Karen and I go big game hunting in Europe

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Big Game Hunting at the United Nations Industrial Development Agency in Vienna (UNIDO). The original purpose of this trip was to somehow find a way that UNIDO would fund NGIN.  Twenty six days, three speeches and a couple of dozen meetings later and its still… a maybe:)

 

Trying to start a company isn’t for the weak-kneed.  I’ve tried eleven times so far, with NGIN being No. 12.  Measured by money, and most would argue there’s no other measurement worth calculating, only one of them has made a lot of it.  Two of them have been truly special places to work, having a lasting effect on all of us.  Just one of them has might make a lasting impact on something greater than those who have worked there.

Building companies is a young man’s (and woman’s) game as only they have the energy and are blind to the risks.   Being resilient is essential if you’re going to push through the daily set-backs.  “Peaks and valleys” is too kind of a phrase to describe what its like.  There is nothing remotely valley-ish about the life-changing, gut-wrenching consequences of the failures that inevitably happen.  Nor does peaks describe the pure, unadulterated joy of succeeding, even for a moment.

Which brings us back to No. 12 — NGIN.  I’m old enough  to know the chances of success are low and the risks of failure (it will be expensive).  I get exhausted quicker and it takes longer to recover.  I’ve already had too many “What the f__k am I doing?” sessions while nursing a screwdriver and ruminating over some lost opportunity. Geez, who needs this?

Well, that’s the rub because I think the whole world needs what NGIN is trying to accomplish.  I keep thinking that if we can build a global innovation ecosystem, we can slow climate change, help the poor, and spread the entrepreneurial spirit.   The other part of the answer to “who needs this?” is apparently, reluctantly, sheepishly — me, I need to be doing something that’s challenging.  So, we’re going to run at this pretty hard and see where it goes.

Which brings us to the last 26 days as KR and I have been traipsing through Europe looking for funding for NGIN.  This is not an academic exercise as NGIN has at best a couple of thousand dollars in the bank and isn’t paying its team of three much of anything but the satisfaction of knowing we’re doing something “good.”  NGIN runs out of money in September.

When we got on the plane to DC, I only had a vague notion of a plan.  I was going to go to as many conferences, speak on every panel I could find, talk to as many potential sources of funding that I could corner, and come up with as many fundable ideas as I could.  Basically, the plan was  to hustle, just like FMIG or LACI or whatever else I’ve done.

Twenty-six days, seven cities, seven countries, six plane rides, two train rides, dozens of Ubers, a bus ride or two, miles and miles of walking, five conferences,  three speeches, and 26+ meetings later… I still don’t know if I found us some money.  That’s just the way these things roll, you never know until you know.

Yet, I’m f___king proud that I found three real, serious (as in $100M serious) chances to get NGIN funded.  I did what I set out and now its time to drag one of these over the finish line.   The biggest thing we accomplished was giving us some hope that we have a chance.

We moved around like we were on the run from the law, never staying in one place very long and changing our mode of transportation constantly.  We packed light (considering those 26 meetings), got conversant in the language of trains, subways, trams, taxis et al – all of which were in something other than English, and learned to not unpack if not needed. We ate well, drank at will, crammed in as much prowling around as we could, and met tons of nice people.  Note to self:  scrambling around Europe is a lot nicer than scrambling around India or China.

There were lots of firsts on this trip. Of the seven cities/countries we went to, four countries (Austria, Hungary, Denmark and Finland) and five cities (Vienna, Budapest, Malmö, Copenhagen, and Helsinki) were new.  I’d never packed for a twenty-six day BUSINESS trip, with suits, ties, shirts, et. al in sufficient quantity to look fresh at every meeting.  I’ve never made a pitch for a $100M program in a train station before and I’ll remember Malmö’s train station for a while.

We went to our first Mozart concert in a marvelous Vienna theater.   We went to our first bar in a converted canal control tower in Copenhagen (and it was a non profit too!).  Speaking about bars, we went to our first “Ruins Bar” in Budapest and the “First American Bar” in Vienna.  The most unexpected great meal, of many great meals, was a Swedish restaurant tucked in a shopping mall in the party district of old Budapest.

