DOKU:TECH’s second and final day at the Albanian League of Prizren was a day of inspiration and entrepreneurs. If on the first day the audience could learn what can (incredibly) be done through new technologies, the second day was about how to put those ideas into a nice package, and sell them to the world. Startups, investment, and venture were some of the words we heard most from the speakers, who included entrepreneurs, startup accelerators and investors.
Kosovo 2.0 brings you the key messages from day two of this high-tech conference, featuring speakers Jan Ërik-Nyrövaara, Arikia Millikan, Max Gurvits, Lane Becker, and Esther Dyson.
Jan Ërik-Nyrövaara: “Luck doesn’t come by accident.”
Jan Ërik-Nyrövaara of Helsinki Ventures, had to fire some of his company’s employees. "Did you ever have the situation where your company has no more funds and somebody needed to do something?" he asked. A few hands rose. For the entrepreneur, who sees technology as something "rational," that was a hard moment. After making the cuts, his company had to keep going but the remaining employees were overtaken by pessimism: "They were not working overtime anymore, they were losing faith and looking for another job." He had an idea which may seem a little naive; but it worked.
One day he got all of his employees together and screened an excerpt from the movie “Any Given Day,” in which Al Pacino plays the role of an American football coach giving a super-motivating, passionate speech about being a team and doing something amazing. For Ërik-Nyrövaara, a football lover, the video was all about one thing that he cares about most: execution.
For the startups director, an idea is everything, but it is the way in which we bring it 'alive' that determines whether it will be successful or not. "When you compare the value of an idea to the value of execution, you actually see that even the bad idea is actually quite valuable with a good execution,” he said. “But a better idea with bad execution, makes a less valuable result."
He also imparted some advice for future entrepreneurs in the audience, including: "Luck doesn't come by accident; it's a result of relentless work."
Arikia Millikan: “If we neglect the 50 percent of the population, we won’t go to Mars.”
Arikia Millikan says that she could have been a genius. She was only a few points away from that category after testing her IQ but believes that the question, ‘What is democracy?’ complicated her result. Millikan is instead a tech journalist, educated in Psychology.
She says she could have cured cancer as she was very committed to biomedical technology studies. But something came across her path that led her to stop pursuing this dream: sexual violence.
“I got stalked by a fellow classmate, and it made me not want to go to class, because I was afraid; later on, I encountered sexual harassment from a professor… So I threw my education into the garbage and started journalism.”
Millikan’s adventure had just started. As a tech fan, and after trying, unsuccessfully, to convince Wired magazine editors to create a section with a greater gender perspective, she decided to create her own articles. She formed a collective of tech-savy women, and together they started to produce the content that they wanted to consume, and selling it to publications. To Millikan it was clear why that move needed to be made and she started her talk with some questions to help convey her reasoning to the audience:
“When you go to bars do you ever order a beer, and then drink half of it, and leave half of it on the table? When you go the doctor and he checks your eyes, do you stop him when he gets to the second, and say, it's fine I only need one of them? When you go to take money from the ATM, do you take some banknotes and leave some there, because you don’t want them? No, right? So then, why would you ever put yourself in a position where you are neglecting 50 percent of the workforce in the world? Because that's what's happening!”
Millikan went on to talk about the feelings that women have when working in technology, and other male-dominated environments. “It’s all about perception,” she said, and the perception is that women aren’t present. She concluded with the same passion that was evident throughout her talk: “We have to challenge our biases; we have to act; we can't just sit back and allow women to be outside the equation; because if we do, we won't cure cancer, and we won't go to Mars…”
Max Gurvits: “A small country can become very good at something small but significant.”
Max Gurvits came to talk about how to make the most of the Balkans. “How many people are there in the Balkans? Fortyeight million,” Gurvits began. According to him, that’s really a lot more than we think. “And they have more things in common than differences,” he remarked.
Gurvits, who has lived all over the world including the USA, Russia and across Europe, built a successful company and sold it in the Netherlands. He now cares about certain startups which he sees as having a future and in which he invests; he co-founded one of the biggest regional tech acceleration programs and seed funds through his organization Teres Angels.
