Thoughts on @WebSummitHQ London

Playing catch-up with my posts after my holiday, so bear with me.

I was at the London Web Summit in March, where I noticed a few themes emerging:

Smart money vs. dumb money

The importance of ‘smart money’ vs. ‘dumb money’ as a theme came from two panel discussions. One explored whether having a celebrity investor in your start-up adds anything to it – the answer being if they came with benefits beyond just their name, then yes. Ashton Kutcher for example flies in the founders of the start-ups he invests for weekends where he genuinely contributes to strategy. The second was a panel on emerging market start-ups vs. Silicon Valley ones, where Demet Mutlu, founder of Turkey-based fashion discount site Trendyol said that especially for start-ups based outside the Valley, it was important to have investors that were capable of providing know-how that the start-up would not have otherwise. (Trendyol is now valued at over $150 million and employs over 500 people – Kleiner Perkins was an early investor).

Extending this to the media world, when clients have a ‘smart money’ relationship with agencies, both are empowered to go above the beyond the brief, producing work that benefits the brand as a whole. A ‘dumb money’ relationship that involves working tightly within set boundaries results in an uninspiring relationship, and consequently output. Unsurprisingly, it’s the smart money relationships that are most likely to yield innovation.

The growing rise of temporality

Temporality, or the state of having some relationship to time, was the core theme of a talk by Oren Michels, the CEO of Mashery, a company that provides API management solutions (this picks up on a phrase that many of you will be familiar with: SoLoMo, or SocialLocalMobile).

He said that it is important for companies to consider today the relationship they have to the time and place they interact with customers. He specifically mentioned the role of apps; and said that when developing an app it made sense to think of what human wish it granted. An ATM grants people the wish of having access to cash without having to go to the bank, for example. The mobile app provided by a start-up called Uber also grants a wish by providing transport to people when they need it: a car and driver arrive to pick up anyone who’s requested it, with payment automatically charged to the account holder’s credit card.  The Yahoo Bus Stop Derby in San Francisco a couple of years ago relied on people at a specific place (bus-stops) participating in league games at bus shelters, but it made sure that it was relevant by performing the role of staving off the boredom that usually comes with having to wait for a bus. The Associated Press’ & Visa’s World Cup 2010 app provided a service to fans at a specific time – when football’s biggest event was on. And the New York Times’ Election 2012 app has a very definite use as well.

As mobile becomes increasingly more sophisticated, it should be more or less incumbent on advertisers to use this technology in a way that provides a useful service to people. Peter Briffett, the MD of Living Social, said that a level of reinvention is needed to allow serendipitous discovery of things by people, adding an element of joy to their lives. (‘Make people smile first, sales second’ as the founders of popular US-based flash sales start-up said, was also something that popped up a few times).  Omid Ansari from Foursquare UK said a similar thing about them investing in ‘technology-enabled serendipity’.

The emergence of digital money

Cindy Gallop is building Make Love Not Porn and finding it very difficult to have payment partner dialogues with the likes of PayPal and Amazon because of the nature of her startup (she wants it to ‘the Playboy of today’s generation but with cleaner content’, so it is unabashedly meant for adults) and is desperate to find a solution that will work. Dwolla, Flattr and Square are just a few of the start-ups working in this space, and they all broadly believe that we need to work towards a future where transactions happen seamlessly. With respect to mobile payments, the general sentiment was that people shouldn’t really have to take their mobiles out to pay in the future – whether it’s Near Field Communication or the next incarnation of that, we should soon be able to make payments at Starbucks without obviously interrupting our day to take our wallet out.

So what does this mean for us? Very simply, we are, as Glenn Shoosmith of said of mobile during the day, part of a scenario in media that can be termed “the Wild West”, and we need to be open to dipping our toes in different pools even as we consider going for the long swim.

Go back to the smart vs. dumb money thought, being open to experimentation with technology will enable you to have a ‘smart money’ relationship with your clients by enabling them to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to competition. And that matters.

I’ll leave you with an observation made on the day from B. Bonin Bough, VP of Global Digital and Consumer Engagement at Kraft Foods: “As organisations we need to ask ourselves, are we ready to adapt to change? Failure to adapt will mean failure to survive.”

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