Three Lessons I Learned at the 2019 Edition of the World Web Forum

Beads of water raced across the window as we descended below cruising altitude, into the clouds and the grayness that homed Zurich’s airport. It had only been a few hours earlier that a friend’s Instagram story revealed a meter of fresh powder blanketing the mountains of Laax. Needless to say, I was stoked to be invited back for my fourth World Web Forum and the pre-conference where a big part of the bonding takes place. After the plane’s wheels touched down, I grabbed my backpack from the overhead bin, walked past a timeless rendition of Roger Federer welcoming all to the Zurich Airport and waited for the rest of my gear to be disgorged from the baggage carousel.

This year’s theme, ‘Master and Servant’, seemed quite fitting considering the pervasive nature technology has in our daily lives: minting millionaires, deciding elections and bringing hope to the disenchanted. In other words, making the rich richer, the poor poorer and giving those with the audacity to question the status quo tools to write their own narrative. But when it comes to the World Web Forum, technology is only half the story; the other half being the huge influence music has on the World Web Forum founder Fabian. At the conference, music is yin to technologies yang; the idea that “seemingly opposite or contrary forces may actually be complementary, interconnected, and interdependent in the natural world”.  I was personally thinking of Depeche Mode’s 1984 version of ‘Master and Servant’:

It’s a lot (it’s a lot)
It’s a lot (it’s a lot)
It’s a lot (it’s a lot)
It’s a lot (like life)

There’s a new game we like to play, you see
A game with added reality
You treat me like a dog, get me down on my knees

We call it ‘Master And Servant’
We call it ‘Master And Servant’

But knowing Fabian for over four years now, it isn’t 1980’s emo New Wave that gets him going. Fabian is a thoughtful, kindhearted metal-head so I can only imagine Metallica’s ‘Masters of Puppets’ or some other master and servant inspired theme. With a line-up that included some familiar faces as well as new ones, including none other than bassist Bill Wyman of the Rolling Stones, this year’s version was going to be “a life resetting” kind of experience.

With bag in hand, I proceeded past the green customs sign, through the security area and was met by a dark-suited man holding a sign with my name on it and the Metallica inspired logo of the World Web Forum. After introducing myself, we headed out the door to the fully-loaded metallic silver 2019 Volvo V90 Cross Country; quite possibly the best choice in a car considering we were heading into a meter or more of fresh powder. This was going to be my home for the next hour and forty-five minutes, so I made myself comfortable as we drove through a rainy Zurich to emerge into a steady pummeling of chunky snowflakes on the road to Laax.

What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? It’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.

— Jack Kerouac

Lesson 01: The Perfect Storm

The first day started out early with snow continuing to fall at a rapid rate; so much so that our plan to get on the mountain directly at eight thirty in the morning was brought to a halt as Laax was pondering which lifts they would and could open. As we sipped coffee (a rarity for me) we waited with baited breath for the lifts to go from red to green. On the bright side, the break in action gave me the time to switch my board from an all-round mountain cruiser to the more powder worthy off-piste Burton Fish.

An hour later, Laax opened up two lifts at the bottom of the mountain which ended up being the perfect set-up with just the right folks to be sharing it with. Or in the philosophy of the Don Valentine of Sequoia Capital, “Great markets make great companies. I like opportunities that are addressing markets so big that even the management team can’t get in its way.” With conditions like these, there was no way we were not going to make a great day of it.

You live like this, sheltered, in a delicate world, and you believe you are living. Then you read a book… or you take a trip… and you discover that you are not living, that you are hibernating.

— Anais Nin

Lesson 02: There Is Only One Laax

I learned to snowboard on the icy hills of Minnesota; first on snow covered golf courses and then later at places like Buck Hill, Trollhaugen and Spirit Mountain. When I was in college and moved to the Vail Valley for a year, I discovered not all resorts are created equal. Vail as a resort is quite possibly one the most hospitable places to enjoy 20 minute tree runs in champagne powder, and at the end of the day, have freshly baked, chocolate chip cookies waiting for you at the base of the mountain. In spite of all this goodness, there is one place that is by far my favorite place to enjoy a winter on the mountains. And that is Laax.

Just over an hour and forty-five minute drive from Zurich, at the base of the Vorab lies the village of Laax. With a population of just under 2000, short lift lines and amazing fondue, Laax is the kind of place that is best kept a secret. My love for Laax started in 2016; the year I was first invited to the World Web Forum and the pre-conference. This year was the fourth year in a row at Laax, and hopefully, not my last. From the hospitality at the hotel, to Gaalaxy’s kitschy 80’s inspired interiors 2,252 meters above sea level and the nearly 360° degree view of the mountain tops at the co-working space The Bridge, Laax is the kind of place that resonates with the love that is put into it by it’s care takers.

Laax really is one of a kind.

Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash.

— Leonard Cohen

Lesson 03: Team is Everything

In the venture capital world there is an endless debate: market, product or team?

When investing in a company, which matters most? For me it’s all about the team. And the core team of the World Web Forum, extended team at Laax, and speakers are a team I’ve invested my time with over the past four years making the most out of every short moment I’m with them. I believe a great team has the potential to make a positive impact out of any situation. Or in the words of Marc Andreessen:

“We struggle from a distance to evaluate market. And we also actually struggle to evaluate product. But if you can get yourself in business with really good people, I think number one: if it works it’s great, because those are really good people to be in business with and they, with you, can build something great. But even if it doesn’t work—if it’s the wrong market or the wrong product—you’ll still learn so much working with the right people and you’ll build such a valuable network for what you do next.”

So far, in my short journey with the World Web Forum, I have been privileged to be part of a team that is making a dent in world. Thank you Fabian, Nicole, Homie, Olga, Daniel, Kris, Reto, Tim, Jeff, Chris, Philipp, Ole, James, Claude, Wilhelm, Jacksón, Jenna, Stefanie, and Barbara for making it happen.