Spent a couple of days last week at the Charles River Ventures conference. (CRV is the lead investor in Gridstone). The attraction of the conference to me was to meet other entrepreneurs and to meet a great roster of speakers. As it turned out, the former objective wasn’t quite fulfilled, for good reason. But the speakers made the trip more than worthwhile.
I was a bit of an odd duck in the group. As it turned out, I was the only company represented that was doing enterprise apps (although I am applying that definition rather loosely – we are both content and software). After a couple of days of networking, it seemed as if I was in a land where the natives spoke a different language. There was a whole bunch of mobile companies, a smattering of networking and storage folks, some social networking types, but no enterprise apps. Where in the world have all the enterprise app startups gone? I think this one deserves a separate post, so I’ll leave it for later.
Random notes on the sessions:
- The panel discussion on Web 2.0 was star-studded (Esther Dyson, Mike Arrington…) but was all over the place. It started with the definition of Web 2.0 which to me is just a random collection of contemporaneous technologies. The panel discussion befittingly dissolved into random musings and some ugly bickering about why Facebook thought it was worth more than $1 billion.
- Ted Leonsis of AOL said that internet advertising could drive a lot more than what it is today. He could see university education one day being offered online, free. Just supported by advertising!
- On the media panel, Om Malik, one of my favourite bloggers said that the disruption of old media was not just about technology. It was about people and their power structures – middle management in editorial and most importantly, advertising sales departments. His own blog is doing well, thank you very much. He said they should hit $— in revenues in 2007 (Update: took out the numbers at Om’s request. His remarks were supposed to be off the record).
- Larry Summers spoke on globalization. The best session of the conference. Riveting stuff. He spoke about the growing markets in developing countries. How China and the OPEC countries were keeping debt cheap in the developed world which was a major reason why private equity’s reign has lasted so long. How the classical assumption in economics that labor and capital went into the same country was being upended, allowing developed world capital to combine with cheaper labor in developing countries. And finally how the coming impact of globalization will be very hard for the US and the rest of the developed world to absorb unless proactive steps are not taken early enough.
- Jared Diamond, the author of Collapse and one of my favourite non-fiction writers spoke about globalization from a geographer’s perspective. The per capita ‘resource’ consumption of the rich countries in terms of oil, metal and so on, is thirty two times that in the poor countries. If the poor countries gain the same level of prosperity as today’s rich countries and the average resource consumption does not go down, according to his calculations it will be as if the earth has to support 400 billion people! Scary thought. Obviously, the average resource consumption will have to drop and quickly.
- Nathan Myhrvold spoke about Intellectual Ventures, his company that he says does “Invention Capital” as in funds inventions that can later become businesses. There was some skepticism in the room about the whole idea of “cornering” patents, which many industry commentators claim slows down innovation, at least in some industries like the software industry. My takeaway from the session was that at Gridstone we were going to continue patenting our inventions. So far we have. Better safe than sorry.