Twenty five years ago next month, Czechslovakia was born after a half century of the Communist darkness. Throughout November 1989, students protested in Bratislava and Prague. A two hour general strike was held on the 27 of November throughout the country causing the entire Communist Party leadership to resign including Milos Jakes the puppet General Secretary. In response to this demonstration of people power, the Communist Party announced it would relinquish power and dismantle the single-party state. As barbed wire was removed, the Constitution changed. Vaclav Havel became the first President of Czechoslovakia on 29 December 1989.
I was in Paris and 23 years old at the time, and could not stop reading about this seismic shift in the newspapers. I wanted to see it and my opportunity came to travel to the scene of the Velvet Revolution.
I came to Prague in February 1990 for a photoshoot sent by my modelling agency in Paris with a well-known Czech photographer and his model wife. I told them I wanted to see ground zero. My hosts were nervous as we crossed into the border of Czechoslovakia with an American in the backseat, and they told me to not say a word under any circumstance. ‘This is our first time back too. We don’t know exactly if it is all true,’ they said. They took good care of me. My memories of this couple have lasted far longer than the photographs of me on the Charles River Bridge that he took. They were incredibly generous despite an obvious uncertainty in the situation around them. When they drive me back to Paris, we hugged, and they said they were immediately returning as they had much to do to build their country. Paris was not enough.
Fast forward to 15 October 2014, EntrepreneurCountry Czech Republic was ‘born’. One of 15 regions across the continent, Lucie Bresova and Lukas Hrdlickainvited the leading entrepreneurs to come to the Pavilon Grebovka and formally announce the creation of this new country which I affectionately call: entrepreneur country. I decided to found a new country as I saw the ravaging of entrepreneurs and their businesses through the 2009 financial crisis. I remember myself saying repeatedly to myself, ‘I wish more people could go to ‘entrepreneur country’ (that figurative place that entrepreneurs go everyday where only they know how much it takes out of them to drive their businesses forward, and where they can share their loads with other entrepreneurs) and see how much these business owners have to carry in leading and building their businesses.’ I ultimately wrote the book, Welcome to EntrepreneurCountry published in 2012, and set up EntrepreneurCountry Global because I realised that it was inevitable: we are all going to entrepreneur country. It’s just that not everyone realises it yet.
We have imperfect information about the future today, just as those Czech protestors did not know the detail of the arc of history, but they knew the endgame: they would demand fiercely their freedom, and they would have it. Today if we could aggregate the visions of all entrepreneurs, we’d have much more perfect information about the future as entrepreneurs live in the future. EntrepreneurCountry aggregates those future visions, and brings them kicking and screaming back to the present, so that we can act. In EntrepreneurCountry, we also are tapped on the shoulder by the arc of history, and we answered the call.
Back to Prague.
William Lobkowicz also returned to Prague after the Velvet Revolution as his family had a little bit of history there. His father had fled his country as a refugee days before it fell to the Nazis. The family had grown up in the United States as average citizens of that country. Rumor has it that pere Lobkowicz told his son to return upon seeing the events in Prague and Berlin in 1989, and William and his wife Sandra have dedicated their lives to restoring the cultural and family heritage of the Lobkowicz collections.
Today Prague is the cross-roads of Lobkowicz and the entrepreneurs who came to the launch of EntrepreneurCountry Czech Republic. One of the most impressive individuals I’ve met was there at the Pavilon Grebovka: Ondrej Kratky who founded and is the Chief Marketing Officer of Liftago. Their story indicates why we are never checkmated by history. There are always clever moves on the chessboard – unique opportunities for individuals who believe that have a contribution to make to the world, and who are willing to do the hard work of thinking about business models and how technology is a layer slicing through all industries.
Liftago also says something about the European venture capital scene, and two competing visions of how North America and Europe are dealing with the digital disruption.
In Ring Number 1, our incumbent fighter are the US technology platform firms, the gang of 4 – Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google. They control the economics of their industries, and the profits they drive in their ecosystems, they disproportionately share in. There is a lot of evidence that they will take over every industry. Closely related are their little brothers, but the big new Digital Disruptors, the likes of Tesla, AirBnB, and Uber. The entrepreneurs behind these firms have a system-level vision, an ability to raise large amounts of capital and to tell a consistent story to the market about the market position they intend to occupy.