How to become an entrepreneur… in EU affairs

The full transcript and free podcast of the presentation I had given at the European Commission’s DG Enterprise and European Young Entrepreneurs (EYEs) conference entitled “From stagiaire to enterpreneurship” on 18 July 2013. Practical tips, business ideas and EU affairs covered in 29 minutes!

 

The recording (podcast), also available for download:

 
 

 
 

The Prezi I had used:

 
 

 

The full transcript of my presentation (slightly updated):

 

The businesses I run & my ‘mentor’

Regarding myself, I do essentially three things: one is Online EU Training (which is a website where we prepare candidates for EU competitions) – a website, an e-business, but obviously closely linked to the EU affairs because there we have practice tests but we have tons of free material that mostly I wrote, or sometimes together with other authors, which is one of the core activities of my company the four of us run. I have a business partner, and when Daniela [the previous speaker] was talking about mentors, I was thinking: “do I have a mentor?” Well, I don’t call him a mentor but he’s certainly a person, a business partner, who would scrutinize every single idea I have. Regarding the term ‘mentor’: I think we can say that you might have the best idea in the world, but always bounce it off at least another person who’s possibly more ‘down to earth’. I tend to fly high occasionally, which is good in 80% of the cases, but in those 20, it’s sometimes a bit off the mark. I do discuss everything with him and since he’s a lawyer (somewhere back in my past, I’m a lawyer but I’m not that close to that profession), he’s more grounded.

 

Then, there is the EU Test Book which is where I discovered my entrepreneurial experience. It was written at the time when I was working for the Court of Justice back in 2005 in Luxembourg and it came from a personal need: when we were preparing for the competitions, we just didn’t have a good tool.This is something I will speak about: why we created a certain tool. This was obviously a single book but how it grew into something more is a topic I will talk about in the presentation.

 

And the last thing is the European Training Academy which is a training company. It’s quite similar to Daniela’s and in a certain way we’re competitors but I don’t think so because we operate on different grounds where I deal mostly with the EU decision-making, EU communications and related topics. I work with a couple of clients: pharmaceuticals, World Bank, and others.

 

What it means to be an entrepreneur

 

The presentation will be centered on four parts and I’ll try to keep it as brief as possible. The first part is “being an entrepreneur”.

 

What does it mean? I wish I could contradict that 24/7 part but unfortunately, I cannot. In any case, this is something which you may have already seen if you have seen other presentations where I talk about EU careers in general, but it is just as true for anyone who wishes to become an entrepreneur: What makes you happy in your work?

 

Well, maybe in life it’s other things but properly speaking in work what possibly makes you happy is three elements. That in your job you have a certain level of autonomy; what you deal with adds to your personal development, so that you can become better at what you do, that’s the mastery; and what you do has a purpose.

 

Whatever that purpose maybe, if you work for an EU institution, you can say the big goal and the big idea behind ‘why the EU exists, I like that’. So what I do, even if it’s on a very operational and technical level, but there is a certain purpose. And that purpose, as I said, could be anything.

 

Now I think that somebody who wants to become an entrepreneur, you would crave autonomy.

 

Autonomy

 

I was craving autonomy, and that translates into not having a boss, or even if you have a boss, that boss would give you enormous amount of freedom. So it’s a personal thing and as Daniela said, it may not be for everyone but that autonomy is the factor that I think is extremely high for those who set out to do their own business, either as an individual or by setting up a company.

 

Mindset

 

Now the other thing is a mindset: to challenge what there is, the status quo.It’s a big word but that could mean that if there is a way a certain document is regularly drafted and you don’t like that and you propose a better way. It doesn’t need to be a ground-breaking kind of thing of ‘changing the world’ but changing something or proposing something which you don’t like the way it is.

 

Another factor is not just criticizing things but coming up with some sort of solution. And there’s this nice saying that I read that says: “Real artists ship”. By “ship” they mean ‘they execute’, they deliver, they do something. They don’t just write poems and big ideas and things for themselves but it’s something that they get things done. On one side you can have a certain frustration or you don’t like the way something is done but you actually come up with a realistic solution.

 

Key to success

 

This is a Dilbert cartoon. I love Dilbert cartoons, they say so much about work and life. So the first one says: “Persistence is the key to success”. Then: “The other key to success is knowing when to quit.”And then: “Your advice is contradictory nonsense”. “Because flexibility is key to success.” So make your pick what is the key to success, but possibly the right proportions of these three: persistence, knowing when to quit, and flexibility.

