SWITCH Conference, Coimbra: Entrepreneurship [en]

Running notes from the SWITCH conference in Coimbra. Are not perfect. Feel free to add info in the comments, or corrections.

Celso Martinho

CTO of Sapo. A frog’s perspective on entrepreneurship.

University project became startup. 6 students in the beginning. Now, 250 people. Celso does not consider himself an entrepreneur anymore — was once, but not anymore.

Was there a secret formula to create Sapo? Beer + time + a black swan ūüôā (they had a lot of fun doing stuff they liked, had a lot of time on their hands to do it, and… luck) steph-note: read the book if you haven’t

Open source rules.

Growing is painful. Accountability vs. Flexibility. Had to build in processes as they grew, but wanted to keep the spirit and flexibility they had when they started — big challenge they face today.

Success is a balance between the things you do right and the things you do wrong. OK to do things wrong, but you have to be doing enough things right for the balance. Learn from mistakes.

Stay close to talent. (Some kind of programming contest, workshops, emergent technology…) Keep the work environment fun. Work hard and don’t give up. Irreverence.

Fred Oliveira

Fred (@f) is a UX designer and founder of We Break Stuff. Non-funny talk: do NOT become and entrepreneur. (Fred doesn’t consider himself an entrepreneur.) Joined TechCrunch in 2005 (early one), joined another company, and came back to Portugal and thought it was a good idea to found his own company.

Do not do what he did, he tells us. Your life will become a mess!

“Entrepreneurs are idiots because…”

  • their brains act differently from normal people => work work work work work lobes all over the brain
  • they do not have clocks or watches, no sense of time (when they go to bed, when they get up…) — the hand of the clock si always on “work”
  • they wallets are empty; weird relationship with bank accounts: empty, then get a lot of money, then spend it all… (emo-piggy-banks)
  • their social life resembles that of a carrot (carrots do not have fun, go out to night clubs, have coffee… — they sit at their computers all day)

What motivates these people? (you must be crazy to be an entrepreneur, so…?)

  • take pride in working for themselves, are their own boss
  • they get to work on “new ideas”
  • they fix “real problems” (whatever that means, look at foursquare)
  • they enjoy failure (WTF)

Odd, awkward, often lonely people, as you can see. But they’re actually changing the world. Even if I’m not using foursquare now, it doesn’t mean it’s not going to be a big thing at some point. You CAN change the world.

That being said, Fred is really happy with his life. Go make something special (but don’t become a carrot). Ask him anything.

Robert Boogaard

One of the fun things about being an entrepreneur is you can wake up in the morning thinking you’re just going to the SWITCH conference, and around 11:30 you learn that you’re giving a talk after lunch! ūüôā

The tough time Ricardo and his team have been through these last days show exactly what entrepreneurs need to be made of. You take risks. Portuguese entrepreneurship.

Robert has always been an entrepreneur. Now invests in startups.

There are a lot of great people with great ideas in Portugal, but because of the fear of failure, not many happen. Entrepreneurial spirit is picking up. In Portugal it’s really hard to raise money. So: Financing Your Dream. Actually, Robert believes raising money here is quite easy: the competition is pretty low. If you have a good idea, you have your chances. Investors in Portugal struggle to find good projects and good entrepreneurs.

Most people, when they start out, are very bad at raising money. First of all, you need to identify what your dream is. Being an entrepreneur is not for everyone. You need to decide if your dream is something you want to do for a living, or actually enjoy ūüėČ

Being an entrepreneur is a very unstable life, you don’t make that much money, you work hard. It’s not for everyone.

How do you raise cash, once you have that fantastic idea you want to make a living of? Most people go for the “easy” options, business angels, etc. One of the best ways of financing an entrepreneurial venture is actually your job. Work part-time and grow your business on the side. steph-note: exactly what I recommend too for freelancing!

Second source of finance: bootstrapping. Make sure you don’t spend much, and reinvest all the money you make into the company. The company remains yours!

If you really need additional funds, friends and family, but be really careful. There are also a lot of support structures in Portugal but it’s a lot of paperwork.

Expensive ways of getting money: Business Angels and VCs. Expensive because they take away a chunk of your company. Robert doesn’t understand how somebody would give away 80-90% of their company! Investors invest money as well as know-how.

VCs look for scale. Not a good first step. Identify the right source of finance.

You need to be clear about how much you want the finance, once you’ve identified the right source. How much do you want? Not realistic to want a huge chunk of money to be all expenses paid for the next x years. (You’ll also have to give away a huge part of the company!)

