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LeWeb: The Ad-Hoc Snowbound Panel

Leo Laporte

After years of listening to Leo Laporte’s TWIT network, I’m now seeing him live… He’s lost one of his panelists to the snow, so Dennis Crowley has stepped in, joining Brent Hoberman of mydeco and Loïc.

And we’re talking about entrepreneurship in Europe. Should people just copy US ideas? No, but it’s a qualified no. Hoberman explains that his original startup (lastminute.com) could only expand into France, for example, by acquiring a local firm that helped them deal with all the legal restrictions in each country. So there’s a value in building our parallel sites in countries that have different legal systems.

That said, Loic moved from being an European entrepreneur to being an US one, because being in the US gives him direct access to the management of the big web companies that matter – like Google for example. It’s more difficult in Europe, Loic suggests, citing Daily Motion which started before YouTube but never got teh funding to scale in the same way.

Crowley started Foursquare in New York, simply because that was where he lived. He thinks the urban density of the city helped them create a better product, and they’re now part of a whole thriving community of startups in the city.

Hoberman jumps in with mention of east London and the silicon roundabout area, that’s becoming the hub for the UK startup scene. And he thinks any entrepreneur that can make it in Europe has great management skills, because it’s so much harder to scale over the language and legal barriers than it is in the more monocultural US.

Lots of discussion about funding, which seems to be a perennial topic here. Hoberman pointed out that venture capital is a terrible investment class right now, which doesn’t help. And there’s not the volume or the structure that exists in the US. Most tellingly, Loic revealed that he had several companies turn down his “how to be acquired” panel tomorrow simply because it’s Europe and they’re not interested.

Loic is replying to a question from one of the questioners, talking about the infamous “political hijack” of Le Web 3 in 2006 (my first Le Web). His mistake wasn’t so much inviting the politicians, he suggests, but in springing it on the room. If he’d informed people, it would have gone better. And he spent a long time afterwards reading every bit of criticism and responding, and using that to inform future events.

Nice challenge from Leo: is it necessary to always build big companies? Can’t you be happy with a local, niche service? The reply, between Hoberman and Crowley, is that you don’t get a platform that way. And if it’s working, why wouldn’t you want to scale it?