Forget Silicon Valley, Amsterdam was yesterday the ‘tech Mecca’ of the world with the opening of ‘Startup Fest’. Apple’s CEO told the audience at the Beurs van Berlage that he “feels a vibrancy, an excitement, a sort of optimism here in Europe”. An optimism that has its clear effects on the Dutch economy according to the Dutch Minister of Economic Affairs, Henk Kamp; “42% of the jobs in the Netherlands are with companies that are younger than 5 years”. The impressive line up of speakers was on the one hand enthusiastic about the European developments in the startup atmosphere, but on the other hand also very critical about the current state of it.
It’s time to act, now!
Google’s former CEO Eric Schmidt told the audience that Google is hiring thousands of young Europeans, as there are currently no jobs for them at European start-ups. This has, according to Schmidt, to do with the European rules and regulations of setting up and growing a company, the low funding of technical universities & start-ups and too much focus on discouraging laws. Apple’s CEO Cook even went a step further, proclaiming “coding should be a second world language, making it a obligatory course at schools”. Although the VP of the European Commission promised that the EU is “going to take down walls and create one European digital market”, all other speakers agreed that Europe requires ‘Silicon Valley style collaboration’ and investment in universities on a short term.
It all starts with frustration
With founders of Uber and Airbnb on stage, the audience also got a wonderful insight in the start-up stories of two exponentially growing, disruptive sharing economy start-ups. Travis Kalanick of Uber told how frustration of not finding a cab in Paris, made him and his co-founder build Uber. With their mission of “making transportation as reliable as running water”, the Uber app was build with an amazing mathematical backend. “We’re not just an app, we are the best predictors of moving crowds in the world”. His colleague from Airbnb, Nathan Blecharczyk, promoted his platform as being very sustainable, as Airbnb’s users consume “78% less energy and 48% less water than their counterparts in hotels”. By “democratizing travel”, the start-up earned only in Europe in 2015 already 3 billion dollars with 2 million offered condo’s.
Besides inspirational stories from leading startup founders, several interesting learning’s for upcoming startups were given as well. Something really important, as “the startup machine is faltering” at the moment. Investments in startups have decreased by 30% in the past 6 months, mainly due to bad performing ‘unicorns’ (startups with a valuation over 1 BLN). A couple lessons from the speakers:
- “Find the minimal product to sell to a single customer in a new geography and build from there” – Pieter van der Does, CEO & Founder Adyen
- “Keep the product simple but build the company to scale, multi-lingual & multi-cultural by default. Think about scale from the start on every aspect” – Gillian Tans, COO & Co-founder Booking.com
- “Start simple. Test the waters to see how much interest there is” – Steven Schuurman, CEO Elastic
- “Dream bigger! Ideas need to be scalable by default. The world is big, let’s embrace it! If you make a better product then people will swap to it” – Eric Schmidt, CEO Alphabet, formerly Google
- “Find your inner geek! Find something broken! Have a champions mind-set and make magic! Give people back some of their time, bring calmness and joy. Be analytical & creative, merge the left brain with the right one. Sometimes conventional wisdom is correct. But it’s hard to know what is reality and what is perception” -Travis Kalanick, CEO & Co-founder Uber
What is next?
Several predictions of breakthroughs and challenges in the upcoming years were made by all speakers. Tim Cook told that Apple will focus much more on health in the upcoming years with the Apple Watch being the centre of all developments. “Health is a big issue and ripe for simplicity and a new view”, pointing at the importance of more health / biofeedback apps. Apps will furthermore, according to him, also be “the future of TV”.
Google’s main business model will always be advertising, according to Eric Schmidt. In the upcoming years the company will focus on machine learning, as “computer vision outperforms human vision”. Google will launch more augmented reality & voice control tools and focus more on “eyes, ears and voice”.
Curator and Head of TED, Chris Anderson, told me once “don’t invite celebrities on your stage, but create them there”. Something I fully agree with. The extreme excitement of the audience, listening to all these high level speakers quickly turned into a Twitterbash of people like Tim Cook, as most of them were disappointed with all their shiny and standard corporate stories and the absence of critical questions. Catching up with a lot of old friends and meeting several great new ones made the day, together with some interesting insight from the speakers, a not to be missed opportunity. All keynotes can be watched here.
To conclude, some nice quotes from the presentations:
- “If you want to prosper for 10 years, plant trees. If you want to prosper for 100 years, invest in people” -Tim Cook
- “The 1st i-phone showed up in 17th C painting by Rotterdam artist De Hooch” – Neelie Kroes
- “Don’t worry about cannibalizing yourself, drive forward with passion – then you disrupt” – Eric Schmidt
- “Don’t get full of yourself. Don’t smoke your own exhaust” – Eric Schmidt
- “We all win because we collaborate. That’s what’s driving real innovation” – Eric Schmidt
- “Creativity is intelligence having fun” – Einstein
- “I never lose. I either win or learn” – Nelson Mandela
- “The ones who follows the crowd will usually go no further then the crowd” – Einstein
- “Fear is the disease. Hustle the antidote” – Travis Kalanick