouTube too)
Covered in this issue:
How and why Google ended up running an unusual IPO process
Changing landscape of seed & angel investing + rare data on performance
Scaling innovation from startups to large public companies
Inner workings and different flavours of Private Equity partnerships
How defaulting and going bankrupt is different between US and various EU markets
Practical guide to managing through international trade barriers
Guests: Meg Whitman (eBay/HP), Art Levinson (Genentech/Google/Apple), Craig Barrett (Intel), Google Ventures, Snapchat, Private equity partners from General Atlantic, TA Associates, Francisco Partners
Stanford GSB Sloan Study Notes, Week 8-10 (18-20), Autumn quarter
Not to worry, despite of the three week scope in title this is not a monster-length post. Between a lovely wedding, an unexpected funeral and Thanksgiving break in between my focus has temporarily shifted a bit away from school as this quarter concludes. Do enjoy the little there is to share below – and as special gift to reader A.M., yes there are more videos.
A notable off campus educational highlight last week ago was an event at A16Z where William Janeway (being interviewed by Marc Andreessen on the photo above) discussed his book Doing Capitalism in the Innovation Economy: Markets, Speculation and the State. Combining his 40 years in venture capital with a PhD in Economics, Bill has great insights into when, how and where governments should play any role financing tech innovation and where progress should be left for markets. And as a curious subtopic – the need for an occasional bubbles in the latter case.
Covered further in this issue:
How to avoid small groups polarizing towards extremes in debate
Kõrvalmärkusena Eesti lugejaile: jah, teadus teemal Reformierakond VS Väike Grupp!
Centralization VS distribution of control in global organizations
More history of Presidential candidates screwing up in public
Financial ratios and common size reports in accounting
Effective networking tips’n'tricks exchange with Sloan classmates
How computing changes human bodies and the definitions of creativity
How big internet players have changed hardware IP value chain
Stanford GSB Sloan Study Notes, Week 2, Summer quarter
Pages assigned for reading: 310
Reminder: think of normals not in their absolute value, but as “how many standard deviations from mean” (Statistics)
After going through the theory and visualisations behind probabilities of standard normal distribution (Z) and t-distributions, I have a growing suspicion, that in 95% (pun intended) of real life business cases needing confidence estimates, we’ll be dealing with a simple constant: 2. (In case of 95% probability on standard normal distribution, Z=1.96 and in cases the sample size n < 30, you should technically use t but, it in reality tends to be so close, that all other uncertainties around sampling and data collection would rarely be less than the benefits of simplicity of multiplication by two) (Statistics reading + class discussions)
Pretty much exactly 12 months ago I made my first angel investment ever in a company that makes physical things. My entire entrepreneurial career and the businesses I’ve supported on the side have always evolved around outcome you can not really touch: would it be software or consulting and services.
On this backdrop, the magic of turning ideas into physical objects has a special appeal for me. Estelon‘s flagship speakers weigh 85kg a piece yet are delicate enough to ship with a pair of white gloves for handlers. Their distinct shape is driven as much from physics as from visual aesthetics. And when they actually perform their primary function of music delivery it is as close as it gets to engineering creating pure emotion. The kind which both justifies and makes you forget the fair value on the price tag at the same time.
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.
Found a video of my five minute speech in a panel at Restart 2008 conference in November. To disrupt the overall tone of the day a bit — focusing on tangible, measurable and often plain numeric aspects of a successful (liberal) macroeconomic environment — I decided on spot that I will instead talk about the softer side of life, namely the role values and tolerance in particular play for creating an environment where innovation strives in Estonia (or anywhere).
The clip below also has my fellow panelist Rein Raud, Rector of Tallinn University continuing on the same topic of innovation and openness.
For context, please also see the very entertaining and inspirational intro to our panel by Pekka Roine, entitled “The Only Obstacle to Innovation Is Wrong Policy Chosen by the State” (videos: part 1, part 2, part 3).
