14 Minutes of SaaS

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14 Minutes of SaaS

Listen to 14 Minutes of SaaS  Spotify Apple podcasts / Google Podcasts / TuneIn Stitcher

E78 – Sean Percival, CMO at Whereby, Ex 500 Startups. 3 of 5. Loving Life & Janteloven in Oslo.

Episode 78 of 14 Minutes of SaaS is the third part of a 5-episode mini-series. Stephen Cummins chats with Sean Percival, CMO at Whereby, formerly of 500 Startups and Myspace.
“There’s no loyalty in Silicon Valley. In Nordic society, there’s something called Janteloven – which is partly responsible for the much higher levels of loyalty. He feels that where one has the choice between the two, hire for dev & design in the Nordics, sales & marketing in the US. He’s big on using his learnings from failures to advise Startups and was responsible for over 100 early investments in companies for 500 Startups. He describes what drew him to initially to Whereby in Oslo. He contrasts “Norwegian modesty, trust and transparency” with “US arrogance and ambition”. He sees the good in both and wants people he works with to draw from the best of both.
Stephen Cummins

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Tip: Sean has actually written a book on his cultural experiences in Oslo called ‘Working with Norwegians
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Transcript

Welcome to 14 minutes of SaaS, the show where you can listen to the stories and opinions of founders of the world’s most remarkable SaaS ScaleUps.Embracing challenge

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Sean Percival

There’s no loyalty in silicon valley now. Someone offers you something more exciting or more money, you jump. But like, yeah, in Norway like … and all of the Nordics, such high loyalty. So that’s what I usually say. Like do you want the best of both worlds? Exactly what you described …  development, design in the Nordics ….sales, marketing in the US. Yeah, we have to understand in Nordic society, there’s something called the Law of Jante or Janteloven –  which basically means its a set of rules that are kind of ingrained in the culture. And you should look them up because they’re really, really interesting. But one example is you’re not to think you’re better than anyone else. You know. There is a law that you are not to laugh at us. There’s another law – which is very difficult for the Startup land – where it says you are not to think you can teach us anything. So these are like literal laws and – difference between –  it’s a Danish author, but they’re used in Norway. Less in Sweden. But notice Stockholm is doing much better.

Stephen Cummins

Episode 78 of 14 Minutes of SaaS is the third part of a 5-episode mini-series with Sean Percival, CMO at Whereby, formerly of 500 Startups and Myspace. I’m Stephen Cummins.
Sean says there’s no loyalty in Silicon Valley. He feels that where one has the choice between the two, hire for dev & design in the Nordics, sales & marketing in the US. And he’s actually written a book called Working with Norwegians.

So eventually, you joined 500 Startups and you moved to out to Oslo … aw bur still doing stuff in Silicon Valley. Dave McClure gave you …  we mentioned Jason Calacanis [reference] … Dave gave we gave you a wonderful reference on Linkedin. He mentions that in the past three years with 500 startups you invested in over 100 companies and managed several accelerator programs in silicon valley in the Nordics. So my question after reading that was ‘does this guy sleep?’ …  but my second thought was you could only do that if you love the world to startups. So do you really love what you do?

Sean Percival

I really love that job actually. And Dave is a slight controversial in some cases. But still a really… really good guy. I knew Dave not very closely … but he invested in Wittlebee … that company we talked about. He invested when actually things we’re not going well and we were struggling. And he said to me, ‘I’m going to invest 50K dollars.’ I think and he said, ‘I don’t think this is gonna work out though. And if it doesn’t work out when you need a job, I want you to contact me first, that’s all I ask.’ So it was almost like a recruiting deposit – and I took the money because I needed it. And I gotta make payroll. And do all my stuff. And sure … some months later .. like, yeah, we are out of business and I called him up. I said, ‘You’re right. It didn’t work out. And what can I do?’ So I joined 500 because I didn’t feel like I handled my investor as well as I would have liked. Have were great, half were not. So I wanted to better understand this part of the equation. I still love startups. Absolutely. I wanted to help. I wanted to .. I’m very much the kind of guy that like, yeah, I’ve had some success but I’ve had a lot more failure. I always push the failure forward and try and help others to avoid it. Or approach it differently. So my view is like ‘Dave, you’re gonna let me work with hundreds of companies. I’m going to get to take all my experience and pay it forward.’ Very silicon valley. I needed a job when my startup just crashed. And yeah, ‘Dave, I’ll… I’ll do this for a year, maybe less. And then I’m gonna go do my next startup.’ And I think I work there over three years for him. So I love startups still to this day. Even though I’m a CMO, I always carve a little bit of time for mentorship of early stage startups.

