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 🙂 (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! 🙂

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 😉

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.

Loïc Le Meur

Loïc 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. Loïc 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 Loïc’s do’s and don’ts about starting a business.