In 2009 I attended The Europas Awards in London (above), celebrating the best European tech startups. It was a very boozy, rowdy, and fun event presented by Mike Butcher, Editor of Techcrunch Europe.
I couldn't make it this year but I'm sure that the 2014 awards very much the same in tone and booze. Mike Butcher was the MC, and even one of the winners was the same: Soundcloud. The other 2014 Europas winners included: FoodPanda, Babbel, Startup Bootcamp, Brainient, Supercell, EyeEm, GoCardless, DataSift, Petcube, BlaBlaCar, BigHealth, ZenMate, Bitstamp, Hailo, Evrythng, Swiftkey, FarFetch, CodeClub, Index Ventures, and Telegram.
[At the time of writing I found no US coverage of today's Europas Awards, not even at Techcrunch. I scooped the US press. It shows how little interest there is in European startups.]
Fellow Traveling Geek Evan Spence has posted a pretty good piece about LeWeb, which we attended earlier this month in Paris. LeWeb is one of Europe's top tech conferences and is organized by San Francisco-based Loic and Geraldine Le Meur.
Le Web 2009 was like a diamond, a few flaws but on the whole brilliant and sparkling and deserving of its place in the Conference Crown Jewels of tech land.
...cards on the table, I think that the Le Web from 2007 is still the Le Web to beat...
...Le Web is probably only second to SXSW in getting that certain cross section of people into one place. The true value of any conference is in the networking and Le Web delivers that both in those who attend and the time and space that you can find to interact.
...For Le Web 2010 I would not allow a speaker (or a host of a fireside chat) on stage if they had appeared in 2009...This would at a stroke force speakers to be found from new sites, companies and people with different views than who we heard this year. And many many more Europeans on stage please!
...I felt like I was back at University being lectured rather than watching presentations and panels at a web conference. Where was the encouragement to have a two way conversation? ... Why were there no questions from the audience?
...I abhor the idea of "fireside chats" in a program. If you have to bring back Marrissa Mayer and Michael Arrington ... then rather than an almost scripted talk, send Michael into the crowd to take questions from the audience to the Google VP. Same goes for any of these softball opportunities.
... The event could be so much more, and I hope that a bit more swashbuckling, danger and risk are present in the 2010 event.
You can read the whole post and more points from Ewan here:
Silicon Valley Geeks and Parisian Geeks have a lot in common: lots of passion, great ideas and they speak the lingua franca of "geek."
But there is an important difference, as Beth Blecherman at Techmamas recently found on a visit to LeWeb:
While Silicon Valley geeks put on a clean tee shirt for tech conferences, European geekstake it up a notch. Here is a random geek waiting in line for LeWeb. I told him I was chronicling European Geek Chic. He looked confused but smiled for the camera. To top it off, he and many other Euro-geeks paired the geek uniform of jeans with a nice pair of (non-sneaker) shoes.
Just to keep up with the style, I put on every black and stylish piece of clothing I had. If I had time, I would of shopped from the assortment of beautiful french scarves to take my outfit up a notch.
Please see the full post, where Beth also looks for European girl geeks, which are even rarer than here:
Startup culture seems universal these days. This year I've visited startups in the UK and more recently, in France. And I constantly meet startups in Silicon Valley, where some have relocated from many other countries.
They all share many things in common: smart, passionate people with lots of great ideas and with innovative business strategies. It almost seems as if 'geek' has become the new lingua franca of startups the world over.
Today, if I were founding a startup, I believe that a hybrid strategy is best. The following is based on some of the conversations I've had this year and over the past few years with startups from many countries.
[Please note: The following advice depends upon the type of startup and is not intended to apply to all types of companies.]
The New Rules Global Startup:
- Diversity is very important, make sure you have people from many different countries, cultures and a diversity of experiences.
- Site your research and development in France and take advantage of the 50 per cent R&D tax credit.
- Cities such as Paris offer very good incubator centers where you can find cheap office space (500 Euros per month) with included support services such as meeting rooms, broadband, telephones, common workshops.
- Cambridge in the UK is a great place to recruit smart engineers and with a fantastic culture of innovation that stretches back hundreds of years.
- Put your CEO and CMO in San Francisco/Silicon Valley area. This provides close access to capital for expansion. VCs don't like to travel. Also, this is where much of the media that covers tech and startups has become concentrated.
There are also lots of events and conferences that will save a fortune on travel costs. Plus, your top executives get to practice their English language skills if they don't yet have them. English is the international language of commerce and that won't change in a hurry, even in China executives are learning English.
- Make sure your marketing and sales departments are located in the US. The amount of effort you put into expanding your business in your home country goes much, much further if you do it in the US first.
Plus, success even of the smallest kind in the US, is multiplied in perception in your home country (and in other countries). Just as Frank Sinatra sang about making it in New York, you can then make it anywhere.
- Have people in key urban areas such as San Francisco, Santa Monica, New York, London, Paris, and Berlin. Businesses need to understand the culture in which they want to be successful. If they aren't in it they won't know it. Cities are also where emergent cultures can first be spotted.
- Have software engineering work done in low cost regions such as Bangalore, Manila, etc. Even better, choose regions such as Krakow, where there is high quality and low turnover. Some development teams in regions such as Bangalore and Pune can be 100 per cent a year, while in places such as Krakow, turnover is around 5 per cent a year. High turnover means longer time to market, which can be fatal to a startup.
- Use as much open software technologies as possible, wherever they make sense.
- Use independent contractors as much as possible, again, where applicable. We live in an increasingly atomic society, whether we like it or not.
- Make use of social media, blogging etc, as much as possible and encourage your staff, wherever they are, to be mini-media brands. You should know where your customers and potential customers are online and offline and they should know you.
Everyone in your company should be an evangelist. If they are uncomfortable in that position maybe they should be in a different position.
- Try to build up as much of the company without resorting to VC investments. You'll raise your valuation. And you can focus on making money from your market rather than being constantly distracted by having to raise capital at regular intervals.
