Entrepreneurs need to travel to the region that specialises in their industry to have the best chance of success, according to Xavier Damman, the co-founder of online news site Storify. He will be speaking about innovation and life in Silicon Valley at the EU’s Innovation Convention on 11 March, 2014.
Why did you decide to set up Storify in Silicon Valley?
‘I am an entrepreneur, I’m interested in technology, and San Francisco is the capital of that industry. Our parents left the countryside to go to the capital of their country, it’s the same now but you need to replace country by industry. You need to go to the capital of your industry because, especially as an entrepreneur, life is really hard. You are trying to bring to life something that doesn’t exist, and because of that you’d better choose a ground where it is going to be easiest. Secondly, I like to take the example of the Belgian soccer team. The Belgian soccer team is finally good, and that’s because no one from the team is playing in Belgium, everybody plays in England, Spain, Germany, and so on. So I think it’s in everyone’s best interest to send their talent elsewhere where they can develop their potential, because that is going to benefit everybody. It’s not about a brain drain, it’s about a brain training, so let’s send our brains wherever they need to go. In technology, I mean San Francisco.’
Shouldn’t Europe try to rival Silicon Valley?
‘It doesn’t have to. Why does it matter? We need to develop and find our own expertise. Nature understood that before us, you don’t have the same variety of food growing everywhere on the planet, try to grow some kiwis in Belgium. You know it is hard, so are you going to spend a lot of energy so that you can try to replicate an ecosystem in which you can grow kiwis in Belgium, or are you going to grow potatoes and make French fries? That’s what I’m saying.’
‘I think it’s in everyone’s best interest to send their talent elsewhere where they can develop their potential, because that is going to benefit everybody.’
Xavier Damman, Co-founder, Storify
Where are the opportunities in Europe?
‘I think there are opportunities to develop some verticals (specialisations) in Europe, like Berlin with sound engineering technology, big data could be a good thing in London. We need to identify what can we grow on our land and focus on that. We should focus on basically working with Silicon Valley so that we send all of our engineers who are not in those verticals over there. They will spread the message that actually it’s quite cool to be European and to be in Europe and so it can motivate other talent that want to work in big data and send them back to London. But, we can only do that if we have enough Europeans in Silicon Valley who are going to spread the message, so that’s why we need to send an army of engineers over there and develop verticals here in Europe.’
How is the internet changing things?
‘I think that software is eating the world and everyone needs to have software skills, in the same way that, at the beginning of the information age with the introduction of paper, people had to be able to write. If you wanted to create a media back then, an information hub, you would have had to hire people who could write. And so it is the same thing now. If you want to create a hub, an information hub in this digital age, you’d better hire not only journalists, but also technological people, people who can write code. The other technology I’m really interested in right now is Bitcoin, it’s a fundamental shift in moving the world from centralised systems to distributed systems. Beyond the currency, it’s a new protocol, it’s a new way of thinking. The protocol itself is certainly, in my mind, going to have a shift as important as TCP/IP which is the protocol for the internet. It’s really exiting, in a way I think that Bitcoin is to the finance industry what Napster was to the music industry, so a totally new protocol allowing people to take care of distribution, not in a centralised way but in a decentralised way that basically shakes up the industry and changes it forever.’
What can successful entrepreneurs do to stimulate innovation?
‘I love to be able to pay it forward. When I first moved here four years ago, what really struck me was how much people believe in this forward payback philosophy here in Silicon Valley and it really helped me like it helped many other entrepreneurs to be successful. I think at some point we need to do more in Europe so I try to make myself available as much as I can for conferences but also for Office Hours (a programme that brings together hopeful entrepreneurs and business leaders) for meeting other entrepreneurs who could use some help from a guy like me who has had some experience in Silicon Valley.’
‘The concept of forward payback is that people who have been successful realise that it is not only because of their talent, it is also because people who were successful before them helped them by giving them advice, by connecting them to other people. At that time, when you are nobody and someone who is successful is helping you, well, you cannot really thank them because what are you going to give them? Those people say to you, “it’s fine, you don’t need to thank me you are going to pay it forward”, which means that one day you too are going to be successful thanks to all of those people who will have helped you, and so you in your turn will help the next guy, and that’s an infinite chain. That’s what I try to do too right now, I already met about 30 entrepreneurs in Belgium and I may never see those guys again, or maybe I will, or maybe someday one guy is going to pay me a beer and that will be an awesome return.’
Have a look at the full programme for details.
Belgium-born Xavier Damman moved to San Francisco in 2009 to co-create Storify, a social media platform used by publications like CNN, the New York Times and the BBC.
Storify is an application that allows users to create stories by importing content from sources such as YouTube and Twitter into a timeline.
Storify was rated as one of the 50 best websites of 2011 by TIME magazine, and was bought in 2013 by real-time communication company Livefyre.
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