Startups, bend it like Spartans

Lego Spartans

Startups and Sparta, for a look into how startups communities are collaborating – or not – in order to expand their reach and get visibility on the worldwide stage.

Silicon Valley, and the United States in general, Israel, Berlin and London. These are regarded as thriving startup communities and benefit from a closer look from the market and the overall tech industry.

Yet, startups are everywhere to be found. But some countries, cities or communities are still developing and others struggle to get their name on the entrepreneurial map. Let us have a look into these and draw the recipe for (potential) success.

Numbers and success.

This is a standard but an actual community, or group, is based on numbers. A group of one or two is nothing like a community or ecosystem.

What led Silicon Valley to becoming a hub is the grouping not only of innovative companies but people working there – smart people in fact – who did take part in building a community.

And then it takes success – or at least stories – to get the show running. Think Apple, Google, and various others and this is the success story which tends to trigger a gold rush. Silicon Valley nowadays is just yet another piece of land where some found gold.

The secret sauce to add to the mix is noise. Make some noise, be heard, be seen, be acknowledged.

This is where some great communities do have a lack.

Greatness in hiding.

Some cities or countries, although producing gold, tend to go strangely unnoticed when it comes to speaking startups. Or just being regarded as an ok place despite seriously delivering.

Nordic countries overall have given birth to some major – and successful – startups (think MySQL, Rovio – yes, Angry Birds – or Skype) but still do not show up – nor do they show off though – on the major startup ecosystems map.

Knowing Swedes, for instance, not advertising their success wildly does tend to go with their character. They behave themselves and do not make noise … and do not make noise either on the startup scene (just think Stockholm which could be sitting above Paris, Berlin and London). But no question that the Nordics do host a bunch of thriving and successful startups.

The fight for glory.

On the other hand, some need to get organized and ensure working to achieve goals.

France proves a good and bad example of an actual fight for (startup) glory. No question about the fact that the country hosts a lot of quality startups and is on par, if not beyond, the more known London and Berlin.

However, the World does not know (enough) about it, yet, and rather face the headlines shared between 75% taxes and taxis waging war against the likes of Uber and co.

In a bid to get all entrepreneurs under the same banner and fight the fight for image and visibility in the World, the “La French Tech” (#FrenchTech) initiative has been launched … by the Government … . One can but agree with this initiative that does make sense and is definitely needed. However, it should first have come from the startups themselves.

And this FrenchTech family still has not gotten the point. Communities remain communities, Gallic villages trying to best their neighbors and draw more attention.

From last weekend, having a look on Twitter at the Startup Weekends happening – 2 in France out of 16 overall in the world – I saw this one tweet calling people to make theirs better than the other French event happening (and, ultimately, maybe, get more visibility in front of the 14 other events).

At that point, why not just be a little smart and make noise together while waving the same flag ? (note : their individual hashtags were nowhere near trending).

Now, looking at the fact that, with this French Tech initiative, the Government has 200+ millions Euros to give out to a select group of the best ecosystems or cities or whatever they want to use as criteria, then the fight is only starting.

One.

The “300” film has made it popular. Spartans fight as one single unit, protecting each other. Well, successful startups communities tend to do so too.

By successful, I am not looking only at established ones (Israel, for instance) but also at developing ones.

Looking at Japan, building on a culture similar to France’s (entrepreneurship not initially seen as a career, failure not being an option, …), entrepreneurs have been – and are still – building an ever-growing ecosystem out of passion, sharing and helping each other. And in just a few years, the amount and quality of startups built is amazing. Not to mention that the mentality is changing with entrepreneurship beginning to look like a career path (just writing it is a huge progress) and even the Government actually willing to help develop the ecosystem of startups.

Japan is already catching up on Europe which had quite a head-start. But they do it through collaboration. They are working on something new, something not part of the culture but they have the same goal, hence Tokyo working with Kyoto working with Osaka and so on with the one goal to make every startup in Japan as successful as possible.

And celebrate all.

Two years ago, while on stage in Vilnius, I told Lithuanian entrepreneurs to “focus on working together”. Work together, develop together, succeed together.

And that goes not only for startups but every person, every organization aiming at developing this entrepreneurial ecosystem.

The startup scene is still young in this country and they are still developing but looking at it, remotely, for the past two years, they are developing at the speed of light. And they are putting together the (right) resources and support to make a name for themselves.

When startups develop, go abroad and take the stage, they do market not only their business but the overall ecosystem and fly the Lithuanian flag – alongside with the Lithuanian startups flag.

