Euro-Centric: A review of The Next Web Conference

Apr 29, 2013
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Walking out of the Hotel V in Frederiksplein last Thursday morning, I rode the line 10 tram to the end of the line, passing canals, the newly reopened Rijksmuseum, the Heineken Factory, and plenty of construction sites putting up stands for the upcoming Queen’s Day. When I arrived to TheNextWeb Conference last Thursday, I was already well in the Amsterdam mood. I had driven up one day earlier to catch the Europioneers event – an awards ceremony put on by the European Commission in cooperation with The Next Web – and had thus already slipped into tech conference mode.

The night before I had already met some pretty amazing people: PayPal Developer Network Global Director John Lunn, Soundcloud Founder & CEO Alexander Ljung (who I interviewed Thursday morning alongside Klarna founder Niklas Adalberth), as well as Amazon CTO Wernor Vogels. The mood was set to be quite a great event, and the sun had even come out to welcome foreigners to Amsterdam.

Google Glass – Real or Fake?

One of the most popular items at TNW Conference was the Google Glass, sported and talked about by Robert Scoble, one of the keynote speakers at the conference. He passed the object around to so many people to test on the first day that it ran out of battery, but I got to try it out (briefly). While the concept is very curious, looking at what appears to be a 150×150 pixel screen about 12 feet away from you isn’t the most technologically satisfying thing I’ve ever seen. I didn’t dive too deep into the product, but from a user perspective, I’m not sure that I want sliding my finger on the side of my forehead to replace the socially inept action of staring straight down at your crotch sliding your finger back and forth across your smartphone screen.

The event apparently also had a few people walking around wearing fake Neon Google Glass – one event attendee said that when they asked to try them on, the person let them, and began to pitch hock their product while the person realized it was just a fake pair of glasses with plastic around it.

Definitely a no-no in my book.

France seriously gets a Bad rap.

I held my tongue during my fireside chat with Soundcloud CEO Alexander Ljung as he said the only cities he thinks anyone should start a company in are Berlin & London – I get it, Paris isn’t the most connected city. I even nodded politely during my 30 minute interview with Gary Shapiro as he told me fake facts about French labor laws, clearly reflecting a bad experience he had many years ago, which he had not bothered to check in the past 10 years. But I have to call out the Startup Rally MC who scoffed when Sush.io answered his question about where they were from by saying they were from Paris.

Here’s the deal: from Business Objects to Criteo, Sparrow to Exalead, Dailymotion to Viadeo to Deezer, I wager that France puts out more $100M startups than Berlin (easy!) and even London, if you stop counting video game companies (where Ubisoft and Gameloft still rank top in gaming) and agencies.

I don’t pretend to defend France’s public sector, but if you measured a company’s startup ecosystem by its government’s actions, then I doubt we’d be so interested in a social network founded under the Bush administration, or in the numerous Russian, Israeli, African, or Chinese startups that we hear about so often. France is the only country whose public sector drags its private sector down in terms of reputation.

US Companies launching in Europe

Beyond the overt stereotypes and ignorance, TNW was a pretty great place to meet people. Optimizely’s CEO Dan Siroker talked about his company’s recent European launch, and Evernote’s VP of Evernote Business John McGeachie talked about how 25% of Evernote’s nearly 4,000 Evernote Business customers were coming out of Europe, far ahead of their expectations.

Worst 1st Impression Ever

The award for Worst 1st Impression definitely goes to PeerReach, whose “influence ranker” slotted me in at a comfortable 506th out of the 2,000 attendees at the event – not that the number is important (or accurate *ego*), but I would definitely install a back door to inflate the numbers for journalists and speakers when doing something like this. I was already a bit dubious of their system – they recently sent me a list of the top Web influencers in France, and I didn’t appear on the top 100 list. Again, I know it sounds like an ego thing, but really? If I’m not on the list, why do you want to talk to me?

Conclusion: Probably the most relevant European Conference so far

I think what I enjoyed about the event the most was its Euro-centric nature. While I met Americans and US startups while I was there (in addition to some awesome European startups, like TNW Startup Rally winners Infogr.am), what I enjoyed was that everything was about Europe – launching in Europe, expanding in Europe, building startups in Europe, Hyper-Growth in Europe. I think Europe is beginning to realize that, as a market, it accounts for more global internet traffic than the US, and if it starts taking itself seriously, it might just get more business traffic too.