Guy Kawasaki: The garage culture comes to Britain

Guy Kawasaki wants to send would-be Internet entrepreneurs to 'boot camp' to kick-start their startups

The garage has a special place in the hearts and minds of US entrepreneurs. Hewlett Packard famously started in the Thirties in a garage in what would later become Silicon Valley. Since then, the garage has become almost a symbol for the idea that anyone who wants to set up a business should go ahead and try.

The garage has a special place in the hearts and minds of US entrepreneurs. Hewlett Packard famously started in the Thirties in a garage in what would later become Silicon Valley. Since then, the garage has become almost a symbol for the idea that anyone who wants to set up a business should go ahead and try.

And try they have: most of the current giants of the IT industry started, if not in a garage, in a spare room or in modest offices. Steve Jobs, Apple Computer's co-founder, is another example of a "garage" entrepreneur; and Microsoft has similar, humble origins.

So for Guy Kawasaki, it made sense to take the garage culture and apply it to the new world of Internet startups. Kawasaki is the founder of Garage.com, a company that helps Net entrepreneurs raise funds and make the first steps in business.

"We do two fundamental things," says Kawasaki. "We make a market: we present the client to 2,000 potential investors, including venture capitalists, corporate investors and business angels. The second thing we do is make the entrepreneur more fundable. We work on the business plan and help with business development, helping them find partners and alliances."

An important part of the initial work at Garage.com comes through a series of workshops for entrepreneurs, known as "boot camps". The first UK boot camp will take place in London next month. "Our aim with the boot camps is to provide as much of an insight as possible into the process of starting up a technology company," says Kawasaki.

The London event retains the US name, but will be tailored to a European audience. "The boot camp is not the ugly Americans coming over here to tell anybody how to do it. At least half the content will be from Europe." The events, run over two days, are an intensive introduction to starting up a business.

Garage.com already has an office in London, and Kawasaki, a former "evangelist" at Apple Computer, spent much of the summer learning about the European business market, travelling to Paris, Amsterdam and Munich. He says it is vital that entrepreneurs - and those who claim to advise them - understand the differences between Europe and North America. "Coming from the US, you tend to look at one homogeneous market with 350 million people," he says. "But in Europe, every country has its own customs and laws."

Kawasaki will be bringing European venture capital organisations on board so that Garage.com will be able to work with projects that might not interest US backers. But he thinks the basic idea behind Garage.com can cross the Atlantic.

The Garage.com concept is to "start up startups". Kawasaki concedes that there will be differences: "We know what works in the US; we are figuring out what will work here." But the basic idea, of putting startups in touch with backers, should work in the UK and Europe.

"We want to democratise the process of venture capital raising," he says. "It is also about democratising the process for investors. With us, you don't have to be in the innermost circle to be an equity investor. On the entrepreneur's side, you don't have to be well connected to get to the right investors. In the US, venture capital funds will back projects with between $30m and $50m. "It is much harder to raise $3m. Most venture capitalists won't read a business plan unless the entrepreneur is introduced to them by a contact."

Kawasaki's team screens proposals and, if necessary, does extra work on the business plan before they go to potential backers. This is an important part of the process: venture capitalists will look at smaller ideas if they know they have come from a reliable source.

The screening process, though, is rigorous. Garage.com sees around 12,000 proposals a year, and takes on just 50 to 60 companies. Garage.com makes its money through a combination of fees and equity stakes in the new business. Equity is not only a practical way for startups to pay for services - it also cements the relationship between Garage.com and its businesses.

According to Kawasaki, there is no fixed time for companies to stay "in the garage". However, the closest relationship is in the first six months. "We become shareholders, so the relationship never ends. But the first six months of coaching, building the team and funding is the most intense," he says. As well as funding, Garage.com services can range from recruitment to helping companies find premises and fitting them out. "Venture capitalists are not giving entrepreneurs $5m to go and buy furniture," he says.

For Kawasaki, the motivation for being involved in Garage.com is to help entrepreneurs make a better start. "At Apple, I had to preach a religion [the Macintosh]. Here, the platform is a lot broader."

He thinks that entrepreneurs have a different outlook from the wider population. They are natural risk takers. "Entrepreneurship is not for everyone," he concedes. In the US, however, the climate for business startups is still friendlier than it is in Europe. In North America, people he sees are often on their second or third startup. In the US, failure in business carries less stigma than it does in the UK. "People care less about your history in the US," he says. "Making mistakes is one of the best ways to learn."

Failures do happen, but there are ways to avoid the worst pitfalls, Kawasaki says. "There are some common reasons why Internet businesses fail," he says. "If there is one principle to designing a good site, it is not asking someone to do something you won't do yourself. This means no slow sites, and no forms that need 65 separate pieces of information to complete."

Kawasaki also believes that European entrepreneurs could have an edge, as long as they have faith in their own ideas. Too many businesses try to emulate US ideas, and that does not always work. "Companies in Europe should stop trying to do the US version of a European idea," he says. "Ultimately, Internet entrepreneurs in Europe will only be truly successful when companies want to set up the US version of a European idea, not vice-versa."

The Garage.com London boot camp is 14-15 September. For more information, see www.garage.com

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