Wednesday, December 9, 2009

LeWeb discussions - where are multimillionaire startup owners in Europe?

I couldn't attend this year's LeWeb conference but I'm definitely going next year. As I can see from the live stream (thanks Loic for doing this - it's a great idea to have the live stream free for the rest of us!) the discussions are really cool and the list of speakers is amazing. What caught my attention is the Best of Europe panel where they talked about the fact that we don't have Sergeys and Larrys worth 16 Billion U$ each on the continent...
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I personally don't care about being a millionaire. I care about running a successful Internet startup and having tens of thousands of happy and productive users, but I'm not doing it to make millions or to sell out or whatever, I just like this lifestyle and it makes me really happy and gives me enough money to feed and maintain my family.
Where are the ultra-successful startup owners in Europe?
The fact is - the richest man in Spain is worth roughly the same as Sergey or Larry of Google, but they are young and run Internet company that is changing the world and he's old and he's running a clothing franchise called Zara.
So why don't we have Internet millionaires in Europe?
While I don't have all the answers, I think it's because of the following reasons:
1. We're Europeans, we prefer jobs, not risky startups
Not me, I've set up my company right after college (and it took me a while until I nailed it with Nozbe), but most of my friends wanted a nice steady job and started climbing their career path in a big company after studies.
Already during my studies I found out that most of my friends where dreaming of great jobs with great salaries, company car, mobile phone, laptop and all the benefits that come from working for a giant corporation.
2. No risk, no fun? Not in Europe.
Just as in #1, people in Europe are afraid of risk. Families find it really hard to borrow you money. Everyone's afraid of trying and failing... It took me a few years and a lot of hard work to finally create a startup that was successful. I had to do lots of client work to maintain my family and work on my startups in the evenings. It paid off, but most of Europeans don't want to risk it. On top of that my both parents are entrepreneurs, so I had their blessing and understanding.
3. Even VCs want a proven Google-killer
The funny thing is that VCs in Europe also want to invest in "proven" models (aka: copies of web apps from the US that worked there). They want us to make clones that have worked across the pond. They are VCs, they should be taking risks, it's their job, isn't it?
4. Entrepreneur in Europe is a 2nd grade citizen.
Sorry to admit that but I found it true on several occasions. It's better in Europe to say: I work for IBM, Microsoft, Sun, Procter and Gamble.... (put any big corporation name here) then to say - I work at home on a startup.
My mum once called me on the phone asking what should she say to her friends when they would ask her what I'd do for a living, because she knew I work from home and my entire team works remotely too... I'd reply to her: "I'm a CEO of a multinational company that is bringing productivity solutions to people from more than 100 countries in the world." - she responded - yes, this sounds really good, a lot better than: "I'm sitting at home doing something on my computer".
5. Europeans are thinking... small.
It's because of the fact that we have small Europe with really small countries with lots of language and cultural differences. So most startups start at home and provide solutions only locally.
It amazes me each time I'm talking about Nozbe with fellow startup owners as they would always ask me, why I didn't first start locally in our country and later went for the US market. They find it really amazing that for me it was an obvious choice - I read "Getting Things Done" by David Allen in English, I was reading US-based (mostly) GTD blogs, I knew GTD is most popular in the States, so why would I start a GTD app in my country where hardly anyone knew GTD? For me it was a no-brainer... See Apple's tagline: Think Different.
I'm already seeing a significant change and surge of entrepreneurship in Europe, specially thanks to all the "Barcamp meetings" being held throughout Europe. Things are looking up.
What do you think? Can we have another Google-like startup in Europe? Can Europeans make it happen?


Saturday, November 21, 2009

My top 3 blog posts for the first 2 weeks of November

So I started blogging regularly at the beginning of this month and I'm loving it.

Three weeks have passed and I'm happy to report that I want to continue this path and I'm very happy with the positive feedback I've received so far.

This is why today I wanted to point my new readers to the top-3 blog posts of my first two weeks of daily blogging. I've checked the stats using Google Analytics and here are the results:

Top-posts

Curiously this post was written on my iPhone (using iPhone's native email client!) just after I visited the local Apple Store and took the Magic Mouse for a spin. It's all about designing with less noise but more features.

Here I described my struggles into learning regular expressions - a powerful weapon for every programmer out there. I find them really useful during the development of a new web application I'm working on but can't tell you about just yet.

This is not a review of the Google Wave... it's more of a concern about its use and how it changes the way we use Email... should Wave become Email 2.0.

Question: Where these your favorite blog posts too? Which type of content on my blog you particularly liked/disliked - I'm starting my blogging adventure and would love to hear from you!

--> me I'm Michael Sliwinski and I'm an entrepreneur who's also the...
.. Founder of Nozbe.com - a time and project management web application
.. Editor of Productive! Magazine - a global PDF publication on productivity
.. and a blogger as well as a producer of a weekly 2-minute Productive! show.

