January 2012. January 2017. Startupolic.com just turned 5 years old. It’s incredible how fast time is running out ! It’s time for celebration!
Why I started blogging
In one of my previous life, I used to be a startup coach and business developer for a technology park, lost in Northwestern Switzerland (in canton of Jura). My mission was to discover promising startups and try to attract them there, with a local economic development mission: bring and create high qualified jobs there. I was travelling across Switzerland, attending almost every startup event I could (years ago, it was still manageable !), trying to bring as much value as I could. With the underlying goal of convincing entrepreneurs to relocate to Jura (which was not a sinecure, I have to admit – but it worked out to some extend). I was meeting many people of the Swiss startup ecosystem, from professional investors to first-time entrepreneurs, from startup coaches to foundations. I had the chance to meet many entrepreneurs who eventually became friends: Arnaud Bertrand (Housetrip), Tej Tadi (founder of the Swiss unicorn MindMaze), Adrian Locher (DeinDeal), Pascal Mathis (GetYourGuide), Marc Bernegger (Amiando, etc.) – to mention only the most famous (sorry for all the other ones !).
I was meeting first-time and serial entrepreneurs on an almost daily basis. Most of the time, I was learning more from founders than I was « teaching » them. This just always impressed me. Man, I was learning so much. And, sometimes, I realized that obvious things (for me) I was telling were… finally not that obvious at all. I realized that I, Sébastien, was not scalable. Not that I did not want to meet people anymore. If you’ve already met me, you know that I truly believe in real-life interactions.
How could I reach more people?
At that time, I was an avid reader of AVC and BothSidesOfTheTable (well, I’m still a huge fan of Fred Wilson and Mark Suster – but now I allow me NOT TO read every post they share !). For about a year, I had this crazy idea in my head to start blogging about startups in Switzerland. Why about startups? Because it’s one of my passion. And passion is everything in life, right?
Early January 2012, I decided that it was time to start. Finally. I needed a name (the easiest way would have been to name it « Sebastien Flury’s blog » – but well, I thought I could do better than that…). I’m someone who loves to play on words and thought: find something that express everything (and yeah, tell who I am) while be funny. Startup and workaholic? You name it. Startupolic was born!
As you know, Switzerland is a multi-languages country, with German, French and Italian. In which language should I blog (hum, unfortunately, I can’t speak Italian)? English was for me an evidence. Even though I knew that I would probably not reach as many people as if I’d be writing in German or French. But English is the language of business and the one to make Swiss startup scene visible to the rest of the world. Because there are many things happening in this amazing country and Switzerland is not often under the radar!
So, my defined target audience was (and still is) a « niche audience squared » (startups times English)… Anyway, I thought the idea of blogging about startups in Switzerland was still cool!
I bought my domain name on January 9th and decided I wanted to publish the same week. I asked a friend (thank you Raphael!) to design me a little logo and to choose some colors related to my topic, startups. I was not aware of how to build a blog at this time, and I did my MVP (Minimum Viable Product) with tumblr. Which was too limited if you were using the basic version and pre-built templates, but ways enough to start. If nobody would ever read what I had to say, at least, I would have started quickly.
I had a name. I had a logo. I had a platform. I also had kind of an audience (my twitter followers – which was growing up slowly as I have never been a fan of « following back »). All I still needed to do was… to start publishing! Of course, I had already written down dozen blog post ideas. For anyone who want to start blogging: don’t just write down titles, write at least half a dozen complete articles in advance!
I published my first ever blog post on January 12th, 2012. Presenting myself (My First Steps on Swiss Startup Scene). Simply. I was checking my Google Analytics very often, to see if I had someone reading… not many, but there were some people on it! First check! And at this time, startupticker was not widely spread to leverage it to attract some visitors interested by startups.
I then had a very intense publishing schedule, with about 2 blog posts a week. It started to grow, slowly.
Even if decided not to cover startup news (well, I’m not a journalist, doing my blog alongside my entrepreneurial activities…), I had this first AHA moment 6 weeks into startupolic existence. I was participating to Swiss Startup Camp in Basel and attended a session from DeinDeal founder Adrian Locher. He explained their project of opening a new kind of incubator, directly hosted and sponsored by DeinDeal. As they were no other startup bloggers around (we are still, 5 years after, a very small community in Switzerland), except Jan from Startwerk.ch, I thought « this is my chance to get some easy traffic! ». And I was right, I was the first to tell about the initiative. I got some additional traffic, from people who were not following me at this time. Extending my audience: check.
