How Europe is catching up with America
American exceptionalism is both a blessing and a curse. While the rest of the world may find Americans’ inner confidence amusing, that same confidence has made its people always go the extra mile (not a mile). After all, America has put a man on the moon, Starbucks on every corner, and a smartphone in our hands.
This exceptionalism couldn’t be truer than in the tech industry. In 2021, eight of the fifteen largest tech companies on the planet are American, and the country is leading the global conversation around innovation. With China increasingly regulating its digital economy, U.S. dominance is unlikely to wane anytime soon.
Having said that, let’s not forget Europe, please. Wedged between America and Asia, it is sometimes easy to neglect the continent which was for so long the intellectual and industrial power of the world, but which now risks drifting towards digital uselessness. As the stereotype says (and this is just a stereotype), European workers can be difficult to fire and they take long, restorative summer vacations, with work-life balance as an essential element. It remains to be seen to what extent this is true or not, but either way, these are not exactly the ideal conditions for entrepreneurship and to combat the cruelty and diligence of other continents.
Europe’s perceived weaknesses aside, there are actually plenty of reasons to be optimistic about technology on the continent. Mark Pearson, founder and managing partner of London-based Fuel Ventures, recently published that 2021 venture capital investment in European startups is nearly $ 100 billion, just behind the United States. The pandemic’s push towards remote working has also helped. Tech hubs like Silicon Valley no longer have the same geographic advantage as they once did, as top talent are now able (and therefore willing) to work from anywhere in the world.
The cost of the developers also plays a big role in all of this. More and more companies in the United States are using remote engineering teams to help them create their products. Andela, the African scale-up that allows companies to build remote engineering teams, has just raised $ 200 million from Softbank as part of its Series E. And HTEC Group, a Serbian company that manufactures digital solutions for many Fortune 500 companies, recently acquired Momentum, one of Silicon Valley’s top product design studios. When Eastern European companies like HTEC – which grew from 250 to 1,000 employees during the pandemic – acquire some of America’s hottest creative businesses, you know the tectonic plates are shifting.
The designer economy is no exception and the United States has always been at the forefront of this paradigm shift. Young money-making platforms like Shopify, Substack, and Patreon, have stood on the shoulders of giants like YouTube and Instagram, that “creating” has become such a viable and lucrative career path for so many people. Thanks to these digital tools, 50 million people around the world see themselves as “creators”, as Crunchbase News recently reported.
But Europe is definitely on the move. Creative economy startups are popping up across the continent. Take Customuse in London, which allows designers to sell skins and merchandise in popular games like Roblox. Genflow, also British, helps creators launch (and therefore monetize) their own brands. Printify in Latvia recently raised $ 45 million, led by Index Ventures, to help creators print locally and therefore at greatly reduced cost. And Detail in Holland has harnessed the trend of our homes becoming all-in-one offices, stages and production studios, making conventional cameras more flattering (and therefore professional). Businesses like these are mushrooming every week across Europe. Not only do they grow rapidly, but they also receive significant capital on their way to improving the experience for creators.
However, if there is one main reason why Europe could be the defining region for the future of the designer economy, it is because the continent offers the ideal conditions for the creators themselves. Nervous about taking the plunge and trying to make a living from your blog, podcast or hobby? Affordable healthcare (as is common in Europe) can make the leap less risky, especially compared to the US insurance system which often relies on full-time employment. Worried about what would happen if you can’t monetize quickly, or not at all? Favorable social safety nets in Europe mean that if all else fails, you won’t be completely depressed.
On top of that, one of the main advantages of being a designer is the digital nomadism of it all. You can see why citizens of the European Union might be tempted by this, given the free movement between any of the 27 countries available.
The creative economy has a bright future ahead of it in Europe. States may have the platform advantage, but Europe is an attractive place to try your hand as an individual creator. And if more and more people take that leap of faith out there, technology, investment, and infrastructure will surely follow.
To quote Babe Ruth, the iconic American hero of a little understood East Atlantic sport, “yesterday’s home runs don’t win today’s games.”