Posts Tagged ‘startup’

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60David Nikel

David NikelFebruary 17, 2015

From Oslo to NYC via Berlin

The whole notion of a startup being “Norwegian” or any other nationality is rapidly becoming out of date.

Sure, a company will always be incorporated in a specific country, but is a startup really American if its development takes place in Asia, its sales office is in Dubai, and its content marketing is done from London?

Socius is a great example of a modern location-mobile startup that already counts people from Norway, Germany, Russia, the UK and the USA in their ranks. Right now, they’re based in Berlin, but the idea was born in Norway and future plans lie stateside.

Co-founder Daniel Butler told me about the move to Berlin, and the challenges of running a startup both there and in Norway:

“In Oslo there is less chance for serendipity. There are less people, the scenes are small anyway, whether that be music, art or tech, people all know each other so you hit the ceiling quite quickly. The Axel Springer accelerator in Berlin was perfect for us. It’s run by a media house and as we are a media startup it made sense, plus its partnered with an incubator in Silicon Valley so you hit the ground running with international opportunities. Berlin is a cheap place to live and has significant spotlight as a startup destination.”

“The reality is even Berlin is not as buzzing as so many people think it is, but if you manage to ride the wave of publicity then it can be great.”

Right now, Socius is doing its best to ride that wave of publicity, having secured a high-profile partnership with the Berlinale Film Festival:

“Our experience with Berlinale has proven there’s a need for the curation of social content. Of the tens of thousands of posts tagged with the numerous festival hashtags, our platform showcased around 1,700 of them, whereas if you follow through the individual hashtags, you have to trawl through a whole load of repetitive stuff.”

The future is global

A lot of great ideas are born in Norway, but Socius proves you don’t have to restrict yourself to the outdated notion of a nation’s borders to succeed with a startup. The world is out there and Socius are going after it. Are you?

Join us at the Technoport 2015 innovation conference in Trondheim, Norway, as we seek to awaken the entrepreneurial mindset in Norwegian entrepreneurs, students, researchers and investors.

On pivots and pitches
60David Nikel

David NikelNovember 23, 2014

On Pivoting: Lessons from an Oslo startup

This is a guest post from Per Harald Borgen, previously of Propell and now of Disco Fingers

This year my company pivoted from from running a digital book club for kids, to building a music composition tool for non-musicians, called Disco Fingers. We made a lot of mistakes and learned a lot during the process. Now I want to share those lessons learned, with a view to preventing other founders making the same mistakes we did.

In the beginning of 2013, our three person startup raised a small seed round form angel investors and Innovation Norway in order to build a digital book club for kids. We spent half a year building the app and an editor for assembling the books, while also gathering a network of illustrators, voice actors, musicians and writers, so we could quickly create titles for the book club.

In the spring of 2013, we launched the app, and branded it as a ‘Netflix for kids books’, promising parents one new book every Friday for a monthly price of $8. The launch got a lot of coverage in Norway and the app quickly established itself on the top 10 list in the Books category on the App Store.

However, both the app and the market itself grew much slower than anticipated. By the winter, it became clear that we would run out of money before reaching profitability if something didn’t change. We tried several different marketing tactics, but none proved scalable and affordable enough to gain sufficient growth.

In addition to this, the deadlines for publishing new titles forced us to compromise on the quality, which started eating away at our motivation. In our eyes, our product had failed.

As we weren’t 100% honest – maybe even to ourselves – about our sinking motivation, people around us kept encouraging us to improve the titles, continue marketing the service, keep on expanding to international markets, and more.

All these would have been good ideas, if we were still motivated.

Cut the cord

So around Christmas 2013, we decided to disappoint them both. We changed the subscription service from weekly to monthly updates, while cutting the price by 60%, which freed up 95% of our time, as we basically froze both the production and the technical development. We stacked up a bunch of titles, so that we didn’t have to think about the book club for over a half year.

As a result, a few subscribers got angry and ended their subscription, but all in all, the transition went pretty smoothly.

Our investors were super supportive when we spoke to them with complete honesty. We hadn’t communicated well enough how tired we were of making medium quality kids books, but when we finally did, their only reaction was: ’Ok, thats fair. What will you do next?’. Had we been more honest earlier on, we could easily have saved 2-3 months.

Lesson learned: Be completely honest to everybody (including yourself) about your motivation. If the team start losing motivation, and you know it won’t change, you are doing everybody a disservice of you keep pushing in the same direction. Don’t even care about the customers you have pre-comitted yourself to. Do whatever it takes to change. Because if you don’t, your company is dead.

You are a startup, not a consulting company

During our pivot, we also tried to get some relevant consultant work, so that we could buy ourselves more time. We called tons of agencies and companies, went to a bunch of meetings and got a few jobs.

However, this disturbed the our identity as a startup, and due to mix of skills. Plus, our team and mix of skills weren’t suited for doing consultant work. As a result, the gigs ended up costing more than they paid.

The solution we ended up with after our pivot was much more viable. We basically decided that every Tuesday was ‘consultant work’-days, so that each one of us could make the extra money on the side. Every Wednesday is a motivational boost, returning from boring consulting stuff to our exciting new product. It also turned out to be a lot easier for us to find work separately, than it was to find jobs that all three of us could contribute to.

Even though we have gotten several relevant job offers today, we say no to all of them. When the three of us work together, we are a startup, not a consulting firm.

Lesson learned: Be a 100% startup when you are at the office together. If some founders need more income, it’s better to take one day off per week to make some extra money on the side. This might not work for all companies, but for us, it has been critical.

One chance to pivot, make it count

When we decided to pivot, we spent a lot of time thinking about what we should pivot to. As a startup, you are always moving 110 miles per hour. While that speed is great for the highway, you must slow down when you are doing a turn.

