I just spent two weeks in New York. It was supposed to be a very non-descript trip, without a concrete purpose. I went there to attend a few tech conferences, meet a few people I had connected to via email and wanted to meet, and get a local vibe of the new hot tech scene that everyone is talking about – now the 2nd largest in the world after silicon valley.
I write this on the plane on the way back to London. And already I have my return flight booked for next week, I have a real estate agent looking to get me a flat (or ‘apartment’ i should say :-)) and I already signed up new office space there. And got close to making my first hire. And I feel I moved slow even. 🙂 That’s the pace this city moves in.
I’ve been living in London for 10 years now and I love the place. I love the culture, its hip parts, the mix of fashion, design, finance and almost everything else, I love the fact that it’s a short plane journey away from amazing places in continental Europe. I’m European at heart and I will always be.. I love the food, the coffee, the wine, the beautiful beaches, the mix of accents, the style and dress sense of people.
But this trip reminded me of what I don’t love about Europe and what tired me over the years as an entrepreneur being in Europe. It’s the lack of open mindedness, the small mindedness in fact of people – some of them very very intelligent people who cant see beyond the forest- the pessimism, conservatism and negativity. The constant winging and seeing what can go wrong instead of what can go right. ‘This is’ I kept thinking to myself ‘why Europe is screwed’. And it will remain screwed for as long as it takes for this mindset to change.
Tell someone in Europe you run a startup and their facial expression is one of either ‘looser couldn’t get a real job’ or if its obvious you’re successful its more like ‘the crook is out to make profit, what happened to good old humanity’. It amazes me still how set back Europe is in the way people think of risk, entrepreneurship and profit. Failure is still feared and seen as taboo. We still haven’t woken up to the realization that entrepreneurship was, is and always will be what drives the economy, what creates new jobs and innovation, new technologies and applications that change the world and make our lives better. How many large corporations can you think of that created life-changing new innovations in the last five years? And more importantly: how many came out of Europe? I can’t think of any.
In the US on the other hand, tell someone you are running a startup and their face lights up, it beams with happiness and enthusiasm, they immediately take out their phone to connect you with those they can to help you because they realize you belong to that 1% minority that’s brave enough to dare, to takes risk for the better of humanity, to drive change; change that the other 99% will benefit from if you succeed. There is no jealousy or negativity like there is in Europe; there’s just admiration and a desire to help. It’s true capitalism at its best – and that’s what made America the nation it is. Sure America has lots of challenges as a nation today especially in the never ending wake of financial meltdown, like the rest of the world, but in the end it is drive, ambition and fearlessness that push a nation forward. It’s the desire to win. And nowhere do you see that as intensely as you do in America.
I was introduced and met more people in these two weeks in New York than I did perhaps in the last 3 months or more in London. I had more people wanting to know about my idea, why we are spreading it to the US, what brings us here, what we think our challenges will be etc etc. I felt alive again, that what I’m doing has a purpose and impacts the world in a profound way, that people in some part of the world acknowledge it, that the journey matters as much as the destination.
And so I ended my trip with a firm decision that this is the place I want to live in. For me personally as an entrepreneur with high ambitions and for my business where the opportunities are boundless. I love Europe and I will miss it but it needs to sort its shit out. America reminds you that thinking big is what people SHOULD be doing every day… it should be the norm not the exception. It reminds you that the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.
Having those sorts of people around you gives you courage, energy and momentum to carry on. I worked longer hours in these two weeks than I ever did, starting cross-Atlantic Skype calls with my team in Europe at 6:30 am due to the time difference and often not finishing till midnight at some tech event. Yet I feel as energetic and tireless as ever.
And that’s why America is still the land of opportunity.