Tag Archives: Europe

“How I survived the coolitude of startups” by Mathilde Ramadier

The start-up world is so fashionable that a few clouds should gather above it. The thing is not new. In the past, I mentioned Silicon Valley Fever. There was also the recent Disrupted – My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble by Dan Lyons But, more worrying, the criticisms are more numerous and more serious. For example, the article The evidence is piling up – Silicon Valley is being destroyed about the Juicero and Theranos scandals. Without forgetting the more fundamental transhumanist / apolitical fever

Here is a new book, fun and serious…In French: Bienvenue dans le nouveau monde Comment j’ai survécu à la coolitude des startups (Welcome in the new world – How I survived the coolitude of startups) by Mathilde Ramadier. Mockery uses language. The “novlangue”, the “coolitude”. But this hides more unacceptable behaviors. Discounted wages, ridiculous working conditions. All this in the tone of humor, or more of chilling irony. Excessive? A little bit in the sense that not all start-ups act as the author describes, but revealing a reality that should not be underestimated … Here are some examples:

“We’re a start-up, so please bring your own laptop.” [Page 24]

“During the end-of-test interview, my CEO tells me that instead of the 1500 euros agreed upon at the start, I will finally be hired with a payroll three times lower. [… He] knows very well what he does and delivers a perfectly honed speech to sweep away my disappointment. […] So I refused a job paid 500 euros because I lacked motivation, belief and ambition. I did not deserve to participate in the adventure.” [Page 26-7] The CEO had previously added that “if I want to make a career, I will have to accept to bend down and give everything. Just like in “the Voice’.”

“But doen’t disruption also mean an acceleration imposed too suddenly on society? […] The sharing economy allows the connection of a client who has a need and a service provider (let’s say a small hand that needs money.)” [Page 28] And then she quotes Bernard Stiegler. How right she is!

“But this tendency, pushed to the extreme, has become the watchword of a despotic regime which does not admit ‘the weakest’, that is to say the refractory, and which relegates them to the bottom of the social pyramid. Because if everyone can, in theory, become a superstar, there is little talk of those for whom “siliconization” does not embody a dream… nor a sinecure.” [Page 36]

“As Orwell has taught us, the manipulation of language is the starting point of any totalitarian discourse. […] The disappearance of the ability to think for oneself can even be the core competence of a company.” [Pages 41-2]

“In many cases, these are bullshit jobs, these new ‘jobs’ in the service sector that pride themselves abotu contributing to the rational organization of the company, but which cannot be described easily because even the first concerned fail to explain clearly what they do neither can they find a real utility. […] Wages were evidently free from all egalitarian considerations and remained confidential.” [Pages 44-5]

“I’ve seen people say ‘never again’ and had to start over again. They had promised that they would not step back behind the counter of a bar after their first internships and still return, for lack of finding a job in their branch. I have seen young women and young men becoming financially dependent on their partner, sublet their car or room to live in their living room (since all aspects of life are now marketable), and knocking at the door of their parents at thirty. Pregnant women put money aside because their maternity leave did not allow them to live decently. These are the people I saw accept a precarious contract with a ridiculous paycheck in a startup because they were promised many things, and offered ‘evolution prospects’ if they agreed to ‘give everything’.” [Page 70]

The author also has interesting definitions. “One of the definitions of start-up might be this: it is a young company with high potential but still not profitable. The objective, from the beginning, is therefore rapid growth.” (Page 94) Mathilde Ramadier even has her own glossary (pages 151-5), often funny… For example:
Disruption: super-powerful innovation that breaks the codes of a whole market. An earthquake, the disruption puts everything flat and does not generally worry about the consequences of the chaos it induces.
Entrepreneur: courageous person with rare talent, who has an idea of genius before everyone, is working to achieve it and succeeds – or not.
Innovation: introduction of a new product or process on the market. A startup is necessarily innovative (for those who launch it anyway).

