By Denis Avrilionis

On startups, hyper-growth, Greek economy and Greek entrepreneurship heritage

The best entrepreneurs could be not those who can demonstrate the ability to quickly generate money for themselves and their investors, but those who could educate their customers to make better use of all economic, social and environmental resources…

Ioannis Rappas, "Grocery store at Ydra", 1970
Ioannis Rappas, “Grocery store at Ydra”, 1970

This posting is a reply to Dimitri Tsingos a great entrepreneur and friend of mine on his article posted here.

I was at the bunt of Shanghai 10 years ago and I remember seeing workers next to the oriental pearl tower working at 11pm. Economic hyper-growth was the reality of China at that time.

US, China and many other countries where the mainstream development model is based on economic hyper-growth are profoundly transforming the meaning of new venture creation. Today, the most successful startups are believed to be the “world champions”; the ones, as Dimitris mentions, who could achieve the 10x return to their VC investors.

At a different level I am amazed to see over the last years how the spirit of entrepreneurship is rapidly morphing to a culture of entrepreneurs where the founder and his/her personality are promoted as the key success factor of world champion startups.

If one follows the success stories relayed by the social and not-so-social media, one can think that a young skilled, stubborn, napoleon-like person who creates a startup and gets to the point to raise VC money in a hyper-growth model is an entrepreneur in the pinnacle of his art of creating ventures.

Now let’s come back to the Greek reality. A couple of decades ago, I remember a nice fish tavern by the sea in the south of Peloponnese owned by Mr. Stavros. The place was so full you couldn’t just stop by and eat; you had to call the day before. Every person who had the chance to eat at Mr. Stavros was giving only excellent comments about the food. Mr Stavros would sit down and talk to all of his customers without exception. In his restaurant you couldn’t order, it was Mr. Stavros who was choosing the fish you could eat based on the chat he had with you. “Every person deserves his fish” Mr. Stavros used to say…

I was raised in an environment where grandfathers like Mr. Stavros used to spend hours explaining how to catch the best fish, or make the best olive oil, or bake the best homemade bread in clay ovens. Earlier in the 20th century Greece used to be a country of modest workers (we could say “auto-entrepreneurs” in modern terms), or family businesses, most of them extremely passionate about their work. The excellent quality of their product was based on a mix of own-skill, deep knowledge of the nature, a great deal of help from family and friends, as well as patience. Sometimes patience was needed in order to let the product mature, some other times patience was needed to overcome financing issues…

I cannot agree more with the fact that execution skills are on the top of the list of what is necessary to create a sustainable business. But in addition to that, comes one of the main lessons our Greek ancestors taught us, which is, a systemic view on how a business can be integrated in everyday life.

Scale-ups, hyper growth, economic returns and financial yield to investors are pushing to an economic model where money is spent to shape the demand in order for the supply to be the most optimized for financial returns.

In this world, Greece has to find its way certainly by having young companies (and their founders) focusing on planning, commitment, focus and great execution. But above all there is something from the culture of Greece that can also by a source of inspiration for (its) entrepreneurs. And this is to learn from the way our ancestors integrated their businesses in the real life, how they were able to scale by creating strong social cohesion while respecting the environment.

In Greece the dramatic scarcity of resources is clearly visible. If the currently dominant hyper-growth model pushes other countries to reach a similar level of economic stress one could think what could be a viable alternative. Maybe a new kind of entrepreneurship could be that alternative. In that context the best entrepreneurs could be not those who can demonstrate the ability to quickly generate money for themselves and their investors, but those who could educate their customers to make better use of all economic, social and environmental resources in a world where the best product goes to those who, like Mr Stavros said “deserves it”.

Message to PhDs and PostDocs: Startup creation course at Uni.lu

PhD_Course_Uni_luBeing enrolled or having completed a Ph.D. program may not necessarily imply that you should follow a career in academic research. Many modern and prestigious academic institutions consider entrepreneurship as a continuation of research programs. It is quite often that Ph.D. students become leaders and founders of startups.

I am delighted to run a course on startup creation as part of University of Luxembourg’s transferable skills trainings for PhDs and Postdocs.

Note: Limited seats available check subscription details in the course guide (see below).

The aim of the course is to help people with research background (currently in Ph.D. programs, former Ph.Ds, current research staff with Ph.D., faculty members, etc.) to explore entrepreneurship. The course is about learning how to evaluate if an idea can be transformed to an opportunity for business.

In the proposed course you will be validating ideas using a structured hypothesis-testing approach by relying on skills acquired in the course of their Ph.D. (analysis and synthesis capabilities, structured methodology, prioritization, evaluation of ideas using formalized models).

