Tag Archives: Entrepreneur

What makes an entrepreneur great? (according to Max Levchin)

Ashort quote from Max Levchin taken from the latest issue MIT Technology Review. Q: What makes an entrepreneur great?

A: I don’t think entrepreneurship can be taught. I don’t think it’s like: “Do these five things and you’ll be an entrepreneur.” And by extension, I don’t think it’s: “Do these five things better and you’ll be a better entrepreneur.” Everyone I know has their own style. The unifying characteristics are all the same: drive, inability to play well with others, decisiveness, general indifference to reason on occasion. Entrepreneurship is this weird process of constantly flying blind, by the seat of your pants, and also of constantly projecting this extreme confidence that everything is going to be just fine. And the only way you can do it is you have to believe that it really will be. So it’s the continuous ability to suspend your own disbelief, basically. —Max Levchin, a founder of several companies, including PayPal, who was an Innovator Under 35 in 2002.

Levchin on Entrepreneurship

In addition I just read an interview of Bernard Dallé, General Partner with Index Ventures in Entreprise Romande, in the same special issue dedicated to failure where I wrote a short note entitled “Does the Swiss culture tolerate failure?”. Bernard is asked about common features of entrepreneurs. He just says: “Often they are not attracted by money. They are not afraid of failure. Their goal is to have an impact on society.”

Technology billionaires in 2013

In 2007, I had made the same exercise, i.e. extract from the Forbes billionaire list, the ones who had a link with technology. I found by accident the 2013 Forbes list, and did the same exercise. Again the USA dominates and the word is weak. Europe has 8 whereas the USA has 63…

What’s new from the 2007 Technology Billionaires is the new comers, the web2.0 winners from Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Groupon, not to forget GoDaddy!

2013-new billionaires-sma
Top: the Facebook billionaires. Bottom: founders of Linkedin, Twitter, Groupon, GoDaddy and finally Laurene Powell Jobs.

Also, average age is 57 but Internet billionaires’ age is 46!

