The top US and European (former) start-ups

Since I published my book in 2007, I have regularly been doing the exercise of comparing the largest US (former) start-ups and their European counterparts. In 2010, I had the following tables:

top-10-usa-2010

top-10-europe-2010

What I call former start-ups are public high-tech companies which did not exist 50 years ago. Of course Europe is struggling; this has been (and still is) my concern and the reason of my book. Now here is my latest exercise.

top-10-usa-2016

top-10-europe-2016

I will let you make your own opinion about how things have evolved. I see quite striking elements. The main one comes from a presentation I saw a few days ago about the evolution of the American biggest market capitalizations. Here it is… quite impressive…

largest-companies-by-market-cap-chart
Source: Visual Capitalist

Crispr Therapeutics Ag, the Swiss start-up also files for Nasdaq

Last April, I published a short post about the hot Crispr Start-ups. At the time only Editas and Intellia had filed to go public. I could build Crispr Therapeutics cap. table thanks to Swiss registers data. Now Crispr Therapeutics Ag has also filed on Nasdaq (see its S-1). I was not so far from the truth as you may check the new and old cap. tables. Interesting data points…

– Crispr Therapeutics from Nasdaq filing
crispr_therapeutics_cap_table_sep16

– Crispr Therapeutics from Swiss register data
Crisper-Crispr

Discovering bitcoin and Blockchain

I do not remember when I heard of bitcoin for the first time. Blockchain (see the wikipedia page on the subject), the technology that has allowed the bitcoin “currency”, is something I did not know in 2015. I just remember discussions a few months ago with a colleague from INRIA who had explained the main lines of this innovation. As I wanted to know more I bought recently three books about this, including two that I just finished.

Bitcoin et Blockchain. Vers un nouveau paradigme de la confiance numérique ? (Bitcoin and Blockchain. Towards a new paradigm in digital trust?)
rba-image-1126756.jpeg

This short book (in French) of 126 pages is an excellent introduction to the subject (a little expensive though). I especially noticed the functions of money, namely: a medium of exchange, a store of value and a measure of value. And everyone knows that “a currency is characterized by the confidence of its users in its enduring value and its ability to serve as means of exchange” (wikipedia). But beyond the bitcoin, the Blockchain is a pretty exciting technology that has the potential to revolutionize the way we achieve a large number of transactions. The main idea is that a trusted third party can be replaced by the Blockchain for all types of contracts such as deeds, land registry, copyright management or simple rentals with Airbnb.Now, when I look at the volatility of bitcoin, I am not sure it is a currency yet…

Digital Gold – The Untold Story of Bitcoin
digital_gold
The book by Nathaniel Popper is a real thriller. It is your choice about how to approach this new thing! I would advise the curious reader a dual approach. A serious book to understand the issues and a more entertaining book for the history. Certainly I’m sure Wikipedia provides everything you need but Popper has a real writing talent. A real page-turner.

Here are some photographs of characters behind this story (because I have the impression that the story is just beginning).

Bitcoin_pioneers_v1
A few pioneers, from left to right: Hal Finney, Gavin Andresen, Martti Malmi, no picture of the mysterious Satoshi Nakamoto, some have suspected that it was Craig Wright and others Nick Szabo.
Bitcoin_entrepreneurs
A few entrepreneurs: Jed McCaleb, Mark Karpelès, Erik Voorhees, Charlie Shrem,
Ross Ulbricht, Wences Casares.

Bitcoin_investors
A few investors: Roger Ver, Tyler & Cameron Winklevoss, David Marcus, Reid Hoffman, Marc Andreessen.

At the trivia question of who invented Bitcoin, the author quotes Erik Voorhees: Erik’s pet theory was that Satoshi was actually a small circle of programmers at some major tech firm, who had been assigned by their company to come up with a new form of online money. When the project had come back and was deemed too dangerous by the higher-ups the creators decided to put it out anonymously – they “felt really strongly that this was something important they discovered and went rogue with it,” Erik explained, even while noting, with a laugh, that he had no actual evidence to back up his hypothesis.

