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July 4, 2008

Some notes from the Mobile 2.0 conference

BARCELONA, Spain – The Mobile 2.0 conference in Barcelona has been very interesting. The organizers told me that one goal of the event is to develop relationships between established players and up-coming start-ups. This is done by mixing folks in the same room, getting start-ups to pitch to the audience, and having various focused panels on burning topics.

The burning topics were Mobile Social Media, The VC Perspective, The Operator Perspective, and a discussion around Open Business Models. And, there were good sessions with start-ups doing some interesting things.

But, amidst the animated discussions of new innovations and pet projects, there were a few grumblings about things that get in the way of the next great product. Also, of the talk I saw, and most likely due to the nature of the event, was very business focused and very focused on today. There was no talk about future technologies, no world-changing company, and very little discussion about what folks want (with one big exception).


On the Mobile Social Media panel, the first of the day, the discussion quickly devolved into a grumbling of the interference through negligence of the operators. The panel was split on how to work around this interference, some suggested one large operator or manufacturer step up and orchestrate a smooth-working end-to-end. Others ignored the operator and found their customers in quickly emerging markets.

Then during the operator panel, the animosity was plabable. it was clear that operators have very different innovation and operation expectations than everyone else in the audience. The panel was contentious as the operators re-iterated their business models and the audience wanted to vent their frustrations, until one of the event organizers stood up and reset the goals of the panel.

One great comment was that operators expect developers to show them the value rather than operators showing developers the value to create stuff for their networks. Good point.

Venture Capitalists

While the venture capitalist didn’t gripe about operators, they did gripe about the tight nature of the market for them. It’s not that there is a lack of great innovative companies, but the market is requiring them to ramp down or get bought out much sooner than venture capitalists are willing to accept.

But this is bad, since venture capitalists are important for helping start-ups grow and further develop. With less money going around, it gets harder to grow companies, and less likely for an innovative and exciting breakthrough in products and services.


There were three sessions for start-ups. Unfortunately, I missed the first session of the really-early-stage companies. I heard the companies were quite interesting. The second-session companies were looking for their first round of VC funding, while the third-session companies were those looking for subsequent funding. All companies were selected from a pool of potentials by the conference organizers, so presumably, these represent the best of the crowd.

It was interesting to see the difference (or lack thereof) between the earlier stage companies versus the more mature start-ups. As expected, the more mature companies were quite clear in their direction and product pitch, have established partnerships, and already have a history they can be proud of. But I also expected the newer companies to be trailblazing new innovations. Alas, moments of brilliance and innovation were evenly distributed across all stages of companies. It just might be that even the later stage companies are still quite new.

Business models

The panel consisted of five experienced companies who have built or are building successful services, all who could be considered a threat to operators. The discussion began with positive stories about users of these services. But it was clear that the stories illustrated moments where the absence of interference (be it an operator, transcoders, platform fragmentation), the openness of a system, was key in the positive story. We should have had these guys come before the operators, since, while they were indeed mentioning their frustrations, they are proving that you can create a successful service by working around the problems. Also, all of them provide constant pressure to show that opening up the ecosystem (<nudge> operators) is a business necessity, not a convenience.

The buzz from the floor

What is most rewarding in a good conference is the conversation I have between the talks. I spoke with design consultants, business consultants, folks from social networking services, VCs, media companies, but not an operator (there were only a handful). It’s exciting to see the kinds of things people are creating and the drive to get bought or partner with the bigger players. While it’s not like a typical internet services conference, where two guys built something cool over pizza, there is hope. Conferences like these improve the chances that any innovation bubbling in the mobile industry get a moment in the light and be given a fighting chance to succeed.

I am sure others will be writing and posting photos from the event (Mark Kramer was streaming it all). We’ll try to find them and link to them. If you were at the event or had something to say about what I or others wrote about the event, feel free to leave a comment.

Oh, and maybe we shouldn’t grumble about operators.

Image: Pekka Pohjakallio, Nokia giving the keynote