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‘Entrepreneurs need to have a clear vision – then prioritise and focus’

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OpenOcean’s Patrik Backman outlines opportunities that have been opened up by data and what he sees as the critical ingredients to start-up success.

Patrik Backman is CEO, co-founder and general partner at OpenOcean – an early-stage venture capital firm investing across Europe with offices in London, Helsinki and Amsterdam. Since launching its first fund a decade ago, it has backed start-ups including Booksy and Sunlight.

Backman comes from a background in the tech sector. Before starting OpenOcean, he co-founded open-source database company MariaDB, and spent a number of years managing product and business development at MySQL.

‘People used to say that software is eating the world – but, in my opinion, it’s only just beginning’
– PATRIK BACKMAN

What is your experience working with start-ups?

As general partner at OpenOcean, my main priority is to drive new investments into promising early-stage data-intensive software companies throughout Europe while helping those companies to scale and reach positive exits that drive return on investment.

At OpenOcean, our philosophy is to provide more than just funding. General partners actively support founders and start-up teams in scaling successfully, drawing upon their decades of experience as founders and operators themselves. This can involve a great number of things, from product development and business modelling all the way through to go-to-market strategy.

In essence, we use our experience as former founders – in my case at MariaDB/MySQL – to help new founders prioritise and answer the right questions at the right time during the early stages of building a business. Typically, we work with founders on many of these areas prior to first investment.

In your opinion, which areas of science and technology hold the greatest scope for opportunities?

People used to say that software is eating the world – but, in my opinion, it’s only just beginning. There are still a huge number of industries and business operations where software development has yet to take hold.

Digital disruption has paved the way for some major developments in STEM that will continue to provide a range of opportunities in the future.

For example, solutions in the new world of cloud data infrastructure enable businesses to meet user needs at a faster and cheaper rate than ever before. These trends are also redefining big markets of consumer-facing SMEs by providing modern apps that connect SMEs to millions of users in a way that was not possible without these digital advances.

The ability to gather and process data while developing new insights using AI and machine learning has also allowed for an enormous leap to take place in the healthcare industry. Finally, enterprise automation and the next generation of manufacturing automation have both been enabled by innovative data gathering and the use of smart learning and predictive algorithms.

Are good entrepreneurs born or can they be made?

What typically is ‘born’ in a good entrepreneur – or more likely developed during their early life – is their passion and hunger to create something significant, the willingness to take risks and seek impact, and a desire to build a successful solution supported by a growing team and company.

The latter part of this can be made and taught, eg building a company. But the right passion, drive and mentality needs to come from within.

What are the qualities of a good founder?

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As I’ve said above, the ambition must be there.

Dreaming big from day one quickly becomes the thought process behind every decision made – in selecting your co-founders, in early technology and product choices, in choosing your go-to-market model and pricing, in all recruitment of talent, in strategy and in the choices you make when seeking investors to support you.

What does a successful entrepreneur need to do every day?

Have a clear vision, and then prioritise and focus – and it’s important to do this while making sure that each move is the right one for the company and its long-term success. Without focus, it can be easy to get dragged into the details or try and solve too much at once.

How do you assemble a good team?

The key thing here is that founders need to lead by example and drive passion, ambition and culture. My advice is to focus a lot on the early hires. The first 10 people you hire will form the basis of your organisation for the road ahead through the culture they form, the work processes they adopt, the ambition they set for themselves and others and the recruiting that they go on to do in the future.

In summary, make sure that you get the culture, passion and ambition right, even if that involves making tough decisions when it comes to your team.

What is the critical ingredient to start-up success?
  • Founder ambition, passion and drive
  • Choosing the right market and the right problem to solve
  • Building the right team
  • Understanding the needs of your customers and continuously revalidating these assumptions to learn about shifts in the market
  • Identifying and tracking your competitors and learning from them – copy the things that make sense, don’t try to reinvent the wheel
  • Trying proactively and failing fast – being okay with failure but learn from your pitfalls
  • Choosing a go-to-market model that is scalable
  • When seeking VC funding, aim for sooner rather than later – be bold and ambitious in your pitch and aim high
What are the biggest mistakes that founders make?

