The road to 2033 began on 28th September, 2023, in a packed room at BAFTA London.
250 of Europe’s top tech CEOs and founders came together to map out the next decade of accelerated growth. If all goes to plan, Boardwave Live was the first day of European software’s rise to global ascendancy.
The foundations are already in place: as Boardwave Founder, Phill Robinson explained in his opening keynote, there was as much early stage venture capital in Europe as in the US in 2022. Competing in later stage growth must be the industry's next target. “We can become a tech superpower”, he said, “and your company can become a $100m business by 2033”.
He duly transported the room 10 years into the future, to a time when Europe leads the world in software, when countless companies have scaled to $100m ARR - and when we no longer need roads…
The question was: how do we get there?
What does Europe’s path to success look like?
European software’s path to long-term global leadership is far from straight and narrow. Boardwave Live's first panel discussion, 'A Path to Success: European Software 2033', begins to map it out.
Community and collaboration were front and centre of the conversation. Can Europe recreate the tight-knit community of Silicon Valley, where entrepreneurs help each other build companies and influence the industry?
Yes - if it plays to its strengths, Kyriba CEO and Chair and Boardwave Patron, Melissa Di Donato told our panel. “We need to look at the European market as a community, not a collection of mini-markets”, she said. “Europe has a different style to the US - Silicon Valley is full of cheerleaders and competition, but here we breed success with success, we mentor, we move in packs rather than headhunting and poaching.”
Former Workday co-CEO and Boardwave Patron, Chano Fernandez agreed about the need for more cross-country collaboration. “Fragmentation in Europe makes it harder to scale, because you need to prove your product-market fit in every separate market across the continent. But this can also be a competitive advantage: if you can sell across Europe, you can sell anywhere.”
“We need to start thinking of Europe as one big market - not lots of microscopic ones”, added HP and SAP’s former CEO and Boardwave Patron, Leo Apotheker. “We have great talent in Europe, but we need better incentives for retention: starting with more celebration of our tech achievements.”
Lessons from a tech Goliath
With $31bn in revenue and 80k employees, Salesforce is a true Goliath of tech. It expanded beyond the US around the globe when is was around $25m in revenue, debunking the myth that US firms beat Euroepan software companies, by scaling locally in the larger US market first. They often treat Europe as one market, playing on the things that are the same rather than opting for the 20% thats different.
So as Europe embarks on the next decade of innovation, what can European companies learn from its approach to global growth? Steve Garnett was responsible for the European business for salesforce for 16 years, first as President EMEA and laterly as Chairmann of the region. In a "fireside chat" on stage, he and Phill Robinson, Founder of Boardwave, and also former CMO of salesforce discussed the founding principles of the company, the things they did right, at the beginning, that have allowed it to succeed so spectacularly ever since. A lot has changed, but something never do.
It may be a Goliath today, but Salesforce started out as a humble David: four people building software in a closet in 1999. After a Dot Com Bubble scare, and a fear of running out of funding, the company laid off 20% of its workforce in 2001, and others were paid in equity to reduce the costs further. The fledgling company shifted its business model from "utility computing", where you paid for what you used month to month, to an annual contract business model in the early 2000s. That change saved the company. The rest is history.
“The new SaaS model meant that customers could turn you off”, Garnett explained. “Customer satisfaction became ever more crucial. So instead of just talking about customer satisfaction, we‘d write down the 10 or 12 actions we were going to take to make it happen, and how we were going to measure it."
Explaining the crucial importance of Salesforce’s famous V2MOM strategic framework, he said: “All the while we kept coming back to five core values: Customer success, growth, innovation, trust, philanthropy.”
Alignment is vital
The V2MOM is a tool to ensure that everyone in the company is aligned to these core values, and every employees goals are managed and measured in support of them. Something the company used annually from the very beginning and still does today with its 80,000 employees. Its simple to use and something any software start-up could use
If European software companies are to truly compete globally, the V2MOM is a toolset well worth keeping in mind.
(for members: here is a link to the toolset you can use to write your very own V2MOM)
Can Europe catch & Overtake the US in the AI race?
LLMs and AI currently dominate the conversation. The US will take some catching in this space, but over the the next few years our panel remained optimistic.
The second half of the morning session was hosted by Dutch Startupbootcamp founder Ruud Hendriks He posed a simple question: can Europe lead the world in AI?
“A creative renaissance is coming”, said acclaimed American Author & DataGrade CEO (also a Boardwave Nextwaver), Joe Toscano. “No-code and LLMs are going to enable everyone to get creative.” Satalia CEO & WPP Chief AI Officer Daniel Hulme agreed: "LLMs will allow people to explore creative landscapes like never before."
Sana are a leader in AI in Europe. It's Swedish CEO, Joel Hellermark (Boardwave Nextwaver) emphasised the corporate value of LLMs: "Language models will have not only real-world knowledge but also all of your organisation’s knowledge, meaning you can drastically improve your own specific sales or operations and better enable growth."
While the US currently leads the way in LLMs, there’s one key area in which Europe has the upper hand. “We are leading the way in data privacy and consumer trust”, said Joe Toscano. In his earlier keynote 'Data privacy in an AI world', the DataGrade founder and CEO explained that unless others follow suit, younger generations are going to fight back with their own privacy protection tools, like they're already doing with VPNs and data privacy software.
