The early adopter in me has an insatiable appetite for all things new, fueled by the rapidly changing online landscape. I’ve never been a conference groupie but after attending Dreamforce in San Francisco in 2010 I changed that view. I left Dreamforce energised and ready to craft a new development team: The First 65 – I was convinced that scalability and agility was no longer a constraint to building an online business. Sadly Dreamforce 2011 clashed with our eldest daughters birthday so I missed it. With Paris being on our doorstep, I opted to attend Le Web this week although only managing to squeeze-in two of the three days having to return for the ever important school nativity play.
There are banks of official bloggers at Le Web, producing an enormity of valuable coverage which I encourage you to consume, so please don’t expect that from me. In this post, I’ll share my reflections on the event, particularly because I found it impossible to share anything during the conference, on Twitter or otherwise, due to the extremely weak, unreliable and mostly unavailable WIFI at Le Web: oh bitter irony.
The theme of Le Web 2011 was Social, Local, Mobile (SoLoMo) and it’s easy to wrap your head around these – they pervade the current online landscape and will do well past 2012.
Have a look at the programme – a great lineup indeed – my top 6 sessions FourSquare, AirBnB, Google, Flipboard, Evernote and Bill Gross
1. Dennis Crowley, Co-Founder & CEO of FourSquare explained how with the help of their user community, Foursquare have managed to collect a data set of over 30 million venues and I admire them for having survived the challenges of the data acquisition phase of their business. Users that have stuck by Foursquare through this phase are beginning to see the value of the service that comes out of the recommendation engine and it’s easy to understand the foursquare proposition to retail outlets.
2. I enjoyed listening to Brian Chesky from AirBNB talk very passionately about how he built their business in response to a personal need to let out space in his apartment in order to pay his rent and how he had crafted the IOS app with design and beauty and simplicity of user interface as a priority. He dealt with the subject of their unfortunate security breech in an open and trustworthy manner. He really made me feel that “Scratching your own itch” is one of the better routes to launching a business.
3. Despite Eric Schmidt, the executive Chairman of Google, presenting on Day 1 – it was Marissa Mayer who talked about Google’s priority to local that interested me more. Marissa is the guardian of Google’s investment in mapping and this considerable investment will give it immense power in the local market. Her poignant point was that social powers local and local powers social. The two go hand in hand and that is why Google, to me, is positioned so strongly in this battle. Of course there was much talk about Google+ vs Facebook and it’s for this reason that I think it’s far too early to write-off G+ and Android, for that matter. Android will always have the edge when it comes to local/mobile because it is poised to benefit from Google’s edge over mapping. I enjoyed references to the Google X driverless project and totally understood the argument that a computer would do a much better job at processing all the signals that humans currently have to process behind the wheel.
4. Flipboard has just launched their iPhone app (I’ve been a massive fan of their iPad app) They’ve managed to raise $60m to build their IOS apps and Mike McCue, CEO, honesty and openness about their struggles with Android and their total commitment to design and experience made this an impressionable session for me. If you haven’t yet downloaded the Flipboard iPhone App you should do so.
5. Evernote’s co-founder and CEO Phil Libin made you really feel like you could trust Evernote with your memories and his session really reinforced the success of their brand. “Give your customers the chance to fall in love with your product” he said when talking about the Freemium model. I enjoyed watching the demo (one of the few that worked during the day) of Evernote’s two new Apps – the Evernote Hello App and the Evernote Food app.Evernote Hello is designed to help you remember people. It does this by storing contact details, but more importantly by linking the when, where and who with the person’s name.The second app, Evernote Food, is all about documenting and sharing memorable food moments. Evernote has created a very successful platform on which to develop and opens up many opportunities for developers to use Evernote’s memory engine through their Trunk API.
6. Bill Gross, Founder & CEO, Idealab session was entitled “Learning From Failure: 20 Years of Entrepreneurial Lessons in 20 Minutes” and I encourage you to look at his slides. I was blown away by his experience and insights.
