Does the European software industry have a problem? At first glance, no. While we Europeans – and I include my home of the UK in that group – have had a slow start compared to the US, investor money is flowing into startups, unicorns are being created and eventually that should be fueled by growing numbers. from truly leading digital companies.
Certainly, that’s what policymakers would like to believe when they talk optimistically about the next Facebook, Google or Adobe to be founded on European soil.
But according to Phil Robinson, the European ecosystem is still failing to support software companies on the journey from ambitious startup to global leader. With a resume detailing time spent as CMO at salesforce and various CEO positions in the Bay Area, Robinson determined: board wave, a non-profit industry association for software leaders. By connecting leading business lights with their counterparts from the startup and scale-up communities, his aim is to provide experienced leaders with early stage business founders and executives with the advice, support and confidence they need. have to grow.
But given the progress that software startups and scale-ups have made in recent years, is there really a problem that needs to be solved?
“The problem is that there is an enormous amount of knowledge and expertise in the European software industry, but it is not easy to access it when you are the founder of a young company,” he says.
Compare and contrast with the Bay Area. “In Silicon Valley, they’ve had a lot of success setting up big software companies,” he continues. “In Europe we always talked about a lack of access to capital. That’s not the point anymore. One of the problems is that people don’t share their expertise.”
It’s partly a matter of geography. “Silicon Valley is 40 miles long and everyone knows everyone,” Robinson says. But there are also cultural factors. “People call each other. They share their ideas,” he adds.
But do the differences between Europe and Silicon Valley really matter in terms of outcomes?
Boardwave’s press release cites grim statistics to illustrate the divide between the US and Europe. For example, there are no European companies in the global top ten of software companies. That’s actually open to debate, given the presence of the German SAP on most lists, but it’s certainly true that otherwise the US dominates. And as a whole, European software companies are worth just 30% of any of the big four in the US.
Now you could argue that the success of American companies is partly due to history and geography. The industry is older and more established. As a result, the ecosystems – in the Bay area and elsewhere – are better developed. In addition, American companies benefit from a huge internal market. They can grow a lot before having to go global.
A matter of trust
That raises a question. Is there a real causal relationship between success and the willingness to share expertise and ideas?
Robinson argues that founders often lack the confidence to move forward without the support of business leaders who know what it takes to grow world-class companies. So instead of scaling further, they guide their businesses until they reach a certain size and then sell them out, often to a foreign rival. Thus, the European Google never comes forward.
Is there anything that can be done? It must be said that governments and their agencies are doing a lot to provide founders with the support they need through mentoring and education. And there are already industry organizations that facilitate support and mentoring.
Robinson’s goal is to create an industry platform to provide support and a platform that relies on some heavy hitters. Patrons include Stephen Kelly, former CEO of Sage; Leo Apotheker, former CEO of SAP & HP; Steve Garnett, former president of Salesforce EMEA and countless others from the higher echelons of the industry. Founders of scale-ups and startups are also represented.
All well and good, but can you get them to talk to each other and pass on knowledge? Robinson Boardwave has worked on that. Prior to physical events, members can use an app to book conversations with other individuals. Dinners are on the agenda to discuss topics such as managing a business through a recession and how to make Europe more successful. There are also mentoring events dedicated to individual issues.
If all goes according to plan, startups can learn from scale-ups who in turn can benefit from the expertise of those further down the development curve. Robinson says the platform is meant to benefit the entire software industry, but right now, membership is weighted towards the enterprise software arena.
Will it have an impact? That remains to be seen. It could be difficult to recreate the kind of casual peer-to-peer communication that is often cited as a hallmark of Silicon Valley. But any organization that successfully brings together some of the most senior people in the software industry to share experiences with startups and scale-ups should be helpful.
Robinson’s goal is to help more startups gain the skill and confidence to keep growing.