Billed as "All-Star Entrepreneurs", Chad Hurley, Kevin Rose and Niklas Zennström shared the stage for a spot of technology futuregazing at the LeWeb London conference.
Their credentials? Hurley was one of YouTube's co-founders, and is now CEO at AVOS Systems. Rose co-founded technology news aggregator Digg, but is now a partner at Google Ventures.
Zennström's entrepreneurial career, meanwhile, has taken in Kazaa, Skype, Joost and Rdio, although his central role now is CEO and founding partner at Atomico Ventures. The discussion was moderated by blogger-turned-investor Michael Arrington of CrunchFund.
"Today there is so much more exciting stuff, opportunities on the internet and in the tech landscape than there was even five years ago," said Zennstrom. "Because of these growing platforms, the social graph, the mobile internet. There are more and more opportunities for new companies than there ever was before."
He thinks the next five years promises another step up, despite economic woes around the world, and said that he's motivated by a chance to "give back" to the community with new technology ventures.
And Hurley? "I'm here to have fun... I just like building new things. I like exploring and creating and working on problems." Hurley described AVOS as an "internal development platform" which helps the company launch new products quickly.
It acquired social bookmarking service Delicious, has launched a Chinese version of it called mei.fm, and is working on Zeen, which "in essence allows people to build online magazines in a more visually rich way to present information".
Zennstrom was asked about copycat technology startups, and said no, although he drew a distinction between "evolution and copying" – Skype didn't invent internet calling itself, but it developed its own proprietary technology to innovate within the category. "We had a lot of companies copying us!"
Rose claimed that he gets the same feeling at Google Ventures when seeing an exciting new idea from an entrepreneur that he did as a startup himself. Arrington noted that Rose – unlike Hurley and Zennstrom – has not founded a startup that has achieved a "billion dollar exit" – but that he has invested in companies like Twitter, Zynga, Square, Chomp, Foursquare and other companies.
"Why are you so good at picking companies when you haven't been able to..." asked Arrington. "I think it comes down to execution," replied Rose, pointing out that he was still very young when running Digg. "I made a ton of mistakes... I put it a lot on me, and a lot on the competition coming up around it."
He's bugged by this though: "As an entrepreneur you want to make something massive that changes the world, it's not about the dollar amount [of an exit]," he said. "I don't know if I'll ever get out there again... It's going to be a few years. I'm really enjoying what I'm doing now at Google Ventures, and I'm going to stick at that for a while."
The panel were asked what their tips are for the next big thing in technology. Rose said the one idea he'd really like to see built involves TV-commerce, based on the much-anticipated launch of apps for TVs by Apple.
"Commerce is going to change, I'll be able to look at the TV and see the actual size of the garment," said Rose, saying he'd love to see "a QVC/gaming component of an application that is on the television that has to do with purchasing things".
Zennström talked about the opportunities in "so many more people being connected" in the next five years, and the shift from 10 years ago, when companies focused on building technology, to the present day when they're focusing on building products.
Big sectors? "Health and education, those are the areas that still need to be disrupted... I don't know anything about life science, but from an internet big-data, mobile devices – that part there is a great opportunity."
However, Zennström also suggested that technology startups should be attacking the big, global problems like the financial crisis and climate change. "What about mining space asteroids?" chimed in Arrington. "No, not at all," replied a deadpan Zennström.
Hurley said social networking itself needs a bit more disruption. "In general today, technology asks too much of people. I'm tired of tweeting, Liking, updating statuses," he said.
"Right now the positioning is that everything's going to be social, we're going to share everything with everyone. But I don't necessarily wanna see everything my friends are doing." He suggested that "passive personalisation" may be the solution to all this social noise.
Rose suggested it's still early days for mobile apps, too. "There's gonna be 8-9 apps that we use every single day... Right now we probably know three or four of those apps." He cited person-to-person payments as potentially one of the others, with a clear winner yet to emerge.
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