Tag Archives: Entrepreneur

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:


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:

(click on image to enlarge)

Horowitz’ The Hard Thing About Hard Things: there is no recipe but courage

I began my previous blog about Horowitz’ The Hard Thing About Hard Things by quoting the first page. I will begin here with his final page:

“Hard things are hard because there are no easy answers or recipes. They are hard because your emotions are at odds with your logic. They are hard because you don’t know the answer and you cannot ask for help without showing weakness. When I first became a CEO, I genuinely thought that I was the only one struggling. Whenever I spoke to other CEOs, they all seemed like they had everything under control. Their businesses were always going “fantastic” and their experience was inevitably “amazing”. But as I watched my peers’ fantastic, amazing businesses go bankrupt and sell for cheap, I realized I was probably not the only one struggling.” […] “Embrace your weirdness, your background, your instinct. If the keys are not there, they do not exist.”[Page 275]


Again the book is not an easy read. It is more advice about processes than anything else, so you may not enjoy the book if you do not need to apply it now. If you are not an ambitious entrepreneur who needs to scale his venture, reading the book may not be useful. Still it is a great book. Let me give you a couple of examples.

“Figuring out the right product is the innovator’s job, not the customer’s job. The customer only knows what she thinks she wants based on her experience with the current product. The innovator can take into account everything that’s possible, but often must go against what she knows to be true. As a result, innovation requires a combination of knowledge, skill, and courage. Sometimes only the founder has the courage to ignore the data.” [Page 50]

Funnily enough, Horowitz quotes Thiel. (By the way, quotes on the back page supporting Horowitz’s book are from Page, Zuckerberg, Costolo and Thiel…) “I don’t believe in statistics, I believe in calculus”. And his advice “when things fall apart” are
– Don’t put it all on your shoulders.
– This is not checkers, this is motherfuckin’ chess.
– Play long enough and you might get lucky.
– Don’t take it personally.
– Remember that this is what separates the women from the girls.
I summarize his advice from pages 64 to 93 as when things fall apart, face the truth and tell the truth. Tell the truth to your employees, tell the truth to your future ex-colleagues, tell the truth to your friends and more importantly, tell the truth to yourself.

I understand now why Andreessen-Horowitz is seen as a firm which has put in place tons of processes. Horowitz describes many tasks founders should be utmost careful about. Taking care of people, first. He also describes how you can do mistakes by trying to do good. Just one example: “our hockey stick [the shape of the revenue graph over the quarter] was so bad that one quarter we booked 90% of our new bookings on the last day of the quarter. […] I designed an incentive to closed deals in the first two months. […] As a result, the next quarter was more linear and slightly smaller… deals just moved from the third month to the first two months of the following quarter.”

Other interesting examples are about smart people and bad employees. “Sometimes, you will have a player that’s so good that you hold the bus for him, but only him.” And senior (old) people: “When the head of engineering gets promoted from within, she often succeeds. When the head of sales gets promoted from within, she almost always fails”. [Page 172] Horowitz explains also there is not one rule, it is company-dependent. Andreessen favors giving titles easily, Zuckerberg has opposite views.

“Perhaps the most important thing that I learnt as an entrepreneur was to focus on what I needed to get right and stop worrying about all the things that I did wrong or might go wrong.” [Page 200] Again focus on the strengths, not the weaknesses.

Ones and Twos

Horowitz quotes Collins’ “Good to Great”. “Internal candidates dramatically outperform external candidates.” And then adds that “Collins does not explain why internal candidates sometimes fail as well”. There are “two core skills for running an organization: First, knowing what to do. Second, getting the company to do what you know. While being a great CEO requires both skills, most CEOs tend to be more comfortable with one or the other. I call managers who are happier setting the direction of the company Ones and those who more enjoy making the company perform at the highest level Twos.” When they are not competent at both, “Ones end up in chaos and Twos fail to pivot when necessary.” [Pages 214, 216]


Horowitz shows that great CEOs need vision like Steve Jobs had, competence in implementing like Andy Grove had, and ambition like Bill Campbell. One of Horowitz favorites references is indeed Andy Grove and his “High output Management.” Horowitz shows how much respect is has for Jobs and Campbell, but the systematic processes remain his favorite, therefore Grove.


