Loic Le Meur

Loic Le Meur

Startup Mixtape Loic Le Meur

Loic Le Meur has been a well-known bridge from Europe to the rest of the startup world, most notably for his pioneering LeWeb conference. He was an early investor in LinkedIn and Evernote, among many other startups. He’s taken his experiences from building LeWeb to create Leade.rs, his platform connecting the people shaping the future of technology and more, with avenues to spread their message.

Elliott Adams: I’m interested in how LeWeb came about and its effect on the European startup ecosystem.  

Loic Le Meur: LeWeb started in 2003 and was definitely the first in Europe. The other thing that existed at the time was Web 2.0 in the US, and we were definitely the first English-only tech conference in Europe. There was no TechCrunch Disrupt. TechCrunch Disrupt was launched three years later. What that brought was a very special atmosphere of early adopters. It was special because it was all English, despite the fact that it was in France, so it became truly European and included eighty-five countries and 4,000 people.

EA: Wow.

We decided we are the partners of the leaders. I call them leaders, not speakers, because speaking, for me, is just the first step.

LL: Then for years, LeWeb was the oldest, and basically that first impact was that a lot of our attendees got inspired and launched their own, which is great. So, conferences like Slush or even Web Summit, which is now way bigger, got their inspiration from LeWeb. Now there are maybe a hundred tech events in Europe, all English, the same way. Before that, it was mostly local, so you would do your own events in Spain in Spanish, in France in French, and so on and so forth. So, that's the first thing. Then the second one is obviously the many successes that came from LeWeb. The first to come to mind is that Uber was invented there, and—

EA: Sorry, Uber was invented there?

LL: Yeah. Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp, the two co-founders, they were there and could not find a cab, and it was snowing. They created Uber right there. That's where they decided to launch it as a business. The other one that comes to mind is Waze. It won our startup competition, and I think there were only ten people. Two years later, they were acquired by Google for a billion dollars. 

I'm not trying to attribute that to us, but it definitely helps. The other one is that Fred Wilson discovered and invested in SoundCloud at LeWeb. Now SoundCloud is a huge success. That's where Alex Ljung, the founder, established his funding.

EA: So, it's a platform in that way.

The other one that comes to mind is Waze. It won our startup competition, and I think there were only ten people. Two years later, they were acquired by Google for a billion dollars.

LL: Yeah. It's a platform for success, and you'll see what I'm trying to do with Leade.rs. That's basically where it's coming from. People and events have a huge impact on discovering the entrepreneurs and inspiring them. I'm not saying we gave the idea to Travis and Garrett, but a lot of people get inspired by meeting other people and listening to the stories of other people. The other thing that it does is put a light on them so they get featured in the press, they get interviews, and then they get funding. So, I gave you the example of SoundCloud for funding. A number of things that have happened in ten years also generated, that I know of, ten weddings. People met there and got married.

EA: So, one overall point here is that this created a forum for a lot of people who were not in California, right? This seemed to very much impact the internationalization of the industry.

LL: Exactly.

EA: You said it was the only English-speaking event that really had prominence at the time when you began.

LL: All English. It was a good sign my first year that the French president and the Senate were there. They asked, “Why is it not in French?” But I held it in English. It's international or it's not.

EA: And you felt like it'd run its course?

LL: No, we sold it and it became something different, so we decided to stop. It's good to start from scratch and do it differently. I think it did what it had to do, though. It inspired a lot of events. Now there's a hundred tech events in Europe.

And so Leade.rs is the tool I actually dreamt of while I was curating LeWeb. I've dreamt about that app or tool as my two hats: one hat is the speaker, myself, and I probably invited 2,000 speakers on stage over those ten years at LeWeb. I've always thought that there was a tool to be created for speakers to know what they are invited to. If you're invited to LeWeb, or you're invited to Slush, here's what it is, here is who went and who goes as the audience. Basically, information about the event. If it's free, why should you care? If you're invited to TED, you don’t ask for money, because it's the best exposure in the world. But if you're invited to that SAP event in central Germany, it’s maybe not that much for your reputation, but they say they pay you $20,000.

Between those two, there is a whole range of events, and it's very difficult as a speaker to be aware of what to do because it's difficult to promote yourself or know if they're good or not. So, number two, as an event organizer, the way I would discover people is by going to TED and going to Davos. That's why I love doing it. I get to meet people all day long. I would read the site and then I would add them to a Google Doc. From that Google Doc is how I would record people I’ve met and want to invite to future events. That's how TED does it too.

And then you hold your event, and everything goes into the trash, and you start all over again next year. There is no central database of speakers to begin with, so what Leade.rs starts with is a Netflix of speakers. Basically, we're building a database. We have 2,000 profiles in it: everybody who spoke at LeWeb.

EA: So, it’s like a LinkedIn for events and speakers to connect?

LL: There is much more than what you find on LinkedIn. There are videos and photos, where they spoke, and their affiliations. So, there are young Global Shapers in Davos, for example. We added, like, a hundred affiliations, like Nobel Prizes and Fortune 40 under 40. Basically, I did my homework by adding all of mine, and now we're starting to invite curators of events all around the world who have the same problem, showing them the tool, and saying, “Hey, I'm solving my own problem, and I know you have the same. Would you like to contribute? Here is my network. I'm giving it to you. Do you want to add yours?” We are already working with twenty-five of our event organizers.

And then you hold your event, and everything goes into the trash, and you start all over again next year. There is no central database of speakers to begin with, so what Leade.rs starts with is a Netflix of speakers.

So, SXSW—we have an official Leade.rs session there for a thousand people. At Singularity University and Web Summit, we have Leade.rs sessions in all of those events, so right now, it's confidential for curators, if you see what I mean. 

What we're building next is a booking system. Inside, you'll be able to say to the event organizer: “I want AI. Here is who we have on AI. I want to see if they’re available.” You select them, and then you have a booking system which is very much like Uber, where instead of an Uber driver, it's a speaker. We're going to enable a whole long tail of speakers who, before, would have never been discoverable.

EA: And is the platform accessible both ways? Can an event open up submissions, and I can say, “I'd really have something great to talk about at that event, let me pitch them”?

LL: Both sides. We decided we are the partners of the leaders. I call them leaders, not speakers, because speaking, for me, is just the first step. For example, if you’re a shitty event which has a bad reputation, we won't let you contact everybody. We want to bring quality; otherwise, it's going to be a mess. But just to give you perspective, where we're going, speaking is one. Then we'll add press requests. We'll book interviews, press interviews, etc.

EA: And you have all these different enterprises you might be engaged in but you're not in business with. You can't be doing all those things on your own, right? It's almost a new profession, in a way, to be this multi-sided. Maybe Leade.rs is one way of doing it, right?  

LL: Absolutely. This is all enabled by online tools. People can just become brands themselves, something that was impossible before. We're starting by trying to disrupt all the agents’ businesses, which is very old fashioned, has intermediaries, and is not efficient. I've not met a speaker who likes his agent.

EA: It makes sense to me, and it seems like this is almost a new archetype. For example, say you're a scientist at a university. You don't just put out papers, you write a trade book, and you also do some speaking and some consulting.

LL: Exactly. You see where it's going. It's speaking, press requests, book interview requests, then maybe someone will want to write a book themselves. Then, we find a way to help them with editors, and maybe they want to raise funding, whether they're social entrepreneurs, they need donations, or they need to be connected to business angels like we did with Alex Ljung and SoundCloud. The long-term view is a platform for success for those people, helping them be discovered. This is going to be my next ten years, like LeWeb took about ten years. It's going to take time.

Elliott Adams