Web Summit 2013

I went to The Summit in Dublin Oct 30th to 31st. Brilliantly organised, I felt welcomed and valued by all I met. You can see talks from all four stages here: http://new.livestream.com/websummit . Here are some (pretty rough but if I don’t post them now it may not happen) notes from ten of the talks. Hope they may be useful to someone who didn’t make it there.

Saul Klein, Investor, Index Ventures

  • VCs operate at 62% failure rate, so less than 40% of investments return anything at all. Compare that to banks which don’t tend to permit investment in anything with more than a 2% risk. You’d be fired if your portfolio wasn’t performing at that level. It’s a different world. So you could say the tech start up world it’s an incredibly risky business to be in. Why do it?
  • The amount available for investment in USA compared to Europe is higher in early stages (Angel and first rounds) but actually tends to even out at later stages. If you can get past through that initial phase in Europe the playing field evens out.
  • Power economics. The returns when an investment in a startup does work out, tend to be huge, compared to smaller, safer investments made. Enormous % of GDP now comes from investment in what were incredibly risky tech companies (e.g. Apple, Google, Amazon, Facebook…).
  • In a world where a significant % of the population of 18 – 25 year olds don’t have jobs, you may as well take bigger risks.
  • It’s important to aim higher than you think you should. Push it. You might as well aim for the moon. 

The Age of Context

Robert Scoble, Startup Liaison, Rackspace

Shel Israel, Writer, Forbes

  • Robert and Shel spoke about newer technologies we’re seeing that capture environmental factors around the devices we use, and make that data available.
  • They asked ‘Who here has a low energy bluetooth radio’? – only a couple of people raised their hands. Asked ‘Who here has a ios7 device?’ – hundreds of people raised their hands. iBeacons are based on Bluetooth technology now being used by Apple in place of NFC for location sensing, so in fact most of the audience have them. The use case you hear most about for iBeacons are when walking in to a store, your iPhone can detect that the store has an iBeacon and display you an offer, deal, discount or such. Discussion of iBeacons here: http://gigaom.com/2013/09/10/with-ibeacon-apple-is-going-to-dump-on-nfc-and-embrace-the-internet-of-things/
  • The GoPro camera can now capture data on weather and other things. It’s being equipped with sensors, becoming way more than just a camera.
  • In healthcare, we’re seeing a push for ‘better living through sensors’.
  • Studies show that location can also affect health. Referenced a study of school children with asthma, noted route to move between classrooms placed children in direct line with pollutants from nearby refinery. Re-routed the children and significantly lowered use of asthmas inhalers.

The Internet of Things

Syd Lawrence, Developer Evangelist, Twilio

[Note: There were a surprising amount of hardware startups exhibiting at Summit; it's the year of sensors and monitors.]

  • Syd showed us examples of apps and tools that had been built using hardware. He showed how simple it can be to hack together an idea – some of the features he mentioned only used 9 lines of code. He spoke about some of the hardware that’s making it easier to develop apps like these:
  • Arduino. Receives input from sensors and can control outputs, such as lights or motors.
  • iBeacons, pointing out that you can detect hose close you are to the transmitter, so some display or feature could adapt depending on your proximity (e.g. 5 cm away versus 20 meters ) – you could use these to simulate a proactive ‘tap or swipe’ near the transmitter. Installing iBeacons (in a store) is circa £20, whereas NFC is much cheaper, but thinks they look promising. Someone in the audience asked if he thought iBeacons were a “solution looking for a problem” – I *loved* this question.
  • Electric Imp – a platform to easily connect hardware devices to other devices, or the internet. For example, two Arduino devices across the world, could share sensor information with each other: https://www.sparkfun.com/products/11395

Gary Vaynerchuk 

I hadn’t heard Gary talk before. It’s quite amazing. He has such velocity and passion I’ve had to use capital letters here for emphasis.