“During these four years in the startups, I was trapped in an infernal loop, tossed from one absurdity to another, finding here and there the same folklore … Paradoxically, we push the rational to the irrational, originality to conformism, thirst for the new to regression […] The solutions that the startupsphere promises us – to the crisis, unemployment, boredom, repetition of the same and even disuse, old age and ugliness, etc. – are also a deception: one can not pretend to live in the new world before having truly built it.” [Page 143]

The State of the European Tech

The recently published The State of the European Tech, co-sponsored by Atomico and Slush is an extremley interesting analysis of the European tech start-up and VC scene. it is a rather long 118-slide document but most (not all) pages provide food for thought.

Here are a couple of comments, in the page order:

– The introduction is too optimistic (slides 5-7). I doubt their title: the future is being invented in Europe. But it has always been Atomico’s founder vision: see Europe and Start-ups : should we worry? Or is there hope? The future will tell us… One interesting point though: London, Berlin and Paris are the 3 hubs main European hubs and Paris was probably underestimated (in the past).

– The entrepreneurial mindset is continuously improving (slides 15-16). Repeat entrepreneurs are more numerous (slide 18). And they mention their importance not so much as future successful entrepreneurs (you may know my doubts – check Serial entrepreneurs: are they better?) but because of the experience and network they bring.

– I love slide 21 with EPFL #4 world wide in Computer Science (though I hate these rankings!). Switzerland is clearly on the map together with the UK. I am honestly less convinced about the impact of business schools in tech (slide 22). Talent exists in Europe but may not be available for tech (slide 23).

– Again the three top hubs are obvious: together London, Paris and Berlin outnumber Silicon Valley. But the ranking from #4 to #20 is mostly linked to city size, not so much any unique positioning. Tech is creating jobs faster than other industries (slide 26). Never too late! But again Europe is fragmented with 153 identified tech hubs (slide 34)

Migrants (slides 27-29). Again the UK is #1. France and Germany follow. And Switzerland is well-ranked (except for non-Europeans).

– Local entrepreneurs want to stay home (slide 37): 60% prefer home to another place in Euope (17%) or Silicon Valley (12%), even if 25% of founders incorporated outside of their home country (slide 38). Clearly Europe exists! Even if slide 39 shows more local migrations inside Europe, with the exception of London and Berlin again and the links between hubs are weak (slide 41)

– The slides about venture capital are the most surprising. Slide 46 shows that the European investments have jumped from less than $5B before 2013 to $13B in 2015-16. (In comparison the US is about $30B). And the growth is consistent from early eseed ($0-2M) to early stage ($2-5M) and later stage ($10-50+M). I assemble here their data about the UK, Germany, France and Switzerland (slides 50-52). A new generation of investors is confirmed, those who were entrepreneurs 1st (slide 60). The early such actors were Atomico, Liautaud/Balderton, Niel/Kima. But many emerge. A new generation of funds also emerge (slide 64), and yes, US funds invest in Europe (slide 65)

atomico_european_vc

– Their section about deep tech is less convincing (to me). Probably I did not fully understand what they meant by that and why it would be so special. Slides 78-9 about US tech giants coming to Europe and about their acquisitions in Europe is worth checking though.

– I was not convinced either about the growing awareness of European corporations of the importance of tech. Their investments and acquisitions are still small compared to their US counterparts (slides 84-86). But slide 83 is the confirmation of a scary situation. This is another illustration of the Darwinian and Lamarckian innovation. Look at next figure.

atomico_european_giants

– The section about scale-ups and exits (slides 89-101) could have been called unicorns & IPOs. I see bubbles and low value creations. Not good enough and not enough tech…

– Finally the lside about perceived risks is worth spending some time. they classify them as Business issues (40%); Economic issues (30%); European issues (22%); International issues (8%). But somehow their classification is subjective. For example if you combine risk aversion (4%), fear (2%), ambition (2%), that is 8%. And talent (4%), innovation (3%) and education (2%) would be another 9%. These elements which I consider as cultural could be considered as quite high…

All these notes were taken while reading so don’t see them as a deep analysis and you should build your own views about this really interesting analysis.

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

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

Marcel Salathé’s Creating a European Culture of Innovation

Regularly but not often enough I read about people calling Europe to wake up and react. Recently it was Nicolas Colin’s What makes an entrepreneurial ecosystem. But now I also remember Risto Siilasmaa’s Entrepreneurship should be cherished” and I had my own Europe, Wake Up!. The latest of these is Marcel Salathé’s Creating a European Culture of Innovation. Another must read. Thanks Marcel! So let me just quote him.

