#WebSummit Day 1 Review
This week I have the huge pleasure of being a small part in the Web Summit Live Team, a role which basically means I get a front row seat to see some of the world’s best entrepreneurs, technologists and innovators. It’s a real privilege and for my end of the bargain, I need to keep people updated on my day by composing lots of Tweets, taking Instagram pictures and writing a couple of blog posts along the way too.
I thought last year’s event was fantastic, but the 2013 Web Summit really is on a different scale with over 10,000 people in attendance, more than 900 start-ups and eight stages, plus a Food Summit. It’s bigger and better than ever before. In fact, there’s so many great talks going on at the same time that it’s difficult to choose where to spend your time. But one thing is certain: this is now a huge operation run by Paddy Cosgrave and the team – and they deserve a lot of credit for helping to create Europe’s fastest-growing technology conference AKA the Davos for Geeks.
Anyway, here’s rundown of what I observed, learnt and liked today:
I kicked off today’s proceedings by paying a visit to the Cloud Stage where Barak Regev, Head of EMEA Cloud Platform at Google spoke about the global power of the search engine’s infrastructure. The talk offered a real insight into what Google does beyond the consumer products we’re all so familiar with. I must confess that Cloud is not my area of expertise, but it was fascinating to hear about the hardware Google makes, the software it builds and the data infrastructure connecting it all. Barak emphasised how mobile is a key enabler of Cloud, and that we now have three types of Cloud: public, private and hybrid Clouds. He also spoke about scaling quickly, failing quickly and failing cheaply.
Next up was John Considine, CTO at Verizon Terremark – an enterprise IT company which boasts the world’s largest IP network. John gave an insightful talk about the plans Verizon Terremark have to enable clients, be they developers, enterprise of government to have complete control over the type of Cloud they want. Again, as someone with limited Cloud knowledge it was good to get a feel of where this exciting technology is headed.
After the talks, there was a Q&A session featuring Barak Regev and John Considine who were joined by Yuri Misnik, Head of Solutions Architecture at Amazon and Ray O’Farrell, Senior VP of R&D Cloud Infrastructure at VMware. I’m a big fan of Q&As as they get the conversation flowing and are often more insightful as they give the panel the chance to delve into more detail and explore different views.
Throughout the discussion trust and security were touched upon as big issues for Cloud adoption, but it seems the argument has evolved and the focus is now on legislation, as lawmakers struggle to keep up with innovation. Interestingly, there was much talk of consensus, standardisation and the requirement for strong leadership from Cloud innovators to help customers navigate the complexity surrounding these issues. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see more collaboration from the Cloud leaders in 2014 around these topics.
Digital Marketing Stage
Next I visited the Digital Marketing Stage where the charismatic Ben Parr, an award-winning journalist, author, entrepreneur, investor and expert on attention spoke about earning attention for your start-up. Straight from the off, Ben emphasised the importance of relationships and derided press releases as a way for start-ups to gain attention.
Ben advised that your start-up marketing activity must has a clear purpose, such as reaching potential investors, gaining customers or increasing job applicants, and emphasised the importance of being able to sum up your business in a single sentence. For me, they key quote from Ben’s talk was ‘start-ups that succeed don’t know nobody’.
In short, Ben’s point is that it’s vital to cultivate a professional network of connections, and when developing them, don’t be afraid to mention who you know – it helps validate your pitch. Ben ended his talk by focussing on the importance of getting your product right, but also developing relationships. They are a key driver of success.
Thirdly, I saw Gary Vaynerchuk, who is host of Wine Library TV, as well as a video blogger and well-known businessman. Without a shadow of a doubt his expletive-laden, high-energy talk was the highlight of the day. The engaging new-yorker told us how he started his entrepreneurial career as a five year-old, before earning thousands of dollars each week from baseball cards as a teenager, and then launching his online wine business when he realised people collected wine like they do baseball cards. All in all, it was quite a remarkable story and interestingly, Gary eschewed PowerPoint in favour of a punchy, pacy story.
To kick things off Gary stated that he feels much of today’s marketing and products feels like they belong in 2009 and in fact, we need more innovation. He went on to argue that when you’re busy innovating, calculating an ROI can be difficult, but this is the wrong approach and in actual fact we should stop being so selfish – and shift our focus away from ROI to providing value for our customers.
He also said that finding customers is relatively easy, but retention and lifetime value is an unsolved challenge for many start-ups. He cautioned that amongst all the innovation, building a sustainable business must always be front of mind. Gary then spoke about execution as a key differentiator and this is what matters to investors like him. There’s lots of people out there all working on similar projects, creating similar products, so work ethic and hustle is hugely important. Gary looks for entrepreneurs who work hard and smart, and he ended by reiterating the importance of the human aspect of business – and it is actually people, not technology that matter most.
All in all, it really was a great first day and I’m looking forward to seeing tomorrow’s speakers in action. But before then, there’s a whole evenings worth of events taking place around Dublin which i’ll be attending. It should be a fun night.