Let’s face it, Mobile World Congress is frankly for businesses that are linked to carriers, telco infrastructure and communications technology. We have seen a significant disruption in mobile business in the last 7 years. There are a lot of mobile businesses, like all app business, that bypass carriers. And many startups are related to that business. So, is MWC relevant to startups nowadays?
Apple and Android changed the mobile business. Before that many startups and smaller companies focused on selling to carriers and through carriers. During those days MWC was a very important event for startups. There were also a lot of venture capitalists, pitching and investor dating and small companies with small stands. Nowadays, generally startups are more important than ever in the world, but maybe less relevant at MWC.
In the last year MWC introduced a new concept: 4YFN, 4 Years From Now. It is a kind of dedicated startup event during MWC. It is located in the old exhibition center, where MWC used to be.
In 4YFN startups can have a stand for a lower price, tickets are cheaper and there are startup specific programs, like a lot of pitching and investor dating. So, in principle it is the place for startups to be.
How does 4YFN look like? It was more relaxed, more space and less people than the main event. There were dozens of startups. Several countries had also their areas to promote their own startups. And there were many kinds of startups, but many of them were somehow linked to mobile apps, like apps for car parking, collecting customer data, gaming and advertising.
There are a lot of startup events, pitching events and networking events in the world nowadays. It is not easy for 4YFN to compete against all these other events. And I must say that compared to those other events, 4YFN looked a bit tired, artificial and unfocused.
Many countries also have their own departments at the main event. It is typically possible for SME’s and startups to get space in those national departments with much smaller investment than alone. Some of those SME’s and startups offer technology to carriers or larger infrastructure vendors. They have potential partners and clients in the event. But then there was something different, like one more mobile CRM, an app to measure your wellbeing or ad targeting company. Is it realistic that those companies will find clients or partners at this event?
MWC is especially mobile and connectivity technology, infrastructure and support IT solutions event. It is a B2B event to make deals and find partners. It is not a consumer show, it is not a general mobile apps show and it is not really a place for B2B business where carriers or infrastructure have no role.
MWC is the most important mobile event, over 90,000 visitors in this year. It is not realistic with the current setup that it would be especially relevant for all kinds of mobile and Internet startups and SME’s. And when carriers’ roles have become smaller and more infrastructure-oriented, it also means less companies need carriers in their business.
4YFN probably needs re-focusing and startups and startup support organizations need to consider more whether MWC is really relevant for them. Probably several European startups are at MWC, because they have got an attractive offer from the local export support organization. MWC is the most important event for its focus areas, but if the organizer wants it as the event for all kinds of mobile and internet companies, it must get more relevant people and companies outside the telco space.
With the current setup I see many mobile apps or service SME’s just waste time and money there, when their right audience would be in some other events. And honestly there are already more than enough general startup hype events in the world; MWC can really offer industry focus for small and big companies.