Niklas Zennstrom at LeWeb

[LeWeb 2009] “If you want to be successful, swim against the stream, follow your own path.” That was Skype co-founder Niklas Zennstrom’s advice to aspiring entrepreneurs at the LeWeb conference in Paris. The serial entrepreneur, who initially gained fame and fortune with file-sharing service Kazaa, pointed out that none of the potential investors that he and co-founder Janus Friis approached wanted to put money into Skype. “The VCs in Europe felt that Skype was way too risky” and had little future, Zennstrom said. The Internet phone service became a big success, of course, and was sold to eBay in 2005 for $2.6 billion.

Too little willingness to take risk is also the reason, in Zennstrom’s opinion, that Europe has been lagging behind the U.S. in launching successful Internet companies. “VCs have not had a risk-taking mindset”, Zennstrom said, lamenting that there’s still “a stigma of failure” in Europe: those who try but do not succeed often do not get a second chance. But “you cannot have big returns without taking big risks”, Zennstrom argued. Pointing to his own failed Web-TV service Joost, Zennstrom concluded that “there is no predefined formula for success” – experiments are necessary and experiments require risk-taking.

With his own investment firm, Atomico Ventures, Zennstrom, originally from Sweden, has been putting money into a number of Web ventures, such as Last.fm, Seesmic, Xobni, and Technorati. “It’s exciting to an entrepreneur in Europe”, Zennstrom concluded. “There are lots of opportunities.”

More LeWeb coverage.

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