What is more amazing with the short history of bitcoin is the rather incongruous combination of personalities gathered here. Some will end their lives in prison, others were stars of Silicon Valley long before the emergence of this technology. I think no one today can say whether bitcoin will end up in the dustbin of history or whether it will have the same impact as the Internet. And I’ll bet neither to one nor the other …

The 3rd book I bought is The Age of Crytocurrency. But this might be for another post.
The_age_of_crytocurrency.

Has the world gone crazy? Maybe…

I wanted to write this article the day after July 14 and the tragic events in Nice. But it took me a little longer. Start-ups, Innovation are above all a passion for me, a topic that fascinates me. I see many reasons for optimism and hope for humankind and for the planet as a whole. But for any positive pole, there is a negative one. And any optimistic analysis of a complex topic always induces its pessimistic viewpoints. The point is not to provide a “simplistic” opposition to innovation and entrepreneurial creativity, but to mention here some works which demonstrate, by their depth, the complexity of the subject.

The simplest, and probably the least interesting of the three controversial analyses I will present here comes from the United States. Two MIT researchers, Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, explain the risk of automation that are created by science and information and communication technologies (ICT). In Race Against The Machine followed by The Second Machine Age, they show that many jobs will necessarily disappear with the development of ICT. All technological advances have created such risks (printing, the steam engine, electricity) but it seems that ICT is of much higher dimension, with the “fantasy” of transhumanism, which suggests that humans could be totally replaced by the machine.

Brynjolfsson-McAfee

The book is an excellent introduction to the challenges the world will meet and let me quote. The chapter Beyond GDP begins with a quote of Robert Kennedy: “The Gross National Product does not include the beauty of our poetry or the intelligence of our public debate. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion. It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.” I know that these books were best-sellers in the US, probably because they ask interesting questions. But I must say that I found the analysis a little light with nor facts and figures compared to the two books that I will write about now.

Piketty-Stiegler

Capital in the 21st Century by Thomas Piketty is one of the most impressive books I have ever read. I will not give my summary here, and I encourage you to read the wikipedia page or slides from its website, if you do not have the courage to read some 900 pages! But again this is an absolutely remarkable book which the following 4 figures will further encourage you in trying…

Piketty-tables-en

Piketty shows that capitalism has reached its limits probably due to unregulated globalization but more importantly because the growth of the planet will probably not be anymore what it was during the post-war boom. Piketty is quite close to the theses of Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, but he seems to me much more convincing about the causes, effects and remedies. Bernard Stiegler wrote a strange book, In the disruption – How not to go crazy? (In French only so far, but many of his books have been translated) This is a very difficult book to read, closer to philosophy and psychology, but behind the difficulty, what a fascinating analysis, rich and also taking into account the complexity of the world. If you fear the demanding reading, you can listen Stiegler (in French only )in a series of 15 one-hour epiosed produced by Radio Suisse Romande in June 2016: see the web site of Histoire Vivante that is devoted to the work of Ars Industrialis. The main thesis of Stiegler is that capitalism has gone crazy and that the absence of regulation can lead you to madness. The “disruption” can be good when it is followed by a stabilization phase. And as serious as the economic analysis of Piketty, Stiegler undoubtedly explains why people become crazy to the point of causing events like in Nice.

HistoireVivante-ArsIndustrialis

Challenges and Opportunities of Industry 4.0

I must say that last week I did not understand very well the “Industry 4.0” concept. And after a brief stay in Munich this week – where I had an explanation by E&Y – see below – but especially after reading the text of a speech entitled “Smart Industry 4.0 in Switzerland” (see pdf) given by Matthias Kaiserswerth, the “Business and Innovation Forum Slovakia – Switzerland” in Bratislava on June 20, I fully understood the importance of the subject. I also found out this morning two excellent reports: “Industry 4.0 – The role of Switzerland Within a European manufacturing revolution” (see pdf) by the firm Roland Berger and the “Digital Vortex – How Digital Disruption Is Redefining Industries’ (see pdf) published by Cisco and IMD. I got permission from Matthias Kaiserswerth to publish his speech here (I thank him for this) and this speech is an excellent introduction to the subject with many interesting ideas to solve the challenges ahead…

Smart Industry 4.0 in Switzerland

Matthias Kaiserswerth, Business and Innovation Forum Slovakia – Switzerland, 20.06.2016, Bratislava

In this brief input speech, I want to talk about some of the challenges and opportunities that the on-going digitalization has for the Swiss economy, our labor force and the education system.

