Visiting Cambridge, Attending CUTEC's TVC and meeting Marissa Mayer of Google

Meeting Marissa MayerWhen my friend Joel, told me about CUTEC TVC (Cambridge University Technology and enterprise Club, Technology Ventures Conference),  and wanted us to present OnePage there. I was not sure I was sure I was going to attend then said the magic words “Marissa Mayer will be there”. It was not negotiable I had to be there. In case you do not know Marissa, She is the most beautiful geek in the world! A double B (do not rack your brain, I mean Beauty and Brains!) If you want to know more, Wikipedia it.  She is in charge of anything you see on your Google and determines what goes on the home page, big responsibility.  My friends know of a Marissa Mayer Laughter on my phone, well, it is her laughter and I have had it for almost two years.  Now you know why I had to visit Cambridge.  I got to the website of the conference and realized that the sale of ‘early bird’ tickets had ended a day ago which meant I had to pay 15 pounds more, damn!! I tried negotiating with the organizers but got nowhere!

After checking the prices for trains to Cambridge, it turned out that it would be more economical to drive down especially as we were three (Kostas, The Warwick Entrepreneurs president was joining us) so we rented a car and I sealed an agreement with my guy to use his SatNav for the journey. Well, “Monkey go market, monkey no return” i.e. the story got complicated  and we did not get the SatNav. We had to travel blindly to Cambridge as we could not  rent a SatNav by the time we were leaving.  We printed out directions from Google maps and proceeded to get lost on the way. We actually started heading toward the opposite direction! As luck will have it some calls were made and we got to realize the mistake  after only one hour. Necessity being the mother of invention, I checked out Joel’s Nokia phone and realized that the GPS was very much capable of leading the way (Nokia maps is VERY impressive).

We arrived while Iqbal Quadir of Grameen Phone was giving the first keynote and although I listened for about 6 minutes, I got a great insight and he articulated my thoughts clearly. He pointed out very clearly why giving ‘aid’ is very detrimental to developing countries and the government of such countries has no regard for their people.  His argument is that if governments dependent on it people for its income, it would develop and treat it people well but since they just wait for the foreign fund to fall in on their lap,  they disregard their people. And of course the people cannot hold the government to account. You can listen to his TED talk here

Iqbal Quadir Presenting

It was time for networking and it was where I was completely out of place. I could not comprehend the projects of most of the people there. Mind you, I am not quite a dullard but I was there to discuss web analytics, social graphs and things in that line. But the place was filled with PhD students and Post docs of Cambridge University. The first person I spoke to tried to explain his project of creating a mathematical model of the working of the neurons in the human brain. I promptly nodded like an Idiot, exchanged cards and moved on. The next was about genetic modeling of a different sort. That is what you get if you attend the school of Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin. As the networking session carried on, I met those whom I could understand their language and had nice discussions.

The second session was a panel discussing on how technology can aid development. It consisted of Ken Banks of Kiwanja.net,  Alan Jackson CTO of Aptivate, Kristin Peterson co founder  of Inveneo, Ian Steed, MD of Humanitarian Center, and John Maynard who was in for Nick Huges, representing Vodafone. The discussion was quite elightning. I tried to raise the point that there is a conflict of interest in these aid companies helping poor countries. Because for them to be successful the companies would be out of business and the western countries would have no hold on us. I really doubt if that is their mission. As long as China, America, Russia, UK and others are battling for they should of Africa and poor countries, we are quit far from independence!

technology for suatainable development panel
Ken Banks, John Maynard, Alan Jackson, Kristin Peterson and Ian steed

There was the time for exhibitions of projects and I met up with David Langer of GroupSpaces and he gave me a lot of pointers for my project OnePage. I god to describe it to Hermione Way, I hope she airs my pitch.

Oo adn David Langer of Group Spaces
Oo and David Langer of GroupSpaces

The next session of was my turf and it was a discussion on the pervasive web. There was a panel consisting of Alastair Mitchell Founder/CEO of Huddle.net, Frank Boehnke, General Partner Wellington Partners, Kevin Eyres MD of LinkedIn Europe, Nic Brisbourne , partner in DFJ Esprit and Tim Baker, Director, product marketing SalesForce. It would have been more interesting but it was very difficult to view the panelist as the venuewas on a flat surface. The discussion was generally interesting and afterwards I got to meet up with the MD of LinkedIn Europe and the Founder of Huddle. The discussions were very brief and would be continued. It is interesting that I would meet Kevin Eyres two days after deciding to take LinkedIn seriously (I increased my contacts from 25 which I had forever a year to over hundred in two days!).

It was now time to rush back and listen to Marissa. The talk was about the physics of search, and she explained what Google was up to and the different projects they were up to. What was very interesting was the power of Supe crunching when large sets of Data are available. An example was the split testing they used to choose the shade of blue for links on their sites.  Mind you, nothing you see on Google is a coincidence.  If you are interested, the bluer the link, the more likely it is to be clicked. During the question time, I asked her what Google was doing to change the growing image that Google is getting too big. Because they seem to be in any business I try to go into.  She explained that people will have to innovate harder and used Twitter as an example of what Google had missed.  Well, I was not really satisfied with the answer but I had to accept with a smile. I still think Google should do more to ally the fear that they can get into any business and destroy any competitive advantage you might seem to have. We do not want our dear Google to become a Microsoft.

Marissa Mayer presenting
Marissa Mayer presenting

The main point of the day came, Meeting Marissa. I immediately strategized and went out and placed myself in a place to intercept her. Looking back I did a stupid thing! I played her my Marissa message tone and I do not know what she thought of it or me. Well, I spoke to her about the interest I had in using technology in bringing true democracy to my dear Nigeria. She seemed interested and gave me her card to contact her. (I am officially two degrees of separation to Larry and Sergey). Well I asked to take a picture with her and gave the President of CUTEC the camera to do the honors. I am not sure he found it funny because the first picture is taken was incredible. He graciously took it again and I thank him for that. Hermione  of  Techfluff and Newspepper came and joined for another picture.

Oo, Marissa and Hermione
Oo, Marissa and Hermione

I rushed back for the closing lecture which was on renewable energy by Michael Liebreich, Chairmaan/CEO of New Energy Finance and he showed a lot of insight. I wish I have the slides of the lectures. After the lecture; I began to wonder if renewable energy is the hope of Nigeria and Africa. I am hoping that as the mobile phone is bridging the technology gap it would be renewable energy that will lead us out of darkness.

A bit of more networking took place afterwards and I was particularly pleased to meet with Alan Heppenstall AndDanny King who are founders of the Durham Entrepreneurs society,  Leah Magoye of Enternships and Cong Cong Bo the Chairman of CUE.

The return to Warwick was uneventful as I had mastered the use of the GPS and the Nokia maps.  I have to return to Cambridge, I just love the atmosphere! There is no sight better than beautiful brilliant girls riding bicycles. That is all folks!

Joel, Kostas and Oo
Joel, Kostas and Oo

A  slide show of the few pictures I took are below.