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Remembering EntrepreneurCountry Prague’s Launch & the Importance of Building Growth in Europe * We are never checkmated by history

Julie Meyer Monday, 13 June 2016.

juliemTwenty five years ago next month, Czechslovakia was born after a half century of the Communist darkness. Throughout November 1989, students protested in Bratislava and Prague. A two hour general strike was held on the 27 of November throughout the country causing the entire Communist Party leadership to resign including Milos Jakes the puppet General Secretary. In response to this demonstration of people power, the Communist Party announced it would relinquish power and dismantle the single-party state. As barbed wire was removed, the Constitution changed. Vaclav Havel became the first President of Czechoslovakia on 29 December 1989.

I was in Paris and 23 years old at the time, and could not stop reading about this seismic shift in the newspapers. I wanted to see it and my opportunity came to travel to the scene of the Velvet Revolution.

I came to Prague in February 1990 for a photoshoot sent by my modelling agency in Paris with a well-known Czech photographer and his model wife. I told them I wanted to see ground zero. My hosts were nervous as we crossed into the border of Czechoslovakia with an American in the backseat, and they told me to not say a word under any circumstance. ‘This is our first time back too. We don’t know exactly if it is all true,’ they said. They took good care of me. My memories of this couple have lasted far longer than the photographs of me on the Charles River Bridge that he took. They were incredibly generous despite an obvious uncertainty in the situation around them. When they drive me back to Paris, we hugged, and they said they were immediately returning as they had much to do to build their country. Paris was not enough.

Fast forward to 15 October 2014, EntrepreneurCountry Czech Republic was ‘born’. One of 15 regions across the continent, Lucie Bresova and Lukas Hrdlickainvited the leading entrepreneurs to come to the Pavilon Grebovka and formally announce the creation of this new country which I affectionately call: entrepreneurcountry. I decided to found a new country as I saw the ravaging of entrepreneurs and their businesses through the 2009 financial crisis. I remember myself saying repeatedly to myself, ‘I wish more people could go to ‘entrepreneurcountry’ (that figurative place that entrepreneurs go everyday where only they know how much it takes out of them to drive their businesses forward, and where they can share their loads with other entrepreneurs) and see how much these business owners have to carry in leading and building their businesses.’ I ultimately wrote the book, Welcome to EntrepreneurCountry published in 2012, and set up EntrepreneurCountry Global because I realised that it was inevitable: we are all going to entrepreneurcountry. It’s just that not everyone realises it yet.

We have imperfect information about the future today, just as those Czech protestors did not know the detail of the arc of history, but they knew the endgame: they would demand fiercely their freedom, and they would have it. Today if we could aggregate the visions of all entrepreneurs, we’d have much more perfect information about the future as entrepreneurs live in the future. EntrepreneurCountry aggregates those future visions, and brings them kicking and screaming back to the present, so that we can act. In EntrepreneurCountry, we also are tapped on the shoulder by the arc of history, and we answered the call.

Back to Prague.

William Lobkowicz also returned to Prague after the Velvet Revolution as his family had a little bit of history there. His father had fled his country as a refugee days before it fell to the Nazis. The family had grown up in the United States as average citizens of that country. Rumor has it that pere Lobkowicz told his son to return upon seeing the events in Prague and Berlin in 1989, and William and his wife Sandra have dedicated their lives to restoring the cultural and family heritage of the Lobkowicz collections.

 Today Prague is the cross-roads of Lobkowicz and the entrepreneurs who came to the launch of EntrepreneurCountry Czech Republic. One of the most impressive individuals I’ve met was there at the Pavilon Grebovka: Ondrej Kratky who founded and is the Chief Marketing Officer of Liftago. Their story indicates why we are never checkmated by history. There are always clever moves on the chessboard - unique opportunities for individuals who believe that have a contribution to make to the world, and who are willing to do the hard work of thinking about business models and how technology is a layer slicing through all industries.

Liftago also says something about the European venture capital scene, and two competing visions of how North America and Europe are dealing with the digital disruption.

In Ring Number 1, our incumbent fighter are the US technology platform firms, the gang of 4 – Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google. They control the economics of their industries, and the profits they drive in their ecosystems, they disproportionately share in. There is a lot of evidence that they will take over every industry. Closely related are their little brothers, but the big new Digital Disruptors, the likes of Tesla, AirBnB, and Uber. The entrepreneurs behind these firms have a system-level vision, an ability to raise large amounts of capital and to tell a consistent story to the market about the market position they intend to occupy.

But here’s where it gets interesting, and it gets very interesting indeed.

No one has challenged them on the unit economics or capital efficiency of their visions. Until very recently.

In Ring Number 2, is the challenger to these mostly US tech firms and Digital Disruptors. This is the corner of the ‘ROTW’ – the rest of the world. The non-technology traditional telco, bank, insurance firm, retailer or newspaper group, as well as the entrepreneur in Bratislava, Brno and Prague who doesn’t have access to enormous amounts of capital and has not been brought up to communicate like an American from Palo Alto.

Americans are taught on day 2 of their lives to talk about themselves and tell the world what they think. We are encouraged to speak loudly, overshare, assume that the world cares deeply what we say. As an American from Palo Alto who has lived in Europe for 25 years, and who still has more than a little bit of that in her, I have learned how annoying we can be. I now go back to the US for business or to see my family, and after a day, I have an overwhelming desire to tell people to shut up. ‘Stop talking about yourself, and how wonderful you are, and how perfect everything is’. I have come to see how annoying it can be. Not because we’re jealous over here in Europe. It’s just so myopic to not be as or more interested in the ROTW as to be compelled to share your deepest thoughts constantly.

