Jeff Clavier on Beating the Odds for Irish & European Startups

This is a video interview with Jeff Clavier, Founder and Managing Partner of SoftTech VC.

SoftTech VC is one of the most active seed stage investors in Web 2.0 startups. Since 2004, Jeff has invested in more than 80 consumer Internet companies in areas like social media, monetization, search, gaming or B2B/B2C web services. These investments are typically located in Silicon Valley, New-York and Boulder. With over 20 years of operational, entrepreneurial and venture capital experience, Jeff is able to  add relevant perspective and value to his companies as they grow from inception to maturity, and hopefully, success.  Jeff was born, raised and educated in France, earning a MS in Computer Science and a research degree in Distributed Computing.

You can find Jeff @ his blog Jeff Clavier's Software Only and on Twitter @Jeff. For further information check out EZebis

Pemo: You were mentioning when we met that you've just recently been to Ireland & talked to entrepreneurs there.  Could you give me some feedback about how you see it, how it is for entrepreneurs in Ireland?  Because obviously I did have a business there for 8 years & I see that it's quite a struggle!  I was just wondering if you've got any perceptions or feedback that you would want to share for the Irish and for Europe entrepreneurs in their struggle?

Jeff: The typical cliche in Europe is that entrepreneurs will not think big enough.  The US market is by definition a big blob.  You address a bunch of people in one country speaking the same language & sort of the same level of technology penetration, broadband & everything.  So you sort of have just a massive market of users you can actually address with one product more or less.  Whereas Europe is much more challenging because by definition you have geographical boundaries & languages & everything.  So people tend to focus on the local market & then think about the next market.  So French companies say 'we'll do France first & then we'll go to Belgium & the French speaking portion of Switzerland & then we'll think about going to Germany maybe.  Then UK or maybe UK first & then Germany as opposed to building something truly global. 

I think the issue with the Irish entrepreneurs I've met is that there is a bit of that complex towards Silicon Valley & thinking 'Well if I'm not in Silicon Valley I don't have the same shot or whatever!' Which at some point you have to just free yourself from.

Because if you're a truly interesting, disruptive company like Skype or MySQL the truth is that it really doesn't matter where you start! 

The problem, the major problem is the funding, where opportunity in Europe you don't have this really rich tissue of vcs & angels who will support you.  There's a bunch of really good vc firms & firms that we know & respect & therefore when they fund something, we actually pay attention. But they're just a handful! 

The issue on the angel side: so the people who will be seeding those companies, there's just not enough people willing to do so.  That's the issue there. There's just not enough dollars, or euros available to fund those companies.  So at the end of the day, what those people have to do is demonstrate that they can bootstrap themselves, so risking their life savings, (which is obviously really challenging).  Or they actually have to build businesses from the get-go with this new consumer web opportunity where you have new distribution channels like facebook & the iphone platform & Android & all that where you have almost baked in monetization.  You can actually build real businesses on nothing. 

In the portfolio I have a couple of guys who have a woman CEO, they got to profitability on $50,000 & they just brought a $10m run rate. They raised $4m but they have never touched the $4m, it went into the bank and they can't hire fast enough.  And she's absolutely amazing kick ass! (I'll have to get you in front of her to interview) But it's feasible.  And if you as an entrepreneur can't raise $50,000 from friends & family then there is an issue with your sales job.  So I would say the bar of entrepreneurship has dropped so low that it's really sort of (I wouldn't say given but) attainable to people who really try hard. 

As I told the Irish, the only real failure for me is not trying.  The rest is just part of the journey! 

Pemo: Thank you so much Jeff, I really appreciate you participating

Jeff: My pleasure, thank you!

Thanks to Alexander Blu for music 'Concert'

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