You go with what you know.
What we know from four years of building Insider Louisville, our previous digital news site, is that people like lists, and they like to have robust business networks.
So, we ran a quarterly list of business insiders our readers needed to know … the investors, entrepreneurs, commercial real estate brokers, real estate developers, CEOs and top executives with the most exciting projects.
Even in a small media market – 1.3 million – the lists got tens of thousands of page views. The detailed lists were useful for readers, who wanted to know not just the players, but their back stories. And they drove new fans to our website.
Not that everyone wanted the publicity. We once included a very below-the-radar industrial real estate developer who dealt with top global manufacturers while running his $100 million business out of his car. He was not amused. BUT, he not only attended one of our meetups, he spoke candidly about his projects.
In Louisville, it was easy for us to do credible lists because we had direct access to nearly every influential person in the city. That’s the way smaller U.S. cities such as Louisville, Nashville, Cincinnati and Indianapolis work. Very few, if any, degrees of separation. Even Silicon Valley is like that.
Now that we’re doing Dispatches, a news and entertainment platform for expats and techpats, our mission is to be a reference for those new to the European innovation scene.
If there is one thing Europeans are going to have to change if they really want to develop their own Silicon Valleys it is the vestiges of stifling class barriers. The Class Ceiling. Unlike Europe, America never suffered the burden of royalty and an hereditary aristocracy. So a guy adopted by a working class couple in California, brought up in tract housing and fiddling around in a garage, created Apple computers after spending exactly one semester at a relatively obscure college in Oregon.
Until the past few years, the conventional wisdom in Europe has been the best and brightest go to a top university, then use old school ties to join a prestigious firm or a powerful government cabinet.
If they didn’t make it to the top, there was a lifetime position in middle management.
It will be interesting to see how or even if this still colors the nascent startup scenes across Europe.
Obviously, we don’t have that sort of access starting out. So we won’t have the institutional knowledge base and experiential cred to post authoritative lists for some time to come. Also, a Europe-wide list is too unwieldy, so in the future, we’ll do country-specific lists.
As we experiment with content categories for our beta site, I threw together a brief, informal list – torn from the headlines, as they say – as a sample of things to come. Many of those on the list are accessible. Others such as the reclusive Samver brothers … well, you should at least know who they are. Consider this a primer on the startup/tech scene.
We’d love to hear whom you would include, so email us at: [email protected]
Without further ado, here’s our informal list of people expats – especially new arrivals – need to know in Europe’s tech universe.
• Julien Codorniou. The French Codorniou runs Facebook Platform in Europe. When people think of the Facebook platform, they think of web gaming platforms such as Farmville or Candy Crush, Codorniou told the Telegraph in August. Through APIs, Facebook Platform provides app developers the creative tools and analytics to monetize their companies.
• Dave Dirks. Dirks is an attorney in Amsterdam who works with a number of startups and has done deals for European media companies such as Helsinki-based Sanoma. He also is managing partner of EVO Venture Partners, which invests in early-stage IT infrastructure startups.
• Pieter van der Does. CEO of Adyen, based in Amsterdam. Processing payments for social media hubs such as Facebook, Netflix and Airbnb, 9-year-old Adyen is the Netherlands’ only “Unicorn.” Tech.eu has the best interview with van der Does, in which he explains all the Adyen elements that have global tech titan such as Mark Zuckerberg throwing money at the transaction/tech company.
• Daniel Ek. The founder of Spotify founded his first startup in 1997 when he was 14, according to his Wikipedia bio. Now, Spotify is the top streaming-music app ranked by revenue, with 20 million paying customers. But success hasn’t come without a significant amount of drama, with recording artists such as Taylor Swift accusing Spotify and other streaming music services of not paying sufficient royalties.
Artists earn on average less than one cent per play – between $0.006 and $0.0084 – on Spotify, according to Spotify Artists.
Oddly, Ek claimed Swift’s departure from Spotify in November 2014 was a victory. He told the IAB Mixx interactive advertising conference that when the superstar removed all her music, the publicity attracted a whole new group of listeners. “The middle of America found out what Spotify was, so we had a big success,” Ek said. “I wish we could have gotten that attention in a better way than pissing off Taylor Swift.”
• Liz Fleming. Irish expat and Spanish startup veteran Fleming is the force behind Spain StartUp. A Kauffman Fellows alum, she heads up the South Summit, the largest startup conference in Southern Europe, which was earlier this month.
From Fleming’s LinkedIn bio:
We bring together the best talent from across Southern Europe, the Mediterranean, and Latin American for 3 days in Madrid to meet with customers and investors from the region. We believe this region is overlooked and undervalued and are working as a catalyst to make the ecosystem more globally competitive.
Fleming speaks English, Spanish, Irish and French.
Klaus Hommels. Zurich-based VC Klaus Hommels likes to get in on the action early in the game. (Don’t we all?) Hommels was an early investor in Skype, Spotify, Facebook, and other tech successes. Lakestar, his VC fund, specializes in seed and early-stage investments. This summer, Lakestar raised a 350 million euro fund to invest in digital start-ups in Europe and in the U.S.
This effort could mean the startup scene in Europe goes to a different level. Hommels told Financial Times the size of Lakestar’s newest fund reflects the growth of the European tech scene in recent years.
“There is a chance to now give [start-ups] a $20m-$30m cheque to quickly accelerate and become the market leader in Europe,” he said. “This opportunity wasn’t there five years ago, because you didn’t have companies that were suitable for the cash injection.”
• Xavier Niel. Okay, this billionaire French entrepreneur is a bit of a rogue. Niel has been a media and cable mogul since he was 19. He created France’s first Internet service provider, WorldNet, when he was 25. In 2012, he created discount mobile provider Free Mobile, which has totally disrupted France’s cellular industry. In the 2000s, he was convicted of “misusing” some of the money from a chain of peep shows (we’re not making this up) he owned, but was given a suspended sentence. Right now, Niel is positioned to become France’s economic savior, dragging the conservative French business culture kicking and screaming into the startup age.
From a New York Times story last year:
“He represents the Internet world and the Internet economy, something that is not really appreciated in France,” said Cedric Manara, a law professor at Edhec, a business school in Paris. “He is not one of them. He represents what scares them — the big battlefield between the old and new economy.”
Mr. Niel says his goal is no less than to instill a Web-based entrepreneurial culture in France.
“If people like us don’t start to change things in France, nothing is ever going to change,” Mr. Niel said. “Today France is the fifth-largest economy in the world. But if we don’t change things, we will be the 25th biggest in just 10 years.”
Niel is the person creating La Halle Freyssinet, which will be the largest digital business incubator in the world when it opens next year. The complex in the center of Paris has 400,000 square feet and will have 1,000 participants. Can you say, “Game changer?”
• Ilkka Paananen. Paananen is CEO and co-founder of Helsinki-based Supercell, a 150-employee company that made $1.7 billion – billion with a b – last year with top gaming titles such as Clash of Clans. Founded in 2011, by early 2013 Supercell was making 2.4 euros million per day having released just two games.
Last June, Japan’s SoftBank upped its stake in the startup to 73 percent, up from 51 percent, becoming the only outside investor as several VCs exited, according to TechCrunch.
Paananen is famous for saying he wants to be the least powerful CEO in the world, worried companies with dominant personalities are vulnerable should that person leave.
• Roxanne Varza. Varza is a Silicon Valley native who was an associate and program manager at Microsoft Ventures in Paris. Was until earlier this month, when we read on FrenchWeb.fr she’s gone to be director at La Halle Freyssinet, which bills itself as the world’s largest digital business startup incubator. La Halle Freyssinet is scheduled to open next year and is a project financed by billionaire Xavier Niel. (See above.)
Before Microsoft, she was editor of TechCrunch France. You can see Varza’s TechBaguette blog here. She speaks English, Farsi and French.
• Rubin Ritter. CEO of Zalando, one of Europe’s rare Unicorns. (Zalando started as part of Rocket Internet.) In 2008, Robert Gentz and David Schneider founded Zalando in Berlin, an online shoe retailer modeled after Zappos. Seven years later, Zalando is the largest online fashion retailer in Europe, with 2.5 billion euros in sales, and Rubin Ritter is CEO.
Since Ritter joined the company in 2009, revenue and staff have grown rapidly. Zalando was projected to have 10,000 employees by the end of this year.
“We believe Zalando is still quite small compared with what it can be,” he told Financial Times earlier this month. “Currently, we have a market share of 1 per cent in Europe [of the total fashion market]. We think this share can be 5 to 10 per cent.”
• Oliver Samwer. CEO of Rocket Internet. Eight-year-old Rocket Internet has 30,000 employees and 30 companies in 110 countries. You have to look at its website to even begin to understand the scope of this Berlin-based company, which includes Foodpanda, Jumia and Easy Taxi.
The overall philosophy is to replicate proven consumer Internet business models and transfer them to under-served or untapped markets where they can be rapidly scaled. In other words, their food delivery and digital ride-hailing startups are essentially copies of existing business, transferred to emerging markets such as Indonesia.
Samwer and his brothers – Marc and Alexander – started out in San Francisco, where they were impressed by a startup called eBay. In 1999, they took the concept back to Germany and founded their own auction site, Alando. In 100 days, they sold Alando to eBay for $43 million! And that’s pretty much set the tone for Rocket Internet ever since.
• Niklas Zennstrom. Swedish Zennstrom is one of Europe’s best known digital pioneers, founding Kazaa, the music sharing website, in 2000 with Janus Friis. But of course, he’s most famous as the creator of Skype, the name of which is now synonymous with real-time digital communication. Ebay first acquired Skype in 2005 for $2.6 billion. Then Zennstrom and a consortium bought it back, selling it in 2011 to Microsoft for $8.5 billion. Zennstrom now runs tech investment firm Atomico.
Co-CEO of Dispatches Europe. A former military reporter, I'm a serial expat who has lived in France, Turkey, Germany and the Netherlands.