I attended Le Web '08
this week. This was the fifth Le Web in as many years. What started as a gathering of about 100 people has grown to be the largest internet startups gathering in Europe, with over 1400 participants from more than 30 countries. Quite interestingly the price of admission has grown similarly - while the tickets to the first Le Web sold for 100 euros, the price was around 1400 euros this year!
Le Web '08 main stage audience
When attending Le Web, I had fresh memories from the first ever Slush
event in Finland last month. Slush was so well organized it was hard to believe it was the first time for it. For sure, one of the forces behind Slush is Peter Vesterbacka who has been organizing events of various sizes for years, but nevertheless Slush as an event and the location were brand new.
Hey, did you manage to connect to the internet..?
It is hard to believe how many things went wrong with Le Web '08. It would be easier to understand if this was the first time they do it, or if the price of the tickets was much lower. But this was the fifth time, and the tickets were very expensive. That sets a bar. For us the problems began at the conference door, half an hour after the conference breakfast was supposed to have started. I know from experience that one should never count on the "VIP breakfast" at any conference so I had eaten breakfast at the hotel already. And in any case it's always better to eat at the hotel and arrive to the conference ready to network from the first moment.
There was a large gate at the entrance. We saw people walking in before us, but right as we were about to enter, the security guys closed the gate in front of us. There was no explanation, and obviously nobody seemed to speak English. We tried showing that we have booked tickets, but no. The door remained closed for about 15 minutes while line formed behind us. Then, again with no explanation, the gate was opened and we were able to walk in.
This is Kristoffer from Scred...
The main problems during the show have been documented across the internet so I won't go into details here. I'll just list the issues, for anyone who is not following TechCrunch
and co. First, the internet connection broke down after the first hour and never returned. Second, the conference room was very cold, about 14 degrees Celsius. Third, the food served was a major disappointment and left a lot of visitors hungry. Loic has publicly apologized
for the problems, but obviously it doesn't mean the price paid for the ticket is going to change.
Le Web '08 was not a total disaster though. Any time you have startups from all over the world gathering together for two days, there's a chance for some great networking. What Loic and Geraldine Le Meur managed to do very well was getting a good and diverse group of people in one location. This is especially important for developers in Europe, where the scene is quite fragmented and for many of us events like this are the only chance to meet developers from other countries.
I think, and I heard many other people say the same, one of the hottest things to happen at Le Web '08 was the genuine Finnish sauna on scene! XIHA Life and several other startups teamed together to have a Sauna Truck delivered all the way from Finland.
Sauna Truck at Le Web '08
The sauna served all guests free of charge during the entire event. One of the problems at Le Web was that the heating system broke down during the first day and thus the conference hall was quite a freezing place - there's nothing like a hot sauna and a shot of Finnish vodka to get you up and running when that happens! I was very glad to see Loic advertising the sauna on stage multiple times during the event - thanks for that.
The sauna turned out to be a success story in terms of media attention, but I think we kind of failed to fully capitalize on it. There could have been more material to hand out, and all of the leaflets should have been translated to French. Since only the security guys were playing the PS3, I think we could have used the LCD screen to play a looping video introducing all of the startups... perhaps next time!
Michael Arrington of TechCrunch
Other than the sauna, I think the highlight of the event was the very last show - Gillmor Gang on stage together with Loic Le Meur. The talk was truly interesting and entertaining, even though it ended up being a war of words between TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington and Loic.
Arrington was openly bashing Europe, basically claiming Silicon Valley is the only real place to do business. Loic tried to argue against him, but he didn't really stand much chance unfortunately. I know how hard it can be for a non-native English speaker to come up with good arguments in real time, and obviously Loic must have been very tired by that time already.
Obviously there's a lot of truth about the Valley being an excellent place for startups but I would argue that the days of its dominance are numbered. These days, after the collapse of the world's finance markets, the odds of getting funded is not any better in the US when compared to other countries. A good proof of that is the recent funding round for XIHA
, which was lead by an investor from China.
The ever-improving communication keeps shortening the distances. XIHA actually considered moving the headquarters to the US, but in the end we decided to stay in Europe. We are going to have presense in the Valley, but personally I don't see the value of relocating to the US now.
MySpace party at Le Web '08
As much as Mr. Arrington bashed the Europeans (to be fair though, here in his own words
... it's worth reading as it kind of explains where the money from the entrance tickets was spent), their own TechCrunch party was single handedly one of the worst parts of the conference. Titled as the official closing party of Le Web '08, the party was organized in a small place over-packed with people. It was hard to move, let alone getting a drink. I guess you should have an open bar only if you can afford it.
At the TC party unfortunately there were just handful of bartenders serving over 1000 visitors, which means the only thing you could do is stand in the crowded room and saying hi to people you know. Talking was impossible due to the loud music, so it wasn't much of a networking event either. Throwing a party and then sucking at the service is not a good idea.
MySpace party at Le Web '08
MySpace did a better job with their party; the venue was big enough and the service was fast. Unfortunately the music was way too loud, killing all possibilities for having a discussion with anyone. Loud music is fine in a nightclub, but when the guests are mostly guys from IT industry the focus should be in networking.
How about having half of the party space dedicated to networking, with music volume toned down? I keep hearing the same from pretty much everyone I talk to, so it's a huge issue. I think when someone gets it right, they will be able to throw a party that people will talk about for long time to come.