Simplon notes on @howtoweb

Article written by Csongor Horvath

I'm fairly new to the tech world, probably that's why my excitement level rose to over 9000(!!) when I heard that Simplon is taking me to Howtoweb, Eastern Europe's biggest tech conference! On the train I felt like I'm riding a bullet straight to the belly of the beast. The 2 double espressos might have had something to do with that feeling also.

The espresso motif stayed me with during the whole conference; what can you do, there is tons of valuable information and you got to stay sharp somehow. I almost literally transcribed all the presentations I attended (I'm an obsessive note taker), but now, after a couple of days, I reviewed all of the notes and I tried to boil everything down to a few key concepts, highlights that really had an impact on me.

On the first day I got there really early, having the time to settle in and watch as the ballroom filled up with hundreds of people. I really got energized by the conversations around me, startups being the main topic. Lately I haven't been interested in anything else.

I love the effect this kind of environment has on you, you immediately get a sense of urgency related to your own ideas, you feel motivated right from the first couple of minutes, you feel like going home and working your ass off so you can quickly come back and show them your best stuff too. You suddenly realise there's so much to be done, and so little time.This feeling lasted throughout the whole event, and it was something that some of my fellow participants confirmed also.

The first talk seemed really appropriate, Chris Chabot gave a wonderful opening speech, talking about technology, how it evolved, its rapid, exponential growth, and how it is inevitably becoming intertwined with the fabric of our existence…. and how “mobile” will eventually eat everything up.

He also mentioned a really cool graph, the Gartner cycle of innovation, that you can check it out here.

Next up was Paul Papadimitriou, who compared the old ways with the new ones, and painted a future where ideas are the capital and people with great minds are the new 1%.

I learned from Ustream Product Manager, Mark Tolmacs, to ride the Chaos instead of trying to control it, to be careful with micromanaging, and to build trust with my team for long lasting influence. How do you do that? That’s the big question with a pretty simple answer: opt to give.

Ragnar Sass - Co-Founder of Pipedrive said the key to making it big is to keep your clients happy and educate them, at least that's how he built a global success without a sales team.

The "Go and fund yourself!" part on the main track enforced the idea in me that you should know when to take money and use it only to accelerate an already working idea or a proven mechanism.

Mat Clayton, Co-founder of Mixcloud -  talked about clear goals, keeping a single KPI that is shared with the whole company. He also said in order to win big, you have to make big changes, sometimes violent changes, like the time they reprogrammed their whole website, even though everyone said it would be a bad idea... and it was a pretty huge success. It got them over 5 mil users.

He also said you should Always Be Testing (with A/B testing), but quickly added another concept, the A/A testing, a test you run just to verify that your conclusions are real.

Martin Davies urged everyone to hack their way to produce excellence, in a fun way that brings about unique, creative ideas and strengthens bonds inside existing companies, by organizing internal hackathons.

Joseph Dunn , co-founder of BabelVerse  seemed to have taken a more intuitive approach to building a successful business, focusing on the community, and maybe on one of his quotes, a quote that sums up his bold attitude:

"Fuck the product. Build the solution".

Day two started with fearless innovation.

Jason Della Rocca talked about the importance of building systems that allow you to fail rapidly, so you can get back up and going as fast as possible. He also raised an interesting idea, named the turkey’s problem, and why it is bad for companies to rely on historical data to predict their future.

You can find the turkey’s problem explained below.

“A Turkey is fed for 1,000 days by a Butcher, and every day confirms to the Turkey and the Turkey’s Economics Department and to the Turkey’s Risk Management Department and the Turkeys Analytical Department that the Butcher loves Turkeys, and every day brings more confidence to that statement. But on day 1,001, there will be a surprise for the Turkey…”

Carlos Espinal from Seedcamp suggested asking questions like what does your product do? What’s your product’s job? After you figure that out, you need to define your target well and create a bullet to hit it. You can read more on his view on the Product/Market Fit Cycle on his blog.

Picture from Facebook/Howtoweb

I wanted to take a peek at what’s going on in the gaming track also, so I headed to see Vlad Micu; you can find his awesome slides here.  

One thing that I really remember is the excerpt from an open letter from Fab's CEO, Jason Goldberg, with it’s straightforward headline:

It's a fucking startup. Why are you here?

"What is Fab right now? Right now it's a fucking startup. It's really hard. It's intense. It's a struggle. It's ambiguous. It changes a lot. It's all consuming. It's a lot of sausage making. It's working weekends to hit numbers and dates. It's stretching people beyond their comfort zone. It's insisting on doing it better even when it's already pretty good. It's being brutally honest about gaps and weaknesses. It's one day you're headed in one direction and the next day another, because the first move wasn't the best move. It's being ok with things not working because that creates opportunities to learn how to fix it."
"It’s a fucking startup. We’re here to build."

I'd recommend reading all of it, I think it encapsulates a big part of the startupper spirit.


Dennis Cox from Ixia gave my favorite presentation at this year's How to Web. He shared his inspiring story of how he started out and what was his motivation. It all sounded so logical and authentic, it was very well presented and it all just made sense to me.

I think after all the theories we all needed a simple reminder from someone with a proven track record to bring our focus back to our passions, the right attitude to build around it, to scratch our own itch and to remember that if you love what you do, it comes easy. Otherwise it's hard.

He said he considers each of his products his own babies, he mainly builds things for himself and wasn't afraid to admit how emotionally attached he is to them. Throughout his career he always seemed to be ahead of the curve, he always had a vision and knew exactly how to execute.


Next up were the awards, first prize of 10.000 $ won by AxosuitsWith mostly off the shelf components they developed a kit for disabled people, allowing them to walk again for the price of a mid sized car. They had a great product, a great presentation, all backed by a great team, some initial funding and a couple of advisors. They spent 60K on the prototype, they are now looking for an additional 300K to further develop the product, get the patents in place, and they look like they have all the chances to succeed.

The last talk I listened to was from Salim Vinary who pointed out that geniuses aren't limited by their current tools and practices, instead they build their own. For example Vermeer looked at camera obscura to make his photo-realistic paintings, Linus, creator of Linux created Git, and Kraftwerk created a whole industry because they needed different tools for their projects.  Salim also highly recommended the Michel Thomas method of learning and said that learning can only happen in an appropriate environment, which needs to be created by the educator.

There were certainly many more takeaways and important concepts in each of the presentations, but it is impossible to capture them all in a blog post. Maybe the most interesting thing was to see all the diversity, all the different types of people who made it in their field.

It could bring us to the conclusion that everyone should find their own path, and in the meantime, maybe we could pay attention to a few key principles everyone seems to agree on, like authenticity, focus, and staying connected with your customers and with your team members also.

If you weren't there and want more information you can check out the website and the videos on YouTube, and if you missed the opportunity, well.. there's always next year :)