Europe has long been criticised for not providing a hospitable environment for tech-startup talent (Skype and Spotify come to mind as the major exceptions).
Yet Europe’s startup scene is thriving; European entrepreneurs, like those in America, are developing some new and powerful technologies and services. But what is it like being an entrepreneur in the EU?
We spoke to two such people, Christian Rasmussen and Cathrine Andersen. Together these two Danish friends created CanvasDropr (Canvasdropr | @canvasdropr), a rich media social sharing application.
With Canvasdropr users can upload, reorder, comment, like and share images and video with friends and family. CanvasDropr takes the usual social media task of uploading and sharing video and images and turns it into a collaborative and creative process which itself can be shared on the social web.
Since launching in June 2011 CanvasDropr has seen rapid growth, hiring a number of developers while still looking for more. And it even has plans for further expansion with an enterprise version in development.
- How did CanvasDropr get started?
- Tech entrepreneurship is much talked about, what is it like to create your own startup?
- What do you think of the entrepreneurship process, has it put a strain on your friendship/relationship?
- How did you take this idea and begin building it?
- What’s next for CanvasDropr?
- What would you advise other entrepreneurs to do (or not to do)?
- What advice would you give a budding entrepreneur?
We started by asking co-founder Cathrine about CanvasDropr.
How did CanvasDropr get started?
Christian got the idea for CanvasDropr in early 2011 when he was finishing his degree in Software Engineering. He was missing a tool for quickly sharing images with friends in real-time without having to go through the hassle of uploading them on social media sites or e-mailing them back and forth.
He created a virtual blank canvas where he could just drag in images and simply send the link to his friends e.g. while chatting on Skype or Messenger, making it possible for all his friends to also drag in images to the same virtual canvas at the same time. This way, everyone could chat about the night before while dragging in images simultaneously to the same canvas. In the next months, Christian developed the product further and in May 2011, he talked to his me about the idea.
I was thrilled, we talked about making CanvasDropr more than just a fun project among friends. Four weeks later we were standing in Hong Kong, launching CanvasDropr around universities in Asia. It’s the story about just jumping right into launching a startup, going half-way around the world to test the market and to just going for it.
There was absolutely no lingering, no second-guessing, it was just ordering a ticket to Asia and taking a chance. The chance has paid off and two weeks after the launch we had users in over 30 countries and now, 2.5 months into this adventure, we’re hiring people, moving into offices and are welcoming new Droppers to our site all the time. The product has developed faster than we had ever imagined and has moved far since the initial idea of fast image-sharing.
Tech entrepreneurship is much talked about, what is it like to create your own startup?
It’s absolutely crazy. It’s exactly as you hear about in books, movies or tech articles. The startup world feels like a realm of its own, you’re part of a community where only the best of the best make it and your business might crash tomorrow.
Everything is very uncertain but that’s also what is so great about it – it sounds like a cliché but you NEVER know what will happen tomorrow or even in a couple of hours. You have to come up with solutions and make decisions at the top of your head several times a day but if you like that kind of work it’s perfect.
Continuing with the clichés, creating your own startup means waking up in the middle of the night with a new idea, walking around in the middle of the night in the streets of Seoul swearing that you’ll never have to sleep again and switching between feeling awesome and horrible 10 times a day.
What do you think of the entrepreneurship process, has it put a strain on your friendship/relationship?
There are times where external factors and pressure makes it impossible to be considerate and polite to each other every second.
Sometimes you misunderstand each other and hanging out from the break of dawn to midnight makes it inevitable that the mood varies from time to time. Amazingly our friendship has not suffered from starting a business together and we have never had so much fun working as we have now.
Part of the fun is that you can share all the great experiences with someone you really like and have known for a long time.
How did you take this idea and begin building it?
Christian had developed the product over a period of time and when I joined, we made the decision to go for it 100%. From that moment on, the stern belief in our own abilities and in the product has meant that we have been working nonstop to build a success out of the idea.
It takes time and resources to build a platform that a lot of people are interested in, and we have been fortunate enough that we’re not alone in believing in this idea. Just over two months after the beta release we just signed contracts with the first investors, which means that we’re able to hire talented people to be part of the team.
With an excellent team we will be able to develop CanvasDropr much further very fast, which is exactly what we’re doing right now.
What’s next for CanvasDropr?
Right now we’re busy developing iOS and Android applications, which are going to be awesome. Then it will be easy just to upload your photos from your smart phone directly to CanvasDropr by a single click and we’re especially excited about the application for iPad where the canvas will create an awesome playground for images, videos and much more.
In the meantime we’ll be busy with the second round of financing and having a great time working at Founders House in Copenhagen.
Soon we will be presenting a whole lot of exciting new features and have a surprise in store for Droppers and the world – CanvasDropr is not ‘just’ for entertainment and we will be launching some great stuff for other purposes soon as well.
What would you advise other entrepreneurs to do (or not to do)?
If there’s one piece of advice that we would give others who are thinking about starting their own business is to just DO IT! Don’t spend months and years thinking about doing it, just have a bit of courage and jump right into it.
What really made this project go from just an idea to reality was that we decided to go for it and jumped on the first plane to Hong Kong to test the idea and market. We had not been planning this for months and we knew we had to move fast before any competition would launch a similar product so we simply went for it.
And it has paid off.
We are both very impatient but focused people and we think that is one reason that we have managed to get a long way in a short time. Strive for progress, not perfection – make decisions quickly, move forward fast and don’t dwell on small details that can be changed later anyway.
Also, from the little experience we’ve gained through the last months, we would say: Take advice from experienced entrepreneurs who have been through the same as you’re going through but don’t take their advice without critically reflecting upon it yourself. If someone says your product won’t last a day or that you won’t get funded for at least another year then just start acting and make it happen anyway. Even so-called experts and serial-entrepreneurs are wrong sometimes and just because “things usually work this way”, that doesn’t mean you can’t do it 10 times faster or 10 times better.
What advice would you give a budding entrepreneur?
Ignore those people that look at you with pity when you say you’ve started an online venture and ask you when you will be looking for a real job. They don’t have a clue.