As you may know, I had the chance to be selected as a Venture Leader 2014 (I’ve written about it here – Gregory had to cancel at the last minute and was replaced by Samuel Welten, founder of Sunbeat). I came back from the trip to Boston and New York 10 days ago, and thought that what we’ve learnt or experienced could be profitable to everybody.
For the first time, the Venture Leader team was not travelling “only” to Boston. We’ve spent 7.5 days there and 2.5 in NYC. The experience is simply unique. It sometimes looks like a school trip, in the sense that Jordi, his team and Swissnex organized everything. We didn’t need to bother with hostel, program, taxi, training, etc. During these 10 days, I was surrounded by 19 of the brightest current Swiss entrepreneurs (delibaretely not mentioning our amazing mentors/guides). This simple fact as not being alone doing a business trip was already something new for me (most of time, I’m alone in London or at various business conferences)! It also makes you realize that other entrepreneurs face more or less the same challenges, UPs and DOWNs (hopes, frustrations, successes) than you. But we all keep going! And even if you’re convinced that your innovation will change your industry, you can only feel very humble when you’re discovering entrepreneurs who develop hardcore science (for instance, making paralyzed people walk again or extracting drugs from body of people who had an overdose).
The program is probably one of the best way to discover the US mentality. It’s really different from the Swiss philosophy of doing business. The simple fact that everything is bigger and that everything is going much faster already backs this assumption. You feel energized by it, as well as really humble. Americans don’t seem to care that much of the potential negative result, they just try. And are excessively enthusiastic about everything: awesome, cool, amazing don’t have any single meaning in the mouth of Americans. That’s just polite! In Switzerland, you wouldn’t use these words if you don’t mean it. So you need to understand this as quickly as possible to try to understand the hotness of a lead (either customers or investors). “Let’s try this” is a much better measure of interest!
We had the chance of getting a training at the famous Babson College, with two teachers (Les and Ed) who did several startups in their career (and the second one, Ed, is still teaching at 77!).
We had a lot of real-life business cases, even with the chance of being able to have a video chat with the entrepreneurs who founded these companies. The 3 key learnings of this training seem quite simple and obvious:
- Focus on the customer
- Everything is about survival (when you do a startup)
- Lower the perception of risk
We’ve also heard some demystification of the US market as an Eldorado for startups: did you know that only 3% of entrepreneurs looking for angel or venture capital investments successfully close their financing round? In this percentage, all startups who are not actively looking for funding are not taken into account. It is estimated that around 750 startup closed their financing round last year, on a total of 3M startups. Ed told us (without joking) that you have a higher likelihood of getting rich with lottery!
Another point that I was already completely convinced by, is that nobody signs NDA in USA (except in biotech/pharma). Most people can’t steal your idea anyway, because they do not have your knowledge and dedication. So don’t annoy people with your NDA!
One of the highlight for me was the visit of tumblr in NYC. Yes, tumblr, the solution I’m using since I started blogging. We had one hour with Lindsey, the HR manager who experienced and managed the massive growth of tumblr (growing from 8 to 250+ people in less than 3 years). Impressive. They seem to be able to stick with their culture during this hyper growth, which can be summarized with these 3 points:
- Fuck yeah
We’ve also met some Swiss entrepreneurs in NYC and in Boston, like Jo von Rickenbach who built a pharma company (Parexel) 32 years ago and grew it up to more than 14’000 employees now. My colleague Borislava Palanchova (but call her Bori!), from Audiolize, wrote down this quote, presented by Jo as applicable to new ideas too:
“All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.” by Arthur Schopenhauer
The Venture Leaders program is an incredible personal development trip, more than a pure business development trip. It is really valuable to every Swiss entrepreneur who’d like to enter the US market.
I’ve asked Bori (see above) what she thought about the journey:
- Key learning: “The trip confirmed my belief that there are millions of ways to achieve your goals, and there is no “success recipe”, which is the general attitude in Europe.”
- Feelings: “Energy boost, freedom from status quo and cliches, more determination than ever! Amazing experience which I was very happy to share with the other entrepreneurs of the Venture Leader 2014 team”.
And the final word is for Andreas Guggenbühl, of Selfnation, while climbing The Empire State Building in New York: “Hey Beat, did you this this picture? That’s startup speed!” (the 381m high building was built in less than… 11 months!).