 

The “local max”

 

Another thing is this chart: as Daniela was speaking I was thinking about this chart, which ties in perfectly with what you said. It is a very simple chart. What happens is that most of us are at Point A and we see ourselves developing to a certain extent and we say, ‘Okay, I’ve reached the certain financial goal or career goal or something else and I’m good here and it’s relatively secure here, but there comes the question: Can I go further? Is this the limit? And to reach the D and the “big max”, you probably would need to go through that B and C. And C is a terrible place to be. You might even say even in our private lives you can use this chart, but at least professionally speaking when you have arelatively stable job or a relatively stable project, but you want to do more, you canbe aware that C will probably come. So to foresee mentally or even financially that there will be some hard times before it gets better.

 

Moonlighting

 

The next thing is more of an approach to minimize your risk and one thing you could do. When you see this beautiful picture there, you’re wondering “what the hell does it have to do with minimizing risk”?!

 

It’s a moonlight… and there is this beautiful English word ‘moonlighting’, meaning that you start developing an idea or work on something in the night, in the weekend, in your free time.

 

I have a good friend; he’s working for the European Parliament. He’s dealing with Middle East issues, won’t say more because I’d rather want to keep his privacy but in his free time, he’s extremely interested in learning how to code websites and develop a certain online platform. He has a background in international relations. Nothing to do with computers but he’s taking online courses and reading, doing and experimenting with things. Because maybe that is where he sees his future while he has his core job, so it’s sort of a safe approach.

 

Which business to enter?

 

Number 2 is the question:what should be your business? We heard earlier and I agree with that, something that you are very passionate about… but it’s hard to say what is it that I am passionate about? I’m pretty passionate about tennis. Am I good at doing business in tennis? Well, there could be a way.

 

Scratch your own itch

 

I’m also passionate about the EU (which, these days, is sometimes hard to love, being the object of my passion; but I do believe very much in the idea and I have been dealing with and I know quite a lot about it). So, there is this nice expression: “scratch your own itch”: meaning that if you have a certain need, frustration, desire that is not being satisfied, that is where your business opportunity is. So if you see something that is not being done right, that’s where you can come in and do something better.

 

The EU Test Book

 

I will talk about a few examples here. I mentioned our book. This book grew out of an “itch”, of the frustration that there was no preparation book for the EU competitions back in 2004 when we were preparing. And I do admit it wasn’t my idea (I don’t say it often but it was not my idea)and at the time the first few editions were written with a friend of mine. He was working at the Commission at the time, I was at the Court, and he called me up and said: ‘Listen, we have prepared together for this competition and remember there was no good material?’ I said, ‘That’s totally right’.  ‘So why don’t we write one?’ And I said, ‘Okay, let me ask if we can do it under the rules and everything, but the idea… perfect! Let’s do that’. So it came out of this sort of “itch”.

 

Dropbox

 

Another classic example you may know is Dropbox. Who doesn’t know Dropbox? [no hands shown] Everybody knows Dropbox. Great! File sharing and archiving service. Dropbox came out of this sort of frustration. Drew Houston, the founder of Dropbox said, ‘I was travelling on a bus from [I don’t remember between which American cities] and I wanted to work on my laptop on a certain file and I didn’t have it because I forgot it at home’. Sounds funny in 2013, that you forget a file at home, but he said, ‘This is not right, there should be some solution’. He couldn’t find the right solution. And he started developing it. He’s a billionaire today. That went really well. But the message here is that if you have a certain need and if you go around in your everyday life and look for this sort of frustration, these are all opportunities.

 

ADHD iPhone App

 

It’s a personal example again and it’s something which is totally unrelated to EU affairs but we did it with my brother-in-law and two other friends: we just launched an iPhone App, because my brother-in-law has a mild level of what they call “Attention Deficit Disorder”. It’s a certain disorder where it’s hard to focus on things and hard to discipline yourself.

 

He had certain computer programs he was using and they improved it to a certain extent but on the iPhone or portable version, there is no application whatsoever. So we said: let’s do one.

 

I’m not a programmer. I’m not a coder. I’m not even a designer. I know a bit about marketing so I came in with a bit of marketing ideas and a bit of funding because he was very enthusiastic but he didn’t have money. He has a programmer friend. He’s very knowledgeable but he had no money, so I am a sort of investor/marketer here. And it all came out from a certain need:”scratching an own itch”.

 

Value in the intersections

 

Another idea is finding where you have your own value: intersections, in the sense of finding a knowledge you have, say you have a certain understanding of EU affairs but you happen to be an engineer.It’s a great intersection because these are two relatively uncommon areas.

 

Or for instance, I had a classmate back at university; he was a lawyer but at the same time he did another diploma in Chemistry. Lawyers and chemistry students:there are usually very few people who overlap and he became a very successful business person dealing with scientific projects, trademarks, intellectual property etc. So if you can find this sort of relatively “unintuitive” areas in you, that can be a very unique thing to do and you can build a business out of it.