# Name Origin Company Field Wealth ($B) Age
2 Bill Gates USA Microsoft Software 67 57
5 Larry Ellison USA Oracle Software 43 68
19 Jeff Bezos USA Amazon.com Internet 25.2 49
20 Larry Page USA Google Internet 23 39
21 Sergey Brin USA Google Internet 22.8 39
49 Michael Dell USA Dell Hardware 15.3 48
51 Steve Ballmer USA Microsoft Software 15.2 56
53 Paul Allen USA Microsoft Software 15 60
66 Mark Zuckerberg USA Facebook Internet 13.3 28
94 Ernesto Bertarelli CH Merck Serono Biotech 11 47
98 Laurene Powell Jobs USA Apple Hardware 10.7 49
122 Hasso Plattner D SAP Software 8.9 69
123 Hansjoerg Wyss CH Synthes Medical devices 8.7 78
123 Pierre Omidyar USA Ebay Internet 8.7 45
138 Eric Schmidt USA Google Internet 8.2 57
145 Patrick Soon-Shiong USA Abraxis Pharmaceuticals 8 61
154 James Goodnight USA SAS Software 7.7 70
156 Klaus Tschira D SAP Software 7.5 72
179 Xavier Niel F Free Internet 6.6 45
182 Dietmar Hopp D SAP Software 6.5 72
262 David Duffield USA Peoplesoft Software 4.8 72
316 Gordon Moore USA Intel Hardware 4.1 84
353 Dustin Moskovitz USA Facebook Internet 3.8 28
353 John Sall USA SAS Software 3.8 64
363 Jeffrey Skoll USA Ebay Internet 3.7 48
376 Barbara P. Johnson USA Johnson & Johnson Medical devices 3.6 76
437 Reid Hoffman USA LinkedIn Internet 3.1 45
437 Alain Merieux F Biomerieux Pharmaceuticals 3.1 75
503 Ronda Stryker USA Stryker Corp. Medical devices 2.8 58
503 Andy v. Bechtolsheim USA/D Google Internet 2.8 57
527 John Doerr USA KPCB Venture capital 2.7 61
527 Elon Musk USA Tesla Motors Hardware 2.7 41
554 Marc Benioff USA Salesforce.com Software 2.6 48
554 Jack Dangermond USA ESRI Software 2.6 67
554 Phillip Frost USA Key Pharma, Ivax Pharmaceuticals 2.6 76
554 David Sun USA Kingston Technology Hardware 2.6 61
554 John Tu USA Kingston Technology Hardware 2.6 72
613 Mark Cuban USA Broadcast.com Internet 2.4 54
641 Ray Dolby USA Dolby Laboratories Hardware 2.3 80
641 Ralph Dommermuth D United Internet Internet 2.3 49
670 Michael Moritz USA Sequoia Venture capital 2.2 58
670 Eduardo Saverin USA/Bra Facebook Internet 2.2 30
736 Sean Parker USA Facebook Internet 2 33
785 Romesh T. Wadhwani USA Aspect Software 1.95 65
792 Meg Whitman USA Ebay Internet 1.9 56
831 Hans-Werner Hector D SAP Software 1.8 73
831 Thomas Siebel USA Siebel Software 1.8 60
882 David Filo USA Yahoo Internet 1.7 46
882 Henry Samueli USA Broadcom Hardware 1.7 58
882 David Cheriton USA/Can Google Internet 1.7 61
922 Kavitark Ram Shriram USA Google Venture capital 1.65 56
931 Craig McCaw USA McCaw Telecom Telecom 1.6 63
931 Pat Stryker USA Stryker Corp. Medical devices 1.6 56
931 Peter Thiel USA Paypal, Facebook Internet 1.6 45
965 Irwin Jacobs USA Qualcomm Hardware 1.55 79
974 Vinod Khosla USA KPCB, Khosla Venture capital 1.5 58
974 Bob Parsons USA Go Daddy Internet 1.5 62
974 Jerry Yang USA Yahoo Internet 1.5 44
1031 John Brown USA Stryker Corp. Medical devices 1.4 78
1031 Steve Case USA AOL Internet 1.4 54
1031 Henry Nicholas, III. USA Broadcom Hardware 1.4 53
1107 Mark Stevens USA Sequoia Venture capital 1.3 53
1107 Jon Stryker USA Stryker Corp. Medical devices 1.3 54
1107 Nicholas Woodman USA GoPro Hardware 1.3 37
1161 Graham Weston USA Rackspace Internet 1.25 49
1175 Jim Breyer USA Accel Venture capital 1.2 51
1175 Robert Duggan USA Computer Motion Medical devices 1.2 68
1268 James Clark USA Netscape Internet 1.1 68
1268 Jack Dorsey USA Twitter, Square Internet 1.1 36
1268 Eric Lefkofsky USA Groupon Internet 1.1 43
1342 John Morgridge USA Cisco Hardware 1 79

A beautiful thriller in the world of start-ups

Today, Peter Harboe-Schmidt presents L’HOMME QUI NE CROYAIT PAS AU HASARD the French translation of his thriller The Ultimate Cure. I had at the time said how much I liked this novel. Do not hesitate to join him on the EPFL campus this afternoon.

Here is a short piece again:

“Take your start-up as an example. Why did you do it? If you analyzed the pros and cons for doing a start-up, you’d probably never do it. But your gut feeling pushed you on, knowing that you would get something very valuable out of it. Am I right?”
Martin speculated on why he was so drawn to a world that at times could appear to be no more than sheer madness. Like a world parallel to real life with many of the same attributes, just much more intense and fast-moving. People trying to realize a dream in a world of unpredictability and unknowns, working crazy hours, sacrificing their personal lives, rushing along with all those other technology based start-ups. Medical devices, Internet search engines, telecommunications, nanotechnologies and all the rest competing for the same thing: Money. To make the realization clock tick a little faster.
“Funny you should say that,” Martin finally said. “I’ve always thought of this start-up as a no-brainer.I never tried to justify it in any way.”

After the lean startup, the anorexic startup

You must read The Anorexic Startup. Just because it is a funny tale about start-ups. More precisley author Mike Frankel claims it is a “A Tale of Sex, Drugs, and C++”. You will follow entrepreneur and hero, Dale Schmidt, from Day 37 to Day 155 of his great adventure!! You can either download the 15-page pdf on the author’s site or please him by buying it on Amazon for $1.20!

Following my review of The Lean Startup, the author of The Anorexic Startup contacted me and asked what I thought of his work. I read it, smiled first and then laughed. I love this short story and the 10-20 minutes it takes to read is worth your time. Realistic I am not sure, but certainly close to many true stories. The shortest and probably among the best stories I read on the (high-tech) start-up and entrepreneurship words. Enjoy!

What’s an entrepreneur in France?

