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Virtual Poland Interview (Wirtualna Polska): Joe Gardner Discusses Silicon Valley and Venture Capitalism
Joe Gardner Poland Interview

[Translation of the original article by Bolesław Breczko]

Joe Gardner is an entrepreneur and investor living in California who has successfully built and launched transformative tech companies. He is the CEO of VentureDevs, which he co-founded with CTO Wojtek Sobczuk, the creator of Grono.net — Poland’s largest pre-Facebook social network. VentureDevs employs 150 team members in Poland, most of whom are programmers and product experts.

WP Tech: What is Silicon Valley?

Joe Gardner: Originally, it’s the name of an area in northern California, near San Francisco, where the largest American technology companies such as IBM and Intel were founded. Today those companies still operate there, and the area attracts talent, capital, and companies from all over the world.

WP Tech: In that case, can we talk about “Silicon Valleys” existing in other places in the world?

JG: Of course. While the original one will always remain in California, other places may also become similar fertile areas

WP Tech: What is needed for this?

JG: There are 3 important elements that must be present in order to create an environment that is conducive to the creation of new companies:

  1. Talent; people with skills
  2. The will to take risks
  3. Capital that will finance it

WP Tech: In Poland, we certainly do not lack the talent, and the tendency to take risks also happens quite often. It can be more difficult with capital.

JG: That’s true. It’s not just a problem in Poland, but with Europe in general. There is still a lot of caution exercised when it comes to aggressive and risky investments.

WP Tech: Isn’t the Polish Silicon Valley more like an “IT Services Valley”?

JG: You could probably say that, but there’s nothing wrong with it. People who make money on IT services will later be inclined to invest in new technologies.

WP Tech: What advantage does the original Silicon Valley have over the “new Silicon Valleys” that pop up?

JG: First of all, the original one is the first, so it has a natural advantage over the others. It’s worth remembering that Silicon Valley, as we know it today, has been developing for over 50 years. Even back then, it was home to the largest computer and technology companies, such as IBM. That cannot be replicated or just skipped over. For 50 years, entrepreneurs, businessmen, scientists, PhD students, and investors have been drawn to the area and have been building it up since then.

WP Tech: So when politicians talk about a “Polish Silicon Valley,” are those just empty words?

JG: It is certainly impossible to recreate half a century’s worth of technological development in a day, month, or year – but there are things that can be done to aid the progress. In Europe and Poland, I see government commitment and subsidies for development companies. It makes me happy and shows that there is a lot of potential.

WP Tech: What is Venture Capital (VC)? This idea is so foreign to us in Poland that we don’t even have a Polish word for it.

JG: Yes, it’s definitely an American invention. In short, Venture Capital is a fund, company, or person that invests in private, emerging companies, sometimes even in its earliest stage, when it’s still just a business idea. They differ from mutual funds in that they take into account losses. Therefore, they invest relatively little money in many startups, hoping that 1 in 10 will be successful and bring in huge returns.

WP Tech: How does one become a manager of a successful VC fund?

JG: Have money and invest it wisely. But to be honest, I can’t tell you much about this because I don’t consider myself a VC – I’m more of an entrepreneur. I like building and developing companies more than investing in them.

WP Tech: Your hobbies sound interesting. So how do you build a successful company?

JG: Yes, interesting, but also stressful. If you want to be successful, you can’t do it half-heartedly – it takes a lot of your time and all of your energy. You need to realize that you will encounter a lot of adversity, and that not every startup turns into a billion-dollar company. You will fail, and people will ignore you, even if you have a great idea. Even Facebook and AirBnb had trouble raising funds because people did not believe in their success.

WP Tech: What is more important to a startup’s success – a good idea or mental attitude?

JG: Attitude, one-hundred percent. Ideas are cheap. If we come up with 10 great ideas during this conversation, and then go to lunch and nobody does anything with them, then they aren’t worth anything. Ideas cost nothing. The actual work requires a lot of sacrifice.

WP Tech: If someone wanted to become an entrepreneur, do you think they would have better chances of doing it in Poland or the United States?

JG: Both countries have their pros and cons. In the US, it’s easier to find capital; but in Poland it’s a lot easier to find talent. I remember a few years ago when we started the company in Los Angeles, we were surprised that we couldn’t find people with the right skills. Now, over 90% of our team is based in Poland.

WP Tech: What does your company do?

JG: VentureDevs, which I co-founded with Wojtek Sobczuk (creator of Grono.net, Poland’s first social networking site), provides software solutions for various companies. At the same time, we are not a traditional software house – there are a lot of them out there. When we get a new software development project, we look at it not just from the technological side, but from the business side as well.

Our team, together with the client’s team, helps drive the overall product strategy and helps turn business ideas into working products. By working in this way, we can better understand the market’s needs and finish the project in the most efficient way – often faster or at a lower cost than the client expected.

Apart from VentureDevs, I run or help run other companies. I don’t have a favorite though, I love them all the same!

WP Tech: You visit Poland often, what do you like the most about visiting?

JG: There are great people here, but I like your cities too. They are definitely older than the ones in the US and have great markets that are bustling with life. There are also plenty of parks here, which is not so popular in American cities.

For more insight on entrepreneurship, startups, and running a software development business, follow Joe Gardner on LinkedIn.