Horowitz also strongly believes that “life is struggle” (quoting Karl Marx) and that CEOs have to be ready to be both peacetime CEOs (when a company has a large advantage over competition in a growing market – Eric Schmid at Google until Page took over) and wartime CEOs (companies facing existential threats – Grove at Intel when they switched from memories to microprocessors or Jobs at Apple when he came back).

“Be aware that management books tend to be written by management consultants who study successful companies during their times of peace. As a result, the books describe the methods of peacetime CEOs. In fact, other than the books written by Andy Grove, I don’t know of any management books that teach you how to manage in wartime like Steve Jobs or Andy Grove.” [Page 228]

Horowitz hates the idea that founders should be replaced, that companies need professional CEOs who know how to scale companies or who “should be the number-one salesperson.” CEOs define the Strategy (“The story and the strategy are the same thing.”) and do Decision making (“with speed and quality”).

You may like the “Freaky Friday Management Technique” [Page 252] and “Should You Sell Your Company?” [Page 257] but let me finish with some of his final thoughts: “First technical founders are the best people to run technology companies”. […] “Second, it is incredibly difficult for technical founders to learn to become CEOs while building companies.” [Page 268] Which is why VCs should help these founders becoming CEOs, by helping them acquire the skill set as well as building a network.

Finally if you wonder why Andreessen-Horowitz web-site is www.a16z.com, you just have to count the number of letters in the name between the a and the z…

The Hard Thing About Hard Things – Ben Horowitz

“Every time I read a management or self-help book, I find myself saying, “That’s fine, but that wasn’t really the hard thing about the situation.” The hard thing isn’t setting a big, hairy, audacious goal. The hard thing is laying people off when you miss the big goal. The hard thing isn’t hiring great people. The hard thing is when those “great people” develop a sense of entitlement and start demanding unreasonable things. The hard thing isn’t setting up an organizational chart. The hard thing is getting people to communicate within the organization that you just designed. The hard thing isn’t dreaming big. The hard thing is waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat when the dream turns into a nightmare.

The problem with these books is that they attempt to provide a recipe for challenges that have no recipes. There’s no recipe for really complicated, dynamic situations. There’s no recipe for building a high-tech company; there’s no recipe for making a series of hit songs; there’s no recipe for playing NFL quarterback; there’s no recipe for running for president; and there’s no recipe for motivating teams when your business has gone to crap. That’s the hard thing about hard things— there is no formula for dealing with them.”

This is how begins The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz [see page ix]. After a first chapter about his experience in start-ups (Netscape, LoudCloud), Horowitz gives advice to entrepreneurs. And it is not business school-like advice indeed.


Marc: “Do you know the best thing about startups?
Ben: “What?
Marc: “You only ever experience two emotions: euphoria, and terror. And I find that lack of sleep enhances them both.

[Page 21]

Marc is Andreessen, the founder of Netscape, with whom he co-founded VC firm Andreessen Horowitz (a16z.com) in 2009.

“People often ask me how we’ve managed to work efficiently across three companies over eighteen years. Most business relationships either become too tense to tolerate or not tense enough to be productive after a while. Either people challenge each other to the point where they don’t like each other or they become complacent about each other’s feedback and not longer benefit from the relationship. With Marc and me, even after eighteen years, he upsets me almost every day by finding something wrong with my thinking, and I do the same for hi. It works.” [Page 14]

I plan to come back with comments about this book when I am finished, but let just me finish for now with my usual start-up cap. tables. here Netscape and LoudCloud.

Click on picture to enlarge

Click on picture to enlarge

The Startup Kids – a film that any wannabe founder should watch!

Movies may become a better way to communicate about start-ups & entrepreneurship than books or blogs. It’s something Neil Rimer had told me when I published my book. It is true there has been a number of new features in fiction (The Social Network, Jobs) and non-fiction (SomethingVentured) recently without a need to mention old stuff such as Triumph of the Nerds Silicon Valley Pirates and special events on television such as PBS.

Startup Kids belong to this new trend and it is an interesting (and fun) document. You may watch the trailer here and I will quote a few entrepreneurs thereafter. The document had been mentioned to me by colleagues (merci Corine ) who showed it to me, including the very good blog article of Sébastien Flury: The Startup Kids – a film that any wannabe founder should watch! (whom title I used, nice Sébastien 🙂 )

What’s entrepreneurship?

