Mike

All articles by Mike

 

Welcome to Silicon Valley

Traveling 6 countries in Europe to report the local startups action in London, Helsinki, Paris, Berlin, Barcelona and Milan with our documentary Startups in Action has been such a great experience that we decided to do it again. Just oversea! This time we wanted to learn how Silicon Valley really works by asking it directly to those founders and investors building and growing their companies there, so we packed our suitcases,...
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Why the Y?

The moment you decide to name something, you need to be so concise that a whole concept reduces to a short sound, few letters. Names aren’t just a way to recall things, names embody feelings, emotions… they whisper. Think about Apple, Amazon, Oracle. You might not know what a name means, but the way it sounds can still give you some ideas about its meaning. Look around. Almost everything that...
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Sparkling Europe

Have you ever made a Skype call? Or listened to music on Spotify? Got a car ride with BlaBlaCar? Spent hours playing Angry Birds? Built something with Arduino? Believe it or not, all of these companies were born in Europe, and there are many new technology startups launching every day. Skype was founded in 2003 by Janus Friis from Denmark and Niklas Zennström from Sweden. It grew fast and was...
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Year 23 AI

Everything that can be invented has been invented.Charles Holland Duell, Commissioner, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, 1899 This quote goes to show that sometimes rumors spread more than facts. In reality, the Commissioner of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Charles Duell, never made such a statement (as explained here and here.) The quote seems to have found its way into popular dialogue and has been misused since. Mr. Duell...
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Startup Virgins

Every city in the world wants to be more innovative. If you do some research on this topic, it seems like there is a Silicon Something everywhere you look. The word innovation may be one of the most overused word in the lexicon of political leaders, some use it better than others. In any case, there has been a proliferation of startup incubators, co-working spaces, and other innovation centers. These...
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How to Build a Thriving Startup Ecosystem

“I didn’t come here to tell you how this is going to end. I came here to tell you how it’s going to begin. I’m going to hang up this phone, and then I’m going to show these people what you don’t want them to see. I’m going to show them a world without you. A world without rules and controls, without borders or boundaries; a world where anything is...
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Tradition Meets Pioneers

There is no doubt: Italy is bubbling with talent. The current contracting economy is actually acting as a strong fertilizer for changemakers. While some people claim startups are trendy and being an entrepreneur is only the latest fashion, it is hard not to notice a gradual but growing movement rooted in the heart of the young generations. They are extremely hungry to build solutions and they learn fast by doing....
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Moonshooting: Universal Primary Education

I’m not supposed to be here. One of the main reasons that I was able to go from a mid-tier city in China, where I was born, to the heart of Silicon Valley was because I was lucky enough to get a great education throughout my life. In 2000, the United Nations established eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to be achieved by 2015. One of the goals was universal primary...
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Inside the Mind of a Global Entrepreneur

My favorite Friday night activity in San Francisco is not to go to a EDM concert, a play, a performance or any number of wonderful attractions this city has to offer. My favorite thing to do is to grab beers with startup founders – there is always an interesting story, especially if said founder is working in an emerging market. Yes. I live vicariously through my friends and I’m not...
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Diamonds In The Sky

Moriarty, New Mexico is a small town resting 40 miles east of Albuquerque and 50 miles south of the state’s capital Santa Fe and is home to about 2,000 people. To assure you that I didn’t make up this place after reading one too many Sherlock Holmes novels, I spent a few days in the town this week. Moriarty is the fireworks mecca for the Albuquerque metropolitan area, a trucker...
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Why People Suck At Copying Silicon Valley

Recently I met a delegation of visitors from a country (that I shall not name now) who came to Silicon Valley to tour the area. They wanted to learn what made the Valley the innovation capital of the world and how they can replicate its characteristics and spirit in their home country. Watching this delegation talk about startups, job growth and creating opportunities for recent college graduates (a huge problem...
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Europe Versus Silicon Valley

We are grateful to all of the wonderful people who welcomed us through our tour of some of the major startup ecosystems in Europe. We talked to over 50 entrepreneurs, investors, and ecosystem supporters in 6 cities/countries. The incredible conversations and learnings would make for a very nice book… here’s the cliff-notes version of our book that we won’t have time to write Different: 1. Go Big or Go Somewhere...
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Just a Startup

Like in the early stages of startups, the early stages of startup ecosystems are fragile. This is the period where network effects can cut sharply both ways – have a few successes and the ecosystem is off to a roaring start, but have a few public failures and people get cold feet about taking risks with ideas and capital, especially politicians and parents. Milan is an emerging startup ecosystem that...
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Problems as Opportunities

