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Hair Shampoo and the Lost Unicorn: Exploring the Swiss-American Contrast in Startup Culture

Recently, I returned from a five-week trip to California, a stark contrast to my Swiss roots. This contrast became glaringly apparent in an ordinary moment—standing in my shower, reaching for my shampoo. I was met with disappointment; the 'Nivea - Anti Schuppen - 250 ml' bottle was nearly empty. This minor inconvenience took me back to my last shower in San Jose, where 'Pantene - Moisturising Shampoo - 38.2 FL OZ (1.13 L)' bottles were the norm. That's four and a half times larger than what we have in Switzerland. It was in this mundane moment that I realized the profound difference in mindset between the Swiss and American approach to business and life.

Created by Dall-E: Amidst the serene Swiss Alps, a majestic unicorn stands as a symbol of imagination and possibility

The Swiss Startup Scene

In Switzerland, our startup ecosystem thrives under the support of the government, academia, and a robust investor network. We take pride in our innovation, with our startups leading in technology and global influence. Our success is rooted in an excellent educational system, supportive government policies, and a network of incubators and accelerators. Despite this, our startups often mirror our shampoo bottles - precise, high-quality, but limited in scale. Logitech and Nestlé are our benchmarks, but unicorns (privately held startup companies valued at over $1 billion) are rare. GetYourGuide is a notable exception, reaching a valuation over $1 billion.

The American Approach to Unicorns

America's playbook for unicorns is quite different. Their approach is underpinned by substantial support, including government funding through programs like SBIR and STTR, and startup-friendly laws and regulations. But it's the American mindset that truly sets them apart - thinking BIG, embracing risk, and a relentless pursuit of growth. In America, failure isn't a deterrent; it's a stepping stone to success.

The Importance of Sales in Scaling: Hyper-scale growth is often propelled by aggressive sales strategies. Sales are the engine of growth, helping to rapidly increase market share, revenue, and visibility. To effectively scale, a company must employ a data-driven lead generation strategy, ensuring its product or service reaches the intended audience.

Comparative Analysis and Learning from Each Other

Swiss Precision vs. American Scale

Switzerland excels in precision and sustainability, qualities that are evident in our thriving fintech and cleantech sectors. However, this meticulous approach can sometimes limit our ambition for large-scale projects. In contrast, the U.S. is known for thinking big, scaling rapidly, and embracing risk. This mindset is reflected in their startup landscape, which has produced giants like Facebook and Google. Additionally, it has fostered lesser-known yet impactful companies that are still privately held, such as Databricks (founded in 2013, specializing in data and AI, with a notable valuation of $43 billion), Discord (founded in 2015, a popular voice, video, and text chat platform among gamers and other communities, valued at $15 billion), and Stripe (founded in 2009, focusing on payment processing, and valued at $95 billion).

Learning and Adapting

The U.S. could learn from Switzerland's precision and focus on sustainability, potentially enhancing the impact and longevity of their startups. Switzerland, in turn, could benefit from the American mindset of scaling and risk-taking, pushing our startups beyond traditional boundaries.


The contrasting Swiss and American startup landscapes offer valuable lessons. A blend of Swiss precision and sustainability with American scale and risk tolerance could create a more balanced global startup ecosystem.

Scaling and Sales

Scaling, particularly for Swiss companies, is intrinsically linked to sales. Hyper-scale growth requires aggressive sales strategies to rapidly increase market share and revenue. Swiss companies, known for their precision and quality, might need to embrace more aggressive sales and marketing strategies to compete globally. This cultural shift, from a conservative, risk-averse approach to one that prioritizes rapid expansion, is crucial for Swiss companies aiming for global market dominance. By balancing their inherent strengths with robust sales tactics and market penetration strategies, Swiss companies could significantly enhance their ability to achieve hyper-scale growth in competitive markets.

Learning from diverse markets and adopting effective sales strategies could provide Swiss companies with the necessary tools to not just innovate, but also to scale their operations globally, turning the tide from small, meticulous startups to global market leaders - much like finding the right balance between a small and a large shampoo bottle.


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