[Guest Post] ‘Buy from a Swede’… plus 3 other ways to support European startups
Recently, I was invited to an informal hangout with top European tech entrepreneurs at the offices of the inspiring Neelie Kroes, VP of the European Commission. Kroes wants to promote European entrepreneurship and the idea of the single digital market through a campaign called “Startup Europe”.
She feels that one possible solution is to offer young European entrepreneurs better role models, showing you don’t need to be based in Silicon Valley to build a great company. She’s signed up industry legends the likes of Niklas Zennström (Skype and Atomico), Kaj Hed (Rovio), Daniel Ek (Spotify) and Lars Hinrichs (HackFwd) as members of the Startup Europe Leaders Club.
But as Zennström was quick to remark, the Leaders Club is ‘not a job’. What he meant was that the Leaders Club won’t get on a tour bus with tinted windows to speak to packed football arenas in Paris, Barcelona and Berlin. It also means that most of the real work to achieve this single European market will have to be done by… you.
The good news is that you can also give it an enormous boost with these four simple suggestions:
1. Buy from a Swede (or a Spaniard, Italian or Romanian)… without the need to meet them first.
Why? Because reaching international scale is essential for startups, and our 27 national markets are making that very, very hard. Selling internationally will allow startups to specialise in high margin niches much earlier, instead of being forced to become generalists in a small markets. This, in turn, will help them to make the leap to becoming global players.
If you want to help startups, take a chance on a team whom you haven’t necessarily met in real life. Europeans like to look someone in the eye to get a feel for how trustworthy they are. But there are other signals to assess that, like referrals, testimonials and shared industry contacts.
2. Share stories from across the borders
On Whiteboard, stories about local startup scenes always work well – but mostly in that particular local scene.
It seems to me that Europeans don’t care enough about what happens in other countries in Europe, all the while following the US startup scene with intense fervour.
If you follow the tech scene a bit, you can probably name the founders of Tesla, Path and Pinterest. Now, do the same with GetYourGuide, Tradeshift, Wrapp or Klarna (all European companies that show incredible growth, traction and management talent). See?
If you chance upon a story about a great European team, share it with your network. You will help those startups a great deal in their quest to find customers and funding. And a stronger European ecosystem should ultimately benefit you too (because they are buying from you! See number 1).
3. React faster
When a startup has a request for you – a meeting, an introduction, some feedback – it needs those things now. Not in two months.
I recently did an interview with Steffen Reitz, the founder of Munich-based startup Smarchive who went on a trip to Silicon Valley.
He told me: “ I’m amazed at how fast good people will help other good people here. They’ll make time for you within a day or two. Here, I was meeting billion dollar companies after a few introductions – it’s like an elevator that brings you up in minutes. I can never imagine that in Europe.”
Startups tend to run out of money very fast. You can literally kill a startup by just waiting. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. “I’ll wait a bit and see what comes of this startup. See if they survive their first year.” Well, without your help, they likely won’t.
4. Don’t hold back (push the button)
And finally, if you believe in a founder or his startup, convince your network of their value and give them a warm introduction! I know it’s a very European thing to be cautious, to hedge a bit. But if you don’t believe in the idea or the company, give the founder feedback and help them make it better. Later, when they get it right, you can introduce them without holding back.
But that thing where you do a lukewarm intro? That’s how startups die. Because the founders will spend weeks trying to get an appointment with your contact, who is trying to find excuses not to meet with them (because your tepid e-mail gave the impression that you sent it out of politeness).
Europeans like to ask when “the European Facebook” will appear. Well, it will appear when you start to do these four things. Because it takes a continent to make a Facebook, and one thing is certain: it will need your help when it comes.