Salathe-Blog

At stake is the future of Europe. And we, the innovators, entrepreneurs, scientists, activists, and artists, need to step up and take ownership of this future. Because if we don’t, Europe will continue its downward trajectory that it’s currently on, and become what it many places it already has transformed into – a museum of history.
[…]
The information and communication technology sector is now the dominant economic driver of growth. Think Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon, Uber. Noticed something? Not a single European company. Only 1 out of 4 dollars in this sector are made by European companies, and all the indicators for the future are pointing down. Some numbers are even more dire: when you list the top 20 global leaders of internet companies that are public, you know how many are European? Zero. And among all publicly listed companies in the digital economy, 83% are American, and a mere 2% are European. 2%!
[…]
So where’s the problem? Some say it’s VC funding, which is only partially true. Yes, the culture of VC funding is probably less mature in Europe than it is in the US, especially for stage A, B and C funding. But money will find its way into good ideas and market opportunities one way or another. Others say it’s simply the European market, and European regulation. I think that is an illusion. Look at AirBnB, the US startup that now has a valuation of over 25 Billion dollars. It was started as a three person startup in California’s Y Combinator, but it now gets over half(!) of its revenues from within Europe. And by the way, San Francisco is probably one of the worst regulatory environments you can find yourself in. AirBnB is currently facing huge battles in San Francisco, and a Californian judge recently ruled Uber drivers employees, causing a minor earthquake in the booming sharing economy. Indeed, California is probably one of the most regulated of the American States, and yet it does exceedingly well.
I think that the problem is actually quite simple. But it’s harder to fix. It’s simply us. We, the people. We, the entrepreneurs. We, the consumers. I have lived in the San Francisco Bay area for more than three years. What’s remarkable about the area is not its laws, or its regulations, or its market, or its infrastructure. What’s truly remarkable is that almost everyone is building a company in one way or another. Almost everyone wants to be an entrepreneur, or supports them. Almost everyone is busy building the future. Indeed, you can almost physically feel that the environment demands it from you. When someone asks you about what it is you are doing professionally, and you don’t respond by saying that you’re building a company, they look at you funny, as if to say, “then what the hell are you doing here”?

[…]
It’s not a trivial point I think. The other day, I was in Turin in Italy, and I desperately needed a coffee. I walked into the next random coffeeshop, where I was served a heavenly cappuccino, with a chocolate croissant that still makes my mouth wet when I just think about it. Was I just lucky? No – all the coffee shops there are that good. Because the environment demands it. Sure, you can open a low-quality coffee shop in Turin if you want to, but you’ll probably have to file for bankruptcy before you have the time to say buongiorno. The environment will simply not accept bad quality. In another domain, I had the same personal experience when I was a postdoc at Stanford. Looking back, all of my best and most cited papers I wrote there. I don’t think it’s coincidence. Every morning, as I was walking across campus to my office, I could sense the environment demanding that I do the most innovative work – if I didn’t, then what the hell was I doing there?
So this is my message to you. I’m asking you to create those environments, both by doing the best and most innovative you can, but also by demanding the same from everyone else around you. These two things go together; they create a virtuous circle.

[…]
Don’t ask for permission, ask for forgiveness if necessary. If you are waiting for permission, you will wait for the rest of your life. Most rules exist for a simple reason: to protect incumbents. Don’t ask for permission, just go and do it.
[…]
Orson Welles was best at describing why askign for permission is deadly…

[…]
So please, let us all live in the future and build what’s missing – here in Europe. I am worried sick that the easiest way for me to live in the future is to buy a ticket to San Francisco. Just like the easiest way for Americans to relive the past is to buy a ticket to Europe, rich in history. I’m asking you to become even more ambitious, more daring, and more demanding, both of yourself, but most importantly also of your environment.

Salathe talks also about role models. His was the founder of Day Interactive, a Swiss start-up which went public in 2000 before being acquired by Adobe for $250M in 2010. So coming next… its cap. table..

DayInteractiveIPO

FT’s Top European Tech. Entrepreneurs

Following my article posted on June 25, entitled Europe and Start-ups : should we worry? Or is there hope? Here is a more detailed analysis of the FT’s Top 50 tech. entrepreneurs. First, you may want to do a quiz: do you know them from their pictures?

