His Royal Highness the Crown Prince of Denmark had recently arrived at Stanford University to share his opening remarks at the conference. In his speech, Crown Prince Frederik referenced the success of the California wine industry as well as the “fascinating, impressive, and inspirational” story of Silicon Valley.
He expressed his admiration of Danish entrepreneurs, praising them as “modern pioneers that have taken a chance by going all in, moving their projects to a different continent, a different business culture, and a different level of competition.”
Following the speech he accepted a gift of three standout California wines from Heini Zachariassen, CEO of the Danish wine app Vivino, the largest wine app. Zachariassen was among the pioneers gathered to discuss entrepreneurship and strengthening of ties between Denmark and California.
Other Danish panelists and CEOs with successful companies in Silicon Valley included Mikkel Svane from Zendesk, David Helgason of Unity Technologies and serial entrepreneur Juha Christensen with Cloudmade.
The necessity of taking chances and the Danish aversion to risk came up early in the debate. Zendesk’s Svane contrasted what he called the “Danish stigma against failure” with the prevailing attitude of Silicon Valley. “There are people here who have failed 5-10 times – spectacular failures — and they still gave it another shot,” he said. Zendesk, a customer service platform that espouses simplicity, began in a Copenhagen loft by three friends who used an old kitchen door as a desk. They now have 40,000 customer accounts in 140 countries.
The panelists encouraged their countrymen to, “think bigger, go way beyond.” In terms of Vivino, Zachariassen said he had to, “trust my instincts while going wildly against them— the mental leap is the toughest of it all.”
The panel all agreed on the need to be “in it”— putting a stake in the ground in the Valley, being in the same time zone, and even having a 415 or 650 area code. They also discussed Danish modesty in terms of pitching ideas. “Never pitch with an exit strategy,” Svane said. “The pitch should be, ‘we’re going to change the world with this product.’”
For those Danes looking to change the world and grab their piece of the Silicon Valley pie, the Innovation Center Denmark is their virtual Ellis Island. Executive Director of Innovation Center Denmark, Søren Juul Joergensen, explains how the center introduces Danish companies to the valley’s “ecosystem”:
“We bridge the gap between startup and growth by helping companies into the ecosystem here. It is tremendously important for Denmark that Danish start-ups can gain success here and the interest of HRH the Crown Prince is very useful in raising awareness of the possibilities for the startups but also for the larger Danish companies who can benefit from collaboration with Silicon Valley.”