I write these lines as I recover my voice from the Pioneers Festival 2013 in Vienna, a major event in the world of IT startups, investors and the media. I’m not used to talking so much, for so long 🙂
Flawless execution (as far as I could tell): meticulous info&support, events starting on time, interesting topics and speakers, informative tutorials, fun workshops, original catering. The organization was nothing but spectacular.
Many groups were german-only and fairly impenetrable, but there were so many people overall it made no difference. Lots of contacts were made, interesting conversations had, feedback for my own ideas collected.
True story: I am talking to Tihkon Bernstam (of Scridb fame and a YCombinator mentor) at the festival lounge when an attractive girl comes up. She pushes her card down Tikhon’s pocket saying “call me!”. That’s when you know you’re a star — the celebrity litmus test 🙂
Good times. Now on to the business!
Is this still business?!
The festival content was the usual mix of interesting, viable ideas and “facebooks for pets” (aka B2C ideas that ride the hype of the month). For those unfamiliar, let me exemplify with a telltale analogy from the festival:
There is this pitch competition at Pioneers. Startups come on stage, describe what they do and what they need, all in 90 seconds max. Some ideas are better than others, some pitches coherent, some less. One startup whose name and purpose I already forgot sends a representative who isn’t able to lift the microphone from the stand during his pitch. The moderator has to come and help him, to the infinite amusement of the audience. People laugh and applaud, business ideas forgotten. The competition winner is born!
Gimmicks and fads. The startup world these days.
Why so much bullshit?
If I may hazard a guess, it’s connected to the cheap money flooding the world, struggling to be put to use as it trickles down the economy. Result: the current startup gold rush, with billion dollar valuations for the likes of Instagram and Snapchat.
“Getting acquired while producing no revenue is like performing a card trick without the deck of cards: the magician simply explains how magical the trick is, never actually showing it.”
VC funding = success!
There’s no schadenfreude when I say I hope the startup bubble pops soon. The cleansing effect should ultimately benefit everyone, from developers to innovators to the general public. Not, perhaps, a few VCs left holding the bag when the music stops. I’m sure they’ll manage though (or get bailed out).
That was bit of a nag-rant, but the general feeling from the Pioneers Festival was extremely upbeat and optimistic. I see all the snake-oiling, awkward celebrity worship and off-the-walls-bouncing as birth pangs of a nascent industry. The pets.com social-mobile-ideators will eventually move on. As long as there’s feedback and people pay for their mistakes (both investors & founders), things will come around.
Interestingly, the delirious gimmick culture is not as pronounced in Europe as it is in the Silicon Valley. This irked some European gold diggers at the Festival who called for more cheap money, too 🙂 Which is fine by me, as long as this capital comes from where losing it hurts, in as direct a way as possible. Spiraling the public debt or printing shitloads of money may make gold diggers happy, but certainly won’t help the industry in the long term.