Web Summit 2015 – A Personal Recap

Last week I have been in Dublin at the Web Summit. It’s the largest conference for startups in the world! What started 4 years ago with just 400 attendees, was expected to draw 30,000 attendees in this year. Actually, it ended up being 42,000 attendees who flocked into Dublin – a city with a population of 700,000.

At Web Summit 2015 Dublin

Unlike at RISE this year, we didn’t have a booth for Swapit because I didn’t actually plan to attend. I guess, if we had applied for a startup booth at the Web Summit, we would probably have been accepted as well. It’s actually quite a selection process startups have to go through, in order to get a booth there.

So this year, I was invited by Hong Kong’s main startup advocate Casey Lau. Casey co-founded StartupsHK, is our point of contact at the SoftLayer Catalyst Program and was the co-host of RISE 2015 and will also be the co-host of RISE 2016! In the end a great group of people from Hong Kong made their way to Dublin as the “Web Summit StartupsHK Entourage”. This included some Hong Kong’s startup industry leaders like Simon from NEST and Yat from Outblaze who were both also speakers, Bay from Brinc.io, Gabriel from Jaarvis, Gene from Citymapper, Nina from NBD Ventures, Mike from Gormei, Kay from Easi-Way, Julien and Mathis from Ambi Climate, Farook from Mark Masons Investments, Ovey from EventXtra, Joey from Shortlist, and many more – including our lovely friends from InvestHK.

Drone photo of HK peeps on Web Summit stage.

Drone shot of Web Summit StartupsHK Entourage – a bit dark due to low light as we had to sneak in after the sessions

It was my first time at Web Summit and like many others, I was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of startups, companies, investors, speakers and information that was all around you. The Web Summit took place at the Royal Dublin Society (RDS) which is just massive. Because there were so many people and startups attending, the whole summit had to be split into two locations on the RDS premises which were a fluffy 10 minute walk apart – with a horse race track, staples and sports arena in between. Just to give you a rough idea about the size. The Centre Stage alone had seats for 6,000 people.

Like usual, the Web Summit started before it actually started. The night before day 1, our great friends at SoftLayer organized a dinner for all SoftLayer Catalyst Startups who were attending Web Summit. Being jet-lagged and roughly 40 hours awake (it’s not easy to get to Dublin!) I made it there on time. Coming from Hong Kong, I didn’t expect much from the dinner as those dinners are here usually a boring event where most people just go for the free food there. Anyway, I was very positively surprise by the SoftLayer Catalyst folks. Besides the fact that the food and drinks were outstanding (note: red wine hits you quickly when you’re in sleep deprivation mode), I met very interesting people. Next to me on the table was Andy from 500 Startups London, in front of me was a guy running an accelerator in Dublin, left to me a great startup from the UK. It was interesting to see how other startups use the SoftLayer infrastructure, but it was even better for me to get to talk to many industry / accelerator / investor folks from Europe.

The actual Web Summit was running for 3 days and divided into 21 sub-summits. So it was easy to follow the summit(s) which you’re interested in. There are a lot of great startups out there and many are working on very interesting businesses. For example, my old friends from the BlackBerry days, Krishna and Teemu, were there for Juno – a mobile payments company. Startup pitch competitions were also taking place over all three days. Besides all the exhibiting and pitching startups, there were constantly talks, interviews and panels at many stages across the venue. For instance, it was great to get some insights from Michael Dell on his journey traveled and ahead – especially with the $67bln takeover of EMC. Or startup unicorn founders like John Collison from Stripe, the co-founder of Slack and many others.

Let’s take Slack for example. While I have been using it with the StartupsHK folks to communicate efficiently, as a result of Slack’s co-founder’s talk, we are now using it internally to communicate about the development and design work on Swapit. It has always reminded me a bit of IRC which it was probably based upon.

Of course, we also needed to have a bit of fun at the Web Summit. There was a proper Lion Dance scheduled to take place at the RISE 2016 booth, but we couldn’t wait any longer and practiced it ourselves first. Still needs some more practice, though.

Slack for iOS Upload (1)

The RISE 2016 booth also gave us the opportunity to promote Hong Kong as a startup hub to the (pre-dominantly European) world. Of course, I was happy to help promoting Hong Kong to everyone who wanted to know more about it. There seems to be a lot of interest out there. Many startups know that Asia is a great place to be for a startup and RISE having set up shop in Hong Kong (and not in Singapore), added fuel to our thriving eco-system here.

So all in all, it was a great trip. I could make some great new connections, meet and talk to peers whom I am connected with for years. Often, we just don’t get together because everyone is busy with their own businesses. Web Summit is a great place where the travel routes of many people in the industry intersect. Only at these kinds of events, you run into people like Dave McClure (founding partner of 500 Startups) at night during the Pub Crawl Summit. From a Swapit perspective, we are currently in our seed raising mode. Some of the investors I talked to, are a bit “later stage”, which is fine. It is always good to say “Hi” first, let them know about our product and our roadmap, and when we enter their level of investment size, we already have our credentials established.

As for RISE 2016, we will absolutely apply to exhibit with Swapit in the START level of Startups next year. We are absolutely confident, we will get in there and be able to show our track record and traction gained over the course of the year.

So far, stay tuned, and keep an eye out for the next Swapit update. It’s coming your way soon!

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Swapit covered by Startupily

The folks at Startupily reached out to us to get some insight information on our journey thus far. Of course, I was happy to talk a bit about our experience and our road ahead. Here is a quick excerpt:

How is your company different from the competition?

