Posts Tagged ‘entrepreneurship’

I believe that figuring out the right category as early as possible is critically important for startups.

Timo, Jarkko and I founded Lifeline Ventures on October 2009*. Since then we’ve taken a closer look at 100+ typically very early stage startups. When I meet the founders I always ask them to describe their category in one sentence. Somewhat surprisingly, only a handful of teams has been able to do this; typically, the category is way too broad and vague.

*) When reading my posts, keep in mind that I’m not exactly an industry veteran.

I ask the question because one of our key investment criteria is whether the company has the potential to become a category leader.

This isn’t as megalomanic as it may sound, because the category can be, and almost always needs to be, very specific. It could be as narrowly defined as, for example, “adenovirus-based gene therapy for metastatic cancer” or “social TV for sports fans”.

A well-defined category enables answering two questions:

  1. is the category relevant-enough today or in the near-future, and
  2. who are the current and potential competitors.

I tend to get excited if the answer to the first question is positive and the team has, or they can credibly build, sustainable advantage over competitors. In the case of pre-launch, pre-revenue, pre-almost-anything company, there just isn’t that much other relevant data to base the investment decision on.

The main advantage of being a category leader is that it has a lot of strategic options, including the expansion by taking over other categories. Also, it’s just so much easier to operate (sell, recruit, partner, …) when you are not standing in the shadow of an 800 pound gorilla. Almost always you’d rather be, as Brad Feld suggested, the 12 pound gorilla of a more specific category. If your solution is both global and scalable, surprisingly narrow categories are big-enough for creating a serious business.


Actually, I hereby promise to buy a tall cappuccino (one per team, tax excluded) for every entrepreneur who comes to the meeting with a relevant, specific category. See you over a cup of java!

Welcome to my new blog!

I guess it was about time to continue my once so flourishing blogging career.

I wrote my first blog post on August 16, 2006. The post was probably quite a conclusive one, since I haven’t really felt like writing another one in the last 3+ years. As a matter of fact, back in the glorious Jaiku days, I used this apparent (and quite universal) lack of creativity as one of the main reasons why microblogging is going to be a biggie. Well, I’m now back, angrier* than ever, so expect new posts in the near future.

*) “angrier” means here “anxious and slightly frustrated, but in general very happy”.

My interests have shifted a bit in the last years, but most likely I’m going to focus on the Nordic (especially Finnish) startups, seed investing and technologies and tools I find cool. I may even touch the related ecosystem-level or political topics. – Yes, my friends, I’ve become that old!

Regarding the industries, having recently founded Lifeline Ventures with Timo Ahopelto and Jarkko Joki-Tokola, I’m likely to write mostly about health, well-being, mobile and Internet services. I no longer think that mobile is a particularly interesting category of its own, but, nevertheless, I’ll probably cover it every now and then due to my background and the fact that it has finally become a significant access channel to Internet (“cloud-based”, as they say) services.

To explain the origin of the blog title, I quote my earlier post:

About the name of this blog: There does not exist a good word for entrepreneur in Finnish. The closest one is “yrittäjä”, which can be translated as “trier”. According to Oxford American Dictionary, a trier is “a person who always makes an effort, however unsuccesful they may be”. It is no wonder Finland was recently ranked the 26th country [out of 35 countries)] in the ratio of entrepreneurs triers per capita, which was less than 5%. It is encouraging, however, that the general start-up scene in Finland seems to be revitalizing and there are already a few success stores such as Habbo/Sulake and a number of game and 3D graphics boutiques.

Finally, I believe that all of us Nordic entrepreneurs and investors should commit ourselves to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of creating an internationally recognized cluster of growth companies in a few select industries. No single project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important to the long-range survival of the Nordic welfare state.

My next move is to reach out for my earlier, fanatic audience (of one person, i.e. Jyri Engeström) and inform them him that I’ve moved from Vox to WordPress and that there are some cool texts in the works. After that, I’ll address the rest of the Nordic startup scene.