Also, for valuation: what makes your company worth what you claim it is when you’re raising money? You need to be able to explain that.

Right time of investing: not easy to figure that out. Research the people you approach. Know who you’re talking to. Tailor your approach. The more passionate you are, the more chances. Be yourself. Don’t tell the investors what you think they want to hear. (steph-note: just like with dating, no use pretending you’re somebody you’re not!)

If you have weaknesses, talk about them, and say how you’re adressing them. Entrepreneurs tend to get carried away by their dreams. Investors receive tons of proposals. You need to capture their attention immediately, stand out.

Follow the process your investor asks you to follow.

Lo√Įc Le Meur

Lo√Įc by Skype! steph-note: not an easy way to give a talk

If you’re thinking about launching a startup, stop thinking and try doing as much as you can. Do something, even if it’s a bit broken.

It doesn’t matter if you change course. Many businesses start out by being something else (Skype, Seesmic, Flickr…).

Start small, and start collecting support and people around an idea. Go for something you have a passion for. Lo√Įc has a passion for social networking, so working on seesmic doesn’t feel like working at all. Invest time and energy in gathering a community around your project.

Another rule: share your idea. Don’t go the NDA route. Develop your idea openly. It will be enriched by others. steph-note: this way of doing things puts the idea at the centre, rather than the person — it’s more selfless, benefits the community more, and therefore has more chances of actually happening and making a difference

Don’t pay too much attention to the people who tell you that you will fail.

Ship a product, then ask for feedback! Use that feedback, and learn. Interact with people directly. Gather all the feedback on a site which will help you decide what’s possible to do. Then you need to act on it. People like a company that listens — and answers.

Read Lo√Įc’s do’s and don’ts about starting a business.

Lift09: Turning Lake Leman into Silicon Valley? [en]

I participated in a Birds of a Feather session earlier, titled How can we make Lac L√©man into an entrepreneurial hub? — I found it a little frustrating to start with, but it ended up really lively and interesting.

One issue that I’d like to insist upon is the cultural component of the problem. It’s easy to dismiss it as irrelevant, but I think it’s a mistake, because culture is the constraint within which we work. I’d like to share a few thoughts on the cultural differences between the US and Switzerland. I’m not a sociologist, so maybe they’re a bit naive, but I think they make sense and we should pay attention to them.

Not to say that all is impossible “because of culture”, but I do believe that there are cultural reasons this area is not “another Silicon Valley”. I don’t mean that it cannot become a good place for entrepreneurs. I hope it can, but if it can, it will be in a rather different way than the US, and taking into account the cultural differences between the two areas.

Let’s look at the heritage of Switzerland and the US.

Switzerland is over 900 years old as a nation, and the people living in these areas have been occupying them for a looong time. (There’s immigration, of course, proof typing these letters, but our culture has not been shaped by it in the distant past.) We are stable here. We don’t move. We are the decendants of farmers and mercenaries, and people who decided to “go alone” (Schwytz, Uri, Unterwald in 1291) besides the big political powers of the time. Face it, we’re a bit better than our neighbours and we don’t really need anybody.

The USA, on the other hand, is a young nation, founded by adventurers or pilgrims who set off to cross the bloody Atlantic to settle on a new continent peopled by savages (that’s how they must have seen things at the time). Many would die. It was risky. It was the land for innovators, for those who were not afraid of new things, who would try to do things differently. Dream a dream and make it come true.

These are (part of) our cultural backgrounds. Now, you can go against the grain, there are exceptions, but to some extent, we are prisoners of our culture, or at least, we must work within it.

I think that this historical and cultural heritage can help explain why the US is often branded as “entrepreneur-friendly” (what is new is better, and innovators and risk-takers are the kings) whereas in Switzerland, we are seen as more risk-averse. As we say in French, we tend to want to chop off the heads that stand out from the crowd. Don’t draw attention to yourself. I think the Swiss are less naturally inclined towards self-promotion, for example.

Now, these are cultural trends. An atmosphere. It doesn’t mean you won’t find risk-averse Americans, or extraordinary Swiss entrepreneurs. But I think these cultural traits end up being reflected in our institutions.

For example, during the session, Lucie mentioned how many administrative hurdles an entrepreneur needed to go through here to even get *close* to receiving money.

Another thing that came up which rings very true to me is that in Switzerland, we are really very comfortable. And as employees, particularly. Things like a mere two-week notice (what seems current in the US) would be unthinkable here (you get a month when you start, and it goes up to two and even three months after a few years of employment for the same company). We have incredibly good unemployment benefits (over a year at 80% of your last salary).

