The New Title is Here!

23. 10. 2013 § Leave a comment

Back in August, I asked for your input on a new title for the book.

I got some great ideas and input. Then, a few weeks ago, I turned to a smaller audience with two different versions I had cooked up. This smaller audience – as some of you know – were subscribers to the newsletter I’m putting out, accompanying the process (journey?) of creating this book. So, the subscribers got the small privilege of exclusivity in learning in advance of the two options and having the chance to vote on these.

There will be more exclusive offers and content like this. In my view, the newsletter subscribers are the biggest fans of this project, and I want to thank every one of you out there.

There are currently 138 newsletter subscribers. That’s a small number, but I’m ok with that. A small, dedicated group of fans is a good core audience, and, let’s face it, I’m no JK Rowling or George R. R. Martin😛 Now … If all of you reading this blog who are not yet subscribed would subscribe *and* tell your friends who might be interested – that would be just great!

Back to the title thing. First of all I want to thank *everyone* who came back with input for your feedback. HUGE THANKS, PEOPLE! Now … I need to call out three people whose suggestions I found to be closest to home: Oliver Holle, Fred Destin and Robin Wauters. THANKS GUYS!

The dilemma I presented through the newsletter was between two title / subtitle combinations.

“Magellan’s Heirs: Conversations With Leaders of the European Startup Revolution”

and

“The European Startup Revolution: Conversations With Leaders Going for Global Success”

It may not be as apparent from just a blog post what the difference between titles and subtitles was, so I presented this as an online PDF document.

Well, let’s cut to the chase. The new title is “The European Startup Revolution”!

Why this choice? I’ve decided to be more pragmatic than poetic. Firstly, I’d like the stories of the entrepreneurs to go out to a wider audience than those of us who are part of a small, elite, tightly knit European startup community. My hope (and we’ll see how that turns out!) is that people with a general interest in business, entrepreneurship and innovation will find it interesting.

There are many amazing, successful and inspiring leaders in Europe. Obviously, I was able to speak with only a few here. Nevertheless, the mainstream business media, even European media, is so obsessed with American “celeb” CEO’s (with all due respect to those great people, of course) that I wanted to counterbalance that, with what little power I as a writer have, with the stories and conversations in this book. From that perspective, an audience as wide as possible, both in Europe and elsewhere, is important to me. I feel that audience will be somewhat larger if the title of the book is more to the point.

Not to be *too* lofty and academic about it – I’d also like to make at least *some* money!

Now, about the response to my question from the newsletter subscribers. 28 of the 138 came back with answers (a nice percentage btw). The score was 17 : 11 in favor of the title I chose myself. This tells me that most of my core group is in favor of the pragmatic version – but also that there is a significant minority which would prefer the more … let’s say … creative version.

With the flexibility digital and e-book technology offers us … even multiple versions might be possible …. But let’s leave that line of thought for another time🙂

The Need for Speed

16. 08. 2013 § 3 Comments

Earlier this year – on or about March 1st – I was reading an article on one of the tech blogs about how Andrew Mason, founder and CEO of Groupon, got fired. The article began something like „Four years ago, when Groupon was founded …“

I stopped reading the article and started thinking about this. Four years! It had seemed to me that Groupon had been around forever. There was, and still is, a ton of controversy around Groupon and around the whole daily deal industry. Let’s forget about all of that for a moment. What struck me was the timeframe and how much had happened in those four short years.

A company – Groupon – was founded and achieved amazing growth in that time span. It went from zero to thousands of employees, went public and spawned an entire industry of competitors, copycats and clones.

How about startups in Europe and, closer to home, in my native region of Southeast Europe? Well… some of them have made amazing progress in the past couple of years. Others… not so much. Here’s a typical dialogue with some startup founders I’ve had a few times recently:

„Hey! Haven’t seen you in a while, how’s it going? How are things at your XYZ startup?“

„Not so bad, in fact. We’re finally at break-even!“

„Thinking about funding?“

„Well… we’re always open to investment, of course, but we’re not actively fundraising. Like I said, we’re breaking even so we don’t think funding is so critical right now.“

Discussions about fundraising at conferences and other networking events, as well as online, sooner or later drift towards the utopian ideal of bootstrapping. „Take VC money only if you really have to!“ is a piece of advice I sometimes hear. „Look at this horrible example or this one where startup XYZ took VC funding and then crashed and burned because of pressure from the investors!“

Well, bootstrapping is „Nice Work if You Can Get It“, as Fred Astaire used to sing. By „it“ I mean not just breaking even but growing like crazy. We’ve seen a couple of great examples of successful bootsrapped startups in our region, Nordeus probably being the most spectacular among them.

Well, I have news for you, dear startup founders: It’s not going to happen! Let me rephrase that: It’s very, very, very unlikely that you will be able to grow quickly based purely on customer revenues plus (maybe) a little seed money. Therefore, you need to actively fundraise if you want to turn that WWI biplane into a rocket ship.