Very often, founders don’t think big enough early on. This can lead to compromises or decisions that do not favour success. For example, when choosing the product to build, the market to tackle, the strategy to use, the people to recruit, the money to take in, the parties you give decision-making power to etc.

What are your views on mentorship and the qualities one should look for in a mentor?

Make sure that you pick the right investor for you as they will stick with you for a long time. Ensure that they can help you and are people you’d like to work with.

What’s the number-one piece of advice you have for entrepreneurs?

Don’t underestimate the value you can get from asking questions to others, listening to what they say and learning from what they do – but make your own decisions.

For example, naturally good founders have their own strong vision and drive. But while executing that vision, it is smart to actively talk to stakeholders about the opportunities and problems you face and listen and learn from those conversations.

Finally, it’s essential to detect the signal from the noise. Not all advice is advice that you should buy, so be sensible with who you listen to.

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Elon Musk denies he sexually harassed attendant on private jet in 2016 | Elon Musk

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Elon Musk has denied claims in a news report that he sexually harassed a flight attendant on a private jet in 2016, calling the accusations “utterly untrue”.

SpaceX, the rocket company founded by Musk, paid the female attendant $250,000 (£200,000) in a severance settlement after a sexual misconduct claim against the world’s richest person, according to the news website Business Insider.

The attendant was a cabin crew member who was contracted to work for SpaceX’s corporate jet fleet. She accused Musk of exposing his erect penis to her, rubbing her leg without consent and offered to buy her a horse if she performed an erotic massage, according to interviews and documents obtained by Business Insider.

Musk, who is worth $212bn and is also CEO of the electric carmaker Tesla, told his 94.1 million Twitter followers that the allegations were “utterly untrue”. The Guardian has not been able to verify the Business Insider account. SpaceX has been approached for comment.

Shares of the electric carmaker skidded more than 10% on Friday amid concerns that the alleged sexual misconduct and Musk’s previous political comments could threaten to damage Tesla’s brand and sales. The share drop knocked about $66bn off Tesla’s market value and put the stock at its lowest since last August.

And, for the record, those wild accusations are utterly untrue

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 20, 2022

The alleged incident took place in 2016 and the settlement was agreed in 2018. According to a declaration prepared in support of the claim, the attendant said that after taking the job she was encouraged to train as a masseuse so she could give Musk massages. It was during one of those massages, onboard Musk’s Gulfstream jet, that she was propositioned by the SpaceX chief executive.

The attendant, who Insider does not name, told her friend that she was asked to go to Musk’s cabin during a flight to London to give a “full body massage”. Upon entering the room, she found Musk was “completely naked except for a sheet covering the lower half of his body”. The declaration says that during the massage Musk “exposed his genitals” and “touched her and offered to buy her a horse if she would ‘do more’, referring to the performance of sex acts”. The attendant, a horse rider, declined and continued with the massage without any sexual activity.

In an interview with Business Insider about the allegations, the attendant’s friend said Musk’s penis was erect when he propositioned her.

According to the declaration, after the incident the attendant felt she was being marginalised in her job. She felt “she was being pushed out and punished for refusing to prostitute herself”, says the declaration.

The attacks against me should be viewed through a political lens – this is their standard (despicable) playbook – but nothing will deter me from fighting for a good future and your right to free speech

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 20, 2022

The attendant hired a lawyer in 2018 and sent the allegations to SpaceX’s HR department. The complaint was resolved after a session with a mediator attended by Musk, according to Insider. In November of that year, Musk, SpaceX and the attendant entered into a severance agreement that involved a $250,000 payment in exchange for a pledge not to sue over the claims.

Responding to Insider’s story, Musk told the news site that there was “a lot more to this story”. He wrote: “If I were inclined to engage in sexual harassment, this is unlikely to be the first time in my entire 30-year career that it comes to light,” adding that the story was a “politically motivated hit piece”.

Without referring directly to the article, Musk tweeted on Friday that attacks against him should be “viewed through a political lens” and that he would continue to fight for “your right to free speech”. Musk said on Wednesday that he would vote Republican instead of Democratic, predicting a “dirty tricks campaign against me” would follow.

Musk has agreed to buy Twitter, the social media company with 229 million users, for $44bn but has said the deal is “on hold” until he receives further details of the number of fake and spam accounts on the platform.

