Copycat or Original? The future of European IT and the Malaga Valley
Recently I came across an article by Davor Hebel, http://realdeals.eu.com/blog/the-future-of-european-copycats, in which he argues that there is nothing wrong with copying, pointing to the Samwer brothers, who accordingly perfected the craft and created a fortune by building a number of clones including Alando (clone of Ebay), Jamba (clone of NTT DoKoMo), Zalando (clone of Zappos), and CityDeal (clone and now acquired by Groupon).
This he says in defense of, the fact that European entrepreneurial community often comes under fire for being prone to copying successful ideas from the US and importing them over here. For one he is right, we can say there is nothing wrong with copying when you make it better.
Take Google and Skype for example, prior to which there were enough search engines and VoIP services, yet a new and better concept with the right sum of investment made them the leader.
Mr Hebel argues quiet rightly that it is not just the idea – but the execution of that idea – that creates a unique proposition and often redefines how a problem is solved.
However why should European entrepreneurs be copying rather than being original. I believe that part of it is how they are pushed into it. The US is built for allowing an entrepreneur to risk, build and repeat, but Europe hardly allows for that. Risk taking in Europe is discouraged and looked bad upon. The entrepreneur centres are equally, limiting and the funds have so much restrictions that any entrepreneur will find it almost impossible to get access to.
In Spain for example, the several funds available to entrepreneurs require bank and repayment guarantees, or are based set criteria for one being unemployed, single mother and so on.
What the governments forget, is that Entrepreneurs are not a particular breed of set age, sex, wealth. Good ideas come to all, young and old, male or female, poor or rich. The difference is that in the US, everyone is encouraged and welcomed, yet in Europe the band is closed, in fact so strapped that it hardly allows for any originality to flourish.
Furthermore, there is always a set risk to originality. Afterall an original idea is one that is not tried before, it may work or it may not. It is all based on assumptions, so who is to
say what is a good idea and what is a bad idea?
Yet again, European banks, investors and entrepreneur centres request such proven models and financial forecasts and high expectation of profit margins that there is hardly any room for trying and failing.
So where does originality go. Well, when I first started university in 1990, I became hooked on BBSs (BulletingBoard Systems). In those I used to sit behind a dumb terminal, (in fact three) login to different boards, science, leisure, etc, etc and chat with other students around the world (mainly US and UK). As I was in London, the one question I constantly got asked by the American studens was “Can you recommend me somewhere to stay in London?” Well of course, there was loads of bread and breakfast and cheap hotels in and around the kensington campus of Kings College. So after answering the question
20 or 30 times, I created a ready made list which I used to email to them. Later that year I printed 500 letters and offered each B&B the chance to be on my list for 20GBP per year. Unfortunately I had no interest with several responses, thanking me that they can’t see the
benefit. Was I too far ahead of the time?
Recently I found myself in the same situation again. I had a great idea. Just joined our committee for the community I lived in and I found that there is nothing to help deal with the communication system. It is all paper based, once or twice a year and that’s it. So I set about testing with different systems and. Some found it a good idea and some thought it was stupid and adviced me against. Against all odds and the expense of selling my property investments and spending all my savings, I finally created a website service for communities www.ocm-online.com.
Now nearly 6 years later, I am still riding against the tide, but despite all those who advised against the idea, I can now see the light. Signups from Madrid, Zaragoza, India and Venezuela. They are all property owners who want to be informed about the issues in the place they live in. They want updates and transparency and power to decide and that’s what we give them.
So, original ideas, there are plenty of in Europe, but European investors need to learn from their US counterparts to take more risks and open the door to entrepreneurs without restrictions of age, sex and idea. As Mr Hebel puts it; “it is not just the idea – but the execution of that idea” but equally having the chance to execute it.
The future of Europe’s entrepreneurship, hubs like that of Malaga Valley and originality depends on the receptiveness of the governments allowing and enabling entrepreneurs to take risk without penalization, reducing setup costs and overheads, and above all opening their minds to new and untested ideas.