 In Ring Number 2, is the challenger to these mostly US tech firms and Digital Disruptors. This is the corner of the ‘ROTW’ – the rest of the world. The non-technology traditional telco, bank, insurance firm, retailer or newspaper group, as well as the entrepreneur in Bratislava, Brno and Prague who doesn’t have access to enormous amounts of capital and has not been brought up to communicate like an American from Palo Alto.

Americans are taught on day 2 of their lives to talk about themselves and tell the world what they think. We are encouraged to speak loudly, overshare, assume that the world cares deeply what we say. As an American from Palo Alto who has lived in Europe for 25 years, and who still has more than a little bit of that in her, I have learned how annoying we can be. I now go back to the US for business or to see my family, and after a day, I have an overwhelming desire to tell people to shut up. ‘Stop talking about yourself, and how wonderful you are, and how perfect everything is’. I have come to see how annoying it can be. Not because we’re jealous over here in Europe. It’s just so myopic to not be as or more interested in the ROTW as to be compelled to share your deepest thoughts constantly.

Ondrej knows that there will be driverless cars in the future. Is it 2 years away or 10? We don’t know the timeframe, but we know the inevitability. They figured that by enabling the existing taxi networks with technology, it was a shorter leap to getting customers used to being driven by driverless cars if they have customers behaviour primed as they do. They looked long into the future, and then worked their way back to the present as great entrepreneur do.

As we complain about the European venture capital scene – too little money, too little risk, too little success, we have to confront the reality that we may not be willing to do the hard work of thinking about business models and how technology is slicing through all industries. For it is only because as a group of financiers we didn’t spot what Ondrej spotted, or didn’t press more European based potential Ubers to do the A/ B comparision of economics and capital efficiency between rebuilding the taxi network or enabling the existing one with tools that we don’t have more home-grown heros. As a result of Americans doing their usual big mouth – ‘I’m going to own the market’ approach, aggregating the capital, telling the story, we’ve over spent, but we’ve done it because Ring Nr 2 is not playing at the same time as Ring Nr 1. There’s a 5 year delay. It’s on another channel. So it’s not easy to do the A/B comparison unless you are intent on capital efficiency either through a respect for capital or an absence of it.

Prague has its billionaires and one has backed Liftago. Many more are being created. The unique opportunity for those and the other entrepreneurs across this European continent of 450 million people is to enable not to disrupt. Disruption is a later-born child activity. It is new world thinking. We Europeans may not be as subversive. We are first born children: We have a stake in the existing order of things, but we also have hope that that can evolve. We do it softly – sometimes too softly, but the Velvet Revolution approach does lead to opportunities unlocked by human ingenuity. The impact is massive and comprehensive even if the voice over is not.

Europe desperately needs system-level change. It is clear to those of us who live in entrepreneurcountry that that will be driven by entrepreneurs: people who are living abnormal lives to bring that future kicking and screaming into the present. The EU was a first attempt to find Europe’s business model and to create a set of economics which would work for its citizens. Like all problems/opportunities, not everyone gets it right on the first attempt. And the breakthroughs always come after many attempts to crack the code. The EU as a political entity doesn’t harness the incredible power that we can see in a moment of history like the one that happened 25 years ago in Prague. It’s a system which is not by the people, for the people, but for the elite, and we won’t really tell you where your money is going. This soft condescension shows an enormous disrespect for those who fought for their freedom.

Europe is being redefined by its entrepreneur today. EntrepreneurCountry Global is making those victories discoverable – making them count. They aren’t necessarily loud like an American from Palo Alto would recognise, but they are profound as they are more system-level, more enabling, and more respectful of the inherent stake we have in the existing order of things. These Digital Enablers are not Digital Disrupters; they are the friends of the ROTW – the 9/10 of the iceberg which has yet to embrace digital and isn’t about to do that with an Uber, Tesla or AirBnb, but might do with a Liftago or like company in their industry.

Europe is being reshaped with its home-grown digital cars running over its home-grown highways. Europe’s money needs to back these new industrialists of today.

At Ground Zero, the Velvet Revolution protestors turned founding brothers and sisters of their new country wrote in Czech: If not now, when? If not us, who?

Twenty five years on, I hear the same questions which speak not only to me but 140,000 citizens of entrepreneurcountry, and to my partners across the European continent with whom I build our new country. The link between freedom and free enterprise and creating wealth for all of society is a direct one. Those of us who build our own businesses know profoundly that there are no short-cuts,, no sugar daddies, and no fast tracks. Freedom is fundamentally the freedom to create, to unlock the ingenuity within, and to make the contribution to your fellow man. This is hard, and you can’t merely throw money at it.
We walk today in those same Velvet footsteps. The landscape may have changed, but the vision remains the same.

As Ondrej said to me as he walked me to my liftago taxi on the way out of the Pavilon Grebovka and into the Prague night, ‘and by the way, we are there’. It took me a moment to catch up with this extremely bright mind of the Czech Republic as I thought he was speaking about the taxi at first. But it is his endgame he breathes. He’s living in the future every day of his life. He goes to entrepreneurcountry, and puts up with what he puts up with in order to deliver his business day in and day out. He’s already living in the future where he’s enabled his fellow citizens – drivers and driven - to empower themselves with tech in cars. This is all about execution now. He’s already there.
Join us in entrepreneurcountry to build the future of Europe: a grassroots attempt, a brushfire of the mind, another crack at the code, a silent if effective protest, a capital efficient journey: another Velvet Revolution.

By the way, we are there. Are you?

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