Selling the Future

During a panel discussion a couple of months ago, a number of successful entrepreneurs from the Nordic countries (Iceland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Finland) were asked what was the most difficult part about raising money here in Silicon Valley from a cultural perspective. One of the panelists said it was the fact that venture capitalists in Silicon Valley expected to be sold the future.

Gísli Ólafsson
Gísli Ólafsson

People in the Nordics are culturally very humble by nature. They are not used to bragging about their success and don’t want to exaggerate what they have accomplished. This becomes especially true for entrepreneurs from the Nordics. They are used to talking about what they have accomplished and not what they are planning to do. If you really push them, then you can get them to tell you what they are planning to do over the next few months, but looking 2-3 years into the future is often very hard for them.

I often get the opportunity to see as Nordic entrepreneurs pitch their startup to venture capitalists from Silicon Valley and I can confirm that this observation by the panelist is very true. As I work with entrepreneurs from the Nordic countries I constantly have to push them to sell the future – sell their vision – sell the true reason why they founded their startup.

A side effect of this cultural humility is that entrepreneurs also often aim too low in their funding requests. They often ask for funding to support sales and marketing in new territories, while leaving out requests for improving and continuing R&D. It is as if they think they should put everything on hold while they sell what they currently have…and then 18 months later they can continue development.

When you compare this to the typical American entrepreneur, who has almost been taught to sell their vision of the future from preschool, it is no wonder many of the non-US startups have a hard time getting funding from Silicon Valley. I often joke that in my new role my title should be Cultural Translator.

For those of you still reading…and still wondering why there is a picture of a moose at the start of this article…then it is maybe because culturally we would rather talk about Moose companies than Unicorn companies in the Nordics 🙂

Gisli is a Partner & CEO USA at Beringer Finance – his Twitter handle is @gislio

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