FT Top 50 Europe

Before I give you the full list (ranking is from left to right and top to bottom), here are some interesting statistics (I think).

FT Top 50 Europe Stats

The countries are not really surprising whereas the huge presence of Index Ventures, compared to Atomico or even Accel was. American funds, including the best ones, are all around. Interesting too. So how many entrepreneurs did you know…

FT Top 50 Europe List
(click on picture to enlarge – additional sources : Crunchbase and SEC)

Biocartis, the (could have been) Swiss success story

Biocartis might have been a Swiss success story but most of the company is now based in Belgium. Probably not a decision of investors (as people think when company move) but from management! One of the founders is from Belgium and an impressive serial entrepreneur: Rudi Pauwels. Here is what you could read in the IPO document:

BiocartisHistory

Still the numbers are interesting. The company has raised more than €200M before its €100M IPO this week. Despite such huge amounts the founders have kept about 5% of the company. Its IPO prospectus is available on the company web site. It has signed deals with Philips, Hitachi, Biomérieux, Abbott, Janssen and Johnson & Johnson and counts Swiss-based Debiopharm among its mains shareholders. Here is my usual cap. table:

BiocartisCapTable
(click on image to enlarge)

We must create a Google in Europe

The self-citation is a delicate exercise but as it does not happen often that I give my point of view in the media, I guess this is acceptable… Newspaper Le Temps asked for my point of view related to the recent acquisitions of EPFL spin-offs. I extract some messages.

Imprimer

What worries me is that in Europe, I have never seen the birth of technology companies like Google, Apple or Cisco.

– Yet there is SAP in Germany or Internet service Skype…

– Yes, but [forgetting SAP] there was no big success in Europe in technology in the last fifty years. Microsoft has bought Skype for $8.5 billion and Logitech is worth $2B on the stock market with 6,000 employees. But in the United States, industry heavyweights are valued at over $170 billion and have more than 50,000 employees. There is a difference of a factor ten between the two continents and this has been disturbing me for over twenty-five years. I have doubts and fears about the future of Europe.

– How do you explain this difference?

– I think this is essentially cultural. A young engineer who listens to her parents will work with Nestlé and Novartis, and then remains there. Americans have parents or grandparents who were immigrants. The tradition of moving is digested and failure is accepted.

– What are the risks of such a situation?

– If it does not renew, it is the death of Europe. We are almost there, look at France. This is a concern I have for my two children. We must create a Google in Europe for the economy to evolve. Without the presence of a major technology group, innovative start-ups will be systematically acquired by American groups. Yahoo! bought French start-up Kelkoo, Danish Navision now belongs to Microsoft, the Swedish MySQL to Oracle and French ILOG to IBM.

For the spin-offs of EPFL, it is the same. Medical imaging company Aïmago was acquired by Novadaq Technologies for $10 million. Sensima Technology, active in the production of magnetic sensors, has been integrated in Monolithic Power Systems (MPS) based in San Jose, California. Only Jilion was bought by the French Dailymotion, which integrated their video technology on their site. And now it’s Intel. And when these companies are acquired, it’s expertise and jobs that may disappear. There is a risk of loss of wealth.

The rest of the article is available on Le Temps website.

Zalando files to go public

Zalando, one of the very visible European start-up should become a public company on October 1st in Germany. It’s not so much the numbers which I found of interest, but how difficult it was to get them. As usual, Europe is showing less transparency. Finding the prospectus was not easy, and I am not sure I could have found it without claiming I live in Berlin. And still, I have no clue how much the company has raised, at which price and when. This is not in the prospectus – I just have all capital increases dates and shares number, it does not help much.

zalandoguys
Rubin Ritter, David Schneider and Robert Gentz

I could still build my usual cap. table and here is what it gives. Revenues are impressive, as well as losses. Founders have been diluted, btu given the capital increases and losses it is not so surprising…

zalando-captable

zalando-capital-increase

Europe, wake up!

