F.ounders becomes an overnight must-attend, as the European startup circuit accelerates

Next Story

365 Days, $10 Million, 3 Rounds, 2 Companies, All With 5 Magic Slides

Something has been happening to the European startup scene in the last couple of years, and it is starting to manifest itself in an upswell of networking the likes of which I have not seen since I started blogging full time for TechCrunch way back in 2007. From the primordial soup of the developer community have sprung up events for startups, entrepreneurs and investors until, finally, last weekend Europe stumbled on the natural evolution of all this networking: an event which resembled and will perhahps come to rival The Lobby event in Hawaii. That’s an event where tech entrepreneurs gather to talk just amongst themselves for a change, and hang out. And that’s exactly what F.ounders, a new invite-only event in Dublin, did this past weekend. But let me unpack this trend.

In the last few years a number of conferences have happened in Europe which make me say things like “My God, I think they are finally starting to get it,” to myself. After Loic Le Meur led the way with Les Blogs, which became the now vast Le Web, it seems every European country has wanted to have its own version. “Next” appeared in Berlin about four years ago. The Next Web in Amsterdam has gotten bigger and bigger and more international. Slush appeared in Helsinki last year. SIME recently revived it’s dotcom glory years for a new generation in Stockholm. GeeknRolla turned up in London. WhiteBull Summit launched. There are others. I’m now off to the Webrazzi Summit in Istanbul which again will have 800 or so attendees, like so mant others. And now TechCrunch France is planning it’s own event, Remix. In other words, there is a lot of activity now happening, and we’re barely into November’s conference season.

In addition to which last week I attended IDCEE (Investor Day Central and Eastern Europe) an event which two years ago numbered 20 or 30 attendees in Kiev and focused on Russian, Ukrainian and Central European startups (of which more later). But this year organiser Denis Dopovoly, an affable figure who I would regularly bump into at TechCrunch US events, pulled out the stops with 700 attendees and numerous startups pitching. Granted, the likes of Laurent Gil, a cofounder of Viewdle, lambasted investors from the stage saying there were too few home-grown VCs and angels willing to back startups from the region in any kind of long term way. Viewdle was forced to travel to Silicon Valley for angel funding initially, but has since closed rounds from Best Buy and Blackberry Partners Fund. That said, at least 20 startups plied their wares in a startup alley reminiscient of TechCrunch Disrupt.

I flew directly from there to the tail end of the Dublin Web Summit which has turned into a rolling event since Paddy Cosgrave started it only this year. This was the fourth event this year. It managed yet another 600 attendees, attending a range of tech sessions.

And there was the weekend revelries of F.ounders, effectively an event within an event which focused on the Summit’s speakers and other invited startup founders. F.ounders event did exactly what it said on the tin: almost 95% founders, few investors and an extremely well oiled organisation of events to network everyone together. Unlike The Lobby unconference, this had a patchwork of panels, but in the main the event emphasised networking, socialising and, well, partying. Although I doubt I will match our own Erick Schonfeld just yet in the dancing stakes.

As many attendees said to me privately: Almost no investors meant the entrepreneurs could compare notes, swap war stories and generally relax. I also saw no PRs and only two lawyers. In other words, heaven for entrepreneurs who can get pretty sick of having to feel like they are under pressure to perform all the time.

Other highlights included a dinner sponsored by Skype founder Niklas Zennstrom, whiskey tasting (jameson’s of course), dinners, book signings, pub crawls and walking tours. Valley stars included Jack Dorsey of Twitter, Directi founder Divyank Turakhia, YouTube’s Chad Hurley and Bebo founder Michael Birch, ever the wittiest panelist at any event.

Investors in the form of TechStars’ Tom Keller, Dave McClure, Jeff Clavier and Reshma Sohoni from Seedcamp were also there. McClure had a memorable moment when he told Irish investors and entrepreneurs “if any of you own a car that is worth more than $25K, you have money to invest. So invest, you pussies.” If they don’t, startups would just leave and head to the States he said. And he’s basically right. I’d like other investors to talk this way in London, Paris and Berlin, but as usual it seems an American like McClure has to call it out to some of these people.

With what appeared to be a blank cheque from the Irish government, F.ounders, completely pulled out the stops for the attendees, such as handing out 12 year old bottles of Jameson’s with personalised labels (though not, I hasten to add, for me, but hey, it’s not like I’m bitter).

