Niklas Zennstrom on Entrepreneurship

I had the opportunity to listen to Niklas Zennstrom this afternoon. He’s currently a Partner at Atomico Ventures (his VC fund) but he’s well-known as the founder of Kazaa, Skype and Joost. I wrote about Joost and Zennstrom recently. He talked about entrepreneurship, his own personal failures and successes and the European scene. As an entrepreneur myself, it was a very inspiring speech.

Niklas Zennstrom LeWeb Paris December 2009

A few excerpts:

  • Entrepreneurship is a lifestyle and takes up all your life. It requires lots of sweat and long hours of work.
  • You need an unshakeable belief in your startup, to be passionate about it, even when people don’t believe it.
  • For Kazaa, they were too early, actually several years early. This was a missed opportunity in terms of business development as their proposal to music companies fell on deaf ears.
  • If something is not working, take a deep breath and start again. In Zennstrom’s case, it became Skype. They went after a large market (phone companies) with fat margins. Skype got a lot of traction really quickly but it was very difficult to raise money. No one wanted to touch the company. VCs thought it was too risky.
  • He believes Loic Le Meur is probably the last European entrepreneur to move to Silicon Valley (Loic moved to San Francisco a few years ago to launch Seesmic, his current startup)
  • Entrepreneurs need to think of Europe as a market (critical mass vs. the US market)
  • Europe has a tendency to stigmatize failure but you cannot have big returns if you don’t have big risks
  • Joost was a misjudged opportunity. They could not strike the right partnerships.
  • Whatever you do, you never know the results in advance.
  • How’s the scene now? We’ve seen more and more companies from Europe being successful with a culture of international startup company. Companies think globally from the get go.
  • We now have European role models: Zennstrom himself, Loic Le Meur, Martin Varsavsky, etc.
  • Do we need an European Silicon Valley (i.e. a physical place)? No, we can meet online and then network at events.
  • Capital is no longer as important for entrepreneurs as a few years ago. Building a startup is more cost efficient and companies are able to reinvent themselves quicker with agile entrepreneurs.
  • It’s exciting to be an entrepreneur in Europe. In recession, you build companies and in peak market, you exit. The next few years will be fantastic. Disfunctional markets means entrepreneurs will enter the market.
  • Atomico Ventures wants to bet on European entrepreneurs that want to build tomorrow’s global companies. It’s all about the people (passionate) and it’s all about the size of the market.

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