This is a short text I wrote in 2012, and my friend Will from Finland had made comments about it which I added. Thanks! I read it again this morning and thought it might be worth publishing it now…

Intel, Apple, Microsoft, Oracle, Genentech, Cisco, Google, Facebook, Skype. You probably know these companies. They were at the origin of major innovations for our societies. Maybe you are less aware of Niklas Zennström and Janus Friis, Mark Zuckerberg and Dustin Moskovitz, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Leonard Bosack and Sandy Lerner, Bob Swanson and Herb Boyer, or Larry Ellison but you know much better Bill Gates and Paul Allen, Steve Jobs and Stephen Wozniak, Bob Noyce and Gordon Moore. They are entrepreneurs; the founders of companies that were all start-ups one day in the not-so-distant past, but are global titans today. Europe does not seem to understand the importance of high-tech innovation produced by these young entrepreneurs. Skype is the exception in the list and the Americans were able to produce hundreds of such success stories. Why have we failed and what can we do to change the course of history?

Innovation is a culture where trial-and-error and uncertainty have huge roles. Failure, unfortunately or maybe fortunately. Just as life! The European culture in all its diversity has provided welfare to its citizens since the end of World War II. Ironically, the comfort-level we all appreciate will actually accelerate its end. A culture can only live with creativity and renewal. As a recent article in The Economist illustrated it well [1], we Europeans are no longer able to innovate, our businesses are too old, at least in technological innovation (e.g. Nokia or Alcatel) and we do not create enough innovations. The causes are probably numerous, but fear of trying is the most serious. And I’m not sure that we are aware of it. Do many Europeans understand that innovation through high-tech entrepreneurship is critical? I fear that we would rather have well-educated children to enter the large established firms than creative individuals willing to try their luck. Worse, what models do we have?


Bob Noyce was a model and a mentor for Steve Jobs.

In this unique place, Silicon Valley, thousands of entrepreneurs try each year. “The difference is in psychology: everybody in Silicon Valley knows somebody that is doing very well in high-tech small companies, start-ups; so they say to themselves “I am smarter than Joe. If he could make millions, I can make a billion”. So they do and they think they will succeed and by thinking they can succeed, they have a good shot at succeeding. That psychology does not exist so much elsewhere” wrote Tom Perkins, co-founder of the legendary Kleiner Perkins fund.

Europe is not fully unconscious of the problem. In 2000, the Lisbon agenda proposed by theEuropean Union had the ambition to make of Europe in 2010 “the most competitive knowledge-based economy”. This has been a total failure. A variety of support mechanisms were created, but the Europeans seem to have forgotten that innovation is primarily a question of adventurers, pioneers – these types of people by definition are not looking for safety and support. Entrepreneurs live on their passion. “Launching a start-up is not a rational act. Success only comes from those who are foolish enough to think unreasonably. Entrepreneurs need to stretch themselves beyond convention and constraint to reach something extraordinary” says Vinod Khosla, another Silicon Valley icon. A start-up is a baby whose founders are its parents. Not surprisingly, founders often start the adventure as a couple, because they have the intuition it will be difficult and they need more than one mind and body. They are often migrants. Probably because migrants do not have any existing network or “right” connections in the new places where they have settled, they simply work passionately on their innovation, again raising the probability of success. Half of the entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley are not Americans. Why are we afraid of that opportunity in Europe? Silicon Valley is an open culture where even competitors like Apple, Google or Facebook talk and cooperate. This is REAL open innovation, not high-level top down roadmaps, but grassroots, bottom up collaboration. Interestingly, entrepreneurs are often young. While this is not always the case, youth does not give up on creativity easily, largely because they have not lived through the many failures that the rest of us have. Silicon Valley is a unique place in the United States that no one could replicate. And yet every state, every region of Europe is desperately trying to create its own! Let’s work together. By no longer seeking to create the Holy Grail, one unified “European technology cluster”, and by instead deciding to cooperate on a practical level to enable innovators rather than trying to do the work for them. While our egos are still too large to give up our dreams of global domination, at least let us work together without unnecessary waste! In a recent talk [2], Risto Siilasmaa, the young chairman of Nokia, called for a similar reaction and added that “entrepreneurship is a state of mind, which implies pragmatism, ambition, dreams, perseverance, optimism and give-up-&-start-again attitude”. Without a large ambition, it is not worth trying.