We have built the Swapit marketplace from the ground-up for hyper-local trading. When an item is offered on our platform, we automatically attach a location to it and pro-actively reach out to all interested buyers who are nearby right now. It is something that sounds easy, yet it’s a rather unique way of bringing buyers and sellers together. No one else does it this way.

Do you want to read the full interview? Just head over to the original Swapit on Startupily Article.

Have you tried Swapit yet? It’s free to download from http://get.swapit.la

Building A Business Means Every Team Member Is Replaceable

When we are talking to investors, there is a lot of talk about “the team”. That is important, because only the right team, which is skilled, motivated and passionate, can execute a vision properly. In the end, most startups fail because the team stops working together. So it’s important to have the right team on board.

However, I truly believe: Every Team Member Must Be Replaceable

Don’t get me wrong, it is important to get key personnel on board. It is essential to have the right person for the right job. And it is very important to do your best to keep that talent in your company for as long as possible.

That being said, it is absolutely essential to build a sustainable business that functions whether you have this key personnel on board or not on board. At first, this might sound contradictory to the belief that key personnel is essential to the success of a business, but if you give it a deeper thought, it is actually in line with it.

Let me give you an example: I am German. I grew up in Germany and got my degree in Computer Science there, before leaving for China 10 years ago. In Germany the common Computer Science degree holder stays with the same company for an average of 11 years. That’s a quite recent statistic, by the way. Perhaps that’s related to the labour market in Germany or to the not so attractive opportunities in other jobs or it’s just the nature of the Germans; who knows. In Hong Kong however, the labour market is very flexible. There is a lot of competition here and we small startups compete for talent with large multi-national corporations that have deeper pockets. Furthermore, especially the younger generation is in many ways more flaky. They might leave 1 month, 1 year, 2 years after you hire them. What do you do then?

It doesn’t matter if you run a startup or an established company. You never ever want to be in the situation that the departure of some of your key personnel causes an implosion of your business. Remember? Most companies fail because their team stops functioning together.

I recently wrote a blog post about my thoughts on A Product Doesn’t Equal A Business. When you are working on building your startup into a real business, many pieces need to fit together. I believe, one of the most important pieces is: You must make sure, everyone in your business is (more or less) easily replaceable. That includes all employees, key personnel and even the founders themselves. You can not allow to end up in a situation where a key person leaves and your business suddenly can not function anymore. May that person leave due to professional or personal reasons or you have to let go of him/her or *knock-on-wood* due to health reasons. Who knows, anything can happen.

My goal for swapit is, to work with the best team for the job we need and want to do. It is also my goal, that every such team member is replaceable and swapit will continue to thrive anyway.

Wanna join the largest mobile marketplace for trading pre-loved items in Hong Kong? Check out swapit: http://www.swapit.la

It’s not a Landing Page, it’s a Landing App!

Landing pages have been around for quite some time and they have proven their value to capture leads and validate a product (idea) early on. Now, we’re in the app business. We build apps, not websites and swapit is the perfect example for this. Yet, we launched a “landing page” at www.swapit.la to capture our leads and give folks the chance to join our invite-only beta of swapit.

swapit-bannerLast week at the HK CoCoon Pitch Semi Finals (where we rocked!) we noticed an interesting phenomenon. Some folks who saw us there didn’t talk to us. Maybe they noticed our awesome T-Shirts or our pull up banner or perhaps even listened to my 5 minutes of “fame”. Yet, not all of them listened or read carefully. So they did not go to our website www.swapit.la to sign up for our beta. Instead they went straight to Google Play and tried to download swapit from there.

I can understand where those folks come from. “It’s an app. So it’s on the App Store, right?” It’s not what we had intended, but it’s the reality of things. So we sat down (actually, I was sitting on my desk, Jonas was standing by the door and Boris was leaning on a table outside my office) and talked about this issue – and it is an issue.

As our target audience is not necessarily tech-savvy, getting them to go on a website, enter name + email address and hitting submit, might feel cumbersome or even unnecessary to them. We came to the conclusion that it makes sense to pause our current swapit beta 4 development for a short while and create a quick app we can publish on Google Play.

Swapit Landing App

swapit-blog_downloadWe call it the swapit landing app. Similar to a landing page, it simply makes the process of requesting an invite to our swapit beta program a notch easier. But it’s an important notch. So anyone interested can now download the Swapit Beta Request app from Google Play:

http://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=la.swapit

If you’d like to check out how the app looks like, here are some screen shots:

Future Proof

Our intent, first and foremost, is to make it easier for folks to request an invite to our private swapit beta. However, at the same time we need to make sure that we can easily update this swapit landing app. This is important to not only make it convenient for us, but it is also absolutely crucial to:

  1. Ensure existing beta testers can easily upgrade from the swapit landing app to the swapit beta app once they have been approved and entered into the beta program;
  2. Ensure existing beta testers will receive a notification from Google Play, once the final public swapit release is available on Google Play; and
  3. Minimize our customer support effort by minimizing friction during those upgrade procedures.

So we felt it was two working days well spent to build this landing app, and therefore worth pausing the development on the actual swapit beta, which has now resumed in full steam! Stay tuned for future updates on swapit. We’re working on exciting features.

If you’d like to request an invite to our private beta of swapit, you can download the swapit landing app from Google Play or go to www.swapit.la to request your invite.