Alex Osadzinski rules!

alex osadzinskiI had a pleasure to meet Alex Osadzinski at New Connect Club event organized by Ewa‘s firm and moderated by Yours Truly. After the club meeting (catch a glimpse) we had a dinner and the next day we gave Alex and his lovely wife a tour around Warsaw. After hanging out for some time I can tell you that this guy rules!

(FYI New Connect is an AIM-like unregulated market run by WSE.)

So Alex is an experienced operational exec, very technical, now a VC with Trinity Ventures in Sillicon Valley. Before joining Trinity 7 years ago he’s created over 230 billion USD (!) of aggregate public market cap, or acquisition price, for the 6 startups that he’s been at.

But let’s allow Alex to introduce himself:

I’m a lifelong geek and lover of technology with a passion for building, growing and managing teams and companies. I’ve been fortunate to have been at five startups that created great products, employment and economic value. I was sobered by the sixth startup that taught me that everyone has limits to what they can achieve. Now I enjoy helping and nurturing early-stage technology startups as a VC.

Alex works in Sillicon Valley but has a broader and multicultural perspective compared to the California locals thanks to his British experiences. He was born in London and worked in the UK for a long time. Since we were looking for a rolemodel for young Polish entreprenuers he was the perfect guy for the job. That’s why we invited him for New Connect Club event where he presented his viewpoint on global expansion of European tech companies and differences between business cultures here and there. You can see Alex’s presentation on slideshare or below. It was featured on the SlideShare homepage by their editorial team.

But that’s not all I have to say about Alex. With every passing minute I learned more about him and it’s quite a story, I tell ya…

While we were walking through the streets of Warsaw Alex made a point that some parts of the town look like in Half Life 2. That’s kinda true. And now you know that he’s also a gamer. How many VCs would admit something like that?

Half Life 2 scenery

Warsaw 2008 scenery

Unlike many future-oriented, technology-loving geek-VCs Alex is also very concious about his geopolitical surroundings, his Polish ancestry and Poland’s history. Since his parents had their share of the WWII effort we visited the Warsaw Uprising Museum (high-tech and industrial in its design – kind of like in Ravenholm basement, but as Alex noticed no headcrabs).

When we were passing the Wellington real-size model it turned out Alex is also a pilot. Turns out that many VCs (in California) are pilots. Alex also confessed that while he’s not burning fuel over the Pacific coastline he tries to save the environment by driving a hybrid car, recycling garbage and using solar-generated power from his roof. Only in California man… ;-)

Around that time we were passing the Warsaw University buildings and we bumped into Creative Commons guys. They had a conference and Alex confessed to be an acquaintance of Lawrence Lessig, Stanford professor and founder of Creative Commons. That’s all I needed to know so we crashed CC guys party. Alex gave a 3 minute speech on his point of view… and we left. So much to see, so little time… ;-) I just hope that Alek Tarkowski, the moderator of the CC event isn’t too mad at me.

CC conference in Warsaw – tourist VCs are always welcome

It was a lot of fun.

And if that wasn’t enough I found a couple of shared interests (besides Valve games) with Alex – namely pigs and one of my favorite movies (lately) entitled “Idiocracy” by Mike Judge.

Man, what a great guy!

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Up or out!

One more memory from Kiev where I was for TMT.Ventures’08 Kiev conference. The next day we had a house party at Denis Dovgopoliy‘s place. We were talking about VC business and what’s driving it. To make the long story short it’s the survival of the strongest. Meaning – who delivers the biggest growth – stays. Who fails to deliver – is out. The rule applies to both VC managers and entreprenuers. Up or out! That simple.

Because of the very unformal Ukrainian atmosphere we got creative and discussed a number of interesting, high-growth but rather controversial investment opportunities. Ideas that might work but not every VC would officially support it and some businesspeople would refuse to develop.

One of the ideas was taking advantage of our natural weaknesses – like envy or dislike for other people. Envy and dislike which we like to indulge in. There is a hater in every one of us. And that’s why anti-communities and anti-blogs have became so popular.

So we imagined an e-commerce service for people who want to send an unpleasant gift for other people whom they don’t like too much. For a fee. Anonymously. The recepient may of course return the package. For a double fee. For a premium fee the company would deliver a classic horse’s head to recepients bedroom – like in Godfather. It seemed to be a brilliant idea. And a great business.

