Reykjavik: Startup Iceland event 2014

June 2

I was wide awake by 6am, too excited about my first “gig” in Iceland. Yesterday morning I had met a nice gentleman named Thubten Comerford at the laundromat who would be speaking at the Startup Iceland 2014 conference and was kind enough to arrange that I be allowed to photograph it. This trip is reaffirming the theory that being receptive to opportunities increases the chances of good things falling into your lap when you least expect it. The fact that he and I met at all is serendipitous; I had forgotten my wallet when trying to do laundry and had to walk all the way back to the flat, which made me an hour later than expected.

I slowly got dressed and cleaned up my car to pass the time until I had to leave the house at 8:20. I donned my jeans, hiking shoes and my one semi-professional-looking top I had thankfully packed. I checked and rechecked my equipment bag before walking towards the Harpa concert and event center near the harbor.

Iceland_20140602_Reykjavik_StartupIceland-13_WEBI arrived early and I waited by the front doors but didn’t see Thubten. I started to get antsy as I watched all the young professionals walk to the check-in point on the upper floor. Just before 9:00 I went ahead and followed the last stragglers up and asked at the check-in counter if Thubten had arrived yet and he had. Oops! I quickly ducked into the auditorium which was nearly full already and I eventually found him just as the event was starting. He gave me a big friendly hug and said “take lots and lots of photos! And start with this one,” as he pointed to the President of Iceland, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, who was sitting in the front row right next to us. I’ll admit it, that caught me off guard and blew my mind a little bit.

I asked Thubten if I was allowed to move around as I photographed and he said I had an all-access media pass today so to just go for it. Groovy! By the time I found a spot to unpack my bag and assemble my gear the event was underway.

I’m not sure how interested folks following a travel blog would be about the details of the Startup Iceland event, so I’ll try to keep it short. But I will just say this: I am so excited about what Iceland is doing to encourage and foster creativity, ingenuity and economic resilience. I was absolutely moved by the President’s speech about keeping the discussion open and honest about the direction of our advancements in technology. Technology is an amazing tool and we become hindered instead of empowered by it if we are wary and hesitant that someone is misusing the incredible amounts of data being transmitted daily. Here’s a quick video, I wish I’d have taken more:

The day went well, sans my inability to be calm and sane in a socializing and networking environment. During the lunch break I basically took a few photos of the food and serving line and then hid in the auditorium while everyone was out in the hall eating and talking. Iceland_20140602_Reykjavik_StartupIceland-217_WEBI finally convinced myself that I was being a damn child and that I needed to conquer my social anxiety – and besides, what’s the worst that could happen?? So I headed out to be with the other humans and saw Thubten talking to a very chic hipster gal with a punk rock haircut and big black glasses. I joined them and tried to overcome my nerves which should have been easy – the nice gal’s name was Ally and she was from Colorado Springs and had just moved to Iceland a few months ago. Awesome, we have Colorado in common! Instead of enjoying the conversation my brain completely short-circuited and I made an ass of myself by babbling, then stuttering, then mocking myself for stuttering, and completely derailing the conversation and making everyone uncomfortable. Welp, back into solitary confinement in the auditorium with you, ya goddamned nut job! 

I retreated. My confidence was pretty shaken but I was grateful I had my cameras in hand. They do tend to make me feel like I belong and give me a renewed sense of confidence. Some people have security-blankets, I have 22 pounds of glass and plastic strapped to my shoulders that I hide behind.

I was hiding in the back of the auditorium as lunch was ending when one of the other photographers came up to me and introduced himself as Roman. He was very nice and said was hired by Icelandic Air, one of the main sponsors of the event, to shoot the event for them. I met his lovely wife and learned she was from the UK and he from Croatia. He also told me about how he knows the man and wife team that built the amazing marine-themed children’s park by the harbor that I’ve photographed multiple times already. We traded cards and chatted a bit more until the conference was back in session.

Iceland_20140602_Reykjavik_StartupIceland-151_WEBThe rest of the event was wonderful, and Thubten did a great job on his talk. He’s from Portland, Oregon and drew many parallels between his beloved city and Reykjavik, and had words of encouragement about how to embrace your city’s uniqueness, and to also to be sure you bring your innovative ideas back home to grow your city’s economy instead of draining it of talent and passion by moving your startup elsewhere. This one seems important for Icelanders since it’d be so much easier to create a company in New York or London. Wise words.

