René Seifert

Entrepreneur, Global Citizen, Flat World, Internet, Web 2.0, Innovation, Start-Up

Archive for September, 2008

I joined MumbaiAngels: Private Equity investments in India

 What I wanted to briefly write about already in the last few weeks is my engagement in an amazing group of entrepreneurs and top-executives in Bombay (Mumbai): The MumbaiAngels. What we would call a “Verein” in Germany, has the shape of an association of currently 40 individuals who have an interest in investing their money in prospective start-ups and early-stage companies in India.

The association has been set up one year ago, spearheaded by my friend Sasha Mirchandani who is a seasoned entrepreneur and currently the Head of India for BlueRun Ventures. How MumbaiAngels works is easily explained: We meet every 6 weeks in Bombay and three to five pre-selected companies would pitch in front of us: 15 minutes sharp followed by a friendly but critical Q&A-session by the potential investors. Each angel is entirely free to express independently interest in a particular company through a feedback form. At the end all the forms get aggregated internally whereby the level of interest in a particular company could (and maybe should) also help as an indicator of attractiveness from the “wisdom-of-crowds” perspective.

In the next step, say if 9 people have interest in a particular company, they would go along for a joint due diligence, deal structure into which each individual would invest the amount of money he or she wants to commit. Overall, from my experience of building up an incubator, I am quite impress about the level of maturity for the processes which are critical to come to terms from filtering interesting investment targets to having the investment in place.

The sectors we are looking at have not been defined too narrow, and right so. Ultimately, it should be something that scales well, because it either organizes and unstructured industry in India with its huge market potential behind, addresses a clear need or something which contains a technology-driven nucleus whose economics are prone to disproportionately fast distribution and foreseeable revenues. (My personal investment-appetite goes very much to the latter, certainly because I have some sort of expertise in the tech, media, internet and mobile-space.)

The advantage for entrepreneurs seeking for investments to address Mumbai Angels is manifold: The investors involved bring extensive experience in building and growing business to the table, where the Q&A session during the pitch alone can ask the right questions to tweak and turn something in the plan or model. Moreover, MumbaiAngels are far beyond just throwing “dumb money” at you, then sitting on our hands and waiting what returns we’ll receive. What we are looking for is an active role via ongoing mentoring, door-opening to customers or partners and access to capital for the subsequent rounds of funding.

I am glad to be part of that fine group. If you are an entrepreneur seeking start-up capital for a venture in the Indian market, feel free to address me. I will see what I can do for you and what I can do for us – the MumbaiAngels.

Bryan Adams in Zurich: 7 Steps for a powerful PR-Campaign

Its neutrality, order and cosiness alone make Switzerland a worthwhile place to visit again and again. Moreover, Zurich with its 380,000 inhabitants small by usual cosmopolitan standards has a flourishing cultural life. The ubiquitously visible wealth of the city is certainly not an impediment to it. Yesterday, it was Bryan Adams who had a sold-out concert in Zurich whereby his management accurately planned a PR-appearance beforehand. The venue, Puls 5, is a worn down industrial manufacturing hall with high ceilings and old steel structures all which creates an honest ambience for an exhibition.

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The event “Hear the World” has been touring around various cities in the world for quite a while and is an initiative of Phonak, a Swiss manufacturer of hearing aids. From my own 15-year old experience in media, this concept definitely hails in the upper range of PR-formats. What most companies get wrong in PR is a too aggressive push of their company name or worse, its products. Phonak did well to put the emphasis on an issue which allegedly affects 15-20 % of global population: hearing problems, along with the stigma not really admitting to the problem or worse, not doing something about it.

As I write these lines, I realize how well this event platform was crafted: I never thought about the problem before, I even doubt that these numbers are in their severity as high or that this is one of the most daunting problems of this world today, but nevertheless the event left some sort of impact on me thinking and even blogging about the issue. That’s what you call successful agenda-setting which deserves at least professional respect.

The ingredients for the event could hardly be hand-picked any better:

  1. Take an issue worth alleviating (see paragraph above).

  2. Engage a VIP who is unsuspicious of being a sponsor-whore for everything: In this case Bryan Adams, a world-famous rock star who builds bridged between continents and generations alike and who – for his age of 48 years – looks extremely juvenile. Furthermore, what I was not aware of, Bryan Adams is also a highly talented photographer which brings us to the next point.

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  3. Make the issue tangible: Connect with the VIP, whereby keeping the message subtle: Bryan Adams has taken a series of pictures with musicians where he asked them if they would pose for something which reflects them hearing or listening. Apart from one (name undisclosed) all agreed and there you go with an exhibition of artistic big-sized black-and white photographs.

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  4. Deliver immediate remedy: As these photographs are unique, they are or have been already auctioned off with the income going directly to several schools and institutions in the third world dealing with children who have hearing problems.