Then I saw this a few days ago:

You can actually buy a horse’s head – a stuffed or unstuffed version. I don’t know what they stuff it with but it can’t be good. ;-)

Ok guys, who started this business without me? We were all at the party so I should get some equity, right? I could be up, but instead I’m out. ;-)

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Croatia Webstart

Two weeks ago there was an interesting conference held in Croatia.  Web.Start was the first conference in Southeastern Europe focused exclusively on Web application development and Web startups. This year, conference took place on May 8-9, 2008, at the Hypo EXPO XXI Centre in Zagreb, Croatia. The conference was being organized by the Croatian Association of software and online entrepreneurs Initium.

Looks like it was a hot event. And I’m not writing about it because my grand-grand… grandma used to live in Dubrovnik when it was a part of Austria-Hungary. Croatia is a nice place to visit, great people. I learned to dive there. There are some nice WWII plane bombs at the bottom of the sea near Makarska.

We speak a similar language, have a similar national anthem, have a similar national flag and I was always a fan of Croatian football. The victory over the Dutch in 1998 FIFA World Cup Finals was great.

It’s a pity Poland plays Croatia in Euro 2008 next month. Some say Germany will win the group and the real race is for the second place between Croatia and Poland. Pity.

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Beware Kiev, VCs are coming back!

Very mobile, well educated and trained, often workaholics, somewhat greedy and therefore effective in whealth creation and trade. They already invested quite a lot of their time in Western Europe, conquered America and then they came to Kiev. Very keen on beautiful local women. Who am I talking about? No, I’m not talking about VCs coming for TMT.Ventures’08 Kiev conference. I’m talking about Wikings known also as Normans or Varangians who established Kievan Rus’ in the 9th century and started the Rurik dynasty which ruled Russia until 1598.

Medieval Scandinavians had many of today’s VCs qualities. They were undertaking very risky projects using their reputation which often preceded them. Their investment vehicles (boats) used for value creation were very mobile and used for doing business around the world. Depending on the situation they either made business deals or resolved business differences in a more brutal manner using mercenaries (lawyers) and swords (pens). They very much appreciated charismatic managers able to lead small teams throughout expansion into large organizations capturing large markets. They were all about business.

Their managerial skills were developed in the 9th century under competition and pressure from older Western business cultures like Celts and Picts. They got some nice ROI results and quickly dominated in the region. Danish VCs established kingdom of York in England, Norwegian VCs started kingdom of Dublin in Ireland. Norman VC known as William the Conqueror conquered the English market in 1066. About the same time Leif Eriksson discovered America.

Kiev from the hilltop

When I was walking in the streets of ancient Kiev with blogger Alex Riabtsev I wasn’t quite aware of all this but he told me that the city was built on hills overlooking the Dnieper river. It kind of reminded me of San Francisco which is also built on hills and has some famous brigdes. And we all know that VCs like everything which looks like the Bay Area.

San Francisco from the hilltop

Present day VCs are re-discovering Ukraine which has been under Russian influence but now attempts to enter EU and utilize its intelectual potential using venture capital funds. There are some great startups over there and some of them are surfacing on the global market but the situation kind of reminds me of the 9th century. Back then local managers (Finnic and Slavic tribes) invited VCs (Varangians) to accelerate their companies’ growth and increase ROI. It proved to be the right decision and created (business) culture which lasts until now.

Are Western VCs going to make it big in Ukraine? Again? Sure unless…
Medieval VCs were so fond of the local ladies that the the Rurik dynasty after around 70 years turned completely Slavic. Since then there was nothing Norman about it. So VCs, watch out for those beauties. It is very easy to defocus. And I know what I’m talking about – I went out with Yegor to a club and didn’t want to leave. ;-)

So the future looks bright for the Ukrainian tech industry. I just hope that present day VCs don’t make a mistake of underestimating its potential. After all the Viking VCs made a quite spectacular error. Leif Eriksson discovered America around 1003 but he soon left. He had a Google or Skype of his times and decided to go back home. The rest is history.

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Kiev networking after-party

Yulya Filippovska Every decent conference has a networking after-party, a cocktail or a bar meet. If there is none the conference is 50% impaired. Demand one from your event organizer or demand your money back ;-)

I won’t brag about what should be done at networking parties. You know the drill. I’ll just indulge myself in posting some pictures of me and pretty businesswomen I’ve met. Notice how I look the same on every picture – that’s years of practice. Here you can see Yulya Filippovska accompanied by yours truly. Yulya is a bit secretive about her future plans but definately a quality professional.

Inna Proshkina, Rafal Stroinski
Above you can see Rafal Stroinski and Inna Proshkina with yours truly. Inna Proshkina is an ex-marketing manager of invisibleCRM, an Ukrainian-originated company which rolled-out globaly and created significant traction with major business analytics firms such as Gartner, Forrester, IDC and others. Currently Inna is a founder and CEO of Go2Market, a trans-atlantic marketing consultancy firm. Check out Inna’s Linkedin recommendations. She’s all business.

