I was recently asked by my friend Ken to join him and his co-conspirators at Gather Media as they journeyed to Iceland to film a series of short documentary stories about entrepreneurship. After months of talking about working on some video projects together (and landing a ridiculous deal on flights through Iceland air), the stars aligned.
I packed up my camera gear and my rain suit and headed off to The Land of Fire and Ice. It was primarily a work trip… but the work involved touring around Iceland, meeting a bunch of amazing people and getting access to places that you wouldn’t normally get to see.
In one word, Iceland is amazing. We spent most of our time in Reykjavík, a small city of just 120,000 overwhelmingly good looking people. If you’re looking for fun in the sun, then Iceland isn’t the place for you. It’s gloomy and the temperature hovers at around 10-15 degrees celsius for most of the year, but what it lacks in sunshine it makes up for in quirkiness and insane landscape.
My favourite part of the trip was the 16 hours we spent touring Southern Iceland with our tour guide Sigurður (Siggy). One of the stories we filmed was on the startup company Guide To Iceland, and so they organized a private guided tour for us (again, it was amazing). Siggy was the perfect guide; he understood that we were there to get some crazy drone footage, so he took us to some of the lesser known, off-the-beaten-path locations. The landscape in Iceland is diverse. In the span of a few hours you can see terrain that feels like Mars and then an hour away be in Middle Earth.
The Seljalandsfoss Waterfall was probably the highlight of the trip for me. The main waterfall falls about 60 metres and is fed by one of the main glacier volcanoes. The best part of this area is the lesser known hidden cave waterfall about a kilometre down the road from the main falls. You wander into what seems like your standard cave, and then it opens up into a stunning waterfall right inside. Moh, Mazen and I stood in front of it, blown away, laughing to ourselves and repeating the words “Holy Sh*t” for about 40 minutes.
The Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon was the perfect drone flying location. We tried to recreate the Justin Bieber video as best we could. As with most of the locations we visited, the scale and beauty can’t really be described with words.
Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
The Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon is a popular tourist destination in Iceland. We lucked out and had a rare day of sunshine when we visited, so it was full of people. Tourists aside, it was great. We also managed to get lucky and were able to see some seals swimming in the lagoon.
Reynisfjara Beach & Cliffs
Reynisfjara is an unreal area with black sand beaches, a series of huge cliffs and a view that, again, can’t really be adequately described with words. You need to see it in person to really appreciate the scale. We spent some time here capturing some drone footage and recreating the scene from Game of Thrones where Melisandre gives birth to the Shadow Baby.
Entrepreneurship in Iceland
In 2008 the Icelandic economy suffered the same banking crash that the U.S did. The difference is that in Iceland, the government didn’t bail out the banks. The result was that the economy crumbled and a lot of people had to regroup and start over. This shift caused a few interesting side effects. 1. The tourism industry took a front seat, and a large portion of the people of Iceland make their living in tourism. 2. The financial crash left a number of highly educated people without jobs, who in turn took their knowledge and passion and created new startup companies. I leave you with just a few of them:
Plain Vanilla Games & Quiz Up
One of the first companies we got to visit was Plain Vanilla Games, the makers of the very popular game Quiz Up. We met with the CEO Thor Fridriksson and interviewed him about some of the challenges and benefits to running a successful technology company in Iceland. Thor has some great insights and spoke candidly with us about the struggles and successes that his company has had in the last 6 years.
Guide To Iceland
Guide to Iceland is a travel platform that connects tourists with travel services in Iceland. They were started in Iceland as a small company helping local tour guides and have since grown the company into the largest collaboration in the Icelandic travel industry. They also created the TravelShift software platform that powers much of the Guide To Iceland platform. We got to meet and interview the CEO Xiaochen Tian and visit their head offices in Reykjavík.
Ölgerðin Brewery is the oldest brewery in Iceland. We were lucky enough to get a private tour led by The Brewmaster himself. Valgeir Valgeirsson walked us through the brewery operations, showed us the laboratory where he helps create the different beers and then spoke with us about the fascinating history of alcohol in Iceland. For instance, Iceland had Prohibition until 1935 and beer remained illegal in Iceland until as recent as 1989. We ended the day by testing numerous beers and doing shots of Brenevin, affectionately known in Iceland as Black Death.
I highly recommend visiting Iceland. The landscape is unreal, the people are great and with great deals available through Iceland Air from most major cities it’s never been easier to visit.
Here is a short video with some highlights from the trip.