Web 2.0 Expo gathers Internet builders

By April 17, 2007

Over 10,000 attendees are attending Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco April 16-18. The conference cum trade show, a spin off of the exclusive Web 2.0 Summit, wants to become the gathering place for the community who is building the W

eb and indeed for the whole computer industry. Organizer Tim O’Reilly coined the term Web 2.0 a few years ago to provide a “container for all the interesting things that were happening at the time.” He now describes it as the “harnessing of the intelligence of others.”   With a full plate of practical conference sessions, a busy trade show floor and the Launch Pad event which showcases a dozen hand-picked companies, Web 2.0 Expo is a bustling place. But as always, some of the most interesting conversations are taking place in the hallways and around informal tables. That was the case when Tony Conrad, a former VC who now heads blog search start-up Sphere, met up with David Hornik, a partner at August Capital fresh from a session titled “Venture Capital 2.0: Bright Future or Broken Forever?” In that session, TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington acted as a very opinionated moderator trying to make the point that later-stage VCs might have become irrelevant because of lower startup capital costs, alternative financing from business angels and entrepreneurs as well as early takeouts by merger and acquisition. His panel of early and later-stage investors did not really play along with his theory. But the consensus on the panel was that, since 2004, consumer deals were interesting to VCs again because there is money to be made. As for lower startup costs, Josh Kopelman of seed-stage venture fund First Round Capital put it succinctly when he said “You can fail cheaper and quicker now.” This is an idea echoed by Tony Conrad. “It takes less money to validate what are just ideas. Because there is less money in play, it is less risky and it is ok to move on if it doesn’t work.” Entrepreneurs are stronger today, he believes. “Having lived through the last bust, people have mechanisms to get less carried away.” With his perspective both as a VC and a serial entrepreneur, Conrad believes this is an exciting time. The “nuclear winter” is over and he feels a warming of the investment climate which he dates back to the successful exits of Oddpost and Blogger in 2004, a sign to the community that there was liquidity again. “There are incredibly good ideas now. It comes from all of us being consumers of the Web. Lots of old ideas have come back like community and self-publishing. It used to be Geocities and now it is WordPress. Now, it is truly easy for consumers. The thing is not be too far ahead of the users.” “In 1999, we would say that ecommerce was going to be a revolution, but we had no proof,” says David Hornik. “Now we have enough proof that a compelling user experience and a significant value are worth something. We have seasoned entrepreneurs with a decade of Internet experience. It is all about the people.” The conversation comes to an end when an acquaintance at the next table flags Hornik and strongly encourages him to go look at a demo a couple tables down. Hornik, who once came across a good investment through a chance introduction in a café, does not let the opportunity escape. A few minutes later, he is huddling over a computer screen with three expectant entrepreneurs. This is all in a day’s work for a VC attending a conference where the crème de la crème of Web 2.0 developers and entrepreneurs are gathered.   Isabelle Boucq for Atelier

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