September 22nd, 2022 | Startup Culture in Bay Area vs Startup Culture in Amsterdam.
Last updated on October 8th, 2023
I spent the last few weeks in the Bay Area, also known as Silicon Valley. Despite being here for such a short time, I already discovered numerous fundamental (and often shocking!) differences between the startup culture in Amsterdam, where I spent three months earlier this year, and the Bay Area.
In this article, I list the main 10 differences I’ve noticed so far – but I am quite convinced that there are dozens of others! Now, what is done differently here?
On The Differences in Startup Culture Between Amsterdam and Bay Area.
I spent the last few weeks in the Bay Area, also known as Silicon Valley (with a little break for an excursion to the Nevada desert). Why? Well, there are many personal and professional reasons.
Partially, I wanted to reward myself for the hard times I experienced in the recent past. And partially, I aimed to test my knowledge and networking skills in the very cradle of modern entrepreneurship.
I currently work on services for startups and I couldn’t miss the opportunity to test whether there is enough demand for renting my brain here in the Bay Area. This is the Olympus of the startup culture after all – so, whereto test yourself if not here?
Despite spending so little time here, I already discovered numerous fundamental (and often shocking!) differences between the startup culture in Amsterdam, where I spent three months earlier this year, and the Bay Area.
In this article, I list the main 10 differences I’ve noticed so far – but I am quite convinced that there are dozens of others!
First of all, some demographics and topography. The Southern part of the San Francisco Bay Area, also known as Silicon Valley, has a population between 3.5-4 million souls depending on how we define its borders.
Amsterdam Metropolitan Area, on the other hand, has a population of about 2.5 million souls and is squeezed into a much smaller area. Both are known as centers for entrepreneurship in America and Europe, respectively.
In the Bay Area, the technological boom that had started about 25 years ago caused lots of wealth to accumulate in the area. Amsterdam didn’t register such rapid growth at that point in time, but instead, the growth of the entrepreneurial scene was more lean. In recent years though, the Dutch startup scene turned towards fintech and web3, which witness rapid growth as of today.
Now, what is done differently here?
0. Attitude To Innovation.
I cannot start this list without talking about the overall understanding of innovation in the Netherlands versus in the United States. This difference stems from hundreds of years of history.
The Netherlands is a tiny country depleted of natural resources and located in the middle of stormy Europe. Over the centuries, the Dutchmen learned that the only way to survive in this position is to become apt architects who can convert any tiny piece of floor into a liveable space and build fast ships, frugal farmers who can produce ton of food on their tiny parcels, and skilled traders and negotiators who can colonize foreign lands and benefit from the goods and natural resources provided by the locals without shedding blood.
On the contrary, Americans are used to taking what’s theirs using elbows: in the Wild West, first come first serve. Especially California has become a synonim for “the American dream,” after hosting the unprecedented gold rush in 1848-1855. By worshipping gold diggers and explorers, Americans established the culture where “be first” and “get rich quick” mean splendor and success. This history reflects in the approach to innovation and business until today.
The Dutchies build innovation slowly, by taking small bets. We have a juicy tomato in our greenhouse? Let’s tweak one gene and see whether it can be even juicier. We have a building with fancy architecture all covered in glass? Let’s try to plant trees on top of it. We have efficient solar batteries? Let’s try to improve the production process so that they are even 10% more effective. And so on and so forth.
This is how the Dutch economy rolls forward, century to century. Small, safe, systematic steps without expecting fireworks and headlines in press around the world.
American view at innovation couldn’t be more different. I would call it: “innovate or die.” If you are building a startup, investors expect 10x improvement to what was already done. The toughest takes the market, the rest die. No one gets impressed by “just some improvement” or is even interested in it; only questioning the status quo and transformative change matter.
1. Networking Strategies.
Networking is crucial to every single business venture. However, there is more than one functional networking strategy, and the networking strategy determines the culture. Indeed, Amsterdam entrepreneurs developed other fundamental networking approaches to networking than the Silicon Valley entrepreneurs.