At first, we tested out a couple of directions, which turned out to be dead ends, for many reasons.

This wasted even more of our precious time.

It wasn’t until we sat down with an outside mentor that we started figuring out the right direction. We slowed down completely, and analysed why we had lost our motivation, what we had done wrong, and why the hell we were doing a startup at all. We had to dig deep and find our inner drive.

It sounds like a cliché, but it’s really important.

We finally landed on a path which led us to the product we have been working on for eight months and finally launched, something which seemed unthinkable a year ago.

Lesson learned: If if it’s not clear what direction you are pivoting too, slow down and spend some time finding the right path. Consider getting someone from the outside to help you with this process. If you pivot in the wrong direction, you probably won’t get a second chance.

So if I am to sum up our hard learned lessons, they are: be completely honest with yourself and others so that you can take action as soon as possible. Try to stay away from consulting, but if you have to do it, consider letting everybody do it by themselves rather than together as a firm. Finally, slow down when you are pivoting, it’s really important to choose the right direction.

If you are in a similar situation and want to chat with us, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at Disco Fingers.

Photo credit: Dean Meyers

Think global
60David Nikel

David NikelSeptember 1, 2014

Think Global First

On my journey around the coworking spaces, Startup Weekends and other events that make up the Norwegian entrepreneurial scene, I continue to be astounded by the talented people I meet. People with great ideas and the drive to deliver on them and make a real impact.

But so many times I’m saddened to see the entrepreneur restricting themselves to their home market. The population of the world is an estimated 7.1 billion people. Norway’s population is just 5 million, or to put it another way, 0.07% of the world’s population. By focusing your innovative idea on Norway alone, you are missing out on 99.93% of the world.

I get it, I truly do. There is a high average disposable income and the language barrier (which does exist in Norway, despite the high comprehension of English) means it’s easy to replicate a successful business model from elsewhere in the world by just implementing it in Norwegian. But for truly innovative ideas, ideas with the potential to disrupt industries, consider going global first.

Here are some markets to consider.

The United Kingdom

London Heathrow

The rise of low-cost airlines such as Ryanair, Norwegian and Flybe means the UK’s capital is now just as easy to reach from Oslo as any Norwegian city. Think about that for a moment. 65 million people and Europe’s biggest tech startup cluster on your doorstep without any real change in your travel habits or budget.

London’s tech startup scene is centred on the Silicon Roundabout between Hackney and Islington. Cisco, Facebook, Google, Intel and McKinsey & Company have all invested in the area to help create Tech City, an umbrella organisation driving the area’s growth.

Tech hangouts and coworking spaces litter London, offering space to network and a calendar of events all year round. The Trampery, Soho Collective, and TechSpace are just some to check out. As for the type of startups that can succeed in London, a recent “Tech City pulse” survey revealed the following breakdown of London’s digital economy:

London Tech City breakdown

One success story of using London as a platform for growth is the game-like educational tool Kahoot from Mobitroll, originally developed at NTNU.

Silicon Valley

Palo Alto

Not a market in itself, but Silicon Valley gives you access to one of the biggest markets of them all: the USA, and of course, venture capital money, but it’s notoriously difficult to get noticed amid the ever-increasing number of wannabes. However, if you are serious about targeting the US, there are ways in.

Innovation Norway operate the TINC program a couple of time a year, offering 10 Norwegian companies a unique business development and networking opportunity in the heart of the Valley. Keep your eyes peeled on the Innovation House blog for news.

Another networking organisation worth tuning into is Silicon Vikings, who boast 5,000 members and publish a Twitter news feed of goings on from the Nordic involvement in the Valley.

Successful Norwegian companies with a foot (or more!) in this corner of California include the collaborative video creation software WeVideo, the gesture recognition system of Elliptic Labs, and identity management innovators ForgeRock.

Will you take the advice of serial entrepreneur and venture capitalist Jon Medved and get your butt over to the US?

China

Shanghai, China

The UK and USA are relatively easy to do business with as a Norwegian due to shared language and, to a certain extent, culture. Neither can be said for the world’s second-largest economy and home to over 1 billion people, China. Although the risks may be high, but the rewards of looking east are potentially enormous.

Now far more than the “workshop of the world”, China has a lot more to offer than cheap labour or cheap imports from Alibaba. Innovation Norway are attempting to repeat the success of their Silicon Valley operation and have opened Innovation House Shanghai, to connect Norwegian entrepreneurs and SMEs with the relevant networks in China:

“The country faces an historic shift from labor intensive industries to knowledge-based capital-intensive industries and as part of this transformation, the services sector will replace the industrial sector as the pivotal driver of economic growth. The Chinese Government strongly backs the increased openness towards international business and is building a hypermodern infrastructure across the country, surpassing that of many western countries, to facilitate this change. Wages are still relatively low compared to Norway, which also can make business very profitable.”

Spain

Sitges

You may be surprised that I’m suggesting you check out one of Europe’s economic disaster stories, but some enterprising Norwegians are benefiting from the estimated 50,000 Norwegians living and working in Spain.

Several Norwegian entrepreneurs have set up call centres and other business support services in the Canary Islands and areas of high Norwegian population on the mainland. There’s a steady supply of Norwegian speaking staff despite the substantially lower salaries (though still above the Spanish average) because of the attractiveness of the Spanish climate, particularly in the Canaries. Lower salaries of course means the call centres can undercut their competition based in Norway.

Act local, think global

There’s nothing wrong with starting your business in Norway, but plan global from the start. It makes things much easier if and when you decide to expand, and you may be surprised how quickly things develop.

Photo credit: Yuya Sekiguchi