Notes from How to Web 2011

As well as running a workshop at How to Web 2011, I was also able to attend many of the sessions. Here are some very brief notes from just some of those…

Doug Richard, School for Startups

Doug spoke at length about a particularly painful buying experience he had with PC World. It seemed a lot of this was therapy, but he also used it illustrate various points about disrupting traditional companies. Along the way:

  • You can get much further today with angel funding than 11 years ago in the original boom. There are so many services (most notably hosting) that are much more affordable thanks to cloud-based solutions.
  • Once you’ve got your core product idea focus on the business. Netflix and Lovefilm differ only from their old DVD-renting rivals in their business model and distribution mechanism.

Pablos Holman, Intellectual Ventures Lab

Pablos illustrated many examples of the hacker mentality: breaking into cars by exploiting the limited combinations in key fobs, sitting in a hotel room and turning the video player into a monitor of other people’s activity, and so on. Ultimately he showed a mechanism that might be used to eliminate malaria, and funded by the Gates Foundation: identifying mosquitoes by their wing beats, then zapping them with a laser.

Thai Tran, Lightbox

Lightbox is one of my favourite Android apps, and Thai talked about gaining support from Google by having an “Android first” policy. Too often companies write the iOS version first and then produce the Android version, which comes out as a poor imitation. Thai’s company got featured in the Android Market by virtue of its focus on making a really beautiful app for the platform.

Thai also spent a lot of time talking about the hard work that goes into developing for Android. His company’s app needs to be supported on 190 handsets, and he talked about some ways they deal with that. Partly, they have (now) an extensive network of beta testers. But he also talked about tricks like exploiting the fact that you can install an app via e-mail. So you can go into a phone store, find out the address that the demo phones have been set up with, and mail the app to it before trying it out. Even so, Thai said he’d pay for a service that tested an app on 190 handsets. Now there’s an opportunity…

Philipp Kandal, Skobbler

Philipp discussed crowdsourcing, and many of the lessons he had learned through his company’s developments. Of the two that stuck with me:

  • It’s very important to have some kind of logging and undo or version control on a crowdsourced site, to ensure you can spot acts of vandalism and roll them back.
  • It’s a mistake to think of crowdsourcing as a way of getting work done for free. It’s really a way to do things that were previously impossible.

Carlos Eduardo Espinal, Seedcamp

Carlos talked about the value of Seedcamp (much of which was startups helping each other, rather than the Seedcamp elders helping them) and also emphasised that many businesses today are ripe for disruption. What constitutes disruption? Here are two ways:

  • Increased democratisation of services. For example, Profitero enables competitor price comparison, which was previously out of reach of small retailers.
  • Simplification and and interconnectivity of existing services. For example, Holvi removes the hassle of collecting people’s money to pay for something.

Mark Randall, Adobe

Mark is their Chief Strategist for Digital Media, and spoke about “Finding your big idea”. One of his most intriguing suggestions was a periodic table of trends — you combine elements to create a new idea. While this is really only a visualisation of what people already do a lot of the time (“It’s github for games”, “It’s Facebook for squirrels”) I was struck by the extra dimension of categorising trends: is it a business trend or a technology trend? Is it short term or long term?

Eric Wahlforss, Soundcloud

Eric talked about API dos and don’ts. Among them:

  • The key success metric is time to integrate. Therefore do have excellent documentation; and do build your own API wrappers, which avoids chaos.
  • Don’t pay people. It shifts the mindset away from passion.
  • Do eat your own dogfood.
  • Do version your APIs. Lack of versioning has really hurt them.

There were many more talks; due to the twin track I couldn’t get to more than half. But the speaker line-up was stellar, the attendees were fascinating, and they even had good wifi and plenty of power points. What more could you ask for…?