Web Summit 2014 – Wrap Up

In Startup Learnings by Sébastien FluryLeave a Comment

For the third year in a row, I’ve been attending Web Summit in Dublin early November. In 2012, around 6’000 people attended the event, which made it already the biggest tech event in Europe. It has become much bigger (and according to its founder, Paddy Cosgrave, « it can, it will be even bigger next year »), to reach 22’000 people. Around 2’200 (!) startups over 3 days had a booth in the startup village (it’s even more « The Grand Bazaar of startups » than last year), of which 10% had a chance to pitch on one of the 3-4 dedicated stages. Among all these startups were a lot of Swiss startups (but « who cares? Shouldn’t be a startup global citizenship from day 1 »?), like WiCard, Unono, Bookbedder, Prodibi, Fitaborate, iRewind, Swispon Corp, PrYvmobino, Konduko, Shoreli, etc. And probably a lot more that I’ve missed (if you were there and I haven’t mentioned you – please add your startup in the comments)! I’m curious to listen to all feedbacks about the effectiveness of having a booth. What I’ve heard and seen is that it’s even more complicate to stand out of the crowd there. Some founders I’ve talked to told me they were extremely disappointed.
As well as there were mourn 600 investors announced at the event, many startups haven’t met any one at their booth. According to my discussions with investors, it seems that there are 2 philosophies for investors to being there:

  1. one part thinks that it is their responsibility as investors to be present and meet startups. Even if that’s quite a hard job to listen to dozen of pitches, get « hunted » and meet hundreds of entrepreneurs. But finally… is it really that hard? Do you think that being an entrepreneur is an easy job?
  2. the other part doesn’t even go in the startup alleys, or hide the colored line of their badge (red one was investor one), just show up for the meetings they had planned before and stay with other investors in « hidden places » (more on this in my next post!). A shame? Scandalous? I let you decide, but I’m sure everybody can also understand it (even if we, entrepreneurs, would love to be hunted by people – it’s not exactly what happens when you’re building a startup!).

It is hard to give a proportion regarding these 2 categories. But I think ⅓ – ⅔ seems to be close to the reality. And even if all investors were visiting the booths, I’m not sure that it is the most effective way for startups. among all the pitches they hear, all people they meet, how can they remember you? You can have a good pitch, but odds are high that they won’t remember you anyway…

IMHO, Web Summit is doing such a great marketing job that entrepreneurs have too much hopes toward the ROI they can make out of it. Management of expectations. My best advice to startups applying next year: don’t put too much hopes on the effectiveness of having a booth. It’s a good way to practice your pitch hundred times a day. And you’ll see that your pitch will probably evolve a bit… It’s a great way to receive feedbacks from many (random! Not especially investors) people. It’s also cool to be there if you’re a young team, that can help you solidify your team and your team spirit. But don’t expect having Peter Thiel or Dave McClure stopping by at your booth and sign you a check ;-)!

This year, Web Summit had also many different stages (Build, START, Marketing, Enterprise, Sports, Music, Main Stage). So you were able to attend a really wide range of different topics and every stage had great presenter. For instance, on the Sports stage, WebSummit had the successful football player Rio Ferdinand or Manchester United Manager Richard Arnold. Or Head of digital of Beyonce, Lauren Wirtzer, or Adele’s manager Jonathan Dickins. Amazing… And there were even superstars Bono or Eva Longoria! Unfortunately, neither Bono or Eva were accessible (and you know that I normally find my way to the people I want to meet!). But I can understand it, there are big superstars, finally…

For me, Web Summit was finally great. I’ve found my way to meet people I wanted and other smart people. Even if I think that too big makes it less effective. The most frustrating point was that now, the event is not completely at the same place (10min walk from main to marketing/sport&music stage). Food Summit (the place were people eat) was also 10min farer away. In a beautiful park, but you were losing almost 1h from the main stage to go eating. However, it was impressive to see the logistics at work. 22’000 people eating in less than 2 hours. And you had only 5-7 minutes to wait to grab your food! Even McDonalds is not always that effective! Congratulations for this, too.

And here are my 3 final take-aways from WebSummit 2014:

  1. We can all learn a lot from Web Summit. If someone knows how to market an event, it’s Web Summit! They are master of growth hacking… Of course, they are probably emailing too much. I’ve discovered that they are more than just an event organizer: they are a real startup, developing a software product to improve the quality of events and to match people adequately;
  2. The biggest challenge you have during such a conference is to « filter the noise ». What do I mean? First, you see a lot of different startups, many of which are just nice projects and probably without a real business behind (not criticizing, it’s cool!). You also meet a lot of people who promise you a lot of things, but not even make any follow-up. You hear a lot of different comments on your project, and you have to decide which to keep and to adapt;
  3. The atmosphere of such a big conference is extremely energizing and tiring at the same time!

What were your impressions of WebSummit 2014?