So, here I go! Let me share with you our key takeaways from this event and how it compared to our expectations.
Web Summit is more of a festival with celebrities than a technology event!
Web Summit 2018 witnessed a crowd of 70,000 in Altice Arena with a luxurious opening event. If in last year’s opening, you were confused why a technology event kicked off with Rosario Dawson, Jessica Alba, Joseph Gordon Levitt or other average Hollywood celebrities and an actress’ new technology company, luckily this year’s opening remarks was delivered by the likes of Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of World Wide Web Inventor; Lisa Jackson, Apple’s Vice President of Environment; and António Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations.
Most of the big names you can imagine in tech had either a speaker, mentor, or a booth to represent them in the event. Like other years, the event was organized into different sections and categories such as startup booths (ALPHA, Beta, Growth), pitch program, partner booths, talks, workshops, roundtables, mentor hours and investor hours.
Web Summit has grown so big, and it has to stop!
Web Summit has grown so big that you sometimes think that it has already reached its full potential and has reached its limits. Not the limits of technology — but the limits of the people who are running it, the city which hosts it, and the resources that facilitate it. You will also wonder, “why the hell should 70,000 people attend a venue to visit technology companies and meet startups?”
Just this year, Web Summit sold 70,000 tickets which is 10,000 more than last year’s Web Summit 2017. And last year’s event sold 10,000 more than the previous year’s. The venue that hosts it in Lisbon, capital of Portugal, is quite huge. But still, is it 100% ready to handle the accumulating crowd year by year?
Web Summit’s relocation from Dublin to Lisbon was controversial and there still seems to be controversies around it. During the event days, we spotted protesting groups in the venue entrance complaining about the event. They were questioning if the city needs to spend millions of euros on the event each year while it’s not able to pay the police officers’ salaries.
This seems to be just one part of the story. There are also people who think Web Summit brings a lot of jobs and exposure to Lisbon, including the Uber driver that took us to Lisbon airport. The Portuguese government and the Lisbon mayor also seriously defended their decision to run this event in Lisbon. In fact, during the opening talks, they announced their decision on running Web Summit in Lisbon for another 10 years.
Not the best organization you can expect
Obviously, organizing an event for tens of thousands of people is not an easy job. The resources the city of Lisbon has to offer (or let’s say the city authorities have offered) to Web Summit might look insufficient when it comes to organizing an event this big. Most of the talks are too crowded that you can barely even hear the speaker from a mile away!
Workshops are supposed to be registration-only, but when you attend the workshop by registering in advance, you see that everyone is accepted and a 100 people are inside the workshop session!
It’s good that there are free food and water supplies around the halls in recyclable cups and bottles, but food queues during lunch are too long that you need to forget about the talks you’ve scheduled and kill 1 to 2 hours of your time just to feed yourself.
The Night and Sunset Summit events, which are supposed to be where networking happens, are also sometimes too crowded. You have to wait a sweet 40 minutes to get a beer from one of the bars. Yes, this happens when you run an event only while only thinking about the amount of tickets you sell and not considering if a proportional amount of resources are available in your event locations.
In the last day of the event, a big crowd, including us, was denied entry to the venue. We waited outside under the rain for over an hour, without any update or explanation. After that excruciatingly long wait did somebody announce that a new entrance door is opened for us as there was a safety risk caused by the wind in the venue entrance.
We lost some of the talks and appointments we had in that period. Imagine if our booth presentation day or investor hour meetings were scheduled for that time. That’s a damage nobody will take responsibility for!
Talks vary from below-average to just average!
However, this does not mean that there were no useful talks there. I attended some good talks by likes of Rob Pegoraro of Yahoo Finance, Igor Perisic of LinkedIn, Ben Silbermann of Pinterest, Sarah Bird of Moz, David Rusenko of Weebly, Ron Miller of TechCrunch, Adrian Cockcroft of Amazon, Ev Williams of Medium & Twitter, and so on, and I enjoyed them.
In fact, there was a talk, ‘Will an AI be your next Chief Marketing Officer?’ from Wes Nichols that was deeply relatable and inspiring for GrowFlow. But as I said, most of the talks seem to be designed with the the largest possible audience in mind. And that’s why most of the talks are not at expert level.
I also attended a talk called Growth Hacking, being a professional marketer myself, I was so eager to for a high-profile speaker to add to my existing knowledge about growth hacking, especially because of the fact that it was a workshop, and not just a talk.
Sadly the result was below average! And if you ask why, I’d say it’s because right next to you is someone who just heard about the term growth hacking, and the speaker needs to first talk about the importance of ‘speaking to your customers’ as a growth hacking method!