You will work in small groups to grasp the various components of a business opportunity and will be able to apply a critical assessment of the business idea by following a rigorous approach based on facts and data.

You will learn how to deconstruct an idea from various perspectives, identify the right questions to ask related to science, innovation, novelty, usability, benefits, etc.

The course will run on 13th and 27th March 2015.

The full course guide can be downloaded here, check for the course named What if you create a (your) startup? on page 26.

 

Build your (draft) business model over a weekend

#StartupWeekend events or similar time-limited business model or business plan contests are a good opportunity to simulate business model generation by going through the creation steps in an accelerated manner (BTW check #StartupWeekend Luxembourg’s edition – #SWLux – I had and still have the pleasure to participate both as judge and coach to #SWLux. For people in the region, I hope to see you there!).

During #StartupWeekend sessions, pitching events, and entrepreneur gatherings I get questions on the business model that are consistently coming back in a repeated manner. I created this post to address some of them, hope this might be helpful to some of you.

Let’s play the game of drafting a business model in two and a half days. You may try this with your co-founders over a weekend even outside #SW (I’d love to hear back from you if you try!). Also as many #SW would soon take place around the world you may try the steps below as a warm-up session before the event.

The business modelling approach

The business model generation and its recent update on value proposition design are must-read books for all people who are in the process of launching or have already started a business.

In conversations I have with entrepreneurs I often hear criticism about the rigidity of the business model canvas approach. Moreover it is clear that no methodology can teach somebody how to create a successful business. Although there is no recipe for success it is clear that lack of preparation when launching a business largely augments the chances of failure. Let’s address business modelling in the three steps below. I am not pretending this post is a comprehensive method to create a business model. However I tried to capture the aspects that seem important to me in the early stages of drafting a business model.

 Step 1 (Friday evening)

You may start the exercise by thinking how your product/service/invention addresses the needs of your customers. The danger in that step is the temptation to open the box and list all features of your product/service. You should resist reasoning primarily in terms of technology/science/engineering (this is still hard for me as I have a technical background). Take the canvas template, forget about all the rest of the boxes, and just focus on the Customer Segments and Value Propositions parts of your business model for now.

Business Model Canvas Step1
Business Model Canvas Step1

Try to imagine who are your customers. For each customer segment, try to match it with a given value proposition. Sometimes it helps if you personify the customer segment and think of a hypothetical day of customer’s life. Be as precise as possible on the job of the customer (what is your customers try get done?) the pains (what makes your customers feel bad, stressed, frustrated) and the gains (what your customers expect, desire, or could be positively surprised by).

Product-market fit is about matching the above pains and gains with actions that relieve pain and create gain for your customers. This is precisely what you shall focus on when describing your Value Propositions. Don’t think features of your product or service. Rather list the benefits for the customers.

Coming up with a comprehensive product-market fit story is not an easy task. I have seen many people reshape their business idea (pivoting) already at this stage. Discussions on product-market fit shape your Value Propositions. They can be passionate and may create tensions inside the team. Better have such discussions earlier than later…

At this stage you should be tired, better get some sleep and start with step 2 in the morning.

Step 2 (Saturday)

Bright day for you today! Your thoughts are more precise regarding Customer Segments and Value Propositions. Next thing is to try to quantify your hypothesis both on the market side but also on the product/service use: how many customers are out there and how many can you acquire, or grab from competition? Can your customers easily postpone their decision to acquire your product or service? How often they would feel the need to use your product/service? How easy is for competitors to copy your product/service?

All these questions might have different answers for the different Customer Segments…

Then comes the question, how are you going to make money and what revenues are you expecting to generate? This has to be answered when dealing with Revenue Streams.

Business Model Canvas step2
Business Model Canvas step 2

When reasoning about Revenue Streams you shall make the difference between

  • the strategy you will adopt in order to generate revenues (are you going to change for a subscription, a license, a fee, a sum per transaction, etc.) and
  • the price you are going to charge for your product/service.

Try to find examples from specific industries. For example in the case of the music industry customers are offered:

  • to buy a CD (buy a set of songs for a given price and receive a physical good), or
  • to buy individual songs on iTunes (dematerialized sale), or
  • to subscribe to Spotify (all you can eat subscription model), etc.

In terms of pricing this translates to:

  • $X the customer should pay to get the CD and get free shipping, or
  • $Y to pay to buy the whole album on iTunes and get some discount, or
  • $Z to pay for 12 months subscription on Spotify and get some months free, etc.

In addition to the distinction between revenue model and pricing model try also to think of how many times are you going to sell to the same customer. How often. How many customers you can acquire per month/quarter/year. How many customers you can lose per month/quarter/year.