The Bay Area:
In the Bay Area, people tend to choose vertical, deep networks as opposed to shallow, horizontal networks. Connections tend to be based on long-term friendships: playing games together, having face-to-face conversations, or hiking in a group. Americans can call you a friend after one conversation which means that they give you a credit of trust pretty soon.
People connect with each other by word of mouth, not by virtue of social media. In general, the locals seem to care much less about social media presence than Europeans, which is counterintuitive given that Silicon Valley is the cradle of social media – including Facebook with headquarters in Menlo Park, Twitter with headquarters in San Francisco, and LinkedIn with headquarters in Mountain View – after all!
However, once Americans do poke you via social media, they expect immediate response. While in America, I keep on getting booty calls from friends, texting me via Signal, WhatsApp, or Messenger, and asking me to meet for a coffee or so just because they are just passing by the city. How different from the Netherlands where you schedule all meetings weeks or even months in advance!
Many entrepreneurs and investors don’t keep any social media accounts and rely solely on communication via email and phone numbers. Many only hold Instagram accounts – which are visual rather than verbal.
This is also why it is easier to make an impression using social media in the Bay Area than in Europe, and once you develop solid social media presence, you grow in people’s eyes. Once you exchange contacts, people study your LinkedIn profile in every detail, including your education history and all your internships.
Now after the pandemic business in America got more decentralized with some founders moving to other cities such as Austin, Texas or Seattle, Washington. In these new conditions, business networking also partially moved online.
No wonder that founders, business advisors, and investors finally realized that it is high time to build social media presence and are now pedaling hard (especially on Twitter), to catch up.
Hereby entrepreneurs also don’t seem to care about the total number of connections but rather, about the quality of connections. A way hereby people prefer to meet reflects that: meetings one on one are popular or even preferred here, unlike in Amsterdam when most people would rather choose a populated meetup as the default mode of networking.
The Bay Area entrepreneurs aim to construct the Minimal Viable Network. In graph theory, this term describes the network with a minimal number of connections necessary to connect all the nodes. In the Bay Area, minimal viable networks exist especially among private investors. They live and function in their own tight circles which are hard to break into from the outside.
What is also interesting and beneficial, is that Americans tend to network upward. Namely, if they decide to connect you with people, they will aim to find the best connected and the most influential person in their network who can help you the most.
Lastly, in the Bay Area, not everyone is easily available. Namely, people with status eagerly respond to your messages… for as long as you have their contact in the first place. In this environment, there are certain tiers and (hidden) circles.
For instance, associations of Stanford University alumni serve their members for a lifetime, helping them get prestigious jobs and lavish business contacts… but they are so hermetic that as an outsider, you don’t stand a chance to join.
There are also closed clubs such as the famous, 150-year-old gentleman’s Bohemian Club, which openly states that it is not open for just everyone.
Furthermore, many entrepreneurs – especially the successful ones – are never to be found at meetups and in public, openly available places such as hackerspaces.
Those who manage to sneak into the most prestigious startup accelerators such as the Y Combinator, tend to stay in their cubicles and work on their MVPs day and night, too busy and too focused to attend public meetups. Top accelerators are known for disciplining people really hard. No wonder that startupers lucky enough to get in, spend days and nights working in isolation.
On the contrary, those who are already successful, enjoy their lives and spend their free time chilling after long years of grinding.
Overall, you might be living in the Bay Area for years without any access to the most interesting people here – unless you are a skilled networker.
In some ways, this is fascinating. Networking in the Bay Area resembles being a detective. You go to a meeting with one person who – after telling you their whole life story and coming to the conclusion that you are trustworthy – spills the beans about the three most influential people in their personal network and gives you their contacts. Those people lead you to the next people, and that’s how you slowly climb up the social ladder, one step at a time, not knowing what the next step would be.
