Thierry Schellenbach | Crain's Denver

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Thierry Schellenbach


Stream is an application programming interface for building scalable activity streams, such as those you see on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Thierry Schellenbach and CTO Tommaso Barbugli founded the company in Amsterdam in 2014 before moving to the U.S. to join the Techstars accelerator in New York City in 2015.

Now based in Boulder, Colorado, Stream has 23 full-time employees.

The Mistake:

I didn’t realize our ecosystem was holding us back.

Stream is my second startup. I worked on another one in Amsterdam for about seven years. It was called Fashiolista and it was sort of like Pinterest before there was Pinterest.

We had this insane growth, in part, because of the availability of really strong engineering talent in Amsterdam at that time. It’s getting a bit more expensive now with companies like Uber opening offices there, but it was great for us then.

The big problem was venture capital. The VC community there is still very young. We ended up raising something like a million dollars from a London-based firm, but that was such a long process. It took something like six months to close the deal.

We basically put ourselves in a position where we were competing globally without access to U.S. venture capital.

If you’re trying to do that, to compete in a global market, the ecosystem really matters.

The company ended up being reasonably successful. We ultimately sold it, so nothing too bad happened, but it involved many pivots to avoid the larger market.

We just didn’t have access to the capital we needed.

The Lesson:

When we started Stream, I had all this in mind.

We’re very similar to companies like SendGrid in that we provide developers a core piece of functionality for their app. In our case, that’s the newsfeed or activity stream. It’s something people need all over the world, and a lot of our customers are based in the U.S., but also in Asia and Europe.

There’s always a lot of competition in a market like this in the long term, so if you’re aiming to own one of these markets, it really matters if you’re in an ecosystem where you can raise money.

That’s why Boulder made sense for us.

In a more general sense, it depends on the goals you have in mind.

If you’re building something that’s focused on a niche and you think you can bootstrap it, you probably want to be in a place where the salaries are fairly affordable and the cost of living is fairly low. You’re going to want somewhere more remote. Places like Boulder, San Francisco and New York are going to be a little harder to do that kind of thing.

If you’re building a venture-backed startup on the other hand, Boulder and really the whole ecosystem here in Colorado is really great. You’ve got plenty of access to venture capital, especially compared to Amsterdam.

Thierry Schellenbach is on Twitter at @tschellenbach and Stream is at @getstream_io.

Photo courtesy of Stream.

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