Live updates: an entrepreneur’s take on Web Summit

Web Summit
Web Summit
Christopher Goodfellow
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Andrew Weaver, co-founder of LawyerFair, is reporting live from Web Summit to give you updates on everything from the latest hot tech startup and advice for entrepreneurs, to the hassles of navigating the local taxi firms.

Web Summit is described as The Glastonbury of tech, and as regular attendee of the former and enthusiast of the latter it’s a hotly anticipated event in my calendar.

With 50,000 attendees, from the CMO of Facebook to footballer Ronaldinho to a host of brilliant startups, it’s going to be a hotbed of fascinating innovation, ideas and entrepreneurial energy.

Use these links to skip to different sections:

  1. The pre-show show
  2. Day one: Trump’s casts shadow on global progress
  3. Day two: Robotics, Tinder, Nasdaq, shock and awe
  4. Final day

Final day: Web Summit

The flight back from Lisbon was subdued, as weary Web Summit returnees reflected on 72 hours that would satiate the most zealous techie.

And the official numbers make for impressive reading, if you like your events big:

  • 53,056 attendees from 166 countries
  • 17 stages, 677 speakers, 1,490 startups
  • 97,000 pasteis de nata consumed (considerable % of them by me)
  • Facebook stream picked up by more than four million people around the world

Speakers included CTOs from Facebook and Amazon, Tinder founder Sean Rad, footballing legends Luis Figo and Ronaldinho, professional surfers and a little Hollywood stardust, with Shailene Woodley and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

The city of Lisbon was an ideal location. Warm in all aspects of their welcome, the huge Feira International de Lisboa and adjacent Meo Arena a perfect conference venue, the cobbled streets a charming venue for after-hours networking.

Key takeaways?

1. Be wary of the startup bubble

Tech geeks have become rock stars. Some strode the stage with considerable ‘rock star’ aplomb, but it’s success and chutzpah that can easily suck in the unwary, investor and entrepreneur alike.

Gary Vaynerchuk delivered a compelling day three presentation, at the heart of which was an alarm bell about the dangers of “fake entrepreneurship”, saying that “for every one Instagram, there are 500 instashits”. Whilst advocating the opportunities and joys of being an entrepreneur, he also warned of a need for greater self-awareness about the risks and dangers

2. Cross pollination of ideas

It’s a sector agnostic event, enabling a fantastic cross-pollination of ideas, entrepreneurs and investors, Whilst millennial were the largest share of the audience, I was struck by the variety of ages and interests represented, not only on the stage, but also within the attendees, with a relatively even number of men and women attending.

3. Big challenges ahead

We face enormous structural changes ahead in the work place, that will require significant  political leadership. Whilst the arrival of technology like cognitive AI and self-driving cars is still some time away, that horizon is getting closer and it’s clear that the political changes taking place today, are as nothing compared with the seismic changes ahead in little more than a generation.

4. Great ideas and sexy kit

Aside from those future concerns, there were some fabulous ideas and super bright entrepreneurs on show. It was a joy to listen and watch so many inspiring speakers and incredible products.

Far too many to capture here, but a shout out to the winners of the Pitch 2016 competition; Kubo is a Danish start up providing an educational coding robot for kids, which teaches them to code through play. Kids of the next generation will be the ones who have to negotiate the huge changes ahead, so making it easier and instinctive for them to learn code has got to be a winner.

5. Pace yourself…

…particularly, if you’re a more mature attendee. Three full on days and extended nights began to take their toll on this correspondent. Thank goodness for Web Summit wrapping up the key points from each major presentation, within downloadable summaries.

It’s a useful resource for those that couldn’t attend and a valuable memory trigger for those who could.

6. Size isn’t everything

Whilst a fantastic event and one I’d recommend attending, there was also a sense of over reach. Regularly shouting about how big and popular you are, doesn’t count for everything, and the conference’s size and scale was pretty much the only negative.

For every one Instagram, there are 500 instashits.

They need to iron out minor logistic issues. Registration queues were enormous, entrance and exit process painful, and the signage was hit and miss - not great when trying to negotiate such a large space. I found their app to be of limited value, the ‘matching’ algorithms nonsense (top of my list of “personalised recommendations” was Tinder CEO, Sean Rad…).

The enormity of the event and the numbers involved also means that making meaningful connections, at least during the day, was quite challenging.

