How to be an ambitious founder in Europe

Creating something that matters is hard. Learn to leverage your time, you can never get it back. Being a successful founder is not impossible, it is always exciting.

By John Mathews
In: Startups
Jun 09 2017

Whilst at the Lisbon Investment Summit I went to a session called “What it means to be ambitious for founders in Europe” by Oussama Ammar. I’ve written generally about the summit here.

Oussama spoke with passion and humour. It’s clear that he cares about encouraging would-be founders and confronting some of the cultural hurdles that exist in Europe. These are my notes from the session:

  1. If you are serious about building something that matters then you have a great and exciting future ahead.
  2. You can never predict who will be successful and who will fail. There are a lot of dumb successful people and clever founders can fail.
  3. It’s really important to learn how to leverage your time effectively. You can lose anything else and get it back but you can never recover the time you’ve already spent.
  4. The only way to succeed is to try hard.
  5. It’s hard to do something that matters.
  6. In Europe you need to be more ambitious than average (measured against other countries) because the environment makes it harder to be an entrepreneur. (Attitudes to risk, comfort, security, expectations of failure.. are all unhelpful for founders.)
  7. It’s not impossible, just harder. So be more ambitious.
  8. Everyone is replaceable, no-one is unique.
  9. You can always lose money and replace it. There is so much money in the world.
  10. Take a look at Crunchbase and see the failure rate for companies that raised $1m - $10m, it is the same rate for those that raised $10m+.
  11. If you lose money on a project you will learn things from that experience and you can leverage that learning
  12. … But you will never get back the time you spent.
  13. Zombies are companies that make enough money to survive but not enough to provide joy to the people in the company - aim high and…
  14. Starting a company is a big deal, like starting a marriage. Think hard about what you will be doing, what problem you are trying to solve, who you will be working with.
  15. In Europe there is not enough money to go around and this makes pitching hard. Silicon Valley doesn’t have this problem.
  16. On average a startup in Europe will raise less than a startup in the USA.
  17. Europe is irrationally concerned about risk. USA is less concerned with risk and this is very helpful.
  18. So be pragmatic about risk.
  19. Incorporate in London where the laws are good, even if you don’t want to operate in the UK. It has a better designed system of corporate law. Estonia is also good.

Best European city for founders

London, Paris, Berlin..

…You need to draw on all 3 of these cities, which when taken together can surpass Silicon Valley.

Anecdotes

The founder of Slack lives in Vancouver with his wife and kids. He spends 1 day each week in California and everyone thinks Slack is Californian due to good marketing. Forget national pride, be pragmatic. Leverage the internet.

The founders of Airbnb would fly from New York to California for 1 day each week. They were originally in California where AirBnB started, but decided that if they could make it work in New York then AirBnB would be a success, so they moved to New York and flew back for meetings , etc. If you ask Europeans to come to a meeting in London (which is not as far as California is from New York) people start complaining and deciding they can’t be bothered.


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