Before organizing last week’s Creandum C BAR in Copenhagen I have to admit I was a little nervous. Will my Swedish colleagues be treated well in my native Copenhagen? After all, our two countries have been at war more than pretty much any other pair of countries on the planet. Luckily the 60 top C-level entrepreneurs we invited all gathered for honestly one of the best events I’ve attended for discussion and sharing.
Part of the reason must have been the topic we laid out. We at Creandum have long been excited about Copenhagen for a few reasons. First of all, Denmark has some excellent entrepreneurs. The founders of Successfactors, Zendesk and JustEat are all Danes, and that’s just a small fraction of the local companies that have become globally known. Second, the ecosystem in Copenhagen is actually quite new. When I did my own startup in 2008, we didn’t have anywhere near the same network of angel investors and other startups for support as startups do today. The mindset has also changed – even 8 years ago, doing a startup was a weird thing. Now when I talk to smart young McKinsey consultants they all want to leave to do one. This means that for us there are a ton of opportunities. And third, Denmark is one of the most technologically developed countries in the world, home of DTU, one of the best engineering universities in the world.
Despite Denmark’s strengths, the theme of the event was “becoming successful in the US”. For the kind of wildly ambitious startups that we work with, going abroad is required to build a huge company. And going to the US is the most ambitious thing you can do: it’s the biggest market in the world for most products, and it’s where competition is the fiercest. If you want to build a global winner, go to the US not only for the revenue but to push your product, marketing and sales to be the best possible.
By bringing together some great entrepreneurs up on stage, this is what we learned:
It takes personal attention.
Moving into a new market takes a lot from the founders – as it should. But typically this means one of the cofounders moving to the States. As we discussed on stage, Heini from Vivino moved to San Francisco, David from Unity moved there as well, and Ulrik from Falcon Social is in the US a lot although he is still based in Copenhagen. Achieving success over there is hard, so it requires lots of focus and commitment to working abroad. You cannot just hire some sales people and hope it will turn out well.
With suddenly two offices you might find you have two different company cultures, goals, and ways of working. One thing stressed up on stage was that you formalize communication between the two offices, for example with a daily update call at least for management, to ensure everyone is on the same page.
If it’s left to an ad-hoc process, then you miss out on the little things that make a big difference!
Really consider East vs. West Coast
We’re bullish on San Francisco, it’s one of the best places in the World to scale up a startup, acquire smart funding, and get extremely good talent. We at Creandum even base two from our investment team in San Francisco to help the fund’s portfolio companies make connections and get settled. That being said, there’s more than one way to move to the States.
Vivino told the crowd it’s beneficial to be near the SF ecosystem, but they did feel some pain with the nine hour time difference. Ulrik from Falcon is happy on the east coast, he’s able to fly to NYC quickly from Copenhagen and their offices benefit from having more hours of overlap. David from Unity said that being in SF was absolutely key for them as their customers in game development are there.
What can we take away from all this? Copenhagen is a great place to grow and scale a startup, but there are still a few key learnings founders must use when expanding to the States. We’ve structured Creandum to be a resource for Europe’s best entrepreneurs, and it’s amazing to think how many of them were standing in that room in Copenhagen.