What was trending?
The range of topics covered in talks and workshop was pretty vast, but you could sense the trending topics are artificial intelligence, machine learning, conversational messaging, blockchain, flying cars, and big data. Apparently the craze about technologies such as VR (virtual reality) and AR (augmented reality) has calmed down and was less covered this year.
We joined Startup ALPHA program and it was actually good!
As already announced, Artbees unveiled a new product called GrowFlow, which is basically an intelligent marketing assistant for your website that’s run by A.I. We applied to the Web Summit 2018 ALPHA program months ago and was selected as the last group of startups in early stage to showcase in the Web Summit ALPHA program booths. We had a very small booth (1-meter wide).
But, the result of this one-day showcasing was surprisingly good that it exceeded our expectations. The amount of people standing by our booth was surprising! In fact, we were doing way better than many booths around us in the ALPHA presentation area. We were able to collect about a hundred early leads for our upcoming release of GrowFlow in early 2019. We were also able to collect a lot of valuable insights from bystanders about what they think about the GrowFlow prototype and what they wish to see in it.
The ALPHA program was organized in different categories such as enterprise software, health, AI, FinTech, etc., and you can expect relevant audiences to come to your booth following these categories. Some of the people who stop at your booth are really into your field as they have already read your profile in the Web Summit app or website. They’ll come right up with questions and comments that you should be ready for. You won’t expect some general bypassers with general interest in tech to stop at your office, which is good.
We were presenting a product that lies between marketing and AI in the first day of the event. The kind of people who stopped by our booth were mostly marketers, agency owners, developers and investors! Yes, you can expect some investors who are interested in your product to engage in some serious talk. Many of your bystanders were either invited by us via the Web Summit app or just found us in the venue.
Speaking of Web Summit app…
Well, Web Summit app helped us with the in-advance networking — finding and inviting relevant people to our booth in the presentation. But, the app itself was so painful to work with. It seemingly is developed with the cheapest and worst technologies to keep the costs low.
You work with this app many times before and during the event, and it keeps crashing, freezing or lagging. And you ask yourself — “is this the kind of app you can expect from an event this big?” You pay 500 to 700 euros, and this is the kind of app they created for attendees?
Our Mentor Hour was bullshit!
If you’re selected in the final ALPHA startup to present at Web Summit, you will be assigned a mentor based on your interests and your startup’s specification. Web Summit matches those interests with those of mentors in the database and connects them if a match is found. We were assigned an hour and location to meet with the mentor we were matched to about a month before the event.
But when we attended in the appointed time and location agreed upon, unfortunately for us, the mentor has not arrived yet and we were automatically assigned to another mentor who had apparently no idea about what we do.
So understandably, what he does is to just shoot some general mentorship pieces of advice, like what the definition of startup and Business Model Canvas is, to fill up the 15-minute session, and he shakes our hands goodbye.
To us, it appeared that ALPHA startups mentorship program is just a formal session that they don’t really care about. Not the event runners, as they said we cannot force mentors to attend on time (and a big exclamation mark here!), nor the mentor, because he basically did not know a thing about our startup and what it was about.
Investor hours are actually good!
Despite the terrible Mentor Hour, the investor hours are actually good! Just like mentor hours, Web Summit 2018 organizers share your startup’s info with the investors team (that attend from different investment firms across the world), and if any of them is interested in your startup, they will ask for a meeting with that startup. Our meeting with two of these investors was actually insightful and enlightening.
Great workshops this year!
Web Summit has some serious partner workshops this year from partners such as Amazon and Google. Although subjects were more technical, some useful workshops for non-developers and entrepreneurs were held about fundraising, lean startup, and more during the event.
Web Summit is for everyone! And that’s both a good thing and a bad thing!
I think every event should have a point of focus. When you try to make something that everyone can use, there’s a high risk of becoming mediocre and shallow. But one thing’s for sure, everyone in tech should at least visit Web Summit once on their life. It will definitely show you what an ideal tech event should be and should not be like.
On the other hand, if you know what you’re after and you worked and planned in advance, attending Web Summit can actually be beneficial to you.
Here is what you can benefit from Web Summit:
- If you have a product to showcase in one of the startups plan, and you know that your target users will attend the meeting, you can count a lot on Web Summit.
- If you want to meet new people and expand your network, Web Summit will help.
- It can help you meet investors and find investment opportunities
Here’s what you should not expect much from Web Summit:
- Learn from the talks. Although you can find some insightful talks, most of them are overcrowded, mediocre and ‘for everyone’.
- Mentor hours are a waste of time.