Builder By Heart – A Look Into The Life Of Entrepreneur Renaud Visage
Renaud Visage, co-founder of Eventbrite – the leading self-service ticketing platform for events around the world, was adopted into the Europe- and London-based global venture capital firm Index Ventures almost half a year ago, where he now guides founders in realizing their global ambition as well as helping Index evaluate and support companies who are trying to solve the technological riddles of tomorrow. Rather than waiting for the TechBBQ summit in september, where Visage will take the stage as a keynote speaker, fizzled patience made us seek him out in order to get a small drop on the rest of the techies prior to our big event. In a forty-or-so minute Skype conversation, Visage acquainted us with global opportunities, challenges, scale-up experience as well as invaluable advice on the same tech-ethos that nurtured – and ultimately sustained – his own passions as an entrepreneur as well as a product builder.
Connecting what is already there
“I think defining your role in tech is all about where you get your satisfaction. Entrepreneurs get it from creating revenue, big teams, customer engagement, finding and iterating the next business-model. I am more interested in our users as well as how they interact with our products; how we can create better experiences.”
Regardless of what the tech-community might consider him as, Visage does not immediately see himself an entrepreneur as he perceives this role as pertaining to more revenue-based concepts. His interest in the world of tech is not immediately driven by either iterative or monetary facets, but rather the product as well as the initial process of creation. For this reason he prefers the term “builder”, perhaps because it diminishes the theoretical and emphasizes the aspects which are more hands-on at a personal level.
“I think I am a lot more customer-satisfaction driven than the entrepreneur who ultimately has to be more shareholder focus-driven or some combination of the two. It think it is a distinction of what excites you. Building a company is great, but if I could build a great product by myself I would probably do it, seeing how I love the process of creation. As a civil engineer by training I have always been interested in building things. When the web came along I realised that I could build things on my own simply by writing code in a text editor. Here I could create these beautiful pages that people could engage with. It was a great way for me to reach a lot more people than what had previously been possible in civil engineering, so my big driver in life became to build great products to solve real-life problems. Perhaps I am a more of a product-minded person than a “true” entrepreneur. I understand the business-side of things as very important, but it is not what drives me. It is rather the millions of people who interact with our apps every day to buy tickets for the sake of things that are fun, for learning and for growth. That is my true motivation.”
Although Visage distincts himself as leaning towards the product-side in his career, he does however point out the obligatory need for the entrepreneurial mindset as a key element to startup success.
“My co-founder, Kevin Hartz, is much more the entrepreneur-type. He has created three different business before and that is what excites him. He wants to find new ways of doing things and create big businesses along the way. Perhaps entrepreneurs are more driven by execution, whereas I am driven by creation. There might not be any perfectly clear distinction between the two. I think you still need to work with both halves in order to be a truly great entrepreneur. You cannot just create a product and forget about the business.”
And working with both halves is unquestionably something Visage excels in doing. He crafted his creations before any of our fingertips had hit the surfaces of our cellphones and although he initiated his journey as a builder, the continuous changes ushered him then – as well as today – to be mindful of the different advantageous ways one might bring together technologies – a process of thought which Visage embraces at every waking dawn:
“I think constant change is a considerable drive. I love reading about all the new things being invented. Being first and foremost a technologist I love new tech. I love new ways of thinking about problems and I love combining different pieces from different worlds into solutions that become ten times the improvement of what was previously done. Nobody had a smartphone back when we started and Social Networks barely existed. Back then I believe Facebook was still limited to universities. Later on we benefited a lot from these major breakthroughs so the main point here is that if you do not stay close to what is happening in the world of technology I do not think you will fully leverage the available opportunities – this is really what I get up every day thinking about: How do we merge all of these different things so that we can create a better experience for consumers and whoever your clients might be?”
In regard to leveraging opportunity, Visage mentions the initial creation process of Eventbrite as an example of how an idea turned fruitful by tending to public need rather than relying on any specific field experience.
“If I take Eventbrite for example: We were not people from the event space. I don't think any of us had ever really organised a big event in the past. We simply noticed that there was a clear opportunity for tools to help people come together and make a living out of that, so it was more a combination of putting several technologies together to create an experience for ticket buyers as well as event organisers. These combinations of thoughts still drive us today and I think we have barely scratched the surface of what we can do with the technology that is readily available.”
