Listen to this article:
My first time at Web Summit, my first impression: IT IS MASSIVE. Massive regarding the numbers of stages (24), speakers (1200), partners, startups (1800)… but specifically regarding the number of people (70000). We can say “it is crowded” to the point that it could frustrated visitors.
I have attended to 23 talks during these 3 days + went from stand to stand and from alpha startups to beta startups as much as I can. So here my summary. Feel free to drop a comment for any questions about the event! 🙂
1. USER: keyword of the event
Be closer and closer with your users, your customers. Create a community. You have to know who are your customers, you have to meet your customers. You have to build your content, services and features based on customers expectations. You have to bring your online brand to life.
Here how I can summarize most of the talks I attended to. Building your business, your products as close as possible from what your customers want is what will make success of your brand.
It is not a new topic but today as competition is much more harder everyday, it becomes essential to differentiate from competitors. Knowing who is your customers may be the key.
I will not go through all the talks I attended as it can be repetitive, but what we can retain from major brands:
For Slack (Cal Henderson, CTO and co-founder)
Product is built on employee insights from big and small companies: how to improve productivity, have less distraction, save time to communicate.
For NYTimes (Graham McDonnell, International Creative Director)
Create persuasive technics for reading content: make it visuals (pages with visuals draw 94% more views on average), make it move, make it obvious. You have to engage readers and catch their attention.
For Google UX (Jens Riegelsberger, UX Director)
It is inconceivable to not understand the needs of the final users. Google meet continuously his users (e.g. for Google Map Go and the “Meet-the-User session”) to develop new features and inspire the team for improvements. New concepts come from trips organized by Google with a complete team (developers, product team, designers…): it is critical to involve full team from the beginning.
For Pinterest (Ben Silbermann CEO & Co-Founder)
Team spends time across the world with end-user to understand what can make Inspiration even more efficient. New features are added based on these insights: Shop the look, Visual search (understand what is inside an image), Lens (inspiration from photos you take).
For Casper (Constantin Eis Co-Founder) and Tamara Mellon (Jill Layfield Co-Founder and CEO)
Do not look only your core product but what is also around your product: what could you create for customers? (for instance, Casper with “How to feel asleep”)
You have to create stories with your customers (for instance, Casper with videos about “Unboxing his Casper mattress”)
2. AI: Is it finally here?
I attended to only 2 talks about AI:
– “Decision intelligence” by Cassie Kozyrkov Chief Decision Scientist Google
– “Big data and big insights” by Jager McConnell CEO Crunchbase, Zander Lurie CEO SurveyMonkey, Gaurav Dhillon CEO SnapLogic
Web Summit accorded a significant number of talks about AI. According to Crunchbase, 3000 AI companies have been funded in 2017 (over a billon USD) but AI is still a lot of promises, AI is not the reality yet. Most of the talks were still question marks:
How can AI… How AI will decode software for everyone.. Promises & pitfalls of the new AI era… Can AI be creative… Will an AI be your next Chief marketing… A better world with AI… Connecting AI with real world… What will be the impact of AI on the global economy…
AI may still appear confused for companies and considered as a black box. They work with partners providing AI services, but do not understand how it is build and what is inside. It is “trendy” to work with AI. Isn’t it?
Everybody can have same technologies but the difference will come when you will process your data. What value can you give to your data? How could you use data to better serve your customers? AI may scale you to a certain place, AI will help you to solve repetitive problems that involves dense processing.
Also it is to highlight that this year, Wayve, an AI startup which developed Machine Learning capabilities for autonomous cars, won the PITCH startup competition.
3. SEO: still underestimated (forever the poor relation of the web?)
4. STARTUPS: Grow your start-up in the right way
About 1800 startups represented at Web Summit, it is for sure one of the biggest strenght of this event, the number of startups you can meet in one place. Startups are split in three category: Alpha, Beta, Growth and the top of 170 startups (that have received under €3 million in funding) are also selected to participate at the PITCH Battle. Wayve startup won this year the competition, they developed Machine Learning capabilities for autonomous cars. Have a look here on their technology, it is promising.
To confirm the importance of Startups for the event, Web Summit has also announced on FT it will open its own $50m venture capital fund.
But among all these thousand of startups, why few startups will success? why so many will fail? I had the chance to pick 2 talks which were among my favorites speeches of the event. Arguments were clear and direct what I appreciate a lot.
1. When you start your startup, what I have retain from the talk of Elliot Jacobs about “Find your competitive advantage by defining your business and analysing the competition”:
– What problems you want to solve in 1 sentence
– How you can monetize your idea, you need an answer
– Stay focus on your idea: something “you can” doesn’t mean “you should”
– You have to decide where you have to put your core focus
– Outsourcing non-critical work > focus where you are very good at
– Remember that customers loyalty is much more harder than before (specifically for clients paying services)
– Define exactly what makes you unique in the market, where you excel
– You have to know the market better than your investor
– You have to know your competitors: why are you better?
