30 épisodes

The Entrepreneurial Age, viewed from Europe


European Straits Nicolas Colin

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The Entrepreneurial Age, viewed from Europe


    Exponential w/ Azeem Azhar. French Tech. Thumbs Up/Down. Unlocked Essays.

    Exponential w/ Azeem Azhar. French Tech. Thumbs Up/Down. Unlocked Essays.

    The Agenda 👇
    * The Building Bridges podcast: a conversation with Azeem Azhar on his book Exponential 🎧
    * My latest Sifted column about French startups raising money like never before
    * Thumbs up/down for the last weeks
    * A list of recently unlocked essays from the archive
    📓 What a journey! My first encounter with Azeem Azhar, writer of the Exponential View newsletter and author of the recently published eponymous book Exponential, happened on Twitter a few years back, right after I had settled in London with my family. At the time, I think Exponential View was in its infancy and Azeem was still writing a regular column for the Financial Times.
    * We exchanged messages on Twitter about the future of trade unions—which ended up inspiring me with the idea of “exit unions”, discussed here and here, as well as in my book Hedge.
    And that is how the connection was made. I believe Azeem and I have only met once IRL, but we’ve kept reading each other, and then Azeem invited my wife Laetitia Vitaud and me to contribute one of the summer editions of Exponential View, which we dedicated to... the future of workers’ rights and trade unions in the platform economy. You can read it here: EV #179 Platforms & workers.
    * More recently, Laetitia was a guest on Azeem’s own podcast, an episode dedicated to discussing craftsmanship as the best paradigm to imagine the future of work. Here’s the link: Technology and the New World of Work 🎧
    It was only logical that with Azeem publishing a book (his first!), he had to be a guest on our own Building Bridges podcast. Here’s what Laetitia wrote about their conversation:
    The pandemic provided us with ample evidence about our being ill-equipped to grasp exponential change. At the beginning of each new wave of contamination, policy makers fell into the same cognitive trap. They ignored exponential growth at the beginning. The early points on any exponential curve look so unimpressive at first that everybody (except for epidemiologists or financial experts) will fail to pay attention to it. So people aren’t ready to adapt to exponential change.
    At school, classes are often taught as if Google and Youtube didn’t exist. Our tax systems largely ignore the specifics of our digital economy and fail to properly grasp the value created by digital giants. Labour unions fail to target the growing precariat of our day and age. More people fall through the cracks of the safety net we designed for the industrial age. Even the way we measure and analyse economic value is more and more beside the point. The list could go on and on…
    That’s why I was particularly satisfied to find out that this gap had been given a name: the Exponential Gap. In [his] must-read book titled Exponential, Azeem explains that in our Exponential Age, technological change is exponential whereas institutional change is only linear, which results in a fast-growing gap between the two.
    👉 You can listen to Azeem and Laetitia discussing the advent of the Exponential Age using the player above 👆 or on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.
    Bonus: For those who prefer to listen to French, Laetitia and I will discuss Azeem’s book in the next “À deux voix” episode of our Nouveau Départ podcast, to be published tomorrow. Time to subscribe to our French-speaking platform 🇫🇷
    🇫🇷 Last week was quite big for French startups, with a handful of them announcing unprecedented megarounds over the course of just 48 hours. This is the topic of my latest column in Sifted, published this morning, in which I make two points:
    * Yes, the French entrepreneurial ecosystem is starting to compound, with the first generation of successful entrepreneurs finally paving the way for the next generations, following a process well documented by analysts of successful entrepreneurial ecosystems.
    * However, we should be wary of a typical French trait known as “toxic positivity”: the idea that everything is going

    • 54 min
    Cycling in European Cities. Readings on Urban Transportation. Thumbs Up/Down.

    Cycling in European Cities. Readings on Urban Transportation. Thumbs Up/Down.

