Saturday, December 13, 2008

I ONLY PARTIALLY AGREE with Michael Arrington's point that seems to have touched a nerve today (let me start saying that I didn't attend LeWeb, so I'm not speaking about what happened there, just in general). He argues that there's a fundamental difference between the startup scenario in the US and the EU. I'm not sure the reasons he states are right, at least as the most important factor. Some seem to be a bit too 'superficial'; you can do a lot of interesting business over a 3-hour lunch (trust me!). And even if you don't do actual business, you get to know people in a way you probably wouldn't (and all my Valley friends who have been in Barcelona can attest, I think). It may not be immediate business, but you get to a level that you know they're going to be there for you if you need them, and the other way around. And they put their own friends in touch with you when they're coming to town, so you actually expand the network over time.

In other words, 3-hour lunches, in my experience, are edible Facebooks.

Yet at the same time there's the undisputable fact that the vitality of the startup scene in the US is several times bigger than in Europe. Of course, there's always examples of great startups in Europe (like the ones Loïc, or Mike in the comments, point out), but the fact is that most of them end up being gobbled up by American companies. There's a reason for that. It's not the entrepreneurs to blame (at least not only; red tape is much to blame), but it's undeniably true.

What people writing on this topic seem to forget is that things are changing in Europe, precisely because of the internet: now there's not only European guys working in European startups -- or creating them --, and Europeans moving to the US because things go "faster" there. There's also Europeans who work in the US but live in Europe, and all on the same day. Yes, people who have a sort of dual personality, if you will, combining the American way of doing business with the fact that some parts of their lives are less "get down to business right now" and more inclined to personal relationships. I know it's not good to use oneself as an example, but since a bit over three years ago I started working for an American company in the online media sector, basically telecommuting while living in Barcelona (yes, high-speed internet plus VoIP phone allows you to have your office anywhere, wasn't that the point?). I went up the ladder up from European editor to a senior position (Supervising Editor, with global responsibilities), until I departed about a month ago, now preparing other initiatives (now in stealth mode).

People who know me say that I have a fairly American work attitude: I hate wasting time and like to work fast and going to the point, am results-oriented, entrepreneurial, and so forth. And yet, that's when I am working, which is obviously most of the time but not all the time. When I'm not working I'm just like a European, enjoying the break and yes, taking 2-hour lunches.

In short, I don't think it's an either/or thing; more and more Europeans are starting to be "psychologically Americans" when doing business, and at the same time keeping that different attitude towards life outside business.