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Andrew Keen

Andrew Keen is the author of the book, Cult of the Amateur: How the Internet is killing our culture. The book has been published in twelve languages and was short-listed for the 2008 Higham’s Business Technology Book of the Year award. He writes a column about new media for The Independent.

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Trouble in Paris

Posted by Andrew Keen
  • Friday, 19 December 2008 at 08:19 am

Where are the great European Internet companies – the Euro Google, EBay or Facebook? They are out to lunch. That’s the view, at least, of Michael Arrington, the Silicon Valley based founder and CEO of the leading technology blog Techcrunch. Earlier this month in Paris, at Le Web ‘08, Europe’s largest and most illustrious new media conference,  Arrington suggested that one reason the Europeans haven’t created new media companies able to compete with top Silicon Valley firms is because of the more relaxed European work culture with its two hour lunches and copious bottles of wine.


Arrington was actually responding to remarks by Loic Le Meur, a leading French entrepreneur and the organizer of the Le Web ‘08 event. According to Le Meur, who is also the CEO of the social networking video start-up Seesmic, the big difference between the new media culture in Europe and America is that American entrepreneurs “don’t know how to take time and have lunch.” Europeans, he told Arrington, “want to know people” and don’t judge all work relationships in strictly utilitarian business terms.


This highly controversial and much publicized exchange at Le Web ‘08 between Le Meur and Arrington has, of course, been grist to the mill of all the xenophobic Yahoos on the Internet. But beyond all the predictable culture-warrior baggage that goes with this kind of debate, there is a serious question here about why European entrepreneurs and companies have generally struggled to complete globally with Silicon Valley.


I spoke to both Arrington and Le Meur last week on the telephone to get a more measured take on their debate. Arrington, an ex lawyer who partially grew up in England, acknowledged that European new media entrepreneurs face two fundamental obstacles to building successful start-up companies.  The first are the logistics of arcane European employment and payroll tax structures and the legal difficulties of setting up corporations which conspire to make life hell for the start-up entrepreneur. Secondly, Arrington argued, in contrast with a Silicon Valley culture which venerates failure and risk-taking, entrepreneurs are looked down in Europe where, he believes, money-making is still considered grubby.


Le Meur, who once advised French President Nicolas Sarkozy on digital matters and who himself moved to Silicon Valley in 2007 to found Seesmic, agrees with Arrington about the added structural problems of doing a new media start-up in Europe. He also sees the fragmented nature of the European state system as being a massive logistical problem in terms of transforming a new media start-up into a hegemonic global company. Le Meur cites the examples of the Silicon Valley founded YouTube which is now the leading video portal in the world and the less well-known French video site DailyMotion, two relatively identical start-ups began at about the same time, as evidence of the natural advantages of being an American entrepreneur in an Internet economy dominated by Silicon Valley capital and the English language.


I wonder, however, if there is another more fundamental difference between American and European entrepreneurs in terms of the meaning of work in their lives. In his latest book, Tribes, Seth Godin, a leading American marketing blogger, confesses to obsessively checking his email at 4.00 am while on holiday in Jamaica. “It took me a long time to figure out why I was so happy to be checking my email in the middle of the night,” he writes. “It had to do with passion. Other than sleeping, there was nothing I’d rather have been doing in that moment.”  In Silicon Valley then, work is passion; in Europe, I suspect, passion at 4.00 am is something entirely different.

 

 


Comments

The European Business problem
scartoonist wrote:
Friday, 19 December 2008 at 09:06 pm (UTC)
If one is doing economic development work, one of the first tasks is to inventory resources for various parameters: trained work force, favorable tax rate, venture capital, etc.

Europe falls down on so many, it is tragic. Just the lack of second and third rate buildings available for start-ups is a huge problem. A friend from Hamburg said, "In Germany we have no space."

Taxes, red tape, attitude, venture funds, real estate, internet access costs and so on are killing them. Notice that in places where these issues are less daunting, like Finland and Ireland, growth is high or big tech companies are getting traction.

Who wouldn't flee to the old East Bloc for cheap labor and lower regulation, or the U.S.? Perhaps the Irish experience with tech-ish industries like pharmaceuticals will inspire reforms elsewhere, and it will become contagious. But, I am afraid, not in France or Italy, and not in Germany unless the labor unions are tamed. The latter need only look at how the UAW helped run the Big Three automakers into the ground to know their future.

Bengo
LilNyet.com
Trouble in Paris
vincewilliams wrote:
Friday, 19 December 2008 at 10:05 pm (UTC)
I must say, Andrew, that your suspected European version of passion at 4:00 am sounds better than Seth Godin's obsessive checking of his email at that hour.

My eyes aren't red because of email, I can assure you.
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