When we say Paris, most people think about romance, croissants, pain au chocolat, French chançons and unbearable snarky restaurant staff. However, Paris is not only the city of the Tour Eiffel and the Louvre; it is also the host city of LeWeb, a conference for entrepreneurs by entrepreneurs. Created and still hosted by San Francisco-based French entrepreneurial couple Loic and Geraldine LeMeur, LeWeb celebrates its 10th anniversary this year.
During the years, they have had only the crème de la crème entrepreneurs, founders and web personalities on stage: product-person Marissa Mayer, word-rich Gary Vaynerchuk, modest Kevin Rose, ambiguous Eric Schmidt, as well as founders from almost every single startup darling in the last years: Instagram, Uber, Waze, Twitter, Facebook, Ustream, Evernote, etc. Investors and journalists/bloggers are present in extraordinary numbers; all major publications from US and Europe, both print and online are represented here. Simply put: if you’re European and attention from the entire world eco-system of startups is what you need, this is the place to get it.
Why go to the Valley when the Valley can come to you in Paris?
The Paris part (there’s a London version as well) of the conference itself has always been held in December and has several tracks, where the main hall is dedicated to interviews, panel discussions and generally cool stuff and presentations. The auxiliary halls are hosting the branded tutorials and the startup competition respectively. This year, more than 50+ startups had the chance to present and compete at a European level. The top three winners are awarded investment by a sponsoring VC firm. One of the most prominent winners from previous years is Waze, the Israeli startup that brought order to your daily commute.
One of the great things about this gathering is the spirit of entrepreneurship that is oozing out from every corner of the venue; literally every person you will ever meet here is either an institutional investor, an angel investor, a startup founder, or working at a startup. People are freely accepting and giving good advice, topics like customer development, MVP, product market fit, are easy interchangeable with the subject of what’s being served for lunch that day. Considering that the price for admission to this event is relatively high (depending on when you buy it and whether or not you’re either a student or a startup, it ranges between 300 to 2000 EUR), it is quite bewildering that the event manages to gather so many people. Between 2000 and 3000 visitors are entertained each year during the three days the event is hosted.
Last year, Business Sweden (formerly Exportrådet) initiated a project where they would take a handful of startups to LeWeb and support them during the entire event (sponsor booth, soarée at the Embassy, connecting people together, etc). The idea is to promote Sweden and Swedish entrepreneurship abroad. The initiative is called Talk to Sweden and is driven by Robert Wentrup and Charlotte Strömbäck at Business Sweden.
This year, 15 startups (plus two already well known “startups”: Spotify and Tradedoubler) are present. Swedish Startup Space already covers some of them. I’ve sat down with some of the founders and asked them to tell me a little bit about themselves and their companies.
This is the international spin-off of avtal24.se, a Swedish company that has been around since 2004, providing easy and tailor-made access to legal documents; think of it as StockPhoto for legal documents. The reason why they are at LeWeb this year is to pursue more investment, Magnus Stein, the CEO, tells me. Following the launch in Germany earlier this year, they have had a very busy first day at LeWeb.
Bontouch is not your ordinary app company; we will take your raw idea and deliver a complete product and ecosystem around it, says Emre Berge Ergenekon, their principal engineer. They have big plans for and a commitment to LeWeb, this is their second time around, eyeing international expansion.
A recurring Talk To Sweden participant, Dramatify is a tool that simplifies the life for professional TV and movie producers by moving all of their paperwork to the digital age. The CEO, Annika Lidne (also, acting as advisor at SUP46), tells me that their first product is currently being tested and used live by their first customers. The 550 KSEK investment earlier this year has surely helped this 3 person company deliver. Exciting to see whey they are next year.
Another recurring Talk To Sweden participant is Expertmaker, an Artificial Intelligence and Big Data analytics company from Malmö. Martin Rugfelt, their CMO tells me that they’ve successfully integrated their AI engine with Vodaphones internal systems earlier this year, which has proven quite beneficial for them, experience-wise.
Mapillary is founded by Malmö-based Jan Erik Solem, recently repatriated from Cupertino (Apple bought the company he was CTO at). Company is focusing on the long tail of street view imaging, using crowdsourcing. The idea is to map the entire world, as a superset of existing Google solutions. Currently, they are working their way through early customer development, getting to a feasible product-market fit, having already released an iOS app.
“Popyoular is a review-based discovery platform”, co-founder Johnny Cederlund tells me while he is showcasing WIMP, one of their B2B customers. Popyoular makes it easy to discover music, movies, games and books and connects these to existing reviews from several up-to-date sources. Company started in 2010 and is employing 17 persons.
While still in development (iOS/Android apps expected in four months), Rushcast is a promising app for listening to your news and make them browsable (in audio form). Johan Baettig, CEO, is tirelessly working on getting deals with publishing entities together, while also coordinating the development of the product. For him, LeWeb has already proven to be invaluable; several meetings with content providers were held the first day.
Ditte Hammarström, Emil Sundberg and their team have created Snowfire which makes it easy to create, author, deploy and monitor websites in minutes, supported by an ecosystem and a real digital community. Their efforts at LeWeb are focused on getting the company to an international break-through (meeting with the French minister for entrepreneurship is on the agenda). For a demo of what can be done, visit the Talk To Sweden site, as it is powered by Snowfire.
Think, Google for shopping, with a visual touch and social interaction and you’ve got Shopit. While the site is currently in invite-only mode, Jonas Lindblom, Biz Dev, tells me that they’re preparing for a launch during Q1, next year, fully utilizing their 15-person team. The ambition level is very high, aiming to catalogue every product from virtually every online retailer throughout initially Sweden, Europe and then the world.
We covered Sprinkle in an earlier post here. Their focus for LeWeb is international expansion and content provider deals, Magnus Hultman, CEO, tells me. Company is already generating revenue.
Discovering, publishing and sharing local events that happens around you and combining this with a touch of visual appeal is the business of Voolewoo. Having launched their iOS app earlier this year, Cedric Menard, CEO, tells me that an Android app is coming soon, also hinting at some interesting biz dev deals coming in the pipe that will propel Voolewoo to the top amongst events-oriented apps in Sweden.
While technically not a startup anymore, started in 2007, employing 122 persons and declaring multi-million revenue each year, Widespace claims a leading position in mobile advertisement in Sweden and 7 other European countries. Their precise geo-localized targeting ads along with usage of rich and novel media formats, sets them apart from the competition, Pierre Gauthier from their French office tells me.
By looking around the startup competition hall (where the Swedish booth is located), there are two other booths that stand out: Spain and Belgium. These countries have a similar setup, where their respective governments have sent a group of startups each and are actively supporting them during the event, just like Sweden is doing.
I wish all companies present at LeWeb good luck and hoping for a productive time at LeWeb. Also, if you’re around at LeWeb, drop by and say hi, we’re in the Pullman building. If you’re not here, then I know you will be next year!