Eze Vidra is a startup investor and advisor. He is a former general partner at GV. Previously, Eze was the European head of Google for Entrepreneurs. He also started and led Campus London, a collaborative environment for startups created by Google For Entrepreneurs.
You have launched Campus London and you did it from scratch. What are the most crucial factors when creating such community?
I have been very fortunate to be at Google at the time when the idea of Campus was conceived, when Eric Schmidt gave a speech and said that Google will establish an innovation centre in London. I was fortunate to work with very bright and ambitious people. So I think that´s number one criteria. You need to have a sort of the right mindset and support to make it happen.
But from my perspective, clusters are not made of buildings, they are made of people. So casting the right content and creating the community at Campus was a crucial thing. It was about giving entrepreneurs a physical space to interact with each other at work, providing the support and mentorship that they need in order to grow. Whether it´s by creating a system for an open source events where anyone can apply to host an event at Campus or organizing mentorship programs where googlers can come and mentor the startups. We had a thousand mentorship sessions a year.
Finally, having the different parts of ecosystem and be active in the building because it´s not just about the super-early stage, it´s not just about single entrepreneur. There are different parts of the ecosystem.
So at Campus we had a cafe that was more of an open space and there is fifty thousand registered members that work from the cafe. We had coworking space where entrepreneurs could rent a desk or several desks and have their office everyday there. We rotated accelerators and had multiple accelerator partners that changed every three months, Startupweekend, Up Europe, Techstars, actively organizing hackathons. Having the representation of multiple parts of the ecosystem made it the truly representative cluster because it´s not just the place where you come and work. There are many things you can engage with.
In retrospect, what were the greatest challenges you faced when building Campus or the community?
First of all, it´s a physical space so you have things broken, like toilets. They brake. So you sort of have the upkeep of a physical space but it´s not a big deal and it´s very solvable. One thing that was important for me to foster from the beginning was how do I build a real community. In the sense that how do I make a lot of small companies that are trying to survive and grow, how do I make them care about the community and the bigger picture?
One of my labours of love and the way that I tackled this is by founding Techbikers which is a non-for-profit organization that brings together startup community, entrepreneurs, VCs, accelerators and people from the tech industry around cycling challenges. And together we raise money for a charity called Room to read that starts schools and libraries in the developing world. So with Techbikers it has now been around for four years, there are about 200 people that participated in the rides just in London chapter.
Suddenly you had all these people that are either designers, developers, CEOs, VCs – all practising cycling together and raising money for kids. You can meet people for drinks 50 times and never make a connection but cycle with them for three days and you have friends for life.
Overcoming these barriers when you are more than just your title was real fun adventure.
What do you think is the “sales point”? Why people love to be part of Campus? Why do they come there?
When we started it was the first time Google has done a physical space for entrepreneurs. So one, it was a novelty of touching Google. Two, it has a special energy. I really encourage you next time you are in London go visit Campus and you´ll feel it yourself.
It´s like going to Starbucks where everyone around you is an entrepreneur. When we first started it was new and there were all these people around it and all these things you can do – attend event, get mentorship, test your application in a mobile device lab. There was a pull to get people through the door.
But what kept them coming back was the community. It´s not the four walls of the building – although the building was nice and comfortable – but it´s really the people and the energy that was created there.
Right now we are in the heart of Europe, in Vienna. How do you see Slovak or CEE startup ecosystem? What do you think is working well and what are the challenges?
I think that in general, the Eastern European startup ecosystem is flying too much under the radar. I am happy that there are blogs like you, exposing the stories and the companies that are really innovating in their fields. Of course it´s a smaller market than let´s say London so there is less capital available, etc., but there could be great success stories that come from this region because you have all the ingredients to make it happen.
There is great technical skill, there is cheaper cost of labour so you can get more done with less money and most importantly, there needs to be that ambition to create big success stories, big companies that have global ambitions.
So I find it that there are all the ingredients there for success and there are already few examples. We need more.
What comes first into your mind in terms of startups, services or products from this region?
I have been having a lot of conversations in the last 24 hours so if we are talking about Slovak startups – Eset and the little cluster around antivirus and security. Or something like Aeromobil – the flying car shows the level of ambition and skill that you need. And in regards to the fact that it´s a small country in the middle of Europe it´s a great PR service because you are talking about very ambitious idea.
There are more and more regional examples of startups that managed to break out even from small countries. Like PicsArt in Armenia that Sequoia invested in and companies that suddenly out of nowhere essentially managed to break through.
Unfortunately in many cases this means establishing a presence in the US. It is very hard to just stay in your living room and become a global success.
That would be my feedback for entrepreneurs – it´s OK to be from a small country and to be headquartered there but it shouldn´t mean that you don´t go and see the world and connect and build the bridges with other ecosystems because it will help you with sales, recruiting, fundraising and more importantly with a state of mind in retrospective.
What do you think are the crucial ingredients for building a startup or business with global impact?
There are many ingredients so if I have to mention some obvious ones you need to tackle a problem that is in the large and growing market. You need to have a solution that fits your customers, meaning right price point, right experience, etc.
As a pre-requisite for that you need to have a strong team that is capable of delivering the solution and attracting other talented smart people to work with you.
Those are the main three components – market, product and team. If you want to add another secret ingredient I would say you need to have a little bit of luck and timing as well. Because there are great examples of companies that had awesome tech and good teams but were ahead of their time. I helped co-found a startup in Israel in 2002 that developed text input solutions for PDAs but there was no Appstore, there was no iPhone, it worked on ComPilot and Blackberry. So that´s an example of timing. And then you look at SwiftKey a few years later and it´s 250 million acquisition by Microsoft.
All of these things need to be present to even have a chance but then you need to have timing, luck and sort of attitude of never giving up.
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