French entrepreneur Le Meur discusses LeWeb, his startup Seesmic, and the price of Facebook shares
LeWeb, Europe’s biggest tech start-up conference, is coming to London for this first time on June 19 and 20. The event brings together developers and entrepreneurs, and takes the theme “Faster than Real Time”.
Supported by the UK Trade and Investment board and Tech City initiative. the London event will complement the traditional Paris event in December, which has been going for eight years.
LeWeb is the brainchild of serial entrepreneur Loïc Le Meur, and his wife Géraldine, and will feature speakers including Chad Hurley (formerly YouTube), Niklas Zennstrom (Atomico Ventures, Skype …), Brent Hoberman (Made.com), Bradley Horowitz ( Google ) and Phil Libin (Evernote). It will also feature Eric Migicovsky, whose Pebble Smart Watch raised $ 10 million through Kickstarter.
Le Meur discussed the prospects for LeWeb, his own start-up social media startup Seesmic, and the Facebook flotation, in a long interview with our sister site ITespresso.fr. Here are the highlights:
(Telephone interview conducted on 06/06/12)
LeWeb crosses the Channel
Why did you feel the need to create a second edition of LeWeb in Europe?
The technological world is moving so fast that two events per year in Europe are easily justified. The hyperactivity of the UK government is what convinced us: it was hard to refuse the ooffer from David Cameron and his team.
Initially, I saw the great Internet forums in the United States and no events of this type in Europe. I wanted to capture the spirit of international start-ups.
Even in London, IT events organized locally are very local. what LeWeb brings is the international dimension – there were 76 countries represented at the last event.
The closest equivalent in the US would be South by Southwest, which is held annually in Austin Texas, but that is a festival (music, film etc). And the Web 2.0 Summit (San Francisco) disappeared this year.
We will capture the event on video and stream it live in HD on YouTube. TED is the only organisation to mount a similar service.
Do you earn money with LeWeb?
We’re just profitable. But we never saw this as a real business: it re-invests everything in the conference and the quality of visitor and guest speakers. Géraldine and I do not pay ourselves, but we have created a brand known around the world.
Seesmic – a learning experience
As a net-entrepreneur, you founded Seesmic. How is that going?
That didn’t quite succeed according to plan. However, we tried. We went through three successive models.
Funnily enough, as we speak Shawn Fanning and [Napster founder] Sean Parker have launched Airtime [a video chat/sharing start-up]. This is exactly the pitch Seesmic started with five years ago. I see that as a compliment. I met Sean Parker two days ago and I congratulated him.
Seesmic went through different phases.Seesmic Ping is a simple tool for sharing on social networks- it has 2000 registrations per day in the current state, and we are monetizing our Android application. It generates about $20 000 per month, which is beyond our expectations. The service will also go into freemium operation fremium (half free, half-paid).
With Seesmic, you had approached the Salesforce.com ecosystem …
Yes. We launched mobile applications for the Salesforce ecosystem. But I overestimated the ability of firms to adopt new tools. There is very little viral spread for professional applications. Unlike consumer apps that can spread rapidly if they appeal to people via social networks.
Will you turn the page and Seesmic a new challenge?
Seesmic is a failure, I know. But I’m tenacious. I hope to balance Seesmic with a small team, a simple service and a stable model.
Startups and the Facebook effect
What is the difference between the startup ecosystems in Europe and the United States?
Ambition and risk. Entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley all want to become a Mark Zuckerberg and create a Facebook.
Another big difference: failure is not an issue in the US; you just need the ability to bounce.
There are dynamic startups in Europe. We had 800 startups in competition for Paris and 600 in London. But european startups with a true global reach, you can count on the fingers of one hand: Rovio, Spotify, SoundCloud …
I find that there is not enough overall success from Europe. And that’s unfortunate. The environment is perhaps not yet sufficiently favorable.
Any comment on what has been happening with Facebook stock?
Do not judge too quickly. Facebook is a great company. Very few businesses are capable of transforming the way people communicate. At its current price, (around $ 30), I continue to buy because I believe in its unique development.
There is an intrinsic value that is not monetised yet. This is one of the most recognizable brands in the world. It became the major address book in the world.
Loïc Le Meur, a pioneer of the Internet in France in the 1990s, founding Ublog (now known as Media Say), hosting firm RapidSite (sold to France Telecom in 1999), website creation company B2 (bought in 1999 by BBDO-Omnicom). He founded LeWeb in 2004, created Seesmic in 2005, and moved to San Francisco with his family in 2007.