One concrete area to focus on is creating an infrastructure where risk-taking investors can thrive. Entrepreneurs cannot succeed alone. Very early in the innovation process they need investors to enable them to embark on the adventure. America has created the best tool out there so far, venture capital: former entrepreneurs who become the supporters of the next generation once they have already succeeded, financiers who have “been there and done that” [3]. These VCs know the start-up culture because they have been there! This experience complements the expertise provided by others who have spent years in large corporations; a perfect storm of competence and culture is needed. It also requires employees who also digested this culture, employees who can take a stake of the future success of the company through stock options. I said stock option, the word that became a bad word, the tool to fatten those who do not deserve it. Stock options should go to those who try. No doubt it will also require some labor flexibility for start-ups as they face uncertainty and rapid cycles. But it should not be assumed that the absence of these mechanisms is the cause of our failures. It is the absence of this culture of innovation that hurts us. Do not be afraid of failure. Failure is the mother of success, says the Chinese saying. Does the child successfully ride the bicycle on her first attempt?

Failure will always be part of innovation. This is why we need a critical mass. In one single place or not, in Europe. And failure should not be stigmatized. I think everyone interested in innovation needs to experience the Silicon Valley culture, to spend time to understand. Weeks or even months. Without fearing that our children will not come back. It is better to try out there than be safe back here. They will return to teach us, at worst, and at best return to set up Europe’s future growth companies! We also need to support high energy mobility among entrepreneurs across European hotspots, as we have done very well for our students. Universities are still critical once the students have left to provide landing zones for mobile entrepreneurs. You may criticize me for being too fascinated by the American culture and technological innovation. “Europe has other ways to innovate,” I am often told. It innovates with large corporations such as Airbus or with German- or Swiss-like SMEs, or in services. And you believe that US companies do not?! I am told that venture capital is in crisis, that Silicon Valley innovates less, and that may well be true – outside of the web, creativity seems to slow down. Schumpeter, the great economist, has built a theory where large established firms die and are replaced by new entrants when they do not innovate anymore. Why would the twenty-first century be different from the previous one? Maybe … but our energy, aging, health problems are not going to require new innovations and new entrepreneurs? I do think so. Europe needs a new ambition, a new enthusiasm and we Europeans are aging. We owe this to our children, to our youth. From primary school onwards, let us our children express their creativity, let us teach them to say no, and tell them that this is positive. A career is meaningless unless it includes passion and ambition. Let us not encourage them to follow the paths of certainty that may be deadly. Steve Jobs in a wonderful speech in 2005 [4], indicated that we were all going to die one day, and before that day, we needed to stay hungry, to day foolish. Let us follow his advice. Let us help our children!

Hervé Lebret supports high-tech entrepreneurship at EPFL. He is the author of the blog Start-Up, www.startup-book.com.

[1] Les Misérables – Europe not only has a euro crisis, it also has a growth crisis. That is because of its chronic failure to encourage ambitious entrepreneurs. The Economist, July 2012. www.economist.com/node/21559618.
[2] Risto Siilasmaa at the REE conference. Helsinki, Sept. 7, 2012.
[3] Do not miss the movie SomethingVentured which describes wonderfully and humorously the early days do venture capital, www.somethingventuredthemovie.com.
[4] Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish. ‘You’ve got to find what you love.’ http://news.stanford.edu/news/2005/june15/jobs-061505.html.

Again a few key points:
• Europe is behind USA and Asia in innovation.
• Entrepreneurs are not considered heroes in Europe.
• Trial and error, uncertainty, and failure are integral parts of innovation
• Our high level of comfort will accelerate its own end (again creative destruction).
• Fear of trying is the most serious problem with innovation.
• Europe’s 2000 mandate to become the world’s leading knowledge based economy has failed.
• Open Innovation is bottom up, not top down.
• Youth are creative because they have yet to experience failure.
• We must create an infrastructure where risk-taking investors can thrive.
• All students that show interest and ability in innovation should experience the Silicon Valley Culture. We should not worry that they will no come back.
• Europe’s leading universities can be the game changers, the catalysts, by agreeing on what is important (what innovation, what education, what tech. transfer) and investing in it.