Category: Articles (Page 1 of 2)

The Q2/2017 Funding Analysis

The second quarter of the year brings the first funding report we do in 2017. The reason: we only recorded one investment in Q1, so there’s no need for a special report on that. This report also is the first one since we started our big Icelandic startups scene data project which means that the data we’re using now is augmented with data from Crunchbase.

Four funding rounds, $14m

This quarter we recorded four funding rounds: Meniga, Takumi, TripCreator, and Mink Campers.

This quarter was much more active than the one before (which only had one investment – Goodlifeme / SidekickHealth), and has the same amount of investments as the year before (Q2/2016).

The main difference between the years is the amount invested; the amount invested increased by over 240%, mainly due to two rather big rounds; Meniga and Takumi.

This leads to a (rather obvious) next chart: the majority of capital invested came from outside the country; around 70%.

The bigger picture

In 2015 we had a big influx of capital; three funds that started and were very active in the first quarters. Those rounds were in general fairly small (never above 500m ISK or between $4-5m) and early stage. As we’ve talked about for some time now, two of those funds have stopped investing in new companies, which leaves only one active Icelandic fund at the moment.

Naturally, the rate of investment will slow down. Hopefully for the ecosystem, the sizes of rounds will increase (because the companies that raised before are raising follow-on rounds). In fact, three of the four companies that raised money in Q2 2017 had at least 2 funding rounds before the one they announced this quarter.

There are also some interesting takeaways in regards of the capital coming in. It’s mostly foreign – when our startup companies need growth money they venture abroad to get it. Which makes complete sense; the Icelandic funds aren’t big enough to be able to go as big as the bigger foreign funds.

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A record number of startup investments: The 2016 Iceland Funding Report

After an incredible 2015, where Iceland contributed more than 10% of deployed venture capital in the Nordic region, 2016 shows continued growth in number of investments, while total dollars invested take a deep dive, mostly due to the lack of mega rounds. While 2015 had three investments amounting to $30m or more each, the biggest investment in 2016 was $11.4m (€10m) in Fintech startup Five degrees. Also, if you haven’t signed up for the Northstack Memo, we’re publishing some thoughts and predictions for 2017 this Monday. Sign up here

This is our (from now on) annual funding report, analysing and discussing the high level trends in venture and early stage investing. We only include disclosed investments and translate all amounts to USD at an exchange rate close to the day of announcement. All data on the Nordics is from The Nordic Web. If you’re interested in more detailed analysis or the data, you can reach out to us.

New record in investments

Last year was the biggest year on record in regards to dealflow. We recorded 19 investments, 8 of which had foreign leads or participants. A good trend for the Icelandic ecosystem, that could easily reverse in 2017 if the VC industry isn’t able to raise enough new funds.


While the number of investments graph trends up-and-to-the-right, the amount invested isn’t as pretty. While still considerably higher than in 2014, last year was far behind 2015 (from now on termed the Monster Year of Icelandic Startup Investments), in terms of invested dollars. This is only due to three big rounds – $95m Verne Global, $45.6m CRI, and $30m CCP.


A look at the year

Looking at the year, the outlier is the lack of activity in Q4, with only one investment.


Overall, the distribution of round sizes is interesting. Smaller rounds should vastly outnumber the bigger ones, but here they don’t. This could be explained by the fact that the Technology Development Fund plays a very big role in early stage funding in Iceland and angel activity goes mostly unreported. (If you have info on angel investments in Iceland, please let us know).


 

Compared to the Nordics

If we compare the activity in Iceland to the Nordic region we see that Iceland is following the general trend in the Nordics in terms of deals (that is, up and to the right). The jump in investments in the Nordic is dramatically bigger though, suggesting a different pace – we jumped 2014-2015, the region is jumping 2015-2016. The data on the Nordics is from The Nordic Web.


In terms of capital deployed, 2015 is a clear anomaly.


In fact, if we remove the three big rounds (Verne, CRI and CCP) from the 2015 numbers, the trend for Iceland is even more similar to the nordic region.


And if we play the national sport of comparing ourselves to other countries based on headcount (known as Par-Capita-ism), we see Iceland is contributing just a bit more to investments in the Nordics than to headcount in the region.


Active investors

In 2016 we had good mix of foreign and Icelandic investors. Seven deals included foreign investors. One of them, Velocity Capital, participated in two rounds – Meniga and Five degrees.

Active investment companies
Baliopharm
BOM Venture Capital
Brunnur
Capital A
Eyrir Sprotar
Frumtak 2
Glu Mobile
Investa
Karmijn Kapitaal
Klappir
Life Sciences Partners
NSA Ventures
Probiocon
Seventure Partners
Velocity Capital

Outlook for 2017

While this report shows a good year for Icelandic startup financing, the future isn’t all rainbows and unicorns (heh). Potentially fewer active local VC’s and shortage of successful exits make raising funds – both for startups and venture capital funds – harder. More thoughts and predictions about 2017 will be published in next week’s Northstack Memo, you can sign up here.

Northstack is Iceland’s premier analysis and reporting institution on the Icelandic startup and tech scene. This is part of our regular funding reports. You can find more here. If you’re interested in data or reporting the Icelandic startup or tech scene, let us know, we can help.

Why is it so important that TravAble recieved funding

A social enterprise gets funding from the Icelandic Technology Development Fund

bardur

Bárður Örn Gunnarsson

The Icelandic Technology Development Fund announced its funding just before Christmas. 25 companies received grants ranging from $85K to $420K. There is a wide range of startups on the list, from VR to Robotics, from Ed-Tech to Food tech. They are all built by strong teams looking for funding to scale their business. In many ways they are similar even though the products and services are different. Still one startup sticks out: TravAble. TravAble is an Icelandic startup trying to facilitate access to places and services for the physically impaired with an app. It is a true social enterprise, the only one in the group. It is still built like the others with a strong diverse team and strong technological know-how and meant to scale.

What is a Social Enterprise and what are Social Entrepreneurs

Social enterprises are companies or organizations that are funded to solve social or environmental problems with commercial strategies and often with a startup approach. Social entrepreneurship has often been viewed as an alternative way to tackle issues the public sector has not managed to solve and the private sector has not found profitable. Most Social Startups differ from other startups due to the fact that the driving mechanism in the company is doing good by solving a problem, not profit. They can still be run as for-profit, so if the solution ends up being profitable that’s not a bad thing, social enterprises can of course also be run as non-profits.

“With all the challenges our society faces from health care, education, technology or the environment, we need social entrepreneurs and social enterprises to create solutions that benefit people and the environment sustainably.” says Tanja Wohlrab-Ryan CEO and Founding member of Kveikja a NGO raising awareness, promotion and education on social entrepreneurship. “The concept of social entrepreneurship is still quite unknown in Iceland. To date not many social innovative projects have been supported by the big grant giving funds. For this reason, we would like to see a special grant fund created by the government (common in many countries) that specifically invests in projects that can demonstrate a high level of social and/or environmental impact, as well as profitability.”

Tanja pinpoints that one of the greatest problems with starting and running a social enterprise is funding. Why would anyone invest in a company that is not profitable from the get go. That’s where public money and grants come in. It is essential for social enterprises to meet their goals to have access to capital. That’s where Rannís and the Icelandic Technology Development Fund have stepped in and opened up to funding new types of companies by including a social enterprise in its funding this year. That is really applaudable.

So why is this funding so important

TravAble is a clear example of a social enterprise. The company is lowering barriers in our society for the physically impaired with making information on accessible services, entertainment and facilities easier to find.

TravAble aims to meet that need by connecting in a new way existing information on services and accessibility information in an app for mobile devices. The app will use location services, making it easy for users to plan ahead or navigate to nearby locations.

“TravAble´s vision is to be a global leader in it’s field. This requires close attention to technical implementation, the core system needs to handle high volume of concurrent users and be able to scale easily. TravAble has worked on the system design with experienced experts in the field. Usability is a key factor for success, and the implementation will be user centric and done in collaboration with top tier partners e.g. the Reykjavik University.” says Hannes Pétursson, CTO and founder.

The needs and wishes of physically impaired persons are targeted and those that cater to them. According to Ósk Sigurðardóttir, CEO and founder, “It is estimated that physically impaired, their immediate friends and family are about six million in the Nordics alone.” TravAble aims to build a crowdsource community to ensure collection of information and its reliability.

TravAble will initially use the Icelandic market as a test bed but has already began expanding to the Nordics with partnership agreements.

With such a large market segment, a scalable solution and a constantly growing market TravAble might eventually become profitable.

I hope this will be a motivation for other entrepreneurs to use their skills to solve social and environmental problems. With this gesture the Icelandic Technology Development Fund has indicated that social enterprises stand a chance against the profit driven tech startups that rule the startup scene for now.

You want to start a company. But why?

Hjálmar Gíslason, VP Data at Qlik

Having been through the startup process several times (DataMarket was my fourth as a founder), I have come to the conclusion that the most important part of starting a company is for the founder or founders to think about and agree upon why they want to build the company in the first place, and what they want to achieve. Interestingly enough, this is typically not a priority for founding teams. Working on “the what” – i.e. building the product, growing the team, funding the operations, figuring out how to make the business model work, etc. – is so challenging, time consuming and exciting that we never stop to think about “the why”. Why do we want to start a company? What is our motivation, our purpose and our end goal? But thinking about this in the beginning will help guide many important decisions further down the road.

Let’s imagine a few possible motivations one might have for doing their own startup:

  • Autonomy: Wanting to be independent, working for yourselves and not be controlled by somebody else’s agenda.
  • Desire to create: Wanting to see your idea become a reality.
  • Riches: You want to become wealthy.
  • Glory: You want to become known for your creation whether in certain circles or simply become famous.
  • Fun: You’re in it for the excitement and the joy of working with a good group of co-founders and co-workers.
  • Challenge: You want to prove to yourselves (and/or others) that you can achieve something that’s notoriously hard to do.

There are surely other possible motivation, and most likely your motivations are a combination of more than one of those. But you should really think about what they are, because this will help guide you through some key decisions as you build your company. What follows is an attempt to illustrate that for a few key areas.