- - -
I'll be adding more rules for the Global Startup over the coming weeks. If you have some suggestions please let me know in comments or email.
[I'm trying to support my habit (journalism) with consulting projects. It'll be first come first serve. Let me know if you need any help: tom at foremski.com or 415 336 7547. (I'm in the UK until end of December.)]
- - -
Our fellow Traveling Geek Olivier Ezratty has been a wonderful guide to Paris and also to the Parisian startup scene. Olivier makes some angel investments and he consults with French startups.
I had mentioned that I was quite impressed with the quality of the French entrepreneurs. [Paris Diary: Putting "French" Back Into Entrepreneur]
He agreed that things had improved over the past few years but he also mentioned some of the issues that French startups still need to work on. Here are some notes from our conversation:
- Engineers have a higher status within French business than sales and marketing people. This means there is less importance attached to marketing skills.
- French startups try to start in France, then expand to French speaking countries, then Europe, then US. This is not the right way to do it.
- French startups should do what Israeli startups do - goo for the largest markets. Israel has virtually no domestic market so its startups have to try for the largest markets.
-It is very difficult to make sales in France if you are a French company. You know the old saying, "No one gets fired for buying IBM." Well, the same is true in France, there is a perception that no one gets fired for buying from a US company. Despite French nationalism, there is the perception that US companies are better than French.
- Few French entrepreneurs have good language skills, few speak English well.
- French startups need to diversify their staff. It is much better if they have different nationalities. Diversity is very important within a company.
- French startups would do better if they sited their sales and marketing in the US and win reference customers there. That would make it easier to make sales in France. They can keep their R&D in France and get the tax credits.
- The French culture has a mistrust of business people. Making money or becoming rich is viewed with suspicion. This attitude can be traced back to the early eighteenth century.
- People think twice about telling their families that they work for a startup. You can be considered a failure by family and friends if you do not work for a large company.
- - -
Please see: Olivier Ezratty on Traveling Geeks.
Also his blog: Opinions Libres
(LeWeb conference floor - photo by Robert Scoble.)
The beauty of the blogging approach to news is that you don't have to reinvent the wheel. If someone has written up a great story, you can simply point to it instead of trying to recreate it.
At LeWeb I was part of the Traveling Geeks group, and the group was producing a lot of great content. Here is a selection:
An excellent roundup of day two by Matthew Buckland:
matthewbuckland.com » Le Web 2009, Day 2: The good, the bad and the vacuous
The Andrew Keen panel on "Content vs Conversation: The Debate over Realtime Search" delivered quite nicely. You can't help but feel though that Keen, author of "Cult of the Amateur," is being contrarian for the sake of contrarian. What this means is that you tend not to take him seriously most of the time. He just becomes an actor, a clown, rather than someone who asks critical, important questions that test us and leads to insight. It's a pity because it's important to ask the difficult, unpopular questions -- but not at the expense of being frivolous.
...the marketing/PR panel "How brands and marketing have to adapt to this new worldwide real time 'word of mouth'" with Steve Rubel of Edelman Digital, Brian Solis, Founder & President, Future Works, Seth J. Sternberg, Co-Founder & CEO,Meebo and others. It was well moderated by the respected Chris Brogan, but ultimately disappointing. It was marked by vacuous buzzwords and statements, with little real argument, insight or practical example. My feeling is that these types of talks were important five years ago when we needed evangelism for online marketing or social media (i.e.: to tell everyone its important and they must do it!). But we've passed that phase. We get it. Let's delve deeper and have some original insights -- at least for the savvy audience of Le Web.
By David Spark:
Not-so-cool - Who didn't pay to go on the main stage? - It appears about half of everyone who appeared on the main stage (panelists possibly excluded) paid in some manner to be there. It could be more. It's obvious because so many sponsors were on the main stage. None of these seemingly paid appearances were disclosed. I've been to plenty of conferences where there were paid presentations. Many disclose that information in the printed programs with the note, "Sponsored presentation." For a community that keeps talking about the need for "authenticity" online, I think it would be nice if there was some authentic disclosure as to who did and didn't pay to be on stage.
Not-so-cool - LeWeb is an old boys' network - I was thinking this and then I heard it repeated by a few of my colleagues. Loic gets many of the same people to present, interview, and moderate, such as Robert Scoble and Michael Arrington. Since they're friendly off stage, their on stage presentation has this sense of being an old boys' network. It's not the most welcoming feeling for the people in the audience. People were definitely unnerved by it.
By Robin Wauters from Techcrunch:
Zennström said being an entrepreneur is a lifestyle, and requires complete dedication. Real company builders should forget about spare time and hobbies, and prepare for a lot of sweat and hard work. On the other hand, he said, riding that wave can prove to be very rewarding.
Ryan Sarver (Twitter): we feel we have no choice but to treat developers within our ecosystem extremely well, we need that alignment.
David Jacobs (Six Apart): It's important to have an open platform, and the iPhone is a unique case for a multitude of reasons. But anyone else would be playing with fire doing it the way Apple does today.
Ethan Beard (Facebook): We have more than 350 million members now, so that's our key asset, it's what can make our platform unique. What's important to us is that user experience has to come first. I actually feel for the guys at Apple for having to manage their platform the way they are supposed to. But then again, our developers demand changes too, and we listen to them.
By Frederic Lardinois from ReadWriteWeb:
Thanks to the new Twitter feature, which will put all of the links you share on Twitter into a drop box on Pearltrees, you can now easily create a complete archive of all the content you share. You still have to organize this content yourself, however. Pearltrees does not feature auto-tagging.
According to Dorsey, one of the original ideas for Square was to use the iPhone camera to take a picture of a credit card and then use OCR software to read the data. As Square wants to be able to offer its service on multiple platforms, however, the team decided to use a dongle that plugs into an audio jack.
Hurley noted that a handful of users on the site make more than $1 million per year from their videos on YouTube...
