Tuesday 21 November 2017

Adrian Weckler: Why the Web Summit is never returning to Dublin

Blue skies in Lisbon for the Web Summit. Photo: Adrian Weckler
Blue skies in Lisbon for the Web Summit. Photo: Adrian Weckler
The Web Summit gets underway in Lisbon. Photo: Adrian Weckler
Web Summit in Lison. Photo: Adrian Weckler
European Commissioner for Competition, Margrethe Vestager
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

They now come to Lisbon, not Dublin.

And it is away from Dublin that 70,000 of the world's most influential business people will remain.

Because the Web Summit is never returning to Ireland.

This is a shame, especially when you see how seriously the event is now being taken.

The Web Summit gets underway in Lisbon. Photo: Adrian Weckler
The Web Summit gets underway in Lisbon. Photo: Adrian Weckler

Margrethe Vestager, the globe's most important regulator (and scourge of Apple because of that €13bn tax ruling) is here. So are a dozen other important European Commission figures. And senior figures from the UN and Asia.

Most of the world's biggest venture capital firms are also here, both to look for new companies and to talk to one another. They don't all travel in packs like this very often.

It goes without saying that most of largest tech firms -- Including Google, Intel, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook -- are here in force.

But so are many of the world's biggest advertising, marketing and media companies.

Why are they all here?

"We're going to the Founders event after the Web Summit," says Charles Dowd, co-founder and chief executive of Dublin-based digital money company Plynk. "We already raised €25m but we're already thinking of our next round. There are some important VCs here."

Web Summit in Lison. Photo: Adrian Weckler
Web Summit in Lison. Photo: Adrian Weckler

For the VCs, it's a quid quo pro -- they want to meet bright, ambitious companies like Plynk.

The Web Summit is now about doing business rather than a showcase for talks about the future.

The stands are bigger, as are the dedicated side conferences.

Companies like Mercedes have massive stands of the sort normally only seen in decades-old global conference events. (This is a serious step change from Web Summits of years past, where pluckily startup booths were supplemented by experimental meet-and-greet areas from some of the larger tech companies.)

Lisbon itself is proving to be a perfect host city. It's not just that it has far more decent accommodation at far more reasonable prices. Or that its streets are beautiful to walk around in the morning or at night (at a perfect 18 degrees).

Lisbon works because of its infrastructure and planning. There's an efficient Metro that gets you to the (huge, excellent) Altice Arena from almost anywhere in the city. Traffic isn't nearly as big a problem for attendees because of this.

European Commissioner for Competition, Margrethe Vestager
European Commissioner for Competition, Margrethe Vestager

Registering for the conference can quickly be done when you get off the plane at the airport, just like Mobile World Congress at Barcelona or CES in Las Vegas, the two biggest, most important tech trade shows in the world.

Interestingly, there appears to be a startling absence of locals moaning about the Web Summit. There's no swipes about event organisers being too big for their boots.

In short, everything works because the Portuguese want it to work.

Dublin will still get some scraps. Moneyconf, which is the smallest of the many annual conferences run by Paddy Cosgrave's firm, will be held in Dublin next year. But that is an event for hundreds of people rather than 70,000.

Dublin decided two years ago that it wasn't in the business of scaling its ambitions to host events like the Web Summit, even when it was a home grown conference with an inherent wish to host it in Ireland.

The same thinking is probably behind the low scores Ireland received in the contest to host the Rugby World Cup: Ireland isn't set up to invest in competitive infrastructure. We prefer smaller, incremental regional projects, sometimes based on a parish-by-parish rationale.

So here it is: the Web Summit is never coming back to Dublin.

It's just too big.

It's a proper global conference now. And that's not something that Ireland feels at home with.

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