NMK Forum: The Upstarts
The second panel of the day concerned new internet start-ups, the prospects for their longevity and the difficulties faced by them.
- Mike Butcher, Chair
- Euan Semple, euansemple.com
- Jemima Gibbons, Interactiveknowhow.co.uk
- Justin Bovington, Rivers Run Red
- Justin Davies, Buddyping
- Paul Carr, Friday Cities
- Philip Wilkinson, Crowdstorm.com
- Walid Al Saqqaf: co-founder and COO, TrustedPlaces
Mike Butcher began the discussion by asking whether these businesses would still be around in ten years’ time; if the participants had developed a feature or a business. This is a common criticism of some Web 2.0 startups. People develop a useful service of some kind, it is alleged, but don’t really have a business plan for developing it.
Philip Wilkinson suggested that we’re at the beginning of a new chapter in the history of the Internet (and business) and that it’s too early to tell. Walid Al Saqqaf felt that if entrepreneurs were able to develop services that genuinely improve people’s lives by, for example, introducing them to new restaurants that they didn’t know about before, then a project develops a real possibility for longevity. Paul Carr introduced the notion that some of these startups, with complementary services, would survive through partnerships. There would be some fall-out, he said, but, “there will be a core that stick together.” Justin Davies, whose business focuses on mobile, pointed out that there’s still plenty of room for expansion and new companies in that space since most people’s mobile experience is so poor.
Jemima Gibbons suggested there are ways in which the Web 2.0 ‘movement’ has condemned itself to being niche. It’s the “same old voices,” she said, and those voices were overwhelmingly white, middle-class and male. The rest of the population isn’t really engaged with these services, she asserted. Al Saqqaf responded that he was certainly finding evidence of wider involvement at Trusted Places.
Euan Semple remarked that the new media was becoming old media very quickly. He recounted that there was an air of snobbishness from the new media elite at some conferences about people who “don’t get it.” Yet, ironically, it is in exactly that area that the greatest potential for business growth for Web 2.0 companies exists.
Butcher suggested that UK web startups will suffer when it comes to competition from US - those competitors may well be better funded thanks to what is often perceived to be a less risk-averse investment culture, both in venture capital and business angel communities. Speaker Jason Calacanis chipped in with the thought that the UK doesn’t have the ‘crazy dreamers’ found in the US, and that this is a disadvantage. Semple concurred that there seems to be something of an expectation of ‘public service’ in the UK and Europe. Wilkinson, though, said that not only does the UK have excellent start-up ideas and execution, but are is also situated in Europe and understands how to work in Europe in a way US firms may not.