Current State and Challenges

Unfortunately, Switzerland is not yet a leader in digitalization. When we compare ourselves with other OECD countries, we play at best in the middle field. From a policy point of view, we are behind the European Union. This month, June 7, our Ständerat, the smaller parliamentary chamber representing the cantons, has asked our government to analyze what economic effect the emerging EU single digital market will have on our country. Our current president, the minister for economy, education, and research in his response admitted that until the beginning of this year Switzerland had underestimated the 4th industrial revolution and now is trying to catch up with various measures[1].

ICTSwitzerland, the association of the Swiss ICT industry, earlier this year launched a scorecard [2] digital.swiss in which they rate Switzerland’s state of digitalization in 15 dimensions. While we have excellent basic infrastructure and rank highly on a generic international competitive index, we don’t yet sufficiently leverage digital technologies in the various sectors of our economy.

Scorecard
SI4.0-SwissScorecard

The scorecard reflects a classic Swiss paradox. Because of our very direct democratic system, built on subsidiarity, we provide good infrastructure and general economic framework. When it comes to leveraging these foundations, we leave it to private initiative as we don’t pursue an active industrial policy – certainly not at the federal level. So far our companies – mostly SMBs, 99.96% of our companies have less than 250 employees – have excelled at incremental innovation. Incremental innovation can be good for a long time, but it impedes dealing with major technology shifts that can disrupt an entire industry.

This happened in the 70s and early 80s when the “Quartz Revolution” almost extinguished Swiss watchmaking. Now again history may repeat itself as the watch industry missed or were too slow to embrace the trend towards smartwatches. Apple within the course of only one year managed to surpass with their watch-related revenues all Swiss watch companies even Rolex [3].

With the digital revolution, driven out of Silicon Valley, we compete with an entirely different innovation model, namely disruptive innovation.

Just look at examples from the sharing economy such as Airbnb and Uber.

But it doesn’t stop there. Consider computer companies now building the future self-driving electric car – Google being a prime example. While European OEMs had experimented for a long time with self-driving cars putting all the intelligence into the car, Google took an entirely different approach. Because of their maps, their work with Streetview, they already have very precise information about where the car is going and thus can leverage the power of connectivity and the cloud as well.

While we would strive to build the perfect battery for an electric car, Tesla took what we would consider inferior laptop batteries and leveraged IT to make them useful in their cars.

Opportunities

With the long Swiss tradition of bringing foreign talents into the country and allowing them to succeed, we have an outstanding opportunity not to miss out on the current industrial revolution. Many of our successful international companies got started by foreigners – just think of Nestle, ABB, or Swatch.

Businesses have now realized that meeting the pressures of the strong Swiss Franc with only cutting costs is insufficient. They are looking for different forms of innovation leveraging IT. About a year ago, various Swiss industry associations launched an initiative “Industry 2025” to change the mindset in our machine industry and alert them to the new opportunities [4].

Some companies though have seen these chances already long before our national bank stopped pegging the Swiss Franc to the Euro.

For example in 2012, Belimo a company producing actuator solutions to control heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems launched their “Energy Valve”. It consists of a 2-way characterized control valve, volumetric flow meter, temperature sensors and an actuator with integrated logic, that combines the five functions of measuring, controlling, balancing, shutting and monitoring energy into a single unit with its own web server as IT interface. The intelligent valve can be used to optimize water flow in heating and cooling systems and yields significant energy savings for its customers [5].

Other companies in the Swiss machine industry have started to think about how they can leverage Internet of Things (IoT) to create new businesses based on the data that their machines generate. A good example is LCA Automation, a company in the business of building factory automation solutions. They want to offer predictive maintenance based on dynamic condition monitoring of their installed factories. Leveraging existing information like current and position from frequency converters in their drives help understand how the machines are used. In select cases they install additional sensors to measure vibration, acoustic noise to allow their clients to schedule maintenance instead of running their installations to failure [6].

In my opinion, the challenges in addressing more of these opportunities are (1) cultural, (2) an IT skills gap, (3) finding and realizing new business models that best exploit the digital opportunity and finally (4) creating an environment where collaboration with external partners can let you innovate with speed.