The currents concur
Visage is keenly aware of the tendencies affecting the world-wide startup scene – and more specifically: The European. Having a backdrop daubed with more than ten years of active startup experience both as a builder, an entrepreneur and later as an angel investor, Visage has a reliable sentiment in terms of trends and possible future outcomes. When we asked him to underpin some of most notable shifts in ecosystems, he emphasized some geopolitical currents that might play a vital role in our future:
“There is a lot of opportunity and it is a great moment to be an entrepreneur in Europe – A unique moment. If Europe can reinforce itself, when or if Brexit happens, considerable advantages could be gained from it. Something that is stirring the field quite a bit is definitely the political situation in the UK and the US. This, I think, will change the role continental Europe will play in the tech ecosystem. As an investor I have personally decided to get involved with Europe rather than the US since it is my impression that this is where the the next big companies will emerge. Of course Silicon Valley will not be easily replaced from one day to the next, but the ongoing global turmoil does however unveil new and exciting opportunities.”
Although Visage highlights the ripe conditions, he also points to the crucial knobs and levers that we might turn and pull in order to tweak the European ecosystem in terms of incrementing fertility:
“We have a great market which has perhaps been over-regulated in the past, but in the future we could benefit startups a great deal by offering favourable policies to incentivise people to start building companies and stay in Europe for the long term. In terms of taxation for example I do not think it is fair to ask for 50 or 60 percent of that upside to be given back to the government. I want to pay my fair share, but it is a great incentive for people to go elsewhere and a unique opportunity for us to lose talent if we do not act on this. Small businesses are at the heart of every economy, and whatever we can do to make small businesses grow and make that process easier is where governments can have an impact. There are a lot of regulations that makes sense for larger companies, but less so when speaking of a ten-person company who do not know whether they will exist six months down the road.”
After mentioning some big-picture elements in the European ecosystem, Visage proceeds to single out some other key ingredients that could also help cultivate our landscape:
“I think you need every ingredient in order to create a healthy and vibrant ecosystem and I think Copenhagen and France are good examples of having done a good job in the last few years. It takes time to build a foundation with a lot of incentives to become an entrepreneur and it usually begins with accelerators, incubators and money being put into grooming people who want to become entrepreneurs, as well as giving them space to explore for themselves. I think more and more people – not to mention graduates – would not like to work for big companies. They would like to start their own companies and be in control of their own destinies. So how can we steer the different ecosystems in a direction that will sustain people's dreams?
I imagine that it begins with surrounding the startups with the right mentors as well as having enough places to test whether you can be an entrepreneur or not; whether your idea will resonate with your clients. Accelerators and incubators are great ways to test your plans and they are equally great places to start. In the wake of these facilities you are going to need funding, which is why it is important to attract the VC's of the world who have knowledge about the ecosystems, making them want to be present and attend on a regular basis so that they can engage with the best entrepreneurs coming out of these accelerators and incubators. If we would like fledging startups to become worldwide successes I consider some of these nourishments to be missing quite a bit in Europe. Financing is definitely already here; there is a ton of money in Europe that is chasing the best companies, but I think we need to build a better geographical reputation as well as pinpointing what the governments might do to help. Historically a lot of great entrepreneurs have gone to Silicon Valley because they thought this to be the only way to get funding for a fast growing company, but I do not think that is the case anymore. “
A practical dreamer
On finishing our questions we asked Visage whether he would like to express any anticipations for this years TechBBQ and what he might hope to gain from his presence:
“I am always excited to meet the practical dreamers; the ones who are thinking big and who have an idea about how to make their dreams reality – people like Elon Musk. People who go: “I want to take people to Mars!” and figure out how to get there by breaking down the chain of action from a simple idea all the way to the launch; people who possess elaborate dreams along with a stern sense of practicality. Those are the people we are trying to find as investors; those are the people that I would like to meet personally because they make me excited about the world of tomorrow. These are the types of companies that we, on the VC-side at least, would like to back. Companies who transform the way we exist in the future.”
Three good tips from Renaud Visage for startups who dream of scaling their business
Most startups fail because they run out of money at some point. If they cannot raise money they die. Unless they have a rich uncle.
Build the best team you can
Get the best talent possible and create synergies. In regard to the first point be sure to do it on an affordable budget.
Be frugal and scrappy
Find ways to do more with less. You do not have many resources in the early stages so looks for things that will make you grow without any unnecessary expenditure.