le web 10

Dec 10 2010

Le Web Roundup

Following the Le Web conference held in Paris over the past two days, I wanted to take this opportunity to summarise the event for you, sharing with you what I’ve learned.

Firstly, I should take this opportunity as a hat tip to Loic and Geraldine Le Meur who did an amazing job of organising the conference on the largest scale it’s ever been. Wherever you turned, there were people talking, connecting and sharing ideas. Not only was it a great environment to help bring people together but the quality of the presentations were awesome – something which is too often hit and miss at these types of events.

The main themes to come out of Le Web were mobile disruption, the current state of the acquisition model and the continuing discussion around the Europe/US tech divide. Let me explain some more:-

Mobile Disruption

It was clear that Apple shouldn’t become too complacent from all of the presentations taking place at the conference. The audience were raving about the new Windows 7 operating system and it’s certainly something I’d be keen to try. When Google’s Marissa Mayer demo’d the Android 2 handset with the new Google Maps built in, people were offering to hand in their iPhones in exchange.

There definitely appears to be a turn in the tide, with consumers wanting phones that work as well as look attractive. The average consumer no longer has a handset for work and a handset for home, they want to be able to do everything on one device and the question is, who will do it the best, first? Only time will tell….

The Current Acquisition Market

After the alleged $6b acquisition attempt by Google of Groupon, the big subject on everybody’s lips is whether we’re in another bubble heading towards bursting. This was only fuelled when Dennis Crowley, Co-Founder of FourSquare took to the stage and confirmed that they had turned down an acquisition offer in the region of $140m.

Regardless of all of this speculation, the VCs seemed clear that they didn’t believe that it was a bubble in the respect of that which took place nearly a decade ago. If the industry were to take a downturn, it’s very much encouraging that they believe we’d be able to survive it. With more business than ever before taking place online, it’s only right that the value of existing online assets will go up. Whether I agree with this is a different matter…

Europe/US Divide

The interesting debate kicked off which takes place at most of the European web events, which is whether it’s truly possible to achieve large scale success being outside of the States, and in particular San Francisco.

It seems that being in San Francisco provides many of the entrepreneurs there an opportunity to gather a strong support network, plenty more angel investment opportunities and allegedly a different working mentality. I can certainly see that there is value to having great people, trying to achieve great things around you would encourage and motivate you and provide you with some amazing contacts that may be useful in the future.

One point that was raised that I’m not sure that I agree with is that the mentality of entrepreneurs trying to make a success in the US is different as these people are doing what they’re doing because they truly love it, it’s a way of life for them, whereas in Europe we’re focused on exit. They cited Dennis Crowley turning down the acquisition offer as he says that he wouldn’t want to sell the company as it’s the one thing that he’s passionate about. Whether he genuinely means that or is waiting for a better valuation, only time will tell…

I had an amazing couple of days, meeting some truly inspiration people including the wonderful Bertrand Piccard.  To those of you with whom I had the pleasure of meeting… until next year, au revoir!

Dec 8 2010

Foursquare breaks 5m user barrier and 2m checkins per day!

Dennis Crowley, founder of Foursquare takes to the stage with Loic having battled through the Paris snow, to be greeted by a crowd waiting with much anticipation.

He informs the audience that a year ago, there were 4 people in the company and are now about to reach 40 which shows the rapid growth that they’ve experienced although this is still much smaller than most people might anticipate. In terms of numbers, he announces that last week Foursquare broke the 5m users barrier with almost 2m checkins per day. In terms of geological split, it currently sits at 60% USA and 40% elsewhere.

The biggest discovery from the presentation was that local merchants started promoting discounts to the most regular users and this actually drove the move to offer discounts to companies and some of the sponsorship opportunities. Dennis confirmed that there’s no set price on the cost of having a badge for a brand and it depends on how much exposure they’ll get from it, how good it will be for users etc. Due to their limited resource, they are building a lot of self service tools to restrict the amount of biz dev resource that they require.

When asked about numbers, Dennis confirmed that in the Series A funding, they raised $1m and hired 8 people. Series B was for $20m and came in at the end of June. They refused an acquisition offer by Facebook of $130m as they’re looking for what is best for the users in order to shape the product. When asked, Dennis said that he’s doing Foursquare for building things that people want to use rather than money in his bank which is really refreshing to hear.