Reuters contributed to this report



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China-linked Twisted Panda caught spying on Russian R&D orgs • The Register

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Chinese cyberspies targeted two Russian defense institutes and possibly another research facility in Belarus, according to Check Point Research.

The new campaign, dubbed Twisted Panda, is part of a larger, state-sponsored espionage operation that has been ongoing for several months, if not nearly a year, according to the security shop.

In a technical analysis, the researchers detail the various malicious stages and payloads of the campaign that used sanctions-related phishing emails to attack Russian entities, which are part of the state-owned defense conglomerate Rostec Corporation.

Check Point Research also noted that around the same time that they observed the Twisted Panda attacks, another Chinese advanced persistent threat (APT) group Mustang Panda was observed exploiting the invasion of Ukraine to target Russian organizations.

In fact, Twisted Panda may have connections to Mustang Panda or another Beijing-backed spy ring called Stone Panda, aka APT10, according to the security researchers.

In addition to the timing of the attacks, other tools and techniques used in the new campaign overlap with China-based APT groups, they wrote. Because of this, the researchers attributed the new cyberspying operation “with high confidence to a Chinese threat actor.”

During the the course of the research, the security shop also uncovered a similar loader that contained that looked like an easier variant of the same backdoor. And based on this, the researchers say they expect Twisted Panda has been active since June 2021.

Phishing for defense R&D

The new campaign started on March 23 with phishing emails sent to defense research institutes in Russia. All of them had the same subject: “List of [target institute name] persons under US sanctions for invading Ukraine”, a malicious document attached, and contained a link to an attacker-controlled site designed to look like the Health Ministry of Russia.

An email went out to an organization in Minsk, Belarus, on the same day with the subject: “US Spread of Deadly Pathogens in Belarus”. 

Additionally, all of the attached documents looked like official Russian Ministry of Health documents with the official emblem and title.

Downloading the malicious document drops a sophisticated loader that not only hides its functionality, but also avoids detection of suspicious API calls by dynamically resolving them with name hashing. 

By using DLL sideloading, which Check Point noted is “a favorite evasion technique used by multiple Chinese actors,” the malware evades anit-virus tools. The researchers cited PlugX malware, used by Mustang Panda, and a more recent APT10 global espionage campaign that used the VLC player for side-loading.

In this case of the Twisted Panda campaign, “the actual running process is valid and signed by Microsoft,” according to the analysis.

According to the security researchers, the loader contains two shellcodes. The first one runs the persistence and cleanup script. And the second is a multi-layer loader. “The goal is to consecutively decrypt the other three fileless loader layers and eventually load the main payload in memory,” Check Point Research explained.

New Spinner backdoor detected

The main payload is a previously undocumented Spinner backdoor, which uses two types of obfuscations. And while the backdoor is new, the researchers noted that the obfuscation methods have been used together in earlier samples attributed to Stone Panda and Mustang Panda. These are control-flow flattening, which makes the code flow non-linear, and opaque predicates, which ultimately causes the binary to perform needless calculations. 

“Both methods make it difficult to analyze the payload, but together, they make the analysis painful, time-consuming, and tedious,” the security shop said.

The Spinner backdoor’s main purpose is to run additional payloads sent from a command-and-control server, although the researchers say they didn’t intercept any of these other payloads. However, “we believe that selected victims likely received the full backdoor with additional capabilities,” they noted.

Tied to China’s five-year plan?

The victims — research institutes that focus on developing electronic warfare systems, military-specialized onboard radio-electronic equipment, avionics systems for civil aviation, and medical equipment and control systems for energy, transportation, and engineering industries — also tie the Twisted Panda campaign to China’s five-year plan, which aims to expand the country’s scientific and technical capabilities. 

And, as the FBI has warned [PDF], the Chinese government isn’t above using cyberespionage and IP theft to accomplish these goals.

As Check Point Research concluded: “Together with the previous reports of Chinese APT groups conducting their espionage operations against the Russian defense and governmental sector, the Twisted Panda campaign described in this research might serve as more evidence of the use of espionage in a systematic and long-term effort to achieve Chinese strategic objectives in technological superiority and military power.” ®

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How to scale your B2B marketing across Europe

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Katie Mannion of unicorn start-up Pleo explains some dos and don’ts for businesses looking to boost their brand.

