Which startup is cleared for launch as Europe’s next €100+ million exit?

This is a guest post by Monty Munford, blogger at Monty’s Outlook and freelance Mobile/social consultant is (also a Bollywood actor, next movie out April 2011). He tweets @montymunford.

Eighteen entrepreneurs from around the UK recently spent a week on the West Coast of the US as part of Webmisson. As part of the visit, the group attended the TechCrunch offices in San Francisco and were part of an impromptu Q&A with TechCrunch’s Sarah Lacy.

In a good-natured discussion, the question was posited to Lacy that perhaps business people in Europe, and especially London, were ‘nicer’ than their Silicon Valley counterparts. Lacy, somewhat witheringly, replied that maybe that was so, but which London-based companies had $10+ billion valuations?

Quite… Europe has no extant pretenders to the likes of Google, Twitter or even Salesforce and Zynga. Perhaps it should embody the attitude of rock legend Alice Cooper in his (great) song No More Mister Nice Guy and become more obsessed, but perhaps things are fine as they are.

There are a number of European companies that could soon exit for a more modest $100+ million or the localised equivalent in Euros. More pertinently, is it possible, even likely, that it will be a start-up that does so?

When I crowdsourced this question on Twitter, there were a number of proffered candidates, most of whom I knew about and a couple that I didn’t. While I’m sure TC Europe readers won’t hold back in suggesting ones I should have included and apologies for any glaring omissions, here’s my short-list. So it goes.

Let’s start with the UK. where the most obvious contender is Spotify. Recent winner of the Start-Up 100 Awards in London, the ad-supported music-streaming service has revolutionised the way music is delivered and has set itself firmly as the bulwark against pirated music. With a move into the US seemingly imminet, Spotify’s value could be exponential.

However, there are warning signs ahoy. Amazon launched a music service in March and this week (May 10th), Google launched Music Beta to join the battle against Spotify. While both companies have struggled to bring record labels on board, Spotify’s current relationship with these record labels may enable it to prevail. But, to bowdlerise a well-known maxim, nobody ever got fired for using Google and Amazon products.

Then there’s Shoreditch-based Mind Candy and owner of Moshi Monsters, self-styled by its founders as the ‘Facebook for kids’. The site is such a phenomenon that even a €100+ million exit may be a woefully inadequate valuation. Just about skint and heading for bankruptcy two years ago, it proves how quickly things can change with a start-up. Consequently after going through all that pain, it may be some time before they decide to sell up.

So enough of the behemoth start-ups in the UK, what of the smaller and more nimble companies? The list is endless, but one UK company that stands out from this particular crowd is social media monitor Brandwatch. Operating across multi-languages, the company uses online tools that measure the buzz around a company or its competitors. It gathers, cleans, analyses and then presents that data to its customers that include some of the world’s biggest brands.

As the market leader in Europe, the recent $240 million acquisition of Brandwatch’s US rival Radian6 by Salesforce underscores how valuable this sector is. Brandwatch also claims that its proprietary social tools can measure ‘sentiment analysis’ more effectively than Radian6’s outsourced model, so the auguries appear aligned for the company.

Under the Channel Tunnel across to Continental Europe, Berlin-based Soundcloud now has more than four million users. Founded in 2007 by Swedes Alexander Ljung and Eric Wahlforss in an effort to ‘unmute the web’, SoundCloud’s audio file-sharing service for music professionals is becoming the standard audio platform for musicians, producers and record labels.

Soundcloud is also used by non-professionals to record any type of sound and disseminate it immediately, be that through a mobile application or the website, and then embed that content within blogs and social networks. It sounds (groan) so good that I might finally use it myself.

Finally, and on a more topical note, Paris-based professional social network Viadeo may be the immediate beneficiary of LinkedIn’s recently valuation of $3.5 billion. Viadeo has more than 35 million customers, mostly in the non-English-speaking world and is the market leader in France, Italy and Spain.

Profitable since 2009, Viadeo has made shrewd acquisitions in India, China and Brazil, leading CEO Dan Sefarty to claim that the company is ahead of LinkedIn in these territories. Viadeo recently set up an office in San Francisco, less than 40 miles from LinkedIn’s head office, a pugnacious move that may be a challenge too far for LinkedIn. Perhaps some of that IPO money will be spent ridding themselves of this turbulent social networking beast. What price Viadeo, LinkedIn?

So there it is. Three countries, four sectors and enough potential for all five companies to head for the exits. Whether that will be enough for TechCrunch’s Sarah Lacy in Silicon Valley, who knows? But at least it’s a significant start. The Europeans are coming, really, they are, and
there’ll be no need for them to act like Alice Cooper… probably.