Carbon and start-ups

Why is life based on carbon? Some biochemists explain that among all the elements, carbon is the most combinatorial, offering the most opportunities to link with other atoms.

Do I know about start-ups? Of the number of people who endorsed me on LinkedIn for something (as I explained before, I make no effort whatsoever to influence if and how people endorse me), apparently only 39 think so.

Which is not much, really, especially for someone who spent a good deal of his professional life in a start-up mode: when I joined Lotus Development I was employee #9 in Europe, and for a few months the company had trouble paying me a salary because it didn’t have a legal entity registered in Italy (and this is WAY before the free roaming labour laws of modern day Europe). When I left, we had 70 people, two offices and I spent my day managing instead of selling software.

When I left to join Image Time the company had been established a few years before by the two founding partners, but it was so small we could hold every week a full client status meeting in half a day; when I left we had become part of the largest communications group in the world, and I spent my day managing instead of consulting on clients.

Even now, I split my time between my own consultancy and its clients and a couple of start-ups in Milano and Munich, one in pre-money state, the other in post-money (2nd round).

In total, of my 32 years of professional activity, only the first 5 were spent in a large company environment, but I am still not sure I could nail what it means to work on a start-ups.

At Lotus, despite its then diminutive size, I was given a clearly defined job, and my role grew alongside the success of the company.

At Image Time, I was attracted by the promise of “doing something together” with people I liked: again my role changed – and largely I made it up along the way – as the company was acquired, then merged into a larger entity.

Today, I find that my contribution is mostly about making connections: connecting an investment opportunity with a prospective investor, connecting a potential application of a technology with a client which may have that problem, connecting a company with export potential with a new market, facilitating its introduction.

I guess the lesson here is that the carbon atom has a key but background role: some people know I have a large combinatorial power and this is why they reach out when they are in certain situations, but it’s not a skill you can easily describe or even understand.


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