Gurvits reminded the audience of some of the region’s inventions, which have included some impressive feats. “There was of course Nikola Tesla,” he said. But there have also been others who have created interesting inventions, such as the fastest electric car in the world. “And that’s not surprising if you look at the statistics of technology education; the Balkans are pretty up there on the table… but when we look at GDP, it doesn’t correspond; Balkan countries are way further down on the list.”
“I’ve been trying to understand one thing in recent years,” said the investor. “What are people in the Balkans good at?” Gurvits raised some laughs when he suggested a commonly offered answer: “They are generally good at having a good time.” That’s why he moved to Bulgaria himself. But he pointed out one small stumbling block: “There is a cultural problem with doing hard things."
For Gurvits, the Balkan countries all share a few characteristics that make investment, innovation, and the economy hard. “The Balkans have developed in a way that people don't like taking big risks. What I've noticed — which is puzzling — is that this freedom to travel means that when the borders open up, the smartest people leave; like in Romania, or in Bulgaria. Once people from Kosovo can travel freely, the smartest people will leave too… and the ones who stay behind aren't expected to excel.”
Gurvits ended his talk with some ideas on how to reinvigorate the region’s startups by introducing a bit of the Silicon Valley philosophy. “Help your best entrepreneurs to learn in Silicon Valley; retain the smart kids; bring people from Silicon Valley here; and attract talent to the region,” was some of his advice. “A small country can be turned around to become very good at something small but significant,” he concluded.
Lane Becker: “It will take much more than ever before to dig and find gold.”
For Lane Becker, who has created and sold three companies in Silicon Valley, the Olympus of tech-investment, creating a startup and being successful with it is like digging for gold. The Texas-born investor used this “gold digging” analogy in order to make the audience understand how much effort it takes nowadays to create a good project. “The gold in the beginning was on top of the surface,” he said. “But the more we digged, the more technologies were needed to reach a further point. Thus, you needed more money to keep digging.” Having success in the era of Silicon Valley’s rule “is not as simple as creating a web and throwing it out there – it takes a lot more relationships, a lot more networks, a lot more effort.”
Becker was also the co-founder of the company Adaptive Path that coined the web term that we love so much: ‘blog.’ Speaking about what network technology is good for, he said that on the one hand, such projects are dedicated to “increasing connections between people,” and on the other hand, they’re about “increasing people’s access to resources.”
Esther Dyson: “The best thing that I can do for women is to be a woman and to have ideas.”
The last talk of DOKU:TECH 2015 wasn’t just another speech, but a conversation between the co-founder of IPKO Telecommunications, Akan Ismaili, and Esther Dyson, chairwoman of EDVenture Holdings. Dyson has previously been called “the most influential woman in the computer world.” In the DOKU:TECH program, she is referred to as “a digital visionary, and innovation evangelist par excellence.”
Dyson’s plans are to retire on Mars, when the planet is ready for her; in 30 years, she said, and we don’t doubt it.
A highlight of the program, Dyson’s investment vision was applauded by the audience several times during her talk. Her tips were short but listened to with attention. “Waste offends me,” she said when speaking on issues in which she is interested in investing. “I’m not trying to do good. I’m trying to fix all the things I see wrong. I like having fun, but not doing something stupid.”
With an interest in health-related startups, she also invested in more well known companies, such as Flickr. Her talk was more about what is worth something, which doesn’t necessarily mean what is profitable. “I like to invest in people I like, and in things that may not make money, but that will make me happy and proud.”
When asked about her label as an “influential woman,” Dyson took a different turn with her answer. “It’s a pity that there aren’t more women in influential positions,” she replied. “I think what I can do for women is not to talk about being a woman, but to be a woman and to have ideas.” Her answer triggered yet another round of applause from the audience.
When Dyson was young, she traveled to Russia. She remained connected to the country, and later ended up learning Russian and investing in different startups there. About the future, she said that she is really interested in what 3D printers can do for us. “You'll be able to do much more recycling in a more distributed way,” she suggested. “You'll still be mass manufacturing some things, but for space travel, for example, 3D printing is going to be your thing; you're going to take your print, and do your things wherever you go.”
On a final note to DOKU:TECH 2015, Dyson was asked to pose a question for the DOKU:TECH audience, which will be answered on social media and other forums over the course of the next year. Without thinking much, she proposed: “What technological development would be most useful for the Balkans?”