I felt that I just used a cool news to get me some publicity, but could I qualify myself as a blogger? Not really. Or at least not to my definition of a blogger. I realize now that I did not define at this time what kind of blogger I wanted to be. I hadn’t made any real plan, as crazy as it sounds. When you say as an entrepreneur, that it’s not for the destination that you create things, but for the journey… that’s exactly what I have done with startupolic.com.
A couple of months later, I wanted to attend a tech conference in Berlin (Next) and thought: why not asking for a media pass? What are the criteria to get accepted? It was the first time I had to « sell » startupolic.com as a « leading startup blog in Switzerland ». It worked out, I got my pass without having to sell too hard. Check. And what an experience! This conference made an amazing job to build a bloggers community, proposed some amazing huge Airbnb flats to have all bloggers in it… I had the chance to learn more about the reality of fellow international bloggers (who were doing it with a strategy, for months, sometimes for years). We had fun and engaged discussions with people like Guilhem Bertholet (a well-known French entrepreneur & blogger), Adelina Peltea (a Romanian blogger, who was writing a book and who ultimately, one year later, introduced me to the management of dance superstar INNA – you just never know what can come out of networking!) and Dimitris Kalogeropoulos (Greek blogger and social media expert), to name a few. I realized that blogging could be more than an experiment and a hobby. I should have a strategy. Or at least, define an editorial guideline. I had it already in mind, but never thought too much about it: provide value to Swiss Startup scene. And try to make the scene shine / be visible outside of the country. And I did (and still do) not want to publish startup news: no need to send me press releases, it won’t get read. Why? I do not have the bandwidth to handle them professionally and do not want to be this kind of blogger.
At the same time, startupticker.ch was starting to grow, with support of professional journalists and backing from CTI (Swiss Federal Commission for Technology & Innovation). My positioning ended to be right for me and regarding the rising « competition ». Even though if we are not really competing, if you can be the first to tell about something interesting, you’d like to get the credit for it. But rapidity is the key if you’d like to be in the news business, which is something you need to be fully dedicated to, otherwise it does not work.
In 2012, I had a good dose of emotions and realized the power of blogging: nobody is unreachable. If you’re launching a startup, you may (or should) have heard about Brad Feld, one of the founders of TechStars. Entrepreneur and investor. Author of many must-read startup books. I had this simple idea of writing a post on which investors you definitely need to follow and listed Brad. People like when you suggest them great sources of content. But what amazed me was to get a comment notification, from Brad Feld himself ! Not just liking a tweet or so. But doing the effort of coming on my blog and commenting, simply telling: « keep shouting it » (what I keep doing here!).
I also met Liam Boogar at WebSummit 2012, an American who wanted to shake the French startup ecosystem with his RudeBaguette blog. I found a lot of similarities between our mindsets, except that he had a real plan and a full dedication to making RudeBaguette THE French tech blog, as well as expand his blog throughout Europe. He told me I could even be his Swiss editor in the future. But as I was starting my startup Coteries (we were doing « mobile fans club for musicians », but we’ve pivoted the company end 2014 into a MVP/prototyping lab) and I couldn’t invest more time being an editor.
And now ?
We are now many years after the early days of startupolic.com. I’ve learnt so much. Blogging is kind of part of my DNA, now. What kind of benefits blogging brought me ? Some recognition and personal branding (when people tell « this guy knows something about startups ! »), building a (small) brand from scratch and the fun of experimenting, improving my writing skills in English and finally how to design and write lasting content… to name just a few benefits of blogging !
I’ve learnt so much, both from blogging and from starting my own company, which we have been able to turn into a running business. And where we constantly think about and develop new ideas/products. We have even been able to develop internally a new startup (not spun off so far) without spending time to convince investors (what a huge time saving !) but focusing on customers: Planify. Basically, Planify is a service to get rid of PDF and paper brochures when you’re doing a group travel (or workshop). You share it now on Planify mobile application, which your participants always have on them when taking part to the program.
