By Greg Brooks, Mindshare
Web Summit is only four years old, but has already grown from 400 people to 20,000 during that time and is now being spoken about as ‘the SXSW of Europe’. It is focused on the start up, VC and developer community, but under the Web Summit banner you also find ‘Digital Marketing Summit’, ‘Builders Summit’, ‘Enterprise Summit’, ‘Machine Summit’, ‘Music / Sport / Film Summit’, ‘Food Summit’ and PITCH (a competition between 200 start-ups).
This isn’t Cannes; and it isn't CES either. This is the realm of the technology geek, the developer and the entrepreneurial start-up. Despite the attendee numbers, there aren’t that many shiny exhibitor stands - in fact the start-ups all line up on a very basic wooden plinth by sector with a simple cardboard poster behind them explaining who they are and what they offer, accompanied 9 times out of 10 by a laptop containing the product in alpha or beta mode. And the offer is broad. Social; Hardware; Big Data; Developers; Finance. You name it; you will find it. In complete contrast to the Spartan facilities for the start-ups, the vast main stage is bathed in the glow of an elaborate staging and hosted celebrities such as Eva Longoria (Actor, Producer and Philanthropist). Alongside Longoria were VCs, AI scientists, roboticists and entrepreneurs, and even the Irish Prime Minister - also know as the Taoiseach - Enda Kenney, who along with Web Summit founder Paddy Cosgrave rang the starting bell for the NASDAQ.
Over in the ‘Digital Marketing Summit’ the presentations came thick and fast and covered attention, the next billion and measurement, but the focus on day one was programmatic, which seemed to make it into every presentation and fireside chat. Mindshare Chief Digital Officer Norm Johnston gave a keynote and joined a panel on the topic, saying of programmatic: “it is an adaptive marketing engine that can drive your business forward; its not just about efficiency; efficiency is a bi-product and we shouldn’t lose sight of the strategic value of programmatic.’ He also challenged creative agencies to embrace the creative opportunities provided by programmatic for content, and not to dismiss it as uncreative. Responding, Sophie Kelly, CEO at The Barbarian Group said: 'Programmatic allows you to have real time insights into how people are behaving, which is another input to inspire creative thinking. We don’t talk about the system or how it is done.” Elsewhere Andrew Markowitz, Director, Global Digital Strategy GE was making a plea for organisations to embrace disruption, saying: ‘It’s not about avoiding disruption, it is about becoming the disruptor’ and Eric Salama, CEO at Kantar Group was evangelizing about the opportunity mobile provides, especially in developing markets, citing the fact that 70% of Kenya’s GDP goes through M-Pesa: “That is 70% of GDP going through one platform and we can run panels and pay people through the same device…so there is some interesting stuff going on in Africa. The world could learn a lot from looking at this…maybe Apple should just buy Kenya instead of worrying about Apple Pay!’
There are already too many conferences, but Web Summit has tapped into something special - the intersection of marketing and tech innovation. The sheer number of Big Data start-ups is impressive and the fact that 20,000 people made the pilgrimage to Dublin (presumably not just for the Guinness – although there is a ‘Night Summit’ on offer) is a sure sign that this conference is a winner. Yes the Wi-Fi was rubbish (as Paddy himself remarked from the main stage), but one rumour at the end of day one was of a buy out of Web Summit by SXSW. The music maybe missing from Web Summit at the moment, although Bono is meant to turn up before the end, but I don't think it would surprise anyone if the rumour proved correct.