    The Agenda 👇
    * Chris Bruntlett talks about cycling in cities in the latest episode of the Building Bridges podcast
    * A complementary reading list on the future of urban transportation
    * Thumbs up/down for last week, and a few unlocked articles from the archive
    Here’s my investment thesis in a few bullet points:
    * we long thought that the only playbook to build tech companies was that of Silicon Valley;
    * but then China opened our eyes to the existence of a very different playbook;
    * since these two radically different playbooks co-exist, maybe there are many others;
    * in particular, there must be such a thing as a European playbook, which we still have to discover.
    When I voice this thesis, people immediately jump to the next round of questions: What’s this uniquely European playbook? What makes Europe different from the US and China? What are our strengths and how can we Europeans play on them?
    This, I must say, is the holy grail of investing in Europe. Any investor with a deep understanding of what makes Europe unique has an edge over US competitors and any locals that don’t know how to do anything other than to emulate Americans.
    * Plus, learning to differentiate your approach to the market in Europe is good training for doing the same in the many other regions in the world where successful tech companies are now growing at a fast pace. Again, the key to success in venture capital at the global level is not to replicate the same approach everywhere, it’s to understand the local context and adjust investment decisions accordingly. It’s true in Europe, but it’s also true in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, Africa, and elsewhere.
    But still, what about Europe? One of my findings is that the best way we Europeans can learn about ourselves is by asking outsiders what they think, whether they’re from the US, Asia or other parts of the world.
    * Another finding is that what Americans, in particular, admire the most about Europe is our cities: their density, their vibrancy, the quality of their infrastructure, the beauty of their architecture, and generally how rewarding and convenient life can be when you live in a large European city.
    If you follow that path, a key to understanding Europe’s entrepreneurial potential is to get a better understanding of what makes its cities different—whether that’s housing, retail, healthcare, proximity services, transportation, or any other aspect of urban life. And since I came to this realization, a big part of my thinking as a European investor has been focused on cities: what makes them different from cities on other continents, and what unique opportunities can be seized by European entrepreneurs as a result?
    All of this is why I was especially interested to listen to my wife Laetitia Vitaud’s conversation with Chris Bruntlett, a cycling enthusiast, the Marketing Manager at the Dutch Cycling Embassy, and, together with his wife Melissa Bruntlett, author of several books about urban mobility. Chris is a Canadian who moved to the Netherlands specifically because he was attracted by the Dutch urban way of life and what makes it so unique: the key role that bicycles play in day-to-day transportation. As Laetitia wrote on the Building Bridges website,
    When you look at the infrastructure decisions made in the Netherlands in the 1970s, you see that they were designed as very democratic and inclusive infrastructures: the old use them, people with disabilities use them, so do families with children. Cycling is cheap. And it has the potential to transform our (work) lives for the better.
    👉 You can listen to the whole conversation between Chris and Laetitia by using the player above 👆 or on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.
    As a complement to the Building Bridges podcast with Chris Bruntlett, please enjoy this reading list on the future of transportation in cities:
    * This is the year a major European city will ban cars from its centre (Martin Mignot, Wired

    • 56 min
    Everything Formula 1 w/ Toni Cowan-Brown. Thumbs Up/Down. Summer Recess.

    Everything Formula 1 w/ Toni Cowan-Brown. Thumbs Up/Down. Summer Recess.