So what are my take-outs?
You’ll know me for being a bit of an Apple fanboy and a loyal iOS groupie. Up until now I’ve tried to get closer to Android having recently purchased a Samsung Galaxy II and found it a very disappointing device mainly because I’ve undoubtedly not given enough time to learning Android (the point is I never had to learn iOS – it is so intuitive even my 4 year old knows how to operate it) but Le Web has helped me accept that all three operating platforms (iOS, Android and Windows Mobile 7) will be contenders in any business’ quest to reach consumers. What I heard more often than not, was speakers admitting that they had only launched on iOS because they had found it so much harder to develop on Android. (Apple makes it easier for developers generally and Android’s case is complicated by multiple screen sizes and variations of device that need to be catered for). I also accepted that Windows Mobile 7 is going to be a real contender especially now that you have slick devices like the Nokia Lumia that I enjoyed playing with. Windows Mobile 7 is also going to have the edge when you consider it will seamlessly integrate with the Xbox and Kinect.
Wanting to launch an App?
Given the potential of all three mobile platforms, in the perfect world you should have all three covered. Even the likes of Flipboard, Instagram and AirBnB are struggling to release on Android. (read this bit of Techcrunch coverage to better understand the iOS Android war) If you’re a small business with an idea for an App I strongly advise you to follow the HTML5 route. HTML5 empowers apps to run in browsers across mobile platforms. Admittedly, they are constrained slightly but you should look at what Linkedin and Facebook are managing to achieve with their HTML5 web-based mobile apps before thinking that HTML is too much of a major constraint. There’s also the advantage of not having to cut 30% of your app revenue to the platform provider and equally you don’t have to jump through the app store hoops (particularly in the Apple Apple Store). I can’t say Le Web has changed the direction of my thinking on any of this but it has concreted the HTML policy we adopted early in the strategy at The First 65.
Lastly, despite still feeling that Facebook is an extremely important market place and should not be ignored, I learned little from their slot and felt slightly uninspired.
Let’s talk about the conference itself:
With the €1,700 Le Web attendance fee in mind, I’m afraid Le Web was just not slick enough for me. Granted, my expectations are calibrated by Dreamforce10 (a circa 30,000 attendance), I still refuse to accept why Europe can’t do as well. Live Demos rarely worked on stage. Everyone blamed the poor internet connectivity, most presenters had to beg for their slides to be projected on stage and often media lacked soundtrack. This left delegates cringing in their seats in nervous anticipation. I felt very sorry for many of the presenters who had travelled long distances. Loic Lemur is obviously a well respected peer in the Silicon Valley scene and certainly a charismatic person; this he must be to attract the speakers (particularly those across the Atlantic), but, to me, he comes across as a bumbling, inexperienced and awkward . Even though Loic is resident in San Francisco, I find his English doesn’t do him proud and limits Le Web from getting the best out of the interviews, and let’s face it there were some extremely senior speakers and Loic tended to interview the biggies which I found to be a pity.
Europe has long been trying to emulate the Silicone Valley start-up culture no harder than the recent efforts in the UK. What was evident from the lineup of speakers was that the bulk of the noteworthy ones had flown across the Atlantic to be with us. I had expected to see a few of the European tech “personalities” that I had been so vocal about making Europe the new tech-hub but they were conspicuous by their absence having managed to prize their way into San Francisco with their European campaign-cries still ringing in my ears. Disappointing.
Le Web 2011 was good for me from an idea generation perspective. I didn’t spot any game changers but perhaps 2012 will give us an opportunity to consolidate on So-Lo-Mo as the general uptake of mobile devices continues and the services we early adopters have been excited by experience some main stream adoption.
Disappointingly, I left Paris with nothing new to excite the early adopter in me but I have to admit attending Le Web has energised me. For online opportunists: opportunities abound and the barriers to entry have never been lower. All is good in the online world!