Contrary to software, industrial products cannot be easily updated in the field, they are engineered to last 10 to 20 years. The mindset of the computer scientist: “we can fix it remotely with an update,” requires the mechanical and electrical engineers to rethink how they construct their systems. When Tesla had issues in 2013 with one of their cars catching fire because its suspension at high speeds lowered the car too close to the road, they did not issue a massive recall but instead remotely overnight changed the software in the cars to guarantee a higher distance between car and road.

Getting these diverse cultures to collaborate requires respect among the different professional disciplines and would call for the occasional computer scientist to serve on the board of industrial companies to challenge their established way of thinking.

The skills gap, finding enough software engineers interested to work in industrial companies is significant. Current predictions are that by 2022 Switzerland will lack 30’000 IT experts. Considering that industrial companies compete with the better paying finance industry for the same talents, means that industrial companies need to become very creative to address this shortage.

Implementing new business models that exploit the digital opportunities is a significant challenge for established industrial companies. If a company whose core business is selling industrial machines, wants to start offering value added subscription based services to optimize the industrial process realized by their products, they get into an entirely new business. They will need to decide whether these services are only available for a process realized by only their machines or whether they want to offer it also on competitors’ installations. They need to devise a new sales incentive scheme based on a recurring revenue stream. They need to build a support infrastructure that matches the optimized process and no longer consists of experts that only know about their own machine. In short, they need to build an entirely new business. Doing so inside an established large company is extremely hard maybe even more so than doing it in an external startup.

Finally, creating a collaborative environment with external partners to innovate with speed is not something unique to the age of digitalization, however it will be key for industrial companies to capture the opportunity. In spite of the good examples from large industrial companies like Procter and Gamble around Open Innovation, a concept coined 13 years ago, many firms still have a strong sentiment of doing everything themselves or with their established supply chain partners. In the case of digitalization, however, new partners from outside the traditional industry need to be involved and made part of the solution. “Rather than using their own R&D budget, enterprises can leverage venture capitalist investments and integrate a technology solution in an accelerated timeframe” [7].

Education

Before I close, let me get back to education, a topic of particular importance in this new era. Switzerland has an excellent education system. However, we have a significant shortage of students that pursue a career in the Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics field (in short STEM) in addition to a skills gap in STEM for all the other students.

In 2014, the German speaking cantons launched a new common competence oriented curriculum “Lehrplan 21” (LP21) to address the skills gap by putting more focus on STEM subjects. For example, by introducing a new subject called Media and Informatics, the cantonal education ministers have accepted the notion that all students need basic skills in computer science to succeed in the professional or academic education system. As we speak, this LP21 is being implemented in the German speaking part of Switzerland, albeit not fast enough for my taste.

To succeed with LP21 we also need to qualify the teachers to competently teach these subjects in a way that keeps all students motivated. Specifically female students have a significantly lower self-perception in how they master technology and what they can use technology for [8]. The consequence is that we lose the female talent also in our workforce. So for example, in IT there are only 13% women in the Swiss workforce.

Promoting women in technology as role models and broadening specific programs to get girls interested in technology at a primary school age will hopefully help to bridge the gender gap in the long run.

Summary

When we look at the system of the Federal Polytechnic Schools (ETH Zurich and EPF Lausanne), the universities and specifically also the universities of applied science, government funding for research then we have an outstanding foundation upon which we can build to effectively compete in this 4th Industrial Revolution. It now requires a new mind set for our industrial companies to embrace the emerging IoT, Big Data, and artificial intelligence trends and the courage to experiment with the new business models that they enable.

You don’t get disrupted because you don’t see the technological shift and opportunity, you get disrupted because you chose to ignore it.


