This month I attended Web Summit conference in Lisbon, where 70,000 self-proclaimed 'tech nerds' descended upon the Altice Arena for a packed three days of key notes, startup presentations and lectures from an all-star line-up that included Sir Martin Sorrell, Margrethe Vestager of the European Commission (who recently took on Apple, Amazon and Google and won), the CTO of America, yes America. And none other than Akon – who recently launched a cryptocurrency 'Akoin'. If you're interested to learn more about the conference check out this blog to get a feel for the size and scale of it.
Here I share my key insights and learnings from the sessions and conversations I attended across the 'Venture' and 'Corporate Innovation" tracks.
Europe is on the rise...
It is undeniable that over the last few decades, Europe has lagged behind Asia and US in all things technology, be it number of unicorns produced, average deal size or average value of exit. But the gap is narrowing, and top US funds are starting to look outside the US too. One founder of a Series E funded SaaS company observed that:
"The US is a great place to pick up guitar and become a rock star….Europe is now the best place to start a tech company…and not be homeless"
What they meant by this is two things.
- From a talent perspective, there are now more developers working in Europe than there are in the USA - as of 2017 Europe had 5.5M professional developers, compared to 4.4M in the US, and the cost of hiring is lower. This growing talent pools can be a huge pull for founders who are making decision of where to set up shop.
- From a go-to market perspective, Europe also has other strategic advantages. As opposed to the US, which is essentially one hyper market, Europe - by design - is compartmentalized, which for companies working on product market fit, means there can be lower barriers to entry into a series of markets.
And so it seems that we have the necessary ingredients for Europe to catch up with our American and Asian friends on the tech front.
This also resonated with the session led by Manish Madvhani, Managing Partner of GP Bullhound, who shared insights from its latest Tech Titans report launched at the conference.
Some notable highlights include:
- By 2014, there had been 30 billion-dollar companies created across Europe since 2000.
- Over the past five years, that number has almost tripled to 84.
- The total equity raised by this cohort of companies meanwhile has increased nine-fold to $28 billion.
- During the past 12 months alone, 21 European companies have reached the billion- dollar mark compared with 13 the previous year.
- There was a staggering 60% increase in the number of $100m fundraising rounds in Europe between 2017 and 2018
There is a shift in focus from B2C and e-commerce to enterprise software, supported by the public markets.
Manish also went to explain that, in the course of mapping the European market, what became clear was that there has been a shift from consumer technology to enterprise software - something that seemed to resonate with all the investors I heard from.
Historically, consumer tech was king, accounting for a whopping 72% of billion-dollar companies created over the last decade - including all the usual suspects: Facebook, Twitter, Spotify and Snapchat.
But the Tech Titans report shows a rise in the number of billion dollar companies in the enterprise space in the past few years. What was more interesting was how this shift was reflected in the public markets. For example, since 2016 there have been 50 IPOS from companies in the enterprise space as opposed to the 13 in consumer technology, and the financial performance has been significantly higher in the former too.
So what's behind the shift?
It seems that the FAAANG's (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Alphabet, Netflix and Google's) control over the consumer is helping them fend off new rivals and competition, in the same way IBM, Microsoft and Oracle were able to pre the cloud.
The shift from B2C to B2B is also apparent when it comes to the application of certain technologies. David Kelnar (Head of Research at MMC Ventures), in his comprehensive overview of the European AI ecosystem, detailed how "Nine in ten of Europe’s 1,600 AI startups are B2B vendors…whereas just one in ten sells directly to consumers (B2C)."
For more on this, it is worth checking out The State of AI 2019 Divergence report.
The future is bright!
Short and sweet, but in the wake of Bexit and numerous other global crises, the positive message throughout the conference was that the availability of capital, access to talent and a blossoming tech ecosystem meant that there has never been a better time to start a company.
If I had a pound for every time I heard the phrase 'money/ venture is commoditised', I'd be well on my way to closing my first seed fund. But here is my take away from this:
For founders: If the power is now firmly in the ideators hand, it is increasingly important that you take the time to run a similar diligence process on your potential investors. Think geographic proximity, in-house experience and access to wider networks. Don’t forget to examine who it is you are dealing with from the fund.
For investors: Re-purpose and re-articulate the 'value add'. In one poll, the three things that founders wanted from their investors, in order of importance, were:
- Speed of investment – for funds to be received quickly;
- Autonomy….to be left to it when things are going well;
- Genuine access to support….when things are not going as planned.
The conference made me excited about the projects we are working on at Mishcon de Reya and our plans for 2020.
On a personal level, I loved hearing Rankin coin the phrase JOMO (joy of missing out) to demonstrate the importance of good personal time management to ensure you have enough time to spend with family or friends, or alone.