Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

US and Polish Web 2.0 companies swap notes at Stanford

Posted by Tom Foremski - November 30, 2006

Wednesday evening I was cursing to myself as I tried again, and again, to find the James H Clark Center on the always confusing, sprawling  Stanford University campus. One last try and then I would leave, I told myself, and that's exactly when I found it, a striking, all-glass building. And I found the circular auditorium buried in the center of the complex.

The panel was already well underway and there were quite a few people on the stage.  I sat down and looked around at a reasonably full room, to see who else was interested in this event: "Web 2.0 Wave in the US and Poland. "

Top Polish entrepreneurs from Meetro, 3S Generator, Onet, plus senior people from Google, Intel, Linked In, and PBwiki were on stage[Please see panelist names at end of article.]

I was glad that I persevered in finding my way because it was an excellent panel discussion (I've sat through many hundreds of panels and I've slept through quite a few too... :-)

Also, this was a very young looking set of panelists and refreshingly so, because we didn't get the same hackneyed Web 2.0 stuff trotted out by the regular John Battelle et al Web 2.0 crowd of regulars. Different faces did produce a fresher Web 2.0-or-whatever-it-is, conversation.

There were some excellent gems in the conversation, here are some, and my notes and observations on the evening:

There was a question about what type of business models the companies had.

-"We have what we call 'oh shit!' business moments," said Ramit Sethi, co-founder of PBwiki. We look at our what our users are doing and where they come from and we find out things such as the fact that educators are our largest user group and they are recruiting others.

We also found out that our China users are growing really fast and doing all sorts of interesting things and then suddenly we lose them all because the China firewall has locked them out. It's 'oh shit' because we didn't know we had a business in those groups...

-The Polish companies were asked how to create new companies. One said get a garage. Marcin Malinowski, director of Onet, Poland's top portal, said, put passion into your code and then attach a business model to it. Paul Bragiel, head of top Polish gaming and social networking sites said find something you love doing and just start, start doing it.

-Poland has a very high quality software engineering community, Polish coders regularly win international competitions. It has a history of expertise in math especially in algorithms. Also, it know Western European culture very well, it has always been very westward looking.

"My Polish programmers totally 'get it' which isn;t true in other places such as China," said Mr Bragiel.

[I think this is a very important point because understanding culture is vital for any business that wants to succeed in that culture.  Cultural literacy is learned over many years through experience, there is no quick way to teach it.]

-Poland has a population of 40m, half are under 35, with about 30 per cent Internet penetration.

-The pace of change for businesses in Poland and elsewhere is fast and getting faster and faster, said Mr Bragiel. [He just might be the fastest English speaker I have heard.] He says that companies that can listen will do well, and that means listening to the young people in organizations because they are better tuned into the times.

[I agree. I often have the most interesting conversations with the youngest people within organizations because they haven't been taught how not to do things. They see things with a fresh eye and see how things are changing. But few organizations have the will or the process to tap into this resource.]

I liked the comments made by Konstantin Guericke, vp marketing at business social networking site Linked In:

- In the beginning a social network has little value because the value is from the users and their connections. We just look at what they do, how they try to increase their productivity and try to support that as best we can with new features. We've begun to show users what other users are doing, so that it encourages them to do similar things, such as promotions, or the number of contacts added.

-Our users are our marketing, they recruit others. VC love it when users market to user but you have to give up control. It costs us about 3 cents to acquire a user , and when they pay for premium services is about $300.

Another good contributor was Greg Welch, Director of Strategy and Industry Initiatives at Intel (Intel is an SVW sponsor) who contributed a lot of insightful and intriguing comments:

-Second Life is not a fad and that it represents Web 3.0 it is the way we will all interface with the Internet. All product design is done in digital, and has been for a while, now it can be tested out in virtual worlds such as Second Life. A hotel company is building a new type of hotel in Second Life where its design can be tested in the digital world before building it in the analog world.

-WiMAX technologies will enable Poland to quickly bridge the digital divide without having to dig trenches to carry copper Internet connections.

-Intel is always looking to help develop viral technologies that are spread by users and can get around the IT department within enterprises. Consumer adoptions will lead to enterprise adoptions. [Important point, IMHO the IT department is the most conservative and resistant to change organization within the enterprise.]

-You will be amazed by high definition video conferencing, I've seen a demo bn a quad core Intel chip running over regular internet speeds.

-I love anything that sucks mips!

 

A man in the audience said that he recently re-read Snowcrash, the 1992 science fiction novel because so much of it has come true.

[I have to agree, I have been thinking about Snowcrash myself since I became a journalist blogger because so much of it has come true, or is coming true, it is a truly remarkable book--my favorite concept is " hacking the brain stem."]

Mentioning Snowcrash sent the panelists' heads nodding vigorously, and they threw out a few other seminal favorites such as Code by Lawrence Lessig, Interface  and Mirror Worlds.

Greg Badros, director of engineering at Google and its Adsense business, gradually warmed up and became quite interesting:

-Pagerank doesn't work as well in enterprise search because there is less user data, however there is also less spam, so it requires a different approach.

-The more user data Google acquires the better its language translation, which is based on a statistical analysis of which words are used and their order within sentences. No special artificial intelligence is required.

-I wish people would put more data into Google Base, I wish people understood it more, I wish we at Google understood how to use it better, I wish we had much more structured data.

The Polish panelists said that they were envious of the huge number of early adopters in the US. In Poland there are lots of great ideas but you have to fight for the early adopters. You could have something totally cool and killer but it could fail because of the smaller pool of potential users.

This is why Polish internet companies have to have a global strategy from the beginning. But Poles are very interested and passionate about new Internet services and applications, for example Poland is the third largest Skype market.

 

- - -

It was a very good evening and one of the key organizers was Clay Bullwinkel Board Member, U.S.-Polish Trade Council and a key connector between US and Polish companies in various joint projects.[Bullwinkel (at) usptc.org]

I'd love to see more such events, but in a different venue. I don't see the academic world contributing much to the conversation about the social/conversational online worlds and economies  that are being created here, in Poland, and everywhere else. A better venue would be San Francisco but I'm biased because that's where I live. Also, $70 at the door to get in is steep and a barrier to other contributors.

Some additional info:

Panelists:Greg Badros, director of engineering at Google Inc., Greg Welch, director of strategy and industry initiatives for Intel’s Software and Solutions Group; and Marcin Malinowski, director of the business incubator department at Onet, Poland’s 20-million subscriber version of Yahoo.Paul Bragiel, CEO of the Meetro social networking site; Michael Faber, founder of BiznesNet.pl; Konstatin Guericke, vice president of marketing for Linked In; and Ramit Sethi, co-founder and vice president of PBwiki.

The event was  moderated by Dr. Charles Petrie, Stanford Consulting Professor and founding executive director of Stanford’s Network Research Center.

It was a pleasure to meet George Slawek, a local entrepreneur and president of the US Polish Trade Council. Like myself, Mr Slawek grew up in the United Kingdom. He has been here since 1986.

The US-Polish Trade Council is a group of U.S.-based international business leaders with professional and technical accomplishments in both Poland and the U.S.

US-Polish Trade Council

785 Market Street, 15th Floor
San Francisco, CA 94103

(415) 762-0706 or [email protected]

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