Some of you may be reading this and thinking „Well… hellooo!“ Yeah, I know. I wish it was as obvious to all the dynamic, talented entrepreneurs whom I meet and talk to on the ground. It’s not, and one of the reasons it’s not is that there simply isn’t enough pressure around them. Not enough pressure from their peers, from their investors, from the community.

So… all of us who are working with startups as mentors, writing about the high tech ecosystem as jounalists, building the startup communities in our cities and regions – we all need to turn up the heat. We’ve seen great things happening in the European startup world in the past few years. Now we need to see those wonderful things happening much, much faster. These founders really need to feel the need for speed!

 

Serbia: birth of a startup nation

20. 04. 2013 § 1 Comment

I spent the past two weekends in Serbia, attending startup events. Coincidence? Perhaps… Trend? More likely.

Seedcamp held its first ever event in Belgrade on April 5, hosted by the Serbian royal family, no less, at the Royal Compound and attended by the Crown Prince and Princess. The crown prince of startups in Serbia, however, was Vukašin Stojkov. We always need to bear in mind that all good events, and this one was no exception, are organized by great teams, many of whom remain outside of the limelight. However, someone needs to step into that limelight and Vukašin was definitely the man of the hour (or day, or two days… more on that later).

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HRH Crown Prince Alexander opening Mini Seedcamp Belgrade

I had the privilege of coming in early and helping the teams prepare, along with Tomaž Štolfa, and later participating in the various roles of feedback provider and panelist. It was great meeting old friends and getting to know new ones. Mrs Spigel and I took to AirBnB and booked a charming little apartment in Skadarlija, Belgrade’s legendary Bohemian quarter. I highly recommend the place for a fantastic combination of price, superb location and comfort. Aleksander, the host, is a great guy.

The projects pitching at the event were very good. One, TruckTrack, has the distinction of having Vukašin himself finally decide to get his hands dirty and jump in as cofounder. It’ll be *really* interesting to see how he juggles his various roles and responsibilities now. As my friends know well, in the “do startup founders need to focus or multitask?” debate I am firmly on the “Focus Focus Focus” side. Vukašin, Stevica, Ivan Burazin, Vibor Cipan – I’m looking at you guys! Another project I *really* liked was PubSonic. Founded by biotech PhD-type nerds, the startup is going to disrupt the field of stem cell research academic publishing. Yes, a niche, and that’s what I always like about a startup. It can’t hurt that the founder, Ivana Gadjanski, is a charming young lady – we need many many many more ladies / girl geeks in startupland.

The next day was Startup Standup day. This was the “graduation” day for participants in the “Startup Academy” training program and it showed. The pitches (a few of which we had seen the day before) were good and up to speed. Knowing how these programs work, I can only imagine what they were like entering the program. Good job, organizers! And huge congratz to Bal Balaji, cosmopolitan serial entrepreneur who is apparently not only “supporting” but, critically, *financially* supporting a lot of the startup activity in Belgrade.

Apart from the startup stuff, Mrs Spigel and I enjoyed our weekend in Belgrade with some good friends whom we are never able to see as often as we would like. Needless to say, before returning to Zagreb we made our traditional pilgrimage to the Zlatiborac shop, picking up various Serbian delicacies, many of which are unpronouncable and untranslatable (afaik) into English. Don’t bother Googling meanings, trust me: Just print out this blog post, find the nearest Zlatiborac shop when in Belgrade, and hand the lady this list: “Duvan čvarci, blagi i ljuti ajvar, kajmak, goveđa pršuta, paprike u pavlaci.” Unless you happen to be vegan, in which case you can skip this assignment and continue to stroll around town.

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Well… back to Zagreb on Sunday and back to Serbia on the following Friday – but this time headed for Novi Sad or, more precisely, to the Ceptor resort in the rolling hills of Fruska Gora, just outside the capital of Vojvodina. The idyllic forest retreat was built by the government and, I’m told, is still publicly managed. In any case – an awesome place for a startup event. So… in this green environment who should I find but the familiar Pioneers (Vienna) faces, spreading the Startup Live series of events yet further. I have nothing but respect for this project, as it has helped spread the startup virus far and wide.

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The coolest of settings for a mentor session

Most of the heavy lifting in terms of organization and logistics, of course, is done by local teams. Katarina, Ivan, Dragan and their team were superb hosts. Mentors came in from the neighborhood – Vienna, Zagreb, Ljubljana, Sofia… Again, a group of interesting projects, some of whom have strong potential. As is usually the case with “weekend” events, some of the projects were at a very early stage with founders not completely clear with what they really wanted to do and how exactly this would work out. But that’s fine – it’s part of the normal startup dynamic and ecosystem. A project that really caught my attention had nothing to do with IT, Web, mobile, social networks or anything digital whatsoever for that matter. A group of three technologists has developed a process to produce bricks out of – ash! Millions of tons of ash, of varying degrees of toxicity, need to be stored all over the globe, mostly in landfills. This project creates bricks out of ash, locking the toxic substances permanently / chemically into the material. The bricks are vastly cheaper to produce and have massive positive influence on the environment. I’m not an expert on this stuff but these guys might be kings of the global construction industry if things work out right. If they do, I’ll be able to say I was “present at the creation” of the project. By the way – they have been working on this for 8 years!

