So I went to an event with 40,000 people all wearing masks.
That would have sounded really strange a few years ago – perhaps describing some bizarre masked-ball world record attempt, but today the strange bit isn’t the mask wearing but the fact I was at an event with 40,000 people. Yes, trade events are back, and I made the annual (delayed by a year) pilgrimage to Lisbon for Web Summit last week. Web Summit is Europe’s largest technology conference, and after some initial weirdness it felt great to be back. Particularly the community aspect, meeting new people, and reconnecting with old contacts was such a buzz. Something I’d missed more than I realised.
Innovators, investors and tech experts were eager to hear first-hand how the industry is set to navigate the future of technology in a post-COVID world. Touted as the “Tarantino moment for tech”, there were some big conversations at this year’s Web Summit but the standouts for me were:
The Metaverse will manifest
Metaverse was the word of the show, many references and comments made – particularly following announcements from Facebook and Microsoft in recent days. It’s clear, the industry believes. There was no doubt in discussions about the fact the metaverse is going to be a sizeable market opportunity. But where this is doubt, is exactly who is going to win, and in how it might be built and connected (interoperable). The next 10 years are going to be extremely exciting as the metaverse builds out, and accelerates with clearer functionality and use cases. But it has the potential to radically impact the way we both work and play – driving a rethink of everything from retail and commerce, to our commutes, and even employment.
Roblox isn’t a game
To the above point, Roblox is probably the most metaverse company operating today. For the parents amongst us, you’ll know this is a platform where our children are connecting, building, socialising. Taking their avatar and porting to different worlds/games to meet friends and play. We heard from Jon Vlassopulos, the companies Head of Music, and gen Z favourite Zara Larsson about her recent album launch in the platform. This saw her host a number of events and parties in the platform, where fans could listen to her music, interact directly with her (her avatar) and also buy lots and lots of virtual goods with their hard-earned (pocket money) Robux (currency in the platform). Looking at Roblox all up, it’s very easy to understand how the future of virtual-touring and connecting with fans and new audiences in this way will radically change the game – and economics – of the music industry.
The draw to bank on the blockchain is powerful
Would you like to earn 8-10% from your bank for just looking after your cash? Well, this is the promise of crypto and some Web3 banks. We heard from Alex Mashinsky, CEO of Celisus, who was quick to remind us that the banks are not our friends, and that Crypto will eat fiat currency as we know it. A pretty strong pitch that is sure to win over some hearts if not necessarily the minds of customers. They evidently are already managing over $3bn of capital that customers have banked with them. Whispers in the conference wings were that the proposition seems too good to be true, and many went as far to say it felt a little Ponzi scheme-esque. But like Namal Ravikant said in his recent, and must listen interview, on the Tim Ferris podcast: “Every generation invents its own new Ponzi scheme and rejects the previous generation’s Ponzi scheme.” This is a very clear watch this space moment.
Why can’t a bank just be an App.
The answer, well it can. We were reminded by Maximillian Tayenthal co-founder and CEO of N26’s (digital-only bank) of its impressive growth and ambitions to be a truly global bank. A firm that’s innovating constantly and thinking about how you can re-engineer the idea of banking when the bank is just a software company. Hard to bet against a firm with this strong vision and product and who is starting from a software first model. I wouldn’t bet against them.
Crypto doesn’t have a green problem
“Nothing really to see here” was the story told by many on stage when asked about crypto’s green credentials. What crypto does have, is a green perception problem. People like Kathleen Breitman (Tezos), Pascal Gauthier (Ledger) and Laura Wallendal (Thesis) were quick to frame how whilst some of the crypto story can be energy-intensive, (proof of work – mining is very intensive) much of the innovation and new projects in the world of crypto are actually based on a different, not energy-focused approach, proof of stake.
They also pointed to the fact there is a lot of innovation within mining to make it more energy efficient. The mining power shift from China to America following China’s ban on mining within its country, has already resulted in an increase in mining using green-energy and renewables. Indeed because of how transparent the whole system is, Pascal went on to suggest in the future we may even be able to choose a green-mined Bitcoin versus a bitcoin mined through a fossil fuel powered mine. Furthermore the panel suggested that a decentralised software form of finance is a lot greener than the current day alternative of the banking sector – no travel, no buildings to build/maintain/heat etc.
Humane meat is inevitable
What happens when meat that isn’t meat, but plant-based, tastes better than the meat? Demand increases, prices decrease. The result? People stop eating the meat. This idea isn’t impossible, it’s actually possible and firms like Impossible are part of the vanguard of companies driving this change. The CEO, Patrick Brown, made a compelling case for his firm and its mission - one not driven by economic incentive, but by a purpose to make a real dent on climate change and animal welfare.
One of the quickest ways we can see a reversal in climate change from emissions is if we moved to a plant-based diet. The reality of a good rib-eating meat-eater stopping their consumption of meat for a plate of vegetables is, largely, unrealistic. The reality of said rib-eating meat-eater eating a rib made from plant protein and not noticing the difference? That’s the prize. It’s already possible today with products like beef mince and chicken nuggets, Fish and steak are just around the corner, and prices are continuing to fall as the process of manufacturing gets easier. Will our children look at us in disbelief that we once used to farm and then kill animals for our protein? Quite possibly.
E-commerce transition not reversing
So it’s well known, and experienced, that the pandemic was a boon for the e-commerce sector – with many customers accelerating their use of e-commerce, and a good number being brought in – through necessity – for the first time. Surely now the pandemic is starting to show up in the rear-view mirror, the world will go back to how it was before? Well no. Guillaume Pousaz, the CEO of the growing faster than ground elder Checkout.com, told us that the trend isn’t reversing but accelerating. E-commerce is both our now and next.
Web3 is just around the corner
Marc Andresen said once that the best predictor of the future is to understand what developers are doing in their free time. Well, they are currently building the next version of the internet in overwhelming numbers. Much of the conversation around the show, not always within, was on Web3. If we’ve been operating since 2005 in what was coined, Web 2.0 world (social/mobile internet), we are now shifting to the next paradigm. Framed already by many as Web3, it’s a collection of primitive technologies and ideas like BlockChain, Crypto, NFTs but also more recently inclusive of the Metaverse idea. However, Web3 is not building on-top of the existing (as Web 2.0 did), but building from a completely different starting point. Open, transparent, decentralised and powered by the community – running on top of Blockchains like Ethereum, which really is like one big open and transparent global computer. We are just at the foothills of what will likely be a very exciting, and in places quite radical and disruptive, 20-year journey. Time to strap in.
Justin Westcott is Edelman's European Head of Technology, and Chief Operating Officer for Edelman UK and Ireland.