Why Startups Should Study Abroad

Your startup should have a presence in Europe from its inception, argues Ifeelgoods CEO Michael Amar. Just be prepared for culture shock, a contempt for entrepreneurs, and daily Skype frustrations.

Michael Amar, the CEO of the digital promotions platform Ifeelgoods, has advocated the idea of startups having a presence in the European market from Day One. The French-born Amar lives in Silicon Valley, but collaborates with members of his team in Europe. The rewards of focusing on Europe early on can be great—a cheaper talent pool and the chance to head off pesky copycats are among the main perks. He concedes, though, that it’s not without its challenges.

FAST COMPANY: You’re a Frenchmen who came to Silicon Valley. Any culture shock when you arrived?

MICHAEL AMAR: Yes. Huge. And I was working with U.S. companies for many years. The French, we’re pretty direct, and when we’re not happy with something you say it. Here you have to say to people how great they are, you love that job, everything’s awesome, and perhaps you could think about how you can do it even better. In France you say, “Hey, this sucks. Change it now or you’re out the door.”

What's good about Silicon Valley?

Here, everything is done for the entrepreneurs. When I first came I met my lawyer, and I said, “How much will this cost me?” and he said, “Don’t worry, I won’t charge if you don’t raise money.” In France, I wanted years ago to buy a car, and I went to my bank, and because my company hadn’t been profitable for five years in a row yet, they wouldn’t give you a loan. In France, entrepreneurs are being seen as someone who takes advantage of the system. Whereas here it’s like you’re a hero.


You have coworkers in Europe. How often do you find yourself cursing dropped Skype calls?

This is a pain. We’ve tried everything from Hangouts, Skype, everything, to be honest. Today, we’re doubling team meetings with a conference call system. I’m not saying it’s not difficult to have a team that’s in Europe and the U.S. We miss things every day. But it creates opportunities every day.

Do you think there should be more study abroad in MBA programs?

Yes, totally. One of the things I’m most proud of are the few interns coming from France we bring here for their last year of school. It’s kind of the American dream. They’re so motivated. They learn the American way of life, and they want to stay here afterward.

This interview has been condensed and edited. For more from the Fast Talk interview series, click here. Know someone who'd be a good Fast Talk subject? Mention it to David Zax.

[Image: Flickr user aigle_dore]

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1 Comments

  • Bob Bond

    There are other challenges for Start-up SaaS providers that shouldn't be underestimated.

    We've just launched a healthcare startup (writeupp.com) and support for local languages is critical if you really want to penetrate local markets - we're currently wrestling with a Danish version!

    Also, considerations around the application of sales tax amongst EC member states/UK needs to be considered.

    That said, access to an intelligent, informed talent pool is a major bonus and from a personal perspective the Tech (Skype, Join.me, Hangouts works like a charm)