  • Sold lemonade from age 6 and set up a franchise of many other sellers in his local area
  • Moved on to selling sports cards in local shopping malls. By age 13 he had $20k in cash under his bed.
  • Cautioned that he thinks we’re building products today that feel like they’re from 4 years ago.
  • Innovation has a slow return on investment.
  • He created a wine selling and storage business as a teenager. He spent 14 hours per day on ‘summise’; the very first twitter search engine, paying attention to people & insights, talking about wine. Thinks if you’re not spending 14 hours a day with your customers, you’re missing out.
  • Mocked people who say they “work smarter” so don’t need to put in so many hours – “I work smarter AND harder, bitch”
  • Thinks we’re selfish. So many startup founders are focused on the ROI of themselves, rather than out there hustling for good in the world.  Have patience. Hustle your ass off.
  • Fuck apps, fuck websites…the Internet is the biggest change of all time. We’re all grossly underestimating the impact of what we’re living through. “This shit hasn’t even started”.
  • Real world and tech world haven’t even started. Make shit that brings value to people. We should be reverse engineering the end goal of our customer, not reverse engineering stuff for ourselves. 99% of us are (just) selling their shit, not listening or engaging with people.
  • We’re hunting (acquisition) not farming (life cycle and retention).
  • Who cares if you have the same startup idea as someone else? You have VCs saying a startup isn’t different enough, or they’ve seen the idea before. Truth is you’re NOT going to invent something totally new. But the EXECUTION of the idea is the ONE way you can be very different.
  • Value (of something to someone that is not you) is subjective, how do you quantify it? If you have users, this means you have value. People using, people staying.
  • What is not subjective, is that lots of people going after the same thing, same consumer, but the biggest different is work ethic. The hustle really matters. Fuck apps, APIs, big data (“the key attribute of big data? No one does anything with it”) Apps, etc will come and go. The one thing that will never be replaced is human interaction.

Tony Hawk

  • Wanted to make a video game with a friend who was a software developer, back in the day. But what they came up with just wasn’t realistic or smooth. Then a games company got in touch with Tony and invited him to come and see a skating game they had. The interaction was incredible. Says he signed up with them that very day.
  • He created the Tony Hawk Foundation when he noticed that new decent skate parks were being made in mainly affluent areas, and that poorer areas either didn’t get any, or just got pavement contractors to build them; people who knew nothing about what makes a good skate park. To date they’ve created around 500 new skate parks.
  • They get the community involved all the way though – choosing, building, evangelising. That way, there’s vested interest in maintaining the parks, protecting them and keeping them going.
  • His biggest (new) tricks have always come from mistakes he’s made. The board flips off, or he’s reflecting on how something went wrong. That’s when he comes up with new stuff that hasn’t been seen or done before.

Designing beautiful apps

Gentry Underwood, Mailbox-now-Dropbox

Yves, Jawbone

  • Mailbox was just one month old when it sold to Dropbox for $1 million. It’s an iOS service coming to Android soon
  • The product resonated around key pain points that so many people share. We’re stuck with email. It’s so ingrained. It’s laborious. A platform that’s ripe for overhaul.
  • We first tried to understand how people use email on mobiles (only). It’s different to traditional desktop behaviour. They check messages, mark as unread..little tricks to tell themselves to follow up later. Little moments of time taken to try to triage.
  • Gentry is from IDEO originally. IDEO argues that design is a way of thinking that can be applied to any space, industry, problem, whatsover. It’s the process of looking at a problem, then synthesising insight and iterating on it. His time at Stanford and IDEO built a skillset. He wanted to test whether the same thinking he’d acquired at IDEO could be applied to a startup.
  • Jawbone: is it the product or the experience? Designers have a bigger presence than 10 years ago. Previously, you had separate designers, graphic designers. But consumers wanted something more cohesive. So we found a way to insert ourselves at every stage of the experience.
  • Unloved products people are coming in today making them magical – taxis, email, your house keys, so bad that no one wants to touch them. Designers will challenge every part, every facet. Radios, hifi – what Dieter did was rearrange controls, started as industrial design then went to the web.
  • We got lost for a bit – no major breakthroughs for years. Now it’s emerged as designing everything around the product. The process is a little like kung fu. We have to be ready and willing to challenge assumptions. Start with a beginner’s mind. Agility to examine how things are and how they should be. Explore the problem space. Understand needs. Know that they are bound to evolve. The ‘aha’ moments will shape as you go.
  • Mailbox: we saw people trapped in inboxes, and thought, let’s build a to do list that’s collaborative! What we forgot, is that we didn’t choose to get those emails in the first place, only as we went along the process, that we began to challenge our assumptions about the problem. Showed prototypes to people in their world, we were getting asked to be on early betas a lot, people were excited. Thought that was a good sign. We launched a teaser video ahead of product. Hoped for 100k views. Thought it would help drive up the rankings. What we got, was several million views in first couple of days – good sign we were scratching an itch, or at least, had identified an itch that needed scratching.
  • Yves: “We’re designers of ideas rather than designers of experiences. How you execute it affects the experience.”
  • Gendry: (we as designers were) helping people see what could be. Appealing to the heart rather than the head. Paint a picture that speaks to something bigger. Mailbox was an unreleased app and had such a high value – how? Numbers are all over the place, I can’t provide a rationale reason. Bunch of interest in company itself not just product. Mail is a massive space, need lots of time and much bigger team. We had a good MVP. Dropbox build tools that take the pain out of life, take the heaviness of tech and making it disappear. Felt a good fit.
  • Yves: we work with a lot of technologists who come in to entrepreneurship. Understanding value of working with someone who will really transform your idea, the notion of partnering with someone. The transformation that can happen with a designer on the team. Suspect the mailbox value was the team, who had created a vision. Voice of a (design) partner, an equal, that founders give up ownership to. The human side and the technical side, if both are in tune, incredible things will happen. OH a VC say: “If there isn’t a designer or creative on the founding team we probably won’t invest in it”.
  • Gendry: you need a way of asking the right questions to come up with something that’s truly innovative
  • Yves: we are the last generation that knows so little about ourselves and our health, consumers are going to take charge, designers need to be there. Healthcare experience is so unloved (for example).
  • Gendry: healthcare, transportation, conference – think about what’s driving you nuts?

Researchers of encryption, related to new forms of money (such as bitcoins)

[A surprise panel was introduced of two researchers. I didn't get their names, I'm sorry.]

  • One was arrested via NSA for his research at one point, the other is studying encryption. Purpose is to see if things can be encrypted before they enter ‘the cloud’ that can be studied or monitored by others. Or develop currencies or assets that cannot be ‘seized’ by anyone that does not know the password to decrypt
  • BitCoin is a decentralised currency and network, with miners who create the money, based on servers all around the world. Would be hard for a nation or government to control therefore. “Silk Road”: unseizable assets (because they are distributed), drugs, software, art. The founder of Silk Road was arrested. 1.2 bill in transactions, he earned 80mill from it. The NSA seized assets but it’s all encrypted so without his password they can’t access assets.
  • Does security research. Finds vulnerabilities. Believes protocol for bitcoin is pretty sound from crypto perspective. Actual algorithms – has been no publicised attack on them.
  • Is there potential for bitcoin in the developing world? Gets around inflation in some countries. Swap half your pay cheque for bit coins.But it’s not going to be about paying for coffee for now. We don’t have to trust institution and governments anymore, is the point.
  • If Bitcoin goes elsewhere (disappears, gets shut down) something else similar will crop up. This kind of ‘digital cash’ is here to stay.

Science Panel 

  • Technology is trying to keep up with what we’re asking for (power, etc). Historically, big (scientific) leaps have been caused by crisis (war, etc), what has to change – climate? Need to educate public about real value of basic science. Complaints about US space program but we need to get this story turned around, garner support for investment by public.
  • Real opportunities in the white spaces between scientific fields. Like bioengineering. Collaborate with someone in science (say you’re a fine art student – match up with a bioengineer) and present yourself as a pair. Interdisciplinary research is the way forward.
  • Media. Brian Cox doing an amazing job on education & outreach, the BBC Horizon program is one of the very few to put key scientists on prime time TV.

 The Future of Work

Patrick Collison, Stripe

A product manager, Facebook

CEO from Shutterstock

[These guys had a good chat, but not particularly about the future of work. Some interesting comments though.]

