Innovation and Entrepreneurship: Transcending Borders

July 19, 2013

At Cloud World Forum in London, I did an interview with Rachel Downie of CloudMovesTV, and she asked some fantastic questions (full interview embedded a the bottom of this post). One that particularly jumped out to me was, "Does North America have a technology and talent advantage over Europe?" I've posted some thoughts on this topic on the SoftLayer Blog in the past, but I thought I'd reflect on the topic again after six months of traveling across Europe and the Middle East talking with customers, partners and prospects.

I was born just north of Silicon Valley in a little bohemian village called San Francisco. I earned a couple of trophies (and even more battle scars) during the original dot-com boom, so much of my early career was spent in an environment bursting at the seams with entrepreneurs and big ideas. The Valley tends to get most of the press (and all of the movie contracts), so it's easy to assume that the majority of the world's innovation is happening around there. I have first-hand experience that proves that assumption wrong. The talent level, motivation, innovation, technology and desire to make a difference is just as strong, if not stronger, in Europe and the Middle East as it is in the high-profile startup scenes in New York City or San Francisco. And given the level of complexity due to the cultural and language differences, I would argue the innovation that happens in the Middle East and Europe tends to incorporate more flexibility and global scalability earlier than its North American counterparts.

A perfect example of this type of innovation is the ad personalization platform that London-based Struq created. Earlier this year, I presented with Struq CTO Aaron McKee during the TFM&A (Technology For Marketing and Advertising) show in London about how cloud computing helps their product improve online customer dialogue, and I was stunned by how uniquely and efficiently they were able to leverage the cloud to deliver meaningful, accurate results to their customers. Their technology profiles customers, matches them to desired brands, checks media relevance and submits an ad unit target price to auction. If there is a match, Struq then serves a hyper-relevant message to that customer. And all of that in about 25 milliseconds and is happening at scale (over two billion transactions per day). Add in the fact that they serve several different cultures and languages, and you start to understand the work that went into creating this kind of platform. Watch out Valley Boyz and Girlz, they're expanding into the US.

One data point of innovation and success doesn't mean a whole lot, but Struq's success isn't unique. I just got back from Istanbul where I spent some time with Peak Games to learn more about how they became the 3rd largest social gaming company in the world and what SoftLayer could to to help support their growth moving forward. Peak Games, headquartered in Turkey, is on an enviable growth trajectory, and much of their success has come from their lean, focused operations model and clear goals. With more than 30 million customers, it's clear that the team at Peak Games built a phenomenal platform (and some really fun games). Ten years ago, a development team from Turkey may have had to move into a cramped, expensive house in Palo Alto to get the resources and exposure they needed to reach a broader audience, but with the global nature of cloud computing, the need to relocate to succeed is antiquated.

I met a wild-eyed entrepreneur at another meeting in Istanbul who sees exactly what I saw. The region is full of brilliant developers and creative entrepreneurs, so he's on a mission to build out a more robust startup ecosystem to help foster the innovation potential of the region. I've met several people in different countries doing the same thing, but one thing that struck me as unusual about this vision was that he did not say anything about being like Silicon Valley. He almost laughed at me when I asked him about that, and he explained that he wanted his region to be better than Silicon Valley and that his market has unique needs and challenges that being "like Silicon Valley" wouldn't answer. North America is a big market, but it's one of many!

The startups and gaming companies I mentioned get a lot of the attention because they're fun and visible, but the unsung heroes of innovation, the intraprenuers (people who behave like entrepreneurs within large organizations), are the clear and powerful heartbeat of the talent in markets outside of North America. These people are not driven by fame and fortune ... They just want to build innovative products because they can. A mad scientist from one of the largest consumer products firms in the world, based in the EU, just deployed a couple of servers to build an imaging ecosystem that is pushing the limits of technology to improve human health. Another entrepreneur at a large global media company is taking a Mobile First methodology to develop a new way to distribute and consume media in the emerging cross-platform marketplace. These intrapreneurs might not live in Palo Alto or Santa Clara, but they're just as capable to change the world.

Silicon Valley still produces inspiring products and groundbreaking technology, but the skills and expertise that went into those developments aren't confined by borders. To all you innovators across the globe building the future, respect. Working with you is my favorite part of the job.

-@jpwisler

The full interview that inspired this blog post:

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