Despite it being hard to break into certain circles, after you finally obtain a personal contact to your big fish of choice, it is relatively easy to schedule a meeting. Easier than you would guess. These busy people just answer emails and magically find time to meet with you. As a rule of thumb, scheduling the first meeting is relatively easy… Scheduling the second one is another story though – you will only succeed if you stand out.
Lastly, one commonly known fact about the American style of networking is that, you are only useful for as long as you stay around. Once you leave the area, you are not useful anymore. After spending a summer in the US and coming back to Europe, I was sad to realize that my American friends were no longer responding my messages. Fortunately, they resumed our friendships as soon as I came back to the US a few months later.
In Amsterdam, people tend to build flat, broad, horizontal networks instead. They collect connections like stamps. One two-minute conversation at a meetup and you got yourself a connection. Interactions are also based on mutual observation via social media, meetups, and conferences rather than on long-term friendships.
Now if you wish to reach out to a particular person in the Netherlands, you just invite them to contacts via LinkedIn and add a customized message to let them know that you have intentions to make a business proposal. No hassle such as searching for a common contact to connect the two of you is necessary here.
In the Netherlands, much focus is currently put on web3 and the (uncertain) future of the Internet. The belief is that whoever is not present online, does not exist. Therefore, Dutch entrepreneurs make sure that they are properly visible online and grind every day to build the proper online reputation.
However, at the same time, Dutch entrepreneurs tend to network downward. Namely, if they decide to connect you with people, they might contact you at random, only because some name rings a bell for them.
Once you start exploring the contacts you got via emails or phone calls, you might experience that 80% of your cold emails don’t get a response, and 80% of those who eventually respond turn out to be useless for your business, as there is no synergy. Or, that the other party just tries to sell you something. This is why “connection” or “recommendations” don’t have too high a success rate here.
In Amsterdam, networking is more open than in the Bay Area. Of course, private investors enjoy meeting in private groups but in general, life is more public here. Dutch entrepreneurs are sociable and wish to be visible online and easy to find. For this reason, it is much easier to contact people of interest… which doesn’t mean that they will find time for you in their busy schedules.
2. Approach to Project Execution.
The Bay Area:
When a Silicon Valley entrepreneur tells you:
“We are working on this new platform,”
they typically mean:
“We built a prototype of this new platform and made two million in profit, but it wasn’t enough to get into Y Combinator, so we are implementing a few improvements at the moment.”
There is a reason for it: the only thing the local investors are interested in, is the functional business model and scalability, namely dollars – not coolness, impact for society, or low carbon footprint.
It is also that famous startup accelerators like Y Combinator tend to invest into functional business models rather than flashy ideas that sound like “Wow!” to the bystanders: there ARE functional businesses out there available to invest.
Of course, on the media, you only hear about the next big social media platforms or disruptive businesses like Airbnb, while in fact, most of the venture-backed companies in Silicon Valley are the “boring” companies, such as B2B businesses optimizing processes in manufacturing or corporate management, or R&D companies coming up with new solutions for pharma or engineering.
When an Amsterdam-based entrepreneur tells you:
“We are working on this new platform,”
they typically mean:
“This is a mockup of the platform. Show us the money and give us a technical co-founder and you will get a working product. One day. Maybe. Don’t stress us out or otherwise, we burn out, all right?”
“I have an idea. Would you like to listen?”
In Amsterdam, investors look for the next big thing that will make them feel cool. They want to influence human lives, or the whole society. They are looking for the next combination of Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg who will change the status quo in the whole internet, or change the way people around the world live, work, or think. Or all the above. They also look for impact.
There are lots of accelerators with social impact, oriented only at investing in projects serving Sustainable Development Goals (or, SDGs) by the United Nations. Hereby investors oriented at SDGs proudly name themselves “impact investors.” Unfortunately, orientation at ecology of human rights rarely leads to scalable profits – but no one seems to care.