It’s one of the reasons why the night summit takes on an important role in helping to achieve deeper connections with some of the attendees and the reason why I justified attending all three nights.

Videos of the speeches are available on Web Summits Facebook page.

Day two at Web Summit: Robotics, Tinder, Nasdaq, shock and awe

Day two of Web Summit was remarkable in many ways. It was a day of robotics, Tinder, Nasdaq, shock and awe. Of rage, bewilderment, sunshine and showers.  

We opened our bleary eyes to a new world order and headed to the Feira Internacional de Lisboa where tech giants, Valley gods and passing astronauts mingled with the palpable shock and disbelief felt at events elsewhere in the world.

Facebook CSO Alex Stamos visited to discuss safety - “if we’re going to connect the world, it’s also our responsibility to connect the world safely” - defining safety as being different from security because “you can build secure software and yet people can still get hurt”.

With access still focused around the dated paradigm of user name and password, he explained Facebook now takes 80 data points about the individual and feeds it into a machine learning model which asks: “Is this really the person I think it is?”

Space won’t be the final frontier with astronaut Mike Massimino and Naveen Jain, founder of Moon Express, opened with the question we’d all like to ask: “What’s it like to be in space?”

Massimino admitted a brief, pre-launch thought; “Maybe this wasn’t such a great idea.” Before confirming that he experienced more celestial moments when looking back at earth.

Three enormous halls throbbed to a smorgasbord of hi-energy pitching and demonstrating as a mass of startups looked for opportunities.

Talking of space entrepreneurship the panel argued that the government can hand over a lot of the excitement and get lots of people thrilled. It concluded with a vision that we would have gone to Mars and have some kind of settlement there by 2050: “I hope we can better understand where we came from and find a better way to move around and discover new life.”

Martian Chronicles, here we come!

A Web Summit tradition took place with the remote opening of Nasdaq but today, with eyes of the world watching market reactions to Donald Trump’s election victory, it felt distinctly removed from the norm.

Other highlights included, an extraordinary demonstration of a rather sinister #sophiabot, with Ben Goertzel from robotics firm Hanson Robotics explaining: “It’s important the super intelligent robots have love and compassion, and when they smile at you, they mean it.” Perhaps they can teach some of the humans still struggling to master these qualities?

The final act on the main stage was amongst the most hotly anticipated, an interview with Sean Rad, CEO of Tinder but, frankly, delivered little illumination. 

Web Summit - Sean Rad

A roll call of their achievements - 20bn connections, 196 countries and 142m one night stands [ed: that last stat might be made up] - stood rather blandly alongside the earlier mars landings, intelligent robots and Mr Nasdaq.

Elsewhere, three enormous halls throbbed to a smorgasbord of hi-energy pitching and  demonstrating as a mass of alpha and beta startups looked for multiple opportunities to attract converts, advocates and investors to their ‘ground breaking’ piece of kit. 

It’s impossible not to get swept up in the energy and unbound enthusiasm but, it is very possible that any further references to MVP, CPA or LTV might lead me to grab the next available Uber and a rapid exit to the airport. 

Interesting analysis emerged about sectors attracting the most investor activity, with Fintech the most popular sector, with 14 startups making the top 50 companies of interest to investors and AI just behind with 12.

But, it’s impossible to conclude a review from day two of the Web Summit, without referencing the tech glitterati’s reaction to events in the US.  No apologies for mixing politics and tech, because the accelerating pace of technological innovation and recent geo-political events are inextricably linked and permeated almost every interview and panel discussion through the day.

‘I don’t care that a drone will deliver my book. I want to know where my child will work.’ It’s important for us to recognize our civic duty.

No-one captured rage and incredulity better than Dave McClure from 500 Start Ups, getting to his feet on the main stage to exclaim that he was “f******g pissed at the result” and imploring the audience to “fight fire with fire” .  

He also raised this question: ”Are we holding leaders of very large companies up to the same level of standards as leaders of countries with similar populations?”

On the same stage, Eileen Burbridge, partner at Passion Capital and the UK government’s special envoy for fintech, admitted: “I’m saddened because all of us were feeling so empowered in working in tech and thought we were being inclusive — we were somehow too insular and didn’t realize the divide that existed.