Now, I would not dare suggest we give up the security we have here in Switzerland. No way! But we have to take this into account when analysing the situation. If we want to improve things for entrepreneurs here, we need to identify the problem and offer solutions to it. And those solutions need to take into account things that we cannot change, like cultural settings.

So, what can we do?

It was pointed out during the session that there are lots of local initiatives to encourage entrepreneurs, but they tend to be stuck in silos. An index of all the “happenings” here would be a good start. It was also suggested to bring Venture to Suisse Romande on the years it’s not happening in Suisse Allemande.

Discussion participants wrote ideas down on a big sheet of paper at the end of the session, and Vittorio said he’s make something available from the discussion page on the Lift conference website. Keep an eye on there. Things are going to happen.

Cherche blogueurs branchés voyages (pour blog ebookers) [en]

[fr] As the editor of the upcoming ebookers blog in French, I'm looking for a few motivated French-speaking bloggers to write about travel-related topics (paid blogging).

Ceux qui me suivent sur Twitter ont peut-être déjà vu passer un appel ou deux. Voici les détails.

Vous connaissez certainement ebookers, la première agence de voyages en ligne suisse. Ils ont depuis un moment déjà un blog en allemand, et désirent à présent en lancer un en français.

La r√©dactrice en chef de ce nouveau blog couvrant toutes sortes de sujets touchant au voyage, c’est bibi. Nous publierons une vingtaine de billets par mois. Les auteurs seront r√©mun√©r√©s (quelques dizaines de francs par article; ce ne sont donc pas des sommes folles, mais un contributeur r√©gulier peut esp√©rer faire quelques centaines de francs par mois suivant la quantit√© de publications) et on commence en janvier. De plus, participer ainsi √† un projet de blog collectif permet d’augmenter sa visibilit√© en tant que blogueur, et d’acqu√©rir une exp√©rience professionnelle originale.

Donc, op√©ration recrutement: je recherche trois-quatre blogueurs motiv√©s et passionn√©s par les voyages, int√©ress√©s √† contribuer r√©guli√®rement √† ce “blog de voyages” (m√©lange de sujets libres et de sujets “sur commande”). Plusieurs personnes m’ont d√©j√† signifi√©e leur int√©r√™t. Histoire de formuler tout √ßa (et aussi parce que tout ce qui est “sous” passera par Blogwerk, l’entreprise qui g√®re ce projet pour ebookers), j’ai pr√©par√© un petit formulaire de candidature que vous trouverez ci-dessous. On vous demande 5 id√©es d’articles et un exemple d’article. N’h√©sitez pas √† √©tudier un peu le blog en allemand pour vous faire une id√©e des sujets possibles (destinations, tuyaux pratiques, voyage en g√©n√©ral, actualit√©s, r√©cits de voyage&)

J’attends avec impatience vos candidatures, et je me r√©jouis du d√©marrage de ce blog! Si vous avez des questions, les commentaires sont l√† pour √ßa.

Learning to Have an Office [en]

[fr] C'est étrange pour moi d'avoir un "bureau", maintenant que l'ECLAU est en fonction. Mon salon est à moitié vide maintenant que j'ai descendu de deux étages bureau et étagères, et j'avoue avoir un peu de peine à trouver mes marques (le chat également). Je suis par contre ravie de l'esprit qui règne déjà dans l'espace coworking. On est une chouette équipe et je me réjouis de voir qui va venir s'y adjoindre!

With the opening of the coworking space in the basement of my building, I am now learning to live with an office.

Eclau 5 - settling down even more

This first week has of course involved a lot of settling down, but already, I have a few comments to make.

I didn’t imagine how disruptive it would be for me to have all this “extra space”. I’m the person renting the space downstairs, so in a way it’s “mine” (even if it’s shared — I have the lease, and provide a service to the other people who use the space). So, all of a sudden, instead of “having” a flat (“having” because in Switzerland, you rent, you don’t buy — unless you’re settling down for life), I “have” a flat and this space downstairs which is actually bigger than my flat, and which a bunch of other people will be using too.

I like that bit. I like the idea of creating a space where people are welcome to hang out and drop in and work regularly. I brought a whole bunch of my books downstairs (many of them my “recommended reading”) and I’m really excited to be able to share it with the other coworkers like that. Somebody bought biscuits and fruit juices, so we’re starting to have a little stock of shared snacks — all this will be a bit more organised later on, but the spirit is right.

Moving away from the “coworking” bit, what is changing for me now that I have an “office”?