1: http://www.inside-it.ch/articles/44100
2: http://digital.ictswitzerland.ch/en/
3: http://www.wsj.com/articles/apple-watch-with-sizable-sales-cant-shake-its-critics-1461524901
4: http://www.industrie2025.ch/industrie-2025/charta.html
5: http://energyvalve.com
6: http://www.industrie2025.ch/fileadmin/user_upload/casestudies/industrie2025_fallbeispiel_lca_automation_2.pdf
7: https://www.accenture.com/ch-en/insight-enterprise-disruption-open-innovation
8: http://www.satw.ch/mint-nachwuchsbarometer/MINT-Nachwuchsbarometer_Schweiz_DE.pdf

Postscript: I mentioned above the presentation by E&Y, here is the slide that struck me…

HBO’s Silicon Valley is back – Season 3

What a pleasure to meet again the heroes of HBO’s Silicon Valley. Yet the first two episodes are quite caricatural. First all the hot technologies from the region are mentioned: robotics, virtual reality and artificial intelligence.

SV3-E1-tech

Failure is an important component, and does not have exactly the same consequences for everyone.

SV3-E1-bus

Of course, the episodes describe the extreme social situations: the problems of the wealthy (money) and the problems of the poor (money). Finally we also see the equally caricatureal opposition between engineers and sales people.

SV3-E1-challenges

But all in all, the pleasure is there, and that’s what matters!… Even if the last sentence of Episode 2 is “Every day things are getting worse…”

When was the word “start-up” first used?

It’s a question I was asked yesterday (May 21) and thought it would have between the 60’s and 80s, but had honestly no clue. So I did a little search, first through old books I had read and found this on Google books:

svfever-cover
Silicon Valley Fever: Growth of High-Technology Culture, by Everett M. Rogers, Judith K. Larsen Basic Books, 1984.

svfever-startup

but apparently I was quite far. It seems to be 1976 as I found the question answered on Quora: What is the origin of the term “startup”, and when did this word start to appear?

origin-startup

As cited in the OED (1989 edn) start-up, in the business sense, is first recorded in 1976:
1976 Forbes 15 Aug. 6/2 The?unfashionable business of investing in startups in the electronic data processing field.
Start-up company arrived a year later:
1977 Business Week (Industr. edn) 5 Sept. : An incubator for startup companies, especially in the fast-growth, high-technology fields.[…]
The term “start-up” meaning upstart dates back to 1550. Now, in the sense of “budding company”, it was first used by Forbes magazine in 1976:“The OED traces the origins of the term, used in its modern sense, back to a 1976 Forbes article, which uses the word as follows: “The … unfashionable business of investing in startups in the electronic data processing field.” A 1977 Business Week article includes the line, “An incubator for startup companies, especially in the fast-growth, high-technology fields.”

A remarkable analysis of European weaknesses: the acquisition of Withings according to François Nemo

Sometimes I make a copy/paste of articles that I have particularly appreciated, with the objective of then translating them to English from the French part of this blog. (Sorry for the bad English, this is pretty quick and dirty). Here I will add my own comments in brackets and italics. You can find the original article and the comments on Frenchweb.fr.

Withings or the story of a French naivety
François Nemo expert in disruptive strategies.

The spectacular acquisition of Withings by Nokia does not illustrate as it is always argued the weakness of our financing system but the lack of vision and commitment of our entrepreneurial scene. It shows our failure in creating an ecosystem with the right scale to position ourselves in the digital war against China and the United States. It is time to mobilize our energies to “beat the GAFA” and defend our sovereignty.

[For years, I have been saying that we do not have so much a funding problem, but a problem of culture, a complete misunderstanding of the importance of start-ups and their growth.]

After Captain Train bought by the British for €200M, it is now an emblem of the French technology, Withings – which made the buzz at CES in Las Vegas by playing the “made in France” card, – to be bought by Nokia to €170M. And I am ready to bet that Blalacar would not withstand a proposal from Facebook if it decided to introduce carpooling in its range of services to connect the planet. The adventure of the so-called French jewels has unfortunately only one outcome: a big check!

[I will let you browse my documents on Slideshare and especially the one that compares Europe and Silicon Valley and its slide 37]

Intelligence First

As technology develops, the more it disappears behind the ideas. The “purpose” or the “raison d’être”. The big digital players have understood this by turning to “intelligence first.” The product is a feature that is integrated in a platform whose role is to solve the world’s problems, health, travel, leisure … manage a community, organize a circular, iterative, open and inclusive ecosystem that connects direct users and producers to shorten and optimize the interaction. This is the announced death of sites and applications. The role of the entrepreneur is then to defend a “vision” and then to design the system to match it. He is a conductor more than a resource creator who will defend the key assets of the company; ideas and data. In this new context, mono-products like Withings companies have no chance to grow if not to integrate an ecosystem. One can also wonder about the real benefits for Whitings of being acquired by Nokia? Dropbox or Evernote had bitter experiences in yielding to the striking power of large platforms. And what about the relevance of that phrase of Steve Job: “You are a feature, not a product” by refusing to buy Dropbox ten years ago?