I found it interesting how so many of the talks about entrepreneurship resonated so strongly with me. The statements were all things I had felt were important to live by when I quit my day job and dove headfirst into photography. Here are my favorite bits:

– From Sherwood, a capital advisor: Leverage your assets. It doesn’t matter how much or little you start with. As long as you fully utilize the assets you do you have, there’s a better chance others will notice and be encouraged to offer their time/money/expertise to see you succeed. Asset sharing will be one of the keys in rebuilding a stronger, better economy.

– From Jennifer, MakerBot President of People: Never think you can’t do something. Be scrappy. If a system is broken, leverage it to your advnatage(referring to the broken economy). Live by your motto, whatever you decide it to be so you never lose your way. i.e. the MakerBot Way  (another good motto for doing business is GyShiDo)

– From John, a journalist : If you’re taking on the challenge such as making hardware, software or art – which are all extremely challenging to begin with – you have to step up to the plate and make it happen – no one is going to hand you anything. You have to prove yourself tirelessly before people can start believing something will come of your passion, and then they will invest in you.

– From Liad, an incredible serial entrepreneur and lucky guy: luck is a matter of increasing your opportunities to get the outcome you want. Roll a dice once while hoping for a 6, and you get a 1/6 chance of getting a 6. Roll that dice 20 more times and your chances of getting at least one 6 just skyrocketed to nearly 100%.

What an unexpected and awesome experience!

Check out the full day’s gallery if you’re interested:

Reykjavik: Laundromat Cafe, Seafarer’s Day, Marbles & Bees

June 1

It poured a heavy rain all night and into the morning. I started the morning graced by the company of Sigrun, Stu and a hot cup of Earl Grey. I found an amazing Indiegogo project on Facebook. It’s goal is to create solar roadways to lower emissions, create sustainable energy, create jobs in the US among other coolness… it’s a silly but informative video, check it out!

Heh, you thought I was already obnoxiously gung-ho about being eco friendly before I came to Iceland – but now I’m even more committed after being reminded how amazing this Earth is and how we’re freakin’ ruining it at break-neck speed. I already have a list of changes I’d like to make as soon as I get home. I’m actually pretty excited to see how quickly I can drop off the fossil-fuel grid and live a more sustainable lifestyle.

I gathered my laundry in my sleeping bag’s stuff-sack and walked across town to the Laundromat Cafe. The Laundromat Cafe is exactly what it sounds like: it’s a bustling, yummy cafe where you can do your laundry in the basement for about $7. The place is notoriously packed with people so when I walked in and saw it was only 1/3 full I was so excited! I knew I’d be able to find a good seat and to get on the wifi without a problem. When I walked in, dripping wet from the rain, I stood there with a dumb look on my face for a while, unsure what to do. A young woman helped me and gave me a shot of detergent and seven 100ISK coins for the laundry but when I went to pay for it I realized I had left my wallet all the way back at the house. Oh god dammit!

I sulkily walked back to the house in the pouring rain. An hour later I made it back to the cafe and by then the gloomy sky aptly fit my mood. The place was packed now. I waited in a long line and finally got my detergent and coins and headed down the stairs.

Downstairs the vibe was much different than the hip cafe upstairs; there were herds of loud children in a kid-friendly play area, and several mothers at the cafe tables along the wall. In the center of the area was a small laundry room with three washers and three dryers. I’m going to be overly descriptive of the laundromat portion because it’s a little intimidating and I couldn’t find any information on it before visiting so hopefully this will help someone out!

I must have had that dumb look on my face again when I was staring at the washing machines because a nice man started to help me. He tried to show me everything he had just learned but we still couldn’t get my machine working and neither could a second fellow. We all joked about what an interesting adventure using these machines was turning out to be, and then I ran upstairs to ask for help. The waiter of course got everything working right away which made me feel pretty dumb, but when you’re socially inept and you’re intimidated by a situation it’s a bit harder to think straight.

