Still Weird, Still Awesome Austin

2015 marked my 4th year not-in-a-row at South by Southwest. My observations from last year still largely hold true, though this year some of the crowds seem to have staved off (Mykel, my Austinite buddy, speculated that some of this may be from key sponsorship changes this year – from Chevrolet to Mazda and from Frito-Lay to…McDonalds…) and I’m not going to disagree: I sure didn’t head over to the Golden Arches area. That said, there is such a plethora of rich, meaningful content and amazing people all in one spot, it still deserves a go. Continue reading →

The Price of Innovation

The last few years has seen a proliferation of accelerators for various reasons, including lower barriers to entry and capital needs for tech startups, and increasingly fluid information flows. As a result, lots of testing and learning can happen earlier in the startup process, and accelerators, with their combination of coaching, provision of professional services and introduction to investment, have served to address these earlier phases.

It’s easy to argue that too many emerged for the market: you can look at the ensuing fallout as evidence. Jed Christiansen reveals some dead ones in his list of global programs and just this month a few other casualties were reported.

However, I contend that the changed dynamics of startups can bear this supply; the problem is rather with the mission of the accelerators rather than their number. I’ve been privileged to run a program unique in our focus and priorities on technology innovation over ROI potential. Considering the overall duration it takes to generate returns (let alone any decent returns at all) in early stage investing, accelerators focused on shorter-term (as in, less than say 7 years) ROI are not surprisingly at risk.

Perhaps more importantly, it’s crucial to recharacterize startup support at these early phases, until sufficient time has passed, as an educational rather than financial endeavor (though certainly with financial ramifications…just as a college degree has financial ramifications, but unless you go to trade school, that shouldn’t be your focus while getting the education).

Nearly a decade ago, Wired founder and overall tech philosopher-pundit Kevin Kelly posited that “Wasting time and inefficiencies are the way to discovery.” No wonder schools often feel inefficient and standardized tests are suboptimal ways to measure true learning and progress. For the love of the new and innovative, bring on the inefficiency. And bring on the sponsors of it who have much to benefit from the discoveries that ultimately get made.


Silicon Everywhere

Today I had the very distinct privilege to share about some lessons learned from the region so lovingly known as Silicon Valley. It was part of the first “Silicon Valley Comes to the Baltics” — attended by over 1,100 mostly student entrepreneurs and produced with aplomb thanks to the crack team led by Andrius Neviera.

Indeed the legendary (if not downright mythical) Silicon Valley has a unique and incredible history that I touch on, helped largely by the timeless (if 16 years can count as that) analysis of AnnaLee Saxenian. But, while entrepreneurs can learn a lot from the Valley, it is key to realize that our increasingly networked world has information, relationships and even capital crossing borders in unprecedented fashion.

So rather than isolating the Valley as some kind of mystical place, I encourage startup founders to apply some key lessons – primarily around openness and sharing — to the markets they know best: their own.

You can watch me by forwarding this video to 1:35 (I go until about 1:51), and the slides are here. Enjoy!