The new war of ecosystems

This is on the field of ecosystems that now compete the two giants of the digital world, the United States with GAFA, underpinned by an ideology, and China with more pragmatic companies like Alibaba, WeChat who developed new ecosystems in booming sectors by creating new business models and which after reaching an impressive number of users on their domestic market are beginning to position themselves internationally by triggering a fierce fight with the Americans. It is in this context that the GAFA (mostly) do their “market” in the four corners of the planet to feed and enrich their ecosystem. And France with the quality of its research and its dynamic start-ups is a particularly attractive hunting ground.

Why Europe is not able to create worldwide ecosystems?

The acquisition Withings is not as it is claimed a financing problem, an inadequate investment European ecosystem that would prevent a rapid scale-up of our jewels. The scope of Withings whatever the funds injected made impossible anyway a development outside of any platform. The question is why Europe is not able to create worldwide ecosystems in which promisng start-ups like Withings find their place?

[The failure of the European Union is not political only. There is also economic failure. So much fragmentation and so much national selfishness …].

We do not think digital at the right scale!

Our speech about the “Made in France”, staged around our digital champions and their presence at CES supported by the Minister of Economy himself is something naive and pathetic. All the institutional and private infrastructure, accelerators, think tanks, French tech, CNNum, Ecole 42, The Family, accelerator or NUMA, to name only the most prominent are not programmed to develop platforms with visions but products and features or laws and reports. This is our economic and entrepreneurial culture that is in question. A world still very marked by the culture of the engineer and the specialist. A world that is unfamiliar with and remains wary of notions of vision and commitment and more generally to the world of ideas. Rather conservative entrepreneurs who do not perceive the deeply subversive nature of the digital revolution and the need to change the “scale of thinking.”

Large groups who all have a start-up potential

We could also rely on large established groups who all have a start-up potential just like the American Goldman Sachs saying: “We are no longer a bank, but a technology company, we are the Google of finance” by having three thousand five hundred people working on the subject and by announcing a series of measures such as giving access to market and risk management data as open source. One can easily imagine corporations like La Poste and Groupama which business will be radically challenged in the next five years preparing for the future by organizing an ecosystem around wellness and healthcare (for example) that would integrate their know-how with Withings. But listening to the representatives of the major groups, Pierre Gattaz or Carlos Ghosn, for example, one quickly perceives their shortsightedness and lack of interest (they have nothing to gain) for disruptive strategies.

[Which role models or mentors could have our young generations in Europe, not only in France, at the end of their studies? How could they build GAFAs when the model is today the CAC40 and a very engineering culture, indeed].

Are we ready to live in an ” Fisher Price Internet”

Are we doomed to become satellites, and lose our economic sovereignty and security by staying under the influence of GAFA. Or as proposed François Candelon, Senior Manager at the Boston Consulting Group in a very good article “look at what China can teach and bring” and “create a Digital Silk Road”. Are we doomed to choose between Scylla and Charybdis? No! Because even if the web giants with their vision paved the way to new relationships by building the most disruptive companies in history, they leave us facing a huge gap. The “technical transformation of the individual.” Are we ready to live in an ” Fisher Price Internet” as Viuz claimed “in closed houses” run by machines “with chubby groves, manicured lawns and paved roads” where exclusivity, premium and scarcity matter leaving out of the door a part of the population. A kind of ultra-secure retirement homes for the wealthy?

