Loic Le Meur at Microsoft Bizspark UK 2010

September 25, 2010

Loic Le Meur at Microsoft BizsparkI love Loic Le Meur; I suspect everyone who’s ever heard him speak does too. Yes, he’s a successful entrepreneur with a track-record, but I guess it’s more his mix of beaming smiles, Gallic charm and accent and his positive, upbeat and enthusiastic manner which combined has contributed to making Loic one of the influential people in tech world-wide.  He talks of his passion for what he does, and it’s that which motivates him and not money. The passion comes across clearly.

Loic is the founder and CEO at Seesmic, which provides a multi-platform way to communicate and “manage your brand online” (an “obsession” of his). Along with his wife Geraldine, he founded one of the World’s major web conferences, Le Web, which takes place every December in Paris. (It’s well worth going for the 2 day event, it brings the best of Europe and Silicon Valley together. Here are some of my blogs from Le Web 09).

But as a significant figure in Europe why did he relocate himself and family to Silicon Valley three years ago?

“It’s more difficult in Europe, but in the bay area there is easy access to everyone within a short drive. Everything is central, Silicon Valley feels like one big campus and it’s full of energy.” Settling in was easy as “most people in Silicon Valley are not from Silicon Valley and [unlike in Europe] they are genuinely willing to help”.

In Europe are we just not willing to pay it forward? Later on, during a discussion about funding, someone elegantly illustrated the difference between US and Europe; in the US there is a “virtuous circle” of US entrepreneurs who later become investors, and keep going through this process again and again. In Europe – for whatever reason – after succeeding and exiting, entrepreneurs seem to retire with their money and the cycle is broken.

Investors and Pivots

Getting under the hood a bit more of Seesmic, Loic explained that it started out as a video chat platform – a medium he still firmly believes in – but there was a problem scaling it beyond their initial hard core of 100,000 users. Quite simply, a lot of people are not very comfortable with video as a communications medium. So despite the initial success, Seesmic made the move to another product.

He explained, “Good investors know its not what you start with that matters but where you end up”, and added, “The crucial element is the trust and relationship that you have with your investors.” He also acknowledged that he was in a fortunate position in being well-funded which allowed him to do that, build the platform and grow the community ahead of monitising.

In his closing remarks he asked us all simply to think, “What can you be the best in the world at?” and to build a community around that.

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Thanks to Bindi Karia and the Microsoft Bizspark programme for the opportunity to attend. If you are a startup, make sure you register with Bizspark.

The real-time web – the web is now more scary than ever if you’re average

December 11, 2009

Imagine that you’re running a reasonably successful business, (it doesn’t matter what it is), but you’re pretty happy with things and you think your customers are too. At least you don’t get that many complaints and usually giving a refund or discount voucher for next time round seems to buy them off the whiners. You probably weren’t even engaging in the web and now this new high-speed real-time web has appeared. Oh dear. What are you going to do now? Spend more on traditional interruption advertising, cut your costs – stay lean, focus on delivering the cheapest price?

You could bury your head in the sand too while you’re at it. If you’re happy with your business now and happy to see it erode slowly over time that is certainly one approach you could take. Or you could embrace the massive change that is taking place, one which is letting people connect with each other, globally and enabling new businesses who are truly passionate about what they do come in and revolutionise an industry.

Here’s the thing… it’s actually the small and medium sized businesses who have the most to gain and the most to lose from this. The large corporations are seen as being distant and aloof anyway, but smaller companies can and ought to be closer to and more responsive to their customer. You can either embrace the new tools available and grow significantly, or sit back and let a new competitor do so and see your position eroded. Would you like to be a winner or loser in the new world?

One winner is Gary Vaynerchuk, a wise-cracking upstart, who could have been an extra in The Sopranos, except for the fact he was born in the USSR just 31 years ago. He turned his Dad’s neighbourhood liquor store in New Jersey into a $70M online wine retail business. Gary V is one of those people who is passionate about whatever he gets involved in and in his book “Crush It” he explains how anyone with a passion can use that to create a successful business. And if you truly care, that comes across to the people you’re engaging with. But how different it could have been for Gary. That local shop could have closed years ago as the hypermarket opened a mile down the road and quickly you begin to resent their low prices, and the fact that people never really cared for you much anyway. (Might have been something to do with you not caring about them either).

Gary was speaking at “Le Web” conference in Paris, the central theme of which was “the real-time web”, that stream of consciousness such as status updates on sites like Facebook, twitter, MySpace and Facebook. Up until now the status updates and content of these sites has generally been walled off from search engines, but that’s now changing, with both Google and Bing displaying just such content within their regular search results.

The importance of this should not be underestimated, the web is now much less static, and now much more alive than ever before.