 

An idea is (almost) nothing, execution is everything

 

This chart is a bit long but of course I’ll share the presentation with you so you can look at it in detail. It’s from a book (you see in the bottom right, from Derek Sivers’ called “Anything You Want”). It’s a book you can read in three hours, a very short one.

 

It’s a guy who built a business, again based on a personal frustration, of releasing independent musicians’ CDs (that was back in 2007 when iTunes was less common). And here, this book is about general businesses, and what he says on this chart is unbelievably important, something that so many people forget.

 

On the top part, you see the value of an idea. It becomes a formula and equation, if you may.

 

A value of an idea, it goes as follows: an awful idea is worth -1, a weak idea is worth 1, a mediocre idea 5, 10, 15, a brilliant idea is worth 20. And you see the second part, which says “execution”.

 

If you don’t execute on your idea, obviously, it’s hard to call that a business. Weak execution is worth a thousand, better execution is worth ten thousand and all the way,a brilliant execution is worth a million. He quantified it in dollars, but you’d multiply these two and you realize that the idea in-and-by-itself is worth very little.

 

It’s extremely important because it needs to be a multiplication. If you have no idea then that multiplication is zero because anything by zero is zero, but even if the idea is not that revolutionary and not that big, if it’s extremely well executed, it’s going to catch on.

 

Execution is so often undervalued. I can pointto big examples here: look at Facebook. I mean, what is the idea there? People can connect with their friends, that’s it. That’s the idea. You can see what your friends do and share things with your friends, that’s the idea. It’s just “pretty well” executed. An interesting thing, not to undervalue an idea but focus on execution.Professional, great, high level execution.

 

How to make it happen

 

So these were some rough ideas on finding a business idea and making it happen. Number three is how to make that happen.You might expect some magic bullet and miracle words from me. I can share a few resources with you that can help in realizing your idea.

 

One is that I encourage everyone to read books or listen to audio books. There’s so much knowledge out there, and even though after a certain point they overlap, obviously, but it’s worth getting into that mindset.

 

Seth Godin

 

You may know Seth Godin: anyone who is serious about marketing would know Seth Godin. He’s a genius guy, first and foremost. He writes a blog, essentially that’s what his name is most known for; a blog, which is read by over one million people. In many countries you don’t even have newspapers with that sort of readership, and it’s a single guy who writes a blog post basically every single day about business.

So Google him, look for his blog and read his books. Genius.

 

ReWork

 

Number two, the title of the book is “ReWork”. Again, a book you can read in three or four hours.

 

The concept of “scratch your own itch” comes from there. A lot of very, very good business insights come from them.

 

One thing I didn’t mention: entrepreneurship is a mindset. It doesn’t necessarily mean running your own business. You can be a part of a large organization or small organization, but if you have that pro-activity and coming up with novel solutions mindset, I would already call that entrepreneur. And this book is also for that sort of audience, making something work better.

 

Personal MBA

 

Another thing:it is called The Personal MBA. It’s a nice book where a guy provides basically a synthesis of thousands of business books with lot of very good insights on how to run a successful business on your own.

 

Elance

 

Another thing you may know is Elance. Who knows Elance? [no hands raised] I see you don’t know Elance. Elance is a fantastic website. What they do is they connect freelancers of any talent with businesses.

 

Our business would not be where it is today if not for Elance. We have had at least 40 or 50 different contractors working on web design, writing text, doing research, creating something like an eBook, even in EU affairs. Once we posted a job on research on EU, we had four people who used to work for the Commission; another one was a trainee. There are millions of people on it.

 

Also, you yourself can provide services there and if you’re thinking of building something, it’s unbelievable how many talented people are there.You can screen them, they have portfolios, so it’s worth checking out.

 

M.V.P.

 

Another concept is the MVP. Daniela mentioned that she did a pilot project recently, which worked, so she went on. Her pilot project is an MVP, which is a “minimum viable product”.

 

Don’t aim to come up with a product which is shiny and beautiful and perfect and you’re waiting for that stage before doing anything. If it works on a minimum level, come out with it.

 

How did the iPhone look like when it first came out? It was crap. Okay. But it still reached a certain level where it would not electrify people, you could kind of send a message and make phone calls. And where is it now? It’s a whole different level.

 

So, its constant cycle of coming up with something relatively basic and building on that and not waiting for the perfect version. We also did tons of mistakes or haven’t thought about mistakes.

 

One was that we wanted to come up with the perfect website and the perfect product. Said, no okay it works on a basic level we can come out.

 

Funding

 

And then the funding question, I also saw the questions [sent in by participants], it is always an issue.

 

Own resources: you mentioned that, i.e. friends and relatives certainly are a potential funding source. Depending on the idea you want to build an airplane builder company, probably your friends and relatives will not have sufficient funds. I’m a bit sarcastic here because most business ideas could be financed on that level from family or even, well, banks.

