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Tatjana Geierhaas
Tatjana Geierhaas
Editorial Staff Best Practice
About T-Systems

Issue 01/2013


Alex Vieux, Red Herring
Alex Vieux, 46, runs technology business portal Red Herring. Until 2007, it was also published in English and French in print – across the USA, Europe, India and China. Today, Vieux analyzes the potential of around 2,000 start-ups each year. Before relocating to California the French-American was Professor of IT at Dauphine and La Sorbonne universities in Paris.

5 questions for Alex Vieux, Red Herring

Mr. Vieux, what turns a start-up into an overnight success?
Three things catapult startups into the hall of fame: simplicity, disruption and the management DNA.
What does that mean in practice?
The product or service must solve a problem (or respond to a consumer need) in such an obvious and compelling way that analysts immediately ask, “Why has no one thought of this before?” In our experience, this aha moment is almost always linked to start-ups that recognize the needs of their users more intuitively than others. They develop a strong bond with their customers – and this is increasingly becoming the key to innovation and market dominance. It goes without saying that these successful entrepreneurs always benefi t from impeccable timing in a market that has long awaited their arrival. And their simple ideas and solutions turn the established order of their predecessors on its head.
And this is what you mean by disruption?
Exactly, because another important success factor for a start-up is disrupting established structures, sending panic into the market. Incumbent players often try to negate this. And their denial is expressed in three distinct phases: first, they neglect the breakthrough or describe it as a fad; second, they fight internally to understand why they have been caught by surprise; and third, they announce to their customers that they already have a similar solution – which is the surest sign of their capitulation.
And what makes the DNA of a successful startup stand out?
The management requires a rare combination of passion, vision and maturity. Discipline, perseverance, competitiveness, self-confidence, and instinct are also key ingredients. What’s more, the team needs the experience to get things done and to be willing to change paths overnight. Very few of these qualities are taught at Stanford or Harvard Business School.
So what is your advice to the market incumbents?
First, encourage internal competition that fosters innovation and goes beyond the not-invented-here attitude and the corporate patriotism so well ingrained in research and development departments. Or consider the fact that 90 to 95 percent of startups are acquired by a larger company in the first five years. In short, if you cannot compete with innovation, the natural step is to buy it.
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