NMKForum07: Does social media have legs?

  • Walid al Saqqaf, COO TrustedPlaces.com
  • Philip Wilkinson, founder crowdstorm.com
  • Euan Semple, independent consultant
  • Justin Davies, founder Buddyping
  • Paul Carr, FridayCities
  • Jemima Gibbons, co-founder and MD, I Know How
  • Mike Butcher, moderator

Walid: We received a half a million pounds. TrustedPlaces is an ever growing website. We’re going to use it to improve the product and improve the recommendation and personalisation engine.

Mike: One of the biggest criticisms of Web 2.0 companies is that they launch features not companies. Are you a feature or a company?

Walid: We’re a company. We’re here to improve people’s lifestyles. How many people go to the same restaurants and bars? Exactly.

Mike: How do you differ from TrustedPlaces?

Paul: Exciting place, local information and personalisation. Our idea is to ask a question about any place, not just restaurants and bars. I think there is room to achieve the same goal in different ways.

Local social networks are a big thing. It’s inevitable that there will be a correction. It’s not going away, but hopefully this is something that will evolve.

Justin BuddyPing: Mobile is exciting because you know what people are looking for. On mobile, people aren’t browsing. They are looking for specific bits of information.

Mike: Jemima, what’s your view of Web 2.0 startups?

Jemima: Lots of people talking about social networks and money to be made of. The voice in media are hearing are white male voices. There is only one social site where you see a lot of faces. There are a lot of people not being included in social networks.

E-democracy and participation, I’m interested in the social enterprise issue.

Philip: People invest in social networks. They don’t want to have to invest time in that, find something useful only to have to move to a new network.

Euan: Surprised how new media becomes old media. It quickly became something to own and be fought over and controlled over.

There is a complacency about how to manage this. Reboot last week, I found it quite smug. They were slightly disparaging about people who didn’t get it.

Walid: I don’t think that this is middle class thing. He pointed out a lot of ethnicities on TrustedPlaces like suggesting Ethiopian restaurants.

Mike: I just finished uploading all of my information to Facebook, and now I’m tired.

Paul: When people stop wanting to know information about the cities they live, we’re in trouble. We had a bit of a crisis with the whole middle class, white thing. Aren’t we all terribly white and middle class? Yes, we are. We’re the most likely to sit in a computer for half of our days.

But when you bring in mobile, that will change.

Question. Everything that we’re doing here in the UK is being done but on a larger scale and with more money. It’s a very advanced model. In the States, the venture capital that you can access is so much greater.

Mike: Perennial problem of UK start-ups.

Walid: Well, the US forget that we’re European. We know European cultures and norms.

Do you believe that there is sufficient capital in the UK to run a company?

Justin: A good idea in the US is based on your education and background. It is down to your academic background.

OK, my two cents here. I’m sorry Justin. That’s not true. Yes, there are a probably a lot of people from Stanford who get a look in from the California VCs, but the networks aren’t based solely on education. Certaiinly, just as in the UK, education jump starts your business social network, but unless you’re applying for a gig at Google, they don’t care so much about your educational background.

Besides, I know several British and European companies or entrepreneurs who went to the US for one thing: Funding. Surely, they didn’t meet their VC contact at Stanford. No, many left for VC or angel funding because the money was available and the terms were better. Someone Twitter-ed earlier this spring that a European VC wanted 5% ownership for a 5000 investment. That’s a ridiculously small investment and a big ask for a young company.

Jason Calacanis said that entrepreneurs need to support each other more and dream more. You guys are way too cynical. You beat each other more. The press is more pessimistic. He said that he got his ass kicked at the Geek Dinner last night. He said that 60 to 70% of the comments were negative last night. If I were you, I’d go to the US to start up my company. There is a reason that the big companies come out of the US. We dream bigger. Where is Europe’s Google?

Another comment from the audience was that the difference between the US and the European market was the angel investor. Angel investors not only provide money but also provide support and guidance.

Kyle McRae from Scoopt said that VCs here in the UK were absolutely risk-averse. (A guy applauded in the back of the room.) They got VC interest in the US, but it was on the condition that they move to the US. They couldn’t move, but they were forced to sell the business. And he agreed with Jason that cynicism reigned.

It wasn’t a very uplifting discussion. I didn’t like and don’t want to contribute to the US versus Europe feel to the discussion, but I also know from experience that it is easier for companies to get funding in the US than in Europe. It is changing, but unfortunately, for a lot of European entrepreneurs not fast enough for them to be able to grow their companies here.