The team

The most important part of any start-up – or any company for that matter – is the people. However, the composition, size and nature of your team may be guided by your core motivations. If your primary motivation is to become rich, you may want to have a smaller founding team. If your primary motivation is to have fun, you might focus on a different group of people, and if it’s autonomy you’re after you most likely want to make sure you are the one(s) in charge. It might also change how you want to compensate the team, who get’s in on a founding share, who gets stock options, how much you pay in salaries, bonuses, etc. It is even likely to guide how fast you want to grow the team, and how urgently you want to fill certain positions.

The funding

When it comes to the funding strategy, your core motivations have to be crystal clear. We’re so used to the startup stories that make the headlines that we tend to think about this almost as a single track: First you bootstrap and/or self fund, then you take in an angel investment, next a seed or Series A, then Series B, C, D, etc. until you IPO (or get acquired somewhere along the way). It is true that in most cases as soon as you take in external funding from a typical outside investor, this is the expected path. Money may already be one of your motivations, but rest assured that for outside investors it is almost guaranteed to be the primary – if not the only – reason they want to be involved.

There is nothing wrong with that. In most cases that is the reason for their existence as “investors” (otherwise they would be called something else, like “givers” or “splurgers”). But if you have other motivations too, you now have conflicting interests. When you take in an investment, money becomes the primary target, and you’ve started down the single-track path described above.

If your core motivations are any different, the honest thing to do is to either have an open discussion with your potential investors before they come on board or give in to the fact that money is now your primary game. Some – especially early stage – investors will in fact be open to a different or supplementary agenda. And all of them will appreciate your honesty. You will too, even if it ruins some of your funding opportunities. Also: You may have to compromise some of your motivations in order to achieve others. Many ideas are very hard to make a reality without serious funding, so even if your primary motivations are different, you’ll have to make the money part work out too.

There are other paths, less traveled in the tech startup world. In fact most businesses outside that world are started with much more modest plans and needs for funding, and yet they sometimes manage to make their founders well off, or flat out rich without ever taking in outside funding. This usually takes longer, and doesn’t get as big as a Silicon Valley-type startup, but can get quite big nevertheless.

And this is where your best interests and those of a typical VC investor may diverge significantly. Their business is about maximizing their potential upside even by taking excessive risk: Go big, or go home.

Modest success is not among their desired outcomes, but it may well be yours.

The end-game

Are you prepared to see your baby go? On the typical start-up route there are only three possible outcomes: an acquisition, an IPO or – the most common one – a failure. In the case of an IPO or an acquisition you may still be in a position to control some things, but getting there will take years of good fortune and great execution. Well before the exit you are likely to hold a minority of the shares, often a smaller stake than one or more of your investors. You will be in control as long as everything is going relatively well, but if things go south – you’re no longer in a position to control the outcome. The same is true after an exit. In the case of an IPO you will now be subject to the forces of the markets, quarterly filings, growth and profit expectations and general emphasis on short-term results. Often at the cost of longer term goals. In the case of an acquisition, your level of control will depend on the motivations and goals of the acquirer, as well as the success executing on those plans after the acquisition.

But all of this may be fine. By this time, you may well have reached your goals. The product is out there, the money is in the bank, you managed to pull of something extremely hard that most that try fail at, and you may still be having a lot of fun and autonomy. In fact, even in the case of a “failure”, many of your motivations may have been met.

But if you didn’t think about your motivations beforehand, you may actually realize that you went down a path where your motivations or those of some of your team members weren’t fulfilled. That’s why spelling them out, discussing them and monitoring them on the way is so important.

Hjálmar Gíslason is the VP of Data at Qlik, and formerly founder and CEO of Datamarket (acquired by Qlik).

Seven Startup Reykjavik companies to watch

Today is investor day at Startup Reykjavik 2016. This is the fifth time the accelerator is operated and today’s pitches by the ten companies participating this year are a culmination of 10 weeks of work. The event invites investors, corporate executives, and press to see, and potentially invest in, these companies.

To commemorate this, we’ve created a short list we call Seven Startup Reykjavik companies to watch. To make it on to the list, the company needs to have received equity funding since finishing the accelerator program. The list is ordered alphabetically. We don’t include information on funding other than equity funding.

Activity Stream

slider-activity-stream

  • Founders: Stefán Baxter, founder, and Einar Sævarsson, co-founder
  • Funding received: 270m ISK ($2.1m) in one round
  • Startup Reykjavik batch: 2013
  • Industry: Software, SaaS, Operational Intelligence

Activity Stream is developing operational intelligence software. It monitors a company’s operations and uses artificial intelligence to improve daily operations and customer support. As of this September, the company will have paid subscribers that have actively participated in the last phases of their development.

Last December, the company raised a ~$2.1m funding round from several investors, including VC funds Eyrir Sprotar and Frumtak. The company is preparing for a Series A round financing by the end of 2017.

They recently opened an office in Denmark responsible for sales and customer success, and are building infrastructure in Iceland to on-board new customers and keep them happy. Further scaling will depend on their Series A. The company will officially launch in October, after being in stealth mode since inception.