Being an AirBnB guest rather than as our normal role as a host was new as well.   It’s not an accident that KR gets lots of great reviews for Corona Adobe as our guests get treated to a whole other level than we generally experienced.  Finally,  we did not lose one item, although we might have come close a couple of times.  KR and I have a workable “have we got everything” and “always look back” routine.

Here’s the speed dating version of our trip

  • DC, Vienna, Budapest, Malmö, Copenhagen, Helsinki, and London (in that order)
  • Vienna was regal, pretty, clean, well-organized, a bit formal, the locals were kind of cold and there were a ton of tourists even in May. Probably not our favorite place.
  • Budapest was gorgeous, both physically and architecturally, it looked lived in, has a great vibe, faster paced, and the Danube is, well the Danube. Definitely on the return list.
  • Malmö was, well, Swedish. The land of IKEA architecture, clean lines, homogeneous people, lots and lots of runners and bikers, and is worth a half day to see (we were there two).  Everyone was outside as it was warm and sunny in May, a phenomena not usually experienced, if at all, until July.
  • Copenhagen rivaled Budapest for beauty and KR would argue it was prettier. Canals, charming neighborhoods,  the first rush hour traffic jam of bicyclists I’ve seen, people were edgier (there were five tattoo parlors on our little street).  Ditto for the sunshine impact – the canals and cafes were lined with sunbathers.
  • Budapest was the easiest on the pocketbook, bordering on inexpensive. Copenhagen was by far the worst, followed closely by Helsinki.   Copenhagen is so expensive that I wouldn’t go back for that reason alone.
  • All the Nordic countries are clean, modern, pleasant and white. I’m not talking about snow.  Only “service” people were a different shade, and the number of African Americans we saw on this whole trip could be counted on both hands.
  • If you want to see what a city looks like whose primary mode of transportation are bicycles, go to Copenhagen. Everyone rides, in all manner of dress, in all directions, all the time.   Maybe its because there’s a 150% tax on new cars. I wonder what it looks like in mid-March when it gets dark at 3:00PM and its snowing?
  • All of Europe, and especially the Nordic countries, were celebrating truly spectacular weather for May. We only had a day or two of rain, the rest was great.  We love traveling in May as it’s a “shoulder” month in which prices are still not the high season and you can get lucky with the weather.

Here’s what our twenty six days looked like in pictures:

Wash DC: My favorite bar in DC, the Iron Horse Saloon. Seven years ago when I started going to DC frequently, I needed a place to touch base with my soul after trying to sell it all day:) The Iron Horse was it.

Vienna: Typical Vienna sight, this is the Hofburg Palace, which at one point housed the family that ruled the “civilized” world.

Vienna: The patio of our Vienna apartment. In many ways, this was the ideal apartment for living in the city. This shot is not Photo Shopped as it was about to rain.

Vienna: The theater where we went to hear a Mozart concert by the Vienna Orchestra.

Vienna: Inside the concert hall. This was quite an experience given that I’d never been to a Mozart concert, let alone one in Mozart’s home and in his hometown theater.   It was terrific.

Vienna: The opening of the Vienna World Summit which is an annual climate conference organized by The Arnold (as in Schwarzenegger ). It was the most elaborate opening I’ve ever seen.

Vienna: Dinner with 40+ folks who worked for/with UNIDO. One of the best things about this job is meeting people from a wide variety of countries/cultures, etc. This place was famous for…

Vienna: I ate this whole rack of ribs. It was literally the last time I’ve eaten meat as I’ve sworn off it. Long story, but think methane.

Vienna: My semi art shot of a typical street in the older section of Vienna.

Budapest: You know you’ve left the clean, orderly world of Vienna as soon as you walk onto the platform of the Central Train Station in Budapest.

Budapest: The courtyard of our AirBnB apartment in Budapest.

Budapest: The stairway wasn’t much better. Surprisingly, (as in welcome) the apartment was very modern and pretty nice.

Budapest: One of the few rainy days on the trip. This is our street in Budapest. This neighborhood was a two-edged sword. Today, its known in the city as the “Party Neighborhood” and it was pretty raucous  all night and morning. This district is also known as the “Ruins” and they’re aren’t Roman ruins, but the ruins of the Jewish Ghetto because thousands of people were executed…

Budapest: The next day this is what we saw. View is of the Danube from “The Palace.” One of the many many river boats pass below.

