Roger James Hamilton Blog

Is your startup a Unicorn or a Zebra

April 06,2017

Is your startup a Unicorn or a Zebra

Last month, amidst high profile cases of misbehaving Unicorns, from Oculus to Uber, Mara Zepeda & Jennifer Brandel wrote a blog “Zebras fix what Unicorns break.”

They said “The current technology and venture capital structure is broken. It rewards quantity over quality, consumption over creation, quick exits over sustainable growth, and shareholder profit over shared prosperity."

"It chases after “unicorn” companies bent on “disruption” rather than supporting businesses that repair, cultivate, and connect.”

They then say “A company’s business model is the first domino in a long chain of consequences. In short: ‘The business model is the message.’"

"From that business model flows company culture and beliefs, strategies for success, end-user experiences, and, ultimately, the very shape of society.

This new movement demands a new symbol, so we’re claiming an animal of our own: the zebra.

Why zebras?

1. To state the obvious: unlike unicorns, zebras are real.

2. Zebra companies are both black and white: they are profitable and improve society. They won’t sacrifice one for the other.

3. Zebras are also mutualistic: by banding together in groups, they protect and preserve one another. Their individual input results in stronger collective output.

4. Zebra companies are built with peerless stamina and capital efficiency, as long as conditions allow them to survive."

If you are striving to grow a Unicorn, you may succeed, although they are beginning to look rarer as VCs slow down their investing.

If, on the other hand, you are striving to rear a Zebra, you are in good company. After all, Zebras like to group together, and they are becoming increasingly common as entrepreneurs seek co-operation and sustainability over competition and monopoly.

When you seek size and scale, you may never reach success. If you seek purpose and profit, you can succeed the moment you start.

“Go into the world and do well. But more importantly, go into the world and do good.” ~ Minor Myers Jnr

If you like the idea of being a Zebra, you can read Mara & Jennifer’s “Zebra Manifesto” at http://bit.ly/zebra-manifesto

You can also visit https://www.zebrasunite.com/

And because a gathering of Zebras is a “Dazzle”, you can also join the first Zebra gathering at “Dazzlecon” later this year:

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The Only Female Billionaire in Southeast Asia

April 02,2017

The Only Female Billionaire in Southeast Asia

Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao has just become South East Asia’s first self-made woman billionaire. And she has achieved it with one big rule: “I have always aimed big and done big deals.”

How has Nguyen built her wealth to over a billion in a country (Vietnam) which only has ever had one other billionaire in its history? Here’s the 3 step formula Nguyen has used for each of her 3 big wins over the last 30 years:

1) Make your best guess on the future, and then bet on it:

When she was a student in USSR in the 1980s, Nguyen bet on the USSR breaking up and international trade growing. So she started trading fax machines and latex rubber between USSR and Asia in between her economics classes, saying “When people were trading one container, I was already trading hundreds of containers.”

She began with no money, but scaled by growing her trust with suppliers: "I didn’t have much money. They gave me more and more products with longer credit terms."

Within 3 years she had made her first million by 21 years old.

2) Realise the best opportunities are always right in front of you:

Nguyen then took her earnings back to Vietnam with her, guessing that her country would soon follow the growth of China and India. Knowing that the early wealth in both those countries had come in banking and property, she decided to invest in both, despite having no experience of either.

She set up Sovico Holdings, named after her early Soviet success, and was the first to invest in Dragon City - an area of swamp land she guessed the government would turn into an economic hub. It did, and that bet is now worth $1 billion

3) Begin with a beginners mind, and learn from others

Her biggest bet then came when she realised that it was only a matter of time before the Vietnam government opened the market to competition against the state-run airline. Having no idea how to run an airline, she first tried to set up a joint venture with AirAsia. But when that failed, she decided to launch her own company, VietJet, 5 years ago.

Before launching, she studied other fast-growing airlines like Virgin and AirAsia in detail, saying “Some say that anything I put hands on will be profitable. But I don’t think it’s that simple. There’s no easy path to success. I studied and I did my research. It was a lot of hard work, and to be successful you need to be passionate about the business that you invest in.”

Seeing the power of stunts, Vietjet launched with all-female crews in bikinis as a stark contrast to the staid, state-run Vietnam Airlines. It worked. And while a lot of recent western media headlines have read “Hot Flight Attendants In Bikinis Made Vietnam Its First Female Billionaire” and “How Bikini Airline Helped to Create Vietnam's First Woman Billionaire”, the reality is today the crew only dress in bikinis as part of the promotional flights to new tropical destinations.

