LeWeb was worth the trip (at least for me), but not for everyone

This week I visited LeWeb for the first time. The conference is still one of the biggest European tech conferences, but with new ones popping up all over Europe in the last decade, LeWeb became something like the old lady of her kind. A very lovely one I must say. LeWeb was celebrating its 11th anniversary, but the charm and glamour of the good old days seems to be gone. At least this is what people told me. I must say that LeWeb wasn’t extraordinary, but it meets my requirements. The conference was well-organized, I met a lot of interesting dialogue partners for interviews and it took place in Paris which is one of the most interesting European cities. What more could one want?

Interference between the two tasks

I got my money’s worth because LeWeb invited interesting people that I had the chance to interview after their talks, even the big names were absent. Google sended Bradley Horowitz who is vice president of product for Google’s social products, but he didn’t do any additional PR outside of the onstage appearance. Facebook’s Product Manager, Fidji Simo, was also at LeWeb but after I wrote Michelle Gilbert from Burson-Marsteller i&e, Facebook’s PR firm in France, what I want to ask Simo, she never wrote me back.

The magazine I am leading was the only German media partner of LeWeb and so I became every help I needed to get in contact with speakers. I did an interview with Ditto Labs founder David Rose – which is already online – who explained me why enchanted objects are the next big topic in IoT. Tony Conrad from about.me told me how he want to revolutionize the business card concept, Sarah Wood from Unruly talked with me about the shareability of videos, BlaBlaCar co-founder Nicolas Brusson gave me an insight in the future of combined mobility and Frenchweb Editor-in-chief Marion Moreau showed me what the French media and startup ecosystem is really like (+ she gave me a lot to think about).

However other people have other needs, and that is the essence of the critics’ arguments. LeWeb wanted to focus on startups, but hosted a program for a classical conference audience (which is sitting still where WiFi is activated and watching talks). I appreciated that a lot but not everyone saw it that way. I talked with some startups in the exhibition area and most of them weren’t satisfied with the advertised “opportunity to (…) meet investors and potential partners“. Just because these kind of people weren’t at LeWeb, at least in vast numbers.

Also the exhibition zones were placed in the cleftered conference area like an adjunct of it. The startup stands were something at the edge of the halls or in the way to the stages. While on one stage the French tech scene was discussed, France’s Minister of Economy, Industrial Renewal and Information Technology, Emmanuel Macron, was talking at the other stage. The lesson LeWeb learned was that you cannot focus on one while doing the other.

Successful challengers: Web Summit and Slush

I first noticed the disharmony between LeWeb’s aspirations and the reality when I talked to a CEO from Silicon Valley the week before LeWeb. He and his publications officer asked me why I will attend LeWeb and if they should do it too. They were impressed by Web Summit that took place in Dublin last month. A lot of people at LeWeb told me the same. This one and Helsinki’s Slush conference are the new favourites of the startup community.

Both conferences pleased the people with space, information and no distraction from the reason of attendance. Web Summit was highly praised for their smaller spaces and sideline events that gave attendees the option to pick the community they want to hang out with. Dublin Web Summit’s Paddy Cosgrave explained the idea behind this in an interview on The Next Web:

There are lots of different formats for meet-ups, and a lot of them are centered around content. But I feel that if you really want great content, you can just go on YouTube, and no matter who you’re looking to learn from, you can find a talk that they’ve done. Being lectured by a single person in a room of 100 people is a missed opportunity for those 100 people to mingle and meet each other. And the one thing we don’t do less and less of is spending time socializing with like minded people.

At Slush they offered an extensive dataset on all the participating startups, investors and other guests weeks ahead of the event, so attendees didn’t have to meet 300 people who might be interesting but could nail it down to the 30 ‘right people’ to meet. (LeWeb had a database too, but without a good search).

Paris when it sizzles

As I already wrote in the beginning, I loved LeWeb. But I’m a blogger and not a startup. I tried to benefit from my stay in Paris in the most effective manner possible: doing interviews at LeWeb, doing research for my next project at Parisians coworking spaces and doing tourist things on Montmartre. That were my goals and I reached them. As a media partner I enjoyed the comfortable service, but as a startup I would ask myself if LeWeb is the right conference for me.

The old lady has to decide what she wants to be: a influential conference or a hotspot for European startups. For the last mentioned thing LeWeb needs to change location in Paris (more enjoyable, less trade fair-like), concentrate on the agenda (less talks, more meetups) and invite the ‘right people’ for the ‘right topics’ (the “Focus on Germany‘ talk was a time wasting joke that no one understands). Good luck, because I would like to come back to LeWeb.

As I’m no native English speaker this blogpost is also a writing exercise to improve my English skills. Please be aware of that. Thank you.

Image by LeWeb (CC BY 2.0)

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