"Our grandparents stuffed money in their mattresses because they didn’t trust banks”, he said. “We’re headed into a world where our children won’t trust tech companies unless we move things forward.”
Our panel ended on a positive note, our esteemed panelists concluded that on balance AI is more of an opportunity than a threat. And Europe has a big role to play, we are only at the very beginning of the AI revolution.
A positive prognosis for AI in healthcare
Delving further into AI, we took a look in to the world of healthtech and how technology might help to revolutionise the provision of health care services around the world
Former BBC tech correspondent of 20 years, Author, Podcaster and Boardwave Patron, Rory Cellan-Jones and his panel reimagined the healthcare sector . Enormous steps are being taken toward bottom-up, affordable self-care models that make the most of our unstructured and fragmented medical data.
Selling forward-thinking tech solutions into the NHS is another matter, according to Kooth Digital Health CEO Tim Barker - but it’s nonetheless an advantage the UK has over the US. “If you think selling to the NHS is challenging, try selling into US healthcare”, he said.
Despite these adoption challenges according to Cera founder and CEO Dr. Ben Maruthappu, change is inevitable. "Look at any other sector. Shops, books, train tickets. They’ve gone from centralised locations to at-home services. It can and will happen in healthcare too."
EMIS CPO Alexandra Eavis pointed out a particularly impactful use case - just one of many.
"Our medical records contain risk factors that could identify early asymptomatic illnesses”, she said. “There are potentially 95,000 undiagnosed Hepatitis C sufferers in the UK right now - that turns to liver cirrhosis if it goes untreated. These kinds of cases can be diagnosed early with self-service tools."
In a change of pace, the afternoon sessions focussed on workshops designed to be more interactive and give leaders practical advice to enable greater success and scale, in building high quality companies.
Whilst having a thorough understanding of the market dynamics discussed during the morning are important, great entrepreneurs also need to focus internally on how they build scaleable businesses. It starts at the top......
Where we’re going, we’ll need good Boards
A good board is full of diverse skills, knowledge and experience. Maximising all of the value from that board is another matter entirely, as discussed in the afternoon workshop hosted by Board Intelligence co-CEO and Boardwave Nextwaver, Jennifer Sundberg. There are tim es when boards can seem more trouble than they’re worth. Between corporate theatrics, internal politics, and competing agendas, there’s a lot to handle.
Can some of this be avoided with a smaller board? Serial Chair and Boardwave Patron, Sherry Coutu CBE thinks so.
“Go with less than seven people”, she said. “Sometimes the smaller the better. Make sure all had worked with scale ups and experienced growth for several years. Having grown a company yourself is invaluable.” - Sherry Coutu CBE
According to serial Chairs and Boardwave Patrons, Sherry Coutu CBE and Gillian Wilmot CBE and EG CEO Mikkel Bardram, sometimes it's the little details that can help boards add big-picture value. A short, concise executive summary is a must. "The best boards have the shortest papers”, they agreed.
Boards are there for problem-solving - but making the most of the knowledge in the room comes down to the careful planning of a good Chair. “There's no such thing as a bad board - only a bad chairman,” the panel concluded.
Build it and they will stay…
Across the day, one message was repeated again and again: Europe must get better at persuading growing companies and entrepreneurs to stay on the continent and in collaboration with one another.
The PayPal Mafia fostered a whole industry’s worth of successful companies from those that stayed in touch in Silicon Valley after leaving the company - from Youtube and Facebook to Tesla and LinkedIn.
We can build a similarly dynamic network here in Europe, and there are signs that it’s happening: former employees of the Luxembourg-headquartered Skype have founded 910 companies including 15 unicorns, or start-ups valued at more than $1bn for example
But if such a powerful network is to keep developing, and if European software is to lead the world in 2033, how are we ensuring that the next generation of companies list locally and stay here in the UK or EU, rather than Nasdaq and move to the US?
In our final session of the day, Leo Apotheker, ex-SAP & HP CEO and one of Boardwave's own Non-Execs, was joined on stage by Nic Humphries, Exec Chair of Hg, Europe's largest PE investor in Software and London Stock Exchange CEO Julia Hoggett, to discuss the need for greater liquidity and a European style NASDAQ. Whilst opinions differed, all agreed on the need for a fresh approach from public markets to allow founders and their investors to achieve their goals of building big global companies, in Europe, without the need to move to the US.
Going beyond the public markets debate, and discussing other critical success factors for the European Software industry to become far more competitive in the next ten years, Julia spoke about the need for a cultural shift in the UK and Europe.
“We have to celebrate entrepreneurship”, she said, “and we need to shift the way we talk about risk-taking in the UK. You need to take risks to drive significant growth.” - Julia Hoggett, CEO London Stock Exchange
Hg Exec Chair and Boardwave Patron, Nic Humphries echoed the same message and the need to celebrate growth.
“We need to celebrate and push forward the agenda for entrepreneurs. At a local level, that might mean getting your MP to visit your business. And at the higher level, projects like Boardwave can bring the entrepreneurial community together.”
The debate continued well into the evening as Boardwave members got together for further networking and drinks. There is a famous Bill Gates quote that says " “Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.” This is the beginning of a ten journey that can transform the European software sector from laggard to leader, and celebrate the success of many start-up founders who were in the room at BAFTA in 2023, as they build global businesses of consequence, challenging the US for software supremacy.