Asked about YouTube on television and in the living room, Hurley said that his vision is basically a "box, an Internet connection and pizza." He did note, though, that all television will move towards an on-demand model.
LeWeb '09, France's top web conference kicked off yesterday in a cavernous hall in a grey slab-like building out in the suburbs of Paris.
Initially, there were complaints about there being 'too many Americans' and that the quality of the panels was poor -- too much fluff and self-promotion, and little substance.
But by the afternoon things improved a lot and there was an 180 degree turnaround in opinion - at least among the people I spoke with.
It's true that there were lots of Americans. I seemed to be constantly bumping into familiar faces, people I see all the time, such as Jeremiah Owyang, Dave McClure, Cathy Brooks, Chris and Kristie Wells, Robert Scoble, Brian Solis, Gabe Rivera, Steve Gillmor, and many more.
[Please see: Silicon Valley Goes To Paris... Le Web '09]
As much as I love them all, I've been trying to spend as much time as I can making new contacts and catching up with people I rarely see in the US.
Also, I'm not as interested in web 2.0 products as I am in the broader business picture, the culture of innovation and the differences between European and US startup environments. Fortunately, I've managed to do pretty well on fulfilling that goal, as hopefully you will see in current and future posts.
The WiFi network at LeWeb has a long history of being a joke - there seems to be a curse on whoever tries to provide the service. This year, BT, the UK telecom giant agreed to run it.
I ran into JP Rangaswami, BT's Chief Scientist, a week ago, and he was concerned about taking on such a crucial role in such a public forum.
He needn't have worried. I can vouch for the fact that the connection was rock solid despite all the heavy users around me.
Chandeliers and champagne...
At the end of the first day of LeWeb, the Mayor of Paris invited everyone over to city hall (Hotel de Ville). It's a huge and hugely impressive building, built in 1882 in the grand chateau style.
Inside, we were greeted with a long staircase that led to the Salle des Fêtes, a stunning ballroom fitted with seemingly acres of chandeliers, gilded furnishings, and ceilings and walls painted with figures and historic scenes.
I ran into lots of people, such as Barak Hachamov, founder of my6sense, a very cool iPhone news filtering app. Barak is one of my favorite serial entrepreneurs, and it's always great to catch up with him.
I ran into Tara Hunt, once in San Francisco, now running Shwowp, a startup in Montreal. Also, Bob Rosenchein, CEO of Answers.com (a Traveling Geeks sponsor); Natasha Friis Saxenberg, representing the Danish based Webcom Labs, which helps develop startups; Jean-Xtophe Ordonneau from Melcion, Chassagne & Cie; Stephanie Hospital and Lionel Fumado from Orange; Rodrigo Sepulveda from Sepulveda.net; and Pierre Bellanger of Skyrock.com.
Silicon Valley exile
The highlight of my evening was meeting up with Dave Galbraith, a good friend who used to live in San Francisco and is now living in Geneva. It was Dave and Om Malik (GigaOm) that encouraged and inspired me to become a "blogger" -- nearly six years ago.
Dave is a serial entrepreneur and one of a very small number of people that I consider to be original thinkers. Dave is invariably a few steps ahead of everyone else.
Dave, Om, and I used to meet up at Harrington's pub in downtown San Francisco, Thursday evenings after work and have conversations that would spark ideas for days afterwards.
I miss the "Harrington sessions" because it's not easy finding people that share the same understanding of media, and insights into the 'web 2.0' business world. It's a type of language that few people understand well, even in Silicon Valley.
After the mayor's party we were going to go celebrate Brian Solis's birthday, but what was a small group had grown much larger and the logistics had become complex.
Dave and I decided to duck out, an easy choice, especially since I see most of those people on a near weekly basis.
Dave used to live in Paris and so we went to one of his favorite bars to have some dinner and catch up. It was great walking along ancient Parisian streets, lined with old buildings with that characteristic bowed profile. Dave is an architect by training and he explained that the bowing was because of the timber framework behind the facades, which imparts a flexibility that enables these buildings to survive hundreds of years.
When in Rome...
The place was small but perfectly sized, with a Parisian Bohemian decor and a lovely horseshoe-shaped bar counter of green marble, and a dining area in the back.
I ordered Tartare de Boeuf, one of my favorite dishes but one that most Americans would consider a suicidal choice: raw minced steak with a raw egg on top. It is eaten by mixing raw onions, capers, and dijon mustard. It's delicious.
Dave said he's been missing San Francisco and its startup community and being around people that shared an understanding of media, business models, and technology.
Even when he lived in New York, he said it was difficult finding like-minded people. In Geneva it is worse, there is no startup community at all, everyone is focused on money and little else.
It is easy to take San Francisco and the Silicon Valley startup community for granted. I often do it myself, it sometimes feels small and even insignificant.
When people ask who my audience is I often say, "I write for the 'high school cafeteria,' the 400 or so people that run Silicon Valley and that influence its trends and culture."
My traffic on SVW is much more than that, but still tiny compared to the a Techcrunch, or Mashable. However, I'm constantly impressed and flattered to find out who reads SVW. It's not about numbers of eyeballs, but who those eyeballs belong to, and I'm glad that they belong to some very key people, people whose influence is global.
And its this community that Dave belongs to -- hopefully he'll be back sooner than later.
- - -
The quality of the French startups we have been meeting with all week, has been very good.
It seems as if the French can once again claim back 'entrepreneur' instead of it being sometimes derisively labelled as an oxymoron in the French context.
But it seems to be a fairly recent phenomenon and one that relies on a compelling mix of government programs and tax breaks. While many countries have tried to encourage the formation of startups through various incentives, the French appear to have gotten the mix just right.
It wouldn't surprise me if in the near future, some US startups might choose Paris as a headquarters because of some of the advantages they can gain here, compared with an indifferent US government.
Kemal El Moujahid, CEO and Founder of Paris-based Teacheo, which provides a platform for online tutoring and collaborative tools, is a good example of a top quality French startup, of a type that we've (Traveling Geeks) I've been meeting with over the past three days.