Dennis suggested that they would soon be moving into the loyalty card space, exploring how users can get benefits the same as they would with a traditional loyalty card but instead using their Foursquare checkins.

When asked about the recent announcement regarding Endemol, Dennis confirmed that they are currently looking into creating a show regarding Foursquare which they’re incredibly excited about.

The biggest nugget that I took away from Dennis’ presentation is that they never set out to create a company or to look for acquisition. They started Dodgeball and then Foursquare because they’re passionate about what they are doing, solving real-world problems, helping people connect and making the web a better place. For that Dennis, I salute you!

Dec 8 2010

Marissa Mayer demo’s new Android handset…

The fireside chat begins with Marissa Mayer being interviewed by the love/hate journalist and blogger, Michael Arrington for the third Le Web in a row.

Marissa was in charge of search and user experience but now focuses on consumer products, primarily local geographic products e.g. Google Maps, Earth, Street View etc. Contextual discovery is a huge project that they’re working on and hope to announce over the next year.

Having done search for 11 years, her current role is closely related to search but gives her an opportunity to be involved with engineering. She currently has around 1000 people underneath her or a few thousand when you include all of the flights and driving teams, so it’s fair to say that this is an area that Google takes very seriously and is heavily investing in.

Marissa admitted to being a heavy FourSquare user and whilst she believes that Latitude is useful, there are a smaller group that will actually feel comfortable using this service. It’s safe to assume that Google will be adding additional layers to make it useful to more people… looking at checkin rather than always on, which is what currently happens.

Having launched Latitude onto the iPhone and recently pulling it again, Larissa confirmed that it is something they want to roll out on the iPhone and are getting close to having it ready for launch.

There are 3 big acquisitions that there are rumoured to have failed including Yelp, Twitter and Groupon. Larissa stressed how the larger the company, how much harder it is to integrate them into your ecosystem. The strategy should be dependent on the company, leadership and how it compliments your existing proposition.

HotPot is a personalised recommendations engine, build into GMM (mobile maps for mobile) and places and social search on the web. This allows you to rate different services and restaurants etc, it then allows you to tell them who their friends are and it can start to make tailored recommendations for you. This is very much aimed at local businesses. Larissa confirmed that social is important to Google and has to be something that they do well, therefore they are careful to try and nurse this well.

Larissa states that the web is made up of 4 components – search, video, social and mobile. She says that Google are really good at 3 out of the 4, but they’re working really hard on the 4th. She confirmed that there is a lot of acquisition activity planned for the next year and oddly went on to add “you will have seen that there’s been a lot of acquisition activity over the past year, but you’ve probably been tracking that better than us”…. which would be concerning to say the least.

There are 100m+ users currently using Google Maps for mobile which is something that Larissa explains whilst showcasing the newest Android device. Using a pinching action, Marissa shows how they’re now using vector maps which means that with one swift swipe, you can change to 3D mapping or go panoramic to pan around 3D buildings or areas. The map also has a compas built in which changes the perspective depending on how you’re holding the phone. Using caching , there is also now the ability to continue to navigate through maps without an internet connection, this is done through intelligently prefected the information that they believe that you will need. They’re able to do this through reducing the amount of data that your phone needs to display a standard map – leaving additional data capacity for additional functionality. This phone is currently only as pre-order for purchase in the USA and UK.

For an iPhone fan, this is hard for me to say, but at this point, even I want one of these phones! They won me over, what can I say?

p.s. She announced the naked guy in Germany in the boot of his car was actually a hoax. Sorry to disappoint!

Dec 8 2010

Exclusive Interview With Bertrand Piccard

A gentle unassuming character sits in the blogger’s lounge at Le Web. He’d easily be mistaken for one of the other attendees if it weren’t for the big shuttle badge on his jacket. That is of couse, if you’d never heard of Bertrand Piccard.

Bertrand Piccard was the first guy to fly around the world in a hot air balloon, quite some feat I think you’ll agree. Not satisfied with such a huge achievement, Bertrand decided that he’d next like to be able to fly around the world without any power. Yes, that’s right… no power… and so Solar Impulse was born.