For anyone interested, here’s what it all looks like and how it works:


The Laundromat Cafe in Reykjavik. A hip place to wash your underwear with strangers.


The laundry room at Laundromat Cafe in Reykjavik. This kind woman is who I passed on my washing knowledge to before I left the cafe. She and her hubby were a pleasure to talk to!

The instructions for the washing machines. Read it now before you’re standing in a crowded room feeling pressured to figure everything out. 🙂 The main coin-box numbers apply to both the washers and dryers and the smaller numbers just below the timer are for deciding whether you want washer #3(press #1) or dryer #3(press #2). Put in your coins into the box with the corresponding number on your washer then press #1 to tell it you’re on a washing machine. 

I apologize I forgot to take photos specifically of the machines, but here’s a decent enough zoom. In the front flip-up compartment on the top left of the machine you can add your detergent; liquid on left, powdered on right. Wash buttons from left to right: Pick your temperature and wash-type (95/60/40-normal wash, then 60/40-gentle, handwash, spin only). The extra options under the LCD: the running man is quick wash, the vertical line in a bucket is for liquid detergent, not sure what the spin-cycle-looking button is for – maybe extra spin? -, last button is for extra water. Start button is on the right, and the tiny icons in a vertical line are indicators of where the wash is in the cycle.


The dryer. Pick a temperature from the left 4 buttons and press the power button on the right. Easy enough 🙂 30 minutes of dry time was plenty for my medium sized load of travel clothes.


The cafe. Order the Clean Brunch if you have mucho coin to spend and a big appetite to quench (or the Dirty Brunch, if you’re a meat eater) it’s all quite delicious. The ginger mango juice is soooo yummy too!

I went back upstairs after successfully getting my washer to start and tried to find a seat. There was very little space left so I asked a couple sitting at a 7-top if I could squeeze into the corner with them. They of course said yes and within 5 minutes they had left and an older woman and then a French couple joined me at the table. It took quite a while to flag someone down to order and get the wifi password, and by the time my food came I had to run downstairs to move my clothes to the dryer (40 minutes).

I had no trouble, thankfully with the dryer and the same nice man who initially tried to help me was folding his laundry so we started to chat. His name is Thubten Comerford (pronounced tube-ten)and was in town as a speaker for the Startup Iceland event going on at the big Harpa concert hall. He explained that he is a Twitter guru and the event is all about how to super-charge small startups and create a sustainable economy here in Iceland. It sounded so cool! It reminded me of the TEDx FrontRange event I work with back home and I, half jokingly, asked if he needed a personal photographer tomorrow. He said he’d check and see if that was something we could do. I laughed and said it would be awesome and we traded cards.

After Thubten and I finished chatting I went up and ate my now cold though delicious “clean brunch”. It had pancakes, Skyr with maple syrup nuts and coconut flakes, fresh fruits, a big salad with hummus and oil dressing, fried tomatoes and potatoes, eggs, and a shot of ginger mango juice. The “dirty brunch” has 3 types of meat instead of fresh hummus and a big beautiful salad.

I couldn’t get connected to the wifi, which has been pretty par for the course at busy cafes here so I cut my stay short and packed up as soon as I had finished eating and my timer for the dryer went off. When I got downstairs a new American couple was standing there with the same look on their faces I’d been sporting earlier and so I decided to pass on the kindness of showing them how to use the machines since Thubten had done it for me. They were lovely folks! We chatted about what we do for a living and I gave them my card.

After the Laundromat Cafe I called Sigrun to see where she and her 10 year old cousin, Baldur, whom she was watching for the day, were. There was a huge family event going on down by the harbor because it was SeaFarer’s Day and she said they were already there. I was only 5 blocks away and when I arrived I found them in line for riding on a mock-emergency rescue setup that went over the water to the other side of the dock. It looked like fun!


This is Baldur as they sent him across the water on the rescue contraption.


After Balder’s ride we went inside the Maritime Museum and there were many people having a lovely brunch in the event room and dancing a two-step on the neighboring dance floor. Sigrun and Baldur jumped right in and started dancing.

