The Web 2.0 Summit I attended in San Francisco last week was great not only because it gives anyone in the audience a good insight on what’s happening in the tech industry and what the coming trends are going to be like. One other thing it does is that it brings together more Tech celebrities (many of whom are billionaires) together in one place.
You get to see them in person, see how they respond to questions and from then really get a feeling of how smart these people really are and why they are where they are. So I’m going to run through some of the people I listened to at the conference and what my impression of them is like.
Eric Schmidt – Google (Net worth: $5.45 billion)
A year or two ago I read the book “The Google Story”. It told the whole story on how Google started, the struggles is faced and how it grew to where it is today. At some point in the book, it talked about how Eric Schmidt came to become the CEO of Google. Eric used to be from Novell and he was urged by a VC of Google to join Google. He was reluctant at first but he did it after some convincing from the VC. This didn’t leave me a particularly great impression of him because unlike some of the other staff at Google I read about, he didn’t seem like a believer.
Over the years of course, his stock in Google which he got as a result of joining it is worth almost $6 billion today. He is the richest professional (employee) in the world.
When I saw him speak at the Web 2.0 Summit though I was blown away by how intelligent he really is. He talked about Android, a subject that was constantly brought up throughout the conference (It seems more and more people now are talking about Android being the next big thing instead of the iPhone) and he answered had to answer some really really tough questions really well.
Eric Schmidt is also really careful with his words. Knowing that whatever he said at that conference will be quoted in the news in no time, he was careful about making statements about things he’s not announce yet but still gave just a bit of news about what Google’s doing next as a bit of a teaser.
True enough, just few hours after the conference news about this new Android software in a phone he was holding in his hand was all over the internet. I can see how Eric Schmidt’s skills and talent has brought Google to where it is today.
Robin Li – Baidu (Net Worth: $3.5 billion)
The moderator said that this was the first time that Robin actually came out to give a talk to the international community. Unlike many of the other speakers, Robin was more reserved in his actions and words. He spoke slowly, carefully picking the words he said as if trying to bring across a point in the shortest most efficient way possible.
Robin is noticeably proud though. Proud that he is Chinese and that Baidu, a Chinese company can grow to a market capitalization of over $36 billion. He said that’s the size of eBay. Somehow I felt that about him and many other entrepreneurs from China. While they were all really successful and had huge businesses, they were all proud that the Chinese internet market was the biggest in the world and they wanted the Americans to know their achievements.
Mark Pincus – Zynga (Net worth: $850 million)
Mark Pincus is a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who is responsible for a number of Silicon Valley startups but the company that made it biggest though is Zynga.
Zynga is only about 3 years old and is already one of the biggest games companies in the world from making Facebook games like Farmville. It does about $600 million in revenue each year and has 1,200 employees. Some people at the conference were estimating that the company is worth some $6 billion USD today, a lot for a 3 year old company!
Mark came on stage at the conference just to give a quick presentation about the app economy. I couldn’t tell that much about him or how he’s like because his was more of a presentation than a Q&A session but he is no doubt one of the most respected Silicon Valley entrepreneurs today.
Tony Hsieh – Zappos (Net worth $840 million)
Tony Hsieh is a the founder of the online shoe retailer Zappos. A company that has over a billion dollars in revenue and all they do is sell shoes.
What he stresses they focus on is customer service and he talked a lot about how he put in a really happy working culture in Zappos. Someone told me that he had a policy where after 2 weeks, he would offer a new hire $3,000 to leave the company. If that person didn’t take that offer he would know that the person was serious about working in Zappos and really wanted to work there. There is after all apparently a long waiting list of people trying to get a job at Zappos.
Last year he eventually sold Zappos to Amazon though for some $1.2 billion after some pressure from his VCs that wanted to cash out.
Jim Basillie – Research in Motion (Net Worth $2.6 billion)
Jim is the Co-CEO of Research in Motion, the company behind the Blackberry. I love Blackberry as a device so I was quite keen to listen to him talk. Unlike the rest of the guys there he sounded a lot more corporate and he was talking quite a lot about the performance of their upcoming Blackberry Playbook.
He said there were a lot of new upcoming exciting developments that he couldn’t talk about so I guess we just have to be patient.
John Doerr (Kleiner Perkins Caufield) & Fred Wilson (Union Square Ventures)
If you were an entrepreneur starting up in Silicon Valley, you wanted to know these two people. John Doerr is from the VC Kleiner Perkins Caufield which was responsible for Netscape, Amazon, Google and a lot of other internet companies. From his success he’s garnered a wealth of some $1.7 billion.
