Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Scientist and entrepreneur

The video below nicely summarizes the career advantages and disadvantages of the job as an entrepreneur. 

The speaker is David Friedberg. David has studied Astrophysics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is a very talented mathematician, but the work as a researcher at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory did not turn out to be emotionally satisfying for him. Actually this is a very common case in my experience; talented science-oriented people who tend to be more creative often suffer from a strong desire to have impact on the real world.

A natural first stop for skilled scientists who want to have a real impact on the world is the banking and finance industry. David has served a few years in private equity and investment banking, mainly advising technology companies. Obviously his creativity quickly out-grew the capabilities of this industry.

After that, David has worked as a senior product manager and founding member of the corporate development team at google. Software product management is another classical place for skilled scientists who want to have a real impact on the world, and for sure google is an absolutely exiting place to work at. Still the internal push of creativity was too strong!         

David has founded The Climate Corporation (formerly WeatherBill). The climate corporation is implementing an absolutely revolutionary, disruptive idea. Roughly speaking they are in the area of weather insurance; and currently mainly oriented towards farming clients. But the DNA behind is much more powerful, see here. Just a few years ago, the company's product was essentially a bunch of statistical programs written by David in R. Still they have been able to scale up amazingly quickly.

The full video can be seen here. Below is the excerpt which I personally find relevant to the topic of this blog: career advising.

Almost all Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are not rock stars, according to David. He offers metrics comparing the possible rewards and chances for success between working for an existing company and starting your own venture. He also explains the advantages and caveats of trying to make impact from inside larger organizations.

Last year, when I considered starting my own venture,, I did a similar research (I am Europe-based). A start-up in Europe has similar chances to fail and much lower chances to scale up compared to the Silicon Valley start-up. On top of that, having an unsuccessful previous start-up experience limits one's chances to go back to a regular position. Finally, I am based in Luxembourg. Compared to other cities in Europe, Luxembourg suffers from high living costs and a fractioned society. These could quickly deplete one's savings and limit one's possibility to find business partners and first clients.

On the flip side, social security in Europe and in particular in Luxembourg is broadly based and is very well organized. This removes a big part of the stress in particular for people like me who have families. Also, Luxembourg is a small place but a relatively big financial center. This makes it a natural breeding space for companies like (risk management software-as-a-service for financial institutions).  

 So, to put it short -- my career advice is: if you are interested in money, forget about Entrepreneurship and go find a job. Statistically speaking, a talented scientists or engineer who tries a start-up in Europe gets on the average less than 3.000EUR / month. Most universities and research centers will offer more for less time -- and it is not comparable with private company or the public administration.

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