C is for Commitment

Working with startups from emerging geographies involves higher risks, a laser-sharp focus on augmenting and building skills, and eventually leads to higher returns for the winners. The only way to do that is with an overarching sense of Commitment.

I moved from Amsterdam to Bulgaria in 2011, and ever since I’ve been spending a lion’s share of my time working with and assisting entrepreneurs from what are called “emerging geographies”.

I was part of a team setting up and running a regional accelerator and investment program in the Balkans, after which we teamed up with a few guys in Sofia to test the ground for a follow-up investment company, focused on helping the best local teams get to the next level.

While doing that, I empirically learned the following 5 things:

  1. Despite impressive tech skills resulting from a quickly growing outsourcing industry, local founders have an incredibly hard time understanding and executing the business part, at least on par with venture industry standards.
  2. Startup ecosystems don’t really exist anywhere outside Silicon Valley. There are many thriving and promising communities of talented enthusiasts, but an ecosystem requires at least nominal balance of competitive company-building, market, and technical skills.
  3. The only way founders from emerging geographies can succeed is if they adopt and internalize skills and values faster than their Western counterparts gain traction (already having those skills). I.e. become better winners.
  4. Some skills can’t be learned quickly and by personal experience. Winner founders have to systematically close outstanding experienced individuals, as co-founders, staff, or investors.
  5. Earning money with startups is hard, and requires access to finite talent. For every combination of market vertical and skill-set, the number of people with earning experience is in the four-digit range, and most likely few to none are physically present close enough to where the founders live.

So it was time to shake things up, rethink, regroup, and get ready for the next fight.

In November 2014, Vitaly Golomb, Mike Reiner, and I founded CCC Startups. With CCC we are doing two things:

  • We are closing a USD 50m fund targeted at signaling the most ambitious founders of globally scalable tech products from Eastern Europe and the wider Middle East;
  • We have launched the Startup AddVenture community, aimed at connecting successful operators (founders, executives, and investors) with the most ambitious startup teams worldwide. For now, Startup AddVenture is a series of events that we (co-)produce, but we’re building a pipeline of further tools for formidable founders to leverage their venture skills.

We often get asked what CCC stands for. Apart from the obvious reference to 300 Spartans, we chose CCC because many key words describing our activities start with C. There is Context, there are Connections, there is Cash, and of course there is Community. Each of us has a list of his favorite C-words.

For me, the most interesting is Commitment.

Commitment is what separates the learners from the earners. It requires Commitment to win and to close. Commitment is that rare and counter-intuitive quality that allows you to invest and persevere when things aren’t looking good. Without Commitment, there are no obligations. Without Commitment, it’s always someone else’s fault. Commitment is mutual!

I have decided to single out people to work with based on Commitment. It’s actually pretty selfish: I can’t commit myself when others aren’t committing. With CCC, when we talk to company founders, prospective fund investors, or event partners, we look for track record in committing.

In the coming months, through Spring and Summer of 2015, we will be on the road, working hard to bring Startup AddVenture to as many cities as we can, and to launch CCC Fund I. I am looking forward to reconnecting with everyone I know, and to making many new, Committed friends.

And if you’re wondering why the bacon-and-egg photo above, here’s a corny business school riddle:

Question: In a bacon-and-egg breakfast, what’s the difference between the Chicken and the Pig?
Answer: The Chicken is involved, but the Pig is committed!
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