Startups Don’t Pivot — We Do Yoga

Editor’s note: In response to our recent article on Jolicloud’s apparent third or fourth shift in direction, CEO and co-founder Tariq Krim wished to take the writer, Mike Butcher, to task on the ‘perceived pivot’. Here, he argues that the language we use needs to be addressed.

Dear Mike,

Your recent article about our jolicloud launch at the Dublin Web Summit was not particularly flattering, but that’s OK since we are not shopping only for nice articles.

However, one aspect did disappoint me: This article could have been written by any one of the US Techcrunch staff. And this article is missing the point.

When I say US staff, I am referring to how you have coined the word “pivoted” in all your headlines. But let me tell you a European Startup Secret: In Europe we don’t raise enough money to have the luxury to Pivot. Only rich kids with fat funding and Wantrepreneurs do that. In Europe you survive by improving, killing and then relaunching better features until you find your sweet spot.

In short we don’t pivot, we do Yoga (and it’s better for your health)

But as I said you are missing the point:

At the end of the day the story of jolicloud represents a bunch of kids between 20 and 30 years old reinventing how computing should be done from Europe. And this is rare.

We live in the era of the Giga platforms, Apple, Google, Amazon and Microsoft. They want to tell us how and what to read and listen to, how we should run our digital life, how and where we should store our photos, what programs we are allowed to use and how we should program them.

They have unlimited marketing budgets, access to the global range of hardware manufacturers and every publication in the world credits them with the words “disruptive”, “awesome” and “life changing”.

We want to give people another choice: A platform that empowers them, works on top of any existing hardware, even the older ones that support open standards and don’t decide how users should run their lives.

With one billion people coming to the cloud in the next few years, nothing is set in stone.

I see jolicloud being an Apple in the world of IBM in 1977.

But it’s very challenging. With less money to operate than the yearly lunch budget of the Google Chrome team, we have to create and improve this 5th platform: an open source, open cloud, javascript based environment (a fancy way to say HTML5) led by my 26 year old CTO Romain. As we can’t build everything ourselves, we sometimes use other pieces of code like Ubuntu with our new engine.

Like Apple in its early days, Jolicloud started in a garage with two 22 year old kids coding while I was either drawing basic UI at the Starbucks next door (we only had two tables) or meeting with partners. The jolibook, a 2010 Engadget finalist computer and the first cloud computer to ever be shipped to Europe at 279 pounds from Amazon, was a side project done with a total marketing budget of 5000 euros. It’s now a collectors item.

Most manufacturers in the world said no to us, not because they didn’t like us, but because they didn’t want to piss off Microsoft and Intel who define the price of a PC. After finding the only computer manufacturer that would work with us, we built and shipped the jolibook in 3 months.

I sometimes think of jolicloud as an homage to the Silicon Valley era during the 80’s and the 90’s when entrepreneurs wanted to change the world. Now it’s all about addressing the digital 1%, and pivoting.

It’s so hard to build disruptive projects in Europe, and almost impossible to do anything in France, you know that. The French government just gave 150 million euros to the two big Telco to build “cloud computing platforms” that no one will ever use. After 6 months of battling we may receive a 300,000 euros grant, though this is still uncertain.

When I look around I see that most people gave up.

But this has been the fate of European Technology: most players succumbed. We created the Web and then gave it up, we created modern GSM technologies and yet again desisted. Nokia gave up to Microsoft. We are out of the game.

Many entrepreneurs gave up because of lacking support for truly disruptive talent. It is no accident that I ended up getting funding from Niklas (Atomico Ventures) and Michael Jackson (Mangrove Partners, and former COO of Skype) because instead of asking me if I was capable of building a new computing platform designed for the cloud, all they wanted to know was that I wouldn’t give up.

Because more is at stake. The world is not only about storage and hardware, it’s about giving a voice to all means of expression. And as of today I don’t see Europe being part of that picture anymore.

The courageous and persistent teams like that of Jolicloud are unfortunately a dying breed. We are the last to fight in a continent that gave up.

Our only weapons: elegant design, clever code and higher sense of commitment.

And that is the point I think you are missing Mike.


(Photo credit by Relaxing Music, by and David Souzaf)