There have been a small handful of superstar startups that have transcended their European borders, and have achieved international greatness. But there are hundreds of promising European startups that lie just below the surface of success, waiting to break out.
Here are five we chose out of the mass of companies that we think have a genuine chance in 2011 to turn into serious contenders. These companies are growing fast, using the fact that they are outside Silicon Valley to their advantage, and focusing on ideas that mix of real-world activity and online tools. In the second part of GigaOM’s Euro 20 roundup, we give you the Ones to watch.
Founded: Vilnius, Lithuania, 2004
Investors: Accel Partners, Tiger Global Management
Business: Mobile app store
On the surface, GetJar’s business model would seem like a losing bet: Enter a crowded market (mobile app stores) dominated by huge companies (Apple (s AAPL), Google (s GOOG), Nokia (s NOK) and others) and do it from a little-known European nation (Lithuania). Yet GetJar has managed to confound expectations, growing rapidly and delivering more than 1.5 billion downloads to handset users all over the world.
The company’s crucial play is that it’s device-agnostic. The service can deliver apps, games and other downloads across all sorts of devices, from feature phones to high-end smartphones. A series of savvy deals to get exclusive early release windows for smash hits like Angry Birds and Cut The Rope has driven plenty of traffic. These days, the company has raised funds and moved its center of gravity to Silicon Valley, but remains European at heart with a significant presence in Lithuania and Britain.
Founded: London, 2006
Investors: Eden Ventures, Matrix Partners
Business: Collaborative enterprise software
Focusing on helping businesses collaborate more effectively, Huddle has built its reputation on the back of flexible, powerful tools that can either connect employees together, or help them work with outside clients and customers. The tools are available in whatever way users find convenient — on the web, mobile, or hooked into Microsoft Office on the desktop — and the company has grown aggressively over the last couple of years. A distribution deal with HP (s HPQ) has helped its expansion, and sales for the first half of 2011 tripled compared to the previous six months.
Its success comes even in the face of tough competition from entrenched rivals (hello, SharePoint). And with adopters that include Disney, NASA and Ogilvy, as well as another 90,000 businesses worldwide, the company looks set to keep on providing a popular alternative.
Founded: London, 2007
Investors: Y Combinator, The Accelerator Group, SoftTech, Index Ventures
Business: Online database of live music events
As an early participant in Y Combinator’s widely respected accelerator program, Songkick’s trio of co-founders could have been expected to stay in America. But they returned to Britain soon after their stint ended, and have relentlessly focused on creating a best-in-breed service to serve the $40 billion live music industry ever since.
With a team that has remained sharp, smart and relatively small, they now have a site that allows users all over the world to track their favorite bands and keep an eye on hot acts when they come to town. Business has been stepping up in 2011 for Songkick with a recent $2 million Series A round, a new CTO lured away from Google and more top quality hires on the way.
Founded: Berlin, 2007
Investors: Doughty Hanson, Index Ventures, Union Square Ventures
Business: Music and audio platform
Services that help people consume and share music have been coming and going online for years, from the various incarnations of Napster, to Myspace, iTunes, Spotify and more. But when Swedish entrepreneur Alexander Ljung and his co-founder Eric Wahlforss started looking at tools for people who create music, they realized there were far fewer tools.
Although building a sharing system around the concept of a waveform may seem clunky at first, Soundcloud has become a hugely popular way for artists, record labels and DJs to share their work with the world — and get feedback. The service has pushed hard to integrate with other services, and it’s now growing fast as the boom in casual music-making combines with gathering user interest in non-music areas such as talk radio, interviews and audio updates.
Founded: Berlin, 2009
Investors: Holtzbrinck Ventures, Balderton Capital, Highland Capital, Tenaya Capital
Business: Social games
There’s a large cohort of social gaming companies across Europe with serious ambitions, all of which could potentially be on our list — Gameforge in Germany or Gameloft in France, for example. But one of our favorites is Wooga, a two-year-old Berlin outfit that has rapidly become one of the most successful developers of Facebook games.
The company’s team has done it before, too. The business is led by duo Jens Begemann and Philip Moeser, who previously helped guide mobile entertainment company Jamba to success; you can blame them for Crazy Frog. With a growing library of hits like Diamond Dash and Bubble Island, it’s no wonder they raised a blockbuster round of $24 million this spring in order to expand dramatically.