The only Way is Up: Web Summit Conference

The only Way is Up: Web Summit Conference

When Tech Conference Web Summit took place again in Lisbon last week with around 70,000 participants, the event was one of the most successful industry events globally. A long way up from its humble beginnings 10 years ago, when the first Web Summit staged a meeting of a few hundred tech bloggers, journalists and industry leaders in a Dublin hotel during the Irish economic crisis. The rise of an obscure industry event to a globally recognized startup exchange – how did this happen? And what can young entrepreneurs learn from Web Summit’s success?

When young Irish software entrepreneurs Paddy Cosgrave, David Kelly and Daire Hickey organized their first conference for start-ups and investors, it was a time of global economic crisis, with their home country of Ireland hit especially hard. Initially an event purely by invitation and taking place in a Dublin hotel, it promised startups the much needed contacts and attention. Two years later, the Web Summit saw three times as many attendees. Among them the then unknown Uber, who managed to secure a 26 million dollar investment during the event. The Web Summit 2018 attracted 70,000 participants and has bagged a 10-year deal with its new host city of Lisbon. This sensational growth has many success factors – here are the five most important ones.
The product: a win-win for all
A successful startup needs many helping hands. But how can newcomers obtain these valuable contacts? How can investors gain an overview of the fast-paced startup market? Web Summit filled this gap – with an opportunity to bring together startups and their future business partners, political and media sponsors, in a both professional and informal setting. Everybody wins. An idea that was simple, easy to pitch and thus very compelling, building the foundation for the Web Summit’s success.

Networking meets analysis
Relevant contacts and data are key for startups. Thus a self-developed algorithm that grouped together attendees of similar interest for sideline activities proved one of the main strengths of the Web Summit Events. Despite the increasing size, Web Summit places great emphasis on the quality of the contacts for their participants, hiring an ever larger team of data analysts. Spin-off conferences for various industries emerged. And a conference app has been developed that enables short-term contacts and personal meetings between participants. A clear advantage which also fuelled the growth of Web Summit.
Marketing first
Marketing is one of the Web Summit strategy’s corner stones. The first day after the Web Summit conference is the first day in the run up for the next one. Media reports and the enthusiasm of the participants are utilized to catch even more interest and to collect targets for their manifold direct marketing campaigns. Various early bird promotions or the “Women in Tech” initiative, which advertised heavily discounted women’s tickets and referrals for female speakers for the 2018 conference, are pushed many months before the actual conference, next to publishing ever longer lists of high profile speakers. This not only whets the appetite for the conference, but also estimates supply and demand.

Showing leadership
For many, co-founder Paddy Cosgrave is the Web Summit. His charismatic, yet Irish-casual personality is deliberately staged at the forefront of all things Web Summit. He is (gladly) meeting the public eye and his often polarizing appearance and approach but also social commitment repeatedly caused a stir and thus attention for the Web Summit. Having a strong leadership personality can be a great success factor, so if there is personality, don’t be afraid to show it.

Short-term controversy for long-term gain
In 2015, the Web Summit team decided to move the event from it’s birthplace Dublin to Lisbon, Portugal. A controversial decision that meant a lot of negative press in the Irish media. But Dublin simply did not have the capacity and infrastructure to secure further conference growth while keeping the participants happy. And so, while heavily disputed on the short-term, the decision proved just right for the Web Summit. With 20,000 more participants within two years and a € 110 million deal with the Portuguese government in the bag, its continued growth is guaranteed for up to 10 years. All the while Dublin still is home to the company’s headquarter and is currently hosting the smaller, but equally growing FinTech spin-off conference – “MoneyConf”. Another win-win.

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