Back in 2008, Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten and his associates wanted to launch a startup company at a conference. However, funds were tight, so they decided to organise a conference of their own. The startup never took off, but ‘The Next Web’ events are now a household name.
The Next Web (TNW) manages a number of international technology news, business and culture initiatives. The organisation is now best known for the TNW Blog. The TNW Events division organises the TNW Conference, TNW Mobile Conference, TNW Bowlr and Kings of Code. The TNW Blog has around 8 million unique visitors each month.
After graduating from art school, Boris began finding out all he could about the Internet. “The first time I made a connection to the web, heard the sound of the modem and started surfing was a kind of awakening. I had goose bumps. Soon, I was building websites.”
“The first speaker at our first event was Michael Arrington, who had just founded Techcrunch. He mentioned his highly popular blog in the US and asked Boris and his business partner to be present at an event related to this blog. We thought combining a blog with an event was a fantastic idea! You can build up to your event throughout the year. We had great news sources in San Francisco and developed our own brand and tone of voice.”
“Few people realise the World Wide Web is essentially a European invention, or that the first transatlantic Internet connection was laid between the Netherlands and the United States, or that the world’s largest Internet hub is located in Amsterdam. That's really something to be proud of. Americans are much better at promoting their achievements and entrepreneurship. Everyone knows Google and Facebook, yet AMS-IX also plays an important role. Usually, companies make the headlines when something goes wrong, such as a failure, which very rarely happens at AMS-IX. It just works. The infrastructure is so good you don’t even notice it's there. For startups AMS-IX plays a huge supporting role in the background. I've always felt that AMS-IX pursues the same goals and has the same ideals as the companies it supports.”
The hardest thing in the web business is having a good sense of timing and seeing what will become successful, claims Boris, citing YouTube as a good example. “A few years ago, a survey listed around 1,700 parties offering similar services - but only YouTube succeeded. Change is unpredictable. When Dutch social networking site Hyves appeared, no one thought it would ever become as big as it did. When it had millions of users, no one could imagine it ever disappearing - and now it's gone! If I were to say Google will disappear, because somewhere there are two geeks who are working on something even better, most people would declare me insane!”
A look at the future
Many governments and politicians feel the Internet is something they should have more control over, Boris feels. This is largely because threats receive more attention than the positive aspects. “We need to look at how we can control negative aspects without endangering future developments.”
The importance of the Internet is still seriously underestimated, in Boris’ opinion, and very few people are aware that this is the biggest technological change in the history of the world. He feels the next ten years will be more spectacular than the previous 10 years. “I’m very excited about the iWatch, a wearable body sensor that can, for example, tell when you’re catching a cold and then blocks your diary and orders a prescription! I’m also enthusiastic about the next step: implanted electronics. It might seem strange now, but on the other hand, we are quite used to people having a hearing aid or pacemaker. The Internet is simply the most important technological development in the history of humankind. The fact that I am witnessing its rise and reporting and contributing to its development is wonderful.”
Boris Veldhuizen van Zanten is co-founder and CEO of The Next Web