If you have been following the news, it would seem that Europe is falling apart. First Brexit, then a couple countries decide to join up and go rogue. Nationalist parties are gaining strength all over the continent. Iceland might be going to the Pirates.
Fire! Brimstone! Anarchy!
How are we supposed to be competitive in such times of stress and uncertainty? Europe has always operated on basis of a Radiohead lyric: “Everything in its right place.” Now that’s gone. And it is precisely in times of stress and uncertainty that the best innovations and breakthroughs occur. Central Europeans should embrace the chaos and use it to their advantage. As Churchill said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”
John wrote a whole piece about a post Brexit CEE. He has made a number of solid points that I will just quickly reiterate.
I have seen countless CEE startups go to Silicon Valley via my Facebook feed and they think that it is helping their company. All that does is giving you a solid amount of likes and that is about it. American VCs have people coming out of MIT and Stanford to give money to. Silicon Valley is no longer your only competition. You’ve got people in Mumbai, Shenzhen, Taipei, and Buenos Aires creating the next innovative breakthrough product. And oh, your Kickstarter project is no longer safe as factories in Shenzhen is putting it on the market via Aliexpress faster than you can raise your funding. Just look the recent hoverboard craze for a lesson in how quickly a fad can fizzle.
Nothing is more frustrating than observing how nationalistic the entrepreneurs and their perspective ecosystems are. Even with the miracle of the Internet connecting people all over the world, people are still living with a villager’s mindset. I get it: the local power brokers and bureaucrats wants the next Facebook to come from their region, that way they get to keep their jobs and get more money. It can happen that way, but it needs to be more inclusive. If you have an accelerator in Krakow, Budapest, or Prague, you might get the authorities to allow and even invite a startup from Taiwan to join forces with a local company and build a new product. Like a famous TED talk theorized, progress happens when different ideas have sex.
Here’s the bottom line: the thing that will allow the CEE to be competitive in 2017 is not awesome technology but something much harder. Psychology! The current system focuses too much on what is good for “me” and what will make “me” more money and once I get my money I will pull the ladder up behind me.
Me and my friend Tytus Cytowski may disagree on many things, but one thing we both agree on is that Central European companies big and small think too much about doing things with a “me against the world” attitude. Want to know the worst example of this in the CEE region? Customer service. In fact, that’s the lowest hanging fruit. Think about the customer and their needs and you will find many more opportunities to make a good impression. Shopping is not only about satisfying a need, but also an experience. If you make a customer feel like a million dollars, even if it is just a small act, your rewards are exponential. The customer is always king.
Despite how small the internet makes the world seem, the world is a big place with lots of people. Making money is hard work. Despite all of those clickbaity shortcuts clever people offer, you still have to do the work. There are plenty of opportunities to exploit. You might solve something that has annoyed you for a long time. Chances are, there are others who are bothered by the same thing. Search for them, go overseas if you need to. Other than taxes and death if there is another constant in this world that you can count on it is change. Go network but don’t network like the old post-Soviet businessmen, filling yourself up on booze and big talk and lies. Don’t just settle for a nice night on the streets of your little town when the world is waiting for you.