Mr El Moujahid was born in Morocco, studied Information Technology in Paris, and has an MBA from Stanford university. He says that the French government has done a lot over the past few years to encourage entrepreneurs.
"There are a lot of programs that help startups raise funding, find office space, help hire people, and also fund research and development," he says.
About four years ago the French government began a series of programs to encourage innovation.
Here are some of the things it did:
- There is a French tax that is levied on wealthy individuals based on their net wealth, it is separate from tax on income. However, if they invest in a startup, they will receive a 75% tax credit. "That means that an investment of 100,000 euros costs them just 25,000 euros," says Mr El Moujahid. Because there is very little VC activity in France, this has become the main source of funds for startups.
- There are many government and city-run incubators. We visited the Paris Reunion Incubator, which specializes in digital media companies. It has 20,000 square feet of space housing 25 startups, fully wired with lots of shared office support services.
Startups pay just 500 euros per month for a 4-year lease. (I have a video interview with Martin Geurin, the manager (Chef de Projet) of the Reunion Incubator that I will post later.)
- France has the best research tax credit in Europe. Companies receive a 50% tax credit in their first year, and 40% in their second year.
- It is very easy to start a company. There is an 'auto entrepreneur' web site, and an almost one-click process that handles the paperwork and issues tax id numbers, etc.
- There are many government agencies that provide a variety of services to startups, such as HR.
But there are still some archaic obstacles in various sectors that seem to punish online companies, says Mr El Moujahid. For example, there is a 50% tax credit offered to parents that hire a tutor for their children but this does not apply to online tutors.
Also, there are cultural issues that can make it difficult to hire people, says Mr El Moujahid. He explained some of the issues:
- Top graduates tend to want to find a job with a large company rather than a startup. There is considerably less status in working for a startup. This is changing to some degree especially because of the slow economy.
- Hiring can be tough. Some candidates want to be paid considerably more than they would be paid at an equivalent job at a large company because of the risk in working at a startup, and they don't see much value in stock options. "Those candidates eliminate themselves," says Mr El Moujahid.
- Firing people is near impossible. They can sue their employer and always win a favorable judgement. "The best way is to negotiate a departure. You can tell them they have permission to apply for jobs while still working for you." This also works both ways, it is difficult to leave an employer in the lurch and take IP with them to a competitor, he says.
- Being fired from a job can be a good thing for an entrepreneur because they can receive two to three years unemployment at almost full salary and they are allowed to build a business during that time.
- Identifying yourself as an 'entrepreneur' doesn't have a great standing in some circles. But that is changing and the poor economy is creating new entrepreneurs across all age groups as conventional jobs dry up.
Mr El Moujahid says that he misses the 'can-do' attitude of SIlicon Valley. "Every US startup wants to takeover the world and they tend to be much more optimistic than in France. Sometimes that optimism is misplaced, they want to fight Godzilla with a plastic spoon - but the enthusiasm is great. In France, people are less ambitious and they focus on more modest goals."
He adds that sometimes there is distrust of the ambitions of entrepreneurs, a pursuit of money is viewed with suspicion.
Also, there isn't much room for failure. Unlike in the US, where entrepreneurs can fail many times and be concerned better for the lessons learned, French society is much less forgiving.
Is it easier to build a startup in the US?
"This is a question I often discuss with my American and French friends. I'm not sure. There are a lot of government programs and tax credits that make things easier here. But the US offers a larger market, access to capital, and a much more supportive culture for entrepreneurs."
"I think that learning how to build a startup is what's important and that that experience can be applied anywhere. At some point I know I will return to the US and apply what I have learned here."
[I'm in Paris all this week as part of the Traveling Geeks, a collection of journalists, bloggers, and PR people meeting with French startups and also attending LeWeb, France's premier Web 2.0 developer and business conference.]
I'm bowled over by the French startups and entrepreneurs I've been meeting the past two days. Lots of passion, energy, smarts, and great ideas.
I'm totally surprised because I had a totally different expectation. France has a reputation for bureaucracy ( a French word), for strikes, (the taxi drivers were on strike on Tuesday), and for archaic attitudes such as a strong belief in a maintaining a work/life balance, six-week vacations, a 35-hour week, and making it near impossible to fire a worker (you will receive as much as three years full salary if you are fired).
It seems amazing that France's economy hasn't shattered into pieces by now, and the country hasn't fallen below the waves of the ocean as a modern day Atlantis.
Instead, France has the highest labor productivity levels of all the G8 nations. And the quality of its entrepreneurs (another French word) is excellent.
I will be writing in more detail about some of the companies and people I've been meeting, later this week. And I'll be diving into why there is such a great current of innovation happening in France.
The French model might even become a template for other countries. That's because people from other countries are coming to France to set up their startups. Other countries risk a brain drain if they don't act to create a similar environment.
I'll let you know tomorrow about some of the reasons why France is enjoying an upswing its startup communities. I think you will be as surprised as I was.
[I'm in Paris all this week as part of the Traveling Geeks, a collection of journalists, bloggers, and PR people meeting with French startups and also attending LeWeb, France's premier Web 2.0 developer and business conference.]
[I'm in Paris all this week as part of the Traveling Geeks, a collection of journalists, bloggers, and PR people meeting with French startups and also attending LeWeb, France's premier Web 2.0 developer and business conference.]
I took the EuroStar train from London on Sunday afternoon and in less than 3 hours I was in the middle of Paris. That trip always amazes me and it is so much nicer, (and greener) than flying.
When I arrived it was raining off and on but that didn't matter because I was back in Paris after a ten year break.
I had to find my hotel, about a couple of miles from my terminus at Gare Du Nord but being short on cash I decided to walk in roughly the right direction, trundling my wheeled travel bag across cobble stone streets, and relishing being in one of the great cities of the world.
Because it was Sunday, there wasn't much traffic and there were few pedestrians, it was a rare and almost private experience.
