Paris Diary: Slow Start To LeWeb09; 'Too Many Americans'; Chandeliers and Silicon Valley Exiles...
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.
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[I'm in Paris as part of the Traveling Geeks, a group of journalists, bloggers, and PR people meeting with French startups and attending the LeWeb09 conference.]
Virtual tour of the Paris Hôtel de Ville (City Hall)
Why I'm Leaving (My Heart in) San Francisco | HPC