Observations from Barcelona: Mobile World Conference and 4YFN

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Mobile World Congress 2016


The Who’s Who of the mobile world were all in Barcelona last week for Mobile World Congress (MWC).  Well, almost everybody because Apple did not attend. There was no Apple enclave, no keynote from Tim Cook. And this had nothing to do with their tussle with the FBI. They like to do their own thing.  

I’m sure, however, that the thousands of companies that did attend, spending good euros to exhibit, got what they came there for, and the same goes for the approximately 100,000 MWC attendees that came to Barcelona. This show is beyond big and I must say it is the most organized large convention that I attend annually.

Like so many others, I marveled once again at the great city of Barcelona—its architecture, cuisine, beaches and people. Quite different from New York, and if you have the opportunity to visit, I highly recommend it! But I recommend not going during MWC—it’s busy!

Phone.com did not exhibit. We see it as a great place to learn about innovation and seek out new partners. As we develop our API, we’ve found some great collaborators at various U.S. events, so we figure why not explore the largest event in the world?

The question is how to get noticed if you are not exhibiting and just walking the floors. This holds true for any conference. Honestly, I am not sure there is a good answer other than to do your homework and set up strategic meetings, because it is probably cheaper to fly to Europe and set up meetings with companies you want to meet than to visit them individually throughout the year.

The Mobile Internet of Things

What is this mega event about? The term mobile used to only apply to the cellular phone industry, but not anymore. I think MWC organizers got it right with their tag line, Mobile is Everything, and indeed the conference is about anything mobile. Yes, we could see all the new mobile phones (Samsung Galaxy S7) and technologies (5G), but the hot attraction was virtual reality.

Everywhere you went you saw, and could try out, various kinds of 4D virtual-reality glasses. And then there was a strong focus on the Internet of Things (IoT) with smart appliances, smart homes, smart everything! The sense we all got was that the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and MWC are blending purposes for sure. 




So many people will cover MWC in detail that I don’t think I can add much, except for this. For me, the best kept secret is a parallel event, held by the organizers of Mobile World Capital, called 4YFN (Four Years From Now). With only 12,000 attendees, I believe this event will grow quickly over the coming years and become one of the main industry events worldwide.

The energy level at 4YFN was like that at a college football game. By comparison, think of MWC as a classical concert. No disrespect, but the feel of these side-by-side events could not be more different. Also, if I brought the average age at MWC down by a few years, I definitely brought it up by quite a few at 4YFN.  Showcasing hundreds of amazing young startups, and intriguing talks and panel discussions, this was the place to be! 4YFN is where you can feel how startups from all over the world are collaborating.




And this is where I spent most of my time because I realized that 4YFN was where I would find fresh ideas and potential partners, and yes I found a few.

This post is not about the types of startups I saw or what they do. Instead, I’d like to make a prediction: That tech startups are becoming just as globally minded as larger businesses are. And that startups will soon be based all over the world, and certainly more in Europe.

While 4YFN focuses mainly on the European startup scene, I’m sure it will be only a matter of time before we see NYC, Silicon Valley and Austin-based startups and venture capitalists show up in Barcelona. Finally, I also predict a lot more industry and media focus on 4YFN, and I doubt it’ll take another four years for that to happen.