  • my flat is in chaos, as I have emptied half my living-room (desk and bookcase) and swapped the old drawers in my room for a newer set (most of the furniture for the space actually comes from my Dad’s house, which he has emptied to rent out)
  • I’m working at a desk now most of the time, rather than sitting on a mattress as I am now
  • I like having a desk, but I miss the mattress/floor moments. I have half a mind to set up something similar downstairs — maybe move the couches and create some “ground space” in the corner near the windows?
  • I spend my day in a room with people, rather than alone. Even though we work independantly, that’s a lot of interaction for me compared to my “usual” days. I realise I’ve become quite a recluse.
  • neither Bagha nor I have really found our balance — he comes downstairs with me and has adopted the sofa, but I realise he needs to spend time in the flat (which is “his home”), and by extension, I realise it’s the same for me
  • I think having a separate working place is going to help me “not work” — and like now, feel relaxed enough to blog or do “other stuff” online (or even offline!!) in the evenings
  • I’m eating at more “normal” hours — because I see other people go off or unpack their picnics at noon, and so I go and eat shortly after too

I’m looking forward to seeing how things evolve during the next weeks. I’m off to the mountains tomorrow, all the more because I’ve been on the verge of cancelling all week (too much to do!), which really shows how much I need a break. I’ll be back on Thursday.

Espace Coworking Lausanne: Eclau [fr]

[en] I've been a bit quiet about it here, but it's happening! I'm opening a coworking space in Lausanne, Eclau. The address is Guiguer-de-Prangins 11, and drop-ins will be free. Hot-desking members for 100/150 CHF (depending on if you need storage space or not) and full members (with your own desk) for 300 CHF/month. (See my post in English on the Coworking Community Blog.)

Cela fait longtemps que je n’ai pas donn√© de nouvelles de mon projet de coworking. Tellement longtemps, en fait, que vous imaginez probablement que tout est tomb√© √† l’eau.

Que nenni! Le bail est sign√©, les coworkers trouv√©s, et je viens de passer ma journ√©e (avec une joyeuse √©quipe d’entre eux) √† d√©m√©nager des meubles dans les locaux de l’Eclau, l’Espace Coworking Lausanne. Regardez, on est presque install√©s!

Coworking Move 9

Enfin, pas tout √† fait. L’√©tat des lieux est lundi, ensuite on fait de la d√©molition de mur, et mercredi, si tout va bien, on commence √† y bosser!

Pour en savoir plus sur nous, visitez le wiki de l’Eclau (on peut, par exemple, aller apporter son grain de sel concernant le nom de l’Espace Coworking) qui est en ce moment la source la plus compl√®te (bien qu’un peu brouillon) d’informations. Le site web grandit chaque jour un peu plus, on peut d√©j√† nous suivre sur Twitter, et il y a une mailing-liste destin√©e aux “Amis de l’Eclau”, c’est-√†-dire non seulement nos membres et utilisateurs, mais aussi ceux et celles qui d√©sirent suivre d’un peu plus pr√®s la vie de notre communaut√©.

On organisera un apéro dans 2-3 semaines pour inaugurer en grande pompe notre nouveau lieu de travail et de vie& ne le ratez pas!

Web 2.0 Expo, Here We Are! [en]

[fr] Me voilà à Berlin pour la conférence Web 2.0 Expo. Ça démarre!

It’s the big day today: Web 2.0 Expo Europe in Berlin has started. As you know, I’ve been involved in the “Blogging Web 2.0 Expo” effort, so it’s doubly exciting for me to see all we’ve worked on taking shape, with all these bloggers present thanks to their hard work promoting the conference during this last month.

The venue is wonderful. It totally makes up for last year. There are nice speaker and media rooms, and even a secret live-blogging room. There is wifi (and I’ve been told it’s been up all day), there are reserved rows in the front for holders of press passes, the main keynote room is round and has nice comfy red seats, introductory music is good, Tim O’Reilly is speaking, and the slide screens are huge. Of course, I can’t load the Flickr upload page to put my photos online and my Twitter updates through Twhirl fail (even good conference wifi can only take that much, obviously, your predictable share of network timeouts) — but this seems like a good start.

Tim is saying that we need to think about how we can make a difference, that we need to work on things that matter, rather than on building startups because we think we can get them funded or sell them afterwards. It’s idealist, but I like that kind of thinking. He’s giving us all sorts of examples of use of technology for “things that matter”. Ushahidi, Open Prosthetics Project, Open Source Hardware — these are only some examples.

With great challenges come great opportunities. The Berlin Airlift.

Interesting hybrids between profit and non-profit: Benetech for example, the Omidyar Network, google.org, Enchufate al software libre, AMEE, wattzon.org.