Monday, November 16, 2009

There is no such thing as customer support department

We want to move in to our new apartment in a little more than a week and we've got some stuff to buy before our new home is ready. Throughout the last two months I've been busy shopping for stuff like floors, paint, materials for building walls, etc. Big stuff, so big that most of the times I wouldn't be able to transport these things in my own car. Today I realized that throughout this "renovation time" I've been experiencing a very mixed customer support from the places went shopping to...

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Usually the purchase process was very smooth.

Again, I was buying stuff for the flat, so I wasn't buying peanuts for $1 a pack, I was usually spending hundreds (if not more) of dollars on things necessary to build and prepare our apartment for us to live in.

Sales people were nice to me.

Obviously, the sales people were happy about a client who as buying lots of stuff from them and they were really nice to me and offered advice, helped make decisions, etc.

But then I had to pick up the stuff...

However due to the fact that I was buying stuff in quantities or sizes, usually the place to pick up the stuff was in a totally different spot from the one where I was buying and paying for it.

And usually picking up stuff wasn't all that nice.

Contrary to the salespeople in the same company, the guys in the storage rooms didn't care how much I was buying. They had to just give me the stuff I bought with the least effort possible.

Going extra mile? Not really. Going the required mile? Well, if I was lucky.

So there I am, just bought lots of heavy stuff that I need to load it on to my car... and the storage guys, even if there is nobody else picking up merchandise, won't help me at all. Since I'm a guy who usually asks for help, I politely ask them and to my surprise they would very often either ignore me or flat out reply: "it's not my job." 

Again, I'm a guy who knows what he wants, so instead of asking, I'm telling them to help me and I'm already angry at them, the shop and the whole experience makes me upset.

Every department needs to be crazy about customer support.

Whatever the sales guy did to make my shopping experience great, the storage guys trashed with a vengeance. I'm really sorry for these shops, but I refused to buy there again. We're in the recession and there are many shops willing to have me as their client.

Luckily not every place was like this... but there were too many where the customer experience was sub-par. There is no such thing as customer support department, there should be a "customer support company".

Question: Is your company a "customer support company"? Have you had similar experiences as I have? Did you inform the shop owner about them? Where's the customer support department in your company?

--> me I'm Michael Sliwinski and I'm an entrepreneur who's also the...
.. Founder of Nozbe.com - a time and project management web application
.. Editor of Productive! Magazine - a global PDF publication on productivity
.. and a blogger as well as a producer of a weekly 2-minute Productive! show.

Monday, November 9, 2009

How I work series on Inc. - how my guru CEO's love their work

I really enjoyed the "Way I work" series on INC. Magazine where they are portraying several very cool Internet CEO's so you can get a glimpse as to how their day looks like and how they get stuff done.

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He's not checking email first thing in the morning, he loves tea and goes to the office if he feels like it. If he doesn't he works from home. These days his top priority is writing copy on their pages to make sure they communicate clearly.

The famous chefs inspire Jason as they share all they know clearly with the audience without fearing that someone would just copy their recipes. They make millions sharing all they know with millions.

He usually orders lunch and on Thursday organizes catering in the office so that people can meet at least once a week. Cool idea to gather people who usually work from home. He likes cooking and eating out, but nothing fancy. My kind of a guy :-)

He doesn't believe in big long term plans, other than making cool and easy to use software.

He wakes up without alarm clock and starts with reading. He travels to many WordCamps (Wordpress Barcamps) and lots of conferences. And he still manages a big portion of the code (he's the guy behind Akismet - great anti-comment-spam filter).

He really likes lunches and enjoys the company of Toni Schneider, his CEO. He's got an assistant, Maya Desai, who bears a cool title of "anti-chaos engineer".

He loves to take photos, lots of them - has a photo blog formerly known as photmatt, now just ma.tt 

His vision for Wordpress is to create a long-lasting platform, a movement, and enable people to earn a living from their blogs. His mom started blogging recently, after 6 years of his involvement in Wordpress.

He wakes up early in the morning to ride his bike. He has 18 bikes in the garage and owns two dealerships.

Bob has a home office but also rides to his real office by bike around noon. He believes in investing money where it impacts the customer, so his office consists of cheap but functional furniture.

He doesn't do lunches, eats in the office where he's thinking about advertising - he believes that advertising affects most his bottom line - he even has software that tracks all of the campaigns they are running to make sure the bucks are well spent.

He is thinking a lot about his business, contrary to what other believe, he's not surrounded by Godaddy-girls all of the time and he lives by his brother's mantra: "We're not here for a long time; we're here for a good time."

What do all of these guys have in common?

1. They love their work and their companies - this work defines them and helps them grow.

2. They get lot of support from their assistants and co-workers - they wouldn't have accomplished all of that without their support.

3. They combine work and play - they don't stress, work 15 hours a day or live in the office (all have home-offices!)

Really great people to get inspiration from. My kind of life :-)

Question: Which kind of CEO do you want to be? How would you get things done as a CEO? How do you find your work-life balance?

--> me I'm Michael Sliwinski and I'm an entrepreneur who's also the...
.. Founder of Nozbe.com - a time and project management web application
.. Editor of Productive! Magazine - a global PDF publication on productivity
.. and a blogger as well as a producer of a weekly 2-minute Productive! show.