This year I came for the third time at LeWeb, the first time was in 2007, where eRepublik, fresh out of a private beta participated in the Start up competition and won the special jury prize. This was a great event with amazing food and already good networking. I wouldn’t be able to comment much on the sessions because I saw less than 2 or 3 and missed in particular the controversial Nicolas Sarkozy speech. Still that Le Web edition helped us get noticed.

In my second Le Web edition in 2008 we came back a little bigger, as sponsors fresh from the launch of our public version. There we wanted to show mostly to the industry that we were an ambitions player and here to stay. Although we were probably one of the smallest companies out there, many people said we had the best and most professional stand.  Again that got us noticed a little by the press but more importantly it allowed us to be alongside brands such as Microsoft, Google, Netvibes, Facebook, Nokia etc.. Although we had virtually no cash at the time we took a gamble and showed everyone we were players and had grown up. It meant that if you were somebody in the industry with a clue you knew us, especially if you were a VC.

This greatly helped us in my opinion close our Series A round in what was probably the hardest time to do so (November 2008 / March 2009)

On the other hand this in spite of the Nordic Saunas and other amusing things was a poorer edition, the change of venue made things difficult for the organization, not only the participants had virtually no Internet, there were no cables in the stands so we had to run our computers and demos off USB 3g devices most of the time.  The participants of the start up competition had it worse with no internet connection to demo their internet start ups. It was also freezing cold and to be honest the priority given to speakers for access to food when there was so little of it was downright insulting for paying participants and sponsors. Also the fact that sponsors had no access to organization cars (reserved to speakers only) meant that my co-founder George Lemnaru who had to stay late one evening to sort out things in the stand, after being refused a car had to walk back to his hotel for 45 minutes under the rain in not the best of neighborhoods. Anyway he survived so did we and fortunately so did LeWeb.

Hint to Loic and Geraldine, sponsors are important (and not just the top 3), nobody risks and believes more in what you are doing than them, you should treat them at least as well as Speakers or Press. I don’t know about 2009 but in 2008 it clearly did not feel like that.

And now to the 2009 edition, that closed yesterday. This time I came as a simple paying participant. We are concentrating 100% on product development at eRepublik and I honestly had nothing to sell, raise or announce.

Actually it kind of reminds me how far we have gone when one of our team members told me:  “What do you mean we have nothing to announce, we just launched eRepublik this Thursday in Russian, Swedish, Romanian and Hungarian meaning eRepublik is now available in 10 languages!”

Well what can I say, the Internet was flawless, and the networking superb and I actually got to listen to some of the sessions for a change! It was less than 30% of the sessions but that is 10 times more than usual.  Ok I’m French so I have to complain a little and yes the food wasn’t great but at least there was plenty of it and tons of free Nespresso made sure we were alert at all times.

This time I did not go to any of the parties or events outside of LeWeb and wasn’t invited to the speakers & sponsors dinner etc.. .so I can’t comment much on those. Although most of my friends and colleagues who went, including our VC’s AGF Private Equity who were one of the sponsors of this year’s event all said they were quite good. Another good thing was that I was told eRepublik was mentioned several times in  various speeches by Loic as a LeWeb example of success. I guess you haven’t really made it until people talk about you even when you are not there!

In terms of the sessions the ones I saw where in general quite good, although to be honest I did not learn much from them and do think that LeWeb completely missed the huge transformation that is occurring in online games at the moment. Lots of talk about social media, future of online video, online music and nothing about games when that industry is bigger than music and cinema put together and online game companies like Playfish (European), Zinga, Gameforge (European), Bigpoint (European), Moshi Monsters (European) etc… and to a lesser extent (for now) eRepublik, have more revenues, growth (and in many cases profits) than most other stat ups.

Online gaming is the real star of 2009 and will be even more so in 2010. So Loic, Geraldine hint 2, next year don’t forget online gaming. This is where one of the next European billion euros companies will come from and it will happen sooner than you think. Anyone miss that Playfish went from 0 to 400 million US $ exit in 2 years?

Coming back to the sessions and roundtables, of the ones I saw, I felt that Chad Hurley’s was quite disappointing, I actually felt bad for him as I know how little you can say when you have been acquired by a public company and probably would have dug more in what the hell was he doing blowing his hard earned exit in a F1 team. (The saying goes that the best way to make a small fortune is to start with a big one and then buy an F1 team). There must be more to it for sure, F1 is nowhere in terms of online video presence and strategy , I guess Chad hopes to have a word about it with Bernie.

Another session that I found disappointing was the Pearltrees one, honestly I don’t get it a nice UI doesn’t make a business and I failed to see why this company deserved so much coverage and time on stage. Looked like a niche social media play for me (ie: perfect for Scoble). Again it is only my personal opinion and I don’t know the founders and or team and I’m probably missing something there but then if it there is something great it sure did not jump out. In any case congrats to them for the coverage they managed to get I heard they were even on CNN.

On the good side, Queen Rania’s session brought a sense of glamour and high purpose to the all event that I don’t think was artificial. Its great in this kind of conferences to have a breath of fresh air that makes you look at things in a different light with great quotes such as: “ Can the real time web bring real world change?”, “Social networks are about life streaming, not life changing, they are about where we are not where we want to go”. Also being called the “Digital Darwins” of the world was weird but insightful, particularly when applied to eRepublik where we are sort of creating a mirror version of the real world. Her words were inspiring and eRepublik will be giving one day in 2010 to support education for all children with 1 day for 1 goal

Niklas the founder of Skype, was not the most charismatic of speakers but then he doesn’t need to, his candor was appealing and his words explaining just what an entrepreneur needs to sacrifices to make his ideas succeed where right on. Good sound bites / shared wisdom where: “Swim against the tide, follow your own path”, “failure is a great learning curve”, “To be successful you need an unshakeful belief in your product and business”.

Many other interventions such as Tariq Krim’s of Jolicloud the Google challenger showed that the internet is still an industry where we can take on giants and at worse if you don’t succeed you can try again until one day (and I wish it for him) you do!

But to be honest as everyone in the industry will tell you the real point at LeWeb is the networking and with 2300 people attending, Paris was the capital of the internet world for 2 days and that is something that is priceless. A point that in my opinion was kind of missed in the various panels about Europe and European champions. Its events like LeWeb that really help crystallize and build an industry in a region. There were even about 12 Romanian entrepreneurs shopping projects and looking for investors, something I keep telling everyone I meet there that they should do. Of course its not so much about the people you meet for the first time there but more about people you already know but get a chance to speak directly to, often in a non prepared way.

So congratulation and thank you Loic & Geraldine for organizing this great event in such difficult times. Long live LeWeb.

Ps: Was the networking useful for me this year? Well let’s just say that 1 or 2 deals might emerge again from this years event…. 🙂