When you go around Italy, you see historical and cultural treasures everywhere. The country was home to the Roman civilization and the birthplace of the Renaissance. From this history, Italians have developed an original mindset that questions things in the status quo. In particular, Milan is one of the European capitals of design and fashion. The intermixing of so many great ideas, both historical and present, gives Milan an environment...
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Migrations

Our last full day in Barcelona was filled with visiting landmarks and personal reflections. We visited the Sagrada Familia, one of the most impressive structures in the world. Construction began in 1882 and is expected to be completed in 2026 – that’s one heck of a long project! The project demonstrates the long-term perspective that people in Barcelona have towards this important building and symbol for the city. Building a...
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Empathy

You’ll have to ask a local about how and why Barcelona is such a friendly place. That’s the thing we noticed immediately – people are easy going and making new connections is no problem. We think that an important characteristic about startup founders, investors and ecosystem builders is that we all share empathy and understanding for each other. We all understand two important truth about the entrepreneurial journey. 1. Starting...
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Why Not?

“Why doesn’t everyone in Europe start a startup?” That was the comment that one American immigrant who currently lives in Berlin made to us. In many countries in Europe, there is a strong social safety net. Basic necessities including healthcare is freely available to citizens. While we don’t intend to take sides on the political issue in this blog, what we noticed is that these safety nets gives people a...
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Dreams of Reality

Berlin is one of the most historically significant city in modern times. Just a generation ago, it was the unfortunate microcosm of the larger global divide in economic and government ideologies between the U.S and Western Europe and the Soviet Union. Today, Berlin is the international crossroads of Europe, welcoming citizens from both Western and Eastern Europe as well as from many countries outside of Europe. English has evolved to...
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Here Comes Technology

We had one of the most interesting conversations of our trip today with a serial entrepreneur who is currently on his third startup. He knows dozens of languages (most of them computer languages) and gave us a broader, longer term view of our world. We discussed the long-term impact of the current startup movement. One of the unintended consequences of innovation is that while they create jobs for people who...
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Renaissance 2.0

The core feature of technology is that it is scalable, that it can be used almost anywhere by anyone with a baseline level of financial resources. What people decide to do with that technology and how investors view it is an entirely separate story. Today in Paris, we discovered startup hubs like TheFamily and Blue Factory. After two dozens interviews so far between Helsinki, London and Paris, we’ve noticed that...
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Friends

Today, we met up with a local friend who helped us film and photograph landmarks around London. It is still both pleasantly surprising and wonderful that in just the past two months Ympact has grown from just an idea into an international collaboration between 6 people living in 5 cities in 4 countries (Italy, Spain, Finland, and the U.S.). In addition, over 50 people have answered our call and have...
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Ultimate Network Effects

Network Effects is a fancy term to describe the simple phenomenon of people wanting to jump on the bandwagon. Sure, there are nuances to the concept, but essentially companies gain network effects by making a product that becomes exponentially more valuable with each incremental user joining. The now classic examples include Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp, Snapchat, etc. The ultimate network effects industry, however, is the startups sector itself. Today, we visited...
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Mind The Gap

London, like some of its other cosmopolitan cousins such as New York and San Francisco, is a city that is constantly evolving. The city is so diverse that at each office, restaurant or landmark that we went to, we saw it in a new perspective. What didn’t change was “Mind the Gap”. It is a phrase shown on the ground and repeated on speaker systems at every tube station. Tourists...
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Free and Wild

After some intense days at Slush, we took a brief timeout to enjoy a walk through a forest and went into a sauna on the rooftop. Walking through Helsinki, you get to breath in some of the cleanest air on the planet. Buildings and objects in this city are designed to let you have your own physical and mental space. Even the university buildings stand far apart, separated by grass,...
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Quiet Makers

Finns might seem shy and silent. They like doing more than broadcasting and when it’s both cold and dark outside, they have plenty of time and space to think, collaborate and build useful things. Finland consistently has one of the highest ranking educational systems in the world and university is free for everyone – talk about democratizing opportunity! One of the key features of Finland’s educational process is that students...
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Polar Blast

We arrived in Helsinki very determined to start our journey while expecting cold and wet weather (and we were right!). The city is rainy enough that its main startup conference can be aptly named Slush. The weather seems to have an unification effect on people. Helsinki is growing quickly as a startup ecosystem as different entities are consolidating into a single powerful community that enables cross pollination of ideas and...
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