What does LeWeb’s postponement say about Paris’ role in the European Startup Scene?

Sep 7, 2015
Vote on Hacker News

11307391795_66f0e39f7c_o

Earlier this year, a brief announcement by the LeMeurs alerted the tech community that the duo had bought back LeWeb from their acquirers, Reed MIDEM. Both parties seemed to praise the deal, and the tech community was left wondering: can LeWeb turn itself around in 2015? The answer to that question, unfortunately, may not come until 2016, if it comes at all, as LeWeb coyly announced on Facebook & Twitter that LeWeb would not be happening this year – many were already aware that LeWeb would not take place in 2015, with some previous and potential event sponsors saying that the LeWeb team had told them to wait until 2016.

At any rate, this means that LeWeb will not take place this year, and there is no huge tech conference to bring together the international tech community in France this year. Reed MIDEM’s other events – MIDEM, MIPTV – or the Cannes Lions Festival bring together the music, televisions & creative industry regularly; however, LeWeb was Paris’ horizontal conference to bring together big name entrepreneurs, investors, partners & press.

While I’d love to say that, in the past two years, Rude Baguette has managed to put together some amazing events – Paris Founders Event & PSJF, Paris’ largest startup networking & recruitment events, respectively, or even Connected Conference, our highly successful connected hardware conference – none of these events have the impact that LeWeb had (yet).

So what went wrong?

LeWeb came along 10 years ago at a time where Facebook was still college campus-hopping for growth, before Twitter, before Foursquare, before Periscope and before the European Startup Scene was anything more than Kazaa/Skype & a handful of isolated incidents. LeWeb had one promise – bring Silicon Valley to Paris – and, for a long time, that was exactly what Paris, and thus Europe, wanted; however, as I’ve said for years, LeWeb struggled to adapt to the changing landscape, where European startups 1) wanted to shine next to US startups & 2) wanted to shine in their own right, as more than a gimmick.

As the European startup scene continues to grow, European tech events need to be less about a road show for US tech companies, and more about providing insight into foreign markets for US tech companies, and providing access to an international audience for local tech companies. The rise of the Web Summit in Dublin, Pioneers Festival in Vienna, and SLUSH in Helsinki created a new generation of tech events, initially branding themselves as low-cost, ‘bootstrap’ equivalents of Tech Crunch Disrupt, SXSW, or LeWeb; however, pricing is no longer a question when choosing Web Summit or another European Tech Conference. Bridging Europe with the rest of the tech ecosystem is the role of a conference organizer – it’s not enough to bring brand-name tech influencers on stage.

LeWeb isn’t the only event to struggle in Europe – TechCrunch Disrupt, after an edition in Berlin & another in London, has moved the date of its conference to early December, preferring to take on LeWeb’s sponsorship budget rather than compete with Web Summit (Pioneers Festival, notably, also switched to a late-May date to get away from Web Summit’s dates). GigaOm’s Structure Europe has struggled in Europe as well.

What’s interesting is that, even including Mobile World Congress, Europe’s biggest tech events are all happening in ‘secondary’ cities – Helsinki, Vienna, Dublin (& potentially, in the future, Lisbon), Amsterdam & Barcelona – meanwhile, London, Paris, Stockholm, & even Berlin lack their signature conference. Many candidates comes to mind; however, nothing is at a level that would make TechCrunch or the Web Summit team lift their heads.

While there are similarly tech conferences in secondary US cities like Austin or Las Vegas, nowhere in Europe do we see a similar concentration and willingness to pay to play as in San Francisco – I’m talking less about a ‘startup capital’ and more about a willingness to pay 3,000€ to go to a conference, because the expected ROI is greater than the cost. DEMO, Launch, TC Disrupt, and the tons of vertical conferences going on weekly – no major European city can boast this concentration of activity, though that argument need not be repeated.

So, will LeWeb be replaced? Will major cities like London, Paris, Berlin & Stockholm lose out to cheaper destinations? For now it would seem that, like LeWeb, the answers to these questions will come in 2016.

Image Credit: Dan Taylor // Heisenberg Media