When I was growing up in Spain, while we were certainly encouraged to consider doing any number of things with our lives, we were never encouraged to become entrepreneurs. Similarly, teachers and parents never pointed to leaders from the business or technology worlds as role-models. Across Europe in general, I think, the cultural instigation to start businesses, solve business problems, create jobs and innovate, is strikingly small, particularly if you compare it with the very different culture in the US, where entrepreneurism is so enthusiastically encouraged and celebrated.
Perhaps this helps explain at least in part why America remains such an engine of digital creativity and innovation. There are countless amazing entrepreneurs to have come out of Spain and other parts of Europe, of course, but you do have to look a little harder to find them. On the other hand, there’s no need to list the amazing U.S. tech companies that have gone on to profoundly change the internet, the workplace, and the world across the last two decades alone.
Consequently, we’re used to the spectacle of US companies bringing their businesses to Europe (and other parts of the world), but we’re less used to seeing innovation going in the opposite direction – European-born tech companies meaningfully penetrating the American market.
Of course it does happen. I’m proud to be the founder and CEO of Nexthink, a European tech company that is seeing incredible Stateside growth. So much so that next year I’ll be relocating with my family to Boston (home to our regional HQ) to focus on making an even bigger difference in what I think of as the home of tech entrepreneurism and innovation.
We’re all familiar with the challenges presented by the US’s large and competitive market. But there are some advantages to swimming against the current – and to being born far from Silicon Valley. Here’s a few things I think have helped us be successful in the US:
A readymade internationalism
Although I was born and raised in Spain, Nexthink was born and raised in Switzerland. Our workforce has always been equally heterogeneous (we have 34 nationalities working in our Lausanne HQ), and like any European tech company we were instantly focussed on an extremely heterogenous territory.
This meant we quickly became used to adapting to different cultures and languages, as well as ensuring that our product and messaging translates. American companies can experience huge success without leaving their own native territory and language – and only afterwards experience the corporate equivalent of culture shock. The resulting flexibility (and resilience) our origins gave us helped us hit the ground running in other continents.
An engineering-first culture
As I’ve already said – since the internet was born, Europe has delivered less world-changing technology than the U.S. (at least to date). Perhaps another cultural reason for this is that European companies tend to be very engineering driven, with the marketing and commercial aspects being a secondary focus.
However, while this can sometimes mean we’re slower to impact the market, such painstaking engineering becomes a strength when we do. For instance, it allows us to be more adaptive when catering to different preferences: US customers, for example, tend to prefer simpler (as opposed to simplistic) products that can go from red to green as quickly as possible.
European customers by and large prefer to like to lift the lid on the technology a bit more. Our focus on engineering has allowed us to anticipate these preferences accordingly – and deliver a product that is both adaptive and mature.
Used to more conservative customers
We’ve had enough success in the US already to know this: American customers are extremely passionate advocates for technology that can help them achieve their goals: they are much more ready to embrace change than their European counterparts, and this can result in quicker buying cycles and amazing customer advocacy. When you become used to slower buying cycles the acceleration offered by the US market feels like a huge boost.
Ultimately, different origins give you different perspectives. It’s true that European companies that aspire to emulate and rival the incredible success enjoyed by so many US peers need to approach the challenge of the North American market with humility and a willingness to learn. It’s also increasingly true that we can do so with the confidence that we have something unique to offer that same market, and that this can be because of, rather in spite of, the different outlook that we bring with us.