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Emprendimiento y tecnología: la aventura de crear una compañia de Social Knowledge Business

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Publicado el 22 . 6 . 2012 por Ricardo Alonso Maturana

El pasado 21 de junio ofrecí una ponencia titulada 'Emprendimiento y Tecnología: la aventura de crear una compañía de Social Knowledge Business', en el marco del Tecnalia’s KBE Day. En este post, escrito en inglés para la propia conferencia, hago un resumen tanto de mi trayectoria como de la GNOSS.

Entrepreneurship and Technology: The adventure of Creating a Social Knowledge Business Company (Ricardo A. Maturana's lecture in Tecnalia’s KBE Day)

I offered a lecture during the Tecnalia’s KBE Day (Zamudio, Bizkaia; 21th June 2012), a seminar with Knowledge Based Entrepreneurship companies and professionals.  This is a transcript of the lecture ‘Entrepreneurship and Technology: The adventure of Creating a Social Knowledge Business Company’:

INTRODUCTION

I am the founder and the current CEO of www.gnoss.com. In October 2007, Luis Cacho, President and cofounder of arsys.es, joined the project. 

I don’t know what expectations you have about this presentation. I’m not an academic person, so I don’t do research on this topic. I don’t have any general ideas about this and of course I have no recipes. I usually avoid giving some advice. So, what could I say with sense about undertaking new paths in technology or about creating new technological companies? I only have my own experience widened with some reading, some good conversations and, at last, I have walked this path with some friends and my family who wanted to share this adventure. To sum up, I feel capable to tell you my own story and think about it carefully, but no more.

First of all, let me to tell you something about the knowledge company I’ve created: GNOSS.

GNOSS works with semantic technology

GNOSS is a social software platform which includes linkable and customizable social networks, which can be managed and in which it is possible to take part with a federate identity – a user can work simultaneously in several networks with personal or collective identity; organization, class or group, based on a structured web of data not on a web of documents. To put it briefly, www.gnoss.com is a space for social linkable networks that run on semantic web technology; a web 3.0 project offering solutions for knowledge management, collaborative work and informal learning.

GNOSS can be used as:

  • a corporative tool
  • a learning tool


GNOSS in Linking Open Data Cloud

​This story begins at the beginning, that is, just before I decided to launch GNOSS and, as a consequence, to create a technological start-up.

1. IMAGINATION

When I was sixteen, I was studying at High School in La Salle, in the Deusto neighbourhood. Until that moment, I really enjoyed reading comics and books. Of course, I had read the appropriate books for my age, like Salgari’s and Stevenson’s, or those of a very popular author named Martin Vigil. Related to comics, I liked almost anyone, from Mortadelo and Filemón to Flash Gordon. But when I was sixteen, something happened: as the reading material at the end of the literature textbook, I found the beginning of a Borges’ short story: “Las minas circulares”.  When I read that singular page, I noticed that I had never read anything like that before. That day after school, I went to a bookseller, now closed, named “Paradiso” (like the celebrated poem by Milton) and I bought “Ficciones”. That day, with those few words from the beginning of the Borges’ short story, I went into a new dimension made of metaphors, concepts, literature, formal languages… The bricks to build a vision of the world.

Borges not only was an inspiration, but he also represented the possibilities of the mind and thought in the good stories, especially when they are mixed with the most important of all the high human faculties: the imagination. The following years, I became a persistent, interested and passionate reader. I found out that the world has other worlds inside and that words contain all things and all possible worlds. I was definitely fascinated by the power of words and language, and by their dominance over the things.

After Borges, other writers came, such as Cortázar and Stendhal, Tolstoi and Flaubert, Carpentier, Conrad and Greene and many others.

First big learning: From then to now, I’m deeply convinced that it’s impossible to have a solid vision of the future without a solid imagination full of good metaphors. And the vision of the future has inside the whole of opportunities. Imagination and metaphors represent the form of the future in our present and in our mind. The killer faculty to create anything (and it is the same if we talk about painting or tech enterprises) is the imagination and its contents, not the intelligence.

2. ENJOY

Enjoy every moment, specially the worst ones, and difficult ones.