– Be aware about the threats in your market (for instance GDPR…)
– Investors want to see if you have the vision, the long-term value, if you have sustainable competitive advantage
– What fear could you fix in your market? (examples of insurance and web security which are very profitable), how do you solve that fear for your customers?
– Everybody has a strength and a weakness > you need to know them
– Have fun for doing what you do for your product or service. Investors will like your energy
2. When you are already a VC backed company, what I have retain from the talk “From fast growth to sustainable growth” with Edith Harbaugh CEO LaunchDarkly, Nicolas Dessaigne CEO Algolia and Harry Glaser Founder & CEO, Periscope Data:
– Grow as fast as you can as long as you have path to profitability
– Be sure you are designing the product for the future and not for today
– How do you choose where to invest: scaling the core system, looking on the next door (new market, new country)
– Make sure that your growth is not lost later
– Make yourself more efficient, at one step you need experts to scale your skills
– You need to be intentional when yr team is growing > OKRs > your team has to understand that all team members are going to the same direction
– How you work has to be improved continuously (think about it every week)
– The fastest you grow, the less efficient you are
1. US speakers distilling the future?
Most of the speakers I have watched on stage were from US or working for US companies. If you look on the list of featured speakers (for instance the first 240) > 71 speakers (29,5%) speakers com from US or work for US companies, 129 speakers (54%) come from Portugal, 20 speakers (8%) come from UK (note that I did not calculated on full list of speakers as I guess that main of visitors want to listen to popular speakers or with high profiles from big companies)
High number of speakers from Portugal is understandable as the country is investing / betting a lot in the event for the next 10 years (maybe some quota demanded?) (see here announcement for the next 10 years) but as WebSummit is viewed as one the largest tech event in the world it can be surprising to see so many speakers from US or working for US companies. China, Japan or South Korea were quite quiet among speakers (found 2 talks about “China Tech Boom”). The countries were represented with stands but no trace of big brands (Tencent, Alibaba…)
2. Quality of the talks
Most of the talks I attended were good quality, meaning you learn something new and get advice about tech business or specific topics discussed. But what I can notice for few talks is the lack of “dynamic” between interviewers and speakers. For my opinion questions and responses were too soft and we did not go so deep in the discussion.
We come at Web Summit to learn new strategies and what works or not. 20 mins for a discussion is short, so better to have well prepared the interview and questions.
For instance we could expect more talks like Patagonia one. I did not attend to it but you can read here the post of my colleague about this talk.
On the other hand some talks were waste of time for me. For instance:
– Talk about “Beyond the rebrand: Moving fashion forward” with Burberry VP Marketing Digital. First half of the talk was about the new branding of Burberry (with a nice video I confess) and second half of the talk was about Air Jordan, introduced by the interviewer. I still do not understand the purpose of this talk.
– Talk about “Earning user trust” with Google VP Product Management. I was expecting to understand more how Google got the trust of billions of users and what could I learn, what could I use for my business. Instead we had 20min of reading Google slides to convince that Father Google is respecting our privacy and how he is the good student (with allusion of recent data leaks). As Google built its main business model on User Privacy, for sure we can expect that Privacy is its main priority.
Privacy of user was also certainly one of the main topic of Web Summit 2018. From Tim Berners-Lee (inventor of the World Wide Web) and his “Contract for the Web” to Christopher Wylie who reminded we are still far from what we can expect about a “real privacy”, it is clear that we have to end the “Digital Wild-West” where everything seems to be possible with user data.
3. About the event ITSELF
Globally the event is very well organized: registration at the airport is easy and quick, public transport to the event fast and efficient, entry to the venue is ok (you could wait for security check depends the time you go).
We can not complain regarding Services on site as well: many food trucks, free coffee all day long, free wifi, possibility to ask questions to speakers via WebSummit app, chat with other attendees via the app. And overall a friendly and helpful Volunteer team. Big up guys!
But… (yes we need a But)
We expect to meet many people at this kind of event, but at Web Summit you will meet A LOT! Moving from pavillon 1 to be pavillon 4 can be exhausting (believe me, at the end of the event you don’t want to do it anymore), access to some stages can be very difficult if you are late. So better to plan very well your calendar the day before or you will regret it, for sure (it is my biggest advice).
I also heard in the paths of the event that people were surprised to know that talks were already online (or stream live for Center stage) only few hours later. First reactions were “Wow so why do we have to pay so much the ticket?!” (even though I understand most of tickets are paid by companies). “Or why spending time for these talks? I should have go to the other one!”
If I go again to Web Summit next year I will take more time for other talks (like PITCH Competition) and watch the main talks on Youtube 🙂 .
WebSummit is a great event to go at least one time. You will have a global overview of the current status of the web tech and this at one and only place: Web Summit. But I have some question marks regarding the future of the event: the latest deal with Portugal will make this event bigger and bigger for the next 10 years.
Finding the right balance between quality of talks, startups, exhibitors and number of visitors could be the main challenge. When you do something big (mass), quality is something hard to maintain. But I am sure that Paddy Cosgrave knows where is the endpoint.