Only one in ten startups succeed. Issues such as lack of managerial experience, and a weak marketing strategy – or bad timing – are often identified as reasons for failure. It can be difficult for an entrepreneur to accept that he is at fault for any of the above; yet many still consider that it is ok to “fail fast, fail often” provided one learns from one’s mistakes on the path to success.
Before tasting success in my own career, I did experience failure, but I have not concluded that trial and error constitutes a valid approach. I hate to fail. Even if failure can be educational and productive it is not an exercise to be repeated. I would rather learn quickly from mistakes than to rely on failure!
In addition to learning from – or better yet — avoiding mistakes, I believe three key ingredients help entrepreneurs on their road to success. The entrepreneur must have a clear vision & focus, must operate in an optimized environment and, most importantly, must work with good people who share the vision. These factors combine to create what I call an ecosystem for success. These three assets helped me overcome initial failure in my own career, and today they are what I look for as an investor.
Vision/Focus: I encourage any entrepreneur to think big, but not at the expense of asking himself several key questions. What problem does my product/idea solve? Who are my key competitors, what is their market share and how does my product distinguish itself? Will it disrupt an industry/sector? Will it change the way people do things? Starting out with a clear strategy, vision and mission, will not only make your product more focused; it will also demonstrate competence to an early stage investor by showing that you are willing to do your homework.
Environment: When you think of an optimized environment for a startup, Silicon Valley comes to mind. It is recognized as the global heart of innovation. Among other things, Silicon Valley delivers a trifecta of governmental and regulatory support, a rich field of academia and an engaged private sector. This results in regulatory and public sector support for new businesses, a constant flow of new talent from schools such as Stanford and Berkeley, and ample private sector funds to support new ventures, often accompanied by mentoring and guidance for entrepreneurs.
I also see great potential in my new home, Paris. Innovation in the country is supported by the government initiative “La French Tech” and seed funding through BPI. Applied science benefits from a generally favorable regulatory climate (powerful tax credits for R&D) notwithstanding what is otherwise considered to be a suboptimal labor law and tax environment. Paris, traditionally a center of mathematics and science education and research thanks to a handful of elite schools and institutes (including ENS, Polytechnique, MINES, Centrale, and Supelec), is now witnessing the growth of next generation computing and tech schools such as 42, founded by Xavier Niel, which opened a branch in California last summer. Finally, the Paris startup space is now receiving private sector support through more than 60 incubators.
People: I want to be an active investor who helps projects grow. I therefore value business partners who share my values and vision, and who don’t just see me as an investor, but as a member of the team. By being an active part of the team, above and beyond any contribution I can make in terms of vision, energy, engagement and commitment, I am in a good position to gauge whether the people within an organization have the passion, required skills, can face adversity and create a sustainable business. This enables me to make an informed decision on whether to invest further funds.
These three factors have based my decision to invest in several startups in France. My current focus is the cloud computing company Blade. This is an ambitious project that is switching the PC from a product to a service by delivering to its clients a high performance computer in the cloud – actually in our servers – thereby eliminating the need for consumers to buy and maintain a PC ever again.
Blade has the three strengths I mention above. First, they have a compelling vision that computing will follow the same path as energy did in the 19th century: costly and inefficient decentralized energy production was replaced by centralized plants and a distribution grid to produce formidable economies of scale. Blade’s founders believe that the power of scaling and sharing can now be brought to high performance computing, and they have developed and delivered the technical solutions to make it possible.
Second, they operate in the flourishing Parisian tech scene. The ecosystem has recognized them, as witnessed by great coverage in the key technical press; they are among the winners of the 4th edition of the “Concours d’innovation numerique” mentioned above. Blade has thus ensured that they will continue to attract top talent.
Third, the three founders are without doubt brilliant, highly engaged and engaging, and nonetheless pragmatic and methodical problem solvers and business developers. It is this determination and collaborative mindset of the Blade team that has motivated me to support Blade, and indeed to step up my investment. They are passionate and share the core values and vision with me.
The digital age has led to an increasingly competitive environment for the start-up community, especially in technology. There will always be winners and losers in a crowded environment. However, I strongly believe companies that are serious about learning (fast and smart) from their mistakes, whose leaders have the right vision and drive, with game changing product and who are at the right place at the right time, in other words, those who have found their place at the heart of the ecosystem for success, will be best placed to flourish.
Nopporn Suppipat is Member of the Strategic Committee and largest Investor at Blade, the Paris-based developer of Shadow. He is the Founder and former CEO of Wind Energy Holdings in Thailand.