Friday 1st March Charley and I headed out to The London Web Summit. With the UK's hottest startups battling it out to win investors' cash in the startups competition, over 50 of the top minds in tech taking the stage to debate all things tech startup related and an opportunity to be inspired by entrepreneurs breaking new ground - we figured it was an opportunity not to be missed.
9am Kick off with a networking opportunity over breakfast, before heading to the first talk which was a bit of a jaw-dropper. On the panel were Fabian Heilmann CEO from Daildeal.de who sold to Google and then bought his business back 2 years later. Tommy Ahlers a Danish serial entrepreneur, from Podio, now part of Citrix is on his second successful startup and exit within 5 years. Wendy Tan White from Moonfruit, discussing how the husband and wife team grew the business over 12 years and recently exited to Hibu.co owners of Yell.com. The integration between Hibu and Moonfruit is already showing such promising results that Hibu are modelling the culture of their 12,000 employees and their digital strategies on the way Wendy's team operates.
A fantastic way to begin the day that lay in store for us!
Powering 17% of the Web
Next on stage was Matt Mullenweg creator and founder of WordPress.com. As he comes on stage Charley leans over and whispers " this guy powers 17% of the web" needless to say, he's excited. Designing and building WordPress sites is also how Charley learnt to code, built his web design business Medium Rare Digital which gave him the launchpad, skills and capital to start Goals for Giving and AdSugar. In essence, without Matt Mullenweg and WordPress we would not have been at the Web Summit that day. Matt came across as incredibly passionate about open source and what WordPress aims to achieve, and also the kind of guy you'd love to share a beer with. He talked about open source being one of the most powerful ideas of this generation and shared his hiring tip to work with people on an initial short term project before committing and hiring them, as you will see how well you get on - something we can't learn from credentials. It was one of the best talks of the day. We shared a beer with him later that confirmed he was a good guy to have a beer with and and we also found out he had been in our office the night before hanging out with Ed Cooke from Memrise. We agreed that if we we were ever in Houston he would take us to the best steak in town. Deal.
Investor Speed Networking
At 11am I spent an hour speed networking with investors. There were 10 investors in the room and I had 3 minutes to pitch to and impress each one. The first investor, Verdexus, had just flown in from Canada and explained he was only half awake so I needed to be ultra exciting. I was already excited but this fuelled my pitch! Amongst the room were Mail.ru, the Russian Google, Cavendish, a London boutique investment firm, who promptly explained they only invest at £5 million but were interested in mentoring until we were looking for that kind of investment and Delta Partners who have just acquired WhatClinic which could be a great partner for AdSugar. My favourite investor meeting was with an American woman, Beth Shapcott who lit my fire by being hugely excited about our business and possibilites. She offered me help and advice and explained that her and her husband sold her company for "mega bucks". I ignored the change over bell whilst talking to Beth and by the end of the 10 minutes we spent talking we'd shared 3 high fives, a few laughs and some sweet inspiration.
I was absolutely loving pitching to the investors, each one raising a different angle to consider, each one with their own experience and aims for the day. 1 hour later I had strong contacts to follow up and connect with on LinkedIn and I'd had a fantastic time, I was in my element.
The Lads Room
Throughout the day there was an unlimited free supply of food and drinks. Fridges stacked with delicious hydrating drinks which were much needed with all talking. By this point, it was lunch so we took half an hour to enjoy the food and plan our afternoon. We also discovered "The Lads Room" - filled with beanbags, deckchairs and a giant screen so you could watch the ongoing talks. Oh and fridges stacked with beer. We didn't stay there long, too tempting!
London Tech Scene
After lunch we listened to another experienced panel discuss the state of the London tech scene. The consensus was that in order for London to rival the US, we need time, experience and for those who exit to re-invest their expertise and money.
Schoomzing with the big dogs
We headed downstairs to network and had a great conversation with KPMG who were there to provide free services to startups based on their wealth of experience from their clients. They were impressed with AdSugar and said it's the best product they had seen all day! Well we had to tweet that...
Microsoft were also offering a similar proposition - up to £30,000 worth of business services to startups for free. Adrian Clarke approached me and we began talking about startups (of course) he is the Microsoft Principal Strategy Advisor and also a judge on the startups competition at the Web Summit. I can only imagine the wealth of experience he brings to the table having built and sold 7 business in his time. He was interested in AdSugar and seemed keen to impart advice on investments and how taking them at the right time is absolutely crucial.
Last talk of the day was with a panel that had me almost jumping up and down with excitement. Dan Cobley, MD of UK and Ireland Google, Alicia Navarro, CEO of Skimlinks, Mark Read, Head of Digital at WPP and Ben Huh, CEO Cheezburger. As they discussed the future of digital advertising across mobile, video and TV and how to use these channels to engage and build relationships with customers, my brain was racing with possibility of pitching AdSugar to this pannel and the potential business opportunities in front of me. They discussed that the internet needs advertising to survive, but how do you make advertising non-obtrusive and interesting to visitors? Answering this problem is exactly what we are working on with AdSugar.
5pm - We grabbed a cold beer and headed to watch the final of the startups competition. Back downstairs afterwards, a chance to unwind, meet some new people and also talk more with people we had met earlier.
Later that night Charley and I left the venue to meet a friend in East London. On the way we talked about why we thought the day had been such a success. We agreed it was amazing to realise how vibrant the London startup community is and made us feel proud to be part of it. In one day to meet so many people starting businesses that are breaking new ground and give you that feeling of "wow, that's so obvious and awesome, why didn't I think of that!", was a huge inspiration. In addition, it was a brilliant opportunity to network and practise pitching our businesses. It was a great day, we had a lot of fun and it reminded me that opportunities like this were the reason I quit my job last year.