Breaking the GAFA

We must unhesitatingly rush into a third track: “Breaking the GAFA”. If the formula is somewhat provocative, it encourages mobilization. The gap will be difficult to catch up, but it is time for Europe to build on its historical and fundamental values to build new ecosystems and enter fully into the economic war between the two major blocs. Propose alternatives to GAFA. “Use algorithms and artificial intelligence to create an augmented intelligence and solve the complex problems that the ecological and social emergency create” as said Yann Moulier Boutang. Integrate new technologies to rebalance the power relationships, find the keys to a true economy of sharing and knowledge to tackle the question of the future of work, compensation, health, freedom, education …

To scale

A rupture that requires a change of scale by challenging our economic culture and our understanding of the world. A rupture which, even if it still faces a “diabolical” inertia, has become a necessity for many of us.

If you are part of this new “generation” of “intelligence first”, if you have ideas and solutions to change our scale of reflection, I invite you to join us on Twitter or email @ifbranding f.nemo@ifbranding.fr together, we have solutions to propose and build projects.

The author
François Nemo expert in disruptive strategies.
Website: ifbranding.fr
Twitter: @ifbranding
Medium: @ifbranding

Myths and Realities of Serial Entrepreneurs

This is my latest contribution to Entreprise Romande. This is a topic I have covered from time to time and though that it would be interesting to share it with a wider audience thanks to the FER newsletter.

ER-Mai2016-SerialEntrepreneur

I have always been suspicious of the concept of serial entrepreneur, this creator who, according to Wikipedia, “continuously comes up with new ideas and starts new businesses, as opposed to a typical entrepreneur, who will often come up with an idea, start the company, and then see it through and play an important role in the day to day functioning of the new company.” Why such a bias if one considers exceptional serial entrepreneur like Steve Jobs (Apple, Next, Pixar), Elon Musk (PayPal, Tesla, SpaceX) or English “rock star” Richard Branson who declined Virgin in music, retail, air transportation and mobile communications? Because from experience, the idea of going from one idea to another seems far from sufficient if the entrepreneur does not invest an enormous and sustained activity to market and commercialize her project? Not really, since the three examples show that it can be not superficial hyper-activity, but the success of products or services consecutive to a total commitment of their creators.

My suspicion was built over time, because with the exception of some mythical characters always cited as examples for good reasons, I had the belief of recurring “patterns” and the example of Steve Jobs is a good illustration: he has never done as well as with Apple, his first creation. A few years ago, I dedicated some time to a statistical study about the “performance” of these serial entrepreneurs in comparison with their more conventional counterparts. [1] The study of some 450 serial entrepreneurs out of a group of more than 2700 founders gave some interesting results: if on average, serial entrepreneurs do better than others with their first business (the value created is larger, and with less investment), the trend is reversed with the following ventures, and beginning with the third, they do less well, while raising more money from their investors. QED! This study was perhaps the result of a particular situation in Silicon Valley and Stanford? A 2011 study of some 600 British entrepreneurs [2] shows that 60% of the founders having experienced failure were serial entrepreneurs while they accounted for half of the sample. The authors are known as experts on the subject and their many studies do not show that experience is a real advantage.

If the facts seem somewhat scuttle the myth, it is also interesting to analyze a little further. A serial entrepreneur, and more if she had a successful career, will have an enormous self-confidence and probably a seduction power to attract investors and talent for her future projects. She will be ready to take risks, even greater as she has already succeeded, so that failure may have a lower financial impact. The authors of the British study add that those who have failed have experienced such trauma that they repress this failure to the point not to learn anything from the experience …

What lessons for those – investors and employees – who are willing to blindly follow such a hero? Probably the need to show a little caution and analyze with some rationality if the project makes sense and if the creator seems a minimum rational in his vision of the development of this new project. In reality, success will always remain the domain of the exception, an unlikely alignment of the planets. An entrepreneur must always be optimistic, but if he loses too much sight of these realities, blindness can be fatal. And I would add a message to the entrepreneur without experience: by listening too much to the advice of those who “know”, the entrepreneur may forget his inner voice, the intuition so fundamental for all creative people. This myth of the serial entrepreneur perhaps shows that talent is more important than experience …

[1] Serial Entrepreneurs: Are They Better? – A View from Stanford University Alumni – Babson Conference “Frontiers of Entrepreneurship Research” 2012. http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2133127
[2] Why Serial Entrepreneurs Don’t Learn from Failure. Par Deniz Ucbasaran, Paul Westhead et Mike Wright . https://hbr.org/2011/04/why-serial-entrepreneurs-dont-learn-from-failure