According to Stefán, the main value they got from Startup Reykjavik was access to the mentors, a “free pass” to be completely focused on their new venture, and to meet the people in a young and growing startup scene. Remember, this was three years ago, and a lot has changed since then. Also, one of the drivers for their participation was that they wanted to “pay it forward” in a way. They were (obviously) hoping to succeed, and by going through Startup Reykjavik, their success would help raise the profile of Startup Reykjavik. Stefán acknowledges that “this may sound arrogant, but we were hoping to be able to contribute, as well as receive.”

Authenteq

Authenteq User profile

  • Founders: Kari Thor Runarsson, Runar Karlsson, Adam Martin
  • Startup Reykjavik batch: 2014
  • Funding received: $80K in two rounds
  • Industry: Software, SaaS, authentication

Authenteq is an automatic identy verification platform. Their initial product was an app that took photos that couldn’t be altered. They pivoted after Startup Reykjavik, and decided to build on the tamperproof core they had created. The current product takes two pictures – one of the user, and another of the user’s government issue ID – and compares them to issue an Authenteq ID that people use to prove their identity.

The company participated in the accelerator Startup Bootcamp after Startup Reykjavik, and has now launched their MVP. They are currently working with select development partners before fully launching. They’re currently raising a seed round to hire more developers and get their product to market.

In terms of the value the company got from Startup Reykjavik, Kári said it was mostly twofold. First – it validated their idea and encouraged the team to work on it. Secondly, the funding that came with their participation allowed them to focus completely on the company.

Datadrive

Datadrive-1

  • Founders: Guðmundur Grétar Sigurðsson, Höskuldur Þór Arason, Ingi Björn Sigurðsson, Þórólfur Gunnarsson
  • Funding received: Undisclosed
  • Startup Reykjavik batch: 2015
  • Industry: Hardware, IoT

Datadrive helps car owners lower costs, lower emissions, and operate more efficiently. They currently offer two products – one for car rentals, and another for other businesses. The car rental solution tracks that car’s location through GPS – both for the safety of the passengers, and the car rental, to see if the car has gone through forbidden areas. It is connected to the car’s computer and measures its status, as well as creating a WiFi hotspot for the passengers. Their business product tracks and analyses the car fleet and efficiency. Datadrive supplies a mobile app and webapp to view the data.

Since finishing Startup Reykjavik, the company launched both its current products, and is working on their third, which will be consumer focused and launches later this year. They received an undisclosed amount in funding from Klappir earlier this year. Their next steps are getting more customers, building their business case and finding partnerships in Europe. They aim to enter the European market in 2018.

Guðmundur told Norðurskautið that the team got a lot of value out of the mentor discussions in Startup Reykjavik that helped them develop their product and business model. Regular lectures and workshops, that sometimes forced the team to rethink their plan, meant the team ended up with a better vision.

Florealis

Florealis

  • Founders: Kolbrún Hrafnkelsdóttir CEO, Karl Guðmundsson VP Sales- and Marketing, Elsa S. Halldórsdóttir VP Research and Development
  • Funding received: 100m ISK (~800K) in two investments
  • Startup Reykjavik batch: 2013
  • Industry: Pharmaceuticals

Florealis is a pharmaceutical company that develops herbal medicine for mild common diseases and symptoms. Their medicines are created using natural ingredients, scientifically tested, and approved by European Drug Authorities. Since leaving Startup Reykjavik, the company has raised 100m ISK, built up the team, and filed three pharmaceutical registrations in seven countries each.

The company expects their first products to ship to market in early 2017 in Sweden and Iceland. These products are medicines for mild symptoms and diseases, such as mild urinary infections, sleep aids, and mild arthralgia.

Kolbrún told us through email, that the biggest benefit they got from Startup Reykjavik was raised awareness of the company, and a platform to pitch and present their company and products.

Kaptio Travel

kaptiotravellogo28.08.15

  • Founders: Arnar Laufdal Ólafsson and Ragnar Ægir Fjölnisson
  • Funding received: 445m ISK ($3.4m) in 2 rounds
  • Startup Reykjavik batch: 2014
  • Industry: SaaS, Enterprise travel platform, Salesforce app.

Kaptio Travel is software built on top of the Salesforce Force.com platform with industry specific features for the travel industry. It’s designed for tour organisers and operators, hotels, and conference centers. It aims to streamline processes and give instant access to data important to these professionals.

The team entered Startup Reykjavik in 2012 with another company, Datatracker, while simaltaneously working on Kaptio Travel. Following Startup Reykjavik, the team decided to focus on Kaptio and finally merged the two companies. They have since raised two seed rounds, one led by NSA Ventures and another led by Frumtak Ventures. They launched their product in January 2014 and have customers in Europe, the US and Latin America.

The company recently raised the second seed round, and are now focusing on growing the team and making the organisation work smoothly, in terms of product development, sales, and implementing the solution for new customers.

Arnar told Norðurskautið that their main value from the Startup Reykjavik program was getting access to the network and feedback from mentors.