3. The COVID Effect.
The Bay Area:
During the pandemic, the house prices in the Bay Area went over the roof. At the same time, remote work and outsourcing IT services to cheaper areas of the country and abroad became popular. For this reason, living and working in the Bay Area has become unsustainable. The massive exodus has started.
Now after the pandemic, the social life in the Bay Area resembles an anemic organism that leaked so much blood that it barely breathes. The density of young people is so low that almost all the meetups evaporated, and the remaining meetups rarely can fill the room.
During the pandemic, the Dutch society – used to going out in the evenings and partying during the weekends – got hungry for all kinds of meetups and social events.
As a result, right after the pandemic, we noted an unprecedented outburst of new meetups and communities. There are so many meetups per square meter that the organizers fight for participants: get sponsors and offer the visitors all kinds of facilities.
Today, while attending a meetup in Amsterdam, you will most likely not only walk in for free, but also, get a treat: free drinks and snacks, or even a free dinner. In other words, social life among entrepreneurs is booming.
4. The Car Effect.
The Bay Area:
In the Bay Area, everything is far. When you get here, you realize that it is even worse than it looks on Google Maps, as the public communication is very poor and Uber has become filthy expensive (since now, after the pandemic, you need to book the whole car rather than a single seat). In practice, this means that a functional, economic car is one of the major factors for success when it comes to business meetups.
Technically, you could live here without any transportation. The city center is so tight that you would get by just walking to the events rather than driving or even biking. Public transport – including trams – is also excellent. Overall, Amsterdam is an extremely convenient place for teleporting from one business meeting to another.
5. The Wealth Structure.
The Bay Area:
In the Bay Area, there is little to no middle class. Many people built their wealth in the past by taking an active part in the technological boom 20-25 years ago. Others scramble and come dangerously close to the poverty line, or cross it already and gradually fall into debt, start drinking and taking drugs, or even land on the street. Since the social support is still poor, it is extremely hard to jump from one class to another: the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer.
This reflects in how people treat strangers. Hitchhiking in the Bay Area is rather impossible – people pass you by without a blink, or even open the window only to tell you in unparliamentary words to walk away. They are simply scared of strangers. Who knows, maybe once they open the window, you will put a gun against their rich forehead and ask for money? It is a so-so-justified fear.
Furthermore, police in the US also have a different attitude than police in Europe. They are here to punish you and teach you a lesson, not to help you.
In such a situation, you need to develop radical self-reliance to live and work in the Bay Area. If anything happens, e.g., if your car breaks on a highway, you can only count on yourself and your closest friends – strangers and public authorities will likely be hostile rather than helpful.
Amsterdam, on the other hand, is a vanilla country. Everything here has a vanilla flavor. Technically, society is on the spectrum from the poor to the rich, but in fact, 98% of all citizens are middle class. A typical Dutch family can afford one semi-detached house, two cars, one dog, four bikes, and one tiny, cute garden. Very few live in mansions, and very few live in the streets.
This is why, by default, people treat strangers as equals. If you ask them a question, they will stop by and reach out for their phone to look for the answer. Furthermore, if you fall into financial trouble, you will be helped by the government. You will end up on the street only when you ask for it – when you refuse any help, and consciously decide to go for drugs and crime instead of school and work.
If you fall into any other kind of trouble, you will be helped too. The police are there to make you feel safe in the streets, not to give you fines or whip you. The hospitals have doors open to anyone, not just the wealthy. The tax office is there to make sure the wealth is properly redistributed – if you make a mistake with your taxes, they will help you improve. You get the idea.
6. People’s Behavior.
The Bay Area:
Ha, this is a book-size topic! In the Bay Area, people are not punctual. In the Netherlands, “10 am” means “10 am sharp,” while here, it means: “Maybe 10:30 am or maybe 11 am. Or maybe a little later.”