I rattled along, enjoying the old buildings, and noticing the wonderful street names such as Lafayette, in honor of the heroes of the American revolution. And Place Stalingrad, and lots of narrow streets and tiny squares named after many heroes from many countries.
At times it seemed as if the entire city were dedicated to the memory of all those that had struggled for liberty, equality and fraternity... I loved it.
I managed to get to within 200 yards of my hotel on Rue Roy before I gave up and asked for directions. I was quite proud of my zig zag route sans Google maps or any other navigational aids...
That evening I met up with my fellow Travelling Geeks. Eliane Fiolet, publisher of the excellent gadget news site, Ubergizmo in San Francisco, and a native Parisian, picked out a modest little restaurant for dinner.
There were about 20 of us, half local French geeks and entrepreneurs. And it wasn't long before it felt as if we'd all known each other for years, laughing, showing each other family photos, and comparing notes about life in Paris and Silicon Valley. Yet another miracle of shared food, shared experiences, ... and wonderful red wine.
Monday was a very full day, lots of meetings with French startups, lots of presentations by French geeks. I'll have more to say about some of the great business ideas we came across in later posts, but right now, I wanted to say how similar the Parisian geeks are to our Silicon Valley geeks.
They have the same way of dressing, the same way of talking about technology, the same passion, the same understanding of the issues we think about and talk about all the time in Silicon Valley.
Even though we sometimes struggled with each other's broken French and English, it was remarkable how much we still shared a common language, and how much we understood each other. We all spoke Geek, this was our lingua franca.
I had a similar experience in the summer when I was with the Traveling Geeks in London and Cambridge.
It's as if there really is an international fraternity of geeks, a common culture that celebrates innovation, and transcends language and borders. And that's very encouraging...
(Please return for more Paris diary posts all this week.)
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Here are some photos from Renee Blodgett, our tireless Traveling Geeks organizer Renee Blodgett:
Traveling Geeks Kick Things into Gear in the Marais
Also, I wanted to thank Eliane Fiolet for all her work in making this trip possible.
You can follow the whole gang on Twitter with the hashtag #TG09.
met with my fellow Traveling Geeks
I'm heading to Paris for the Le Web conference next week then spending the rest of December in London.
I'll be attending Le Web as part of the "Traveling Geeks" [misspelling deliberate], organized by Renee Blodgett. Also on the trip: Eliane Fiolet, , Robin Wauters, Kim-Mai Cutler, Frederic Lardinois, Matt Buckland, Sky Schuyler, Jerome Tranie, Ewan Spence, David Spark, Olivier Ezratty, Cyrille de Lasteyrie, Amanda Coolong, Beth Blecherman, and Phil Jeudy.
Le Web is Europe's premiere conference and organized by Loic Le Meur, from Seesmic.
Loic has done a great job pulling this conference together. And there's a helluva lot of familiar Silicon Valley faces lined up for the conference: LeWeb'09 Speakers | LeWeb'09.
As much as I love these people I'm hoping there will lots of chances to meet and report on European startups, VCs and others.
Loic has done a great job because he lives over here, not far from me in San Francisco. He is part of the community. That's why he can get a lot of famous Silicon Valley people over to Paris.
This is also why startups from all over the world are relocating to the Silicon Valley/San Francisco area, you get great access to people, events, and money.
Starting next week I hope to bring you some original coverage of Le Web and also from London.
- - -
Here is some of my Traveling Geeks coverage from a few months ago, the summer of 2009, when we visited London and Cambridge:
Some of the Traveling Geeks - photo JD Lasica
I spent much of July in the UK with the "Traveling Geeks" a group of journalists and bloggers meeting with leading European startups.
JD Lasica, the tireless organizer of the trip, recently put together a list of our favorite tools and apps: Coolest power tools of some top geeks.
With so many choices out there, I'm always fascinated by what others are using. Personally, I try to use as many cloud based apps as I can so that I can work from any computer, mine or maybe yours. Here's some favorite Traveling Geek apps, please see the original post for full list:
My recent trip with the Traveling Geeks to the UK was an intense week consisting of many events and meetings with European startups, government agencies, conferences, panels, and some remarkable experiences.
My son Matt joined me part of the way through. In this video you'll see my fellow Traveling Geeks and friends: Robert Scoble, Rocky Barbanica, Renee Blodgett, Ayelet Noff, Sarah Lacy, JD Lasica, Meghan Asha, Craig Newmark, Susan Bratton, Jeff Saperstein, Howard Rheingold, Sky Schuyler, Mitzi Szereto, Heddi Cundle, Mark Adams, Paul Carr, Hermione Way, Mike Butcher, Mathys van Abbe . . . and many more.
[BTW, the Facebook video embed is so much better quality than YouTube and many other video sites.]
I just got back from the UK spending much of my time with the Traveling Geeks, a group of leading Silicon Valley bloggers and journalists meeting with UK government agencies, UK tech companies, and startups.
It was a very good trip. Here are some notes:
- There are some well established UK startups with good business models and they are profitable. One example is Seatwave.com, which trades show tickets between fans. Spotify and Spinvox are also doing very well. Are they still startups if they have a business model and are profitable?
- Startups face the same problems as those here - funding. There are very UK VC firms and few angels. One estimate I was given was that in the Cambridge area there was just 5 million pounds ($8.26m) available for VC investments. A puny amount. Some startups are seriously considering relocating to the US for better access to investment capital.
- Successful European entrepreneurs have a tendency to go sailing and not come back. But that's not always true. I met some serial entrepreneurs in Cambridge: Stuart Evans, chairman of Novacem, a developer of a unique type of "green" concrete; Richard Green (photo), CEO of Ubisense; the very impressive Sherry Coutu, (photo)a rare woman serial entrepreneur and one of the hosts of our Cambridge tour; also Steve Kennedy from Nettek.