Mure VR

breakroom

  • Founders: Anton Þórólfsson, Bjarni Rafn Gunnarsson og Diðrik Steinsson
  • Funding received: 50m ISK (~$400K) in two rounds
  • Startup Reykjavik batch: 2014
  • Industry: Software, VR, Productivity

Mure VR is building practical VR applications. Their product is called Breakroom that aims to create a fully functional workplace environment in virtual reality. The reason is simple: many organisations now have open-space offices that, while good for some things, can make concentration and privacy more difficult. Using Breakroom will transfer users to a virtual reality workspace, where concentration and focus is easier. We recommend you check out the short video loop on their website to get a feeling for it.

The team has already soft-launched a product on Steam to try out the process and get feedback. They’re launching Breakroom on November 25th, and will be raising funds following that.

According to Diðrik, the main value they got from Startup Reykjavik was feedback and the network of contacts it created.

Wasabi Iceland

wasabi iceland

  • Founders: Johan Sindri Hansen and Ragnar Atli Tómasson
  • Startup Reykjavik batch: 2015
  • Funding received: 50m ISK in one round (~$400K)
  • Industry: Agriculture

Wasabi Iceland’s product is, as the name suggests, wasabi from Iceland. The duo started their venture into wasabi growing during an entrepreneurship class at university, and afterwards applied to Startup Reykjavik. The company raised a 50m ISK seed round from undisclosed, private investors, and have started growing wasabi in a green house in the east of Iceland.

According to Ragnar, one of the co-founders, they’re working towards shipping their first batch in 2017. A large portion of that batch has been sold to the restaurants Grill Market and Fish Market – two popular restaurants in downtown Reykjavik. The plan is to ramp up production in the beginning of 2017, and start exporting as soon as the production has reached enough mass.

The team benefitted greatly by connecting with mentors at Startup Reykjavik, some of whom have continued to help them long after the program ended. Ragnar also mentions experience pitching and public speaking as benefits the team gained from the program.

How to get the most out of Startup Iceland

On May 30th, the fifth annual Startup Iceland conference takes place in Harpa. This year’s roster of speakers includes entrepreneur and investor Ingrid Vanderveldt; Mark Solon and Jenny Fielding, both managing partners at TechStars; and Arvind Gupta, Investment Partner at SOS Ventures.

Bala Kamallakharan, founder of Startup Iceland

Bala Kamallakharan, founder of Startup Iceland

There are many conferences in the startup world these days, and attending too many takes focus and effort from entrepreneurs, that could be used building or selling a product. However, conferences can be a great place to expand your network and get some inspiration, but it is important to use your time wisely. That’s why Norðurskautið and the Startup Iceland team bring you a short and handy guide on how to get the most out of Startup Iceland.

Be open to inspiration

While building a company, everyone has their highs and lows. “It’s hard work, and everyone can do with some inspiration,” says Bala Kamallakharan, founder of Startup Iceland. Many of the speakers have gone through incredible journeys to get to where they are now, and hearing those stories can be a great motivator.

Connect with mentors

All speakers who participate in Startup Iceland also act as mentors the next day in a 20 minute one-on-one session with entrepreneurs. “We encourage founders to buy their tickets early because if we have a tie break on the slot for mentoring whoever bought the ticket early wins,” Bala tells us. The mentors all have experience and networks and can help you and your company. Some tips from Bala on how to prep for a one-on-one:

  • Do your homework on the pitch: Be able to clearly articulate your business in a quick and precise manner (you only have 20 minutes, remember).
  • Do your homework on the mentor: Read about the mentors to both help you pick which one you want to meet, and to understand how she may help. What are her areas of expertise? What kind of network does she have? Know as much as you can about the mentor.
  • Know what you want: Prepare questions and topics and know what you want to get out of the meet. Are you looking for an investor? Tell her that, and ask for feedback and guidance in that area. Need help promoting your product? Approach the mentor with questions on promotion

Connect with the community

Conferences bring people together, and Startup Iceland brings a big chunk of Iceland’s startup community to one place. Use it to get validation on what you’re building, sourcing possible customers or colleagues, or talking to potential investors. “Every startup that I have been part of got a break after participating in Startup Iceland,” Bala says. “No one knows what that is going to be but there is only one way to find out: Make it a habit to be there.”

Learn from others

A smart entrepreneur learns from her mistakes, a wise entrepreneur learns from others mistakes,” Bala says. A conference like Startup Iceland has speakers discussing strategy, operations, product and more. Make notes on what challenges you currently face, and try to spot if the speakers discuss them. That can also help when deciding what to discuss with a mentor.

More info on Startup Iceland on their website. Book tickets here.

Sling’s First Year in America: Lessons From an Icelandic Startup

Through the years, companies — not only tech startups — have grossly underestimated the cost of selling and developing businesses outside of their home market.

So a year ago, when a small Icelandic tech company, Gangverk, decided to start investing in sales and business development by opening an office in New York City, it was (and still is) risky business.  Worse yet, the software product we aimed at launching and selling wasn’t ready and had no users.