    The Agenda 👇
    * I spoke with Toni Cowan-Brown about everything that’s changing in F1 🎧
    * Thumbs up/down for last week
    I’m very happy to publish what will be the last episode of the Building Bridges podcast this season: a wide-ranging conversation with Toni Cowan-Brown about the fascinating world of Formula 1 🎧
    Toni is the first repeat guest on Building Bridges, since Laetitia already interviewed her a few months ago about being a European in Silicon Valley. Being a Nation Builder alumnus, Toni’s main focus is the intersection of tech and politics. She’s currently the publisher and/or co-host of several inspiring lines of content, including her personal newsletter Idée Fixe; the podcast Unapologetic Women, which she co-hosts with Sorcha Rochford; and the podcast Another Podcast along with Benedict Evans.
    As I explain in my opening, my personal story with Formula 1 can be divided into two parts. The first was my growing up in 1980s & 1990s France and cheering for 4-time world champion and local hero Alain Prost. Prost’s popularity was such at the time that I was watching as many races as I could and knew quite a lot about the teams, the rules, and obviously the drivers.
    But then Prost retired after winning his fourth world championship in 1993, and like most of France I became bored and disengaged from Formula 1. In fact, I stopped following the sport altogether until I discovered Netflix’s (excellent) Drive to Survive earlier this year—effectively a 28-year gap between being a Prost cheerleader and enjoying the popular Netflix series about current seasons!
    Hence my very first question to Toni: What has happened in Formula 1 over the past three decades? Quite a lot, it turns out, between the evolution of the power unit, the constant shortening of the pit stops, and many other things that you’ll discover if you listen to the podcast.
    In our conversation, Toni and I cover the following topics:
    * What matters the most, the car or the driver? Hint: it’s both, and so much more!
    * Why spec series (that is, series in which cars are all the same) are the best opportunities for women to break into motorsports.
    * Why the UK is the core of the Formula 1 world, and all about Motorsport Valley, a small area in England where (almost) all the teams are headquartered.
    * Why Formula 1 teams are the best illustration of French economist Philippe Aghion’s concept of a “neck-and-neck firm”. 
    * What the Formula 1 overlords are doing to try and win the interest of the American audience—including Drive to Survive, which has been tailored for the US.
    * Why Formula 1’s weird (and sometimes dark) politics is being turned upside down thanks to social media (hello, Lewis Hamilton!).
    * Who and what you should follow if you want to dig deeper and engage with the sport.
    👉 Listen to my conversation with Toni Cowan-Brown in the latest episode of the Building Bridges podcast using the player above 👆 or on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.
    Also here are a few videos that Toni mentions in our conversation:
    * Jos Verstappen F1 Pit Fire (full) (1994)
    * Formula 1 documentary | Pit Stop in Two Seconds (December 2019)  
    * Lewis Hamilton’s eyes get fully open when F1 V10 sound blasted past behind (December 2020)
    * Over 4 Minutes Of Bono Coaching George Russell Team Radio 2020 Sakhir GP (December 2020) 
    And don’t forget to check out some of Toni’s other works on Formula 1:
    * A 3-part essay about Formula 1 as part of Toni’s newsletter Idée Fixe: part 1 (the basics), part 2 (the driver or the car?), part 3 (sponsorship & big tobacco).
    * A conversation with Benedict Evans (Another Podcast): F1, the plane that never takes off 🎧 
    * An episode of Unapologetic Women about athletes becoming activists 🎧
    😀 The Dealroom team is doing an excellent job, along with Sifted and the European Commission, on documenting European tech and outlining the challenges it needs to tackle to get even better. After an exc

    • 1h 5 min
    The Future of Work w/ Roy Bahat. VC Firms Going Public. Thumbs Up/Down. Unlocked Archives.

    The Future of Work w/ Roy Bahat. VC Firms Going Public. Thumbs Up/Down. Unlocked Archives.

    The Agenda 👇
    * Laetitia spoke with Bloomberg Beta’s Roy Bahat about everything future of work 🎧
    * My latest column in Sifted is about publicly traded VC firms in Europe
    * Thumbs up/down for last week
    * Recently unlocked essays from the European Straits archive
    For the latest episode of the Building Bridges podcast, Laetitia interviewed our friend Roy Bahat, an SF-based venture capitalist with Bloomberg Beta and an inspiring leader on the future of work. Here’s what she wrote about their conversation:
    For this new episode of the Building Bridges podcast, I’m excited to share my interview with Roy Bahat, who as the Head of Bloomberg Beta has been “obsessed with how we make work—the thing we do with more waking hours than any other—better”. He’s been an inspiration for me at least since I watched this video in which he speaks about two key drivers for workers: “Stability and dignity”.
    Roy is used to making short, insightful and actionable pieces of content about work, careers, entrepreneurship and personal development. I recommend his series of to-the-point #thisisnotadvice interviews which you can watch on Twitter. They cover a wide range of topics like “Should I mentor someone and, if so, how do I do it?”or “How can I be the type of founders that VCs want to fund?”.
    But I confess I wanted more time with him. I wanted to hear him in a longer format so he could tell his career story, what it means to be a VC specialised in the future of work and so we’d still have time left to speak about the future of work and how we can prepare for it. I’m so grateful he accepted!
    As he explains in this podcast, he hadn’t planned to become a VC, let alone one who focuses on the future of work! But after doing tons of reading, talked to thousands of people and given the subject a lot of thought, you could say he’s become quite the expert. (More exactly, he’s reached that level of expertise where you become humble again. It’s a bit like Japanese martial arts: when you reach the highest level, you can wear a white belt again like a beginner!)
    I simply love how he adresses the most simple yet profound questions. Here’s how he sums it all up neatly on his LinkedIn profile:
    I've had a messy, hand-wringy career (in non-profit, professional services, city government, big media, video games, academia, day-zero startup, investing), where I was never hired for any job for which I was qualified (including starting a company, where I guess I sort of co-hired myself and was still unqualified). Only later did I realize the one thread that tied it all together -- making work better.
    In 2013, Bloomberg L.P. gave me the opportunity to turn my obsession with the future of work into my job when we created Bloomberg Beta. I believe the fastest way to make change is to build extraordinary technology companies (and, these days, machine intelligence companies in particular).
    We talked about a lot of things, including feminism and why it’s important to embrace it. Among the many themes covered were also the skills of the future. How do you make yourself “futureproof” in a fast-changing world? I asked him because in his book Futureproof, NYT journalistKevin Roose thanks Roy profusely for the inspiring conversations he had with him. (Check out this article I wrote about the book.) Here’s Roy’s conclusion:
    How do we prepare? Most of the past thinking about preparation for the future that I learned growing up what “point preparation”—”here’s what the world’s going to be like: prepare yourself for it” (…) But if you believe that the pace of change is going to be more rapid, then learning is the most essential skill, rapid reinvention… In the tech world, I call this being the CIO of your own life… constantly looking for new tools and trying to integrate them and experiment with them. Another one is setting your own priorities. We don’t learn in school that this is a skill. The third