Stephen Cummins

And we’re going to come on to Appear.in [Whereby] pretty quickly, because it’s connected to Oslo of course . We also of course. But if we look at those five years, you’ve been there [in Oslo] … most of it in the startup scene … It’s quite a small city. You would have the ability, especially working with 500 startups – in organisations like that, to actually have an influence there. You must be like a minor Rock-star in the startup scene in Oslo. How does that feel coming from Silicon Valley? Where you’ve done some amazing things but … you wouldn’t have been known by everybody – in the way that you would be in Oslo. How does that feel? Is it very gratifying?

Sean Percival

It feels really good. You might argue it’s like big fish in a small pond. But at the same time, like you’ve exactly nailed it on the head. Silicon Valley was so much noise. I worked for 500 startups – like one of the most well known top programs. There’s better programs and less than better and so forth. But nobody cared. It was like I couldn’t break through the noise. And I started going more to Europe and 500 was always very international. They’ve always invested globally when most silicon valley VCs don’t do that. So he’s well known for that. And I think ahead of the curve in some ways. So I started coming to these parts of the world. And I realised, like, yeah, that these company’s countries lack early stage funding, they lack a ‘pay it forward’ culture. They lack mentorship, they lack experience, I happen to have all these things either personally or because of 500 Startups. So it felt really good. I remember one of the first time second time. I went there like, yeah … they were like literally at the airport with a huge sign and like shaking flags – and it was like a very weird experience because I don’t see myself as a Rock star. But I got the Rock star treatment several times.

Stephen Cummins

That’s great.

Sean Percival

But it felt good. And Norwegians especially … a lot of them will come up to me and just say ‘We’re glad you’re here. We need you here. We need this competency.

Stephen Cummins

What are the pros and the cons of starting a company in Oslo. And what are the characteristics? What do you think is the cultural characteristics of the type of entrepreneurs that you’ve met?

Sean Percival

That’s a good question. And there’s a lot of nuance between the cultures as, with any culture difference, you know, there’s always so much… so much nuance. But if you think about the Norwegian modesty … and you think about the American arrogance …. It’s a complete different sides of the spectrum. And so – it’s good and bad. So I’m actually trying to merge these and meet them in the middle where I try and making the Norwegian entrepreneur less modest … So an example is like an American founder might walk up to you and say like, ‘Hi, I’m so and so and I know so and so and my business is making a million dollars’, you know, whereas a Norwegian founder would walk up and say like, ‘Yeah, you know, I’m working on something … not really that big of a deal. You don’t even really worry about it to be honest.’ So it’s like so different worlds. Yeah. Is one better than the other? I don’t know perhaps but really what I’m thinking about is like trust and modesty and just like transparency of Nordic culture .. with like this sort of bravado or the push or bravado of American culture … trying to find that immediate middle point. Yeah, but they’re totally different societies. You know, Americans sell everything including themselves. And the Norwegians just do not do this. That’s true of all almost all of Scandinavia.

