Some of the most influential figures in tech gathered in Amsterdam this past weekend at The Next Web conference to discuss, review and report on the latest developments and trends in both the European and American scenes. Among them was Robert Scoble, renowned Silicon Valley-based tech blogger also known as the Scobelizer. Silicon Allee caught up with him to find out his views on startups in Europe and what he thinks is hot at the moment.
SILICON ALLEE: Are you enjoying The Next Web and Amsterdam?
ROBERT SCOBLE: It’s awesome, how can you hate Amsterdam? Especially on a day like this where the suns out. It’s such a great city and we were walking along the canals, its just so beautiful, its a great place to visit.
SA: Do you enjoy coming over to Europe from the US?
RS: I like coming to Europe because there is a different set of companies that come out of here and there is a lot of innovation going on. There are new tech hubs that are springing up everywhere. Berlin in the last three years has really gotten hot, Amsterdam has gotten really hot, Facebook spotted a couple of companies here recently. It’s just interesting to see what’s coming out of Europe, it’s good to keep your finger on the pulse because there is a lot going on. Look at Spotify, right?
SA: What really stands out about Berlin to an American audience?
SA: Do you think we are currently experiencing a bubble?
RS: I don’t think so and here is where I’m coming at it, and other people have looked at it this way too. If you talk to the guys in China Telecom, only a small percentage of their people have cell phones. 1.3 billion people, not everybody has a cell phone yet, so first of all there is still growth in just selling cell phones and getting people on the mobile Internet. Then only 30 percent who own a cellphone have a smart phone. And you see Apple’s numbers released earlier this week, were largely because of the growth in just China, right? They’re growing so fast in China because the market is so hot. And so is there a bubble? No, there are just a lot of people joining the Internet and that’s putting pressure on everything that is happening in the world. And that’s why Facebook is continuing to be valued at $80 billion. There are some fundamental and huge changes that have happened in our society in the last eight years; social networks are certainly one of them.
SA: What are the latest trends you are seeing in tech?
RS: I’m looking at Google glasses, the Project Glass that Google is working on where you wear computers that tell you things. It’s going to tell you how to navigate through space or how to get down the street without having to pull out your phone. Your glasses will tell you where to go, where to take a left and take a right and stuff like that. I also love apps like Highlight who show me other people who are on Highlight that are within a 100 yards of me. Who are they? What friends do we have in common, what likes do we have in common?
SA: And that’s how you met the head of Al Jeezera?
RS: I have 2,600 people on my little database on that tool. Like the guy that runs social media at the White House is on this. Jack from Twitter is on this thing. So when he walks by the front door of our office I can go outside and meet him. ‘Hey Jack, what’s going on?’
It’s incredible the database of people that are on this thing, and what you can learn by studying this new world where we’re going to have these new experiences because of our digital tools.
SA: You’ve been in this industry for a long time now, so what differences do you see between Silicon Valley and European tech hubs?
RS: It’s unfair to do that comparison because Silicon Valley was started by the American government! That’s why my dad moved there; he worked at Lockheed for 30 years building military satellites. There are very few places in the world with that background and it brought a bunch of geeks into one area, and that’s really why SV is so strong – it has that old school geek that built semiconductor companies, hardware and wifi radios and all the things we take for granted today. And that attracted the new entrepreneur, the guys that are building the Facebooks, the Googles, the Instagrams and the newer companies.
SA: Perhaps the better question is how different Silicon Valley was 20 years ago compared to now.
RS: Silicon Valley is a magnet for geeks and entrepreneurs around the world. And it draws in different kinds of entrepreneurs. Like Nina at 99 Dresses, she came from Australia and is starting a fashion/website service marketplace. That’s a very different thing from what we’re used to in Silicon Valley, which was semiconductor companies and people who were making Apple computers. That’s the old school Silicon Valley. But because there is that geek foundation, it draws people in.
There are other tech hubs around the world that are emulating that magnetism, like Tel Aviv, Berlin, London, Shanghai, New York, Seattle, Bangalore. After that, it gets difficult to name the ones that are hot, that are really getting geeks excited about building a community. That’s what you need first; you need geeks to come and meet together, hangout together, because that’s when the interesting stuff starts sprouting up – like Spotify and SoundCloud.
SA: What’s your favourite startup ever?
RS: It depends how you look at it. You know Apple was a startup at one point, right? It still is one of my favorite companies. I’ve lived near Apple all my life. If I had to pick one, in terms of my life, it would be Apple. In terms of more recent times, when I go to Kleiner Perkins my question is, ‘have you found another Flipboard?’ Flipboard just caught my attention and explained why I needed an iPad. It was the killer app for the iPad. I’m looking for companies that come up to that kind of level: ‘Wow, you showed me something that was beautiful and unexpected, and took advantage of a new device, a new way of looking at the world.’ And the answer so far has been no. And Kleiner Perkins is one of the most famous VC firms and they get to see almost everything. We’re all chasing the next Flipboard.