Rafal StroinskiRafal Stroinski is a person deserving a separate blog post but I’ll try to squeeze him with businesswomen – I’m sure he won’t mind. We met in California in November 2006 and since then Rafal is a good businessfriend. Also a great networker, a Fullbright scholar at Stanford University, a renown academic teacher in Poland, an animator and active member of US-Polish Trade Council based in Sillicon Valley, and an active legal advisor in new technology deals with a track record of several important deals and M&A transactions. He holds a Ph.D. in law and an LLM degree from Harvard Legal School and is admitted in New York as Attorney and Counselor. The list goes on.

Ewa did a good job again validating the claim phrase under her company’s logo : “Watching trends with businessfriends, making deals and having meals”.

In the next episodes:

  • Sightseeing Kiev with Alex Riabtsev of startup.in.ua
  • Networking party – the-day-after

Stay tuned.

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TMT.Ventures’08 Kiev

TMT.Ventures'08 Kiev
Remember Soviet Union? 30% of all R&D efforts of USSR were performed in Ukraine. High-tech, space tech, nano, bio – they did it all. This tells you something about local engineering talent. Multiply that by increasing internet penetration, access to business know-how and venture capital. What you get is a vast pool of potential breakthrough businesses waiting to be incubated and cultivated. Cheap.

And that’s as far as global opportunities are concerned. Ukraine itself has a population of 50 mln and is a potential outlet to the Russian 200 mln people market. We’re talking about rather homogenious and isolated market. Think copycating. Think replicating proven business models. Any questions?

Quite a few in fact. Like – how is it there? What are the people like? What about labour costs? Recruitment services? Infrastructure? Political and legislative stability? Infrastructure and business environment?

When flying to Ukraine I had all these questions bouncing in my head. I was hoping to clarify some of these issues during TMT.Ventures’08 Kiev conference hosted by New Europe Events.

Few months back I’ve met an Ukrainian entreprenuer and a great guy Yegor Anchishkin. Based on that experience I was expecting a lot and I must say I wasn’t dissapointed.

Ukraine is an emerging market for sure but apart from its local engineering talent it’s got great connections with Sillicon Valley through numerous ex-USSR inhabitants now living around the world and in the Bay Area itself. They know what’s left back home and they’re taking advantage of it while the global and regional VC funds consider it too early to enter Ukraine.

The conference agenda looked great. So did the speakers list. If that wasn’t enough I was expecting an emotional and thrilling 7 minutes contest. Nice package.

Andrzej Jasieniecki For starters Andrzej Jasieniecki, MCI Investment Director, proved his language skills when speaking Russian and surprising most people in the audience. Because of the big internal market some people know English rather passively which doesn’t stop them from building successfull businesses. Andrzej IMHO is one of the most successful VCs in Poland by the way.

Lidia AdamskaAnother positive surprise for the audience came with presentation of Ms. Lidia Adamska, v-ce President of the Warsaw Stock Exchange. She speaks both Russian and English which certainly helps. Her business English and presentation skills were the best I’ve heard from a non-native speaker. That’s class. WSE’s offerings sold themselves as an alternative to other markets like LSE. Cheaper, closer, equally stable and secure and they speak Russian.

Tomasz Czechowicz Speaking next was Tomasz Czechowicz who is one of the most successful and most distinguished VCs in Central Europe. In fact I think his top-ranked-CEO-style presentation and image is a bit intimidating for most entreprenuers. I’ve seen it at several different occasions and in many countries. He’s all business. All other VCs say that.

Paul Fisher One of the highlights of the event was also a Paul Fisher presentation. Paul represents Advent Venture Partners and a Westerners easy-going personality. And he’s a fun guy to be around. Just like few months back in Warsaw he raised great interest and did a lot of networking after the presentation. Easterners dig Westerners like Paul, Greg or Sean.

Then the most anticipated part of the event commenced. The 7 minutes contest is is a unique competition for innovative entrepreneurs and their projects from the space of telco, new media and new technologies. It is an express elevator up to the community of investors and experienced businesspeople with decision-making power whose recommendations and support are like rocket fuel for the projects aimed in the right direction.

‘7 minutes’ is also a challenge for entrepreneurs trying to make an impression and deliver a convincing presentation in an extremely short period of 7 minutes. It is a test of self-confidence and charisma for the project-leaders standing in front of a demanding audience, their competition, world-class investors, bloggers and media people.

