When I read “Lessons learned: European founder in Silicon Valley” I highlighted (that’s a thing here on Medium isn’t it) : Most companies we Europeans call startups are referred to as a “lifestyle businesses” in Silicon Valley.

Let me quote @skvarekm : “If your company hopes to make $20M in revenues one day then you are in the same category as local burrito business on Silicon Valley scale.” I know this is true. And it comes with a story worth sharing. It took me a few years to get my head around this idea.

The first official pitch I ever did was in 2012. I was pretty excited to do this as we were just a few hand-picked entrepreneurs. Sweaty hands and quite the adrenaline rush I was expecting to get pitching in front of a well-known group of Silicon Valley Hotshots. We made it through the selection process, all the way to the finals. What could go wrong ? I even googled the names of the international jury, consisting of Tom Rice, Fernando Gouveia and many others. It was a sunny April day (20th), the pitch started at 10 and I was 10 minutes early with a 10 page slide. Yes, 10 has always been my magic number. (You’ll have to read “Selling advertising embarrasses me ! Should it ?” to see why, anyway, no time to waste don’t want to make this a 10minute plus read)

Oh, one more detail, the meeting was not in Silicon Valley but in the worldclass city of Ghent. Codename was “Plug&Play”

Now let’s cut to the chase (I love saying that but I never do), what feedback did they give us and did it change my life. Spoiler alert: It did (change my life). Well, I quote, yes I kept the email in a text file:

“ The jury was intrigued by your interesting concept and the fact that you already have traction. It proves that you are able to leverage the success.”

BUT. Yep, that’s the keyword I was hoping to avoid. BUT there it was !

BUT or we … Going up or going down. San Francisco. Photo: LiveTheLife.TV
Let me quote them on what followed that BUT: “ They wrestle with the fact that Live The Life is in the first place a lifestyle business with limited focus on ICT. LTL is not a technology company which is in fact the main focus of IBBT and the Plug&Play tech center, namely help technology companies accelerate in Silicon Valley. This is why we believe the Plug&Play tech center is not the right solution for you to conquer Silicon Valley. There, the focus is on building a base for future contacts with big companies or prepare a company for a VC funding round. Therefore, we think there is a not an clear fit between your goals and the things you want to achieve with your product and the services that the Plug&Play tech center can offer.”

You know what, I’m gonna Cut&Paste the rest of the feedback. After all, I repeat, it changed my life. Big time. So here it is :

One of the main reasons is also that there is no clear vision on the mobile application. At this moment, there is no development yet and no strategy what you are trying to accomplish with this app. This is a clear ICT component in your story, but we lack a distinct outline of an integrated vision of this application. If you would do this presentation again, the jury recommends you to demonstrate something in your presentation, such as screenshots of your website. Another advice would be to put some metrics in your presentations such as the number of users, the number of properties sold/rented,.. It is important to show what you have, up until this point.

We believe that at this point, it would be better to have some one-on-one entrepreneurship training. An interesting program is for example the founder institute. They also have a Brussels based program. We are convinced that this would be a better option in order to maximize the business potential, than a stay in the Plug&Play tech center.

Keep up the good work with your business and we wish you the best of luck!

As a matter of fact, I was pretty happy with this feedback. And it’s fun re-reading it after all those years. I did reply to the email with screenshots and metrics and looking back it’s crazy I did not added them in the slide. The slide was all about telling the story, I already gave them all the metrics to get through the selection process, but did not take into account that the jury never saw my metrics or screenshots. Big fail. Lesson learned ? I save that one for the last part of this, yes I can say it now, long read.

Let’s flashback one year. 2011. A turning point in so many ways. The first year since 2005 that we didn’t spend most of our time at the LTL HQ in Jeffreys Bay, South Africa. The first year I finally got to experience some surf in Contis again, the magic place where I learned to surf 15 years ago. Anyway after a trip to Reunion and Mauritius we also spend our first month in New York City. We were invited to document the Quiksilver Pro and had some promo events for LTL lined up.

We enjoyed the Film Festival, avoided Fashion Week and finally got to reconnect with the photographer Aaron Chang. It was only a short 4 weeks but we lived it as if the world would end in 2012. We did not return to Europe or South Africa, we moved to San Francisco. After catching up with our Costa Rica Connection David (who was CEO of one of the hottest companies in that area), we airbnb-ed an epic mansion in the heart of Silicon Valley and rented a white V8. Living the dream. With no intention or game plan to raise money or closing deals, we just wanted to see if we could fit in, if we ever did go the VC or Business Angel route. We were just observing and sponsoring Starbucks.

The marketing guy from Apple told us he loved our branding, yes those are the kind of things you tend to remember. We did have a casual meeting at the Facebook HQ and a few informal talks with people from Apple and Google. We went to Steve Jobs house with a bunch of flowers to deal with the fact that he passed away. When it was almost time to return the keys of that fast & furious V8, we got a phone call from Mexico. A connection from South Africa was setting up a 5star beachfront hotel with SUP camps together with Gerry Lopez. Stop looking, he said. I can help. I’ll help you setup an office here in Mexico and get you sorted with working capital. How much you need ? After that phone call we skipped Starbucks and went for an expensive but delicious lunchbreak. So why are we not in Mexico right now. That’s another story, for my next post, maybe. Hey, it’s not like we did not have a plan B, or C for that matter. A private investor from Hawaii, a private investor from Australia. Hell, we even had a plan D, a huge yacht called BlueSeed custom made for startups ! We had a spot reserved on it but the boat sank before it could sail. Another fail ?

Someone told me the key to success is making the right decisions. So what do I need to make the right decisions, I asked. Experience he said. So how do I get enough experience ? Making wrong decisions ! Success is failure turned inside out. For the near future? Just in case, I kept metrics and screenshots. But above all, I fully accepted we are a lifestyle business not a startup. We Europeans tend to be too realistic. It’s charming but not sexy.