- Cambridge Innovation. The area around Cambridge University is known as Silicon Fen and represents the European innovation capital. There is more money invested in innovation in this region than anywhere else in Europe. A key part of this infrastructure is the organization Cambridge Angels. I met a couple of the Cambridge Angels (Stuart Evans and Richard Green.) It's an impressive organization with an interesting portfolio.
Friday afternoon the Traveling Geeks visit Cambridge Consultants and visit the William Gates III building for meetings with researchers from Nokia Labs and Microsoft Research Labs (MRL).
Cambridge Consultants has helped bring to market products such as:here.
The Microsoft Research Labs are part of the academic community at Cambridge university and the work is open and peer-reviewed. In the video our guide is Cambridge university lecturer and successful entrepreneur Jack Lang, also Ken Wood, deputy director of MRL, Tim Regan, Research SDE at MRL, and presentations from their colleagues. The video also shows some of Microsoft's research projects.
Friday and the Traveling Geeks are in Cambridge, the innovation capital of Europe.
After presentations by Cambridge university representatives and also from government agencies helping startups, the Traveling Geeks take part in a panel and also hear presentations from local startups:
- Alert Me
After a hard-packed day of visiting with Cambridge startups, government agency representatives, Cambridge tech incubator, meeting with Nokia research labs, meeting with Microsoft Research Labs - and punting on the river Cam, the Traveling Geeks are invited to dinner at Peterhouse College.
According to my excellent guidebook "Cambridge Colleges" by Janet Jeacock, Peterhouse College features one of the finest collections of Pre-Raphaelite stained glass, by Morris, Burne-Jones, and Madox Browne. It is the oldest of all 31 Cambridge University colleges, founded in 1284.
As the rest of the TGers are shmoozing on the lawn, my son Matt and I explore the building. We're hoping to find some ghosts. Please see the short video above.
Next: More Cambridge innovation. . .
It's Friday Morning and it's an early 7.30 am start for the Traveling Geeks...
JD Lasica is the unsung hero of the Traveling Geeks. He has invested hundreds of hours in organizing this trip.
By Friday morning, his normal patience-of-a-saint is evaporating as he attempts to herd the TG cats into a coach that is far smaller than expected.
Plus, my son is with me this morning so space is even tighter. And on top of everything, last night was a late night and we are all still a little groggy from the grog and the good times at the Europa Awards (please see: ).
Soon, however, we are on our way to Cambridge and the start of another jam packed day. It's a gorgeous day, not too hot, as we drive through the English countryside, the yellow and green fields and billowing clouds set against an azure sky.
It doesn't take long before we are in the Pitt Building in Cambridge, the site of Britain's oldest publisher. And the very impressive Sherry Coutu is running a very tight meeting with presentations from several government agencies and university representatives.
Next: Another panel and we meet Cambridge startups...
UK Diary so far:
It's Thursday evening and the Traveling Geeks are at the Europa Awards to celebrate European startups.
The place is already filling up when I get to the venue for the Europa awards in south London. Things don't look good because I have just one invite and I have my son Matt with me and my friend Heddi Cundle. And security is very tight -- they are turning away everyone without a ticket (it's a $100 entry).
Thursday afternoon the Traveling Geeks are at The Swan, which is attached to the recreation of Shakespeare's Globe theatre on the Southbank.
The event is organized by Econsultancy , a digital marketing firm, and led by Ashley Friedlein, CEO and Co-Founder (See my photo above.)
There are about a hundred people gathered in a large room. I'm sitting at one of several tables, crowded with people and bottles of water, and we're talking about innovation.
Thursday morning the Traveling Geeks head to Accel Partners, one of the top European VC firms, to hear presentations from:
Following lunch with Skype, the Traveling Geeks have the rest of the day off.
I spend a good chunk of my free time posting and catching up with my online persona. Then I'm off to the Southbank Centre for a cup of tea and a couple of glasses of wine with some friends from my university days.
In the evening Renee Blodgett invites me to "Calendar Girls" at the Noel Coward theatre just off Piccadilly Circus. Robert Scoble and his sidekick, producer Rocky Barbanica, join us part of the way through the play.
Afterwards, Renee complains of a scratchy throat and heads back to the hotel. (We learn later that one of the panelists at the Guardian media event the prior night came down with swine flu. Renee and fellow Geekettes were sitting in the front row.)
Robert and Rocky head off for a taste of the old country (McDonald's) then come back and join me for late night drinks with an old pal from San Francisco now living in London, Heddi Cundle (@HeddiCundle).
I like to say that Heddi makes you dizzy. After the initial shock of contact it doesn't take long before they are big fans of the Cundle experience.
After closing down one pub we walk the cobbled streets over to Covent Garden where we find another one that's still open.
The next morning, a rather slower moving Robert says to me "I'm blaming you!"
Don't miss Thursday on UK Diary: The absolutely mental experience of the "Europas Awards." All hail Mike Butcher!
It's Wednesday and all we have on the Traveling Geeks schedule today is lunch with Skype then we get the rest of the day off. Phew!
That's a welcome break after our hit-the-ground-running start to our trip since Sunday.
Even better, lunch with Skype is in our own hotel.
I wander down into the basement dinning room of the Malmaison hotel and sit next to Sky. Already, he has accumulated several of our laptops and wireless comms dongles, and is trying to figure out some of our connection problems.
I pay particular attention as he attempts to debug Susan Bratton's dongle because I have the same connection problem.
Renne Blodgett says that top executives from Skype were scheduled to join us but had to rush off at last notice for a board meeting. I wonder what's brewing.
Renne Blodgett has an interview between fellow TGer Robert Scoble and Skype's top blogger Peter Parkes.
Renee Blodgett interviews Peter Parkes and Neil Dodds, Windows Experience Manager at Skype:
[Being a Traveling Geek takes stamina. I challenge any traditional journalist to keep up with our daily agendas. Not only are we interviewing people and staying up late writing, editing video and posting but we are also being interviewed by others, taking part on panels, and reporting on the same panels, and taking part in lots of other inside-out media activities.]