Within seconds of interviewing Bertrand, I’m already in awe. He explains his motivation behind the not-for-profit company – to raise awareness that there should be less reliance upon manufactured power. Bertrand explains to me that his greatest learning throughout the whole project to date is how readily bloggers want to support the team. The bloggers want to be able to be a part of a social movement to make a positive shift. The issue that they face is the lack of political encouragement. This is something that they hope to tackle through growing public awareness and support.

It is the belief of Bertrand that the energy reducing technology that exists today should be mandatory, it’s the responsible thing to do. It has been said that listening to him, it’s hard to believe that there’s anyone that could argue to the contrary. Since launching the project, Bertrand has managed to fly for 26 hours straight in the solar powered plane, something many never thought would happen.

Now a team of 70, there’s growing momentum around the project. There are currently 45 engineers working on development and a further 15 in finance and marketing functions – understandable when they’re currently developing a second plane which they hope to fly around the world in 2014.

So what’s next? Bertrand says that they have scheduled flights for Europe, Africa and USA. Their next big challenge is to embrace to social web to help spread the word behind their campaign. Even just chatting with Bertrand, you can see that this is a new world that he’s entering into, having previously dealt with traditional press. He’s all too aware that in order to take the project to the next step, they’re going to have to grow their social awareness and it has to be said, I can’t wait to see what comes next for them.

I wish luck to him and his team and I know that for me personally, I’ll be doing anything that I can to help… for a truly amazing cause.

Dec 8 2010

More than 12m paid downloads of Angry Birds

Mikael Hed takes to the stage with MG Siegler to talk about the huge phenomenon that is Angry Birds. For those of you that aren’t aware of Angry Birds… where have you been for the past year?

When asked about the origins of Angry Birds, Mikael explains that one of the game developers came up with a screenshot containing coloured birds and blocks. The idea was that when one of the birds went onto a block of the same colour, it would disappear. Luckily they realised that it was an awful idea but continued to develop the game around the bird icons and so Angry Birds was born.

The growth experienced by Angry Birds is amazing with more than 12m paid downloads (pretty much entirely from the iPhone) and over 30m free downloads. October saw the launch of the Android application. Whilst they researched the market in open beta, they discovered that not all customers were able to download paid applications. Therefore they turned to an advertising funded model. For advertisers, this provides a great opportunity to capture users that remain within one application.

Whilst this revenue model has been hugely successful, now generating over £1m p/m – they have decided that the current revenue model is working really well for the iPhone and therefore unlikely to change.

Mikael confirmed that they will be launching a Windows 7 version, despite the slight fall out of Microsoft announcing that the phone would be launching with Angry Birds when it was yet to be developed.

The biggest announcement was that they will be moving into the console market – currently developing games for most of the main consoles. This will yet further their paid model. They’re also looking into developing a backend system which will allow cross-platform integration allowing a user to play on their iPhone and then to continue on their platform with the same scores etc.

Merchandising has been huge for Angry Birds with all of the toys currently sold out and not anticipated to be back in stock until February. They confirmed that they went to a licensing company early on from launch and therefore this has always been planned. Mikael stressed that they are very careful not to overexpose the brand.

The company was made up of 12 employees at the start of the year and is currently up to 40. When asked about interest in taking funding, he confirmed that they have no need to do this as their current expansion is paid for from monthly revenue. It seems there’s no stopping this company in what is currently a very hot space.

Dec 8 2010

MySpace is a dying plane in a downward spiral

Michael Jones, CEO of MySpace takes to the stage to face questioning by the infamous Robert Scoble in what promises to be an interesting interview.

Robert sets the background by explaining that at the first Le Web event 5 years ago, MySpace was at it’s peak with over 150m+ active users, a real disruptive cause but has since started a downward spiral from which it’s unlikely to recover. This introduction comes only 15 days after MySpace launched their new site.

The new MySpace site now offers a platform for social entertainment, rather than it’s first purpose of being a social network. If done successfully, this will be the first site of it’s kind to have revolutionised itself into a different form to create a rebirth to the social market. However, when asked, only 2% of the audience had actually seen the new site.