Drew Houston, Dropbox: “It’s like jumping out of a cliff and having to build your own parachute”

Kristian Segerstrale, Playfish: “An entrepreneur is a person who dares to have a dream that not many people have and even more important dares to chase it, put their money where their mouth is and their time and their career and dares to take the risk to going out there to realize that vision.”

Alexandre Ljung, SoundCloud (from Sweden and based in Berlin and San Francisco): “I did not have the typical entrepreneur background, […] but in hindsight I was very focused on projects so I was very entrepreneurial but not in a business sense.”

In European Founders at Work, his co-founder Eric Wahlforss states “I think we could have easily done this in one year faster if we would have been a little bit more bold and thinking a little bit more in terms of scale early on. We started out very small, had almost no money at all, and a very small team. I think we could have been bolder. […] and running with a bigger vision from the start.” And then “Do it.” It’s the best decision I’ve ever done in my whole life. […] And I was studying engineering as well, and I had one hundred classmates. And I know that almost zero of them actually went on to start a company, which is kind of crazy because I know a lot of them have good ideas. But none of them quite felt that they were able to pull it off.

Luck is an important topic in the movie

again: “Successful start-ups need a lot of things, they need a great idea, they need a great team, they need to be there at the right time, they need the right level of funding, and they need a lot of luck.”

Tim Draper, founder and investor, DFJ: “There is a lot of luck in the success of all the companies which have succeeded. You need a lot of luck, there were 25 search engines funded before Google was funded. There was Friendster and LinkedIn and MySpace and about 50 others before facebook became the big winner in that area.” [And it was the same with computer companies in the 80s!]

Finally do not miss Zach Klein (founder of Vimeo) in his beautiful wood cabin which reminds me of Thoreau’s Walden.

Stanford will invest in companies founded by students

“The prestigious American university Stanford will now invest in start-ups.” Thus begins an article in the newspaper Le Monde. The author, Jerome Marin, is rather negative about this decision, as the following quote shows: “The confusion is fueled even at the top of the university: the president has close ties with several giants of Silicon Valley, including Google as it is a member of the Board.” Without trying to argue, I think the reporter is misled.

Stanford va investir

But before I give you my point of view , I’d like to mention that I looked for other articles related to the topic, I found at least two :
– That of TechCrunch, close in spirit to Le Monde’s one, Stanford University Is Going To Invest In Student Startups Like A VC Firm. The article is also critical but I think better informed… and it also deals with the tension between the academic and business worlds. “That tension between academia and industry was highlighted this past spring when a number of students dropped out of school to start Clinkle”.
with references to another New Yorker article.
– The press release by Stanford University, StartX, Stanford University and Stanford Hospital & Clinics announce $3.6M grant and venture fund. If you read the statement carefully, it is about a gift from Stanford to StartX and a joint Stanford-StartX fund. StartX is an accelerator created by Stanford students and I understand that the University therefore supports this initiative. There is no mention, however, of a fund managed by Stanford as a VC fund.

The reason I think the reporter is mistaken is when he says that “Stanford will invest in companies created by its students”. As if it was new. Even if I agree that the stakes taken in start-ups in exchange for licensing of intellectual property is not an investment per se, Stanford still has acquired stakes in more than 170 of its spin-offs in the past . In addition the Stanford endowment has invested on an individual basis in many start-ups in the past (not to mention in many VC funds). For example, I found in a database I am building on Stanford-related companies, that Stanford invested in Aion (1984), Convergent (1980), Gemfire (1995), Metreo (2000), Tensilica (1998). Website LinkSv mentions Stanford invested in 143 companies. [I am aware there might be some confusion between investor and shareholder, so the topic remains somehow confusing].

Finally, in the 2000s, the Office of Technology Transfer at Stanford managed two funds, the Birdseed Fund (for amounts of $5k to $25k) and the Gap Fund ($25k to $250k) as shown the 2002 OTL annual report.

It is not at all new that Stanford invests in its start-ups. There has also always been tension, let’s do not deny it either. A little-known example of Cisco-Stanford early relationship. So nothing new under the sun. But you will not be surprised if I add that the overall result seems (is) extremely positive for all stakeholders, the university (including in its academic dimension), individuals, start-ups and the economy in general.

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.