Our fourth event for Tuesday was dinner with Agency.com and assorted clients and friends -- in Soho at Soho House. It was great to be back in this vibrant part of London because this is where I got my start in journalism in 1982.
It was a great place to work and a great time to be a young man around town, with plenty of small bars, restaurants, cafes, and after-hours clubs.
We sat at a very long table and we introduced ourselves and spoke briefly about what it was that attracted us to social/new media. I managed to get video of most of the replies, my apologies because I missed a couple of people.
Please also see Susan Bratton: DishyMix: Susan Bratton Podcasts & Blogs Executives
We left BT and managed to hail a few black cabs amid the rain and made our way over to the Guardian newspaper for a panel on the future of media.
I was thinking that maybe the death of newspapers is just nature's way of helping us all to reduce our carbon footprint.
Some of our fellow Traveling Geeks were on the panel, our Geeketes were at the front of the room, which must have had a distracting effect (see photo - by JD Lasica) while the rest of us were mostly at the back Twittering onto a big screen at the front of the room.
Tuesday afternoon with the Traveling Geeks and we are over at BT HQ seeing half-a-dozen presentations from its business units.
We were a little wet from dodging torrential rain bursts. But the afternoon sessions are interesting.
(Photo Susan Bratton.) Tuesday morning the Traveling Geeks were at Seed Camp. I couldn't make it but here are some of our reports:
I missed the first event of the day for the Traveling Geeks because I was hunting local shops for an Ethernet to USB converter as I, (and we collectively) struggled with Internet connectivity issues.
Sky Schuyler was our resident IT support guy and fellow Traveling Geek. He has the patience of a saint. Every morning we'd dump our laptops, BT dongles, and cell phones in his lap and beg him to perform his particular form of magic and get them working and connecting again. He has unlimited patience and good humor -- it's no wonder that he was chosen by the Dalai Lama Foundation to be its Chief Technology Officer.
(Photo by Susan Bratton from the post: "Communication is how we connect to others at a deeper level," Jim "Sky" Schuyler)
Please see: BT Openzone Wireless Broadband - Sky's Blog
Monday evening the Traveling Geeks were invited to dinner in the 384 ft BT Tower, which used to be known as the Post Office Tower when I lived in London. It has a revolving restaurant near the top and has been closed to the public since 1980.
It was a rare honor for us to be hosted by BT CEO Ian Livingston and his top team of managers. This giant European Telecom is quite a surprise, very innovative and very aggressive. You might expect the opposite. Yet it is the US telecoms companies that appear slow and Luddite in comparison.
The innovative energy is sparked by strict European Community regulations that ensure a level playing field for competitors. This is unlike the US system, which seems designed to prevent new competitors from entering markets and results in telecoms companies that turn-off mobile phone functions and control what applications and services can be offered.
The day starts with an exercise in cat-herding, with the whole crazy crew piling into three London taxis. Try putting any five of those rather strong individual personalities into an enclosed space and "intense" is the only word for it.
... It was the first time I had spoken publicly about a subject I've grown passionate about - 21st Century Literacies. You know you've hit the mark when people are still sitting at the end of the last session of the day. I finished speaking, acknowledged warm applause, sat down -- and people kept sitting. So I got back on stage and fielded questions for another 20 minutes. Thank you, London, for making my day!
But first we have breakfast with Tristan Wilkinson, Intel's Director for Public Sector for EMEA.
He tells us about a program called One Goal which will be launched in August and piggyback off the South African World Cup. The goal is to get 30 million online signatures in an effort to help make poverty history. Take note: 75 million children still don't have access to primary school education in the world.
Mr Wilkinson said he wasn't much interested in technology but what technology could do for people and for countries in terms of improving the quality of life through better economic opportunities.
By Sunday all of the Traveling Geeks had arrived and checked into our hotel, Malmaison (Bad House?) in Charterhouse Square close to St Paul's cathedral.
Fellow TGer Craig Newmark had discovered that we were living above an old "plague pit" where tens of thousands of bodies had been buried in 1384. Maybe this was why we were all to suffer from terrible Internet connection problems throughout our stay?! It would be cool if our wifi were haunted, and ghostly pictures would be uploaded to our flickr accounts during the night.
I was running late to our first event of the trip, a Tweetup in the fashionable Chelsea district. By the time I got there, it had spilled into the street and I saw my colleagues chatting with people, interviewing or being interviewed.
I met a lot of entrepreneurs and had many excellent conversations. Funding was a common theme, the lack of it. Very similar to Silicon Valley.
(Photo by Craig Newmark.)
- - -
I was interviewed by Micha Benoliel from Digitrad which has a cool service offering one point of access for all your voice communications. Here is a discount code if you'd like to try it out: VIP69007.
You can also see interviews with fellow TGers here: http://vimeo.com/channels/digitrad#5489395
Next up: Monday - Reboot Britain and dinner with BT at the top of the 381 ft tall Post Office Tower - a revolving restaurant closed to the public since 1980 and once blown up by the IRA.
It's been a fascinating and exhausting week on the Traveling Geeks tour. The best part has been our visit to Cambridge, the innovation capital of England. I've got lots of material to post from our trip, all this week, so please check back regularly.
One highlight of the trip was on Saturday night. My son Matt and I were looking for a place to eat. We just happened to choose one of the favorite spots for Professor Stephen Hawking. It was a huge honor to be in the same room as Britain's top scientist.
The photo shows his two blond assistants helping him with his high-tech wheelchair.
Tuesday evening our third event that day for the Traveling Geeks (but not the last) was to take part in a media debate at The Guardian newspaper's offices in north London.
The Guardian is one of the UK's largest newspapers and its media section is superb -- anyone that is anyone in the media industry reads it, and anyone that's interested in media -- reads The Guardian's media section.
It was a very good turnout for the event despite horrid downpours. Part of our TG gang (Robert Scoble, Sarah Lacy, and JD Lasica) were on the panel discussing the future of media with the Guardian's Emily Bell, and the BBC's technology correspondent, Rory Cellan-Jones.