Stephen Cummins

Yeah, yeah. I guess if you have a company that has kind of .. that’s founded in a Nordic country and it gets to a certain scale and you want to have a presence in the States, you’ll probably run your sales and marketing in the United States. But keep your development in the Nordics because you’ve got some amazing developers as well. But they don’t cost as much, right? And they stay twice as long

Sean Percival

Right. Half the cost and very good. Exactly. So the tenure is very… very long. There’s no loyalty in silicon valley. Now someone offers you something more exciting or more money, you jump … but like .. yeah, in Norway like …and all that the Nordics .. such high loyalty. So that’s what I usually say, ‘Hey, like do you want the best of both worlds? Exactly what you described. There’s no loyalty in Silicon Valley now. Someone offers you something more exciting or more money, you jump. But like, yeah, in Norway like … and all of the Nordics, such high loyalty. So that’s what I usually say. Like do you want the best of both worlds? Exactly what you described …  development, design in the Nordics ….sales, marketing in the US. But you have to understand in Nordic society, there’s something called the Law of Jante or Janteloven –  which basically means its a set of rules that are kind of ingrained in the culture. And you should look them up because they’re really, really interesting. But one example is you’re not to think you’re better than anyone else. You know. There is a law that you are not to laugh at us. There’s another law – which is very difficult for the Startup land – where it says you are not to think you can teach us anything. So these are like literal laws and – difference between –  it’s a Danish author, but they’re used in Norway. Less in Sweden. But notice Stockholm is doing much better.

Stephen Cummins

Even if we’re talking about that, you know that… that society that you… you see across … now across Finland as well … and Iceland as well. You know, Olaf Plama in the seventies would have been the father of all of that, you know, looking after the everyone .. which I’m a big fan of … looking after the age, making sure everybody has a great education and health. So Stockholm really is the innovative centre of that – and of course on the business side – Stockholm really has produced five or six unicorns in the last decade or so.

Sean Percival

Yeah, they have the highest like unicorn per capita.

Stephen Cummins

And they’re right up there in Tel Aviv and San Francisco. If you really think about that, they’re close to that … because it’s quite small. I know its bigger than Oslo but it’s still quite small – population similar to Dublin. So, so that’s probably why they’re a little bit less like that. And that’s possibly something in only the last 20 years.

Sean Percival

Yeah, yeah. I think so and it is generational. And I see that [increasingly] less Norwegians are held back by the Law of Jante – especially when I do a talked college kids like ‘No, we don’t really think about that anymore.’ But trust me their parents are, but this is part of that flat hierarchy, that equal society. So, in America, especially silicon valley, it’s more of the meritocracy. The best person he or she will be pushed up, you know, we had like if you are good at maths, you will be put in a HP [High Performance] or an advanced math class. Then you have this concept, right? It’s like if you’re good at math like ‘can you slow down a little bit? So everyone can catch up.’ So that is the Nordic way. it’s not to take the over-achiever and push him or her further. It’s to bring along everyone else that is perhaps falling behind. That’s Nordic equality. So this is very different to me because I grew up in Los Angeles. And in Los Angeles all people do is tell you why they are better than you – nonstop. And the Norwegion or the Nordic way, you would never do that. People would not trust you if you kept saying ‘I’m good and look at my car.’ Like you just wouldn’t do that there. Yeah. So wealthy, but not flashy is their way.

Stephen Cummins

So one of the things I did in my 10 career changes over the years was I went and did a thing called the Jet Program in Japan. And I was teaching in public schools there. They have the same thing because they actually what they do is … if you have a class 36, they take the best maths and the worst and the 2nd best and the end worst and they sit beside each other. All about levelling. It’s the same. The cultural thing is not to say ‘I’m great’ or ‘I can do this’. It’s to knock that down

Sean Percival

In Japan. It’s basically like the ‘tall nail gets hammered down.’

Stephen Cummins

In New Zealand the tall poppy gets cut.

[*** transcript to be completed]

In the next episode, episode 4 of a 5-part mini-series, Sean talks about the competitive landscape in video conferencing software, and discusses how he’s re-architecting his life in the Nordics and escaping the shackles of email and the negative effects of social media.

Stephen Cummins

You’ve been listening to 14 minutes of SaaS. Thanks to Mike Quill for his creativity and problem solving skills and to Ketsu for the music. This episode was brought to you by me, Stephen Cummins. If you enjoy the podcast, please don’t forget to share it with your network, subscribe to the series and give the show a rating.

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