RudeVC: MWC2014 – Embracing the fringe

Feb 26, 2014
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Two years ago I penned a piece in this very space entitled Europe still has a winner in Barça, in the form of the Mobile World Congress, and I believed it.

The center of gravity has clearly been shifting away from the mobile operators and toward the handset vendors and content creators. In correlation with this shift, an increasing number of stimulating and engaging side events have been cropping up, but the main act of the MWC had always anchored them together.

That rift is becoming even more palpable now.

Part of the explanation is undoubtedly linked to last year’s change of venue from the intimate Fira Montjuic at the centrally-located Plaça Espanya to the Fira Gran Via, a cavernous strip mall of a structure closer to the airport. My main gripe with the Fira Gran Via is its distance from central Barcelona and the stimulating fringe events that occur around the conference. On the flip side, one nice benefit of the new venue is how its layout, with its one main artery connecting the halls, fosters serendipitous encounters. I had the pleasure of unexpectedly crossing paths with a former high school classmate from Silicon Valley, for example.

4yfn - imageBut I have to hand it to the Mobile World Capital Barcelona (the organizers of MWC). They undoubtedly have recognized the growing importance of the side events, so they created their own: 4YFN. Since 4YFN graciously offered your RudeVC correspondent complimentary entry, I decided to play hooky on MWC one day and spend a day at Montjuic.

4YFN (4 Years From Now) struck me as a sexier alternative conference targeting mobile entrepreneurs (and the barnacles that cling to them, like VCs). 4YFN’s stated mission is to help entrepreneurs build mobile ideas and startups, enabling them to build a larger international network, get real feedback on concepts, and find the resources to accelerate their current or future business.

For its inaugural year, I’d say they succeeded in their mission. The panel topics proved relevant, the workshops invaluable, the entrepreneurs stimulating. Even the fellow VCs I bumped into came from the thought leader variety (ok, I may have been the one exception).

janThe timing couldn’t have been better either, with Tuesday’s interview with Jan Koum of WhatsApp (even $16b cannot cure a hangover) and Martin Varsavsky in the unusual stage role of interviewer rather than interviewee.

So felicitats, Mobile World Capital Barcelona. I look forward to seeing what 4YFN has in store one year from now.

There is a broader lesson here too. Incumbents of all sectors are witnessing disruption from new innovators (we recently wrote about consultancies). With 4YFN, the Mobile World Capital Barcelona created their own disruptive innovator. Did it draw some people away from the central event? Of course, there were some effects of ‘canabalization’. But sometimes embracing disruption is one of the best ways an incumbent can innovate.