Yuri BoykoAnd it was moderated by Yuri Boyko – an eloquent engineer, hi-tech entreprenuer well known to many venture capitalists, an invited speaker at the industry and scientific conferences and co-organizer of master classes for high-tech start-ups. I must say he was the perfect guide for the young and not-so young Ukrainian ‘7 minutes’ finalists. Very involved and really supportive. And he flew over from the States to do this job. Just like in previous contests I was the moderator’s side-kick running the 7 minutes clock and viciously stopping the finalists presentations. That was fun. Hopefully most people got the idea of self-improvement and polishing their presentations.

The ‘7 minutes’ presentations … I’ll update this piece later.

Then the discussion panels followed. Since they were in Russian and the simultaneus translation wasn’t too accurate I didn’t get much of it but one thing is sure – these folks mean business.

Denis Dovgopoliy All of this couldn’t have happend if it wasn’t for Denis Dovgopoliy of BayView Innovations – the local business angel and investor relations consultant. Denis knows everyone, pickes the most promising start-ups and flies to San Francisco several times a year to get them going. He’s the local go-to-guy if you want to invest in Ukraine. And he’s smart to stay independent from any particular VC fund too dispite many employment offers. That’s how emerging markets work.

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Have a beer with a global VC

Having a beer with a global VC sounds good but try to arrange it and you will learn it is not easy at all. ;-)

Here’s my HOW TO and case study from a night before TMT.Ventures’08 Kiev conference.

First – you have to understand that a VC may have plenty of money under management but has very little time for having beers with entreprenuers. Perhaps the easiest way to have a beer with a VC is to register at a conference s/he is speaking at. But if you think offering a beer before or after the presentation is a good idea – think again. You have to count on inconvenient flight connection which places an unsuspecting VC in a strange city the evening before or after the official event.

Ewa StepienSecond – you have to know the right people. Sometimes there’s an unofficial networking dinner before or after the conference. Sometimes there isn’t which doesn’t mean a VC will stay in his/hers hotel all night. Good intel is crucial at this point. You must know the organizer like Ewa Stepien of New Europe Events.

Third – you must understand that even if there’s no official networking party your chosen VC will not wonder around the city at random. S/he will choose a place in order to maximize ROI making the most of the limited time at hand. Most probably s/he will choose a hotel bar/restaurant or an irish pub where there’s a chance someone will speak english and signs on the toilet doors will be in English and not in some unrecognizable and strange language. And s/he will let the organizer of the event know where s/he is in order to make some people go there.

Denis DovgopoliyThen – you need one more person to accomplish your mission. A local guide with an intimate knowledge of the local night live, bars and restaurants. Not just any guide but a person doing business with VCs and having experience in dining with them. I was lucky to meet Denis Dovgopoliy of BayView Innovations who knew all Kiev irish pubs which allowed me to have a beer with a global VC.

Paul FisherThe three of us – Ewa, Denis and myself – met Paul Fisher of Advent Venture Partners in Golden Gate Irish Pub which sounds like Sillicon Valley but is very European. In fact it’s named after the ancient gate to the city which it is situated next to. But VCs do not really care – they just maximize the ROI in clubbing and Golden Gate sounds familiar and promising.

We found a table, exchanged initial ‘who-does-what’ information and proceeded to exchanging contacts and coming up with business development ideas for each one of us. One meal and two beers later we started spilling more tasty bits and pieces of gossip and tips on how to handle a VC. Having a beer with one was high up in the top 10 ranking.

UPDATE – I recalled some more: We also discussed VC-psycho-analysis methods used by some VCs. Paul suggested that if someone talks a lot about some area of his/hers plan or operations at expense of other topics it means that this area might be his/hers weak point. Or s/he’s just excited about it. Anyhow be equally brief whatever you say when a VC is around. ;-)

We also discussed dynamics of “sexiness” of a project. Paul said that if a project is not initially sexy it will never be. However if it is at least sexy a bit it might get more sexy in time. At this point I didn’t know if we’re talking about investment projects, women or something else. Ewa said the rule applies to everything so I concluded we reached a Theory of Everything for which some scientists have been looking for decades.

Right before we left the place it turned out that Paul is a really talented actor. Ewa pointed out that he really resembles another talented actor Jason Statham. To prove his skills Paul provided us with some of his best faces like “I’m not satisfied with the results Mr.CEO”, “Where are the profits you promised” and “What do you mean by market is down right now”.

Mission accomplished: relationship established, contacts acquired, lessons learned.

What Paul didn’t confess to is blogging at www.thecoffeeshopsofmayfair.com

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