Joe Stump on Bringing Entrepreneurial Optimism to Cynical Cultures

In Chapter 10 of 14 in his 2012 interview, Internet entrepreneur Joe Stump answers "What Has Working Internationally Taught You About Communicating Across Cultures?"  By advising a British company, Stump learns how a culture of optimism contrasts with a culture of cynicism and doubt.  He compares general country cultures - American, British, Indian, Chinese - and how an entrepreneurship mindset is influenced by the national mindset.  He details what he did to transform the mindset inside that British company to be more opportunistic and confident.  Joe Stump is a serial entrepreneur based in Portland, OR. He is CEO and co-founder of, a product management software company.  Previously he founded SimpleGeo, which was sold to Urban Airship in October 2011.  He advises several startups - including and ngmoco:) - as well as VC firm Freestyle Capital.  He earned a BBA in Computer Information Systems (CIS) from Eastern Michigan University.


Erik Michielsen: What has working internationally taught you about communicating across cultures?

Joe Stump: I'm an adviser for a company in the UK. I go over there and I spend about a week every quarter over there. And I think Americans and Brits kind of like to think that it's big brother, little brother, we're in the same family. Our cultures are drastically different in a lot of ways and I think working with them -- it was really disheartening to come from the startup world where everything’s “can do” attitude and go to an environment that -- I mean this was named, the company I work for is named one of the top 50 companies in the UK to work for.

They're a great company. I love working with these guys. But there are little things that really kind of trick you up that were kind of like a bummer. Like, in the United States, a grilled cheese company got $50 million in funding from one of the best venture capital firms in Silicon Valley. That is the very definition of like all ideas go. It's wide-open space. There are more eternal optimists bred everyday in the United States than anywhere else, right? The American dream is basically if you want to do it, it's yours for the taking, whereas in I talk with -- Alex Hunter is a buddy of mine. His wife is from California. He spent considerable time here. Actually he doesn’t even have a British accent anymore, he spent so much time here.

But he’s from Britain and he’s put it best to me, in Britain, I mean, everybody knows that they have a very cynical sense of humor right? And I think that pervades the entire society. Where he says, “You come up with a new idea,” and like British society will go, “Oh, you have a new idea? Let's see if it flies.” It is like poopoo it before it's even had a chance to even get out on the launch pad. And working with that company in the UK has taught me that when I come in and I’ll say, “Hey, guys, we need to do X, Y, and Z so that we can move on to this next phase.” They will be, “Well, we really can't do X because of A, B, and C.” And I'm like, “You can do X. What you're telling me is that you don’t want to do X because of A, B, and C. You can fix A, B, and C.”

There is no unsolvable problem, right? And I think that’s something that really comes up a lot across Europe. They're a lot more conservative I would say. Exact opposite when you go to India and Asia. Man, those guys are like, it's wide open territory. I mean, like, dude, China is growing. That is a massive economy, a billion people and it's growing at 10 to 12% a year. It's really interesting. You go to all these different places and the emphasis because of culture, like emphasis in South Africa, for instance, is on revenue, early revenue. A lot of the investment deals are all tied to revenue goals and stuff.

Europe is a little bit similar. The United States they’re like nobody thought Facebook was ever going to make money and now it's making $4 billion a year. Right? And because of our culture, we're a lot more open to risk and we’ll go ahead and take that. And I think that now that other major economies are starting to sputter to life and they're starting to get their own version of the American dream, India and China, I think are two very good examples

There are a lot programmers in India that are just like starting to realize that they don’t have to work at call center. They can go and they can raise a small amount of cash and they have a billion people there that are all ready to pay a little bit of money. If you can get a billion people to pay you 10 cents, that’s real coin, right? So, they're embracing it. And also because travel is becoming cheaper, obviously they're making more money and their economies are coming up so they're able to come here. It's been really interesting to see that the America dream is alive and well and it just happens to be in a communist country and India, which is a socialist country. It's been interesting.

I like interfacing and talking with people like that. I like spreading the dream. Like and I've been telling -- we actually had a little luncheon at the company in the UK and they were like, “What's the most frustrating thing about working with us?” I was like, “You guys are so much better than you give yourselves credit for. Quit being so cynical.” You can do it. You just got to like go do it. This isn’t like rocket science stuff here. Every time I’m like, I come up with something like, “We need to fix this,” and they're like, “Well, maybe we should probably do this other thing instead.” It’s just like…Just do that, get it over with, move on to the next thing.

It was kind of funny. There was actually some nodding in the room and then afterwards one of the guys came up to me, he's like, “I'm really glad you said that because I didn’t even realize that I was doing that. And now I realize that I'm poopooing stuff that I know I can do and I don’t even know why I'm doing it. I don’t know why I'm poopooing this. I can do it.” It was really cool that they were like, “Yeah, we can do that.” They’ve really grown as a company. I’ve seen them -- It's a 1,200 person company and I've seen them move more, and more quickly, they're getting a lot more confident that they can take on those bigger challenges. I didn’t have a whole lot to do with that other than basically saying you know, telling them that, “Look, guys, you can do this. You just got to do it.”