Text of the Interview with Martin Varsavsky at Elektrischer Reporter

The text follows the transcription of the spoken word.

The Video can be seen at Elektrischer Reporter


I was born in Argentina and that was 46 years ago.
I spend more or less a third of my life in Argentina, a third in the states and a third in spain.

I love spain.

In regard of my life: I had a pretty difficult childhood because I growed up in the military dictatorship of Videla, a fashist dictatorship. Family members were killed and we had to flee Argentina in order to avoid to getting killed. The argentinian dictatorship was killing people for two reasons which we unfortunatly fit both, which was being intellectuals and being jewish two things they didn´t like.

And than I arrived in the states with my father who was a physicist and a professor. And I went to school in the states and at New York University, started my business in the states and after that I moved to Europe. And I started seven businesses since for the last 20 years or so. Six went well, one didn´t.
And thats what I do: I do companies.

Well I think spain is a fantastic country for startups because there is a lack of competition for the employees. There is a very highly educated population but there aren´t to many tech startups. So when Google and Skype invested with us and they asked us to move to Silicon Valley we rejected the idea because we thought in that in Silicon Valley we would be one more startup and in Spain we are the startup to work for.

Well I have started companies in the states and I haver started companies in Europe. And I think there is a lot of differences. But if I had to say one in the spirit of the company is that may be americans are overconfident but the europeans have a lot to do to believe in themselfs. There is a general lack of confidence of europeans in themself and the most optimistic ones are moving to America.
And I don´t like that.

I prefer that we do very well in Europe. There used to be no vc-money in Europe. But that is changing. There is great vc-firms here in Europe like our partner Index Ventures who are about to lead best vc in Europe. They invested in other european companies like Skype. Our partners had fun.

So I think the atmosphere is changing in Europe. Its more confident. And what Europe has is the best educated people in the world. So I think for the internet – which is what I do – Europe is fantastic because also Europe ist more equitable. More people have a chance to access the internet.

In America there is a few – there is a amazing elite, at elite universities, but then the rest of the population is less edutcated on the average. When you do an internet company you don´t want to just cater to the elite. You want to have a mass product like ya.com, the company I build in Spain. And you want this massproduct to reach most of the population and for that europe is better.

I don´t think so. Certainly „Fon“ is not. We have a very original idea that nobody has yet copied in a significant way and that´s (because) we are the first european investment of Google and the first european investment of Sequoia which is the most successful venture capital firm. So Sequoia had to come to spain to invest with us.

I don´t think that´s true of all the situations but its unfortunalty true of a lot of them. And I think that´s because european education encourages students to agree with professors while american education encourages students to disagree with professors – not all the time. But there is much more tolerance for disagreement sort of like: thats your view this is my view and we are entitled to have a view. And I think that´s great and I hope that europeans stop teaching young people that the only way to do well in an exam is to copy what the professor says. And that translated into adulthood makes great managers who copy what the professor say which are in America and we have to end that.

I think that the problem with big companies in Europe in particular is that they believe that they will stay big if they act in a monopoly fashion. And many of them tend to either block new initiatives or coop them in a way where they kill the enthusiasm. I think that since we have to learn a lot from american companies the big ones who buy for example – Google buys YouTube but YouTube keeps operating in the same place with the same management. Or Flickr was bought by Yahoo but is still Flickr.

I mean when Deutsche Telecom bought my company Ya.com I had to personally plead with Ron Sommer to please not call it t-online because t-online means nothing for the spaniards and ya.com means a lot for the spaniards. So its a problem.

Its a question of identity that european companies who are big like big european companies they think their identity should encompass everything else they do and they don´t realize that by doing that they take away the spirit of startups. Startups have to keep their identity.

Well I think the worst thing about it (the internet) is that it reaches less than a sixth of the global population. Thats by far the worst thing about it. I think the best thing about it is that those which the internet reaches tend to develop and to better in whatever they trying to do whether it is searching, finding things, learning to program, educating themselfs like in the website we build in Argentina – Educ.ar – and just education, community, communication for a lot of things.

I think the future of the internet, the biggest challenge for the future of the internet is inclusion. Is including the five sixth of the planet who are not on the internet. And especially because those who are, are leaping ahead. And so the worst thing about the internet is that nobody seems to have made a serious strategy to include the rest of the world.

And the rest of the world is most of the world.

[tags]Interview, Martin Vasavsky, Elektrischer Reporter, Internet[/tags]