In Norway, business is dead in July due to the European style holiday. This year we decided to travel abroad and experience the work culture and startup scene in San Francisco and quickly discovered that some expressions do not necessarily mean the same thing there.
In Norway we have a culture for celebrating the winners and “pretty successful” would mean you had built a company from scratch and maybe exited for a couple of million NOK.
A friend working in SalesForce gave a speech about his friend who built a company. He said: "They were pretty successful. Although they are not in business anymore, they raised series B funding. To us, that means they’re getting serious, because that means they’re hiring!"
So here, a company could still be looked upon as pretty successful even though they are not in business any more.
In San Francisco people change their jobs frequently, sometimes as frequently as every year. In Norway you would start a new job with a 3-5 year perspective at least, because If you change your job every year, people might think you are difficult to work with.
There is also not the same trusting relationship between the employer and employee in the US. One guy we talked to said "I have this really shitty story about a company I was working with. They had no control of the product being built and there was no way I could find a way to fix it, so when the employer called all I could say was 'I quit!'"
Because Norwegian employment contracts are regulated by law, there is a much higher loyalty in the Norwegian workplace. That seems pretty much non-existant in the US.
One young founder we met at a co-workspace told us "We are currently bootstrapping' and we were curious to know what this expression meant in the US.
Founder in SF: “We all quit our jobs and raised a small round from family and friends.”
Us: “Did you get any soft funding?”
Founder: “What do you mean by soft funding?”
Almost every Norwegian startup we know has received grants from Innovation Norway, the Norwegian Research Council or some other state-funded organisation. The proportion of personal investment seems to be way higher in the US, and whereas bootstrapped in Norway may mean that you are extracting as much soft money as possible while still keeping the social benefits intact, the US term “bootstrapping” involves risk, risk and even more risk.
In Norway, a startup is considered a success if it is able to scale and employ people long-term. In the US it seems that although a company shuts down after a couple of years it is still considered a success, perhaps because it was able to to hire a number of people for a couple of years?
In the US people take more risk, they stay for a shorter time in one workplace and value success from the instantaneous window of opportunity, which may mean that a successful company in the US that raised series B funding also was successful because it created a workplace for hundred employees those particular years.
Just imagine the scandalous headline in DN if a company scaled up and then had to let people go after a year or two. Here in San Francisco it is just another day at the office.
High risk, high reward, and then they are on to the next one.
Main photo: Ricardo Villar