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We boarded the Icelandic Coast Guard ship next to the museum and took the tour, then looked at the displays of at least 20 different fish that are brought in at this harbor. That part was kind of disgusting because everyone (though mostly kiddos) were handling the freshly dead fish and the smell was so strong. There were Skates, Angler fish, Rockfish, and many other huge and small critters. I had no idea Angler fish were as large as they are, holy cow! Such incredible creatures.

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We walked around a bit more and Baldur played with some of the neat games that were set up for kiddos at the park.

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When they were ready to head back to the house for some pancakes I split off and went to the cafe that one of the folks I’d met in Akureyri had recommended to me, Mokka. Unfortunately, it was packed and some kiddos were loudly goofing around (I’m not a big fan of crowds or screaming and the Seafarer’s Day event had me exhausted already)… and there was no wifi. I forgot to ask about the wifi until after I ordered so I enjoyed my drink, which was lovely, and chatted with a nice man next to me. He thought I was Icelandic (the third person that day to do so!) and began chatting at me and I had to stop him and say “Sorry?”. He smiled and said I looked very Icelandic so he just assumed. I’ll take that as a compliment! He was sitting at a small table piled up with his lunch dishes, a few open notebooks and writing utensils and his glasses. He is short and a bit portly, has long wavy grey and white hair and a small beard, smiling eyes and a rolling briefcase covered in duct tape on the handle. He kind of looked like a wise sansei, and he proudly told me he comes from Iceland and many other countries when I asked him if he was a native. I told him that I was mostly Irish and German, with a minuscule amount of Comanche blood mixed in a few generations back (Dad told me that this year, I had never known!). He asked what Comanche was and I was embarrassed that I didn’t know anything about them and their history. After chatting a bit I told him I was sorry but very much needed to get some work done and he smiled and said, “So do I,” and we quietly worked next to one another for a while longer. When I was ready to post to the blog I boogied up the street to use the wifi and get another latte at my tried-and-true favorite, Cafe Babalu.

I wrote and edited for a couple hours and then Skyped with my dad, step mom, sister, brother-in-law and husband while they were all celebrating my dad’s birthday back home. I wanted to be there when Jason gave dad the present I got him. Thanks to some trading of photography skills earlier in the year I was able to have a very talented glass-blowing friend make me a set of handmade marbles for him. Dad makes these beautiful hardwood game boards that use marbles and dice – a sort of Sorry game. I wanted him to have a special set of marbles made just for him so that we can use them when we play as a family. It’s been so hard keeping this secret for nearly six months! I was so excited that I almost gave them to him the day they were delivered.

When I got home Stu was at work and Sigrun and Andy were relaxing. I went out to the car for the evening to relax and talk to Jason. We giggled and chatted for a while until a US phone number persistently kept interrupting us. I finally answered it and it was the gentleman from the Colorado Bee Keepers. A few weeks ago I had seen a Facebook post about how they were looking for backyards to host bee hives. I had been contemplating learning how to keep bees in the future and thought this would be a perfect baby-step for me. They take care of the hive every two weeks and we’ll get to have our very own pollinating specialists all summer and keep a quarter of the honey in the fall as payment. I’m hoping to pick their brains throughout the year and get a good feel for it so I can take care of my own hives down the road.

The man, Cameron, said he was ready to come by and install my bee hive! I told him I was still in Iceland but Jason was home and to head on over. I called Jason back to let him know what was happening and then I (not so) patiently waited for him to call me back and tell me how it went.

Jason called me back and said the 6 folks that came to install the hive were extremely nice and loved our yard. They were very happy with the place we chose for the bees and they set up the hive so quickly Jason could hardly believe it. He said they plopped down two support blocks, sat the hive box on top, slipped in the comb slats and queen, then dumped the bees. I wish so badly I could have been there to experience and document it, but Jason did send me a couple of photos:

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See the queen on the far right? Jason said she was moving pretty fast. It’s probably so stressful for them to be relocated like that!

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I know the marbles and my bees have nothing to do with Iceland, but I’m very excited about both of them. Today was one of those days I wished I could be in two places at once. 🙂

When I got off the phone with Jason I noticed I’d gotten an email from Thubten saying to meet him at the Harpa concert center tomorrow morning at 9. Holy moley! I was so excited that I’d get to photograph and attend the Startup Iceland event I could hardly sleep.