Helgi Hermannsson, co-founder & CEO of Sling

The idea we had in opening an office in New York was to investigate if there was a real market for a SaaS product we were developing called Sling, www.getsling.com, find helpful American beta test customers for feedback, create go-to market partnerships, and start a dialogue with possible future investors. Basically: research the market and build contacts that would benefit our business.

So we went from one office in Reykjavik, Iceland to also having an office on Broadway in New York City (to be fully accurate, rented desks inside a co-op space).

We believe you need to sit at the table and have a presence in America to be taken seriously there, and we want to share our experiences from our first year in New York if somebody can learn from it.

Woody Allen says “80% of success is showing up.” Let’s hope he’s right.

So what is Sling?

Sling is a SaaS (Software as a Service) workplace communication and shift scheduling software for non-desk working industries.  It’s super simple to set up and use.  You go to www.getsling.com, create an account, and invite your employees to join. Boom: in two minutes you’ve got your own company intranet.  It’s available both on the web and as iOS and Android apps.

From day one of developing Sling, before we wrote the first line of code, we’ve been in touch with potential users and customers, trying to gather as much feedback and input as possible.

Screenshot of Sling. Image courtesy of Sling

Sling was released in Beta tests with selected restaurant and retail store customers in March 2015, and we dropped Beta in July.

Everybody we meet loves the concept of Sling, but it’s our goal and challenge to get them to love the product Sling. There’s a great difference between the two.

Our product team is busy every day, tweaking things and listening to ever increasing customer feedback coming from all over the US.  Although Sling’s focus industries are retail stores and restaurants, we serve a variety of businesses including coffee houses, bars, hospitals, hotels, security companies, call centers, music venues, zoos and more.

So how has the first year in America been?

We’ve generally felt very welcome in New York, but we found out quickly that nobody in Manhattan was waiting for us or for a new SaaS software communication solution to hit the market. That doesn’t mean people don’t need such a product or love the concept. But getting customers to commit to and actually start using the product hasn’t been easy.  The main trouble is getting the decision makers’ attention and time.  The hurdle after they say yes is to get the entire company on board and up and running making full use of Sling. The second part can be as tricky as the first one.

Planning with the Sling Team. Image courtesy of Sling.

Planning with the Sling Team. Image courtesy of Sling.

It seems that in America everybody is selling something. Because of this, managers with decision power create a strong force field around themselves that won’t let new sales teams in.  To overcome this bias, we’ve had to write endless emails and make many, many cold calls to get attention and meetings.  These are all well-known sales difficulties, so in a sense, it’s nothing new, but for a small company coming from a tiny market (Iceland is 1000x  smaller than US in all economic aspects), it’s hard.

As the year has gone by, we’ve developed Sling quickly in response to customer feedback, and it’s become easier to manage as we go. We’re in touch with a growing potential customer base and go-to market partners, whom we make sure are following our progress.  Progress matters also to our American customers, who credit us for our efforts. If you’re honest, polite, and make sure not to close any doors, you can always come back in 3-6 months with an update and try to pitch the sale again. The American dream in this sense is alive and well.

Some advice: be yourself, or at least don’t strive to be an overcommitted, fast-talking “sales guy” (you know the type). Your customers know what you’re trying to do is difficult and respect you for your efforts, so speak the truth. Honesty goes a long way.

Time is the worst enemy of startups, but you have to stay in the game to build trust and connections and keep your head high.  If you’re feeling down, listen to Whiskey in the Jar by Metallica and Thunderstruck by AC/DC before meetings. Try to keep your energy up, drink a lot of water, and get enough sleep. And please, stay away from junk food.

In America, it’s all about the intro. If somebody makes an introduction, you’ll get the meeting and attention, so a good network is gold.  Well-respected managers and brand names can do wonders in getting you in front of potential new customers and partners. Ask people for help – you’ll be surprised how helpful good people are.

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NYC. Image courtesy of Sling.

Being in New York has also helped us better understand how Americans do business in general and build up our contact list.  It is a fact that software decision making is splitting into the hands of different mangers and divisions and away from one central CTO buying office. From our vantage, we can tell you that department heads within large hospitals in California and Georgia autonomously found Sling and implemented its use. The same likely happened when airport baggage handlers of one of the major airlines started using Sling. I’m pretty sure they didn’t call headquarters for feedback

With the fast evolving software world poking around in every business model on earth and trying to find ways to take over “conventional” companies’ business and revenue streams, there’s a changing attitude inside huge companies toward cooperation of smaller companies and teams.  They know that they have to take part in the Zeitgeist or become Kodak in 10 years.

In the past months, Sling has signed on hundreds of company accounts in America with many great customers.  Software products are sold online all the time without companies meeting face-to-face, and the same is true for Sling. We’ve never met 25 of our 30 biggest users.  We’ve chatted with some on Skype, asking for feedback after they started using Sling, but some have never replied to our emails or calls, which is fine.

How much has this sales and business development cost us?

New York is an expensive place to be, and it might not be the best fit for your company, especially if you’re trying new things and exploring what works for your product.

