Shoring Up the Euro

Just off the phone Ram Srinivasan, a native Indian who moved to the U.S. 29 years ago, and has been on a well-worn path to becoming a Silicon Valley venture capitalist since. He logged years as an engineer and manager at HP and Sun, founded a company during the bubble (FireClick; it also sold for the post-bubble price of $7.5 million after raising $25.5 million), and two years ago began working with the pan-European venture capital firm Wellington Partners as a venture partner. (Eric Archambeau, a GP in Wellington’s London office, was one of Fireclick’s first investors.)

As the only full-time person in Wellington’s Palo Alto office, Srinivasan’s primary task for the last two years has been to help Wellington’s European entrepreneurs navigate the U.S. as they look to grow globally. I asked him how he does that.

How are European entrepreneurs different from U.S entrepreneurs, and how do you help them bridge the cultural divide?

The biggest challenge is conveying to European entrepreneurs how fast the marketplace moves here. It’s much faster than in Europe. It’s also my job to sort of help our European entrepreneurs better prepare for the directness of American entrepreneurs and employees, which isn’t something to which they’re accustomed.

What about Europeans risk tolerance?

They’re much more risk averse in Europe, which makes the whole recruiting environment interesting. You end up recruiting only people who have an extreme propensity to be in a startup environment. It’s very hard for people to leave a big company. I recently interviewed a potential VP of engineering candidate, and he said that he would rather have an increase in base salary of $10,000 rather than owing a more significant share of the company. That fundamental internalization — that risk has its rewards — hasn’t quite taken place. The whole notion of stock options is still pretty new to them.

Are Europeans as well-acquainted with public relations as their U.S. counterparts?

Not at all. Europeans very much have what I’d call a we-build-technology-and-people-come-and-buy-it approach to business. They’re not market centric. They don’t think about product marketing. Wellington’s entrepreneurs are getting there, though.

Given how much time you now spend with European entrepreneurs, do you ever find yourself using Old World adages, like, “when in a band of wolves, cry as wolves do”?