Part 2: Interview with Andy von Bechtolsheim: Die Schweiz kann auch Silicon Valley !?

Hello Andy,

again some discussions in the local Swiss NZZ newspaper on where the startup scene stands in Switzerland and what was done in the last 15 years.

Die Schweiz kann auch Silicon Valley

What is your take on this article in the NZZ – Die Schweiz kann auch Silicon Valley ?

Der Artikel ist sehr gut geschrieben. Die Schweiz hat in der Tat einen höheren Anteil von Bio-tech startups als andere Länder, was zu den Möglichkeiten in diesem Sektor spricht mit dem in der Schweiz existierenden Talent neue Produkte zu entwicklen.

Assume you would be the Chief Strategy Officer (if such title existed) for developing Switzerland (or Germany if you like) into a Silicon Valley like success story in the next 10 -15 years, what would you do first?

Silicon Valley is probably not the right yardstick here, given the many advantages it has over any other country.

A better way to look at this is at a per-capita or per-GDP basis relative to the USA. On that basis, Silicon Valley is still ahead, but Switzerland looks pretty good compared to the rest of Europe. The key for any startup is to follow a realistic plan of what is possible given the environment, including the ability to raise funding and to hire a team.

When do you suggest to a Swiss start-up to move to Silicon Valley? (this was a question from a newsletter reader)

Silicon Valley has many advantages but also some real disadvantages: rents, salaries, cost of living, are all much higher here than almost anywhere else on the world. The main reason to come here is if the startup is targeting high-tech customers that are based here or wants to form working relationships with companies here. If the objective is to start selling in the US market one should always target the area where the customers are. For example, for Fin-Tech products that would be New York, not Silicon Valley.

Many people say it is possible to live well and comfortably without succeeding in the largest high-tech markets/trends. Basically what Switzerland and Europe have done in the last 20 years by excelling in low and medium-tech industries and in many niches (Hidden Champions) that are maybe also high-tech. What is your take on this?  Will we be able to keep our jobs and wealth without succeeding in the largest high-tech industries?

There are many great companies and well-paying jobs in Switzerland and in Europe, including hidden champion type companies that have done very well.

So if one wants to live well and comfortable one can just go that route. Startups are a lot of work, and the only reason one should start one if one is deeply convinced that this is the best way to solve an important problem. And even with a good plan there is no guarantee for success: most startups fail.

What does of course differentiate Silicon Valley in particular from any other place on the planet is the incredible innovation in particular in technology and the incredible aggregate wealth creation that resulted from that, measured in trillions of dollars over the last fourty years.

Given the scale of IP creation in Silicon Valley one can safely predict that this trend will continue, but it is possible to create new IP and successful companies in any developed economy, just not at the same scale as Silicon Valley.

So how bad is it and what must be done NOW?

Switzerland is already doing better with startups on a per capita basis than most of Europe.

You could realise your work dreams in Silicon Valley being an engineer and entrepreneur. Would you have succeeded also in Germany or impossible?

My goal as a young person was to design computer systems,  so for that objective Silicon Valley was definitely the best choice. In other words, I could not have started the companies that I started here in Germany, or anywhere else in the US for that matter.

Many talk about the death of Silicon Valley due to high costs, limited space, traffic, over-investment etc. What is the state of SV and where do you see it in the future?

Well it has gotten pretty expensive here, but most venture capital in the US is still being invested in California, with the biggest slice in Silicon Valley.

The ability to raise funding here, to recruit the right team members, and to work with other companies here continues to set Silicon Valley apart from the rest of the world.

Israel and mostly China are catching up.  Many predict that China will take over the leading role in high-tech that SV had. How do you see this evolving? 

Both Israel and China are special cases. China has seen an incredible amount of startups and has lots of venture funding available, but is essentially a closed country for most Western startups. This is completely different than Israel, where most startups are setup to start selling in the US as soon as they have a product.

Is there danger for a high-tech “war” between SV and China and who wins the A.I. battle?

The two areas in the world that are driving most rapid innovation in information technology, including A.I., is in fact Silicon Valley and China. Both the US and China have recognized how important A.I. will be to the future and are investing heavily in that field. This is a competition for IP creation, but I would not call this a war.

Do you think you will one day get a call from Germany for that Chief Strategy Innovation Ecosystem Officer job? If so would you take it?

There is no such job. There are many things that European governments could improve of course, but most of these require political will power and decision making which ultimately comes down to convincing voters that this is the right thing to do to have a brighter future.

When will we see you in Switzerland next? Any chance for the March 28 event?

At this point it is highly unlikely that I will be in Switzerland on March 28 (but he will present via web conferencing)

Many thanks Andy.

Best
Ralf

 

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