Michael states that you should now be able to connect to TV shows, films or music that you like, this will then provide you with a personalised entertainment feed, keeping you up to date with the latest news from the people that you want to hear about. One of the big shocks is that MySpace has secured a partnership with Facebook which allows you to use the Facebook Connect technology to allow users to import data regarding their Facebook likes which then creates an entertainment feed within the application.

Whilst asked about rumours of Murdoch wanting to sell the company, Michael commented that they’ve had nothing but support from Newscorp and he believes that they will be given the time and leverage to turn the site around.

The questioning soon moves onto the mobile platform and Michael adds that they’re currently developing separate applications for each of the platforms. They are due to launch an iPhone app next week which will allow content to be gathered for you using the music that you have listed in your iTunes account without you having to log into the account.

After an interesting discussion, it’s clear that Michael is aware of the challenges that MySpace faces. Whilst the technology and strategies are firm, the biggest problem that they will face is a brand challenge. It’s going to be an educative process of teaching people that they’re no longer a social network which people previously regarded them as and are now instead an entertainment provider.

Dec 8 2010

Twitter was almost called “Fleeting”!

Jason Goldman, VP of Product at Twitter takes to the stage, interviewed by MG Siegler of TechCrunch.

They start by discussing the Instagram integration which was launched yesterday along with SlideShare which means that these platforms will now be rendered on the righthand side of the Twitter application, without having to go off to another site, making it a seamless experience. This an area of focus that they will continue to grow.

Jason says that Twitter’s strength is that they have something for everybody – their next challenge is helping people to find relevant content more easily from the mass of content being produced. He then adds that he originally tried to persuade Biz to change Twitter’s name to Fleeting but this was never to be… rightly so!

Then comes the big announcement, Jason informs the audience that he’ll be leaving Twitter at the end of the month and staying on as an advisor. The move comes after Dick Costolo’s appointment as new CEO and given that he’s not moving to another role, I think it’s safe to assume that he had been asked to step down.

It’s clear that Jason is hugely proud of Twitter and the company that it’s become today, always staying true to it’s goals of remaining open and transparent, driving ambition with humility. The main message to have come out of the presentation was that Twitter have now built stability in their scaling and can work to continue the development of an amazing product and more great clients for use.

Dec 8 2010

Le Web has kicked off… check out live posts here!

The auditorium is packed and a hush settles over the audience. This year’s Le Web appears to be bigger than ever before and not only that it’s beautiful. A lot of work goes into organising Le Web, you can tell not only from it’s size but the perfect management of the event, making it faultless.

With higher expectations than ever before, let me first go to the Microsoft presentation done by Charlie Kendel, the head of their Developer Ecosystem. The presentation starts promptly with Loic questioning how many handsets have been sold using the Windows platform to date. Charlie dodges the question and refuses to share how many this number of how many they plan on selling over the next year. It appears that Microsoft are a very closed organisation and as Loic points out, as a developer developing for the Windows platform, it’s impossible to get information such as how many downloads your app receives.

Charlie says that the new platform that they’re launching is very much focussed on the customer segment as opposed to operators which is what previously has been the case. It appears that Microsoft now recognise that people manage both their business and personal lives on one handset.

The new Windows 7 phone being launched by Microsoft appears to be much more social, encouraging development from the cloud. The phone comes with Xbox Live is built in with high quality games, they want it to be known as the Xbox phone. To date, 3500 applications have been uploaded to the market place one month after launch with 1500 developers already registered.

From the presentation, it would appear that Microsoft have seen the error of their ways and are attempting to change their direction to keep themselves in the mobile market as a credible platform provider. What that means for the future of their platform is yet to be seen.

Dec 7 2010

Bonjour Paris!

I’m incredibly honoured to have been invited to Paris to attend Le Web as one of their official bloggers. Not only is Paris one of the most amazing cities in the world, Le Web is Europe’s largest tech conference and brings together some of the greatest minds in the industry. Loic and Geraldine do an amazing job of creating an awesome lineup and running a huge multi-track conference without hitch, an achievement not to be sniffed at.

Over the next few days, I’ll be sharing my experiences and lessons learned from the presentations, so be sure to check back. If you happen to be attending Le Web and want to say hi, tweet me at @melkirk.

In the meantime, I wrote a post on remote working with tips of making a success of it, which was featured by one of my favourite tech blogs, GigaOM. Why not have a read and share your tips in the comments?