Anyone following the @FHA_LDN twitter feed this week will have noticed we were in sunny Spain for White Bull Summits’ annual Pathways event (#WhiteBull2017). The programme brings together entrepreneurs, investors and executives from large corporates in the US and Europe to meet, share knowledge and make long and lasting connections that drive innovation.
Personally, it was my first experience of the event, and with names like Neal Dempsey, Hussain Kanji, Jason Ball and Gina Smith on the list – plus amazing startups – I was excited, (if not a little intimidated) to see what it was all about.
One thing that surprised me massively, was how blown away I was by the Silicon Valley companies. As a Brit working in the fast growth business community, I have always had a huge amount of admiration for the Valley and the companies that have come out of it. But of course, there is also a healthy dose of resentment, and a belief that our British entrepreneurs are just as good, if not better than their US counterparts – which is seldom recognised (bitter much).
On a more personal level, I have also struggled to embrace the enthusiasm of Americans more generally. I have even refused to go anywhere in the country that isn’t at least a little jaded. So imagine my surprise when I actually found myself thinking how advantageous this attitude was to the startup / scaleup world.
Now I know your next question, who could have convinced me of such a thing? None other than legendary investor Neal Dempsey, alongside two entrepreneurs from his internship programme. The three of them teamed up for a session on Wednesday morning called ‘reality check’. Besides the obvious experience of Mr Dempsey himself, both Mario Aguilera and Neal Oddens are serial entrepreneurs who had experience starting a business that ultimately failed. Not only did they see that as a good thing, they actually described the process as fun – well, that’s new!
On this side of the pond, the ‘f-word’ (failure) isn’t something we say very often, I even ghost wrote an article recently where the author thought the word was too negative, and wanted to opt for something softer. Here in lies the difference in the state of mind between the UK – and Europe – and Silicon Valley. Fear of a word only increases fear of the thing itself – Harry Potter can attest to that!
That got me thinking about my own experiences with failure. I actually think I have dealt pretty well with some of the failings I have experienced in my life, and my career. But nonetheless, I would never go as far as to say the process was fun or exhilarating. Sure, I learned from it, I even went on to better things. But fun – pfft!
But having said that, if I could have held a more optimistic view of the situation in the moment, maybe I would have really appreciated the opportunities in front of me a bit more. Maybe I would have even been more ambitious in the alternatives too.
So, in line with this year’s theme of reinvention, I’m going to make a much more conscious effort to – wait for it – think like the Americans. Of course I will always retain some of my British cynicism – it’s just who I am – but I also have a newfound respect for that American optimism. Combine it with the ruthless ambition of the valley, and who knows how far you can go?
FieldHouse would like to thank Elizabeth Perry and Farley Duvall for hosting us at this year’s event, and is delighted to be a long-term supporter of White Bull Pathways.