Web Summit Highlights: Day One

Phil Libin, CEO Evernote

I missed his presentation last year, but my colleague recommended him as a speaker and a visionary, so this year I was determined to be in the room.

His vision comes down to; make work less sucky.

Evernote are ahead of the curve on productivity tools. They see the free version as their main version, and focus on getting people to “stay rather than pay”. People use the free version for a long time before buying into the product. They’ve also seen that individual users are often their best leads for enterprise to use Evernote.

His advice to entrepreneurs and developers; make something useful, see if people will like it and stay on it. Their best test of whether will use a new feature or tool is whether their colleagues use it.

Lew Cirne

Lew Cirne is the founder and CEO of New Relic, a company founded on the principal of making data visual in a way that is useful.

He had the quote of the day

Life is too short for bad software

The Role of Technology in Filmmaking: John Underkoffler and Tim Webber

John Underkoffler from Oblong worked on Minority Report and went on to make a real version of some of the coolest tools shown in the movie. Tim Webber from Framestore won the Oscar for visual effects in the movie Gravity. What I loved about this discussion was the emphasis on telling a story. The story comes first and the technology is tool to tell that story.

In the future they see the possibility to integrate with reality tools, but that this has to work in parallel with the story rather than detracting from the story. It occurs to me that at some point movies with virtual reality tools will start to blur the line between movies and games.

The next technology challenge is CGI “humans” that are believable and sustainable for a whole movie.

One key to their success is a very interesting skill that has growing importance in all sorts of companies. Movies are now made across several teams located in different countries, so collaboration in virtual environments has become an essential skill.

Eva Longoria

Room starts to fill up – this might be the closest geeks ever get to genuine stars.

This is not the most original of interviews, some of the questions seem to have been cribbed from an old Cosmo magazine. But Eva Longoria is gracious and funny and she gets her points across.

  • in the cycle of poverty the best intervention is education
  • women start biz at 3x rate of men but have trouble getting access to expertise and capital (in US)
  • her foundation starts addressing these issues

By the end of the 20 minute interview there is a crowd at the front in a photo frenzy.

Gary Marcus

Artifical Intelligence has been disappointing, all the best stuff is always promised as something 20 years away – but we’ve been saying that for 50 years. As Peter Thiel once said “We wanted flying cars, we got 140 characters”

Privacy Discussion

Last year there was a panel discussion in a tiny hard-to-find room, that ended up over-crowded with people peering in through the door. This year it’s on the main stage. Privacy is a real issue, and a challenge for all companies working in digital. An ongoing challenge in my work in social media.

Legal rep for NSA vs CEO from Cloudflare on the basis of privacy in the digital world; neither of them deny the importance of privacy and the challenges faced. But the discussion is where does the responsibility lie?

Peoples’ expectations have changed, many users will sacrifice some privacy for free services. Facebook and Google have a business model that exploits this, selling aggregated data to advertisers. But this is not everyone’s business model; Apple, Cloudflare and Ello are showing that.

There seems to be an ongoing tension between security and privacy; is this inevitable?

Drew Housten

The CEO and founder of Dropbox, a tool I’ve loved and used for years.

He begins by talking about a tennis ball and the number 30,000

The tennis ball represents obsession – think of a dog at play, and 30,000 represents the number of days you have have in your life. Realising at the age of 24 he’d used up a third of them jolted him into starting out as an entrepreneur.

As Dropbox became successful he got a call; Apple were interested. He famously didn’t sell. When asked what number was on the table, he admits they never got as far as stating a number. Before the meeting someone told him that if he didn’t want to sell the company then don’t discuss selling the company.

When asked about competition he answers almost casually “We’ve always had competiton”, but manages to give the impression that being seen as a competitor to giants such as Google et al is a sign of success.

There was an announcement earlier – Dropbox and Microsoft have agreed to work together and produce deep integration between their two products. This leads to a question about equal pay – given the Microsoft CEO’s advice to women to rely on “karma” for salary equality. His answer is unequivocal “two people doing the same work should get the same money regardless of gender”.