Alongside a strong vision, and an even stronger team to implement it, successful B2B marketing is integral to company growth.

But how do businesses achieve it, especially across numerous regions?

Prime positioning

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Building a strong B2B marketing operation is like building a house. If the foundations aren’t strong enough, the walls will crack and the message you work so hard to convey will be ignored or misinterpreted.

With strong positioning, you can avoid cracks in your marketing. Focusing on your brand positioning and the pillars built around this can make a huge difference and give your strategy the direction it needs.

So what makes a strong positioning? The best I’ve seen are clear, ownable and memorable.

Try to avoid overcomplicating your message. If potential customers can’t understand what you’re trying to say, they’ll look elsewhere.

Understanding how your messaging will be received in different countries or regions is really important, too. For various reasons and cultural differences, your message will land differently in the UK versus Ireland, or Germany versus France.

The positioning you take needs to be aligned to the market that your brand is going to own. It’s what makes you unique and why you should be chosen above the competition.

Test your messaging and campaigns with different audiences and prospects to know if you’re going in the right direction, and never be afraid to tear up what you perceive to be a great idea if the feedback and data says so.

Bold moves

For many start-ups or SMEs, it’s hard to compete with businesses with large budgets and access to dedicated marketing agencies. In order to cut through the noise, you need to focus on marketing activities that will get you noticed.

Building a meaningful brand takes time and money and many young companies don’t have either of these resources in abundance. The solution? Build a brand that stands out in its messaging and creates a platform for unique and eye-catching ideas.

Sometimes going big and bold is your only opportunity to ‘earn’ attention (as opposed to paying substantial amounts for it). My favourite example of this includes the ‘We’re OK Hun’ campaign from Hun Wines during the 2020 lockdown in London. They had an opportunity to buy cheap ad space in prime areas such as Oxford Circus to create a stir with this clever viral campaign.

Do more than build it

Lots of brands seem to think: ‘build and they will come’. In B2B marketing nothing could be further from this.

What happens when you’ve launched your product, the doors are open for business and the customers don’t come?

What are you going to do to build around the launch? Have you briefed your sales team? Devised a PR plan? Forged partnerships? Worked on creative content and events to support?

To move the needle, marketers need to be making moves across multiple channels and pull a number of levers synchronously and strategically. Focus on the activities you can build around business announcements or product launches to really elevate the comms around your brand.

Invest in your tools

The less manual work you have to do the better. A huge consideration as a marketer is your martech stack.

It is important that you build a marketing tech stack that can be with you for the long haul. Be sure to pick tools that don’t just help you scale, but still serve their purpose when you have scaled.

Replacing a critical tool you’ve outgrown can slow your company’s growth momentum. New systems can take months or even years to integrate fully, and the bigger you are, the more expensive they are to introduce.

Align your teams

Marketing and sales departments often set their strategies and goals separately from each other. But when they aren’t aligned, both teams suffer.

Ultimately, it’s crucial that your head of marketing and head of sales are on the same page and reaching for the same goals together. Sales and marketing alignment starts with sharing the same objectives and KPIs. This means setting common goals for both departments to work towards together.

Carefully planned campaigns will bring salespeople’s intimate knowledge of your customers into the company’s core. These insights will also help build better products for the future.

The bottom line is that nurturing your relationship with sales across the business is key for marketing efficiency and revenue growth of the business.

Broaden your perspective

Diversity of people inspires a diversity of thought. Diversity of thought fosters a creative environment that allows ideas to flourish.

I don’t always hire on B2B experience but, rather, a passion for storytelling, creativity and bringing a brand to life through various activities.

When you work in marketing there is a real opportunity to lead meaningful change in how your brand is perceived by the world. To do this effectively, you need a team of different perspectives which is unified in its ambition to do things differently.

Take it step by step

Marketing can be overwhelming. Focus on small incremental changes that make a huge difference over time.

Automate the tasks you find yourself short on time to complete.

Clearly define your niche and category and stick to it.

Involve your customers, always.

Keep a positive and open relationship between sales and marketing to scale your B2B marketing the best way possible.

By Katie Mannion

Katie Mannion is the senior marketing manager at Pleo, a workplace spend management platform. An experienced B2B marketer, she helps drive strategy, teams and creativity for the fintech unicorn.

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