Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Billion Euro Mystery in Hotel de Ville

I thought this year's LeWeb10 was the best fair for a longtime for start-ups and European entrpreneurs. Over 3000 people braved bad weather at the start of December to come to Les Docks in the north of Paris. The main event had the usual highs and lows. But overall they have really polished this into a first-class business event - and in just a few years as well. Forget CES or NAB in Las Vegas. The future belongs more to SxSW and LeWeb.

The highs for me: I thought the keynote by Carlos Ghosn, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Renault S.A. and Nissan Motor Co., Ltd was the kind of leadership the motor trade definitely needs in the coming years. The need for individual mobility is not going away. We need to find more fuel efficient ways of doing this safely. Ghosn launched their new line of electric cars and they gave away the keys to one of their first models and promised delivery by LeWeb11. A great display by Renault/Nissan and a stand full of knowledgeable designers and technicians.

I was also fascinated by Tomoko Namba CEO of DeNA, one of the largest and most profitable mobile and social gaming companies in the world with presence in Japan, China and the United States. Namba founded DeNA in 1999 and entered the mobile market with Mobaoku which became the No.1 mobile auction site in Japan. Under Namba’s leadership, DeNA has thrived through the culmination of various dynamic business models, ultimately seen in the success of Mobage-town, the world’s fastest growing mobile social network service. What shocked me were the numbers: Mobage-town generates US$ 500M annual revenue with 60%-70% profit margin through the sale of virtual avatar related stuff, tie-up ads, banners, and game item billing, achieving an impressive 70% penetration rate among high teens in East Asia. I still find it amazing that so few entrepreneurs follow what's happening in East Asia.

At LeWeb, Namba said their share of the virtual market was now US$1.2 billion. I find that nothing short of astonishing. If only some of that could be used to find new ways of educating that target group rather than just entertaining them. Games together with kiva.org?

And the low-point? Michael Arrington interviewing Marissa Mayer, Vice President of Google. There is just no chemistry between the two and after teasing her with a few jibes, Mike launched into questions which we all knew she couldn't and wouldn't answer. Then she killed him with a smile and just launched in to the mobile demo Google had come to present with a colleague and that was that. I would love to know why Google only supports beta-testing programmes for Google Chrome OS in the US. If you're a University in Paris then it seems you can't sign-up. There was so much I want to learn from a European perspective. This photo from Flickr sums it up.

Finally, back to the mystery. On Wednesday night about 1500 people braved the Paris traffic to attend a reception hosted by the Deputy Mayor of Paris. According to the presentation last year, Paris is spending 1 billion Euro investing in start-ups and innovation in the capital area. So naturally, I was curious as to what they are doing. What happened was desperately disappointing. A crazy chef gave us a Powerpoint presentation from hell, with slides that were right out of Windows 95. Only when he had come to his conclusion did the bar re-open and some of the staff started handing out strange organic fruit mixes and helium balloons. After the initial amusement wore off, I sensed disappointment amongst those who had hoped that Paris would use the opportunity of so many tech-people in town to show off what innovation they were encouraging and financing - perhaps even a call to action like Renault-Nissan had done earlier in the day. No, we were invited to follow them on Twitter. So the mystery of what they are doing with 1 billion Euro of public money remains. Will they tell us - and also involve us? Or will we read about it on Wikileaks at some point in time?

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