Web searching can be divided into three types of search:

  • searching for a site, e.g. going to google and typing in “ikea.com” (Apparently a lot of people do this!)
  • searching for data, e.g. factual information
  • searching for news/updates on current events

The first two are handled very well by search engines, the data is easy to index, rank and display. The last category has never been handled well by traditional search engines, breaking news events may or may not appear and there is a reliance on traditional media sources, who are often the last to report such events. The types of happenings we are talking about… Tiger Woods infamous golf club/wife/fire hydrant/vehicle incident, or the plane crashing into the Hudson or the death of Michael Jackson. Getting real-time updates from those close to such events is something that’s very valuable. There’s a myriad of companies, including Google who are trying to satisfy the currently unmet desire which people have for the latest, accurate information, in real-time. Much of the real-time information may well be nonsense, but it’s going to amplify and expand exponentially for years to come and we need a way to deal with it. (And if you’re running a company you need to find ways to listen to it at the very least, even if you don’t feel comfortable taking an active role yet).

Chris Brogan believes the web today has moved from being like theatre played out on a stage in front of the audience, to theatre in the round where everyone can take part. Sure you can choose not to take part, but you cannot stop people talking about you. Wouldn’t you rather listen, respond and be part of the conversation? (Or you could shout louder and spend more on old forms of advertising). The scary part is, you can’t opt out of the collaborative web; even if you choose not to have engagement tools on your site other people can add them in by themselves and talk to other users of your site without you even knowing about it. (Thanks to another new Google product called Sidewiki).

So, back to the imaginary company I asked you to think about, you’re probably feeling pretty scared right now. These pesky people are going to voice their opinions loudly, and their friends will listen, after all we trust people much more than companies. Negative comments and complaints voiced will now very publicly highlight all your product or services shortcomings, and the speed of this is now faster than ever before.

On the other hand you could be the type of business who has a great culture, a great product and a great attitude to your customers and you’re probably now really excited about now having the tools and platforms to enhance the connection with your customer base, nurture your hard-core of fans, discuss and exchange ideas with them and develop a bigger and better relationship. The real-time web was made for you…. go and embrace it!

Inspiration for this piece came from the following speakers, click the links to watch their videos.

(If you watch just one make it Gary’s)

More blogs from me on Le Web:

Richard Tait – pursuing passion and creating joy in the workplace

October 21, 2009

Richard TaitI should have been on a plane heading back to Europe yesterday but instead I rearranged my plans and extended my stay here in the San Francisco bay area to listen once again to the truly unique Richard Tait of boomboom. Yes, he really is that good and his story should be broadcast wide to entrepreneurs as you can learn a lot from someone who lives his life with such passion and enthusiasm.

Richard was speaking to a group of University students and started by explaining that “I want to inspire and resonate with just one person in the room, and get the message across to follow your heart”. At this point everyone realised they were not going to get the run-of-the-mill CEO talk. Having seen Richard speak before at The Entrepreneurial Exchange I knew what to expect; what he said resonated with me and showed me how you can operate a business using culture as the bedrock.

An exceptional career

After completing his undergraduate degree and fighting against the system in the UK which turns away MBA candidates without work experience, he enrolled at the Tuck school of business at Dartmouth College. That led to a transformational job with Microsoft, when the company only had around 2000 employees and at a point in time when its mission was crystal clear, putting a PC on every desk. Just four days into being there he was given the opportunity to lead a 100 strong team developing a major new project; Microsoft was a strict meritocracy and willing to take risks with the exceptional talent available to them. Ten years later, during which time he had won the employee of the year award and started numerous successful business within the company came the next major fork in his life when he realised that the culture had changed as the company had grown and he no longer enjoyed working there.

Cranium & culture

Some people are great at pictionary but struggle with scrabble, equally there are plenty of people who excel at scrabble and not at pictionary. This simple truth learnt while playing those 2 games with friends was the genesis for the board game Cranium, a game where everyone would have a chance to shine at whatever their talent is. Or to put it another way, “an entertainment company that celebrates the human spirit”. That very clear vision, coupled with a clearly defined set of core values created an amazing company culture. That in turn happened to create the third largest games company in the World, and it became such a thorn in Hasbro’s side that they eventually bought the company last year. Now Cranium exists as a single game in their enormous portfolio, and the team and the culture that went with it has died. It’s no wonder that Richard explains how it “broke his heart”. Happily though at a recent picnic for employees one year on, the culture and spirit continues and people look back fondly on their times together.

The secret sauce

There is no doubt that Richard has an exceptional business talent and his meteoric career is no doubt down to this and working very hard and making personal sacrifices along the way. However, it’s the style and authenticity in which he has done it all which is what we should learn from, it’s inspiring and exceptional.

His advice for life is to pursue your passion and be joyful; focus on what interests you. (And when you do it’s really not that difficult to communicate).

He is a poetic story-teller and speaks with tremendous conviction and a disarming level of transparency and honesty. Why? Richard is being nothing other than being himself and that makes it easier to achieve business objectives. Much of business is about trust and persuasion, whether it’s convincing a customer to buy from you or an investor to part with their cash.

Richard’s talent is the ability to tell a story and get people to believe, to buy in, and to love it (and him). I was told that after meeting Richard a VC said to his colleague that although he wasn’t sure about the business idea or whether it would work financially they had to invest because of Richard.

Richard’s talent to persuade and transform has been recognised by someone famous for both those qualities as he was recently hired by Howard Schultz, founder and CEO of Starbucks to work on a transformational project. I’m sure it’s no coincidence that the title of Howard’s autobiography happens to be…

Pour your heart into it“.

Books as recommended by Richard: