Photo: AP Images
When people in the US think of European startups, they often either think of them as copycats, or as small — or, often, not at all.And yes, there are plenty of copycats, and European startups do grow more slowly on average than their US equivalents.
But there are also plenty of European startups that are downright huge, and that lead the world in innovation from a product, technology or business model perspective as well as anyone out of Silicon Valley. And there are startups that grow extremely big extremely fast. And there are iconoclast moguls.
Here’s a cross-section of many of them. Here are who we think are the 10 most valuable, privately held startups in Europe.
Here in Paris, people mention Criteo in hushed, awed tones, talking about the technical calibre of its engineers.
Criteo is an ad retargeting company. Basically, instead of showing you dumb display ads, Criteo shows you specific products they know you already looked at or are interested in thanks to your browsing history. This makes you much, much more likely to buy.
Retargeting is hard to pull off technically, had some hype for a while and then fizzled out, but it seems Criteo is the only company that cracked the code.
We wouldn't be surprised to see Google pick it up for many hundreds of millions of dollars.
Habbo, based in Finland, is a social network, virtual world and social gaming environment for teens.
The site has over 8 million unique visitors per month, and has probably generated around $100 million in revenues in 2010.
That chart to the left tells you pretty much everything you need to know about london-based MiniClip. It's the biggest online gaming portal in the world, with 57 million registered users, and growing.
What's even more impressive is that the site was bootstrapped, has never taken funding, and was profitable from the start. The site makes money from a combination of advertising and subscriptions to paid games. They're now moving into mobile in a big way.
LoveFilm is the Netflix of Europe. Like Netflix, they do both DVD-by-mail and online streaming.
They have over a million subscribers and basically dominate the market after buying Amazon's European DVD rental service, and 2010 revenues were £97 million or over $150 million.
Fun fact: one of the co-founders of Lovefilm is Saul Klein, one of the biggest VCs in Europe at Index Ventures.
Spotify is huge. Spotify is beloved. Spotify is stuck in Europe. (Spotify gives you free, unlimited, legal streaming music on your desktop.)
It's already one of the most valuable startups in Europe, and if it ever manages to launch in the US, it could be one of the most valuable startups in the world. Spotify generated over $100 million in revenue last year.
Gameforge, based in Germany, is pretty much Zynga without the reliance on Facebook.
Gameforge has dozens of multiplayer, browser-based online games, available in 50 languages. Like Zynga, it makes money from virtual goods, and had revenues of $130 million in 2009, when it was named a World Economic Forum Technology Pioneer.
Ozon.ru is the Amazon of Russia, and that's pretty much all you need to know to know it's huge.
The company did over $1 billion in revenue in 2010, more than double what it did in 2009.
Yandex is the Google of Russia, with 64% marketshare. The site's revenues, in the hundreds of millions of dollars, is not quite in the Google range yet, but given its market share and the intrinsic awesomeness of being the biggest search engine in a market, Yandex is very, very profitable.
Fun fact: Yandex has a meaning both in English and Russian. In English it can mean 'Yet Another Internet Index' and in Russian it can mean 'Russian Index' or 'My Index.'
Skype is now owned by a consortium of international investors and is valued at around $2.5 billion.
The company is a huge leader in international calling with over 500 million members, and even though only 6% of users pay, that's enough to generate hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue.
Vente Privée invented the private flash sales model and took it to over $1 billion in revenues selling highly discounted fashion and other luxury goods. Vente Privée is dominant in Europe despite having literally dozens of copycats. Amazon reportedly made a $3 billion offer for the company, which sounds about right.