Nguyen’s response to the western media’s skewed view of her success: “We don’t mind people associating the airline with the bikini image. If that makes people happy, we are happy.”

Today Vietjet has 300 flights a day and has now set the ambition of being the “Emirates of Asia” - recently ordering more than 200 new planes worth $23 billion. Last month the company floated on the stock exchange, making Nguyen a billionaire.

Today, Nguyen is worth $1.7 billion. Asked what she thinks about her net worth, she says "I’ve never sat down and calculated my assets. I’m just focused on how to boost the company’s growth, how to increase the average salary for my employees, how to lead the airline to gain more market share and make it number one.”

Based on current growth, VietJet will overtake Vietnam Airlines this year after just 5 years in business.

Where will you be 5 years from today? And how can Nguyen’s journey be an inspiration towards your future flight plan?

“We all fly. Once you leave the ground, you fly. Some people fly longer than others.” ~ Michael Jordan

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The wave of change has started.

March 30,2017

The wave of change has started.

Imagine if rivers, reefs, mountains and forests had rights to survive and thrive just like humans have rights and animals have rights? This month big steps have taken place towards that kind of a world.

First - New Zealand made the Whanganui River the first river in the world to be granted the same legal rights as a human being. In the same way that corporations, foundations and governments have legal rights where they are treated like people, and humans can then fight for them in court, the sacred Whanganui River now has the same rights.

That lets the Maori tribes fight on behalf of the river to protect it. Attorney-General Chris Finlayson said last week "The approach of granting legal personality to a river is unique. It will have its own legal identity with all the corresponding rights, duties and liabilities of a legal person.”

As part of the Parliament ruling, the Maori tribes who represent the river received $80m settlement from the government for damage done, and another $30m to improve the river.

Second - This week India followed by granting two of its most holy rivers, the Ganges and Yamuna, to also have the same legal status, calling both rivers "living entities having the status of a legal person.”

The Indian judges used the New Zealand case as a precedent and said the ruling was essential as the rivers were in danger of "losing their very existence.”

Indian lawyer, MC Pant, said "This will help protect the rivers, as they now have all the constitutional and statutory rights of human beings, including the right to life.”

Imagine if we all agreed that nature has the same right to life that humans and animals have. Each river, reef, mountain and forest could then get representation, funding and protection just as companies can. People would choose whether they want to work for a factory or for a force of nature.

Imagine every beach cafe and restaurant knowing some of their revenues goes directly to the team supporting the beach, who would use it to preserve and clean the beach. Imagine every home, business and boat that uses a river knowing they are helping to fund the team that is ensuring the river is alive and thriving.

I remember when I first heard from Lynne Twist that her foundation, the Pachamama Alliance, had helped to inspire Ecuador to be the the first country to adopt rights of nature in their constitution, how great it would be if this became a global movement.

The wave has started.

In the midst of plenty of bad news around the world, good things are happening.

"Small channels flow noisily, the great flow silent." ~ Buddha

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What Crazy Idea Are You Putting Off?

March 22,2017

What Crazy Idea Are You Putting Off?

Imagine coming up with a crazy invention that has the power to transform an industry. That’s what Mark Moore did with “The Puffin”. In 2010, Marck came up with his ‘flying car’ idea for his doctorate at university.

Flying cars have been in science fiction for a century. So what was so special about the Puffin?

Mark designed an electric one-man vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) vehicle which could actually work. He posted an animation of it on Youtube which went viral, hitting over 648,000 views in its first week.

Why did Mark call it the Puffin? He says "If you've ever seen a puffin on the ground, it looks very awkward, with wings too small to fly, and that's exactly what our vehicle looks like.”

"But it's also apparently called the most environmentally friendly bird, because it hides its poop. So the vehicle is environmentally friendly because it essentially has no emissions. Also, puffins tend to live in solitude, only ever coming together on land to mate, and ours is a one-person vehicle.”

Mark’s invention inspired Google’s Larry Page to look seriously at flying cars. Since then, Larry has invested over $100 million of his own money in flying car companies.

This month - in the year of the Rooster - flying cars have gone from science fiction to science fact. Early this week, Dubai announced it would have flying cars by this summer, partnering with Chinese flying car pioneer, Ehang.

Yesterday, the world’s first commercial flying car, the Liberty (from Dutch company PAL-V) went on sale for $400,000, with deliveries beginning next year.

Airbus is also getting in on the action, saying they will test flying cars by the end of 2017. Their VTOL vehicle is modelled on Mark’s paper.

