Great business leaders

Martin Varsavsky is reflecting around his first-hand experiences from meeting great business leaders.

Europe's new entrepreneurialism

I had breakfast at the "Europe's new entrepreneurialism" roundtable this morning, and we turned out to have a really great discussion. Among the participants were Martin Varsavsky, Tariq Krim, Loïc le Meur and Alexander Straub - and it was moderated by Christiane zu Salm.

The discussion took off from the "classical" Europe vs. Silicon Valley perspective. The room was full of people who are handling this differently today: Loïc who moved to SF before he started Seesmic, Tariq who early on chose to start an office in SF, while always keeping the development in Paris, Alexander who has had different models along the way, and Martin who still runs Fon from Spain.

Everyone seemed to agree that Silicon Valley has a lot of advantages, that really helps when you are running a startup:
  • Access to capital. Both angels and later-stage investments are easier to land in the US than in Europe - and the amount of invested VC funding is roughly five times larger in the US. This is a huge opportunity for European VC:s, who hopefully will use it. But a lot of it is still due to attitude: "European VCs never dare to invest in greater or crazy ideas like Fon", Martin says.

  • Ambitions: Too many European entrepreneurs get stuck with more or less unconsciously limiting their ambitions to the local market to where they come from. "You feel very lonely when you're working from there", said Loïc, and "You can really feel how you are raising your ambitions as soon as you're flying in over the US", said Alex.

  • Management: In Europe, it is harder to find good management that can take companies on from successful startups to multi-million dollar operations.
On the other hand, it is easier to find skilled people that want to work for a different start-up in Europe. And most seem to think that the quality of living is higher.

I couldn't agree more with the quality of living. For me, I have a hard time imagining a better place to live in, and for my kids to grow up in, than Vaxholm where I live. But on the other hand: the know and the flow around Internet applications in the Valley is extraordinary. Hopefully we'll find ways to combine the two.


Jeff Bezos: Platforms, the Net Economy, and the Future of Reading

Jeff Bezos
We have two buckets of competitors: online world competitors and physical world competitors. It's very hard not to be inspired when you're looking at the Internet. When I started Amazon fourteen years ago, I was amazed by the speed of change. And I think it has accelerated.

All our new [cloud] services we built five years ago internally. We saw that huge amounts of time was spent on stuff that wasn't contributing to the customer experience. It just had to be done. So we tried to see if we could build a set of APIs between our own storage and networking guys, to improve efficiency.

The simple storage service is so simple, so basic: You send us data, and we send you an identifier. You send us an identifier, and we send you the data. And we thought, there should be a lot of companies that should like a service like that. And they did. And we thought, why not build this into a real business? And I think that no one really knows how big a business this could be.

I was recently in Luxembourg in an old brewery, that had an old electricity generator. They had it on display as a kind of museum thing. Since they couldn't get electricity, they had to learn to manage this instead of making better beer. But as soon as they could get reliable electricity from the power grid, they could concentrate on making beer instead.

About my space business? It is harder to get a sets of API to. It is a very integrated system. Everything is so close to the edge of maximum performance, that is needs close and hard integration. It is a vertical-take-off, vertical-landing rocket. It comes back and lands on its tail. No spaceship has ever done that, coming back to earth. I think it will be a few years before we have a commercial vehicle, that will take real astronauts into space.

Our vision for Kindle is that we'll have every book, ever printed or not printed, in every language, available within sixty seconds. We started to design the Kindle three years ago. The physical book has been in the same basic form in five hundred years. If Gutenberg came here, he would be astonished about printing and paper, but he would still recognize the book. With the Kindle it is something totally different - we have to start inventing. So we've tried to think of other things, that you can't do with a book, but that you can do with a Kindle.

Like looking up words that you don't know. Some of the flaws in the physical books are invisible to us, since we are used to them. Like the possibility to read one-handed. And that it is quieter than a book if you're lying beside a spouse.

What do we think of competition in this space? The reason electric companies are regulated, is that it is very impractical to run several sets of electrical poles in the city. I think that customer demand will drive availability and compatibility

It's really fun to be here. There are so many good things happening in this industry right now, and I'm very excited.

What's Tech Got to Do with it?

David Kirkpatrick from Fortune opens up the conference. Brainstorm is a conference where one strives to understand how the world is changing, and putting technology in that context. About the earthquake in China: "People that were on Twitter knew what was happening, before the government did."


