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Fail2Succeed: changing european attitudes to entrepreneurship

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Joel Lewin


Fear of fail­ure is one of the great­est ob­sta­cles for young peo­ple in busi­ness. The pow­er­ful stigma at­tached to en­tre­pre­neur­ial fail­ure stops many young Eu­ro­peans pur­su­ing their ideas. Fail2­Suc­ceed aims to rem­edy this stigma and open up en­tre­pre­uneur­ship for young Eu­ro­peans. We spoke to ThinkY­oung founder An­drea Gerosa about achiev­ing suc­cess through fail­ure

Cafébabel: What im­pact do you hope to have by mak­ing young peo­ple less afraid of fail­ure in busi­ness?

An­drea Gerosa: Fail2­Suc­ceed is part of ThinkY­oung, an or­gan­i­sa­tion I founded to make the world a bet­ter place for young peo­ple. In the short term we could in­crease the num­ber of young peo­ple who start their own com­pany, who give it a try, es­pe­cially in this time of cri­sis, when a lot of peo­ple are think­ing about it but they’re afraid. Be­cause if you go bank­rupt, it’s not just a day- it’s six months be­fore you start re­al­is­ing it, banks and cred­i­tors start call­ing you, then you stop going to work and there are psy­cho­log­i­cal prob­lems- peo­ple start to drink, peo­ple with fam­i­lies start hav­ing fam­ily prob­lems; so it’s a long term process and the whole idea is to make this shorter.

In the long term, if we start to have an im­pact on busi­ness cul­ture, then you could ac­tu­ally trig­ger in­no­va­tion. One prob­lem in Eu­rope is our com­pa­nies are not in­no­v­a­tive any more be­cause they don’t take risk.

Cafébabel: The name Fail2­Suc­ceed sug­gests fail­ing is a nec­es­sary route to suc­cess. Can fail­ure ac­tu­ally im­prove your chances of suc­cess?

An­drea Gerosa: It does! You see it with every­thing in life- if you spend five years doing re­search into can­cer, and you fail, no­body blames you be­cause you failed; it’s good be­cause you tried. It’s the same when you try new tech­nolo­gies. But fail­ure in busi­ness is not seen as some­thing peo­ple ac­cept in Eu­rope. Every­thing you do in life- you go, you try, you fail, and you start again, then it works out and you come good.

Cafébabel: How are at­ti­tudes dif­fer­ent in Amer­ica and Eu­rope?

An­drea Gerosa: In the US peo­ple are not afraid of tak­ing risks. If you start a com­pany in the US and you go bank­rupt, when you go to a job in­ter­view you want to tell them be­cause fail­ure is seen as a pos­i­tive thing on your CV, whereas in Eu­rope you want to hide it, be­cause it’s a very neg­a­tive thing on your CV.

If you go bank­rupt in the States, it’s very likely you get a job at Google or Apple, but in Eu­rope that doesn’t re­ally hap­pen much. In Eu­rope, busi­ness is still very much linked to fam­ily, to val­ues which are not just pure profit, or just per­sonal busi­ness achieve­ment and sat­is­fac­tion but its more a fam­ily or a com­mu­nity achieve­ment.

Cafébabel: Where you come from in North­ern Italy had a lot of en­tre­pre­neur­ship and that in­stilled in you the de­sire to do busi­ness; is en­tre­pre­neur­ship in­grained in cul­ture?

An­drea Gerosa: The de­sire is cul­tural. That’s why in a lot of Eu­rope, es­pe­cially in South­ern Eu­rope- media has a huge im­pact. If you open Span­ish, Ital­ian or Greek news­pa­pers, the first 15 pages are about pol­i­tics- so ob­vi­ously every­body wants to be in pol­i­tics, it’s nat­ural.

It’s hard to be­come a foot­ball player if you’ve never seen a foot­ball match in your life. It’s like going climb­ing, hav­ing never seen peo­ple climb, but you show a guy a moun­tain and say ‘climb’.