Frankly speaking, everyone here seems to be laid back. When a business meeting starts, you never know when it will end. For instance, a meetup scheduled for 9:30 am to 11:00 am, might in fact end with the last participants leaving the place at 1 pm.
Similarly, if you are running late for the meeting, people will patiently wait for you. It is hard to believe that all these people hold high executive positions or develop unicorn companies – or even both at a time!
Somehow, people here seem to have an abundance of free time. If you propose to schedule a meeting, they will respond and often, propose a meeting within the next 48 hours. They somehow magically find time for you no matter how many companies or projects they need to manage.
This is a very weird combination – on the one hand, the Bay Area entrepreneurs seem to be peaceful and relaxed as if tomorrow didn’t exist, but on the other hand, they suffer from severe ADHD at the same time.
But one explanation for this lack of care about time that comes to mind, is the fact that “having time” means status. Namely, if you are relaxed about time, it means that you are wealthy enough not to stress about it. You can afford wasting time.
In a way, it is the same sign of status as being a philanthropist; philanthropists are so wealthy that they can afford giving up on a part of their fortune without a blink.
The next local trend is a lack of knowledge of privacy practices such as GDPR. If you ask person A about person B whom they happen to know, they will just share the phone number without giving it too much thought. Most companies don’t even have any GDPR policy in the first place, not to mention following GDPR.
At the same time though, people in the Bay Area are more willing to step out of their comfort zone in the name of friendship. For instance, taking a 20-minute detour to give you a lift to another village in the Valley is not a problem. They can bear more inconvenience for others, and help each other more actively.
Instead of just advising you, they will pick up a phone and call a friend who might know better right on the spot. Or, share their equipment just because they have some old stuff in their garage that they don’t need anymore.
And in general, they are less transactional, as they value building long-term collaborations and friendships over quick deals. They would rather work on you for years hoping for a strategic introduction or a $100,000 deal rather than try to sell you a service for $500 straight away.
And it might be counterintuitive, but at the same time, American entrepreneurs seem to be penny-wise rather than pound-wise. They won’t spend 15 dollars on a ticket to a good business meetup. But at the same time, they are willing to spend 1,500 dollars on a new phone despite its features being pretty much the same as the features for a 1,200-dollar-phone they already have. And they will throw out half of their food.
Next, rules for payment are quite asymmetric when it comes to meetings. As a rule of thumb, the person who proposes the business dinner, pays for it, regardless of gender.
But at the same time, Americans seem to pay more attention to gender in business setting than Europeans do. They seem to adjust their way of speaking to the gender of their interlocutor: once you are a woman like me, they immediately take a more friendly, informal tone. And sometimes, I also experienced patronizing comments.
American entrepreneurs seem to also laugh more often than Europeans and exhibit more dark, self-depreciative humor. This might be just a coping mechanism as life in the US is objectively less organized and harder than in Europe.
And now, some dark truth about the behavior of people out here in the Bay Area.
Firstly, some entrepreneurs whom I’ve met around the Bay Area complained that hereby culture of fast development and success promotes ruthlessness and turns people into monsters. Some people say that they are slowly breaking bad and they know it.
My observation is that, in the local communities people fight for power a lot, and you have to be careful not to fall into conflict with anyone in the process. If two of your friends start fighting, whose side do you pick? No matter how you choose to behave, you will likely lose one of them – or both. One of the fundamental theories in classic psychology, the Heider’s Balance theory, well explains this effect.
Furthermore, Americans seem to be judgmental and can swiftly change an opinion about you by 180 degrees based on one misplaced sentence or some other detail. And, they watch you closely!
I was shocked to realize that my American friends were observing me at meetups, meticulously tracking whom I was speaking to and how many drinks I had. And then commenting on my habits and asking intrusive questions about my conversations on the way back home quite as if they were my parents.
But the biggest issue I faced while living in the Bay Area was that, people’s intentions and opinions are so hard to read. When Americans have beef with you, they won’t tell you – they just ghost you, or even worse: share their negative opinions behind your back.