It was a good discussion but it felt very "2005" in terms of the subjects, which kept returning to blogger/social media versus mainstream media.
The Butcher of Fleet Street
I was sitting at the back of the room next to fellow TGer Craig Newmark of Craigslist. And inevitably, the panel's moderator couldn't resist asking him to stand up and explain himself for killing the newspaper industry.
Craig is mightily fed up with this question. And I agree. It is not his fault that the newspaper industry is in trouble. But Craig handled it all very well, throwing in a line "Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition," which drew laughs and distracted the panel from further pursuit of a tired line of questioning and drew the discussion back to the favorite subject of the day: Twitter.
From Back To Front
It was fun publishing from the back of the room and having our Tweets projected onto a big screen in the front of the room.
Here is the evening's Twitstream.
And here are my contributions:
I've been meeting a lot of UK entrepreneurs as part of the Traveling Geeks trip and I'm hearing a lot of the same things US startups tell me. They are looking for funding and also fed up with seeing the same people at their meetups.
Funding is a big problem in the UK because there are very few European VC funds actively investing. And very few angels. Many startups are looking to the US for funding but they tell me that most US VC firms have closed their UK offices.
One entrepreneur told me: "We're thinking of relocating some of our team to San Francisco so that we can be closer to the VC firms. Several VC firms have told us that they love our product but we are not over there. And so they wouldn't consider investing."
That was a common theme: that US VCs won't invest in startups unless they are in Silicon Valley.
I didn't have the heart to tell people that even if you are in Silicon Valley funding is really tough right now.
Traveling Geeks: Monday morning we met with Tristan Wilkinson, Intel's director for public sector, EMEA Region. His main interest is how technology can be used to improve countries' economies and improve the quality of life for people through work opportunities.
He posed an interesting question: Do the people that enjoy the benefits of the digital economy have an obligation to help those that don't have the same access and skill sets?
The way the question is phrased doesn't invite much debate because it shoots straight for the moral high ground.
This week I'll be in London and Cambridge as part of the Traveling Geeks tour. We'll be meeting with various UK companies and organizations.
I'm particularly interested in the startup culture here in the UK and how it differs from Silicon Valley. I'm always looking for what makes Silicon Valley different from anywhere else and why it is so difficult to create Silicon Valley-like regions around the world.
Clearly, to create a sustainable center of innovation it takes more than building a business park around a university and injecting some startup capital. The answer must lie in the culture of Silicon Valley. But can that culture be exported? Do regional innovation centers have unique cultures specific to their particular brand of innovation?
Maybe I can find out some answers during this trip.
Also, I'll be posting about some of the companies and personalities I meet during this trip. So please check back regularly. Also, you can follow my colleagues on the Traveling Geeks website and Twitter -- and if you get a chance, join us at some of the open evening events. Here is our agenda.
Here is a brief overview. We'll be at...
A NESTA-sponsored conference about moving forward in the new economy, a U.S./U.K. Speed Date with Seed Camp Winners and UK Leaders; eConsultancy Innovator's Open Discussion; the TechCrunch Europa Awards; University of Cambridge's Judge Business School Roundtable on Open Innovation; as well as meetings with Nokia Labs, Microsoft Labs, East of England International, Skype and others.
The blhttpoggers will also be speaking and participating at a Reboot Britain event and the Guardian's first Media Talk Live event, as well as organizing a TweetUp in central London on the evening of July 5, 2009, which is being sponsored by NESTA and The Conversation Group.
My Twitter is: http://twitter.com/tomforemski
My Friendfeed is: http://friendfeed.com/tomforemski
Twitter hashtag for the trip is #tg2009
Fellow Traveling Geeks:
I'm looking forward to the Traveling Geeks trip to London. I'm leaving next week and we will spend a few days in London and then Cambridge, meeting with local startups and larger tech companies.
I'll be particularly interested in how the startup scene differs in the UK compared to here. I keep coming across companies that are moving here, or at least having co-HQs here. Over the next few months I'll be profiling these Silicon Valley debutantes in a special section. So please let me know if you, or a company you know has recently moved to the San Francisco/Silicon Valley area. And also if you'd like to publish a guest post on why you moved here. More on this later...
In the meantime, here is our agenda for the London trip, come join us at one of the events.
Also on the trip is:
[Wrapping up the week in three dots . . .]
. . . Congratulations to Mike Arrington's TechCrunch on its four year anniversary. I went to the celebration at the TechCrunch offices in Palo Alto and had a really nice time, connecting with a whole bunch of people, some I hadn't seen in a while. There was Gabe Rivera from Techmeme, and I got to meet his "chief reporter," Atul Arora (@Atul) who seems to have become Gabe's human powered algorithm for choosing hot posts. (Some pics courtesy of the ubiquitous Brian Solis here.)
. . . Congratulations to Robert Scoble's Building 43 launch. It's a new online community sponsored by Robert's employer Rackspace. I went to the launch (combined Techcrunch birthday party) with and it was good to see Rocky Barbanica, Robert's long-time sidekick and camera operator-producer-editor. It turns out that Rocky was the one that introduced Robert to the Rackspace people. I'm looking forward to spending time with them both on the upcoming Traveling Geeks trip to London in early July.
. . . Uber-marketeer Guy Kawasaki seems puzzled why his Alltop automatic post aggregator isn't more popular in this post: The new economics of entrepreneurship. He goes on to point out that this is a great time to be an entrepreneur because nearly everything is nearly free, including talent.
Sorry, I'm not a warm and fuzzy guy, but the truth is that there are lots of talented people who are unemployed or under-employed right now. If there was ever a time to get great people for free or cheap, this is it.
Also, marketing is nearly free too:
Sucking up to bloggers takes effort and swallowing your pride, but it's not expensive.
Is that really all it takes? It sounds very 2005... Plus, Mr Kawasaki employs a couple of people to Twitter for him under his name which doesn't sound cheap.