Is Mark’s vision of flying cars taking over from cars a near reality? I met someone when I was in LA two weeks ago who thinks so. His name is Jeff Holden, Head of Product Development at Uber.

Jeff believes flying cars will take over from cars sooner than we think, and Uber has recently launched “Uber Elevate” as their flying car division.

What about Mark? Where is he now?

Mark just got a new job last Friday, as Uber’s “Director of Aviation”.

Who would have thought that an invention written for a thesis, and a viral video, would lead to spearheading the opportunity to spearhead a revolution in how we travel?

What crazy idea are you putting off?

Maybe it’s time to get it back on the drawing board. Because in a world of flying cars, anything is possible.

“It always seems impossible until it's done.” ~ Nelson Mandela

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How 20+ Failures Led to a Billion Dollar Success: The Story Of Instacart

March 22,2017

How 20+ Failures Led to a Billion Dollar Success: The Story Of Instacart

How many times are you willing to fail to succeed? Apoorva Mehta endured over 20 failed startups before starting Instacart - and today, 5 years later, he has just raised $400 million, valuing Instacart at $3.4 billion.

After leaving a job at Amazon, in 2010 Apoorva decided to try his own hand as an entrepreneur. But it wasn’t easy going. He tried creating an ad network for gaming. It failed. He tried a Groupon for food. It failed. He tried building a social network for lawyers. It failed.

In total, he tried over 20 startups over 2 years, which all failed. “I tried to get traction for those products. But the result was always failure, failure and more failure.”

What did Apoorva learn from all this failure? “The experience taught me that you shouldn’t start a company just to start a company. The reason should be to solve a problem that you truly care about.”

That’s when he turned his focus on a problem he was having himself - having to go buy groceries (ironically because he was too busy working on ideas that weren’t working). “You're working 14 hour days and the last thing you want is not to have good food in the fridge”.

That got Apoorva thinking: “It was 2012, people were ordering everything online, meeting people online, watching movies online, yet the one thing everyone has to do every single week - buying groceries.”

Deciding to create a company to provide home delivery from your favourite grocery store, Apoorva decided to motivate himself by not visiting the grocery store until he had finished his app:

“I began writing code for the first version of the app and, when it was ready, placed the first order. Then, I went to the grocery store, picked up my groceries and delivered them to myself.”

"So, technically, we started with one shopper in the summer of 2012 and have about 7,000 across the nation today.”

Apoorva learned from the earlier failure of Webvan, which had gone bust trying to maintain their own distribution and groceries. Instead, he partnered with the grocery stores and grew a national network of shoppers who would shop and get paid when an order came in, similar to Uber’s network of drivers.

The company grew exponentially, from $1 million in sales to $10 million the year after and $100 million in 2014. As Apoorva says, “You couldn’t get groceries delivered in one hour, you couldn’t get them delivered from all grocery stores in a market. Today Instacart does this, as a result of that we grew to get to this point very, very fast. We went from having three markets to 15.”

In 2015, Forbes named Instacart No.1 in their “America’s Most Promising Companies” list, the company grew from 15 to 35 cities and today Apoorva announced the $400 million investment led by Sequoia Capital, valuing Instacart at $3.4 billion.

What would have happened if Apoorva had quit after his 3rd failure? Or 10th? Or 20th?

What idea that isn’t working should you quit, so you can start on the one that will?

And if you don’t have the right idea yet, do what Apoorva did, and shop around...

“When one door closes another door opens, but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us.” ~ Alexander Graham Bell

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5 Fascinating Facts On International Women's Day 2017

March 21,2017

5 Fascinating Facts On International Women's Day 2017

1) OECD projects that women will account for two out of every three graduates across advance economies by 2020.

2) A Credit Suisse Research Institute found balanced boards with more women leaders let to higher returns on equity and superior stock price performance. Barclays Bank took that fact and set up ‘The Barclays Women in Leadership Total Return Index’ to track and invest in female-led companies. The index has grown 28% in the last 12 months.

3) The two most powerful finance positions in the world are both held by women: Christine Lagarde, MD of the IMF and Janet Yellen, Chair of the US Federal Reserve.

4) 45% of all business leadership positions in Russia are now held by women. Followed by Lithuania (39%), Philippines (39%), Estonia (37%), Thailand (37%) and Indonesia (36%), according to the latest global survey by Grant Thornton.

5) Women-led startups now account for over 50% of all startups in sub-Saharan Africa, Ghana, Nigeria, Zambia, and the percentage is growing.