Michael Dell (Dell)
Gary Hamel (London Business School)
Marc Benioff (salesforce.com)
Christiane zu Salm (Hubert Burda Media)

Michael Dell
Is tech making the world better? Of course! The vast majority of everyone coming onto the Internet today are from developing countries. Almost all transitions in industry today, is driven by the speed of digital communication.

What is the main thing happening in technology today? Every country, even the ones that used to live fairly isolated, isn't anymore. And wealth: Today, we have a disproportionally large slice of the world's wealth, but the pie is getting bigger. We have to start relating to that reality.

And about Dell: We're trying to be a company that listens, and have big ears.

Gary Hamel
New technology has made the world a better place. Human creativity is saved and utilized in such a different way. Before, a lot of creativity and ideas just existed with people, and then went away. Today, you'll easily channel the creativity through blogs or Youtube almost for free.

How do we mobilize people to get things done? Industry: All tech for that is designed just after the civil war. The invention of management. In the future, one of the greatest differences will be how we manage. We'll see an even bigger difference when this impacts who makes decisions, when and so forth. This will be fundamentally different.

Marc Benioff
The most powerful part of this, is that it doesn't begin with Dell and people talking to each other, but with people talking to people about Dell, discussing products or prototypes in Dell's discussion forums. Dell has to prioritize and interpret what the customer says, and get back to the customer after that.

Like the anti-spill-thingy that Starbucks has now, that you can stick into your cup when going in your car. When it's pushed in, you don't spill your coffee, and when you pull it out, you can use it to stir your coffee. It turns out that this was a customer's idea. You have to use you big ears and listen.

Christiane zu Salm
I wonder if it can become too complex from a management perspective - almost impossible to manage?

In the 2001 Brainstorm, Clinton was talking about a global spiritual awakening. This was just a month or so before 9/11. Here we are, seven years later, and it strikes me that we all might be further along in understanding that feeling?

Yes, I think Clinton said: "Change in the world can only happen with a change in consciousness." Like Dalai Lama's "Peace with inner peace". We have seen that the Internet has changed to a collaboration model with 2.0, and we're soon see Internet 3.0 and innovation, which Jeff Bezos will talk about later. We're going from the possibility to Transact [1.0], over Collaboration [2.0], to Innovation [3.0]!

Germany is known for inventing things. mp3 was invented in Germany. But the business took off somewhere else. That's a thing in the German culture: we don't really like to take risks. We will always be good enough to compete anyway. What worries me is the demographics. Europe is growing substantially older, compared to the US. I mean, my mother doesn't even know what an iPhone is.

Somehow I think we overestimate the importance cultural differences. We're all managing companies with management 1.0-methods. And know we're coming to a point where most growth and new companies will come from imagination and creativity. Today, there are no country, where more than 20% says they're highly engaged in what they're doing. These new type of innovations are allergic towards the traditional power structures and hierarchies.

If you would've taken the hundred smartest people out of all the Fortune 500-companies 20 years ago, and ask them if the most used and robust computer system would be developed by an army of 1.6 million volunteers, I think that less than one out of a hundred would have thought that to be possible.

Everyone have an urge for more transparency on all levels. If this is going to work, we've got to stand up and demand to know exactly what is happening everywhere with information. In the end, it is all about that trust. To be able to achieve the type of ideas we're talking about, we need that type of trust. If we have an increasing dependency on these systems [in the cloud] on all levels, then we really need to have that transparency.

How is this going to change leadership and management?

On the net - all hierarchies are natural. You have a position because you have something to say, something to add. In companies' traditional power structures, people's potential to add and contribute diminish much quicker than their position in the power structure do. All that is going to change.


Fortune Brainstorm: TECH

I'll soon be on my way going down Route 1 to Half Moon Bay for the three-day Fortune Brainstorm: TECH conference. Judging from the agenda and participants, I'm most certainly up for a really good time. Discussions will range from more broad subjects such as how technology will affect the world going forward, over different takes on Internet applications, to more specific interest areas for me: mobile technology/banking and technology and communications for developing markets.

I'll be in the Bay area until Wednesday night, and then I'm going back to Washington D.C. for more meetings on mobile banking. And the conference? I'll blog as much as I can...


The kids

The kids
Originally uploaded by Mosseby
Testing Flickr's moblog with a photo of the kids from last night.

Per Mosseby per@mosseby.com +46704836270