But the problem is in San Francisco and the Bay Area, people are so busy that they ghost you no matter what. So, how do yow tell when people dodge you on purpose or are plain busy? No idea! Even if you ask them, they won’t tell you the truth.
This was bloody stressful to me, as I am used to the Dutch style of thinking. In the Netherlands, people don’t really think too much about others or talk about others behind their back. In a way, they are so individualistic that they never spend time to judge and develop opinions about others. I don’t recall ever gossiping about anyone in 12 years of living in the Netherlands.
As opposed to their American counterparts, the Dutch entrepreneurs follow the rules like Swiss clocks. If an event starts at 10 am, it starts at 10 am, not 10:01 am. When a break is over, it’s over and everyone is back in the room on time. They also don’t wiggle on their chairs, don’t make noises, and don’t ask random questions. They are attentive, focused, and silent like ghosts.
People also always seem to be in a rush. During meetings, many people use their phones most of the time and occasionally lurk at the stage.
When a meeting is supposed to end at noon, it ends at noon, and people rush for the next meeting right after that. If you are willing to schedule a meeting with a Dutch entrepreneur, they will likely propose to squeeze you into their busy agenda three weeks later.
They also dogmatically follow the rules in terms of privacy of their contacts, data storage, and all that jazz. This is one of the reasons why, once you are searching for contact with a particular person, it is easier to find them on social media and write to them directly rather than asking through friends.
Dutch entrepreneurs will also be less naturally tuned to pay extra effort to help you out. Of course, if you are good friends with someone and you know this person for years, and if you directly ask them for help, then most likely, they will try to help you.
But don’t expect a person whom you met ten minutes ago to give you a lift or share some useful resources with you. If that happens, you are just lucky. Dutch entrepreneurs also tend to be more transactional. Of course, you can find business mentors. In general, however, you are on your own.
If you wish to organize a meetup, you won’t get a suitable room for free. If you need professional advice in sales or marketing, there will be an invoice attached to it. This is yet another reason why it is hard to start here – you either get free, but low quality advice for “free” (for instance, in student accelerators at universities) OR you need to pay every time someone competent opens their mouth for you.
Lastly, the Dutch entrepreneurs typically “go Dutch” at business meetings. Namely, regardless of who proposed the meeting, everyone pays for themselves. Only when you have close relations with another person, this habit could be broken.
But in that case, the person who decides to pay, proposes a treat AFTER the dinner, not before. This is because the payer wishes you to choose meals to your liking and not stress on the card and try to find reasonably priced meals so that you don’t stretch your sponsor’s budget.
7. Personal Branding Strategies.
The Bay Area:
American culture is based on the American myth of “from zero to a millionaire,” and on American heroes. This is why personal branding means everything here. While developing the business, you need to put yourself forward, show your face, and become the leader. Personal status is built on reputation, and education history is an important part of this reputation.
Americans seem to value university diplomas much higher than Europeans – perhaps because they don’t take them for granted. In Europe, anyone who is willing to put effort in their studies, can get higher education. In America, higher education is so expensive that it has become a luxury for the few rather than the standard.
Also, when you know influential people, you can be proud of yourself. Personal connections are the sign of status in the US. People’s names, faces, and phone numbers are a currency here. While your career progresses, so is your circle of friends. The old faces often disappear from the horizon and new faces come into the picture.
Similarly, startups push their CEOs to the stage. CEOs are recognized by name, and startups are as recognized in the space for the names of their CEOs as for their names. When you promote your startup here, it is almost synonymous with promoting its, hopefully charismatic, leader.
The Dutchmen often keep the same friendships from early childhood. They keep in touch with their circle of high school friends, then peers from studies, and coworkers. Even when their career progresses, most of their acquaintances stay the same.
Dutch entrepreneurs don’t necessarily flex with the people whom they know. They are much more proud of the revenue they generate, the number of users for their service or product, following, or the culture they manage to build around their company.