Finally, I had to choose what I wanted to be in the future. Between us, that means what kind of university studies I preferred. I chose Philosophy in the University of Deusto. There, I discovered the pleasures and suffering of thinking and I had the opportunity of reading some a few but fundamental books: Plato, Descartes, Wittgestein, Russel, The philosophy of language… I discussed, studied and had the opportunity, so to speak, of seeing and thinking about the lower surface of things, the other side of the moon, the reverse side of the world. Those days were full of happiness in the strange way that happiness becomes alive in the extreme youth, a germinal period in which everything is still possible. I lived with passion those warm days and I enjoyed doing what I wanted to do without any utilitarian restriction. At last, those golden days came to end. But something, something important, remains up to now: you have to follow your real interest, listen to your heart. We all have the duty to deploy our talents, all of them, without any other consideration. That means living with passion and connect your deepest being with your actions and with what you do at every moment.

After this, I taught Philosophy, I wrote my thesis on models of innovation dissemination and social knowledge engineering. I also promoted an institute for adult education. I was consultant in advanced training and knowledge systems. I’ve always felt that all these activities were deeply connected. GNOSS, our technological project, contains elements of all these experiences, like a soft perfume.

Second learning: your life is unique and you only live once. Everybody has the duty to try to be happy and useful. Nobody has the right to waste the time and life that has been given. Connect the deepest interests in your life; living with passion, that’s the formula of good life and good business too. Creating and undertaking are passions. 

3. NOW OR NEVER

When I was 38, I realized that it was the time of ‘now or never’.

I wanted to work by myself and create and foster my own project. So, any time is always good.

I remember worst times than the current ones. My father founded our enterprise group in 1977. They were bad times here, in the Basque Country, and also in Spain. While our economy was collapsed, the new political frame was under construction and we lived in the middle of a major political violence. We are not worst now. So, the present time is always the best one for doing what you want to do. If you feel inside the impulse for creating, for undertaking a project, you have to follow it up without any doubt. Tomorrow could be too late. “Don’t leave for tomorrow what you can do today”, we usually say.

Third learning: Those who feel the urge to create and undertake, but against these deep impulse, put off or avoid this commitment, will end feeling melancholy and sad passions. 

4. BE FREE: DON’T WORK FOR ANYBODY BUT YOURSELF

Once, when I was very young, my father told me that he didn’t want to work for anybody but himself. This is a matter of principles. We are educated in the belief that the most important aspiration in our life is to reach security. All our educational and cultural programme, all the social energy of our mothers, fathers and teachers, collaborate in setting this kind of value up. Tones of creativity, talent and personal possibilities of development are sacrificed in the security alter. But the consequences are cruel: we have built up a culture of bitterness and doubt; most people have got unreliable secret dreams. “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heavens: a time to be born and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to uproot” (the Bible says).

But the time goes by and, what happens when we haven’t done what we’d like to do? The answer is quite simple: social bottom of bitterness and envy, which punishes those who try to undertake projects. In our society, the social penalties for failing are too hard and rigorous, frequently are the first cause to drop out in the race for creating new enterprises and economic value.

Fourth learning: be yourself, don’t work for anybody but yourself and don’t listen to the discouraging background noise of our fearful society.

5. BE SELF-CONFIDENT AND BUILD A SOLID CHARACTER

Our education is focused on contents, but less in applications, personal development and character formation. And success, as Woody Allen says, is not a question of intelligence but courage, audacity and bravery. The character formation is the key cultural competence to make effective a knowledge and open creative society. A society based on the creativity that fosters everybody’s talent. But now, in spite of the superficial rhetoric about the importance of innovation and talent, to be an entrepreneur, to found and promote and enterprise or business, to have the ambition of developing technology, is something that implies a hard fight against the social elements. But the school doesn’t work for the formation of character. Undertaking demands a lot of energy and a solid character even in those societies that don’t punish the failure; imagine how hard and difficult it would be when the society turns its back on whom has express the preference of living like an entrepreneur. The society that wastes talents is doomed to repeat its history as a farce.  Don’t forget, at least in the case of Spain, that our modern history, with the exception of the last thirty years (and this with shadows) is a story of decline and fall. I think that we have the duty to do something like the Basque dream (or Spanish dream if you want), a path that allows everybody to rise and aspire to a better life got over their efforts, will, merits and talents. Even in this case, character will be the key.

