The figure of the delusional paranoiac, believing he is Napoleon the Great or Einstein is quite common, if not in clinical cases, at least in comedy. Medical books describe it as “a chronic mental illness in which a person loses touch with reality”. It seems that large groups can also suffer from such delusions. How else to interpret the phenomenon where numerous European regions claim that they are or are in their way of becoming the “Silicon Valley in Europe”?
Let’s get things straight: the Silicon Valley is only one, and is unique in very many aspects, such that it cannot be copied. But, most importantly, it should not be copied. Europe, as the largest economy on Earth, deserves its own authentic startup growth model. One that’s a good fit for European values and European needs. One, that is, that’s a good fit for Europeans.
Such a model model should be built around the concept of sustainability, as opposed to the US model which aims to domination and only cares about short to mid-term profits.
And, in such a period of crisis, where careless politicians blindly following neoliberal models unravel the European welfare state, we need the exact reverse policies in order to help boost entrepreneurship in Europe. We need to strengthen the European social infrastructure and provide safety nets to serve as counter-measures against the fear of failure which holds potential entrepreneurs back.
As Morten Lund, key early stage investor at Skype, put it “I could only startup in Denmark. There, no matter how badly you mess up your life, you will never fear of not being able to survive and have decent life conditions”. We need to take his lesson at heart.
I’m especially thinking of my own country here, were, in a mess of labyrinthine regulations, tax codes, penalties and counter-motives to entrepreneurship (essentially treating startups with the same rigid legal framework one treats established large companies), a failed startup doesn’t just mean you lost some money and time you invested and you can start again. It can very well land you in jail.
In essence, we not only need to build a so-called “culture of failure”, that is, make failure an acceptable outcome for an entrepreneur instead of considering it as a permanent stigma, we much also devise policies to ease the consequences of failure. It was, after all, one of our prominent European cultural heroes, Samuel Beckett, that put it best: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”. We should enable our entrepreneurs to fail better. That way success lies.
So we should learn that failing is acceptable. But that doesn’t mean that we should aim at “failing fast”, as suggested by the Silicon Valley model. If your aim is to fail fast, then you are not reaching far enough, you just go for the low hanging fruit. Reaching far, and building sustainable businesses (think IBM, Philips, Sony, Apple, Microsoft, Google, Amazon; not Instagram, Tumblr, Groupon and Snapchat) needs perseverance and long term vision, not anxious VCs and short term betting.
We need authentic growth models for start-up entrepreneurship (including of course risk financing) in Europe. The growth sustainability model should focus on usefulness and support rather than just excitement and expectations for extremely high and fast returns.
Silicon Valley itself is finding out that that’s not a viable long term strategy, and already fears loom that the party over there would be over soon.
Ours, on the other hand, might just be starting.