March 17, 2009

Farewell to Plugg

We've been covering Plugg quite extensively last week but thought we'd get back to it one last time to share with you some of the feelings, lessons and conclusions from the one day conference here in Brussels.

The most basic one is simply that entrepreneurship IS very much alive in Europe. We know we've said that before, but we can't stress it enough. The fact that this continent as a whole and each country on it's own is bursting with ideas when it comes to Web 2.0 is very encouraging indeed. We might do things differently from the Americans, but that's OK. As Inma Martinez mentioned during her speech, the last thing we should do is be obsessed by how 'different' we are or hate ourselves for it. Quite the contrary.

But of course, we all need a little encouragement from time to time. Someone to show us that entrepreneurs might be a different breed - most of us would only complain when we encounter a problem, not start a company to solve it - but they are a mightily inspiring breed too. When it came to Plugg, this spark of inspiration was provided by 'the two Belgians', two Belgian entrepreneurs that paradoxically went to the US to seek business success.

Bart One of them, Bart Decrem, is the very definition of a serial entrepreneur and is currenly known as the founder of Tapulous, the company behind one of the most succesful iPhone applications ever, Tap Tap Revenge. Decrem explained why he moved to Silicon Valley and what makes the valley such a good place to start an internet company. The short version of that argument would sound like this: the network. There's a whole ecosystem of ccompanies, investors and service providers that keeps the region south of San Francisco going strong and that helps newcomers by providing them all the chances they need. As Decrem put it: "Where else are you going to have Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook walking into your office because he happened to be in the neighborhood?".

Can we draw lessons from the success of Silicon Valley? Yes says decrem: "It's not impossible to build this kind of network in Europe too. But in order for that to happen, we have to start thinking big. Think of big changes, big improvement, not of gradual and incremental moves.".

Dries Prior to listening to Bart Decrem, we heard from Dries Buytaert, the young founder of Drupal, essentially - as he explains it to his own grandmother - software to build websites with. We'd call it a content management system, but the exact term doesn't matter. What's important is that Drupal is open source, has created an ecosystem of its own and is essentially free software that manages to compete with multimillion dollar systems from commercial vendors. Not that Buytaert is doing this out of charity. As so many open source programmers have done, he's making money on providing technical support to major customers, by way of Acquia. This vc-backed company calls Boston home and is run by Buytaert and his partners. Dries decided to stay in Belgium himself but sees three reasons why Boston is such an apt place for Europeans to start a business: "There's lots of money - quite a few vc's have offices in Boston, lots of talent - the city is home to MIT and Harvard, and relatively close to Europe." Buytaert particularly enjoys that last argument as he often flies up and down between Brussels and Massachusetts.

One last thing I should mention is the vc panel. The three investors that took part in this half hour talk each had their own points of view, but none was so outspoken as Fred Destin of Atlas Venture in London. He provided what could be seen as the antidote to too much inspirational optimism and was very candid. Just one quote from him: "If you're building a social application, make sure you have at least 3 million users across Europe and good engagement from those users. Only then will a vc invest money in your project." Destin wasn't shy to day that the current economic climate DOES make it very hard for companies to find the money they need. Tough love indeed, but hardly exagerated.

To leave you with enough inspiration to make it to next years Plugg, here are some videos from the event:

Bart Decrem

Being A European Entrepreneur in Silicon Valley - The Veteran Perspective from Plugg Conference on Vimeo.
Dries Buytaert

Being A European Entrepreneur In Boston - The New Guy Perspective from Plugg Conference on Vimeo.
VC Panel

VC Panel: Where's The Money Gone? from Plugg Conference on Vimeo.


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Great wrap up of your series!

The network and the will to change things are the key indeed. The entrepreneurial spirit is present and so is the money: the EU is the largest economy in the world.

How about less self-flagellation and more focus on doing things? Right or wrong, just do more: start more projects, succeed and fail more enterprises, and keep on learning and motivating ourselves.

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