Dispatches from Europe: LeWeb Paris

LeWeb’s just wound down here, and you know it’s been a tech conference when twitter handles are in bigger print than organisations on the oversized passes (which bring back haunting memories of the Olympics) and the bloggers get a bigger filing room than the professional press. But despite my eternal quest to find a power socket and jealousy of the space belonging to our 66 ‘official blogger’ counterparts, I have to say LeWeb have managed to put together something great here this week.

After a damp arrival in Paris and an attempted crash course in French from my colleague Margot Huysman, we swooped upon LeWeb’s venue in one of the slightly less friendly areas of the city. On arrival, after some elbowing through crowds and strong coffee, I’m drawn to the packed stage where some awesome stuff is being shown off. After seeing a $200 headband reading LeWeb founder Loic’s brainwaves and NASA’s Mars Science Lab senior software engineer talking about the recent Curiosity mission, I was hooked. Thus began three days of talks, workshops and tech demos (with a fair sprinkle of freebies, drinking and gossip) in the City of Light.

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LeWeb certainly isn’t your usual tech event, with French cheeses, smoked salmon & fine wine replacing beer & pizza, and more suits on display than you’ll usually see at anything startup. Of course, considering the €2300 ticket price you’d expect things to be a little more classy & upscale than your average conference, and they certainly don’t fail to deliver on this, but is it worth the expense?

For some companies this is pocket change, and for others it’s not unreasonable considering the potential to find big clients, investors and press interest for their product. As has been said many times, a lot of the real networking at events like this happens in smoking areas, bars and corridors rather than at scheduled events, and with such a wide variety of influential attendees it could be a great oppertunity. Of course, if you’re a bootstrapped startup then it’s a lot of cash, but if you can’t find a way to bring the cost of attending down for you then you might just be in the wrong game. Think official blogging, competitions and blagged discounts.

The Internet of Things

Dr. DJ Patil gives a talk at the conference. photo Kmeron/LeWeb

The theme of this year’s conference was the Internet of Things, with an abundance of shiny & connected gadgets on display like Bluetooth brainwave-readers and video-broadcasting quadrocopters, but despite the hardware focus the LeWeb Startup competition prize went to open-data site Qunb. Their platform claims to allow people to share and search for data from across the world in a more intuitive way. After trying out their site with education figures from the World Bank, it seems to work well with easy-to-use and meaningful visualisation. They say they’ve based their model on YouTube’s philosophy to encourage uploading, with the tagline “broadcast your data”.

One of the most disorientating experiences of LeWeb has to have been from Oracle, whose chatty promotional robot Oscar bemused guests and drew crowds. Though I imagine amongst the distraction of talking to a pretty impressive robot, their actual advertised services may have been somewhat lost on most. You can listen to a brief interview with Oscar here:listen to ‘Chatting with @Oracle’s awesome robot Oscar at #leweb12’ on Audioboo

Midnight in Paris

I’m not a specialist tech journalist, but the sector’s definitely exciting and they undoubtedly throw some of the best parties. LeWeb’s been no exception, from drinks and short pitches at the Swedish Embassy to dancing the night away at the lavish Badoo party, the conference’s social scene certainly doesn’t disappoint (even if you have to get used to techno music on the continent). Though, unbeknown to me, measures in drinks are an alien concept in France so that vodka tonic will likely contain more of the former than the latter. I certainly felt it the next morning.

Some of the Swedish startups I saw pitched definitely intrigued, such ascloud-based film preproduction tool Dramatify and ‘the world’s first visual shopping app for fashion’ Oculusai, which promises to let you snap a photo and it’ll recognise the clothing. Considering the country brought us services like Spotify and iZettle this isn’t surprising (though I might be slightly biased by heritage). Around London’s Silicon Roundabout microcosm it’s easy forget about the work going on throughout Europe and the rest of the world other than the Valley, but LeWeb’s certainly a reminder of tech’s global nature.

I’ve met some great people through the week and found out about some very intriguing ventures, though tech types take note: while you shouldn’t be afraid to strike up conversation with journalists you don’t know, don’t even think about trying to pitch us while we’re using a urinal. You know who you are.

Pour Résumer

All in all it’s been a great experience, and as a LeWeb virgin quite an overwhelming one. If I  was a tech startup I’d definitely try and get people to the next one, and as I’ve said if you’re bootstrapped and can’t find a way to make it cheaper than try again. However as fun and potentially beneficial as an event like this can be for a company, it’s by no means essential, and there are a lot of smaller-scale cheaper & free things closer to home (in London at least).

If you’re more interested in the substance than the networking, and the content is absolutely fascinating, then LeWeb also live-stream their talks online so there’s no excuse not to check out ones than interest you!

Whether going is worth it or not is down to you, but it’s sure to be a good time.

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