  • We’re in the knowledge economy, it’s less about countries than it is cities. There’s a big skewed distribution.
  • If the primary input is people, it matters where they live and who they will work with.
  • Why did Stripe move to the Bay Area? Needed a ton of capital and finance companies – much easier there. Had tentative conversations with Irish banks but they mostly felt it was ludicrous to support us (at the time). But the 2nd biggest US bank was up for it.
  • Shutterstock: In NY: we didn’t look for VC here. There’s a ton of diversity, lots of language support which helped us. Opened in Berlin also to access technologists that couldn’t find in NY.
  • Facebook: Nobody has their own offices. We’re all in the same room within eye sight. There’s a mythology of what cities represent or are like- self fulfilling prophecy. How you build a company (e.g. using Amazon web services) is super flexible. What pieces do you no longer need to have part of your company, but part of someone else’s. Stripe launched in Buenos Aires initially in fact.
  • Why Silicon Valley? They (startups) flock because they flock. Reinforcing feedback loop. Need 1000 engineers some day? Not going to happen in NY, so SF more likely. You want to work with people with experience of start ups and who want to do it again – only happens in localised hubs ie some cities. Do the best people want to move to your city? You can’t attract with tax breaks like you can corporations. Causality though. People complain, but what would capital gains tax actually have to be in SF before you would leave? People want to stay anyway.
  • Governments. We’re losing faith in their ability to do anything useful. Acting at national level, short term, for self interest. Environment, fishing, economy. Not even intervening in fishing when there are simple things they could be doing – all protecting self interest to utter detriment of ocean. Only fisherman will vote on these policies, so only policies that work for them get in (Ireland).
  • Key themes: collaboration, distributed workforce…what are the skills people will need in future? Constant re-educating yourself will be the key thing.
  • It’s becoming crazy to own homes – locked in to a geographical region, relationships, friendships. Really our lives will change fundamentally each 3 years – get used to this. Silly to commit to things. Get comfortable with change, adaptation.
  • There are changing trends – gender, family, cultural change…Korea more women having fewer children younger, in favour of work. It’s the first time populations are starting to decline in some countries (USA).
  • Blurring boundaries between work and leisure, whole economy of ‘doing things for each other’ not reflected in monetary transactions (women before they worked, doing things for community good).
  • Complaints of younger people sitting around playing video games. But what actually doing is interacting, creating social value, trading, challenging selves, etc.
  • Remote working: GitHub, 37 Signals. Stripe have remote workers (island off Vancouver a Stripe man has wife and goats). Can do this today. But people also like to live in cities. Mid 90′s debate about suburbs vs city. City won. Value. Social connectivity is why. Internet actually made cities more engaging (easier to find good things). Conversations are harder when you’re not together, full stop.


Drew Houston, CEO of Dropbox

(being interviewed)

  • There are two approaches to starting a business. One is the academic side: the market, competition, the opportunity. The second is the softer “I have a problem that I’d like to fix”.
  • Dropbox raised 250mill but haven’t spent it yet. Haven’t IPO’d because we don’t need the capital from IPO yet. IPO is a good way to have a continuous valuation for acquiring companies…but not really that great an idea for them.
  • People sell the IPO idea but it’s like racing cars just putting gas in the tank – it’s not something to be celebrated.
  • [Why buy Mailbox?] “Does anyone like email?” It’s a problem that everyone has. Lots of things you can do to make it better. Creativity that drew them, the team and the founders. Just scratching surface – you see someone using gmail and they have 86,000 unread messages…“For what question is that the right answer?” People save a billion files a day, that’s a hard problem to solve.
  • [What about NSA and Prism?] Dropbox wanted to create THE most trustworthy site. Get requests from Government. They push back wherever possible. Fight. Want transparency.

Panel including Elon Musk and the Irish Prime Minister

  • Great innovators: have a lot of opinions, vision, don’t get swayed by others, have imagination, risks, conviction and belief despite naysayers and criticism.
  • Elon Musk about SpaceX: Three rocket launches failed in a row, hardly enough for a 4th launch. Did it anyway. Couldn’t even look when it happened.  ”People focus in me too much, I have a great team at SpaceX”.
  • Elon Musk: Launched electric car when major car companies were failing (VCs were pretty condemning). Only experience of electric car was a golf cart for most people. Didn’t have good associations. First goal was to break the mould and change perceptions – that’s why we did the electric sportscar first. It had a long range, great handling, it was able to change people’s minds via a test drive. That was our demonstration article with limited production, then we did higher production with the ModelS. Highest consumer rating of any car ever. Huge turning point this year. Huge focus on every little detail of ModelS to make people happy.
  • Tips from Elon Musk for Ireland (asked by the prime minister). 1. Concentration of talent. Choose a particular area to specialise in (e.g. engineering). 2. Regulatory, taxation and gov support for startups. Most startups fail at intermediate stage not at the beginning. More support for that stage. Nurturing. Sapling growing in big redwood forest. 3. Tech co’s need engineers, encouragement at uni is really powerful. Engineering should be tuition free. (Much clapping). But got to stay in Ireland after!
  • Requires change to education system. Lecturers and teaching relationship changes. Mentoring and coaching rather than teaching. Scale of number of students.Also suggestion of startup visa for Ireland or anyone that wants to come.
  • Elon Musk’s friend: “You should always ask. If you don’t ask the answer is always no. You’ll get some ‘yeses’ eventually.”. He got the phone number of a huge investor. Didn’t know him. Made a random call was sure wouldn’t get through. Yet he answered the phone. 15 minutes later he has a meeting set up which leads to huge investment.
  • Elon Musk:  “Ignore fear if it’s not rationale. Reason from first principles rather than reason from analogy. Seek critical feedback from friends.”