Answering these questions will give you an idea of the dynamics of your revenues.

It is often the case that revenue models can trigger thoughts of additional customer segments and new value propositions. This can be the case especially if you are dealing with multi-side markets, e.g. when the end user might not be the economic buyer (think for example the toys industry: most often kids are the end-users while parents/family are the economic buyers).

Do not hesitate to cycle between Customer Segments, Value Propositions and Revenue Streams as many times as you feel necessary, your investment at this stage is time and postit paper…

In terms of timing at this stage it should be late Saturday night. You may get stressed because you know there are costs associated to revenues. That’s fine. Try to get some sleep for now and you will deal with costs first thing in the morning.

Step 3 (Sunday)

You got your Sunday morning coffee and you are ready for step 3.

By now you have some ideas on the Customer Segments, the Value Propositions and the way you can monetize these through your Revenue Streams.

You should now think how much money you will be needing in order to generate these revenues.

Acquiring and maintaining customers need Customer Relationships. Customer Relationships are materialized through concrete actions (marketing campaigns, promotions, advertisement, etc.) via specific Channels (virtual channels, distributors, direct sales, etc.). Other Key Actions related to creating and delivering your products and service would also generate costs.

Key Resources like physical goods, offices, stores, or salaries would generate costs too. Intellectual property might in some cases be a crucial aspect of the business model. Patent attorney, lawyer, accountant and/or other consultancy fees might be important elements of your Cost Structures.

Moreover if, for example, you enter an existing market, or if you need to access many customers quickly, you may establish links with Key Partners. If for example you are in the food industry and you deal with distributors this part of the business model might be a key element of success for the whole business. Not only there are costs associated to such partnerships but also the type of partnerships you may establish might affect your Customer Relationships and Channels.

Business Model Canvas step 3
Business Model Canvas step 3

It is clear that you won’t be able to list all costs during your Sunday and you should probably think of wrapping up the exercise with the objective of listing the various types of costs and associate amounts with these types of costs (an order of magnitude instead of precise numbers should be ok at this stage).

One last thing: think if some of your costs increase with the number of customers (and if this is the case, how fast costs grow – linearly, exponentially?). This might have a huge impact on your financing needs!

Wrapping up

If you are in a #SW exercise you should by now be under stress of putting together the slides for your final pitch…

Think of the business model elements you identified as ingredients for your pitch story. Do not create your pitch as a presentation of the various items of the business model canvas.

Creating a canvas-style business model is about analysis. Pitching your business is about synthesis.

Don’t overload you pitch trying to talk about everything. Whatever you do it won’t fit in 5 min! You anyway have lots of material to answer questions at any level of details, if you are asked about a specific aspect.

You should pick the strongest messages your team came up over the weekend. Try to transmit the passion of your original idea…

At the end of the day, what remains is the impression you will create from your presentation. Your power of conviction. The links you create among your team participants. All the rest is business modelling “mechanics”.

 

Lët’z Go Local Markets

banner_slider_letz2014

I had the pleasure to visit the Lët’z Go Local October 2014 edition. Many young people with fascinating ideas! Many interesting stands, among them some great ideas around food. You should visit them at the Carré Rotondes.

1. Yourshop.lu

Yourshop.lu is an online marketplace making it easy for people to give away things,… or open their own shop. Local handcraft, second hand or free items can be sold via the site or directly from person to person. Yourshop.lu counts already 455 shops with more than 4700 articles. Among them, more than1350 articles are local. Great work!

 

Yourshop.lu

 

2. Cakebox

Cakebox proposes great cakes… amazing creations! They already won the 1st Prize of the “Lët’z go local” Public Choice Award last July. You should visit their stand to see really cool designs… defying gravity!

Cakebox

Other interesting things: terrific cupcakes from the Batards Gourmands, recipes and delivery of fresh ingredients from avocado.lu and many, many other cool things to see!

All the best to all creators… made in Luxembourg!

Startup Weekend 23-25 May 2014 in Europe

Together with Luxembourg, other startup weekends run in some countries of the EU. As today is also EU elections day for Europe I gathered some views on these startup weekends across Europe. Check below what happened in other European cities (…also some nice clichés about food in Europe confirmed… :) )

StartupWeekendEuropeMay2014

Luxembourg


UK


Italy


France


 

About the Minimum Viable Product

I am just back home after the first day at the Luxembourg startup weekend May 2014 edition #SWLUX @swluxembourg http://luxembourg.startupweekend.org where I am participating as judge. I spent a very nice evening listening to more than 25 ideas, people were enthousiastic! I am looking forward to hear the final pitches!

