“There can only be one Silicon Valley”

Swissprenuers conducted an interview with Toni Schneider, the former CEO of Automattic (the company behind Wordpress.com), and Co-founder and Partner of True Ventures. Schneider is currently an active investor based in Silicon Valley. Having spent over 20 years in Silicon Valley, Schneider gives startup founders some tips and advises them not totry to copy Silicon Valley, rather identify their uniqueness and focus on that to build a successful startup.

Toni Schneider was born in Zurich and later moved to the United States where he attended college and built his career. He gained his first working experience through internships and from his first actual job in a virtual reality startup. He built onto that and found his way up as CEO and founder. He established his first company Uplister, a venture-backed music recommendation startup in early 2000 and later became the CEO of Oddpost, which was later sold to Yahoo. While at Yahoo, he met Om Mallik with whom he established Automattic, the company behind Worldpress.

Automattic is a distributed company with over 500 Automatticians in 50 countries speaking 69 different languages. Worldpress is a democratized platform where anyone can publish an article or blog for free regardless of income, gender, politics, language, or where they live in the world. This structure became a long term business vision for both Toni and Matt who sought to retain it, such that when the company no longer existed, people would still have the access to the open source service. As a result the project grew rapidly and became famous across all demographics worldwide. Currently, WorldPress is used by more than 26 percent of all websites on the internet and have over 100 million users. After 8 years as CEO, Schneider stepped down but is still involved with the company in the board of Directors.

Founders are not alone in the ecosystem Just like any other startup CEO, Schneider faced a number of challenges however, he became successful along the way. Based on his experience and lessons learnt, Schneider urges startups to use their networks wisely and get in touch with their customers. He says;“Be where your customers are, have personal contact with people to make sure that everything works.” He believes that founders are not alone in the ecosystem. “Everyone is going through the same process. Take advantage and learn from others.” He therefore urges startup founders to form circles with like-minded people with a personality fit and ambitions. Mentors and advisors are also very helpful and have a large network startups can benefit from.

Moreover, Schneider believes that in order to run a successful company, founders ought to, firstly, think of the company in stages. They should have a clear vision for their company, find good people and trust them and also find the right person who to advise them on the decisions they make. Secondly is scaling the business by creating and organise a team in a way that will help develop the company. Thirdly founders should understand that the company changes along the way and that the job keeps changing. Therefore as the company grows founders ought to grow with it.

Switzerland is not and cannot be Silicon Valley Schneider has observed that Swiss startups are similar to other startups in the world. Switzerland is one of the best places to initiate a business because it has an innovation based economy mindset with several investment opportunities, and continuous support from universities and other support organisations. Although Swiss investors do not engage in high risk capital investments like the Silicon Valley investors, they have enough funds for startups. The general Swiss startup scene is growing. Schneider describes the Swiss startup ecosystem as slow but competitive because Swiss startups – in contrary to Silicon Valley – have long term perspectives due to the Swiss neutrality, stability and safety. In Silicon Valley, startups and investors are rather high-risk-takers and have a short term perspective for the startup. He thus urges Swiss founders not to try to be like Silicon Valley, rather to identify their uniqueness and focus on that.

Full interview on Swisspreneur