Startups are cool. Founders are the new hippies/pirates. Setting sail for an entrepreneurial life, filled with passion, freedom, friends and all sorts of failures and successes.
That is the bottom line.
Now, meeting with entrepreneurs from various countries, in various countries too, proves quite an interesting experience.
One reason to that : entrepreneurs are so different in their character, vision and overall understanding of what it means to found a startup.
In my title I mention the USA vs Europe because these two geographies tend to show two opposite ways of being an entrepreneur.
Sure, Berlin’s hipsters can match San Francisco’s. Sure, (startup) parties are of equal greatness in London, Paris, New York or Boulder. Sure, developers are equally amazing. And ideas and passion smashing as well.
The networking of one.
But differences show when we start looking at networking.
What I knew on the large corporation side in Europe seems to remain even at startup level … in Europe.
I have attended a few conferences where the same scheme applies again and again. At networking time, prior, during and after the event (a little less at the “after” time though) people would gather where the food/drinks sit.
Fair enough. Great time to have a chat and get to know the cool founders around. However that, in France or Germany, for instance, would not happen that easily. The usual set up consisting of some small groups of friends or acquaintances, a few introductions happening and various lonely people either making calls or desperately looking at their smartphone screen.
Now, a lone guy trying to reach a cup of coffee is an opportunity for an introduction and a chat. However, funnily enough, the discussion (should it happen meaning the guy would not have run away without a word … ) would consist of giving names, saying a word about each one’s business and the guy would quickly enough find himself in need to a) answer the phone b) catch up with someone c) whatever.
This is uncomfortable networking experience. And that happens in Europe.
Compared to it, my recent experience at an event packed with people from Silicon Valley started with one guy welcoming me at the door. Then, after walking a few steps, another attendee offering me a cup of coffee, a chat and an introduction. Followed by a friend arriving while we were speaking – meaning further introductions and already half a dozen people on my “you have to speak to” list.
That allows me to explore further.
Collaborate or keep secrets secret ?
There is a culture of secrecy in Europe. Ideas do hold a lot of value in the eyes of people having them. It does make sense.
But, at the same time, I am more and more frustrated when meeting founders (or even founders-to-be) who only start the discussion by “NDA”.
Trust is dead. Fair enough. But could we still not consider everybody out there to be some kind of sneaky copy-cat freak ?
People here tend to hold onto their ideas so much that even a friend, asking for advice, would not disclose more information than the kind of company he would want to build and in which industry … . My advice : get some brains .. and balls (balls to have enough courage to believe in his actual idea/product and in advisors around who would be key to his success and brains to not waste my time – or others’ – asking for my time to speak about a close-to-non-existent idea – that is if he would not disclose anything).
Again, compared to the culture in the U.S. and the Valley in particular, Europe seats miles away from the habit to share and challenge ideas through discussion with anybody who is around.
I must admit I rather like to have people speak out loud(er) about their project as it does basically allows them to get not only advice from peers but also mentoring at the same time.
I am quite often surprised to meet with startups where founders, even if very knowledgeable people, seem to ignore the very basics of business (yes dude, a startup is still a company not some kind of 2.0 surfing journey).
That is where getting a good kick from a peer would certainly help (and help high level mentors – which I am not indeed – not waste their time doing kindergarten mentoring).
Time to grow.
From kindergarten onwards. Time to grow … for both populations though.
Maybe people in the Valley gets too “relaxed” and even if people share ideas it does seem that even the average ones (e.g. the umpteenth image sharing social app … ) do net get beaten up enough in the process.
On the over side, people in Europe need to relax a bit, share more and keep developing this proper community spirit that tends to grow (too slowly in my regard).
A back-to-basics for all : think, share, get things done and get organized. Succeed. Or fail, anyway. Restart.
What else ?
Thanks to Hubspot for the picture!