I am sure you have seen numerous books about how one Silicon Valley mogul or another has started his or her venture, but there are few books reporting from the scene across the pond. A new book, edited by Pedro Santos, attempts to remedy that situation with European Founders At Work. It has interviews with 20 different entrepreneurs, and as Santos says in his introduction, of course “there are many successful start-ups spread throughout Europe and there is no single large pocket of innovation.”
Santos has found some major differences other than the Euro currency that these guys make their money in. “Entrepreneurs looked to capitalize on international markets very early because their home markets were usually too small. Some decided to expand using white labeling, others by changing the platform or raising more capital, but all with the vision that the only way to succeed was to grow internationally.”
For example, there is Shazam, which started out as a white-labeling company before the iPhone thrust it into prominence that was started by two UC Berkeley MBA students before moving back to the UK. It made sense to startup the company there because the mobile marketplace was further along than in the US (and one could argue, still is ahead of we Yanks).
MessageLabs, which has since been acquired by Symantec, and TweetDeck, which has since been acquired by Twitter, both began in the UK and then raised money from US-based venture capitalists. You are looking back in the past for many of these companies, in the early days when there were few if any European VCs.
The founder of Xing, Lars Hinrichs, says pointedly, “Admitting failure, I think for entrepreneurs, it’s always tough, but it’s really important that you do.” There are interviews with founders of Prezi, the presentation software, music sites SoundCloud and Last.fm, the video sharing site Dailymotion.com and others that have become powerhouses and commonly known companies.
The chapters are arranged as serial interviews, sometimes with the multiple founders talking together. I wish there could have been more conclusions and lessons learned that were taken from these interviews, and a bit more judicious editing too. But if you are looking to get some wisdom from the European startup scene, it is an interesting read.