Blog - Febuary 2010 - Web Summit Post Mortem, Trinity College Dublin.

Web Summit Post Mortem, Trinity College Dublin.

I just can’t remember the last time I left a lecture hall feeling that good. I left with a warm, glowy feeling of “the world is a good (no great place)”. It certainly provided me with a new view on ‘internetonomics’.

As a Trinity alumnus, with very fond memories of my college time, I initially indulged in a large dose of pleasurable nostalgia while nestling into one of those blue 'James Usher Theatre' seats. This resulted in me really only pricking up my ears when the last two speakers took to the podium, namely Mat Mullenweg, Word press Founder and Craig Newmark, CraigsList founder.

Well either that or I was simply tardy- as I was for most of my college lectures.

First of all let me commend Paddy Cosgrave, conference organiser who secured arguably the most engaging line up I’ve ever seen at a tech anything in Ireland. Instead of focussing on the technology the speakers focussed on the human element and the pointers they could give the audience.

Neither Mat nor Craig droned on with boring slides and PowerPoint charts demonstrating enormous growth and market share. Au contraire, they spoke succinctly, gadget-free, clearly and eloquently. They were not cocky, if anything they were humble, attributing success to others who had helped them on their path. And they left plenty of room for the audience questions. Sadly most of the questions were a little dull, often quite technical and one or two a little negative, but the speakers

were very gracious in offering respectful answers. (Saying that I wasn’t brave enough to ask the comment I had – which was in case you’re reading Mat: when you offer everything for free, and have a small pool of staff, how do you survive commercially?).

Wordpress probably needs no introduction but the stats surprised me. In 2007, there were 250,000 Word press blogs, by the end of 2009 there were 18 million Wordpress blogs. An estimated 230 million people globally read a ‘Wordpress’ blog once a month.

As a Wordpress blog user, yes you really can set one up a free blog in 5 minutes. No hidden fees, no taxes and limited Terms and Conditions apply. Only enough T & C’s to keep you the rest of the blogger community safe from rogue bloggers and the like.

Mat Mullenweg from WordPress said he was proud that his own Mom – who could not use the 2007 version, could now use the latest 2009 Wordpress version.

Wordpress is based on ‘open source’ software, which simply means that there is a relatively small pool of staff in Wordpress. Then the rest of the developers in the world work on it for free. As well as offering free Wordpress blogs, you can also make a good website with Wordpress software. And one that will be updated constantly (with no annual licence fee as charged by a Content Management System).

When asked by Mark Little as to how to succeed online, Mat said:

- The most successful internet businesses offer their users more than they get back

- To remember how competitive the internet space is “You are only a click away from your competitor."

He also mentioned that one of the challenges facing the web was “how do we create better content”

Aah... Music to my ears.

Next came the Craig in ‘Craig’s List’, who began his oration with a pithy:

“Craig’s List is not for sale.”

Craig told us coyly that the he "was born with a congenital disorder “ACS (Attempted Comedy Syndrome). He added that this phenomenon was "exclusive to those with a ‘Y’ Chromosome.”

Craig’s List began as an e-mail circulation events listing in San Francisco by Craig in 1995. According to Wikipedia it’s the 11th most popularly visited site in the US. In 1996 he developed an online version. He refused to accept paying banner ads. Originally all listings were free but over time decided he would allow recruiters and house sellers pay for advertising in 10 cities across the US. It is a registered not-for-profit. At one point he mused over what he would call his new pet project. "But everyone told me to keep it called 'Craigs List'," adding: "Before I knew it I had a brand”.

While it has staff, Craig’s List has a self-regulating mechanism, he calls a“neighbourhood watch” system.“People are essentially good” Craig told us. If an advertisement or posting is offensive, users can assign it a “red flag”. If enough people give it a red flag, it gets taken down..

And Craig’s secrets of success?

Focus on Customer Service.

He said that companies often “talk about listening to their customers. While it’s easy to listen.. it’s harder to implement. A successful company has company service ingrained in their DNA.”

But back to Craig: he doesn’t suffer from ACS (Attempted Comedy Syndrome). His is quite simply: a great story, hilariously told.

When Mark Little, who chaired the group very well, asked these uber-successful entrepreneurs to give one piece of advice, what would that be?

Chris Horn of ex-Iona fame said: “Don’t do it on your own." He admitted that he would more than likely "have given up if I had started on my own. I needed that support.”

Craig told us to:“Get the right people working for you” and “treat your customers with the respect you would like to get yourself.”

Mat advised us to: “Learn to code. It’s beautiful.”

They also all spoke passionately about the need to allow entrepreneurs "make mistakes," and to be "allowed try again."

They were unanimous on the importance of not stigmatising start-up failures.

Mat said: "make new mistakes often"

Mr Horn spoke most on this topic saying "Ireland seems to stigmatise failure and that this needs to stop".

What I took away most from the evening was the potential for a collaborative approach to working on the web. Both Craig's List and Wordpress enage in user-generated self-regulating systems: Craig’s List via their ‘neighbourhood watch’ system; and in Wordpress with their open source software.

To build a successful Internet empire, maybe you don’t need funding or the best techie/ marketeer in town? Maybe you just need a great idea and great people management and co-ordination skills which will facilitate the input of 'experts' a couple of hours a month.

Maybe the trick is to get experts to work on your project for free for 4 hours a month?

A few years ago the "Four hour work week" became a best seller. It tells you how to run a successful multi-millionaire internet-based business in 4 hours a week. I loved the idea. I could picture it all: me on the beach, sun tan lotion in one hand, cocktail in the other. Then the occasional glance at my black berry to check in on how well my 'residual passive income stream' was growing.

While I loved the book, in fairness, I have yet to come across anyone who successfully implemented his tools to do that. But maybe I guess, if enough people bought yer man's book.. well maybe the author did...