While there is still a long way to go before women have the same share of leadership positions as men, growth in equality is growing.

Our entire global senior leadership team at Entrepreneurs Institute (except me and Suraj!) are made up of women and over 55% of our top mentoring circles and investor circle are women entrepreneurs. We are far better off because of it. So the equal balance and connected culture we are experiencing in our global entrepreneur community is a sign of things to come.

So keep growing the wave and #BeBoldForChange #IWD2017

Happy International Women's Day 2017

“I am a woman with thoughts and questions and shit to say. I say if I'm beautiful. I say if I'm strong. You will not determine my story. I will… I am not who I sleep with. I am not my weight. I am not my mother. I am myself.” ~ Amy Schumer, Gloria Awards and Gala

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When Is It Too Late For Success?

March 21,2017

When Is It Too Late For Success?

94-year-old John B. Goodenough made the news this week for creating a breakthrough battery that stores triple the energy and is safer than lithium-ion batteries.

John also happens to be the inventor of lithium-ion batteries, which he invented when he was 57 years old - 37 years ago. Today, lithium-ion batteries power all our smart phones, tablets and laptops - as well as electric cars.

His new battery invention will dwarf his first invention, as it will power our future solar powered and electric vehicles, homes and industries. It makes the current lithium-ion technology redundant (including Elon Musk’s brand new $5 billion lithium-ion battery gigafactory).

How do the new batteries work? They’re made of glass electrolytes, which are solid instead of the liquid electrolytes in lithium-ion batteries. They will allow electric cars to go three times the distance, and recharge in minutes instead of hours. They’re also far safer as they won’t explode, and they can operate in sub-zero temperatures with no danger of freezing.

At 94 years old, John still works as a Professor at the University of Texas, and he isn’t finished yet.

John believes humanity has a 30 year window to come up wth an even more powerful “super battery” to take us entirely off fossil fuels, before the environmental damage we are creating becomes irreversible and says:

"I want to solve this problem before my chips are in… I still have time to go.”

So if you’re ever thinking it’s too late to be successful, just remember John B. Goodenough.

#weareallgoodenough

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ROBLOX - The Biggest VR Community In The World

March 21,2017

ROBLOX - The Biggest VR Community In The World

Imagine if you accidentally created the next big thing - simply by sticking with your passion. That’s what David Baszucki has done by creating the biggest VR community in the world. Today he announced $92 million funding for his virtual world, ROBLOX.

David started ROBLOX in 2005 as an online playground similar to Minecraft, where you could build your own world and share it with others. He struggled to get the site going, and its growth never matched Minecraft’s in its early years.

In 2013, David’s co-founder, Erik Cassel died after a three year battle with cancer. Then, a year later, Minecraft was bought by Microsoft for $2.5 billion. At that point, after 9 years, ROBLOX had still only managed to raise $10 million.

David could have given up, and the story would have ended like so many others, with ROBLOX fading away. But instead, he doubled down with his vision of a 100% user-created world where anyone could turn their creation into a game or adventure and make money from their creations.

David built up the tools to build your own games, and the number of games - and users - doubled, doubled and doubled again. Today, ROBLOX has grown to 48 million users playing 22 million digital games created by 1.7 million game creators. The top ones now earn over $100,000 per month.

As David explains, “An eight-year-old, for a school project, could open ROBLOX studio, find a Roman Coliseum, paste it in, people it with zombies wearing togas, push it to the ROBLOX cloud, and immediately show it to their family and friends.”

The biggest move came a year ago, when Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear launched their VR goggles. David realised his 3D world was perfect for VR. So he made the move to make the entire ROBLOX world into 3D virtual reality and said “ROBLOX will be the largest VR social destination anywhere in the world.”

Suddenly, 48 million users had full access to the biggest virtual world in the world, and could now experience their own creations and all the games in life-size 3D.

That makes David’s ROBLOX now the leading VR social network in size, ahead of everyone else’s plans to create full 3D virtual worlds, from Facebook to Microsoft.

David says “Every month, 48 million kids from around the world come to play and create and imagine. They do it in an immersive, 3D environment created by the community”, adding “We have a big vision to create the world’s ultimate social platform for play.”

David’s perseverance has paid off. His $92 million funding today from the same VCs who funded Snapchat is a testament to that.

His key to success? To not only be patient enough to wait for the wave to come, but to surf it when it arrived.

“The two most important requirements for major success are: first, being in the right place at the right time, and second, doing something about it.” ~ Ray Kroc

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How Big Will Your Best Idea Grow To 6 Years From Now?