And then, Lithuania has been seen in Israel, agreeing on partnerships, at major events like TechCrunch Disrupt Europe, Tech Chill Baltics, etc … .

All working as one.

Work together, develop together, succeed together.

A closing remark, by quoting my own self, as this is the bottom line. Every community draws its origins in the work of many.

And the development of startup communities/ecosystems is founded on the same principle. When people strive to make any project successful, to develop together, cheer for everybody’s success and … basically, collaborate.

[Image credit : Flickr – Leg0fenris]

Advertisement

Building a startup with friends … hurdles to face

A post usually draws its inspiration in recent experience or trending topics.

This one comes from experience and me finally opening my eyes or, well, just noticing that more and more startups I face are built by a bunch of friends.

I mean, usually early stage startups. I also mean young friends. The fact that I came to my senses during a startup contest held by a university might have helped emphasize this pinpointed view, I must admit.

Yet, my title theme remains valid anyway. Which is quite good, be it only for the sake of this post.

Building a startup is cool. Doing it with close friends might prove even cooler. Succeeding with them would be extreme.

Failing with them might prove difficult, at least.

Quick look at the process of giving birth to a startup:

Some guys (gender-neutral “guys” so my “guys” here is both guy-guy and girl-guy), sitting at a table, sipping some beers, discussing the World.

Idea pops up. Guys like it. Let’s work and build on it! A startup is cool. Let’s build a startup! I like marketing, I am to be the CMO. You had the initial idea and study business, you are our CEO. Open road to success!

When this works out, these guys have the best life and job ever and can enjoy speaker spots at the likes of SXSW, TNW, and so on.

When this does not work out, well, an increasing number of guys I meet are quite unprepared.

Failure sure is an option.

Now, the issue to be faced will occur when it comes to the actual handling of what failure includes.

A startup, be it the coolest one, the initially richest one, etc… is, at first, a company.

And a company has to be managed. And managed quite seriously.

Hurdles, faced by startup founders too

Hurdles, faced by startup founders too

That is where my friendly bunch of “guys” might fail. Talking to these people (various teams, various people, same issue), I asked them about how they were organized, who decided it would be organized this way and, more importantly, how they would handle crisis – and maybe the crisis that their organization would create.

Whatever the reason for failure or crisis, when startups are founded by half a dozen people, it means the revenue drawn from the product sold (assuming it is even sold) will have to cater for the lives of this whole bunch. The more people, the more money is needed. The sad bit is that numbers within the startup do not usually make bigger numbers on the market.

Call it the bodybuilder syndrome. The bigger the muscles, the more they need to eat. If the eating is too light, muscles will feed themselves out of their own selves.

For the startup, it means creating foundations for losing money even before making some.

Then, there is a second hurdle to face for those startups with numerous founders: the roles and responsibilities.

Even if everybody is basically happy to grant themselves C-titles, there might come a time when the skipper (e.g. the guy that everybody “smiled” to the CEO position in the first place) will have to skip.

During harsh times, the boss has to be the boss and act as the boss.

My question to this boss : “Are you ready to sack your friends ?”.

I have had little answers to this question.

As a reminder, a startup is a company. The CEO of a startup is the boss. The boss has to lead the company and make decisions even if the decision is about getting rid of lazy buggers (still friends) or laying off employees (yes, the CMO friend) to reduce costs and pressure on the company.

Too many lack that vision. That sure is the un-sexy part of startups but the sorry real-life though.

Actually, that is the “work hard” part (of the “Work hard, play hard“). A startup is a lot of passion and fun but a startup is also a real company.

So now, guys, work hard ! … And play harder !

[Picture credits : Phil Roeder]

Young old geezers .. France’s next generation of entrepreneurs ?

This is Sam's Town - young old geezers ?

Some provocative title here ?

Maybe … Certainly.

I came to attend a networking night yesterday evening (soirée networking “100% Entrepreneurs”), organized by Dynamique Entrepreneuriale, a (great) French magazine targeting entrepreneurs (or entrepreneurial-minded people) founded by Julien and Olivier Nishimata.

Great evening, huge attendance (they were expecting 600 entrepreneurs and I would assume the figures are right), some renowned French entrepreneurs with the likes of Pierre Tremolières (Delamaison.fr), Augustin Paluel-Marmont (Michel et Augustin), Natanael Wright (Wall Street Institute), etc … . What else then ?

Well, with this great set of entrepreneurs, one could have expected them to give more, in some way.

