Just because a startup is ready to make its entrance on the international stage, does not mean the world pauses to listen. In fact, for growing businesses, the challenge of building an international network and breaking into relevant conversations can prove fatal. No one knows the tough realities facing these companies like Warrick Cramer, serial entrepreneur and CEO of Tomorrow Street, a joint initiative of the Vodafone Procurement Company and the government of Luxembourg.
(Featured Image: Warrick Cramer, CEO of Tomorrow Street / Image Credit © Olivier Minaire / Silicon Luxembourg)
Everyone who has met Warrick knows he is not a common man. It takes not only ambition, but also strong determination, vision and entrepreneurial DNA to launch a project of these dimensions within a solid corporate structure.
Drawing on his own experience, Warrick sidestepped popular accelerator-incubator models to draft a new blueprint for helping startups go global – one that lets them access Vodafone’s impressive network of companies, spanning 70 markets and reaching a customer base of over 500 million.
The Tomorrow Street Innovation Centre, equipped to host 16 startups, not only provides a fast track to exponential growth but helps participants optimize their business models and products.
In September 2017, roughly six months after first being announced at the World Mobile Conference in Barcelona, the Center will open its doors to innovative startups hungry to meet the world.
Recently, Silicon Luxembourg got the chance to meet the visionary behind this unconventional project.
Where did your entrepreneurial journey begin?
To be honest, it wasn’t a conscious decision to become an entrepreneur. I think I was just born one. It was in my DNA. I remember even as a young child I was always thinking about how I could build a business and was swapping goods and services with other kids in my class.
When I turned 15 or 16 I started my first company, buying products wholesale and selling them in Australia. I think it was built into me from day one, and over the years I’ve just evolved.
Tell us more about your first company.
I started a business selling mobile phone accessories. That was in the 90s when mobiles were just coming out and I saw a niche in the market, so I started importing products from Asia and selling them.
At that point, China and the whole region were just getting into manufacturing so the cost was low and the margins were great.
It evolved and I evolved as well. I’m a strong believer that you never stop learning and you never stop developing. I think an entrepreneur has to be able to adapt to any environment.
Speaking of adapting, being an entrepreneur is extremely different from being in the corporate world. What made you join Vodafone?
I sold my last company about four years ago and realized that one thing in my life I’d never done was work for someone and work in a corporate environment. To be open and honest, I didn’t know if I would be able to survive.
When you’re an entrepreneur and you own a company, you can make decisions and choose whichever path you want to go down. In a corporate environment you don’t have that same level of autonomy because you have several different layers within the business.
Coming to Vodafone was a big test for me because I’ve never worked for anyone, ever, and I have never received a paycheck.
It was really a personal mission to see if I was flexible enough to be able to survive in any environment and make a difference. I really developed as an entrepreneur. I’m happy to say that I can look back two years later and think, yes, I can make a difference.
How did you come up with the Tomorrow Street idea and how is it making an impact?
Throughout my whole working career, my vision has always been to make a difference in the world, no matter what I do. That’s what drives me – not money, not fame – to enrich people’s lives, do something totally different and really make a difference.
When I came to Vodafone, I looked at this huge machine and thought, wow, how am I going to do this? I took a step back and looked at my own path and what had been missing for me.
The one thing, which is consistent with all other entrepreneurs, is that we speak different languages. We have a corporate language and a small startup language that are very different. Was there a way we could build something to bridge this gap, and also help these companies develop their businesses in a great environment with the right support?
That’s what Tomorrow Street is. It’s really about taking these smaller companies, bringing them into Vodafone and giving them the right support structures to develop and navigate through the different stages.
What makes this model unique?
Most of the corporate programs that exist out in the market are there to support early-stage startups through R&D-focused activities. There are tens of thousands of accelerators and incubators to choose from in the US and even in Europe.
We thought about what we could do that’s different and quickly realized that we are sitting in Luxembourg with a fantastic procurement machine. This is a central hub where suppliers from all around the world come and interact with us on a daily basis.
Entrepreneurship is all about networks. Building a network is crucial. Without it you just don’t survive. We decided we could build innovation by connecting the dots and giving companies introductions and up-front exposure that they normally would not have.
We also wanted to be a niche player and really focus on what we do. Everything I’ve done has always been about focus. We did not want to replicate anyone else.
We carved out a niche in the market. After the point when companies reach series A funding, there is really no support for them. There are a few consulting-type programs, but no true support and go-to-market strategy help.
Was Tomorrow Street inspired by your own experience as an entrepreneur?
Absolutely. I went through my own journey to expand my business outside of my own market and needed a totally different set of skills. You waste a lot of valuable time trying to learn these simple things, like how to set up an entity in another country, employ people, customize products, and make sure you’re compliant with local laws and regulations.
I wish I’d had support and guidance when I was going through these stages, but it didn’t exist.
Is this a way to pay it forward?
Yes, it is all about paying it forward. I have been very fortunate in my lifetime. It hasn’t always been easy, but I’ve been very lucky and this is a way for me to give something back to the community and to other entrepreneurs who want to make a difference in the world but don’t have all of the opportunities in front of them.