“If you had asked me in June, I would’ve said to you we were reaching out and we were engaging people. But there are many people out there saying; ‘I don’t care that a drone will deliver my book. I want to know where my child will work.’ It’s important for us to recognize our civic duty”

And, as the dust settles, it’s clear that positive action will be required to combat the schism taking place within these newly formed economic tribes, described by journalist Simon Jenkins as “the new politics of insider vs. outsider, city vs. province, success vs. failure”.

We all need to get our head out from behind the laptop and think about how technology can deliver greater benefits to everyone.

The outsiders have temporarily taken over the asylum and it’s a duty for all of us, particularly major players within the tech community, to play a role in understanding why, how and where technology needs to bridge, rather than widen the gap.

Techfugees is one example of an established initiative, where the tech community is responding to the needs of refugees and at Web Summit they launched a crowfunding campaign and opened a Portugal chapter.

We all need to get our head out from behind the laptop and think where we can make a difference in showing how technology, innovation and globalization can deliver greater benefits to everyone.

We headed off into Night Summit, to digest an extraordinary day by the River Tagus.

Day one: Trump’s casts shadow on global progress

How cutting edge and self-congratulatory we felt during day one of web summit. Not only was Lisbon our town, but the world was our playground. And then we woke up to President Trump and suddenly the energy, vision and messianic leadership are being viewed through the prism of seismic geo-political change.

Because, as if dealing with startup uncertainty wasn’t a big enough challenge in itself, we find ourselves for the second time in five months reeling from geo-political uncertainties unleashed by constituents who, as mentioned in my opening blog entry, feel ostracized from the change we champion with such optimistic enthusiasm.

Back to yesterday and, whilst it now seems a long time ago, some highlights …

The main stage opened with Mike Schroepfer, Facebook CTO’s speech: Are you ready to talk about the future?

He mapped out Facebook’s 10-year vision, where the focus is about connecting the 4.1 billion people who don’t have internet access and building truly intelligent machines with rich, immersive, VR experiences for connecting anything to anyone at any time.

It’s a vision that that will be delivered to cities via wireless urban networks and by building the backbone of rural connectivity from above; it’s not just drones that will be populating skies of the future.

Artificial Intelligence is the hot topic at web summit, you can hardly move for speculation about its future impact on everything from work, to help for the visually impaired. Everyone agrees that AI will transform everything; the only disagreement is how quickly.

Schroepfer explained that 2bn photos are shared every day on the Facebook network and they’re working on a mixture of AI and VR technology to enhance the social media experience.

More generally, VR technology is starting to accelerate and drive societal benefits such enabling people to get inside refugee camps and see directly how people live and survive, helping to drive greater engagement and charitable giving. And other examples included VR technology helping paralyzed patients to restore partial neuron control.

The talk concluded with how Facebook are developing a deeper integration of VR, including selfie shots of the future where you interact and feel close to people who might be thousands of miles, creating deep social connection over long distances.

Web Summit - exhibition

The pace of the day from thereon was relentless …

Daniel Saks (App Direct) and Jose Manuel Barroso (Goldman Sachs) discussed the role of government and the challenges for a Europe with no internal digital market, but 28 mini-digital versions.  Barroso advocated the end of roaming, as a first step removal of barriers and move towards greater digital integration.

Next, we went into a discussion around autonomous cars and Carlos Ghosn from Renault Nissan disclosed that China now represents one-third of the electric car market, from nowhere just five years ago. Renault Nissan now delivers (with incentives) an $8,000 electric car in China (their two-year target is to achieve that sale price without need for incentives).  

And, with the US election as the backdrop, a challenging discussion about What will future work look like? with Andrew McAfee (MIT) and Gary Marcus (Geometric Intelligence).

What happens when labour intensive tasks are taken up by machines and the future of humanity will not be taken up by work?  We will need to find out what makes life meaningful because when all this glorious technology gets a full grip into the mainstream, traditional jobs and even the aspiration to work will disappear.

And, with the US election as the backdrop, a challenging discussion about What will future work look like?

The conversation centred on not when, but if this happens. Whilst AI might not dominate for another 30-40 years, it was suggested that we’re only a few years away from talking to a piece of technology when calling companies. And we’re not talking a hold call facility, we’re talking cognitive interactions.

When that employment paradigm starts to shift, will governments have to deliver a universal basic income to the millions with little or no hope of ‘traditional’ work or will the new economy be able to generate new types of employment?

Perhaps the new companies will be able to employ the same numbers, but in different roles? After all US employment numbers are up, despite swathes of traditional work coming to an end.