They were speaking on the topic of basically “becoming a CEO” (and not remaining a startup founder). Mind you, I consider it a truly good one as I have often said that this is knowledge or experience that startup founders do usually miss.

They have to learn how to become the Boss.

Yet, these serial – or, at least, experienced – entrepreneurs did only scratch the top of the topic providing very general insight in my regards. Just go to the university next door, attend a basic business lecture and you will get the same points and tips.

Like you have to manage people, to hire skilled people, learn that you need to delegate, etc … .

I am a lover of the “back to basics” mantra but when having such great people on stage then it is still frustrating to have them deliver just the standard messages. It feels like not making the most of them.

Anyway, I am still impressed by the strong set put together here by Julien and Olivier (and their team) and the amazing figures when it comes to attendance.

Now moving on to the socking/frustrating part; from my point of view that is.

From discussions with people – that is networking night after all so chatting is why people are out there – I did feel like something was missing.

Reminder; a lot of young entrepreneurs, a cool networking night, nothing to fear, yet, the flavor is missing. The entrepreneurial spirit, this eagerness to move on, fail – or not – fail again and succeed at some point is not there.

Some guys, in their early 20s speaking like retired bankers or wondering whether they should go for a standard employee job (e.g. set hours, fix salary, peace of mind, …) rather than pushing their ideas forward, that does make for a sorry bunch in the end.

I can but only compare (once again, blame me for that) with my recent i7 Summit experience where any of the American startups presenting did display power, energy, passion, all the right ingredients of entrepreneurship.

The difference it makes, easy to call : the eagerness to walk the path of entrepreneurship.

Whatever the idea, any idea can be foundations for a startup (I will develop further in an upcoming post) but what makes the difference, the success (or the failure) is the spirit. And the spirit basically is the people, be it one, two, more working on a project.

Having doubts is ok but sticking to them is road to sorry failure. One from which no lesson is learned and no path built for another startup experience and another and another … .

I do still think that France does have amazing talents out there and the startup scene does show a huge amount of potential for success (the guys at “Rude Baguette” certainly do say it more than often – and they do have the experience and the educated insight in the startup scene) but there is still an extra mile to walk to come on top.

Competition is all over the place. The same idea is born everywhere, every second.

Founders, entrepreneurs, make the difference !

Back from i7 summit – entrepreneurship with flavor

i7 Summit, “A Global Conference on Technology, Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Society“.

Those are the opening words on the website.

After a sad miss last year, I finally got to attend this 3-days event, held in Chantilly (North of Paris), at a “chateau”.

A conference with some style, headed by Jean-Bernard Guerrée.

Well, style though is in the amazing list of speakers and startups invited there and put together by Jean-Bernard.

Hat off to him and the team – special high five to the nicest of all, Gigi Wang – as this conference does boast not only international speakers and startups (mind you, this pitching “lesson” given by Thuuz’ Bill Bradford. Energy, positivity, emotion, light slide ware, well, efficiency at its best) but wonderful people too (great minds, crazy guys, etc …) all blending in a friendly – say networking-friendly too – environment which, from my experience, remains unseen in France.

Actually, this conference does have a flavor which I would call, “a piece of the Valley”.

My personal preference does certainly play a role here as I could not be happier, being surrounded by English-speaking entrepreneurs, investors and so on. But looking back at recent events I got to attend, held under the golden roofs of the Paris Town hall, those did not really had whet it takes to get me off my seat.

Different minds, different opinions … .

When Tim Draper speaks about shaking things, about changing the world, about failing and failing and failing and failing again until we succeed then my Parisian pals (or so) would rather go for “making money”, “trying to reach x contracts” and, definitely, not failing at all. Or that would mean them out of the entrepreneurial world.

There truly is no way to easily summarize (especially if willing to keep it short) the huge amount of information, recommendations, advice, experience retrieved from this day.

That is truly the type of events French startups would draw a huge amount of benefit from. Where else do you see proper pitching, can get feedback from Valley residents and get to chat with VCs from Japan, USA and Europe all in the same place ?

Mind you, readers, Lithuania will hold a “Silicon Valley comes to the Baltics” event next month (mid-November). That is the spirit!

Know what ? Those guys I met, I should find half of them there.

Lithuania sure has some way to go but they have clear foundations. Build on those with Valley spirit and that may be tomorrow’s best hub for startups in Europe.

A conclusion. French startups still are great, the surroundings are too but, well, guys, put some flavor in your entrepreneurship!