The total sales/business dev. cost of our first year (besides salaries, which would have been the same if we worked out of Iceland) has been around $140,000.   We’ve spent this money on rent, travel, a variety of testing sales related activities, a tiny budget on Adwords (which works well) and Facebook ads (which didn’t work so well — if anybody knows how to do it right, please contact me).  We’ve also tested content marketing with mixed results, hired a sales intern (didn’t work), hired an expensive fast talking sales advisor/consultant (mixed results at best) and hired a part time PR guy (didn’t work).  We attended the big NRA restaurant trade show in Chicago in May last year (which worked very well, it cost about $15,000) – see the photo below of our booth (we played a bit out of our league, as we where surrounded by big tech companies).

The booth. Image courtesy of Helgi Hermansson / Sling

The booth. Image courtesy of Helgi Hermansson / Sling

We benefited from this conference with a couple of great partnerships and sale – for example, US Foods where our company is partnering with an 22,000-person organization with deep roots inside the restaurant industry. We also made first contact with the company that licensed Sling for $2.5m early this year at this conference.  In a perfect world, we’d attend all key trade shows every year, but it’s expensive.

We got a buy offer for our company last year, to which we said “no thanks!” (we’re having too much fun).  It ultimately strengthens our belief that we’re doing something right, even though we can’t see into the future and might regret it greatly later ahaha.

We’ve found out that good sales people in America with the right connections are very expensive.

We had the opportunity to speak at a cool tech conference with big names from the restaurant industry.  This taught me that I need to take public speaking classes as it seems to me that all Americans can rock the stage as if they were giving a TED talk!

We’ve learned that it takes time to convince big brands names to work with us but it is possible and it is often not easy to find the right person to talk to inside big corporations.

So what happens next?

We have a rock solid product, that our current customers love (they send us “I love Sling” emails) and has the potential for continued growth in a variety of industries around the world.  But it doesn’t matter if we don’t have the resources to keep on going, to be able to hire more smart people, and test things out in order to keep moving forward every day.

Sling Boarding Shool. Image courtesy of Sling.

Sling Boarding Shool. Image courtesy of Sling.

I’m endlessly fortunate to be backed by the best tech team in the business, all of them much smarter than me.  I feel the responsibility and pressure to deliver as the company is investing in me being in New York.  Nothing beats the feeling of going into a product demo with a customer knowing we have a fantastic product they will like and use.   And the true drug of selling is doing live product development with my team in Iceland in front of a customer in New York – it’s pure magic.

We received $500,000 in pre-seed funding from two investors based on the concept and idea of Sling.  When I look at our old investor deck today, I can’t believe what they were thinking.  It’s a shadow of what our product has turned out to be.

Our investors are pressing us to spend fast (the American way!), but we’re trying to make the money last as everything takes longer than expected, and we have to be able to stay in the game.  Our funds will last until next year, though our dinners for the last months might be mac and cheese. But, hey, we shouldn’t complain. We’re the fortunate few who get the chance to take risks.

Atli, my partner and world’s best CTO likes to say, “Make it happen.”  I agree — we have to keep a razor-sharp focus and move forward every day, making every moment count as our window of opportunity closes.

If you’re still reading this, thank you for your time, and please find us in New York or Reykjavik for a chat over coffee.

Helgi Hermannsson is founder and CEO of Sling, a SaaS workplace communication and shift scheduling software for non-desk working industries. If you have questions or thoughts, reach out to him through email – helgi@getsling.com.

Eyrir Sprotar almost fully deployed – $17.2 million in ten companies

The last of the three venture funds, Eyrir Sprotar, announced it had raised 2.5bn ISK early 2015, and then closed its fund on $3.5bn in November. The fund has been active since 2012, which makes it the oldest of the three funds.

Investments

Eyrir Sprotar has invested in ten companies in its lifetime. The most recent investment is Key Natura, which is also the only investment where the amount was disclosed. Örn Valdimarsson, managing director of Eyrir Sprotar, says the fund doesn’t disclose individual investment amounts. The decision on whether to disclose it or not should be in the hands of the companies. We reached out to the companies and at the date of publishing have answers from Handpoint. Other companies didn’t reply or declined to comment.

The fund supplied Norðurskautið with total invesment amounts, as well as what they’ve commited to. They didn’t confirm the annual management fee, but said we could use the same 2% approximate as we’ve used with the other funds.

Company Quarter / Year Amount ISK / ~$
Handpoint  Q3 / 2015 260m ISK / $2m
Saga Medica  ?? / ???? Undisclosed
Remake Electric  Q3 / 2010 Undisclosed
Info Mentor  ?? / 2014** Undisclosed
Mure  Q1 / 2015 Undisclosed
Activity Stream  Q4 / 2015 270m ISK / $2.1m*
Sæbýli  Q3 / 2013 Undisclosed
Key Natura Q1 / 2016 311m ISK / $2.4m
Cooori  ?? / ???? Undisclosed
Lífdísill  ?? / ???? Undisclosed
 Total: 10 2.230m ISK / $17.2m

*The total amount invested in Activty Stream was 270m ISK. We do not have information on how much of that was by Eyrir Sprotar. Frumtak invested 116m ISK which puts Eyris investment south of 150m ISK.
**Based on annual reports from NSA we derive that Eyrir Sprotar joined the shareholders of InfoMentor in 2014.

