Silicon Valley to Copenhagen: It's OK to Fail, if You Do it Right


Image credit: christian.rondeau/Flickr
This post, written by Jonathan Hiskes, originally appeared on Grist.org

COPENHAGEN—At the "To Be or Not To Be" business summit at Hamlet's Castle over the weekend, one French executive joked about not trusting a business that was less than 150 years old (ah, those witty folk from "old Europe" ...). But there was a very different perspective on display at a "view from Silicon Valley" reception in downtown Copenhagen on Monday.The carbon-accounting software startup Hara hosted the event, bringing its CEO, its "chief green officer," and two venture capital partners to speak about what California's clean tech industry can teach those trying to address climate change. Hara is six months old and has attracted $20 million in investment capital, much of it from the leading valley firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. The company and its investors (who include Al Gore) are betting that businesses will be willing to pay for software that measures their use of fossil fuels, water, and waste and that then calculates how to save money.

On Monday night, Hara executives and their investor friends spoke more about the Valley's unique business culture. Steve Westly—managing partner at the Westly Group, former controller for the state of California, and an eBay executive during the site's rapid-growth phase—offered an encapsulation.

"There's this notion that if you fail, it is OK," he said. "This is one of the big differences between there and Europe or China. You're expected to dream big, and if you miss a couple along the way, that is OK. As long as you're trying to do something with your life."

His point was that for every eBay there are 10 or 100 startups that fail. Many successful entrepreneurs chalk up a string of these failures before they strike gold. In the Valley's culture, Westly said, these failures aren't embarrassing, they're normal.

I don't know Silicon Valley well enough to judge if this characterization is accurate. But such a mindset might be one of the best exports the region can offer to businesses elsewhere in the world. To adapt to climate change and the clean energy imperative, businesspeople, even entire companies, might have to reinvent themselves several times before finding a plan that works. Embracing the fluid, expanding landscape of that new economy would seem to be easier than fighting it.

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Read related articles on Grist.org:
Big business' climate conundrum: lead, follow or obstruct
Eugene Mirman represents the U.S. at the climate talks
Schwarzenegger lowers expectations for Copenhagen
Read more about COP15:
COP15: It's On!
What an Urgent Global Call for a Real Climate Deal Looks Like (Video)
Are We There Yet? COP15 Taking Us Just a Small Step Down the Road to Strong Climate Action

Tags: Global Climate Change

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