There is a new doctor in town and he is here to stay. Instead of a medical degree he has 10 years of experience in Silicon Valley. Instead of patients he takes care of founders, startups, scaleups and anything in between. Meet Leo Benkel, software engineer, problem solver, futurist, “Doctor of Startups”, and founder of PURE LAMBDA.
Photo by Kaori Anne Jolliffe
As a son of two French illustrators working on CGI, Leo was exposed to the world of computers at an early age.
“I was behind my dad every day when he was working on this computer. And then he taught me a little QBasic,” explains Leo.
While his dad wasn’t a programmer, it was his work with computers which introduced Leo to something that quickly turned into his passion.
At school, his natural inclination for the sciences paired well with his deep interest for understanding how things worked. Not being a fan of languages and “being terrible at anything related”, Leo decided to pursue Computer Science at the university level.
Interning In Silicon Valley
When entering his final year at university, Leo needed to find an internship to graduate. Wanting to be at the “forefront of innovation”, there was no better place for that than Silicon Valley.
Through a mutual friend, he heard about an open position, applied and secured an internship at a small Silicon Valley company called Framehawk. Although the company was small, they asked a lot from him and made it clear to him that things work differently in America.
“[They told me] if you come here, you have to work. And if you’re not good enough, you’re out. Because you know, in the United States you get hired, fired – it takes one day.”
During his four months at Framehawk, Leo, still an inexperienced university student, worked beside 40-year-olds with children and decades of experience more than him. However, despite being “thrown into the deep end of the pool,” his experiences were overwhelmingly positive.
“I learned more in those four months of my internship than in all my life at this point,” he says.
“What I like to say is that I used to work with silicon-based computer and now I work with carbon-based computers.”
The Highs Of The Valley
While having to get used to the Valley lingo, American accents and a new work culture was not always easy, Leo quickly managed to convince with his programming abilities. In fact, he did so well that the company hired him as soon as they could and helped sort him out with a working visa.
As the years flew by, Leo went through a lot of firsts. He learnt what it was like to be acquired by a large software giant, he learnt about the politics of the corporate world and he learnt to enjoy the benefits that came with working at an important company in the Valley. Most importantly however, he learnt about his passion for helping entrepreneurs and founders succeed.
“I learnt what works, what doesn’t work and why. It’s all about the incentives of the individual and how you can align them with the company goals,” he explains. “What I like to say is that I used to work with silicon-based computer and now I work with carbon-based computers. People also work with a set of inputs and outputs.”
During the decade Leo spent jumping through the different hoops of Silicon Valley, he became familiar with the ins and outs of startups, scaleups, the corporate world and everything in between. While the challenges he encountered helped him become a better software engineer, mentor and problem solver, he also realised that the Valley was not going to be his final resting place, especially considering the recent political developments.
“There was the police unrest and the culture was becoming more and more polarized. What really made me pack my bags is when I looked at the price of ammunition and fire arms. And as the elections were coming up the price was going up and I thought there is a civil war coming.”
Add to that the increasing fires in the Bay area, a broken health care system and being separated from his family – work visas and Green Cards make it precarious for expat employees to leave – and it is not hard to understand why Leo wanted to leave Silicon Valley.
“A month or two after I arrived the Chamber of Commerce called and asked me how I was doing.”
Settling In Luxembourg
After feeling “tired of having exciting news 24/7” and feeling “burned out from excitement”, Leo quickly realised that Luxembourg would be a good place to set up his new office.
Since arriving here at the end of 2020 – leaving just before the US elections – Leo has enjoyed the benefits of a working health care system, “an honest Prime Minister”, and a very cooperative Chamber of Commerce.
“A month or two after I arrived the Chamber of Commerce called and asked me how I was doing,” telling him “You can ask us everything, we are here to help you. Everyone is super helpful, telling me to meet this person and that person. My network on LinkedIn has gone from 800 people to 2900 in six months.”
Leo’s extensive experience in Silicon Valley has taking him though the highs and lows of Silicon Valley – from intern to senior software and machine learning engineer – to startup mentor at the University of Luxembourg and now Doctor of Startups at PURE LAMBDA.
If you’re interested in learning more about him, check out his website or use his free discovery call – you won’t regret it.