Caution: excessive stereotyping in this post!
People quote Skype ad Nauseam when talking about category changing models from Europe. It’s time for the new generation to come up with businesses that actually take advantage of the unique makeup of Europe and show that we’ve got it.
I’ve been looking at the various European grant and support programs in what is called Horizon 2020, FP7, and various other names. These are EU and EC designed programs that are supposed to come up with a new mega success in Europe, or at least support regions and markets to compete on an international scale. All those programs quote the great minds, research, education, and design from Europe. And all of those programs remind us of “world beating companies such as Skype” that play to the unique abilities of Europe.
Where are the new players in that category, and why are they unique and why can they only be built here? Skype couldn’t have built in the US alone, for the simple fact that long distance phone calls were already cheap enough or free by the time it came around. Europe with its borders and the built in issues was a perfect place for Skype to emerge. MySQL and Linux were probably rooted in the strong socialist (for lack of a better, or worse, word) nature of the north, and the resulting strength of OSS there (also influenced by the strong academic and scientific education and resulting community). Betfair and it’s siblings are of course the result of strong betting/gambling cultures, especially in the UK, that are regulated out of existence in the US. H&M and Zara aren’t tech startups, but still immensely successful companies based on the design heritage in their respective cultures, much like Ikea is the result of no-nonsense design combined with wonderfully Swedish egalitarian principles of affordability (the egalitarianism is still there, not so much the affordability I might add).
What are companies that are playing to similar principles, and build their raison d’être simply on cultural, regulatory, or market realities?
Transferwise is one I’m very familiar with (Seedcamp was an early investor and I’ve spent a lot of time with Kristo and Taavet). In most markets, nobody besides marginalised minorities is even thinking about cross border financial transactions. That’s why I’m so excited about it. Oh, and Taavet was early at Skype. Go figure.
I’m sure there are more, and I’m already thinking about markets that might be unique to Europe. The nucleus for this post was Fabrice’s piece on Craigslist. They have about 90% of the classifieds market in the US (a guess), and are prohibiting a single player to take over their market. Of course, as per Fabrice’s post, the mighty will probably stumble and fall, but this is the reality today. Might this lack of a clear leader in Europe make for an opportunity to build something? Of course, Zoopla in the UK, the Scout Group in Germany, and many others have taken some of those markets, but there are many more white spots than in the US.
If you’re in Europe, and thinking of something big to build, find one of those markets where you don’t just have speed, ideas, and great execution on your side. An inherently different and hard to understand market might be the biggest moat you can build to prevent a well capitalised competitor from the US to enter your space.
If you have an idea of some of those markets, leave it in the comments, I’m excited to hear about this stuff. Or, even better, build a kick ass company and take that market for yourself and replace the same name to pop up in those policy briefings.