They put him on stage with a guy named Fred Wilson who was described as a bit of a “Simon Cowell” for the VC world.
Fred is from another VC based out of New York called Union Square Ventures which invested in companies like Twitter, Zynga, Foursquare, Feedburner and a lot of other startups. He was really really funny and awesome to listen to because he was very honest and blunt. Like he said that Apple’s iPhone was going to fail because it was a closed system unlike Android which was open (This is something Ming totally agrees with by the way).
I really agreed with one of his opinions though when he talked about our obsession with apps these days. Why do we need to have apps to access everything on the internet these days when we have browsers that can do just that? Sure some apps are necessary but some really make you wonder why they’re even there.
Fred also had some outrageously funny opinions like he called Facebook a “photo-sharing site with chat functions” which is a rather simplistic view of Facebook but when I think about it, it may have a little bit of truth to it. I use Facebook some one a week or so and the only time I go in there is just to look at pictures people tag me in or reply messages. Still, Mark Zuckerberg would’ve been offended since Facebook is more than just that.
Speaking of which, the last one I’m going to talk about is…
Mark Zuckerberg – Facebook (Net Worth: $6.9 billion)
This guy needs no introduction. He’s the Founder of Facebook and the youngest billionaire in the world. Funny enough I had just seen The Social Network at the Nuffnang Screening on Monday and it really depicted Mark Zuckerberg as an asshole for cheating his partner Eduardo out of his shares in Facebook. Wasn’t sure if that description was accurate so I ended up reading a book called The Facebook Effect and it seems to confirm that story. So I guess some people think that Mark Zuckerberg is a bit of an asshole (and arrogant too).
He did appear as a nice guy on stage though but I guess there were times when you could notice in his body language that he certainly was proud… it could come off as “arrogant” I guess but I’d say “proud” is a better word for it. I mean who wouldn’t be proud if you started a site that now has over 600 million users in the world.
Before the conference though I always wondered about Facebook. How a company can be valued at USD42 billion or so today when it hardly makes the profits to justify it even out of its $2 billion ad revenue. Then I went for the talk and I listened to Mark as he shared his vision. He wants to make Facebook where people do EVERYTHING social be it games, location based apps, photo sharing, messaging etc etc. He wanted it to be a PLATFORM. Not just a social networking site but a platform where it can create an ecosystem where people build businesses on it just like how Zynga has built a multi-billion dollar business from it.
Then it makes sense. Imagine Facebook as this economy where people make money from its user base either via apps or other stuff. With all this money going around in the Facebook economy, Facebook then has the ability to “tax” this money and the money it can make from this can easily be in the billions. It will then be able to one day generate the kind of profits that even Google makes today. That’s brilliant and I now understand what he’s trying to do. If he’s successful, Facebook will even be worth much more than what it really is today.
That’s the thing I admire about Mark Zuckerberg. His vision. Reading his book, he didn’t really see Facebook as just another social-networking site. He always wanted to take it further and in doing so even made some unconventional moves. For example, he opened Facebook up for people to create apps and then sells ads to advertisers from these apps.
The ad sales team at Facebook weren’t happy because that meant they had competition even within its own platform but Mark believed that all this advertising money was small compared to the big picture he was trying to achieve. He also believed it would help them against his competition which was MySpace at the time. Turns out he was right.
Facebook wants to create that ecosystem. Not to compete with it. Which is why it didn’t start its own version of Zynga. Some people asked him in the conference if the new feature Facebook Deals was meant to compete with Groupon and he answered “NO”. He said that Groupon already has its sales network in cities all over the USA and Facebook has no plans to start its own sales teams just to sell bulk buying coupons.
He also talked about the new Facebook mail and how he got the idea for it. He was at his girlfriend’s parents place one day and was talking to their teenage cousin. He asked her if she used e-mail a lot to communicate with her friends. She said “Yes” but she also said they don’t use email that much because it’s too slow and formal. Then he realized something.
People don’t use email for quick messages sometimes because it’s too hard to remember the e-mail addresses and it has a really formal feel to it unlike instant messaging on social networks when you can just send off a message based on a person’s name. Hence the creation of Facebook Mail.
Mark Zuckerberg is truly a genius.
The Rest of the Speakers
There were soo many other speakers there that day and I decided that it would be too long a blog entry if I were to cover every one of them. The other people who were there was Evan Williams who founded Twitter and Blogger, the Founder of Linked-In, the Founder of ICanHazCheezeburger and lots of other people.
The conference was eye-opening to me and it was an experience to be able to see how these superstars of the internet world are in real life. Ming and I decided that if possible, we’d make it an annual thing there to attend it.
Next I will blog about my visit to Zynga and Google’s office