”Entrepreneurship is seeing opportunities and embracing the unknown”

Kenneth Howery. Foto: U.S. Embassy in Sweden.

En svensk version av denna text publicerades under vinjetten ”Åsikten” i Entré nr 3, 2020:

This year has been a challenging one for all of us, not least for those who have tried to break new ground and start new businesses with their ideas and hard work. In a word: entrepreneurs.

I started my career as an entrepreneur.  And being an entrepreneur often means pursing a non-linear career path.  After graduating from Stanford, I did not join a large, established firm, but instead worked for a start-up firm making investments with a friend from university, Peter Thiel.  Our office was in a former broom closet with no windows.  It was so small that every time Peter left, I had to scoot my chair as far in as I could so he could get out the door. 

Little did I know that this former broom closet would be the birthplace of my greatest success to date:  helping to found and build PayPal with Max Levchin, Peter Thiel, Elon Musk, Luke Nosek, Yu Pan, and Russel Simmons.  The process of building PayPal taught me that success requires two things:  1) seeing opportunity where others don’t, and 2) madly embracing the unknown.

Opportunities always exist, no matter how tough the prevailing conditions may be, but it does take a special mindset and determination to be able to see them and take advantage of them. This is the case even now in the midst of a pandemic that is more powerful than any anyone alive today has ever experienced.  The last pandemic to strike the world with such calamitous effect broke out more than a hundred years ago.  Yet, while we have been compelled to make changes over the past six months to how we travel, how we work, and even how we live, I am an optimist.  I believe that, despite the horrific losses we have suffered, and despite the disruptions to our daily lives that we must still endure, there will be men and women able to find new ways of solving our common problems. As Albert Einstein once said, “In the middle of difficulty, lies opportunity.”

That leads to my second key ingredient for success: embracing the unknown. We don’t know what the permanent effects of the pandemic will be on our societies or on how we work. Regardless of what those changes are, success will come to those who run toward, not away, from the post-Covid-19 environment. Perhaps it will be finding new ways for workplaces to convene meetings that are more efficient than video calls. Perhaps it will be a new approach to make online conferences more immersive through virtual reality. Already, entrepreneurs in the United States and Sweden are deeply involved, alongside scientists and researchers, in learning more about the coronavirus to develop a safe and effective vaccine or treatment. They are not running away from this mysterious new threat but running toward solutions.

It’s hard to predict what will happen in the life science and other sectors in the years ahead, but one thing I am convinced of is that solutions will be easier to find if countries such as the United States and Sweden work together.

One of the key elements of the U.S.-Swedish bond is our strong economic relationship. Today, we trade $25 billion worth of goods and services annually. We have also invested over $90 billion in each other’s economies, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs. Sweden is the 13th-largest investor in the United States, an outsized figure relative to Sweden’s population.

Our fundamentally strong economies and well-developed research communities are fertile ground for entrepreneurial success. Our robust U.S.-Swedish partnership also creates the framework for successful entrepreneurship. It is no coincidence the Stockholm region is second only to Silicon Valley in producing ”unicorns”.

I am confident that as entrepreneurs from the United States and Sweden combine efforts further, we will be able to look beyond the risks to the opportunities and, embracing the unknown, nurture more prosperous societies – not only for the benefit of our two nations, but for the world, for years to come.

About Kenneth Howery
Kenneth Howery is the U.S. Ambassador to Sweden since November 2019. He is an entrepreneur, co-founder of Paypal and investor, and takes great interest in questions related to entrepreneurship. Follow him on Twitter (@USAmbSweden) and Instagram (@usambsweden).———–