LeWeb gets back to its Roots – A Review

Dec 7, 2012
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With LeWeb safely under wraps, I think it’s about that time that we take a look at what we can learn from Paris’ biggest web event of the year, and one of Europe’s largest tech events. The three day event saw plenty of announcements – some of them we’ve already covered, many of them will slowly roll out over the next few weeks. Loic fixed a lot of problems of LeWeb Paris 2011, which we reviewed here; however, it seems in repairing some broken cogs, he broke some new ones as well.

LeWeb was significantly more French than last year

There’s no denying it – members of the French startup community got more airtime this year than last year. Perhaps it’s because the Internet of Things themes touches on more French specialties, or perhaps it’s because we chewed LeWeb out for being unnecessarily un-French last yearXavier Niel opened up LeWeb with an interview with Nest CEO Toy Fadell, we saw talks from the founders of Withings, Parrot AR Drone, Fleur Pellerin – not to mention the nearly all-French jury panel for the startup competition.

I’ve been saying for quite some time that we need more members of the French startup ecosystem speaking English – this is why I started doing weekly Rude Hangouts with people like Renaud Visage, CTO of Eventbrite.

The two French disappointments: JAG & France itself

Among all the things that went on, I think the biggest kick in the arse for France was that someone had the bright idea to give the founder of an eCommerce site that is virtually unknown in the US a microphone and said “just say whatever you’re thinking.” Jacques-Antoine Granjon, founder of Vente Privée, spoke frankly during the results of the startup competition, which saw, for the 1st time in LeWeb history, 3 French startups as the finalists. “we didn’t get to choose the startups, we had to work with what we had” says Granjon – or as I call him, “Simoncini’s chiuaua”. The entrepreneur turned business angel is notoriously known for saying things like “If you get Simoncini to invest, I will too,” and is now notoriously known for taking a dump on the winners of a competition that historically correlates with raising a round of funding.

Not a lot of speakers that blew me away – can we have  no-speaker conference?

LeWeb tends to pack out the big names, and I think one of the best decisions they made this year was making the VIP/Speaker’s lounge & press room so inconvenient t get to – in what I call the “LeCamping room,” as it’s where LeCamping notoriously got placed last year – I think this resulted in speakers & bloggers spending more time on the ground talking with people.

As for the speakers themselves – sure Kevin Systrom spoke about Instagram & Facebook v. Twitter, but I think we’re getting to a point where either the journalists all know in advance which announcements will be made, and I’d rather see these speakers be paid to be on the main floor rather than standing on stage. It’s definitely gotten to a point where the main stage is no longer the main focus – I saw a total of 4 talks on the main stage, and spent most of my time running between meetings, seeing old friends, and making new ones. It’s like a 20-year College Reunion – do you really want to listen to the former prom queen talk to you about how “we all one big family,” or do you want to go meet people that you arguably should’ve met 20 years ago?

Is the Internet of Things really that big?

Given all the talks we saw, who was making the most headlines (crowdfunding site Indiegogo, Instagram, etc.) one has to ask – is the Internet of Things really going to be that big? Talking with one developer evangelist at LeWeb, he said that he’s quite bearish on the Internet of Things, saying that beyong “cute toys” like Parrot AR Drone and a scale that connects to your iPhone, there isn’t really much being done. Given the speakers presenting at LeWeb, and the demonstrations of what’s being done in the IoT, I’m inclined to think we are in “IoT 1.0” which means we can look forward to a few things: increasingly larger valuations of startups like circa 1999, and ultimately a realization that these startups are 10 years too early, and then a real revolution in 2020.

Given what Sigfox has said, I can see the market potential (they are building a network to manage billions of devices, not millions); however, I think there are a few technologies that still aren’t in enough peoples’ hands, and a few cultural habits that have yet to roll over to the internet age.

Will Loic Le Meur & Paddy Cosgrave battle it out to be Europe’s tech summit?

With the surprise announcement of a Paris Pub Summit – a trademark meetup of the Web Summit crew, who hosts Dublin Web Summit, London Web Summit, as well as the Europas in January – it seems that Paddy Cosgrave and his summit are creeping further and further into the LeWeb territory. The two have already met each other on the battle grounds of London, having bost hosted LeWeb London & the London Web Summit within a few months of each other earlier this year; however, the general consensus of these two events is that they weren’t nearly as good as their hometown equivalents.

For now, it seems that the swords are drawn, and while players like TheNextWeb continue to drawbig crowds in their neutral hometown of Amsterdam, other US events like GigaOM Structure Europe will have a hard time finding their place in a market dominated by tough Irishmen & persistent Frenchmen.

Was the Startup Competition really a disappointment?

With JAG’s big mouth saying what some were already thinking, the general exit poll sentiment is that the startups this year weren’t as good as last year. Looking back on last year’s winners – HeyCrowd, BeInToo, etc. – I am not inclined to agree, as the argument of “what’s the business model?” seems more an indicator of the state of the venture capital market than of the startups who competed.

We’ve been following qunb, the startup that won the LeWeb startup competition, for some time, and I’m pretty impressed with their ambition. They’ve taken feedback in the last year and changed their roadmap to fit the market better, and they contnue to push themselves to build more & faster. You may ask yourselves where this startup is headed, but I rather ask you to pick another startup with a bigger vision, and leave them to figure out how to monetize once they’ve created a product that people want.

Traffic, traffic, & Traffc.

Overall, I enjoyed LeWeb this year. Everyone’s experience is based on whether they feel they got a lot done, and I personally met a fair amount of people. The human traffic factor is always a plus for me – being on my home turf and bringing all these startupers together is always a great feeling.

The public transportation traffic, however, made it such that Saint Denis is still a terrible place to do LeWeb – the metro line was closed, and road construction in the area meant that even if you called for an Uber, you had an hour wait to get into the city (thank god for their bottles of water). Next year there will be both a metro stop that’s closer to LeWeb, as well as a tram line circulating around the edge of the city (perfect for those of us who live on the 20th!), and so perhaps the traffic factor will be a little less. It cetainly didn’t help that the only metro line that takes people to LeWeb was closed for the last two days of the event in order to do the very construction that will make the event easier to get to next year.

Conclusion – LeWeb gets back to its roots

LeWeb definitely gets a thumbs up for getting back to its French roots – more French speakers, more mistakes on stage reminiscent of a event that isn’t 10 years old, and what felt like a bit more soul, even if the main stage wasn’t quite as exciting as it used to be. With French prime minister Ayrault asking Loic to come back to Paris, it will be interesting to see how LeWeb evolves in the coming years – some may have written LeWeb off, saying that Web Summit or Pioneers Festival had echoed in a new era of events. Personally, I don’t think it’s quite so black and white, and look forward to seeing out LeWeb London 2013 & LeWeb Paris 2013 evolve.