Always New Mistakes

December 13, 2010

Beware of those who say they help entrepreneurs

Filed under: Conference, entrepreneur — Tags: , , , , — Alex Barrera @ 3:00 pm

I recently attended one of the most shameful events I’ve been to in a long time. Being and entrepreneur myself and collaborating in so many ways (Tetuan Valley, Okuri Ventures, Sandbox, Startup Digest) with other entrepreneurs around the world, I was excited to attend the opening of the MIT Enterprise Forum chapter in Spain. Nothing could have prepared me to the disastrous event I was about to attend. So many people share my views, but no one wants to write them down, so here there are:

I got to the event just in time, just to realize that something was extremely wrong, the president of the MIT Spanish chapter was reading the presentation speech. Having been to so many events and talks, I can tell you, that’s never a good sign. As it happens, it wasn’t, things got much worse as time went by. A round table of “experts” talking about how Spain should help entrepreneurs just made my day. The amount of incoherent ideas, half truths, PR bullshit and just plain ignorant talk was overwealming. I just have to feel sorry for one of the speakers which is a friend and by the look of his face you could see he was as shamed as we were.

Anyhow, one of they things I realized is how dangerous these people can be. There we were, a room packed with people, everyone listening. The problem was, except for our friend, none of the speakers had real entrepreneur experience. Maybe it’s me, being an engineer turns you into a meritocratic person by default, nevertheless, I’ve always thought that if you want to fix a something, first you need to know where the problem is. In my eyes, that was the biggest problem, none of them knew anything about where that laid. Now, it wouldn’t be a problem if these people were regular folks, but they weren’t. They were smart and powerful people. They run big VCs (or so they call themselves in Spain), entrepreneur programs, consulting firms, etc.

What baffled me was that they hadn’t a clue about entrepreneurship, startups or their suffering. Even among them, they couldn’t agree as to what was best for entrepreneurs. The amazing thing was that, from the amount of suits I counted in the room, the percentage of entrepreneurs attending the talk was below 1%. So, in the end, you had, a packed room of non entrepreneurs, listening to a bunch of people talking about a topic that they had absolutely no idea.

This is the thing, a banker that creates a startup competition thinks that gives him uber knowledge on their problems. Truth is, the banker never gets to talk with the entrepreneurs. Not the ones attending his program, not the ones elsewhere. An MBA person, with expertise in finance and buyout operations, that has being doing buyouts and M&A for large (> 100) corporations during the past 6 years thinks he knows entrepreneurs. But I wonder if he’s ever seen a startup with less than 3 people or even talks with entrepreneurs. I’m sorry but working with a corporation has absolutely nothing to do with bootstraping a company in the turmoil of a worldwide economic recession. A doctor working at a hospital has even less idea of what’s in an entrepreneur’s mind. Yes, he opened several new facilities within the hospital, but excuse me if that’s even remotely similar to trying to raise capital for a crazy risky idea. Then we have the typical VC profile. X years in a consulting firm doing private equity and M&A operations. Yes, you meet so many entrepreneurs doing that… and of course, regular VC has so many real interactions with entrepreneurs I just can’t imagine why I’m even writing this (for the record, there is sarcasm here). An finally, but not least, you have the MIT Enterprise Forum chairman. First of all, how can you even speak of funding in Spain when you’ve never started a company in Spain. It just amazes me how easy it is for him to repeat what others say with absolutely a complete ignorance of a countries specific problems. But most importantly, how is it possible that being an entrepreneurs himself, he allows this mummers farce to go on. Shame on him and shame on the MIT.

If MIT thinks that having such a sorry lot talk shit about how to help entrepreneurs, giving a talk with NO Q&A and call it “Forum” and most interestingly, stressing the importance of doing networking, but kicking everyone out to the street after the talk is done, then that’s the reason why most real entrepreneurs end up in California an desert Massachusets.

So, people, please, be critic, and be careful with those that preach that they are champions of the entrepreneur cause when in reality they’re far detached from their real day to day world.

Oh, by the way, I would link to their webpage but they’ve run out of quota: “This account has been suspended. Either the domain has been overused, or the reseller ran out of resources.”

December 19, 2008

LeWeb and Paris

Filed under: entrepreneur — Tags: , , , , , , — Alex Barrera @ 1:24 pm

Last week I had the change to attend, for the first time, to LeWeb conference in Paris. LeWeb, organized by French entrepreneur Loïc Le Meur and his wife Geraldine, has become one of the most important Web conferences in Europe in past years.

This is the second time I attend a European conference, being FOWA @ London, the previous one and I have to confess that the feeling was different this time. When I went to FOWA I was impressed. There were some amazing keynotes and I got to know plenty of people. It really gave me a taste of what was out there in terms of tech startups. It actually put my feet on the ground and reset many of my expectations with my own tech startup.

LeWeb was quite different, the keynotes where stellar, even more that the ones at FOWA, nevertheless, my experience was distinct. A year has passed, I’ve met plenty of new friends, most of them working in tech startups and my own perception of the tech startup world is much more advanced now that my company is starting to operate with beta users. As a side note, it’s also true that once you are in this particular industry, you start to demystify many of the key players an so, talks that a while back seemed amazing to me, no longer have that effect.

So, this time, it wasn’t about getting a grasp of the market, but it was more about getting in contact with possible clients and partners. To that extend I succeeded in meeting very interesting persons and had an amazing time hanging with many European startups.


The keynotes were different from the ones at FOWA. The ones at FOWA had, in general, a high degree of technical content. The ones at LeWeb where much more business oriented and some of them where very inspiring. All in all, I think I like the LeWeb formula the most. Being a tech geek as I am, there is a problem with tech keynotes. Working all day as a developer, you really don’t want to listen to more developers talking about the same stuff you do at work. On the other side, some of them that might seem like amazing talks, become CEOs and CTOs PR talks. I don’t really get it, if you are doing a tech talk, give it, but don’t put a cool title for your keynote and then talk about what your company does and how well are you growing.

In contrast, LeWeb had very refreshing talks that touched very dear subjects to me, inspiration, neuroscience and music. Funny enough the keynotes I liked the most were the ones that had nothing to do with technology or big tech companies. The most amazing presentations, in my humble opinion, were these ones (in no particular order):

  • David Weinberger
  • Itay Talgam, Conductor
  • Linda Avey, Co-Founder, 23AndMe, Inc.
  • Helen Fisher, Visiting Research Professor, Rutgers University
  • Paulo Coelho, Author
  • Introduction with Morten Lund – Chief Ideologist, Lund XY Global Ventures
  • Robin Good, New Media Innovator, Explorer, Independent Publisher,
Master New Media
  • Chris Anderson – Curator, TED
  • Joichi Ito, CEO, Creative Commons

I specially loved Chris Anderson’s talk which nearly got me crying. I also had the joy of talking with him for a few seconds after his talk (thank you Luis Rull for pushing me to approach him) and managed to give him my business card, which, of course, he won’t read. But anyway, it made me immensely happy to talk with him as it’s one of the persons I have a deep respect for. You can find most of the keynotes in ustream, so check some of them out, they are worth it.

Finally and as a side note, I had the impression the organization was, ironicaly, quite disorganized, which lead to a chain of problems which bugged everyone during the conference. You could reduce them to cold, lack of food and lack of Wifi. Three things which are indispensable in any conference and all of them failed the first day. I hope next year the organization pulls their act together and get those issues fixed as the rest of the conference was a blast.

I’ll be going to the Lift Conference in February 2009 with my friends from Sandbox Network, so if you plan to attend don’t hesitate on dropping me an email.

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