In the past 24 months, I also had the chance of being recruited to launch the first Swiss Fintech Accelerator, Fintech FUSION. It was in parallel of my entrepreneurial journey. What a challenge! I just ended my duty as Program Director (which was not only about the program, but about everything to run and promote an acceleration program!) and am now fully back to my own venture. To grow them. And hopefully, I’ll have again a bit more time to blog on startupolic.com. 2016 was my least productive year of blogging, with only 19 blog posts (but with a best-seller ever: « The Zürich (Swiss) Startup Paradox »). I’ll dedicate more time to blogging this year.
2016 has seen some new blogging and persistent initiatives in Switzerland. Finally.
My friend Christian Hirsig, a Berner like me (you’d be suprized how many people from canton of Bern work and launch startups…), has started a serie of video interviews of famous Swiss startup founders, on Swisspreneur. In German, even Swiss German… but with English sub-titles, to make it available universally !).
I’ve also met last week Cédric Bollag, from Global Tech Box. Never heard about him before he tagged me on social media, because of a listing (about top startup bloggers in Switzerland – I was not even aware of this ranking). We had a nice conversation and learnt to know each other. As Christian, he’s also interviewing startup founders and publishing videos (which is, BTW, an extremely powerful media). We agreed we are not competitors (and we have different agendas!) and that we should meet again or try to collaborate. You may discover some of his video interviews from time to time on startupolic.com!
What has changed in Swiss Startup Ecosystem in the past 5 years
That’s about 9 years that I am part of the Swiss Startup ecosystem now and the changes have been massive. In the past 5 years, Switzerland has seen a strong development of the scene and many – also private ones – initiatives have been launched. Startup Weekends and Hackathons are now widely known and take place everywhere across Switzerland. Startups are more and more an option for young graduates, because people realize they can do an impact and make sense of their life, without waiting years and years to get a promotion in the corporate world. Startups got hype. Not always a good thing, as the word is over-used and most of the time not appropriate (selling stuff online does not make you a startup founder).
But there are ways more people trying to start a business than 5 years ago. What does it mean for the scene? There are more and more people with the right mindset to hire! For growing startups or for corporates (even if they are still more reluctant to hire failed entrepreneurs, they are realizing that they should go deeper into digitization). Or serial entrepreneurs like Ralph Rimet, who get hired as intrapreneur / head of innovation lab in traditional companies.
Co-working spaces have become common and widely spread across the country, which were far from the norm just 5 years ago. Switzerland now counts awesome places like ImpactHUB Sihlquai (for instance), where you can really feel the pulse of the Swiss entrepreneurial spirit (5 years ago, you had to go to Technopark and the likes, but without the energizing cool atmosphere you find in co-working hubs).
Switzerland was late in launching accelerators, but has welcomed 4 different new initiatives in the past 18 months (Fintech FUSION, Mass Challenge Switzerland, Kickstart Accelerator and HEC Lausanne Accelerator).
VC funds in the digital industry are now also available (with Polytech Ecosystem Ventures with new fund of about CHF 40M, existing CHF 100M fund from Redalpine Venture Partners, serial entrepreneur Jean-Pierre Rosat launching 4FOVentures). It is not easier to get funded, but at least some new money is flowing into the scene. Compared to the quantity of money available in Switzerland, it’s still peanuts. But initiatives like the Swiss Venture Fund has been launched and prominent guys of the scene like Jean-Pierre Vuilleumier and Christian Wenger are pushing hard to close it in the coming 18 months.
What is also impressive with Switzerland is the capacity of the country to welcome a lot of new immigrants and the resilience of the economy to the surrounding crisis (not saying that some industries are not heavily hurt). It’s comforting for people living here, but in the same time, it still has a perverse effect on the « hunger to succeed ». In my humble opinion, Switzerland’s startup ecosystem has made a massive progress, but still needs to improve to compete with leading startup hubs (with more money flowing in and with startups growing here). We cannot be Silicon Valley (it’s unique) or even London. But I strongly believe there is a Swiss way of doing innovation and scaling companies from here.
For this to happen, we still need a wide understanding that our top position is not there for ever, and that Switzerland needs yet to invest massively in digitization. We start (!) to hear it from top politicians since last Summer… finally.
To summarize the situation, Pierre Maudet, in charge of the economy in canton of Geneva, has a great quote:
« Swiss people stand up early, but wake up late ! »