Yesterday, I had a lucky chance to attend the Plugg 2009 conference in Brussels. For those who are not familiar with this annual event, it’s a conference that brings together European Web 2.0 start-ups and gives them a chance to pitch their business ideas to a panel of venture capitalists. It’s also an annual celebration of entrepreneurship in Europe. The event was organized by Robin Wauters, a well-known Belgian blogger and serial entrepreneur active on the Web 2.0 scene. The atmosphere of the venue was quite futuristic and incredibly geeky, with most of the attendees photographing the event with their iPhones, their MACs on their laps, with TweetDecks visible on the screens. It was simply cool to be there. Many in the audience attempted to engage in Q&A sessions with presenters via Twitter – that’s how geeky this stuff is! However, Mike Butcher, the UK TechCrunch editor, made sure the interaction within the audience was free-flowing, uninterrupted by Twitter-mediation.
I was there mainly to spot potentially funky online brands amongst the 20 presenting start-ups. Although fascinated by the technology behind some of the presented business ideas, I wanted to see which of the entrepreneurs would be capable of transforming their high-tech ideas into concepts understood by final consumers.
And guess what? Although the majority of the 20 semi-finalists dwelled on technological superiority of their business models, the 3 finalists (Jinni, Myngle and Mendeley) were those whose business models:
1) Concentrated on the final customer and clearly explained their value proposition; 2) Didn’t make technology the driving force of their businesses, but simply an element required for strategy implementation; 3) Were either already profitable, or at least had a more or less clear idea about HOW to make money.
For the rest, it was surprising to see how much irrelevant stuff presenters put into their pitches – techie language, “we’re the best” messages with no supporting arguments. And almost NOBODY ever addressed this: how is my business going to bring value to my customers, and why would anybody care to pay for it? This basic stuff seems amazingly straightforward, but it didn’t come up in many presentations.
And now, the final word about the finalists. Myngle is an online language learning community (I could draw a lot of similarities between Myngle and busuu.com, which I covered in one of the previous posts), Jinni is a recommendation site dedicated to movies and other entertainment, and Mendeley (the winner of Plugg 09), launched by a bunch of PhDs is the platform which can be used for search and exchange of academic papers within the global academic community of researchers and scientists.
Many thanks to Robin Wauters and Veronique Pochet for organizing this inspirational event. What I find most refreshing about the event is this: even in this chilly economic climate, there is still a bunch of enthusiastic individuals in Europe, who care about creating value and changing the world. And this is great news.