I was shocked, or I should say, I smiled yesterday when I used Google Translate to obtain an English equivalent of “l’entrepreneur doit être au centre des écosystèmes innovants”; I got “the contractor must be the focus of innovative ecosystems.” It is not a pure accident.

Let me remind you one of my favorite quotes from Paul Graham “I read occasionally about attempts to set up “technology parks” in other places, as if the active ingredient of Silicon Valley were the office space. An article about Sophia Antipolis bragged that companies there included Cisco, Compaq, IBM, NCR, and Nortel. Don’t the French realize these aren’t startups?”

Contractor, concrete, office space… When I was a kid, an entrepreneur was building houses. Google just kept that old meaning. Or is it that old? I will come back on this topic when I will comment (on the French part of my blog) a book I am currently reading “le paléoanthropologue dans l’entreprise ; s’adapter et innover pour survivre” by Pascal Picq. What stroke me there is a description of the Lamarckian style of French companies vs. the Darwinian flavor of the Anglo-Saxon ones… The book may explain many of the cultural differences of these two worlds.

Biotech data – part 3/3: A short synthesis

After Genentech, Chiron and Genzyme, let just me do a simple analysis of biotech start-ups. The table which follows summarizes it all and I added Amegn but it is obviously a little tough to read. You can enlarge it however. So you can see data about the companies themselves, foundation year, IPO year, revenues and profit/loss at IPO, current status and then data on founders, their age at foundation, what they were doing before the creation and what they did after the start-up adventure. Then I provide a link on them.

So what is interesting about the companies themselves?

– On average, it takes them 3 years to go public. So the myth that biotech start-ups develop slowly is linked to the revenue/profit status, not the exit status.
– Indeed, when they go public, they have very small revenues and lose money. Compare to Apple for example, on the first picture.
– They are very similar to Internet companies of the late 90s: they go public very soon without revenues and still losing money.
– Finally, they are acquired by European players. This is in total opposition to IT companies where the only buyers are American (check for example slide 36 of the pdf I published in the past).

Now the founders.
– First, they are not young people. Compare again to the same document, slide 27 now. American founders in the slide are on average of 27 year-old, and Europeans, 33 year-old.
– Many had an academic career they did not have to leave. They may have taken sabbaticals but many went back to their academic life. It is obviously related to the previous point.

These 3 posts have shown my small knowledge of biotech but also the fact that they are interesting not to say major differences between Biotech and Information Technology.

Advice to entrepreneurs

I found instructive to compare two short videos from the STVP. The first one is dated 2002 and shows Larry Page, the co-founder of Google. The seconde one, with Aaron Levie, has just been published on january 19, 2011.

And here is a comparaison

Larry Page vs. Aaron Levie
  • Work with the right people, great people you are compatible with
  • Do not compromise. Be passionate
  • Have a healthy disregard for the impossible
  • Do something which was impossible 3 years ago
  • Do not follow the hype. Good ideas always get funding.
  • If you feel comfortable, you are probably not doing the right thing.
  • Clearly passion, ambition but also self-confidence are ingredients of entrepreneurship.

    Another very good post on the topic is Should You Really Be A Startup Entrepreneur? by Mark Suster, where the reality of entrepreneurship is superbly described.

    A Swiss (European) way for entrepreneurship?

    With my seventh contribution to the Créateurs newsletter, I stay in Switzerland again with two succesful SMEs. Enjoy!

    There is a recurrent debate in the world of high-tech start-ups: and if the American model of fast growth supported by aggressive venture capital was not adapted for European or Swiss entrepreneurs? Two examples may contribute to the discussion: Sensirion and Mimotec.

    In my contribution to Créateurs last time, I had focused on Swissquote, which has become a magnificent success story, without that venture capital, which is so much criticized these days. Mimotec is an EPFL spin-off with 24 employees and about CHF10M in revenues. The company provides micro technologies for the watch industry. Mimotec was founded in 1998 by Hubert Lorenz who told his start-up’s story during a recent venture ideas conference at EPFL. It is a clear example of organic growth, a steady growth even if not exponential.

    Sensirion is probably more impressive. Founded also in 2008, it is an ETHZ spin-off and it sells pressure sensors, another field of expertise in Switzerland. In an article published for the MEMS 2008 conference, Felix Mayer, Sensirion’s co-founder and CEO, described the growth model of his company. Here is an extract: “The Europeans – especially the Swiss – do not go for the big thing! They rather start small and put one foot in front of the other. A characteristic of the European and Swiss mentality is not to promise high returns for a business idea based on an immature new technology. The European way is rather to start with the own money, to try to find customers, and to grow with the earnings. The Americans, as far as I can tell, follow the motto: “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you will land among the stars”. This means: to go for the new big thing, write down a promising business plan, and raise money to realize it. Hunting for potentially high gains means, on the other hand, to take a higher risk. The United States have more of a high risk culture. However, if you fail, you also get a second chance. Europe is different in this respect”.

    Mayer adds that because the financial means are lacking, the European entrepreneur will be more challenged to target the very big markets. Therefore he believes in an intermediate path which will not generate Google-like companies, but leaders in their niche. Thanks to the patient support from a business angel and then from its customers, Sensirion can be proud in 2010 of its 180 employees (the revenue numbers are not public as the start-ups is still privately held). I should however add that it took Sensirion six years before ti could fund its growth through its profits; its business angel was apparently critical to its success.

    Is there a model that Europe may follow without just copying the Silicon Valley way? Yes, if we notice that very few companies could reach the size of Logitech or Actelion for example. Whatever the success of an Hubert Lorenz or a Felix Mayer, I cannot help expressing again the same thing I did in my book Start-Up. Why should not Europe ambition the same large success the USA experience in addition to our mid-size stories. Don’t you think the Americans do not have companies similar to Mimotec and Sensirion, in addition to Google or Apple? Criticizing venture capital might be an easy way and I prefer quoting an American entrepreneur on investors: “You can’t live with them, you can’t live without them” And let us not forget that Google has today about 20’000 employees and it was founded in… 1998. There is no doubt that our culture and financial support is not made to produce our own Google but I seriously believe that we should not be afraid of having large ambitions instead of criticizing an American model which also has great assets.

    Give back to the community

    My sixth article in the newsletter Créateurs about high-tech success stories: Swissquote. I am leaving Silicon Valley after purely American stories with Adobe & Genentech, then followed by Europeans in SV (Synopsys, VMware) to talk about a pure Swiss success!

    Mark Bürki and Paulo Buzzi are the two founders of one of the nicest Swiss (not to say European) success stories: Swissquote. No link to Silicon Valley, no venture capital, an exception to what I am used to promote. “Just a” local online bank launched in 1997 as a spin-off of a software service company, Marvel, which was founded in 1990. Bürki and Buzzi did not launch their start-up in a Garage like HP, Apple or Google; worse, it was in a cellar! The beginnings were not easy, salaries were not always guaranteed…

    The USA played a role however. At a conference in Boston, the two founders discovered a new promising platform: the Internet. Sitting at a tiny booth, the founder of an unknown start-up, Amazon. Later, a contract with the IOC, the International Olympic Commitee, for the design of their web site, gave the much needed cash to Marvel. Marvel had also specialized in financial applications and Bürki could see the potential of the Internet for the consumer of stock and financial news.

    With a Zurich-based bank as a financial partner, Marvel launched Swissquote in 1997. The beginnings were very encouraging and at that time, most investment banks were competing for the fast-growing start-ups to be quoted on stock exchanges. Swissquote went public in 2001 with less than CHF20M in sales and a huge loss. The future would not be as nice as the pre-IPO boom and the burst of the Internet bubble threatened the mere existence of the company. But Bürki and Buzzi were not part of the mass of entrepreneurs who disappeared as fast as shooting stars. Decisions were tough, many employees were fired but Swissquote survived. In 2009, its sales were about CHF100M with a net profit of CHF35M, and its market capitalization was nearly CHF600M.

    In August, and then in November 2006, I had invited the two founders to share their entrepreneurial experience on the EPFL campus. They had explained the importance of a vibrating ecosystem, as they had enjoyed it in Lausanne during their studies, years before. “When we were students in computer science”, Bürki noticed, “the sixty or so students in the department belonged to about twenty different nationalities”, a diversity that can be found in the best technology clusters. Without any business training, they learnt how to manage a company with two hundred people. The two founders are convinced that you learn these things by doing. Two founders. Another important topic. Your co-founder can challenge you with the right questions that a lonely founder may not solve easily.

    Bürki also mentioned the vital role of the dream by quoting, in a rather surprising manner, Che Guevara: “Be Realistic, Ask for the Impossible.” As a reminder of their beautiful years at EPFL and also as a sign of their success, Marc Bürki and Paolo Buzzi took in 2008 a typically American decision by creating an endowed chair in quantitative finance.

    High growth and profits

    Before I talk about the topic I announce in this post, let me mention briefly my coming back in the research world! I published a paper at the BCERC Babson Conference on Stanford high-tech start-ups. You may wish to go through the slides below.

    I promise to come back to growth and profits and indeed there is a link to my own paper so be a little patient. But I need to mention one other thing before! The two keynote speakers were great.

    First Ernesto Bertarelli, former CEO of Sereno and winner (and loser) of the America’s Cup with Alinghi gave a great 20-minute talk on entrepreneurship. Let me just quote him:
    – in entrepreneurship, you need passion, fire and love, these are critical,
    – you need a team, you can not win alone so you need to accept to hire better people than yourself and you need to accept change,
    – you need vision, i.e. you need to visualize your plan and objectives,
    – entrepreneurship = business, i.e. it is about taking chances, about asking yourself why should I not do it,
    – if you’re sure to win, it’s boring; the risk of failing is OK and he was honest enough to show his two victories and then his defeat with Alinghi.
    In summary, it is not so much a process it is about values.

    Second Nicolas Hayek, founder and chairman of the Swatch Group, gave his views about entrepreneurship and business. He said basically the same things. Entrepreneurs are creative people and the pity (with our current crisis) is that we train managers who are not risk-takers, who are not creative people (or only for creative finance!). In fact, we kill creativity with our kids when they are 6-years old and business schools / MBA programs do not change this.

    So now that I have mentioned typical keywords of entrepreneurship, (this above is not new at all, but the speakers were great and convincing), I can elaborate on the title of my post . At the Babson conference, there was a paper entitled “MUCH ADO ABOUT NEARLY NOTHING? AN EXPLORATORY STUDY ON THE MYTH OF HIGH GROWTH TECHNOLOGY START-UP ENTREPRENEURSHIP”

    As you may imagine, I was shocked. I was discovering a totally new field of research exemplified by Per Davidsson. High growth would not be as important as profits. Said this way, I do not think anyone would disagree. If you are interested, you should read “Davidsson, P., Steffens, P. & Fitzsimmons, J. 2008. Growing profitable or growing from profits: Putting the horse in front of the cart? Journal of Business Venturing” (pdf manuscript here) if you have the restricted access.

    The reason why I was shocked is that my experience with high-tech start-ups is that profits come later than sooner as you need to develop a product that no customer would pay for its development. So first you lose money, usually through funding by investors. Then you grow and generate profits.

    Indeed Davidsson is not saying the contrary: in his paper, he states that “For external investors, our results imply that high growth in a low-profitability situation is a warning signal rather than an unambiguous sign of positive development. However, we must caution that our results do not necessarily apply to the much more select group of high-potential firms that VCs invest in. First-mover-advantage (FMA) reasoning suggests radical innovators who create entirely new markets play under different rules to the average SMEs. This said, the lack of proof that size leads to eventual profitability is something that has concerned the very researchers who coined the FMA concept: (Lieberman and Montgomery, 1998:1122). Similarly, in the specific context of disruptive innovation, Christensen and Raynor (2003) have argued forcefully for patience for growth but impatience for profit, a notion directly in line with our ‘profits first’ arguments and findings for SMEs more generally. In combination with our results, this provides sound reason for external investors to put more emphasis on establishing profitability through VRIO resources within their portfolio of firms, and having more patience for the growth that can eventually realize the full value of opportunities developed and pursued by these firms.”

    So you could think I feel better. Not at all! The paper “Much ado about nearly nothing” by Malin Brännback, Niklas Kiviluoto and Ralf Östermark, from Åbo Akademi University, Finland and Alan Carsrud, Ryerson University, Canada seems to indicate similar results in high-tech to what Davidsson is stating for SMEs. More specifically, another paper, “Growth and Profitability in Small Privately Held Biotech Firms: Preliminary Findings” by Carsrud and his colleagues states that “A high profitability-low growth biotech firm is more probably to make the transition to high profitability-high growth than a firm that starts off with low profitability and high growth.” Well maybe there is no contradiction between my views and theirs. It might be that start-ups are about outliers and probabilities then are, yes, very low to succeed from low profitability. I am still convinced high value creation comes from there and still, I doubt you can focus on profits first, on growth second in high-tech start-ups. It is however an interesting topic which if true, entrepreneurs, investors, policy makers and researchers should know better about!

    Any reaction?