Niklas Zennstrom is known as the founder of startups that were sometimes smashing successes (Skype), somewhat dismal failures (Joost), but always interesting.
While he’s been in the news lately for his litigating to get aboard the Skype LBO, he is also launching a VC firm called Atomico Ventures. The firm has already invested in interesting startups such as Xobni, Seesmic and Fon.
Zennstrom is not the most charismatic speaker, but he was smart and frank about the challenges Europe faces in getting the kind of entrepreneurial culture that exists in the US and Silicon Valley.
He bashed European countries, for making hiring and firing hard, and for imposing taxes and regulations that are “intended more for big companies” than for startups. He also decried the lack of entrepreneurial role models such as, well, himself, and a cultural attitude that stigmatizes failure and thus discourages risk-taking.
But Zennstrom — who is putting his money where his mouth is with his VC firm — was also hopeful about Europe. For him, European startups can have a head start because they have an international culture and can go global from day one. Furthermore, Europe’s lack of a Silicon Valley can be a blessing in disguise: because of these here interwebs, people can network over the web and meet at conferences such as LeWeb.
This is similar to the concept of a “distributed Silicon Valley” that was developed by SeedCamp founder Saul Klein. The idea that instead of having small Sillicon Valleys in Europe, Europe can be one big networked Silicon Valley — I’m not sure how true it is, but as a European entrepreneur I want it to be, and in any case it’s interesting.
Zennstrom also praised the Great Recession for allowing lots of opportunities for entrepreneurs. As he said, “you start a company in a down market, and sell it in an up market.”
More Le Web coverage here.
Photo: Robert Scoble