But aside from those freebies, it’s clear that European entrepreneurs had at last found the event they’d all been waiting for: finding and talking to each other with no interruptions and everything facilitated for them to bond. When I walked into the room I realised the depth of research organiser Paddy Cosgrave had gone into to assemble such an amazing crowd. That quality of people meant that conversations were extremely high calibre.

But there is one reality check that I am obliged to make if we’re to put this in perspective.

Yes, the Irish government (including various politicians, local dignitaries, Enterprise Ireland and more) must have spent a packet. And yes, they kept emphasising Ireland’s low corporation tax. Indeed, this will make some startup CEOs contemplate moving their HQs to Ireland, perhaps when they are of a size that it makes sense to do so.

However, although Ireland has a wealth of human talent and a great business environment, it will take more than this. And time and again I hear from home-grown Irish entrepreneurs that while the government is out wooing outside companies to base themselves in the Republic, the local entrepreneurs don’t always get quite the same red-carpet treatment. And without a much bigger pool of Dublin-based, local startups, engineers and VCs, the eco-system will not be able to run just on the entry of foreign companies alone. Consider this commenter’s points for instance from a previous post on Dublin.

Dublin, and Ireland, need those young people coming out of universities to stay in the country and prevent the diaspora that happened during the recessionary early 90s. When the former Irish President, Mary Robinson appeared on a video talking about keeping “our young people” you knew that this was one of the underlying messages of F.ounders.

Now, I’m not trying to inject sour grapes into what to all concerned was a seminal event – but simply point out that there is work to be done on Ireland’s eco-system that one event won’t fix.

Having said that, the good-will that has been generated by F.ounders will go a very long way. It is not every day that you see Jolicloud founder Tariq Krim, a down-to-earth entrepreneur who has seen the worst and best of conferences and the startup scene, storm the stage with lots of people behind him, at the end of the final dinner, and announce that F.ounders was “the best event I’ve ever been to” and to raise a toast to Cosgrave and his team. They certainly deserve the credit.

[picture courtesy of Mathys)

  • http://bestconnected.enterprise-ireland.com/tag/dws/ Paul Browne (EI)


    Good summary of the Event, and it was a privilige that many of the founders were open and willing to share so much – perhaps (as you say) because of the lack of pitching or commercial pressures.

    While Enterprise Ireland and others supported the event (and is continuing to grow the Ecosystem), is was Paddy’s (and the rest of his team’s) vision and sheer tenacity to bring everybody on board that made this event happen, and happen at the ‘must-attend-next-time’ status that it achieved.


  • http://foundrs.com Alain Raynaud

    Really good to hear. Culture takes a while to absorb, but it sounds like with more and more events like these, Europeans can’t escape from entrepreneurship. Finally!

    • Heigl Larrington Hymen

      They will continue as is, because as Dave said, too many pussies.

  • http://jetlib.com/news/2010/11/02/founders-becomes-an-overnight-must-attend-as-europe%e2%80%99s-startup-circuit-accelerates/ #Founders Becomes An Overnight Must-attend, As Europe’s Startup Circuit Accelerates | JetLib News

    […] Read the rest of this entry » […]

  • http://www.paloalto.co.uk Alan Gleeson

    Hi Mike

    You are spot on with your analysis. Seems like it was a fantastic event and the planning was such that Paddy was keen to ensure plenty of differentiation from similar events elsewhere. Re the ecosystem, that is definitely ‘work in progress’ for many reasons. Domestic market size is a huge hindrance, and the over reliance on attracting overseas multinationals is a long standing vulnerability. Given the wider context of a dire economic prognosis this was indeed a welcome ray of light. Alan

    • http://twitter.com/mikebutcher Mike Butcher

      Israel has almost no domestic market and yet produces huge numbers of startups. That’s not what I’m talking about. Startups need to think international from the word go anyway, if they can.

      • http://www.paloalto.co.uk Alan Gleeson

        Hi Mike

        I recognise the need to think internationally from the go. The challenge though is to get some early traction and initially for most companies that is traditionally best achieved locally where you engage customers on a 1:1 basis , have access to an ecosystem incl VC’s, tech journalists, etc

        I agree though that Israel is a great example of a country overcoming domestic market size limitations and thriving in a global economy.

