Web Summit

The Web Summit is growing, but needs to grow up

Image: Web Summit

6 November 2015

Having spent some time at the Web Summit this week, I am once again struck with a sense of ambivalence. 

The energy, vibrancy and sheer optimism of the event is undeniable and infectious, but it is also draining and ultimately wearing.

First of all, it is now vast and attracts so many attendees as to challenge many a good venue, not least the RDS. Secondly, it can be hard to navigate its massive diversity to get a meaningful experience from it, irrespective of who you are, punter, pitcher, investor or speaker — and that goes doubly so for press. 

Having been to Oracle’s OpenWorld recently, the contrast is marked. OpenWorld is so well organised as to be almost military, but it has the benefits of decades of experience and a venue that is suited to its 50,000 attendees, exhibitors, speakers and adherents. 

How ironic is it when people wail and gnash their teeth at the lack of government interference in a free market for accommodation for attendees of an event that showcases the entrepreneur? 

But ultimately, that is not the point. The Web Summit needs to grow and if that means going beyond these shores, then it is the duty of the owners to bring it wherever they judge that growth can be best served. But, I would contend, that Web Summit, more than needing to grow, also needs to grow up. 

The era of the entrepreneur is passing now and its work is done. We are all now painfully aware of that person in our lives, or work environ, who always talks about the same thing, often in fevered manner, looks a bit sleep deprived, possibly drinks too much coffee and works odd hours who is most probably an entrepreneur getting a business off the ground with a mad idea that will change the world. We all now know they are a key driver of many industries, not just tech, and we are unlikely to forget that they need certain supports, encouragement and mentoring to allow them to deliver on those ideas to become viable businesses. We get that, we appreciate it and we owe a debt of gratitude to events such as the Web Summit for highlighting this and the breadth of such talent and ability in Ireland. But enough already.

What we also need is a movement and event that supports the companies that have transformed their idea into a product or service and is successfully selling these things but is not necessarily as business savvy or ready as they need to be to potentially manage the growth spurt into an Uber or Airbnb or SmartThings. 

In the same way that the entrepreneurs were taken, turned into the rockstars of the business world and given all they needed to thrive, so the same needs to be done for the early stage businesses that, having proven themselves with initial sales and customer engagement, now need to grow massively, quickly, but without losing either their essential character as a business, or the ability to capitalise on the opportunity. 

And I’m not the only voice crying this in the tech event bewilderness. 

A few key consultancy companies are making a greater number of bigger bets on smaller, earlier stage companies to get them in the stable, as it were, before they turn into an unmanageable monster. 

So while the Web Summit did have certain classifications for companies at different stages, I think as much of a focus needs to be placed on that critical early growth stage where the entrepreneur steps back to allow business managers do their thing. Business strategy and digital transformation need to be at the heart of the resources made available to these companies to foster their growth to become viable enterprises, not just targets for acquisition. And that would be where I would focus a lot of resources, were I to be heading to Lisbon with the managerial crew. 

While it is a pity to see such a prestigious and valuable event leave these shores, if that is what it needs to grow — and mature — then let it go and come back stronger.

However, I do find it ironic that in the lead up to the event, so many bemoaned the rampant profiteering and organisational issues encountered. 

How ironic is it when people wail and gnash their teeth at the lack of government interference in a free market for accommodation for attendees of an event that showcases the entrepreneur? 

But it seems the Summit organisers were a little misguided on a few aspects of organisation, as was pointed out on Newstalk Radio by an organiser of the Ploughing Championship, which successfully puts 400,000 people in a field for a week every year, with food, Wi-Fi and a traffic plan to get them in and out. The Ploughing person pointed out that they did not deal with the office of an Taoiseach for a traffic management plan, they spoke to An Garda Síochána.

And finally, things may be different in Lisbon, but there might also be many familiar things too — such as up to a 400% mark-up on hotel rooms.




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