Available funds

Eyrir Sprotar has been the most active of the VC funds we’ve covered, to the extent that it’s almost at full capacity. Counting in management fees and commitments, leaves about 220m ISK in the fund for further investment. Örn says they have capacity for 1-2 moderately sized projects but their main objective is to follow up with the companies in their portfolio.

Eyrir Sprotar.001

As a proportion of total available capital, we can see that the fund has around 8% available for either followup or fresh investments.

Eyrir Sprotar.002

These numbers mean that we shouldn’t expect much new activity from Eyrir in the coming years, leaving the ecosystem with two active VC funds. Eyris main project over the coming months and years will be to follow up with their investments and maximising the returns of the funds LP’s.

Picture by Moyan Brenn

Norðurskautið covers the Icelandic Startup and Tech scene. Follow us on Twitter or sign up for our mailing list to keep up to date. You can also join our Slack community – http://bit.ly/slack-is

 

 

 

 

Iceland Q1 2016 Funding & Exits Report

The first quarter of 2016 starts off with a $13.4 million disclosed in fundings in seven funding rounds.

Comparison to Q1 2015

The number of investments more than doubled from the same quarter last year (from three to seven) . Total amount invested, however, fell drastically, only due to one massive investment.

Last year’s Q1 totaled $99 million in three investments, according to The Nordic Web’s analysis. This huge amount is almost entirely due to a $98 million round in Verne Global. Other investments in that quarter were Kaptio ($900K) and Datasmoothie (undisclosed).

In this case we shouldn’t use the amount invested as an indicator of the health of the community due to the Verne Global’s outlier investment.

Overview

The first quarter of 2016 totals $13.4 million in seven rounds. The size of one of the rounds was undisclosed.

q1-2016-funding.001

Round sizes

Unlike last quarter when we had the $30 million CCP round, this time around we didn’t see one huge round that eclipsed all the other investments. We had a healthy split of three small rounds – under $500K – and three above $1.5 million.

q1-2016-funding.002

Who’s investing?

Like last quarter, the majority of the investment is from outside of the country. QuizUp’s $7.5 million round is almost solely responsible for that. The ratio between funding from within Iceland and outside it is as following.

q1-2016-funding.003

Exits

We recorded one exit this quarter. Swedish Enzymatica acquired Icelandic Zymetech through a non-cash issue of approximately 20.9 million new shares. At the time of purchase, Enzymatica was trading at 3.35 SEK. That translates to an approximate value of 70 million SEK (~$8.6 million).

Please refer to our analysis for Q4 2015 in regards to our methodology.

Norðurskautið covers the Icelandic Startup and Tech scene. Follow us on Twitter or sign up for our mailing list to keep up to date. You can also join our Slack community – http://bit.ly/slack-is

Brunnur – one year later: $3.2 million in two investments

Last week we dug into Frumtak 2’s investment and funds and this time around we’re looking at Brunnur. Brunnur is a 4 bn ISK (~$31 million) fund, focused mainly on various technology sectors as well as food production. We covered the fund in more detail last year.

Investments

To this date, Brunnur has invested in two companies – ARK Technology and ATMO Select. Both investments were in the fourth quarter of last year. The investments total 425m ISK.

Company Year / Quarter Amount ISK / ~$
ARK Technology 2015 / Q4 225m ISK / $1.7m
ATMO Select 2015 / Q4 200m ISK / $1.5m
Total: 6 425m ISK / $3.2m

According to Sigurður Arnljótsson, GP at Brunnur, the fund foresees at least three investments in the first two quarters of 2016.

Available Funds

Based on public information and comments from Sigurður Arnljótsson, GP at Brunnur, we mapped out the available funds for Brunnur.

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Note: We estimated the fees based on general practice in the VC industry, where funds take 2% of the total size per year in management fees. Frumtak has a operating lifetime of 10 years.

Dry Powder is the cash reserves the funds’ GP’s have allocated to followup rounds to their portfolio, which is at the minimum 30%, according to Sigurður. The fund could decide to hold up to 50% for followup cash, but Norðurskautið uses the lower number in our calculations.

Based on this, we can calculate how much of their capital Brunnur has invested. This number ends at around 21%, leaving a little under 80% ready for deployment.

image (2)

Having allocated 21% of its capital on two investments rhymes closely with their stated goal of investing in 10-15 companies over their investment period of 3-5 years.

Comparing Brunnur’s activity to Frumtak 2 over the last year shows that Frumtak 2 has been more active, both in terms of number of investments and deployed capital. Frumtak’s investments have been on a wider scale in terms of size and verticals – ranging from consumer tech to hardware to automobiles – while Brunnur’s investments have been B2B tech products – ARK focused on optimizing energy consumption of marine vehicles, and ATMO Select developing a music management software solution for retail spaces.

Norðurskautið covers the Icelandic Startup and Tech scene. Follow us on Twitter or sign up for our mailing list to keep up to date. You can also join our Slack community – http://bit.ly/slack-is

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Nortstack – Reporting and analysis of the Icelandic startup scene