    • 1h 3 min
    The State of the World w/ Nils Gilman. Thumbs Up/Down. Work-Life Balance Across Cultures.

    The State of the World w/ Nils Gilman. Thumbs Up/Down. Work-Life Balance Across Cultures.

    The Agenda 👇
    * I spoke with Nils Gilman of the Berggruen Institute about intellectual history and the state of the world 🎧
    * Thumbs up/down for last week
    * Thread of the week: about productivity and work-life balance
    * A new essay by Younès Rharbaoui about “time-variant business models”
    For the latest episode of the Building Bridges podcast, I interviewedNils Gilman, who leads the research program at the Berggruen Institute, a think tank based in Los Angeles and Beijing.
    Nils and I met in February of last year at Tim O’Reilly’s Social Science Foo Camp. We had an initial discussion in which I discovered that I had read his book Mandarins of the Future, an intellectual history of modernization theory—the framework designed by the US government in the 1950s and 1960s to offer countries in the Global South a capitalist path to prosperity. For several years now I’ve been interested in everything that relates to economic development, the global economy, and America’s role in the world. Therefore it was easy for Nils and I to connect and exchange ideas!
    Indeed, Nils’s expertise in intellectual history was one reason why I wanted to have this interview with him. As software is eating the world, there’s necessarily much focus on entrepreneurs and the companies they build. What people don’t realize, however, is how much beliefs, perceptions, frameworks and, more generally, ideas determine the direction in which our economy is headed as we shift from the Fordist Age of the 20th century to today’s Entrepreneurial Age.
    * A new paradigm, after all, is nothing more than a new representation of the world. It’s not the world that changes as much as the way we see it—and the words we use to describe it!
    In this regard, I was very interested in the part of the conversation in which Nils describes the interactions and differences between “modernization theory” (the framework he discusses in his book), the strategy that was actually implemented by successful Asian countries such as Taiwan and South Korea in the 1970s, the neoliberal “Washington Consensus”, and the relevance of it all in today’s world. 
    * As it turns out, there’s a collective job to be done: the world might only change slowly and at the margins, but our representation of it needs a radical upgrade!
    And then there’s more to our conversation. On top of being a historian, Nils has had a career that spans across very different worlds and disciplines: the tech industry, in which he spent several years some time ago; national security, a field in which he co-founded a consulting firm in the wake of 9/11; and higher education, in which he once served as chief of staff to the Chancellor of UC Berkeley.
    * Today, Nils puts his experience and knowledge to great use in tackling problems as head of research at the Berggruen Institute, focusing not necessarily on the most pressing problems of our time (like climate change), but rather on problems that are so elusive that we don’t even have the right words or frameworks to analyze them and understand them—as is the case with the declining legitimacy of democratic systems, for instance.
    All in all, there was some very broad ground Nils and I could cover, and one hour wasn’t nearly enough. In our conversation, we also discuss the following:
    * Nils’s birth in Denmark, his fluency in the language, and what it was like to discover that he speaks Danish “like the Queen” (which is not necessarily meant as a compliment).
    * Why criminal organizations excel in arbitraging our cross-countries differences in legal norms and moral values—a phenomenon he calls “deviant globalization”.
    * The respective positions of the US, China and Europe on the global stage, and the challenges that each region must tackle if it wants to succeed moving forward.
    * Why the current transition calls for a new social contract and why Nils, along with his colleague Yakov Feygin, thinks we must build a new “mu