Similarly, in Amsterdam, startups promote their products, business models and the company logos rather than the leaders behind the projects.
8. Business Structure.
In the Bay Area, you go big or you go bust. No wonder there are a few bootstrappers and solopreneurs here. Most aspiring entrepreneurs dream of getting into one of the famous startup accelerators such as Y Combinator or Andreessen Horowitz.
Life in Silicon Valley substantially slows down around the time of deadlines for the next Y Combinator batch. Everyone is so busy with their applications that they skip meetups and stop responding to emails.
In Amsterdam however, you can find all sorts of entrepreneurs and startups, from plankton all the way to corporations. Some startups run on grants. Others stay as a solopreneurship for a lifetime.
Of course, some startupers have the ambition to sneak into one of the established accelerators and build the next big platform but this is not the default mode of thinking. Here, many approaches to business are treated as equally good lines of choice, not just one.
9. Business Talent Structure.
The Bay Area:
Looking for a co-founder is never easy, but Silicon Valley and Amsterdam are two different basins of talent.
People who come to the Bay Area usually come with a plan. They have a problem on their mind, they have a half-baked solution on the table, and they want to make the project happen.
Or, they work in one of the tech companies in the Bay Area and develop their own project on the side, dreaming of becoming independent. Pretty much everyone here can code, including technical writers and project managers.
Hereby project builders are so focused on creating solutions that they often miss people’s skills and don’t learn the art of the hustle. Therefore, the Bay Area-specific pool of talent includes many more technical co-founders than business developers.
Having that said, just as in the popular sitcom “The Silicon Valley,” everyone dreams of starting their own business here – from startups applying to accelerators to students of all majors, waiters, and street cleaners.
Just ask anyone and they all have an idea of what type of business they would like to develop in the future. Entrepreneurship is seen as a noble game here, entrepreneurship is on top of the food chain, and everyone would like to at least try to play the game for once.
Having that said, hereby entrepreneurs often don’t resemble charismatic visionaries as shown in pop culture. This might be closely related to one of the points raised above: the Bay Area investors don’t care about cool projects with good looking and sounding people on board. All they want to see is the cash flow and growth potential, and that’s all that matters when it comes to pitching to investors.
In Amsterdam however, the talent pool is substantially different. Business meetups are full of business developers with “million dollar ideas” who have no one to implement these ideas. You go to an IT conference expecting that 90% of the people there will be developers, while in fact, 90% are “business consultants.”
Furthermore, Dutch society seems to believe that entrepreneurship is the domain of the dodgers. Entrepreneurs elicit mixed feelings among non-entrepreneurs, and most Dutch people dream of a solid, well-paid, prestigious 9-to-5 position instead. So, as an entrepreneur, you better make friends with people alike or otherwise, you will need to suffer solitude.
In Amsterdam, to get an investment, you need to be cool – be the heart and soul of the party, and enchant the investors with your charisma, sense of humor, and sales skills. If your personality does not stand out and you are not memorable, your pitch will get overlooked among other, cooler pitches. People on the spectrum have hard lives here.
10. The Overall Business Dynamics.
The Bay Area:
Lastly, the general business dynamics are different. In the Bay Area, everything happens faster – which can seem counterintuitive given that the distances are larger, it is harder to even find a meetup with more than five people in the room, and many people are hard to contact other than via common friends.
And yet, there is action. In particular, when someone spots your talent, they will act upon it. In the Bay Area you can feel like at a rock concert – people pass you from hand to hand, and you feel like flying. In the Bay Area, your progress is proportional to the amount of work you are willing to put down. The more you struggle, the more you hustle, the more you can get. People feel your determination and let you go first.
The attitude to projects is also different. As the founders of Y Combinator like to repeat, “make something people want.” Namely, projects need to be profitable and scalable.
