Peter polydor reading Richtopia

3 Differences in Startup Culture Between USA and Europe, According to Peter Polydor

And the single most important thing you need to know as an entrepreneur. 

Peter sits across from me at the Euro Cafe. We have had a great conversation so far, and my Americano is half full as I dive into our next topic.

Peter Polydor is a successful entrepreneur who has a knack for picking out winners. He sits on the Board of Directors of ecoPHYSI and SugarsGone as well as the advisory board of a number of startups. Further to his work at ERGO, Peter is a Professor of Practice at the University of Wales, advised the Oxford Seed Fund, is a Charter Member of the Canadian C100, recipient of the Greek 40 Under 40 award and the Power 30 Under 30 award.

Peter just got back from England where he finished his MBA at the University of Oxford, Said Business School. As such, he has become my go to when I want to know more about entrepreneurship culture in Europe. I decided to ask him a few questions on this topic.

Ryan Foland: What are the biggest differences between the European entrepreneurs and those here in Los Angeles and Orange County?

Peter Polydor: I will say that in terms of their demeanour, usually it’s tougher to get entrepreneurs in Europe to be boastful, even if it’s deserved. The culture is a more friendly-corporate way of dealing with traction.

(Peter’s phone rings. I let him take the call, and I get to be a fly on the wall while he seems to be negotiating some sort of deal for bridge finance.)

Peter Polydor: Sorry, I always try to answer my phone for our companies. It is something I learned long ago, and it has helped me to move fast in more than one deal. Where were we?

Ryan Foland: Europe!

Peter Polydor: Right. European vs California entrepreneurs. There is a pretty glaring difference in the way they approach financing. I always say there’s two approaches to run your startup capital. There’s the first approach, ‘Let’s just give these guys as much rocket fuel as possible and help them build the rocket along the way and they’ll launch and it’ll be quick and we’ll see what happens…’ — know what I mean?

Ryan Foland: Yeah. They’ll get up off the ground, but not necessarily know if they will land safely or get to where they want to go?

Peter Polydor: Or worse off, they might not even make it. They might blow up along the way. But the idea is that, if they succeed in building a rocket, they’re going to be in the stratosphere and untouchable. This is popular with Silicon Valley firms who look at companies to grow fast or fail fast. It seems this is not the mentality with entrepreneurs in Europe and to some extent Canada too.

In Europe they follow the other approach I see, which is more typical of LA and OC entrepreneurs, is to not build a rocket ship, but build an airplane instead. The idea is that an airplane is a lot easier to build, and does not need rocket fuel — therefore, it is cheaper to get off the ground. This allows for you to improve systems and function as a result of test flights. This approach allows a startup to get higher and higher at a more realistic pace. It’s a little more, ‘We want to build a business that fundamentally makes sense in terms of building up revenue.’ There is a belief that, in building up earnings, development can be done in pieces.

Ryan Foland: Another great visual, Peter. On a related topic, there is often talk of the jockey versus the horse? Let’s call it the pilot versus the plane, to keep with your analogy. Are there any personal traits you see consistent with entrepreneurs that make the best ‘pilots’?

Peter Polydor: I have a quality that startup pilots should not be.

Ryan Foland: Okay.

Peter Polydor: Don’t be a jerk. I meet lots of entrepreneurs, ‘pilots’ as you are calling them, who think they know absolutely everything. This can make them come across as a jerk. This ‘know-it-all’ attitude makes others feel like you think you’re better than them. When I see an entrepreneur walk into a room and act like the smartest person there, there is no way I want them flying any startup plane I am building. They do not get to pass ‘GO’ and do not get to collect $200.

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Ryan Foland: So don’t be a jerk, that seems simple.

Peter Polydor: Treat people the same. In other words, have a general demeanour that is compassionate and respectful. Whether it’s your assistant or whether it’s your lead product developer. You should interact with them in a positive way. If you are a pilot who treats people poorly, you’re not gonna be able to hold onto the crew that you need to build and fly your startup plane.

Ryan Foland: So, be nice?

Peter Polydor: I’m not saying be nice. I’m saying treat others fairly and listen.

Ryan Foland: 10-4. Copy that.

Peter Polydor: The other quality I see in successful entrepreneurs is the ability to put themselves in other people’s shoes. So…whatever you want to call that in pilot terms. A successful entrepreneur must have the ability to sit across from a customer, sit across from an employee, sit across from an investor and think to themselves, ‘What is this person thinking?’ or, ‘What is this person going through and how can I relate?’

That’s something that’s really important, because that’s how you can make and build such incredible teams — incredible teams that build planes or rocket ships. I’m always concerned about the entire crew. Sure, someone can be this awesome person that built this fast growing company, but I am always curious, how they are going to get the right crew behind to keep gaining altitude?

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