        Perhaps a first step in Ireland would be to roll out high speed broadband access nationally. I for one think this would be a better use of money than sinking it into ‘bad banks’ (or bottles of Jameson for that matter) (-;


  • Steve Daley

    Mike makes some very valid observations. Thankfully, Dublin is beginning to realise the importance of entrepeneurs for the future economy, now that the cowardly snake oil innovators in property and banking have been exposed as parasites. It would be great if Ireland successfully developed a dynamic risk-taking environment, but that requires investors to think big and aim long. Sadly, I don’t think we’re there yet.

    F.ounders was most definitely a great event for the invited celebrities to soak up Guinness and Jamesons, thanks to the folks who paid handsomely for them to speak at The Dublin Web Summit. It will be worth it if those aspiring startups’ generous hospitality led to one or two of these founders to think about taking advantage of Ireland’s low corporation taxes. But it would be doubly worth it, if it led to the importation of Silicon Valley’s startup culture.

    More than anything, what Dublin needs is real networks of local innovators. That’s why I think that Dublin’s best chance of recreating the success of companies like Google, Skype, Zynga would be to attract US angels, VCs and mentors to fund a for-profit incubation centre in Dublin. These incubators would provide a halfway house to attract Europe’s most exciting startups to base in Dublin. Such a cluster approach is the only realistic opportunity to move away from dependence on govt incubation centres and offer the potential to create the network effects of Palo Alto.

  • Mark W

    Hi Mike,

    An enjoyable summary Mike.

    I have to strongly agree with Paul above. It is Paddy Cosgrave’s sheer tenacity, will power, charm and belief in Ireland that brought event this about.

    Paddy is a modest, bashful and brilliant ambassador for Ireland’s tech and economic future and as an Irish Entrepreneur, I’m glad we have him in our corner.


  • http://uk.linkedin.com/in/damonoldcorn Damon Oldcorn

    Really glad to hear this went well, very sad to have missed the party due to other business pressures. Looks like it is about keeping the momentum going with the Irish inside and outside Ireland, North and South. We founded http://www.iibn.com here in London 4 years ago to do just that – so will be glad to hear from anyone who wants to create links between London/Dublin/NY and the wider US as well. There are 2000+ already involved with amazing entrepreneurial events in London every month.

    • Demon Newcorn

      Just go get your kernels checked.

  • guest

    at least eu.techcrunch still makes worthwhile posts, unlike it’s american counterparts.

  • http://socialmediablog.co/why-you-must-rate-on-youtube/ Why You Must Rate On YouTube | Social Media Blog

    […] F.ounders becomes an overnight must-attend, as the European … […]

  • http://ma.tt/ Matt

    I posted my photos from the event, if you’d like to use a few more:


  • http://www.simplyzesty.com Niall Harbison

    although I couldn’t make it to the event great to see some good news in Ireland. For a tiny country we do seem to punch above our weight at times with the one big exception being that we need a big home grown success soon. At least Ireland is being reported in a positve light in tech circles which is more than can be said about our politicians and banking sectors. Nice post

  • http://www.rustlersrooste.com candice nagel

    Dear Mike:

    My son-in-law is Mike Butcher the pitching coach of the Los Angeles Angels MLB and I am sick and tired of getting you on my google alerts! Just kidding.
    You two stars should meet sometime…he is a great guy and I am sure my daughter “the butchers wife” would be happy to know if she goes back to the UK she still has a famous name!

    We are also in the restaurant business…www.auntchiladas.com and http://www.rustlersrooste.com Come see us if you are ever in Phoenix, Arizona…we are not all crazy in the USA…beers and margaritas on us!
    Candice Nagel

    • http://twitter.com/mikebutcher Mike Butcher

      I’m a big fan, he’s a great pitching coach! ;-)

    • Greg

      Is this the sock puppet for Max Niederhofer?

  • Zak Cassady-Dorion

    Fascinating article and insight. Living in San Francisco I find it interesting to hear about tech conferences for entrepreneurs and/or investors in other parts of the world.

    Does anyone know of a list/database of conferences in Europe, Asia, Latin America?

    Thanks again for the article. Keep it going Ireland!


  • Stephan Uhrenbacher

    thanks for this piece which captures the spirit of the occasion extremely well.

