Esther Dyson – On the Way to Wellville

The capstone conversation at DOKU:TECH 2015 is a conversation with homegrown business success Akan Ismaili and Esther Dyson – innovation evangelist and angel investor. Akan, co-founder of IPKO Telecommunications, just recently ended his term as the Kosovo Ambassador to the United States. Esther is both an investor and philanthropist with interests that range from healthcare to space exploration.

To kick off the conversation Akan asked her what she cares about as an investor.  She cares about two things – usefulness and things that will make her proud. Key for entrepreneurs seeking funding – What investor are you approaching and what do they care about? The ideas she invest in are not trying to do good but instead fix problems, improve how people spend their time or their money or reduce waste.

Two of the companies she has invested in that she is proud of:

23andme – allows people to understand their own genome

Flickr – one of her favorite companies

“Best thing I can do is a be a woman and talk about ideas rather than be a woman and talk about ‘women’.”

One of her habits which helps her be successful in her life is swimming. She thinks about her day while in the pool. Her 50 minutes swimming keeps her life even. Before a trip she plots out where she can swim. Everyone should spend time each day reflecting – both backwards and forwards.

What does she see in the frontier? What fascinates her? 3d printing – logistics, recycling, changing inventories, won’t need to ship spare parts around. Changes where you can run businesses. For space travel this kind of technology is essential.

What is her role on a boards?  Not finance. Actually it is often regime change. Most companies go through changes in management. One of the most difficult things for a company to go through. For better or worse she is interested in the team dynamics. For a country, company, person – change is difficult. Difficult to hear that leaders need to change the way they have been doing things.

Esther is on the board of Voxiva – a healthcare company started by Paul Meyer who is a co-founder of IPKO. Part of her role has been helping Voxiva change their approach and thinking about their business. She is interested in change.

“I would like to retire on Mars but not until they are ready for me and that will likely be in 30 years.”

One of her more interesting new investments is in Oradian – a Croatian company that sells banking software in Africa. She has found opportunities with entrepreneurs in more international minded small countries – Estonia or the countries of her early angel investments – Eastern European countries. Business leaders who speak more than one language and need to go outside their countries to be successful. Some of her investments can be found here.

Akan asked her to end with a question for the audience to be answered at DOKU:TECH 2016 – “What technology development would be most useful for the Balkans. Define useful how you want – economic, political, prosperity, make your life more pleasant? Post your answer to Twitter with #dokutech, on FB at DOKU:TECH or Instagram.

With the sun long set, the sounds of the river Bistrica in the background and the call to prayer emanating from the minaret Kushtrim and Vladan brought DOKU:TECH 2015 to a close. See you next year!