Yesterday, Zee announced he will be leaving The Next Web to focus on his own startup. Zee has had a huge influence on the site and he will be dearly missed. This also makes it a good time to look at where we plan to take this company, and what the opportunities are for 2014 and beyond.

When Patrick and I started thinking about our first event in 2006 we were simply in love with the Web. We figured it was the hottest thing in the world and we weren’t just watching it happen but we were playing a part in the development and growth of a medium that was re-inventing itself. These were the days of ‘Web2.0′ and for a few minutes we even considered naming our event ‘The Web2.0 Conference’. But even then we were looking ahead and we figured Web2.0 might be too trendy. We didn’t want to be renaming ourselves Web3.0 and Web4.0 every other year, so settled on ‘Next’ which seemed to make more sense as there would always be a ‘next’ web.

Within a year or two we decided that a blog to promote the conference would make sense as well. We figured one full-time blogger would be enough and the best thing that could happen would be that we would have our own media channel to promote our event. Fast forward a few years and you can see that we’ve grown tremendously and have become one of the biggest technology sites on the Web.

We inform millions of unique visitors every month who read page after page of posts and then share those stories to  tens of millions of other readers around the world. To put things in perspective; I very well remember the day we first had more than 1,000 unique visitors and the first day we did more than a million pageviews.

Today we have over a million followers on Twitter, almost 2 million followers on Google+ and a few hundred thousand people Like our page on Facebook.

I guess we feel confident we found an audience. Now what?

That’s the question we have been asking ourselves the past year or so. Before that we just focused on content, growth and reach. We wanted to score higher on Techmeme, get more followers, increase traffic and score higher on Technorati. Doing better in indexes and seeing growth is awesome of course, but somewhere along the lines you also start wondering what it all leads to. Is bigger always better? If we double our traffic overnight, would that make us happier?

Well, yeah, we do get a kick out of seeing our numbers increase and our reach improve. But we also want to be a company that serves an audience well, generates a decent profit, produces great content and makes people’s/entrepreneurs’ lives better. So that is going to be our focus for 2014.

To us, technology feels like a warm bath

At the start of this post I explained how we felt when we first launched this company – how we fell in love with the Web, and were happy to not just see it all happen but played an active part in its development as well. The funny thing is that this hasn’t changed at all. We still see enormous potential for growth – worldwide growth. This is one thing that separates us from our competitors.

We used to say that reading The Next Web makes you realize that it’s the W(orld)WW and not the A(merican)WW and I think that’s also one of our many competitive strengths. Right now about 35 percent of the world population is connected to the Internet in some way. That grew more than 500 percent in the past 10 years. We are very much aware that this is a global phenomena. This worldwide focus will make an even bigger difference in the future.

Another difference between us and most other publishers is how we look at technology as the core of our company. We don’t see ourselves as traditional publishers. We want to disrupt publishing. As geeks, developers, editors and entrepreneurs, our history lies in technology. That makes our view on things different from most publishing companies who tend to see technology as a necessary evil. They shy away from it when possible, as if it’s a cold shower. They might adopt it to survive, and they might do well, but that’s a totally different mindset. To us, technology feels like a warm bath. We embrace new services, new technologies and even invent some of the services that form the foundations of our growth.

In 15 years, there will be more people online than there are people on earth today. These are amazing and thrilling statistics. All these people will want to find out what is happening in the rest of the world, what technologies and tools matter, how to be more efficient and what to learn from seasoned entrepreneurs. They will all find their ways to sites like The Next Web that have their own voice and are run by people who are as passionate about this as they are.

I look forward to 2014, to 2024, to 2034 and the many milestones we will reach and I hope to be a part of this company until at least 2064. And of course I hope you will keep surprising us with your criticism, tips and comments as we see the world change around us, and make it change together.

Happy new year, and most of all, happy new world!