Europe, Where Does Innovation Come From?

On Monday, I was hosted a track on creating a cool company at Gotocon (a developer conference) in Aarhus, Denmark. I was rather impressed by the geeky crowd, most of who paid around €2,500 per person to attend the 3-day conference. The price tag and the size definitely made me think of LeWeb – although most of the topics covered were way more technical. But if there was one thing that really caught my attention more than anything else, it was one of the questions that was asked by an attendee.

“What should my startup do?”

Honestly, when the person asked this question, I kind of chuckled in my head. The way it was phrased went something like this: “I’ve gathered together a couple of friends who come from a number of different backgrounds. We have all the right skills to start a company but we don’t have an idea. What should we do?” Ha, really? But then again, this is exactly why people go to Startup Weekend and Garage 48 events – to meet the right people and share ideas. Some of the ideas stick but if not, surely the connections will. And funny enough, France is actually the country to host the most Startup Weekend events after the US – which is definitely fuelling the local ecosystem and allowing people to experiment with entrepreneurship.

That bothers me.

But back to the Gotocon question and the actual response that this person got from the speakers  – which I found rather interesting. First, he was told to do something involving his passions and personal interests (pretty standard response). But then, one of the speakers told him that it would be wise to think of a problem that he is dealing with and to try and find a solution. Definitely good advice.

Uh, do we really need that?

I have to admit that I have met a lot of startups where I think to myself “do we really need that?” And I kind of hinted at it with an article I published on TechCrunch France last year concerning the plethora of dating sites that were popping up left and right. I also wrote about it here. Some of the readers kind of lost their minds – calling me anti-innovation, anti-competition and all kinds of fun names. But it was starting to get ridiculous – we were hearing about a new dating startup every week! Did we really need all of them? Were they really providing any added value? But aside from the dating sites, sometimes people are developing solutions to problems that nobody actually has.

Time and money.

Kima Investor Jeremie Berrebi actually posted a great tweet the other day that didn’t go unnoticed by entrepreneurs – he apparently received 9 new projects following the tweet.

For anyone who doesn’t speak French, this tweet says “I’ll invest in any project that allows me to take more vacation.” Brilliant. And Jeremie is not alone. A majority of people want more time and more money – so if you can help them do that, or make something easier or more efficient, then you’ve probably got yourself a deal.

So, who is helping save time and money?

While Jeremie was probably looking for a tool that would either act as a babysitter (:p) or could help him filter through the hundreds of projects and business plans he has to go through, there are several French companies that are addressing the time and money issue for a larger population. For example, I wrote an article a while back on a number of companies that were helping people save time with reserving a table, ordering food, waiting in line, etc. including the likes of DelivrMe, StorificVousAvezChoisi, Restopolitan and even JaimeAttendre. Jeremie’s Kima has invested in at least 2 of the 5. I admit that I actually really like the idea behind DelivrMe – especially when we all know how efficient La Poste is in France (see video below).

The YouTube problem.

I remember back in 2008, almost every conference I went to somehow managed to circle back to what I started to call “the YouTube problem” of how to monetize social media. It was before YouTube had integrated ads and whatnot and way before Facebook was where it is today. And finally, I got so annoyed that all conferenced somehow came back to the same topic that I thought to myself “OK, fine, I will try and invent a solution in my head.” I came up with a solution – several actually – but never had time to execute them. I discovered companies that had actually built on my very ideas once I arrived in France in 2009.


So regardless of whether or not you actually want to innovate the solution, you can definitely share some of the problems you see that annoy you or that complicate your life in the comments. And maybe someday those guys from the conference will stumble on my blog and invent you the solution.

2 thoughts on “Europe, Where Does Innovation Come From?

  1. A really good post. I had to split my response into two parts.

    On Startups

    I might be a bit harsh in saying this, but wanting to found a startup and solve a problem just because you have a team with sufficient skills probably isn’t the best way to get started.

    Ideas are a plenty. It’s execution that counts. And not just from a technical perspective (building great tech) or financial perspective (raising capital). A startup requires the utmost dedication from all founders and team members (or employees) to make sure all right cogs turn.

    In many ways, a startup is like running a marathon with an egg in a teaspoon. It only takes one wrong decision and the egg breaks. I think that founding a startup on solving problems that don’t deeply motiviate the founders and employees is an issue. It will affect their ability to maintain mental resilience during tough times, especially if they are trying to solve a problem in a really new and innovative way.

    On Innovation

    I too share your frustration with many of the clone services we launching, you know, depending on what the latest trend is. However, I would argue that clones justify a market and that they play a roll in incremental innovation.

    I think innovation comes either from plenty incremental changes (incremental innovation) or a that infamous eureka moment that strikes at any given time as an idea, which then needs to be executed.

    What might add a little context is a post I recently wrote about Tech Innovation in South Africa –

  2. Roxanne, I really enjoy reading your blogs. You are very talented, bravo.

    As for the clones, I agree with you that they are annoying however what is useful about them is the small difference of features, or approach between them which at the end differentiate one from the other. Later one the “survival of the fittest” will be naturally applied and the “natrural selection” will determine which ones will live and which ones will die.

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