01 July 2015

From Game Changers to Startup Revolution: 5 Things Learnt at Unconvention Day 1

We had a fantastic opening day of Unconvention at BNP Paribas’s state-of-the-art auditorium. Our Plenary session in particular brought up very interesting discussions from the startup revolution changing our social structures to the choking effect that many say European bureaucracy is having on innovation. We also hosted a fiery interview between Commissioner for the Digital Economy and Society, Günther Oettinger and Co-Founder of Informilo, Ben Rooney. We can’t wait to continue the discussion at 09.30 today in the Committee of the Regions. But first, here are the 5 things we learnt from Day One in Brussels:

Innovation has no borders

US Ambassador to the EU, Anthony Gardner, opened and provided us with a very positive outlook on the development of European digital services and innovation as compared with the US. The DSM was high on his list of priorities and it will be followed closely from across the Atlantic as it develops. After remarking on the level of data traffic between the US and EU, he left us with an important mantra for the future, “Innovation has no borders”.

Startups are like rock bands

Tina Baker, Co-Founder of JAG Shaw Baker, talking in our second session on Raising Money, gave us the brilliant analogy between the entrepreneurial ecosystem and the music industry. Having had experience in both spheres, she eloquently described how clashes of personalities in the process of raising money can lead to startup failure and co-founder disputes in the same way as our favourite bands are consigned to the history books when egos inevitably clash. This was particularly fitting as Ivan Lopez, VP Customer Operations at Tyba, referred to developers as the rockstars of our generation. Top tip: Manage your internal relationships!

Recruitment starts with the 3 Fs

Our talent experts, Ivan Lopez and Stijn de Groef, from Tyba and Talmundo respectively, recounted that the startups they have been part of always began by hiring people from their group of friends, family and fools. However, you must move beyond this group into the wider pool of talent if you are going to grow and scale. But, approach with caution! Both Stijn and Ivan described scenarios in which they had failed in the recruitment process. The key, they both agreed, was to devise a recruitment strategy which allows you to understand your prospective employees and, equally importantly, your prospective employees to understand your idea and culture.

Storytelling is the key to good marketing and PR

Our ‘Sales and Marketing’ session with Lujza Bubanova, Co-Founder of John Smith, and Dean Russell, EMEA Creative Strategy Director, provided us with one key theme – authentic storytelling is the best way sell your idea. As human-beings we naturally relate better to a narrative rather than a scripted sales pitch. However, this alone is not sufficient. Successful image building must also anticipate failures and incorporate contingencies. Dean referenced the food industry where it is inevitable that a business will encounter, for example, some food hygiene issue. But, don’t panic or fan the flames when a crisis emerges. Lujza stressed to us how decisive action can snatch victory from the jaws of defeat as she outlined how a potential copycat was subsequently converted into a partner.

Valuation is not make or break

The plenary was a charged affair, where 5 of the top minds in digital innovation debated the challenges and opportunities in the European entrepreneurial ecosystem. We were joined by Ben Rooney, Roza Thun MEP, Ivan Lopez, Tina Baker and Kumardev Chatterjee. We moved rapidly from topic to topic covering the pitfalls in the European legislative process as well as the way sharing economy and IoT has the potential to reorder and restructure our society. Ben Rooney, among his many interesting insights, left us with one key lesson which you should always remember. He summarised that valuations from the private sector can be arbitrary and not indicative of the potential of your startup. So don’t lose your drive if your valuation is lower than expected. As Dean and Lujza had previously pointed out, every no brings you closer to a yes.

Despite the often heated discussion throughout the day there was a general consensus that we could achieve success as a united Europe rather than 28 fragmented Member States. It is with this vision in mind that Commissioner Oettinger, was resilient in his defence of the Commission’s Digital Single Market Strategy despite thorough questioning from Ben Rooney. Overall it was a great day from which all young innovators can take much optimism and knowledge. We are looking forward to more insights in today’s session!