Fifth learning: undertaking needs a self-confidence and a solid character, even more if we consider our educational, cultural and social values and environment.

6. HAVE DREAMS, BUILD A CLEAR VISION CONSIDER CAREFULLY ALL THE CIRCUMSTANCES, AND JUST DO IT

To do anything in the long term, you need first a solid vision. Without it, it is impossible to aggregate resources and talented people for your project. It’s necessary to visualize the point of arrival because any entrepreneurs has to communicate the project clearly to many players, pointing out the process and benefits of making the journey together. But visions need dreams. Martin Luther King said: “I have a dream”. In that moment, the dominance of the WASP people in the USA began to decline. After the Luther’s dream, there is the end of the apartheid that the black people suffered for centuries, and the rise of a society based on civil rights for everybody. Dreams are not enough. After having a dream, you have to be sure that you are not reinventing the wheel. And if you are sure, then you have to consider carefully all the things and circumstances from going from here to there, the arrival point that lightens your dream. Be careful! The entrepreneur who is not in love with its idea is an odd species. There is no place for crazy ideas, so consider carefully your project almost twice. And after all, JUST DO IT.

Action is always beneficial. To connect thought and action is a magical formula that leads to sure success because, in this case, success is not only the final result, but also the process itself, which expresses the will to live the way you want.

Sixth learning: Just do it.

7. THE CREATION OF A TECHNOLOGY COMPANY. MONEY, RESOURCES AND TIME

The will to do things is a necessary condition, like hard work and character, but again it’s not enough. All the projects need the adequate resources and… money, especially technology projects. In fact, money is used to get excellent resources; without them, will, character, vision and good ideas are almost nothing. To develop technology is expensive and requires to add several resources. Regrettable, this country doesn’t see itself as a technology creator, but as technological services designer. And here, when I say technology, I mean IT technologies, more precisely Internet technologies. This underlying belief makes it very difficult to get financial resources for undertaking in the field of technology. The people who could invest in this sort of projects don’t have faith in them. Here it is important to distinguish between a technological project and a business based on Internet technology. These last one are easy to finance because the investors have the expectation of a quick failure or a quick return on investment. Probably, we don’t have the financial culture and institutions to produce high-tech with global ambitious and, as a consequence, our bets are not enough aggressive, so we lose once and again generating in this way a vicious loop. Perhaps we don’t have nor the cultural conditions, nor the financial structures to aspire to have critical influence in the global Internet, but I think we should be brave for being a major player in the Spanish speaking Internet. This is the second agglutination and market, just after the English speaking Internet of the whole West Internet. Our project, GNOSS, has requested several financial resources. We have sixteen people working in our company; four of them are PhD, many engineers, etc. It’s not cheap. We have been fortunate, because we’ve been able of supporting this project with the solid commitment of our partners (Maturana Group and Luis Cacho, President of arsys.es) and with the collaboration of the public sector (CDTI).

Of course, nobody reasonable should expect to get a loan from a bank, not now, but neither in the past when our financial system was extremely occupied laying and laying bricks. There are also public funds for innovation, but… it’s not the best way to do the things quickly enough. Bureaucracy is always too slow and demands too administrative task for an entrepreneur.

Seventh learning: Be careful with the money. It’s never enough.

8. MAKE A TALENTED TEAM

Make a team is a critical subject for a technological entrepreneur. The reason tells us that we have bet for talent. Nevertheless, it’s convenient to take care when you want to hire someone. Some rules:

  • Avoid sad people; that is, people who see the bottle half empty, people who say: “I already said…”, and similar sentences. This kind of people resolves bored and discourages the rest of the team. There is no vaccine against this kind of people: only one of them can break down the moral of the best team.
  • Keep away from proud people and those who think that know everything. These people are always a brake. They usually aren’t able to ask for help and therefore, the way of solving problems is inefficient and slow.
  • Prevent against people who have communication problems and are cold from an emotional point of view.
  • Choose warm, smiling and optimistic people.
  • And last, spend money from the beginning in a very good human resources consultant, specialized in recruitment: it will be the best-spent money, for sure.