And with a round of applause I wander off to find a Dublin shuttle bus. The driver roars “it’s two euro and tirty-five cents, all Dublin buses take coins only” and when we look surprised “this information is all on the web”.

Innocent Advice

I watched a documentary recently titled “How we made our millions” which sounds like something terrible. But it featured two fascinating entrepreneurs; Michelle Mone of Ultimo Fame, and Richard Reed one of the founders of Innocent.

They’re both entrepreneurs I admire, Michelle Mone for her sheer determination and audacious publicity work, and Richard Reed for building a values-driven business. And one comment from Richard Reed really struck me.

It’s something to apply in business, where you very rarely have 100% perfect information. I have seen projects – and people – stalled by trying to analyse data that just isn’t available.

Something to apply in life, come to think of it.

Perfect Pitch

One of my TV addictions is Dragon’s Den, a show where entrepreneurs pitch to 5 of Britain’s most successful business people, who may invest their own money if the pitch is good enough.

Last week’s episode (I’ve just watched the rerun) had a perfect pitch, from Sharon Wright, it’s one that future candidates could learn from.

1 Know your figures

In the first sentence Sharon Wright stated what she was asking for; £50,000 for 15% equity in the business.

She did not state – or at least it was not televised – sales numbers or profit margins, but I have no doubt that she knows exactly the revenue, costs, accounts owed.

2 Know your concept

The product was simple, so simple you can’t believe it hasn’t already been invented. It solves a recognisable problem, and has an obvious sizable customer market.

Sharon was able to explain the problem – she’d seen it herself when the BT engineer came to her house and used a coathanger to manouver the cable through the wall of her new built house. She thought there must be a better way, and went on to invent magnamole.

She demonstrated the product on the programme – and her simple demo worked.

3 Know your clients

The Dragons want to know that your product or service will sell, the easiest way to demonstrate this is to have some existing clients. Depending on where you are in the development cycle of your product it might be a ‘trial sample’ that is sold. In the case of Sharon Wright she has a 2 year contract with BT, and distribution agreements in the UK and the US.

4 Know the future of your company

Have a vision about where you want to take it, know how it can grow.

Companies can grow by gaining market share, growing into new geographic markets, or by developing new products. For a product to be interesting to investors it needs to have growth potential, and it needs to be scalable.

Sharon Wright’s vision includes geographic growth, one of her uses of the investment money is to translate the instruction packs. But she also had an answer when Peter Jones pointed out that this is a market that will become saturated. “Yes, my next product…” The fact that she’s thought that far ahead and will go on and develop more products in the future was a seller for investment hungry Dragons.

5 Protect your product

If a product or service is easy to copy it’s less attractive for investors, an imitator could change the market before they have a chance to recoup their investment.

Sharon Wright already holds patents, both in the US and UK.

6 Know your stuff

The Dragons are investing in a business, but they’re also investing in you. You need to show your expertise, you need to show you’re professional, and you need tell the story of how you got to the product coherently.

In this case, Sharon has done a lot of the right things in developing her business so was very credible, the development of the product was inspired by a real event and drew on her background in Health and Safety.

7 Know what you need

Know what you need to make the business grow, know what you plan to spend the money.

In this case the stated need for the money was to internationalise the product and conduct some market research, but her real need was the expertise of a Dragon, and when the moment came she got to say which Dragons she’d prefer to work with.

8 Be human

The Dragons need to like you, at least a little, to invest in you. So showing something of yourself is good.

Sharon indicated that one of the reasons she wanted a Dragon on board was to go faster in making decisions, and she expressed some regret and frustration that she hadn’t been able to go faster. That drew some laughter from the Dragons, they made it very clear that she’s done amazingly well in just two years.

The result? All the Dragons were interested, and the eventual offer (80K for 22.5%) from James Caan and Duncan Bannatyne, valued the company higher than she had coming in. It might sound odd, but it was a win on both sides.

I’m sure she’ll be successful, I hope she’s featured on next year’s follow up show.