    On the bigger question of how to get entrepreneurial spirit and investment going in Ireland, I had two opposing feelings throughout the event:if you meet some extremely driven people like Paddy’s group of organisers who built something world class, and better than that, but also the “bridge to college” project, which was presented at the start of the conference, you feel there is great potential for a country with a young workforce.

    On the other hand, it would probably be much better for the country to take a fraction of the money it still seems to be willing to dole out to corporations coming in and spend it on education.

    At any rate, the effort put into this event, both from the organisers and the support from several of Ireland’s major institutions are a great inspiration compared to how other European countries attract investors, be it corporations or entrrepreneurs.

  • http://dennydov.blogspot.com Denis Dovgopoliy


    Thank you for attending IDCEE, and my name is Denis Dovgopoliy not Dopovoly :) Its really hard to nonrussians.


    • fedd

      and i am frodo so what )


  • http://onlinehealth-medicine.blogspot.com/ SwayPn

    it was remarkably interesting to read eu.techcrunch.com
    I yearn for to refer to your notify in my blog. It can?
    And you et an account on Twitter?

  • http://www.philippmoehring.de/2010/idcee-kiev-and-europe/ IDCEE Kiev and thoughts on Europe | Philipp Moehring - how does this work?

    […] hung out in Kiev with Mike Butcher from TC Europe, who had some thoughts on the current situation – mirroring IDCEE and the excellent f.ounders event in Dublin, and Martin from The Next Web […]

  • http://johnmuldoon.ie John P. Muldoon


    You hit the nail on the head about building up a domestic ecosystem. No expense is spared to woo the big multinationals. Next in line for some assistance are companies with “high export potential.” Last, and very much least, are those who want to serve the domestic Irish market.

    Like you, however, I don’t want to be negative. I admire the work Paddy and his team have been doing. But a little time and effort diverted from the big-bang MNC projects would pay off handsomely in the long run.


  • http://www.segura-group.com Pavel Kucera

    Hi Mike, looking forward to your article on the IDCEE event and the Central European start-ups there. Our CEE online rental default project landed 3rd place. We’re based in Prague and were pleasantly surprised at how truly CEE this is becoming (and has the potential for more).

  • http://www.segura-group.com Pavel Kucera

    Sorry, wrong email address in previous post:

    Hi Mike, looking forward to your article on the IDCEE event and the Central European start-ups there. Our CEE online rental default project landed 3rd place. We’re based in Prague and were pleasantly surprised at how truly CEE this is becoming (and has the potential for more).

  • http://www.nrw-startups.de/2010/news/london-bekommt-einen-tech-hub-und-jede-menge-public-money/ London bekommt einen Tech-Hub – und jede Menge public money | NRW-Startups

    […] Ireland massiv auf dem Dublin Web Summit für sich als Startup-Standort geworben hat (Bsp: kostenloses Rückflugticket für alle Konferenzteilnehmer aus dem Investmentumfeld + 12 Jahre alter …), steigen heute die Briten in den Ring. Die neue Tory-Regierung will in Londons Osten einen […]

  • http://www.marketingwritenow.com/2010/11/dublin-web-summit-4/ Dublin Web Summit 4 : MarketingWriteNow : Marketing & Copywriting Services

    […] On 2 November:  TechCrunch Europe article by Mike Butcher  here […]

  • http://eu.techcrunch.com/2010/11/05/the-uks-new-techcity-policy-is-great-but-well-also-need-the-techpeople/ The UK’s new TechCity policy is great – but we’ll also need the TechPeople

    […] recognise exactly what kind of commitment will be needed to fulfil their ambition. As evidenced by Ireland’s treatment of the world’s F.ounders last week – the UK should expect competition. It’s good for innovation after all. CrunchBase […]

  • http://www.digitalks.at/2010/11/05/webrazzi-summit/ Webrazzi Summit » Beitrag » Digitalks - Medienkompetenz für Menschen über 26

    […] jedem Land gibt es einen Visionär im Social Media Bereich, der sich auf die Fahne schreibt, neues Terrain zu betreten und dieses anderen zugänglich zu […]

  • Peter

    Hilarious! Directi founder Divyank Turakhia in the company of stars becomes a star. Its a fraud company which works purely on the basis of overselling themselves and basking in glory, calling themselves a fast growing $300 M dollar company for the last 4 years. They very likely dont make a fiftieth of that, as revenue. Its a Satyam in the making! Its a big scam!

blog comments powered by Disqus