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: