Polish Start-Up Industry

2012-07-10 · 3 min read

Last month I was supposed to attend a Dublin-Poznań Startup Bridge meeting, but I got stuck in Berlin instead. It seemed like an interesting event. I was especially looking forward to a presentation from Bartek Gola. After having seen his ‘International First, Poland Second’ presentation before, I was hoping for some amusing insights about « Polish startups ». Why I find the guy entertaining you ask ? I like his aspiration and courage along with his dubious theory about the industry.

As we all know, various Polish incubators, accelerators or so called VC funds usually take two digits share in a startup at the very beginning, close to 50%, sometimes even more. Just to put this into context, Y Combinator takes between 2-10%. Obviously, there is no such thing like Polish startup industry, it is rather a convenient, but very dangerous generalization that has to be avoided. Unfortunately, even though it is false, believers make it real.

If you happen to be a funding entity, you are in a direct competition with companies like Y Combinator or HackFWD. You are and will be compared with the best ones. If you look through the success stories, you will notice that a good Internet investor pretty much equals to an excellent technical leader: Paul Graham, Marc Andreessen, Ben Horowitz, just to name a few. If we stick to that example, and we put the limelight on the majority of aspiring Polish leaders that want to shape local startup ecosystem, we will immediately conclude that they lack the most important knowledge: technical knowledge which, as a result, could lead to valuable insights and reliable guidance. I’m not against business/marketing guys, their role is pretty important, but not as leaders. Obviously, you might have chatted with them about Clojure, why functional programming is great or why big data is important, but unfortunately, they would rather read about it. It’s like globetrotters and librarians, some things cannot be described, you must do them on your own and you must do them quite excessively in order to claim any expertise in the area.

This industry is different, it is about Internet - multi domain synergies should be natural and easy to reach. Instead we have self-acclaimed leaders, running incubators, accelerators, VC funds with almost no tech people. Business is about being able to create synergies across different domains. Each potential participant has its role, but some of these roles are more important than others. Elsewhere we have Y Combinator or Andreessen Horowitz led and managed by great coders, amazing programmers or hackers. While in this part of world biz/marketing guys have fancy names: all those directors, managing partners, CEOs, etc.

The message of this post is that we should aim for international experience from the beginning, and leave behind the average. Always think global and always compare your potential partners with those who are the best in the industry. Only marketing guys? Bad sign. No coders in the managing team? Very bad sign. No international experience? Pretty bad sign. What Poland and Europe really need for Internet ventures is less business mumbo-jumbo, and more leaders with technical skills.

Indeed, we live in a global world now.