Central European Startups and Global Ambition… Or Lack Thereof - Netokracija CEE

Central European Startups and Global Ambition… Or Lack Thereof

Every time an entrepreneur pitches such plan for his startup to me (and it happens quite frequently in Central Europe), I try hard to hide my disappointment. I am writing this post from Israel, where I am meeting with local entrepreneurs to hear their pitches and get a better feel for the local startup scene. After listening to several entrepreneurs this week, the lack of ambition of our region became even more striking. How come that there are so many entrepreneurs in Israel who treat their home market as a playground to test their product before its real launch in the United States, while our entrepreneurs have a hard time dreaming beyond Prague?

Lemonade stand

I don’t want to be naïve and hope to change the world. I am perfectly fine with taking a proven business model that works abroad and making it work here in Prague/Bratislava/Budapest, in the future maybe expand to other cities in my country.

Every time an entrepreneur pitches such plan for his startup to me (and it happens quite frequently in Central Europe), I try hard to hide my disappointment. I am writing this post from Israel, where I am meeting with local entrepreneurs to hear their pitches and get a better feel for the local startup scene. After listening to several entrepreneurs this week, the lack of ambition of our region became even more striking. How come that there are so many entrepreneurs in Israel who treat their home market as a playground to test their product before its real launch in the United States, while our entrepreneurs have a hard time dreaming beyond Prague?

Where are our role models?

By no means can I claim to know all reasons why the ambition of many local entrepreneurs doesn’t surpass the borders of their city district. I think part of the answer is cultural (lack of necessary drive and hunger for success, reluctance to share equity with employees and investors) and that will take long years to change. But I would like to focus on one part of the answer that we can change today: the lack of role models. Not success stories, because we have those. But role models.

First, let’s distinguish between role models and success stories. Many people credit the startup boom in Estonia to the success Skype had, as demonstrated by its sale to Microsoft for USD 8.5 billion in 2011. But do we not have similar success stories as well? What about AVG’s market capitalization of almost a billion dollars? What about recent acquisition of Cognitive Security by Cisco Systems? What about Avast, Eset, Prezi or M.dot? Each has shown that Central Europeans can build a world class company, so why do so many entrepreneurs still discuss how to deliver pizza and salad efficiently in Prague or at what cost can they deliver a pair of underwear to Czech households on a regular basis?

I think part of the reason is that the big heroes of our region don’t talk to our startup community enough. The coverage of our media and startup events focuses more frequently on the local barons of subscription and food delivery services or ecommerce, so we have no choice but to adopt these local business owners as our role models (credit to the exceptions, recent Startup Summit was great). How many of us have heard how AVG Technologies managed to grow from its Brno office to become the first Czech technology company to be traded on New York Stock Exchange or how Avast was able to reach more than 170 million PC, Mac and Android devices? Why aren’t the hard-earned lessons of building a global company from Central Europe being passed on to us? It seems that the true pioneers of our region are often too busy with their other endeavors to coach a new generation of global entrepreneurs. So what can we do about it?

Where can we get that global ambition?

I can think of at least one place where there is no shortage of role models: Silicon Valley. Does that mean we have to travel to Silicon Valley to get inspired? Not at all. As a matter of fact I don’t think we need to leave our living rooms. Here are a few tips from the team at Credo:

  • Watch Kevin Rose’s Foundation series. I think everyone whose mind came across the idea of starting a company at least once should watch it. Even if it hasn’t, I am sure you will get inspired. Foundation is a place where world class entrepreneurs such as Elon Musk, Ben Horowitz, Kevin Systrom or Dave Morin share their stories.
  • Get immersed by blogs written by global players. Go to aggregators such as TechCrunch, or straight to the source like blogs of general partners of Andreessen Horowitz. Read them daily
  • Check out StartupYard’s company StartitUp, which is a startup guide with tons of great content
  • Study the influential books teaching you how to build global products and companies. There are still many entrepreneurs out there who haven’t read The Lean Startup. Or The Four Steps to the Epiphany. Or The Founder’s Dilemmas.
  • If you want to get a more complete reading list or are interested in books and blogs that focus on certain aspects of building a startup (marketing, growth hacking, big data etc.) just shoot me an email, I’d be happy to share more resources

I can’t claim that if we rediscover our courage to change the world, Central Europe is automatically going to become the next Israel. But I am pretty sure that if we would aim for the moon and stars, we would at least land further than the outskirts of Prague. Heck, if Israelis can build global startups, why can’t we?

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