EveryBlock, click diagnostics, patientslikeme, 23andme.

Robust strategy #2: create more value than you capture. Less focus on “how do I make money” and more on “how do I create value for my users”.

Stephanie's October Conference Tour: <head> [en]

[fr] A la conférence en ligne , je parlerai de mon expérience d'indépendante et d'organisatrice d'événements. Lessons apprises. Je vous encourage vivement à vous inscrire à cette conférence, et à la suivre depuis le hub de Liip à Fribourg si vous en avez l'occasion.

After I gave my Going Solo speech at LIFT earlier this year, I was approached by Aral Balkan, who asked me if I would be willing to speak at the online conference he was organising, then named Singularity. I immediately accepted.

<head> web conference: October 24-26, 2008

<Head>, 24-26 October, everywhere

Since then, the conference was renamed <head> (following some letter from some lawyers), and the speaker roster has filled up nicely.

<head> is an online conference. That means you can attend from anywhere in the world, watch the talks through your web browser and interact with the speakers and other participants. There are offline “hubs” in various cities around the world (including Second Life) — if you live in Switzerland, I recommend you head over the Fribourg where Liip are hosting a hub.

Eight months after my Going Solo speech at LIFT, I’m going to take the opportunity to look back at what I’ve learned. Both Going Solo and SoloCamp are great concepts and were much appreciated by those who attended them. However, they both left a dent (to be polite) in my already suffering bank account, and I’m aware I made a series of mistakes I was actually warned against when I announced my project. On being human and not listening to other people’s advice…

This talk will by my story as a freelancer and an event organiser. Success, failure, and heading forward — sharing my experience, whilst knowing that the best experience is the one you earn directly.

Wherever you are, as long as you have an internet connection, you can take part in <head>. No travel or accommodation expenses, and a great conference! Plus, as it’s an online conference, the price is very reasonable. Head (!) over to the conference site to register.

A Brief Update on Going Solo Leeds [en]

[fr] Des nouvelles de Going Solo Leeds (c'est dans moins d'un mois)!

As I’m about to head to the mountains again for a few days (back Wednesday), here’s a brief update on Going Solo Leeds, which is taking place in less than a month (September 12th).

Did I forget anything?

Business Thoughts [en]

[fr] Je suis en train de me rendre compte de la valeur qu'il y a à investir dans ce que l'on fait et qui fonctionne déjà. Sans vouloir tirer des boulets rouges sur l'innovation (je serais mal placée), payer le loyer est important, et lorsque l'on lit les histoires de ceux à qui les risques ont souri, ne perdons pas de vue qu'on entend rarement parler des perdants.

I think a bunch of things I’ve been reading and thinking about over the last months are starting to come to something.

For example, one thing I’m realising is that it’s easier to pursue and grow existing business than do new things from scratch. I mean this in two ways:

  • existing customers
  • “stuff you do” that actually brings in money

If I look at the past two years, there are a handful of things that have consistently helped pay the rent. If I look back, I’ve spent a lot of energy over the past year trying to do “stuff I wanted to do” — experiential marketing, for example. Of course, it’s easy to say now with hindsight that I might have been better off concentrating on what had worked, but if experiential marketing had been a huge hit that had made me rich, well, it wouldn’t have been a mistake right now.

(I’m reading Fooled by Randomness these days, can you tell?)

Of course, taking risks and innovating is a chance to break through. I’m not saying one should always stick to what one knows. But remember we see the winners, not the losers.

But paying the rent is important.

Going Solo is Hiring! [en]

[fr] Going Solo cherche un vendeur (sponsoring). Ça se passe en anglais, donc voyez directement les détails de l'annonce ci-dessous.

Wanted: sponsorship salesperson for Going Solo conference

Going Solo is looking for an enthusiastic salesperson to negotiate and finalise sponsorship deals. After a very successful first event in Lausanne, Switzerland, the conference is taking place again in Leeds, UK, on September 12th. There are plans to produce the event elsewhere in Europe and in the US.

Availability: as soon as possible
Remuneration: 20% commission on cash sponsorships
Profile: skilled in negotiating and closing sponsorship deals, knowledge of the tech/freelancing world a plus.

What we provide:

– leads (past sponsors and fresh contacts)
– sponsorship materials

What we expect:

– discuss and amend existing sponsorship offerings
– follow through to closure on provided leads
– other leads can also be explored freely.

If you’re interested or would like more information, get in touch with
Stephanie Booth ([email protected], @stephtara, or steph-booth on