Eighth learning: Always talent, avoid sad and proud people, choose the optimistic once and spend money in a very good human resources consultant, specialized in recruitment.

9. PARTNERS?

Ask yourself: Actually, do I need a partner?

Frequently the conflicts between partners come from the different point of view about who of them are creating more value. This kind of discussion is not easy to solve. There are usually two points of view: the one of the investor and the one of the entrepreneur. Money trends to believe that it is the key factor, in spite of the fact that many brilliant projects fail because the entrepreneur and promoter loses the power of making decision. Be careful with partners and try to maintain always the power of decision. Technological start-up projects depend critically on the mood and moral of the promoter. Money can do almost nothing without an enthusiastic entrepreneur.

Ninth learning: Partners only if needed and remember: money is always coward.

10. (AND LAST): WORK AND WORK, WORK HARD, EVERYDAY

Success is a very antiheroic task. Creating technology is not brilliant at every moment. Most days we spend time breaking stones. Talent and money are not enough without work, work and hard work.

SUMMARY OF MY OWN LEARNINGS

  • IMAGINATION is the key human faculty for visualize future, opportunities, projects and business.
  • ENJOY. Your life is unique and you only live once. Everybody has the duty to try to be happy and useful. Nobody has the right to waste the time and life that has been given. Connect the deepest interests in your life; living with passion, that’s the formula of good life and good business too. Creating and undertaking are passions.
  • NOW OR NEVER. Those who feel the urge to create and undertake, but against these deep impulse, put off or avoid this commitment, will end feeling melancholy and sad passions.
  • BE YOURSELF AND BE FREE, don’t work for anybody but yourself and don’t listen to the discouraging background noise of our fearful society.
  • BE SELF-CONFIDENT AND BUILD A SOLID CHARACTER. Undertaking needs a self-confidence and a solid character, even more if we consider our educational, cultural and social values and environment.
  • HAVE DREAMS AND JUST DO IT. (Have dreams, build a clear vision, consider carefully all the circumstances, and just do it.)
  • MONEY!! Be careful with the money. It’s never enough.
  • MAKE A TALENTED TEAM. Always talent, avoid sad and proud people, choose the optimistic once and spend money in a very good human resources consultant, specialized in recruitment.
  • PARTNERS? Partners only if needed and remember: money is always coward.
  • WORK A LOT!! Talent and money are not enough without everyday work, work and hard work.

Now, you can compare this with Fernando Trias de Bes says about the key reasons for failure when you start a new company ¿Are the more or less the same? I think basically yes. However, Trias de Bes considers some interesting causes in addition.

KEY REASONS TO FAIL

Fernando Trias de Bes, MBA professor at ESADE and writer of books as “The good luck” or “Lateral Marketing”, surprised everyone with his new book: “The black book for the entrepreneur” (El libro negro del emprendedor) were he explains his theory about the main factors for failure when starting a new company. This is based in his own experience, his work at the MBA school (ESADE) and many “chats” with different experienced entrepreneurs. He got to compile 14 key reasons to fail. Those factors are the following:

  • About the person:

1 entrepreneur with a reason but without motivation
2 not to have an entrepreneur mentality
3 not to have a strong character to fight when is needed

  • About the business partners:

4 count with them when in reality you don’t need partners at all
5 choose partners without an election criteria
6 share the same percent of capital when everyone is not giving the same value
7 lack of communication and understanding between partners

  • About the business idea:

to think that success only depends on that "great idea"
9 start within fields you don’t like or lack knowledge
10 start within non attractive fields (saturated, little growth)

  • About the impact in your family live:

11 make the business dependant on your family economy and material needs
12 not knowing the impact that starting a business will have in the quality of your personal live (time for your family, hobbies, …)

  • About management of the new company:

13 create business models in which you don’t get benefits quickly and neither in the long term
14 to be an entrepreneur (want to create something all the time) instead of a business man (like to manage growth) and not know the right moment to retire

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