Yes, similarly to Europeans, the Bay Area entrepreneurs also want to be impactful. But here, impact and influence are built via belonging to certain, closed circles and mentoring junior entrepreneurs rather than via building sustainable projects.
In Amsterdam, the startup culture is very different. If you make your entrepreneurial efforts, people will praise you a lot, using entrepreneurial jargon such as “contribution,” “impact,” “innovation,” and “great initiative”… Och yes, you will feel most appreciated!
But at the same time, don’t expect that anyone will move a finger to help you succeed. They won’t call their own friends for you, they won’t share insider information – unless you know precisely whom to ask a favor and what kind of opportunity you are going for.
In other words, you can expect lots of praise but your actual progress will be slow and won’t speed up only because you decide to work more than others. Inflection points don’t happen all that often; if you don’t know about something, you just don’t know about it – and no one will enlighten you.
The attitude to projects is also different than in the Bay Area. First of all, projects are meant to be sustainable and impactful before they become profitable. Actually, many Dutch entrepreneurs are grantpreneurs in fact: they never find the Product-Market Fit and never build something people are willing to pay for, but rather, run on government subsidies for decades.
Business in the Bay Area versus Amsterdam: Summary and Conclusions.
Although the Bay Area and Amsterdam are two major world centers of tech, they give a fundamentally different flavor.
In the Bay Area, one can still feel vintage style in human communication. People prefer to meet in person instead of calling each other via Zoom, talk to one person in depth and for hours rather than going for sessions of small talk with hundreds of people, write on paper rather than type on the phone, and exchange old school business cards instead of shuffling LinkedIn contacts.
Businesses announce their services in the form of old school posters put in the windows of Castro Street in Mountain View, or simple announcements at the local Facebook groups. Even public libraries still function and are full of visitors!
Sometimes, it looks like time stopped here in the nineties. Compared to this, the European, flashy way of developing businesses in which more happens on social media than in real life, looks progressive.
And yet, despite this old school, conservative style, for some reason, technological progress gallops here. Young people are go-getters, they try their chances, and dream big. Investors are down to Earth and only focus on functional businesses and don’t let the public opinion hustle them into speculative investments.
Moreover, the Bay Area has a vivid ecosystem for developing innovation. Aspiring founders come to the Bay Area with an MVP in their hand or work on their MVP in the local network of hackerspaces and makerspaces. They can also get additional knowledge and opportunities at the local universities.
From there, projects usually proceed to accelerators and finally, land investments from a wide network of private investors and VCs. If you are a good networker, you can also leapfrog accelerators by attending the right meetups. No wonder that as of today, the Bay Area remains the leading business environment in the world.
Which system is better though? These two ways of building businesses are just different. Multiple Dutch entrepreneurs move to the US, and multiple entrepreneurial Americans move to the Netherlands – which is easy and convenient due to the Dutch-American Friendship Treaty.
There is more than one way of becoming successful, and you always have a choice. At the end of the day, the future will tell – as success in business can be easily quantified.
For me, personally, the Silicon Valley working culture works a little bit better, for a very simple reason: people here are more similar to me at heart. I am a hard-worker myself and I feel better understood and more supported in the Valley than in Amsterdam. While the Dutch gracefully tolerate my way of being, Americans appreciate it. And there is a great difference between tolerance and appreciation.
Yet still, wherever I go, I feel like a misfit to a certain extent. And that is for a reason – I made ”being a misfit” my profession. Only misfits standing on the sidelines and observing people from the outside can be truly objective. And then write books based on their observations.
To learn more about the innovation culture in the Bay Area, please check out the book from a fellow “Innotourist,” Jorge Zavala, entitled “Think Like Silicon Valley, Being Anywhere.” Highly recommended!
Please cite as:
Bielczyk, N. (2022, September 22nd). Startup Culture in Bay Area vs Startup Culture in Amsterdam. Retrieved from https://nataliabielczyk.com/startup-culture-in-bay-area-vs-startup-culture-in-amsterdam/
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