Five Entrepreneurship Urban Legends that We Need to Let Go Of

One of Team Urban Legends' logos, by Asbjørn E. Enemark
One of Team Urban Legends’ logos, by Asbjørn E. Enemark

I’ve been working with entrepreneurs in Europe for the last 10 years and I have heard time and time again a series of “facts” about European entrepreneurship that are closer to myth than anything else. 

Mostly they are urban legends.  An urban legend is a form of modern folklore consisting of stories that may or may not have been believed by their tellers to be true (cf. Wikipedia). Below you will find the 5 entrepreneurial urban legends we must kill to make Europe more entrepreneurial:

1. Failure is a dead end in Europe and well accepted in the U.S.

Garage of Steve Jobs' parents on Crist Drive in Los Altos, California, by Mathieu Thouvenin
Garage of Steve Jobs’ parents on Crist Drive in Los Altos, California, by Mathieu Thouvenin

I have heard this quote again and again since I was born. The more I travel around the world, the more it is clear to me that it is just something that people repeat over and over in continental Europe.  But it is a lame excuse not to face our fear of failure. The truth is that it is very difficult to fail in most cultures; and it is the same in France, U.S. or Germany. The key is to understand the audience.  Who cares if your grandmother is unable to understand that it is hard to succeed in the world of start-ups? What is important is that you:

  1. Learn from this experience
  2. Can explain to the “entrepreneurial ecosystem” (fellow entrepreneurs, investors, academics, accelerators, incubators, etc.) how and why you failed. I have never seen an educated and competent entrepreneur or early stage investor make up his mind about an entrepreneur and/or his venture because he had failed in a previous intent.

2. Banks do not assume their role: they do not give credit to entrepreneurs

They have never done so!! It is not their job.  Banks lend on hard assets; entrepreneurs sell a vision. Banks want cash flow that covers interest payments.  Early entrepreneurs are not cash-flow positive, not good candidates for retail banks who are looking for customers that have a decent probability to payback their interests from day one. This is just something an entrepreneur cannot deliver. That is the reason why it is useless to blame the banks. We should rather strengthen equity within the early-stage network of equity investors in order to close the innovation gap we face compared to Israel or the U.S.

3. There are no successful entrepreneurs in Europe.

They are many very successful entrepreneurs in Europe. We just do not see them . They are not visible enough. This lack of visibility has a negative consequence though: it is difficult for the young generation to identify themselves with invisible role models.

They would rather believe they could be the next Lionel Messi than the next Lucas Carné (Privalia CEO) – that is the problem.

4. The first mover advantage is THE key ingredient of success.

Guy Kawasaki, by Eirik Solheim
Guy Kawasaki, by Eirik Solheim

Here I will just quote two very successful investors from different locations. Guy Kawasaki from Silicon Valley says: “If you have a good idea, you should assume that five companies are doing it out there in the world. If you have a great idea, assume that ten companies are doing it. Very few have first-mover advantage. It’s the first to scale, not the first to move, that matters“. And Luis Martín Cabiedes from Spain: “If you think you have a first mover advantage, make sure you can close the door behind you.”

Need I say more?

5. Successful entrepreneurs are young and science/computer based

That is probably the most dangerous topic people repeat like parrots. It is just not true.  In fact, most entrepreneurs start their companies past their 40s (50% of them already have kids) .   The reason why they are successful is mostly because they are educated and experienced; there are some things you just can’t find in a garage.


Let’s stop perpetuating these five urban legends. Entrepreneurs have always faced obstacle in every corner of the globe, both in the U.S. and in Europe .  It is not the size of the obstacle that stops an entrepreneur, it is whether his/her dream remains bigger and stronger than his/her excuses.

About Mathieu Carenzo

Mathieu worked in different positions in Europe and America mostly in corporate entrepreneur positions. After an experience in Danone to start his career, he worked in the helicopter branch of EADS: Eurocopter. He led the growth of the company in Mexico, Caribbean, and Central America building his expertise in the settlement of new structures and development of new markets. He is a Business Angel investing in early stage high growth potential new ventures (holding 2 board seats) and leads the growth of the Global Entrepreneurship Week in Spain.

6 thoughts on “Five Entrepreneurship Urban Legends that We Need to Let Go Of

  1. Thanks for this post, Mathieu. As a Spanish entrepeneur I have heard all of these 5 topics and I strongly fight against them all. Being an entrepeneur is riding a rollercoaster, so one of the most difficult things -probably the most- is to keep your mind cool and your mood up. Thanks for your commitment to educating and adding value to entrepeneurship and for keeping us dreamers on mood!

  2. Very wise words concerning the tough live of entrepreneurs. I particularly like legends 1 and 3, as they both deal with people’s fears – and more to the point, the perhaps unconscious justification not to pursue their dream of setting up their own companies.

    Having said that, being Brazilian and having just came back to Barcelona from a business trip to the Silicon Valley (part of my Global Executive MBA course) I must say that the perception of entrepreneurship and risks varies greatly according to location. Generally, my perception is that the risk associated with entrepreneurship is perceived as much higher in Brazil than in Europe and the US, although it is only marginally higher in Europe as compared to the US.

    As a conclusion, I like the statistics about experienced professionals following the entrepreneurial route – especially because I am getting to this position and would like to taste the flavour of building my own business at some point.

  3. Some great points Mathieu! However, would be interested to get your opinion on the view that fundraising for entrepreneurs in Europe is harder than if they were based in the US. From experience, we see that Europeans VC’s tend to be less risk averse as compared to their American counterparts and early stage capital raising ecosystem is just not as robust.

  4. Thanks Mathieu,
    These are great findings and your experience is very inspiring in getting people to realize that yes, these are just legends. Well, if this is the case in Europe just imagine how many negative legends abound in Africa, among Africans and among Westeners regarding the continent’s capacity to develop! Hence AU’s reason for embarking on Agenda 2063 ( and SBS’ drive on “Doing Business in Africa” Program (
    All the best.

  5. All great points. I see these “grass is greener” myths perpetuated throughout the US and Latin America as well – often framed as excuses rather than justifiable inhibitors:

    1. Modern education discourages failure. Failure still carries a stigma within the US. Ask anyone who ever lived through failure of any kind.
    2. Many SBDCs within the US continue to advise clients to submit business plans and cash flow projections to their local bank.
    3. There are successful entrepreneurs everywhere. We need to do more to celebrate (highlight) the success of “unlikely” entrepreneurs – ordinary people who are doing extraordinary things.
    4. Agreed
    5. Typical Inc 500 firms are not founded on breakthrough technology or intellectual property – rather improvements on existing ideas.

    Thanks for a great post.


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