    • 54 min
    Empathy at Work w/ Sophie Wade. Upcoming Long Read on Formula 1. Thumbs Up/Down.

    Empathy at Work w/ Sophie Wade. Upcoming Long Read on Formula 1. Thumbs Up/Down.

    The Agenda 👇
    * Laetitia spoke with author and speaker Sophie Wade about everything future of work 🎧
    * A new “Long Read” format: first up on the list is Formula 1 🏎 (in progress)
    * Thumbs up/down for last week, as well as recent news.
    For the latest episode of the Building Bridges podcast, Laetitia interviewedSophie Wade, a speaker, writer (and podcaster) about the future of work, who is the author of the bookEmbracing Progress: Next Steps for the Future of Work. Here’s what Laetitia wrote on the Building Bridges website:
    Sophie was born in England but now she lives and works in the US. She lived in many countries before that, therefore she has a multicultural approach to the subject that I was especially drawn to. She worked as a consultant with numerous executives and acquired a broad, deep knowledge of work-related issues, such as corporate culture, recruiting talent, leadership, transformation and now “hybrid work” and how to make it right. We talked about all these subjects that are part of my own daily research too. She is adamant: working with empathy is the future!
    What’s the most unexpected work-related transformation brought about by the pandemic? What does “hybrid” look like? What are the challenges associated with it? How do we make the workplace more inclusive in this day and age? How should leadership evolve? How does one change their mindset to become “future proof”? And how much of all this talk about the future of work is determined by culture? What can intercultural comparisons teach us?
    A few years ago she published this book titled Embracing Progress in which she presents empathy as the solution to a lot of the problems faced by organisations. When it comes to leadership, for example, the battle between ego and empathy is the single most decisive battle. It involves “shifting identity and choice”:
    The “ego” of the emerging brand of leadership is not the “command and control” type of autocrat that this word has evoked in the past. Now, it’s more about empathy—creating an environment based on trust and respect—in order to engage the workforce and improve employee ego, stimulating self-awareness and self-worth. Ego here is also about the company’s identity, the values and purpose that the leadership aligns with.
    When leaders understand the identity of their company and the workers that comprise it, leading people is more about engaging and guiding them. Values echoed by the leaders of a company offer a clear and more “natural” direction for the workforce to follow in their own actions, relating to everything from daily tasks to long-term goals and career planning.
    👉 Listen to Laetitia’s conversation with Sophie Wade in the latest episode of the Building Bridges podcast using the player above 👆 or on Apple Podcasts or Spotify
    As announced a few weeks ago, soon I will relaunch the long-form 10- or 11-point essays that many of you have enjoyed in the past. It will be occasional (I expect a monthly frequency on average, in addition to the weekly edition) and will cover a broad range of topics related to the Entrepreneurial Age, viewed from Europe.
    The one I’m working on at the moment is “11 Notes on Formula 1” 🏎
    Like almost everyone I know, I’ve been watching and enjoying Netflix’s Drive to Survive. It pushed me to go much deeper: going down the rabbit hole of F1 YouTube, listening to related podcasts, speaking a bit with experts I’m connected with, such as former podcast guest Toni Cowan-Brown, and realizing that a lot of what’s happening in the F1 world resonates with what we tech people have become accustomed to.
    Below is the provisional list of notes I’m currently drafting:
    * A manufacturer’s championship. You may primarily know about the drivers, but it’s the cars that make all the difference—and the various manufacturers taking part in the competition are required to design and build key parts of the car them

    • 1h 2 min

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