Validating Dreams

Image representing Boštjan Špetič as depicted ...

Boštjan Špetič

Travel hint: When the friendly lady from Slovenia’s Adria Airways tells you that, upon arriving at Frankfurt Airport from your flight from Ljubljana, you need to re-check in at a Lufthansa Service Counter to make your flight to New York, don’t believe her.

I’m sitting in an airport lounge with six hours to kill. I have adapters and such for my gear. I found a clean shower and a good cup of tea; I should be fine. Just another opportunity to practice, I suppose.

Ljubliana is gorgeous. Fred Wilson had warned me; “You’ll fall in love,” he said in my imagination. “You’ll want to go back.” He was right both times. (He’s so smart in imagination.)

Friday morning, at the invitation of the US State Department (now, honestly, how many times will I be able to write that phrase?) and the Centre for Entrepreneurial & Executive Development (CEED)–as well as the careful strategic manipulation by Boštjan Špetič the CEO of Zemanta– I spoke to a group of Slovene entrepreneurs about raising capital from US-based VCs.

Just like old times–I stood before a group of hungry young entrepreneurs, most dressed in black and wearing all black myself better to fit in, and exhorted them to keep trying.

I spoke about how, in some ways, the press for capital, the seeming impossible notion of getting VCs to fly more than six hours to come to your home town and see the possibilities inherent in the coffee bars and late-night coding sessions reminded me so much of the late ’90s when it often felt like getting a VC to come from the Valley to Union Square (NY’s Union Square that is…) required special dispensation and visa stamps from the State department.

I laughed and I think I made them laugh as well when I told of how the corridor from Madison Square down Broadway and through Union Square all the way to Chinatown feels like the hottest land in all of the Kingdom of Startups. I made them smile when I said that the banks of the Ljubljanica were a lot like the original Great White Way only with significantly better food and wine.

And it’s true. If I were raising a fund today, I’d want to be operating in a place like Ljubljana where in addition to Fred, Brad, and Albert over at Union Square who, helped by London’s Seedcamp, invested in Zemanta; Grandbanks and Fairhaven Capital have now invested in Celtra (spurred again by Seedcamp and following local investor RSG Capital).

(Phew. How many VC firms can one guy reference in a single paragraph?)

And in saying that, one entrepreneur challenged me…will you come back? Will you come back at least four times in the next year?

(I negotiated him down to two but only if he pays me my way.)

Anyway…

The thing is, it’s happening again and this time, I’m quite certain, it’s happening all over the place. There are, I’m sure, dozens of tiny corridors teeming, in cities we’ve never heard of (which is easy, I suppose, considering how little Americans travel or, even lift their gaze out and above the USA)…teeming with young entrepreneurs who are convinced they will change the world.

God, how I love that optimism.

Even more, I love the sacredness of their response when, in whispers, they confide to the coach in me that the start-up life is damn hard and that their wife, their husband, their parents, their kids have all but given up on them. I love when they, in response, to my “So? Give up. Get a job,” they roll their eyes, laugh and say, “As if…”

I walked the stage in my black uniform, wireless mic strapped to my chest, and thumped. “Be persistent,” I advised, “but don’t stalk the investors. That’s creepy.”

“Sell the vision…but don’t be a bozo,” I shared not knowing that Bozo is a first name in Slovenian. (Who was the bozo then?)

Mostly though I validated and affirmed; not their delusions but their dreams. I never once stopped affirming the difficulty of the life nor did I ever convey a promise that Americans like Fred, Bijan Sabet, Brad Feld, Mark Suster, Chris Dixon, Charley Lax or even the mighty John Doerr, will come storming in. Hell, it’s hard enough to raise money in the US. But given that they have little choice but to pursue their dreams, it seemed the decent, honest, caring thing to do.

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