The change we’ve seen to date, will be dwarfed by the change to come and the consensus appears to be daunting; there will simply not be enough jobs to go around and, if it’s a measure of a healthy society, to create the opportunities for everyone to work. How will future governments cope with that paradigm shift and how can we make life meaningful, if not through work?

Can society make us independently wealthy enough to enjoy our lives, without the imposition of work?  Will there be a post work utopia and, if so, what structural challenges and confrontations will we have to deal with to get there?  

In 10, 20 or 30 years, the discussion will not be about China taking our jobs, but robots taking them.  It’s worryingly fertile ground for the demagogue where a future Donald Trump will be railing against robots, not bad trade deals.

In the evening, it’s time for Night Summit and 50,000 attendees pour out onto the streets of Bairro Alto for a release of steam, ideas and business cards, temporarily shelving that foreboding sense of an electoral earthquake to come.

Night Summit

Web Summit: The pre-show show

Hilly, historic, gorgeous Lisbon is playing host to Web Summit 2016, an event described as the Glastonbury of Tech and what the two events might not share in mud, they absolutely do in scale and ambition.

Web Summit has grown remarkably quickly, from a 2010 meet-up for 400 local technologists in Dublin to an event attracting more than 50,000 delegates across three days of presentations, panel discussions and startup demonstrations.

Last night saw the opening ceremony preceded by a panel discussion about ‘new realities,’ with a heavyweight panel of Mogens Lykketoft (United Nations), Roberto Azevedo (WTO) and Jose Barroso (Goldman Sachs). In particular, they looked at how government can deal with the forthcoming seismic structural changes as technology and disruption penetrates ever further into traditional markets and, with that, the anxiety that huge change will bring.

Major questions to the panel included: “Are politicians going to be strong enough to prepare the electorate for major changes… as artificial intelligence, self-driving cars and wider disruption push deeper into mainstream use?”

A debate which led the panel to agree that strong political leadership is going to be crucial in helping people adapt to the new realities and a globalization that is now unstoppable.

Lykketoft was particularly concerned about governments’ ability to deliver because “politicians get their way with easy solutions and therefore we, as individuals and companies, need to put them under pressure to lead and to deal proactively with the structural changes ahead”.

But the battleground between incumbents and disrupters is becoming more bitter and divisive and Lisbon today provided a stark example of this growing tension.

Upon arrival at the airport, I was transported into the city by a snarling, capricious, rip off merchant who drove with a disregard for passenger safety and comfort that can only be explained by (a) he was helping remove me from a potential kidnap situation or (b) he had no interest in customer service, only a rapid exchange of passengers. Unable to find my destination, he snorted hostility towards a google generated set of directions before trying to charge 3x more than my colleague had just been charged by Uber.

Ah, Uber … perhaps the real reason behind his hostility?  Lisbon taxi drivers (as with many of their compadres around the world) are up in arms about this encroachment of technology.  But a later journey to the conference centre only clarified why Uber is completely disrupting the market; the driver being more courteous, efficient and cheaper, delivering us to our destination with a smile, a five star review and more euros in our pocket.

It’s a stark example of why technology will make a dramatic impact on long-established jobs and expectations, and why the transition needs to be handled with care and skill.

This will not be easy and the rise of the post-fact, populist politician is a worrying example of trouble ahead.

There can be no disagreement with the panel’s primary premise that we need to agitate for stronger political leadership, but the reality of political cycles means that leaders more often than not have to react to immediate challenges with a view to their own short-term survival. 

It will be equally crucial for technology leaders, and those of us who celebrate and champion greater global connectivity, to be sensitive about the impact of forthcoming change and help outline the digital benefits and vision for everyone.

The opening ceremony eventually took place with the Prime Minister of Portugal and Lord Mayor of Lisbon invited onto the stage by Web Summit Supremo Paddy Cosgrove, along with 150 startup entrepreneurs from our host country. Much razzle, dazzle and ticker tape drizzle formally opened the event.

And, Web Summit is not just an in-house tech love-in. The opening ceremony was not only watched by 15,000 people in the arena, but by one million and counting via Facebook.

Day one starts today and my challenge this morning, whilst enjoying a delicious pastel de nada, is to work out which of the hundreds of presentations, tech startups and demonstrations I most want to see - a selection dilemma I last experienced at Glastonbury.

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