That’s why we do our sum­mer schools with no pro­fes­sors, only en­tre­pre­neurs teach­ing. At uni­ver­si­ties, they don’t do that and I don’t un­der­stand why- they should have more en­tre­pre­neurs teach­ing.

We should give more vis­i­bil­ity, im­por­tance and praise to en­tre­pre­neurs who ac­tu­ally cre­ate a com­pany, jobs, in­no­va­tion and make our lives bet­ter.

Cafébabel: Have young peo­ple's at­ti­tudes to en­tre­pre­neur­ship changed re­cently?

An­drea Gerosa: In the last 3, 4 years, peo­ple have come to see en­tre­pre­neur­ship as a pos­si­bil­ity, as a way out of un­em­ploy­ment. Peo­ple are also start­ing to see en­tre­pre­neurs as role mod­els.

When Steve Jobs died there was so much talk about his life in the media, peo­ple started see­ing the other side of the coin of being an en­tre­pre­neur. A lot of the young gen­er­a­tion has been com­pletely changed by the Face­book story. The Face­book movie had a strong im­pact in chang­ing the at­ti­tude of young peo­ple to­wards be­com­ing an en­tre­pre­neur, and the story of the Zucker­burg him­self is in­sane. In­ter­est in en­tre­pre­neur­ship cer­tainly grew then.

Cafébabel: What are the aims of Fail2­Suc­ceed?

An­drea Gerosa: The first step was re­search and a sur­vey to dis­cover what young peo­ple think about fail­ure; why there is this fear of fail­ure and what it’s linked to.

We’re mak­ing a doc­u­men­tary movie- con­sist­ing of six pro­files of young en­tre­pre­neurs who ex­pe­ri­enced fail­ure and started again suc­cess­fully. This is to make sure young peo­ple un­der­stand it’s pos­si­ble to start again. A movie is eas­ier to dis­sem­i­nate, to share, and to find on­line than if you pub­lish a paper.

The last part of the pro­ject is to make pol­icy pro­pos­als to the Eu­ro­pean in­sti­tu­tions, to change bank­ruptcy laws, es­pe­cially in­tro­duc­ing a dif­fer­ent bank­ruptcy law when it comes to Star­tups, to SMEs and to multi­na­tion­als.

The sec­ond area of pol­icy pro­pos­als will be dis­charge pe­ri­ods- the pe­riod in which you can’t start a new com­pany after you’ve been bank­rupt, which varies around Eu­rope.

The last pol­icy focus will be the re­pay­ment of cred­i­tors- when you start, how much etc.

Cafébabel: Like Cafébabel, your pro­ject is ori­en­tated to­wards young peo­ple. How does that in­flu­ence your com­mu­ni­ca­tion strate­gies and what do you think of the EU’s com­mu­ni­ca­tion?

An­drea Gerosa: It ba­si­cally means we don’t give a shit about tele­vi­sion, but focus on the in­ter­net and every­thing that is so­cial media. The cool thing, or the prob­lem­atic thing now, is that every 4 or 5 years you have a tech­no­log­i­cal break through- you have to be able to adapt. Our com­mu­ni­ca­tion team have a night­mare job.

I don’t have the ar­ro­gance to say the EU should learn from us, but it’s true that they suck at com­mu­ni­cat­ing, not just with young peo­ple, even with old peo­ple. Com­mu­ni­ca­tion is a two way thing- it’s lis­ten­ing and re­ply­ing, and so far the EU has just been talk­ing but hasn’t been lis­ten­ing.

An­other thing which I keep say­ing when I’m in Brus­sels but they won’t lis­ten to me, is that they are too much in Brus­sels- they don’t get around. They pre­fer the safety of being in Brus­sels than the risk of going to South­ern Spain and hav­ing peo­ple com­plain­ing at them, whereas I think they should take the risk and go, be­cause they’re good, and when you’re good you should take the risk and do it.

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