Spent a day at London [Seedcamp](http://seedcamp.com/) Week’s [Product and Marketing Day](http://seedcamp.com/pages/weeks_program#2008) again. Hit quite a jackpot on the mentoring group selection lottery and got to spend time with four out of the total seven winners of this year:
* Kyko – online multiplayer gaming by the creators of [Babuki](http://www.babuki.com/mainpage/), with a neat angle of tapping into existing social/IM networks to build their userbase.
* Stupeflix – French startup generating time-synced video clips out of static images and music. [Animoto](http://animoto.com/) competitor with a strong technical performance edge.
* [Toksta](http://www.toksta.com/en/liveconfig/) – whitelabel web based IM client for social networks from Germany.
* [uberVU](http://www.ubervu.com/) – my personal favourite, coming from Romania: crawler based harvesting of comments to and discussions around your content from wherever it get syndicated to. Think of seeing not only the comments to your video directly on YouTube, but also on any random blog that this video got embedded to or any twitter post referring to that video with a tinyurl.
[Decisions for Heros](http://decisionsforheroes.com/) whom I also met have found a very sharp niche of catering the dataporn needs for rescue teams, and I just loved their founder Robin´s passion. Wish them all the best even if they didn’t win this event.
All-in-all and with a few exceptions, I was more impressed by the people and their passion rather than the specific business ideas. Of course, it sort of has to be very hard to differentiate a great company from an utterly silly one before it gets off the ground, otherwise we would all be angel inverstment gazillionaires in a blink. Judging people and their characters is a much more natural task – and I really did like most of whom I met.
In addition to the roster of enthusiastic startups, I am also very happy about making some new friends among [fellow mentors](http://seedcamp.com/pages/mentors), such as [Robert Gaal](http://www.linkedin.com/in/robertgaal), co-founder of [Wakoopa](http://wakoopa.com) (which I have been a user of for a few months) and [The Next Web](http://thenextweb.org/). Chatting with guys like him is very energizing and raises hopes about the vision of Europe as an innovation hub. Which was Saul’s point of creating Seedcamp after all, wasn’t it?
Last week’s [Baltic Dynamics 2008](http://www.teaduspark.ee/?q=/eng/BD) conference was opened by an address by the [President of Estonia Toomas Hendrik Ilves](http://president.ee/en/), speaking on Innovation. As the full text did not make it to the president.ee website’s [speeches section](http://president.ee/en/duties/speeches.php) yet, I pinged his office and they kindly provided me a full copy in a few hours. Transparent government in action, love it.
As I think this is one of the best condensed summaries of the major issues — such as investments, education, attracting labour — Estonia and Europe are facing developing as technology hotbeds, I am re-publishing the whole text for your reading pleasure. Really worth your time.
**Welcome address of the President of Estonia
at the opening of (innovation) conference ‘Baltic Dynamics’
Dorpat SPA Hotel, Tartu, 4 September 2008**
Ladies and Gentlemen, dear friends,
I am glad to speak here at the opening of the 13th ‘Baltic Dynamics’ conference, an increasingly international meeting, as it should be the case in the field of innovation.
This time the conference takes place at amidst a global economic slowdown, a situation that is frankly unfamiliar for many in Estonia. According to some (admittedly somewhat dire) predictions, this may become the most severe global downturn over the last decade. In terms of our domestic economies, all three Baltic countries stand on the threshold of a paradigm shift; the motor of rapid growth — a competitive advantage based on cheap labor seems to be over. As indeed we have all hoped it would be, for a rise in wages and quality of life is, after all what convergence is all about. But this also creates a new challenge: further development of our economies can come only from higher value added products and services. In this sense innovation is naturally the key to shifting from slowdown to growth.
We must ourselves – how did we reach the state of affairs where we are now? Our economic development has been very rapid, but not always enough forward-looking. The recent slowdown in our economy is – at least to a certain extent – caused by overinvestment in sectors that have provided high yields in the short term (such as real estate) and which are prone to move in correlation with fluctuations of domestic demand. That said, it does not mean that some investments are less necessary than the others, but in the longer term a very small economy cannot rely solely on the domestic market. Indeed, even the second and third largest economies in the world, Japan and Germany cannot rely solely on domestic demand either.