Present at the Creation” was my overall feeling after these two weekends. We all know the Serbian economy and politics is … well.. challenged. After the Startup Standup event I ran into a political meeting in the center of Belgrade where harsh words were blasted into the streets over the sensitive issue of Kosovo. “Wow – two Serbias!” I thought. Needless to say, we have a ton of issues with the economy and politics in Croatia as well. Startups are the best way for the most talented amongst our younger generations to create their own future, regardless of whether they stay in the region or take off to London or the Valley.

Driving back home from the idyllic forests of Fruska Gora, a tune kept going on and on in my head. It wasn’t the famous singer from Vojvodina, Djordje Balasevic. It was Michelle Shocked and her “Memories of East Texas“…

What a fantastic and exciting experience to be involved with the early stages of the development of a startup community in the ‘hood. Startups from neighbouring countries, the whole New Europe region and worldwide need to pay attention – some hot shit is coming out of Serbia.

Next interview: Branko Milutinović, Nordeus

04. 04. 2013 § Leave a comment

Rejoice, friends! I’m off to Belgrade later today to mentor at  Seedcamp Belgrade. Also – more pertinent to this project – I’m having coffee tomorrow morning with Branko Milutinović, the founder and CEO of Nordeus.

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Branko (on the right) proudly holding one of Nordeus’ numerous awards at the London Web Summit in 2013.

Many of you know what Nordeus is. For those who do not – Nordeus is a completely incredible and awesome gaming startup out of Belgrade, Serbia, with 80+ talented people producing “Top Eleven, the most played online sports game in the world, with more than 9 million monthly and 3 million daily users on Web, Android and iOS devices.” (as explained on the web site).

Football fans will certainly take note of the fact that, as of a few days ago, Jose Mourinho is “the new face of Top Eleven.”

Startup pundits, analysts and many others will take note of the fact that this juggernaut is bootstrapped. Branko and his cofounders have built it from the ground up, having taken no outside investment. Word on the street is that the company is so profitable it’s more likely to invest than to look for investment.

But anyway – fuck the word on the street. I’ll be talking to Branko in person over coffee at his office. You all have the opportunity to fire away with questions and comments for Branko. C’mon – don’t be shy!

And … of course… spread the good word about the book and the newsletter🙂 and ask your friends to subscribe!

The next interview: Andy McLoughlin

02. 04. 2013 § Leave a comment

Heads up, friends!

I’ll be interviewing Andy McLoughlin for EuroGeeks in a few hours!

Andy and his cofounder, Alastair Mitchell, have done amazing things with Huddle. Back in 2007 the Huddle team was Andy and Alastair and their office was a bedroom. Since then they have built a collaboration and document-sharing platform used by more than 100,000 businesses and organizations worldwide.

Along the way, they have raised $40 million dollars in three investment rounds, with each investor from previous rounds investing in the subsequent ones. As of mid-2012 Huddle was scheduled to grow to more than 200 people by the end of that year – I’ll be talking to Andy about that and other numbers when we speak.

Your comments and questions for Andy are welcome! A big “thank you” goes to Jon for making the intro.

Btw – subscribers to my newsletter got an exclusive heads-up on this last midnight (CET). So… what are you waiting for – sign up!

The newsletter

23. 03. 2013 § Leave a comment

I’ll be sending out news and updates about my work on the book via multiple channels. One of these will be an email newsletter. Since David and Guy recommend it, I guess it’s the way to go😉

Reading this blog and following my Twitter is a good way to keep in touch as things progress. Subscribing to the newsletter is even better!

So c’mon and join the mailing list – I promise to keep it brief and to the point. Also … who knows, there might be some exclusive stuff coming into your mailbox (wink wink).

Time to get going

02. 02. 2013 § Leave a comment

This blog has been dormant for a long, long time. Now it’s time to restart it. There is a reason for that & I have an announcement to make.

2013 is the year that EuroGeeks hits your screens. You choose the screen – phone, phablet, tablet. Some people might read it on a laptop. Some people may even get an old fashioned dead tree paper printed edition in their hands.

I’ve been working on this book for a long time – many delays, a *lot* of procrastination and a zillion things that have gotten in the way. Those things aren’t going away. However… I’m close enough to having enough interviews piled up – and a few more to do – to know that the raw content production – interviewing Europe’s top entrepreneurs and startup founders – is coming to an end and the time to start “production” is at hand.

I’ll be asking more than a few of you, dear readers, for your help and thanks in advance to those who respond. I will be documenting the progress and process as I go along.

Let’s go.

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