During the initial talks, organisers presented the “judging criteria”. The minimum viable product legitimately appears as the important concept in the “execution” part of the judging criteria. Below I wanted to share a few thoughts about the MVP.

 Photo 23-05-2014 20 30 48

Quoting Eric Ries (http://www.startuplessonslearned.com/2009/03/minimum-viable-product.html) it is clear that an MVP should have “just enough” features to convince early adopters:

“The idea of minimum viable product is useful because you can basically say: our vision is to build a product that solves this core problem for customers and we think that for the people who are early adopters for this kind of solution, they will be the most forgiving. And they will fill in their minds the features that aren’t quite there if we give them the core, tent-pole features that point the direction of where we’re trying to go.

So, the minimum viable product is that product which has just those features (and no more) that allows you to ship a product that resonates with early adopters; some of whom will pay you money or give you feedback.”

Moreover, another important aspect in elaborating the MVP is the sequencing of actions required to elaborate the MVP. These include:

– inception of the core features

– validate the assumptions with some key users

– rethink/redesign the core features

– define priorities in terms of prototyping

– prototyping “just enough” and validate prototype with key users

– eventually go back and redo everything from scratch

– move ahead with more prototyping and more validation without forgetting the revenue model

Then you should go out and sell the prototyped product having in mind that every time you skip validation from the field you add risk in your execution plan…

Now, in case you are in a startup weekend mode you should find the working path that would allow you to define a MVP within two days. Jumping into a “hackathon” mode maybe an option but in that case make sure you don’t shift from “minimum viable” to “minimum desirable” product. It maybe cool to demo something at the end of the startup weekend but this might not necessarily be a product that early adopters would pay you money or give you feedback for.

Ideas pitched at #SWLux Nov 2013… where is RTL???

The 3rd Startup Weekend Luxembourg took place Nov. 8 – 10. We take for granted that Luxembourg is trailing behind internationally renowned startup cities. However, this doesn’t mean that Luxembourg entrepreneurs are lacking ideas! And similar to BBC, local media should talk about this!

swluxNov2013

More about #swlux November 2013 edition here:

https://storify.com/davrilio/clever-ideas-pitched-at-swlux

Research and Entrepreneurship, Lessons learned and anecdotes

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Research and Entrepreneurship, Lessons learned and anecdotes

By Denis Avrilionis

Invited Talk

24 October 2013

Doctoral School, University of Luxembourg

 

A common stereotype is that research and entrepreneurship are two incompatible endeavors, a cliche often used by young researchers. For some of them, the mental transition from research to entrepreneurship seems like a radical step, and they are not prepared to explore the business potential of research ideas. This is often amplified by the ambition of graduate students in pursuing an academic career, and by actions that support their entry into traditional academic or research institutes. Failure to enter the academia is often perceived as major setback in the career of young PhDs.

In this talk I will argue that young researchers should *not* consider entrepreneurship as a route that allows them to recover from failure in entering the academia. By mixing elements of personal experience with anecdotes from the history of entrepreneurship, I hope I will be able to demonstrate that a young researcher can have a true chance to explore and exploit business opportunities that can emerge from research ideas. In particular, the skills acquired in the course of Ph.D. (analysis and synthesis capabilities, clearly expressing ideas orally and on paper, perseverance to goals, etc) can be truly precious when creating and running a new business. The business potential of research ideas can be so strong that it may catalyze the metamorphosis of traditional industries and the birth of new ones, as exemplified in the recent years by the successes of technology giants such as Google.

Please comment at:  lu.linkedin.com/in/denisavrilionis/

Strengthening the credibility and profitability of commercial banking across Europe

Above you can see some photos from the event ‘Strengthening the credibility and profitability of commercial banking across Europe’ organised by OneTree Solutions on the 8th October 2013 in Athens, Greece.

The event brought together over 50 professionals from the banking, insurance, political and academic sectors as an opportunity to discuss how the European and Greek banking industry can become more credible and profitable.

Full press release available at:

http://onetree-solutions.com/innovation-can-empower-banking-strategies/

Photo 1: Left to right Mr. Guido Ravoet, European Banking Federation, Prof. Staikouras  University of Piraeus, Mr. Jacques Rega, Independent Consultant, Mr. Denis Avrilionis, Mr. Panos Konstantinidis

Photo 2: Denis Avrilionis co-founder and Managing Director, OneTree Solutions, and Panos Konstantinidis, co-founder and Business Strategy Director, OneTree Solutions

Photo 3: Left to right Mr. Jacques Rega, Mr. George Stergiou, Secretary General, Ministry of Development, Competitiveness, Infrastructure, Transport and Networks, Mr. Guido Ravoet.