Web Summit means 35 km on foot

Yes, it was that big. Web Summit 2018 hosted almost 70k visitors (10k is Swieqi’s population) and 1800+ startups in Lisbon from 5th to 9th of November.

So why do 70k tech people go to an offline and kinda old fashioned event after all? I don’t think that there is only one correct answer, but I think it is a little bit of everything:

  • 1200+ speakers
  • See some celebrities on stage
  • Free coffee and some other freebies
  • To be visible to VCs
  • FOMO
  • Networking opportunities day & night
  • Pastel de Nata
  • To make some observations about tech trends
  • A trade show for some companies and countries to attract talent

I was there to get a gist of the tech ecosystem’s whereabouts and get some fresh insights. There were 24 tracks to follow on more than 12 stages, excluding the off stage events from companies like Google, AWS, etc.

So it takes a lot of walking and running in between the stages. If you plan to to get there in the following years, make sure that you go there with a group of people and make a plan weeks ago to get the most of the event. Of course, you can always watch the sessions you missed on YouTube, but going there as a team, doing a daily sense check and investigating the venue together can be really amazing.

Unfortunately we could not get organised with other sumos on time and we all flew solo, but it may be even better to share our observations here on the blog to reflect the unique perspectives and/or challenge each other’s point of view to build on an insight. Here are my two highlights to start with:

Nothing is new while everything is changing

Machine Learning, AI, Blockchain, the art of attracting investments, the cost of growth… These topics have been exploited in almost all events within these last five years. So it is still going on: Some do not expect Blockchain to impact common people’s lives not in less than 7-10 years, some already announced that they have been talking with authorities in Malta about citizenship for the robots using SingularityNet platform on blockchain.

Data conversations were everywhere. The areas that AI and Machine Learning are being used is expanding enormously. From automotive to fashion, from content creation to GDPR… everybody is after the ways to be much smarter with rules, algorithms and create lots of content accordingly. Therefore according to IBM; only in USA there will be 2.7 mio positions around data sciences by 2020. In my humble opinion, the threat and the opportunity is the same and it is pretty clear in this case: In a world where data and content is abundant, what can make your content or your product to be more meaningful or more appealing to the audience? If relevance will not be optional but the norm –  what will make your sales content stand out and be appreciated?

There may be many answers to that question but Netflix’ CPO Greg Peters shared very nice insights about ‘relevance’. He made us realise how narrowcast Hollywood’s production was -and still is- when you consider the interest areas of whole global population. He said their local productions like 3%, El Casa de Papel and Dark showed them there are much more people to cover than Hollywood’s target audience as native English speakers with a western life style which represent just 5% of the whole world. And this is not the success of localisation only, because all these productions were consumed globally as well as USA productions like House of Cards, Stranger Things or Orange is the New Black…

Trust is scarce on every level

There were three major trust issues mentioned over and over which seem to have a massive impact in tech ecosystem:

  • Respect for Privacy: Facebook was not there and people talked behind their back a lot. They were questioning their business model which is abusing data to suck traffic into Facebook and its consequences. The need for a wind of change was evident with lots of emphasis on building trustworthy platforms and ideas. Next Generation Internet is being seen as necessary next step to create a sustainable future internet.

 

  • Mainstream Manipulation: We heard lots of “Fake news” conversations. It is not only about a country or any elections, but people are well aware how technology can be abused to create a public opinion and/or feed polarisation. Media representatives and journalists -as expected- claim to be very responsible about it, they talk about content safety a lot. On the other hand, the amounts of content that they have been publishing every minute is getting more and more. It is already mind blowing to hear that even mid size content creation companies can manage to test thousands of contents for their clients every week. So with such a scale, media need to trust the ‘machine’ to choose well for them among all that ‘vomit’ at the end of the day. And we need to trust them to do so?

 

  • Authenticity: This is more of an introverted topic compared to the first two. Most of the speakers who represent giant tech companies were putting a very honest auto-critic about the wrong decisions they made for the sake of growth. Not very openly, but they were referring to the unbearable pressure coming from the investors for growth and its unpleasant consequences. They were advising the new startups to bootstrap as much as they can, and choose a slow growth to be able to chase their dreams. So sustainable growth, sticking with the values, focusing on learning first to be able to replicate success, building stronger brands… These messages were very popular. An interesting case about authenticity was coming from Slack. I didn’t know that Slack was a by-product of a games company. So the people who created Slack were working together to design and deploy games, but not an enterprise communication software. Their story is very inspirational to see how entrepreneurship functions, and to understand how creativity and fluidity can help a culture to focus on solving real problems rather than just delivering what they are supposed to deliver.

And a quote from Slack’s Cal Henderson also summarises the whole event real well. He said -more or less-: “It is very easy and it is a trap to find yourself being really busy. You’re probably too stuck in tactical, day to day work, and you’re not focusing enough on the long term… Even if long term means just three months from now.”. And remember, this comes from a leader who was supposed to deliver a game not Slack.

So some of the tech people are too busy to deliver what they need to deliver to please the Investors. And some of them have the luxury to choose to focus on real problems of real people to get humanity to the next level…