Budapest: For obvious reasons, this is called the Chain Link Bridge, which is Budapest’s most famous.

Budapest: KR is concentrating on the job at hand… which is:

Budapest: Which is basically walking up the side of this hill top Palace. We both made it:)

Budapest: Mozart would be disappointed

Budapest: Misc street scene

Budapest: One of ten meetings in Budapest. Young man on the right was my Business Navigator. We should all be so smart, confident, good looking and well-off.

Budapest: The only big game I bagged was a shot of this unusual beast.

Budapest: Parliament shot from the Danube

Budapest: Even the restaurants are good looking

Budapest: The Palace from the Danube

Budapest: KR can’t believe her eyes…this is a tribute to Michael Jackson:)

Malmö (Sweden): View from our room in Malmö, Sweden.

Malmö: The town square. There’s only one in Malmö 🙂

Malmö: Lots of business dinners, lunches, etc. This one is with two folks from UNIDO’s clean energy program.

Malmö: I wouldn’t swear to it, but I think this is Malmö’s Central Train Station. We were in a lot of stations…

Copenhagen (Denmark): Train or subway commuters are the same the world over. This is on the train between Malmö and Copenhagen.

Copenhagen: Sitting outside “our” apartment waiting for early check-in.

Copenhagen: The canal scene. Not sure it could get any cuter than this

Copenhagen: Unless its this. Canal Control Tower is really a tiny bar. The place is so small that its impossible not to talk to the other patrons. Very good time.

Copenhagen: Canal life — lots of boats. Considering its sunny for about two months every year (in a very good year), not sure what you do with the boat during the other 12.

Copenhagen: Picnic time. When we arrived on a Thursday afternoon, the entire city was outside basking in the sun. The locals know how to picnic.

Copenhagen: Copenhagen was the most athletic city we came across. Everyone rides, rows, runs and walks. This shot is during a weekday.

Copenhagen: This is a small bicycle parking area. Bikes are THE mode of transportation. One quickly learns that its more important to look while you cross a bike lane than a car lane.

Copenhagen: Changing of the guard at the Queen’s palace. Pretty impressive, even for a non-royalist like me.

Copenhagen: Copenhagen restaurants fall into two basic types: cute, charming and old. Or, like this one, sleek and modern. They all have one thing in: very expensive. A so so lunch with a beer and wine cost $80+US.

Copenhagen: Our apartment, which was very charming and well decorated. All AirBnB hosts need to learn to stock the place with supplies as all of them were totally devoid of anything needed.

Copenhagen: Some things don’t change no matter where you are: street musicians playing American songs

Copenhagen: Only in Copenhagen, a traffic jam of bicyclists waiting for a drawbridge to lower.

Helsinki, Finland: The coolest thing about Finland — the offices of “Business Finland”

Helsinki: NGIN was putting on a 5-day training course for Business Finland executives and entrepreneurs. Here my associate, Kevin Randolph, is providing entrepreneurial wisdon

Helsinki: I need a drink!  Fortunately we came across a great little bar that was a period accurate bar celebrating the Mille Miglia (look it up:)

Helsinki: Helsinki is surrounded by water too. I still can’t figure out what they do with the boats when everything ices up:)

Helsinki: The Finns are VERY BIG on saunas. Saunas are only taken nude, preferably with easy access to cold ocean waters. This is the first Sauna Boat I’ve ever seen.

Los Angeles: Back to normality means getting Bogart and Squirt from the Dog Hotel.

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3 Responses to “Karen and I go big game hunting in Europe”

  1. Looks like a real INTERESTING trip! So tell me what this company is all about. Your father really incorporated business acumen in all you guys…Carole with her beauty supply, Randal with computers and you. What a legacy he left you all!
    Love you…maybe sometime you could get to FL!!

  2. Hello Fred and Karen:
    Another great blog Fred!!! You are certainly are moving and shake’n. I did get a little stressed and worn out just by reading it. I thought I had it rough when I had to play 3 sets of tennis and 18 holes back to back!
    Since my grand parents came from Budapest I do want to visit there soon.
    Hopeful is well and we’ll talk soon.

  3. Thanks for the update! I’m glad you finally discovered the joy of Mozart! And in such a location!
    Cheers,
    Steve