 

I agree, in the sense that especially in Europe banks do not really look at entrepreneurs as a source of good return or a relatively secure return:you sort of need to prove that you don’t need the money in order to get the money.

 

The EU’s Jeremie Fund

 

So, certain EU funds could be leveraged and could be used to build businesses, and my guess is that we will hear about it in bit more detail soon. There are certain funds, for instance, the Jeremie Fund and certain venture capital funds. The Jeremie is an EU-run program which is given to banks passed on to venture capital companies who then finance business projects.

 

Venture capital

 

Now, with venture capital, if your issue needs a lot of investment, venture capital companies are willing to finance it in return for shares. And it’s a question how much you want to give up ownership of your own project. But if it really requires several hundred thousand euros, venture capital could be a way.

 

And what I hear at least for instance in my native Hungary: there are lot of venture capital companies, they just don’t have projects. Can you imagine? You have an idea, they want to finance and they don’t get projects that they could because they don’t see enough issues coming in. So if you have a good idea, generally, venture capital could be a way.The last point (and I understand probably I have like two minutes left) is a few ideas in a bit arbitrary way of categorizing the type of businesses that could grow out of EU affairs.

 

Business in EU affairs

 

And this is my take on this. There may be other ways and other issues but here is my group, my categorization.

 

EU sectoral expert

 

One is that you could be an EU consultant, public affairs expert, lawyer, or a sectoral expert like in energy, environment, trade or other, and using that sort of knowledge, building essentially a consulting business eitherin Brussels, where it’s a bit saturated and obviously there is a fierce competition, or in a member state, or in a region outside the EU.

 

EU-level association

 

Another group is having or creating an EU level trade association or an EU-level organization in a field that does not exist.That could be all the way from the European Cardiologists Network (I guess that exists but who knows) all the way to Young Entrepreneurs’ Network, which certainly is under the Commission’s umbrella, but this sort of approach can work, i.e. of combining EU knowledge and anEU network.

 

Regulatory consultant

 

Another big area, a bit similar than the first one though, is dealing with regulatory and compliance issues. It’s a huge field and many, many people have created companies on it, even individual lawyers or consultants who are running a business on that basis. I know a guy, he used to work for a big law firm and he set out on his own, and he is an EU regulatory expert, a lawyer providing services: legal and other services for pharma companies, to agricultural companies, to environment-related businesses.

 

Training and teaching

 

Another one, and this is the sort of the business we are in with Daniela, is training: teaching or being a professor in EU law, in EU affairs, in EU public affairs, in EU communications etc. (Don’t enter this field pleaseJ). Actually, you are more than welcome to do so. Competition is welcome.

 

(About competition and Segways)

 

When in a field, as they generally say, in a field where there is competition, it’s actually a good sign because it means that there is demand for that service: your number one question would be “I have a brilliant idea”.You mentioned here one that you thought would be a hugely successful project. I can list fifteen similar projects which we thought it was going to be fantastic, but it had to be tested. We just didn’t know if it was going to work… and many times it doesn’t work. A big example for this is a classic one, which is not in the training field but it’s an idea which was not validated: it is SegWay.

 

You may know Segway, the gadget with two-wheels, where you can, standing, can go around like with a scooter. I love Segway personally, but originally the company thought that they would sell 50,000 Segways… per year. That was in the business plan.Until 2010, they sold 23,000 in total, so, as they say in the army, “No attack plan survives the contact with the enemy”. You can have the best plans in the world, but it needs to be validated.

 

EU funding

 

Funding, but not so much on the training side but actually doing EU funding, which is a pretty popular business, even more so now thanks to the crisis.Actually, there are a lot of EU funds available for research, for infrastructure, for other funding, so as a business it is worth knowing how to write a tender, manage a program, financing, etc.

 

Information and networking business

 

The last one is an interesting one, which is what I would call “information and networking business”. It seems to be quite popular in Brussels, but it could be even beyond.For instance, an online paper.(Paper, well, it’s a bit contradictory in an online world.) Think of EurActiv’s Christophe Leclercq who is the founder of EurActiv. He used to be, I think, an official in the Commission and he set out to try out his idea. EurActiv is a very, very popular and large website with several national outlets.

 

Another is monitoring EU legislation and EU policies, what’s happening in EU affairs, because lots of companies do not have their representation in Brussels but they want to know what’s happening here.

 

Also, in a broader sense, even designing. I have a friend, he’s a web designer but his clients are essentially Brussels-based organizations who need to have a web presence and have design works. So he works for the “Eurobubble” clients.

 

Very briefly, that’s my take on the issue… and thanks very much!

 

(Thoughts, ideas and feedback much welcome – and feel free to share this page & podcast!)

 

 

Posted in E-business, EU Affairs

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