March 04,2017

How Big Will Your Best Idea Grow To 6 Years From Now?

What would happen if schools invested in their students and their ideas instead of just charging them school fees? Thats what St Francis has done, and they just made $24 million this week because of it.

Barry, the father of St Francis high school student, Natalie Eggers, tells the story: Almost exactly five years ago today, I came home from work and walked into my kitchen. My daughter Natalie and a few of her high school sophomore friends were sitting at the table. They were all absorbed in their phones and were laughing.

I felt compelled to askWhat are you all doing? My daughter looked up at me and said: Dad, have you seen this app? Its called Snapchat. No. What does it do? You take pictures, send them to your friends, and they disappear in 10 seconds. Hmmm. What kinds of pictures? Its like funny and goofy stuff between friends. Its one of the most popular apps at school, along with Angry Birds and Instagram. I had heard of Angry Birds and Instagrambut not Snapchat. How often do you use it? I asked. I used to send 5 or 6 a day. Now I get 30 a day! Natalie said. Thats how Barry Eggers, who runs VC firm Lightspeed Venture Partners, became the first to invest in Snapchat, when it was still being run from Evan Spiegels living room. The high school was the second - investing $15,000 in the company along with Barry. On Snaps Thursday IPO, the school sold 1.4 million of their 2.1 million shares at $17 each. The remaining 700,000 shares they hold is worth another $19 million. St Francis High School set up their venture fund in 1990 to support student and parent related investments - 20 years before making the investment in Snapchat. Theyve made about 20 investments since then and School President Simon Chiu says he doesnt know of any other school that has a venture fund like this. Maybe after this, more schools will follow the example of St Francis, and invest in the trends their students spot and the companies they create. Imagine a future where schools get funded not (just) from student fees up to graduation, but from investing in their best ideas and success after graduation The future of the world is in my classroom today. ~ Ivan Welton Fitzwater
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Are You Thinking Big Enough?

February 09,2017

Are You Thinking Big Enough?

How big are you thinking? Will Marshall is thinking so big, hes thinking out of this world. Literally. Hes just bought all of Googles satellites with his 6-year old start-up, Planet Labs.

Paradoxically, Will can now think bigger because he began by thinking smaller.

In 2010 he asked himself Why are most satellite images years old, and satellites so expensive? (The NASA satellites launched at the time cost $850 million to build and launch).

The lightbulb moment came when NASA Director of Engineering gave a talk and pulled out his smartphone, saying it had a faster processor and better sensors than many satellites, at a fraction of the price.

Thats when Will, who was at the talk, said Pete, dont put that back in your pocket. Were going to make that into a satellite.

Will then launched Planet Labs with two NASA scientists with the mission "To use space to help life" and the goal To image the entire planet, every day. Their first goal? To launch a phonesat into orbit,and send back photos of earth in real time.

Three years later, the first three were launched for just $7,000 each. Will called them Alexander, Graham and Bell.

The team came up with the phrase Agile Aerospace where they improved their flock, which became known as Doves. In 2014, 28 Doves were released from the International Space Station. Each even sent a Tweet via Twitter once they turned on.

By 2016, Will said "We have launched 133 satellites to date, which is the largest constellation in human history We can track deforestation, we can track the ice caps melting. We can help people respond to natural disasters like earthquakes and floods.

And thats Wills big dream - to save the environment by being able to prevent the damage before it happens. For example, with the Amazon: "If you wait until the end of the year to take a picture - which is the typical rate - at the end of the year you have a big hole in the Amazon. If you take it every day, you can catch people in the act who are logging in the wrong place and send the co-ordinates to the response team who go and stop them."

So how did Will end up buying Googles satellites? Google realized Planets small team were doing a better job than they were at managing satellites. So they sold their $300 million satellite company, Terra Bella together with their seven high-res SkySat satellites in orbit to Planet in return for shares and a long-term licensing deal for all Planets images.

So while many startups dream one day of being bought by Google, Will has done the opposite and bought from Google.

Are you thinking big enough?

What would you do different if you were thinking 100x bigger?

When asked what advice he would give startup entrepreneurs, Will said Check that the idea can be 100x better (/lower cost etc) than anything out there - there will be all sorts of practical reasons you've not thought of and if it's only a 10x that will be eaten up.

In the meantime, Will isnt resting after his big buy. He has another 88 satellites being launched this Valentines Day. When your business is in space, the skys no longer the limit.

"If people aren't calling you crazy, you aren't thinking big enough." ~ Richard Branson

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