  5. Create an event-platform: The exhibition is open till Sunday, yet the gala-opening was clearly a highlight where Bryan Adams showed up himself, albeit with app. 10 minutes only very briefly, stating “no interview” and buggering off to his concert. Yet, if you have Bryan Adams for such an event, all the VIPs and wannabe VIPs will come all by themselves. Apparently, the hall must have been full with Swiss actors, models and celebrities (which I admittedly did not recognize). Food and drinks were excellent, too.

  6. Roll out the red carpet, literally: The presence of these VIPs will in turn attract the press which will thankfully cover such an event with many, many nice pictures its audience wants to see. (No wonder, the day after 2 major Zurich tabloids had the event and Bryan Adams on the front-page).

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  7. Keep a low profile as the initiator: Phonak knows pretty well that 80 % of the people in this world long for its products as much as they long for Malaria. Yet, when they need it, they will notably improve their lives. Hence, the CEO of the company on stage was quite up-front to admit: “We want to create awareness for a problem that nobody wants to hear and talk about.”

That’s it. Good event, nice motives for pictures also from my side here on the Flickr-Set and myself last but not least looking at Amy and Amy looking at me.

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And what I now do hear very loud and clear is my friends calling for another round of Oktoberfest :-)

Weekend before Techcrunch50 in the Bay Area

Before the 3-day Techcrunch50 conference we explored San Francisco and the Bay Area in walks and drives and as much as jet-lag permits prepared ourselves for the conference start. For transportation we had a tiny little car to drive around, a Hummer H3.

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Saturday, Arnd, Maks and I headed to the Napa Valley, had a nice lunch in Bouchon, then a vine tour trough Rubincon Wine Estate, where the cellar in the mountain was litterally cool, likewise the tasting of its content.

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Yesterday, after a phenomenal steak-dinner at Morton's and an after-hour at the Redwood Room in our Clift Hotel, we took our friend Heiko on board and headed South on Highway Number 1 towards Half Moon Bay. Climate in the Bay Area is crazy: We started in OK-conditions from downtown, it got foggy and cold all along the coast so that it was pointless to head to the beach, and driving inland into the Silicon Valley, we were surprised by dry heat with temperatures well above the 30s (Celsius scale). As for a inventive Sunday afternoon activity, we made a brief stop at the Stanford Mall with coffee and a few purchases (also for our wives and girl friends at home :-)

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More pics from the weekend as well as from the conference can be found here on my Flickr-Account

Safe Touch-Down with the “Flugröserl” in San Francisco

After doing my Private Pilot License in 2002, I thought I had understood the main principles of flight. You need wings where the airstream on the leading edge would get accelerated on the bottom side, flowing faster than on the upper side, hence creating at the trailing edge a high pressure which tends to equalize to the lower pressure above and thereby creating this magic force called “lift” which in turn allows a heavy object like a plane to get aloft.

But today, I realized that this was only half of the story. At least equally important, if not even more critical, is the existence of the “Flugröserl”. It is a composed word of the German term “Flug” which means “flight” and “Röserl” which is the Bavarian noun for the High-German term “Rose” which means, well, rose. So it means kind of “flight rosy”, but I prefer “Flugröserl” much more, so let’s stick to it.

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The “Flugröserl” is the out-of-reach-object-of-desire for every Economy Class-passenger with risk of thrombosis during a long-haul flight due to special scarcity which condemns him to regress into an embryonic position over 12 hours. But the “Flugröserl” is also the object of desire for the Business Class passenger who finds the presence of so many other passengers around him utterly vulgar and who is yearning for more and still more in life. Because, the Flugröserl, is an exclusive piece of decoration on your seat of Lufthansa First Class which indicates you that you made it to the top, that on 39,000 feet above sea level you can add another 4 meters in the upper deck of the Boing 747 Jumbo Jet. Wow – how awesome is that?!

Well, to transcend back to some literally grounded reason, the “Flugröserl” was the major theme and amusement for my friend Arnd and me today during our flight on LH 454 from Frankfurt to San Francisco. From my constants flight from and to India, I had so many Lufthansa "Miles & More" that I thought I’ll do us a favour with a “once in a lifetime experience” and get us an upgrade into First Class. Yep, it was cool. You get attention from the cabin staff as if you were a 3-months old baby with the only difference that fine alcoholic drinks are the main liquid to sedate you.

And of course to show you her unconditional love, Mum (=the flight attendant) would bring you approximately one hour after take-off the “Flugröserl” whose bottom is embedded in a water-filled plastic cylinder which gets stuck in a specially engineered hole in your First Class seat. And there it sits peacefully and beautifully, the “Flugröserl”. Arnd and me found so much of a likening for it, that we asked Mum to take a picture of us holding the “Flugröserl” as a sign of our achievement, friendship and imbecility.

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And so today, I am happy to share my epiphany with you that it’s all about the “Flugröserl” where the “Flugröserl” is a fundamental enabler and catalyst in the history of aviation and mankind alike.