Sunday 25 August 2019

Web Summit: Day 1 Diary

Mike Schroepfer
Mike Schroepfer
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

Never a dull moment. Just when we thought we might focus on the actual Web Summit, Paddy let loose with the heavy artillery.

"Government lies." "Hush money." "A distraction from real issues."

He wasn't going to let bygones be bygones without a final stab.

Inside the RDS itself, there were shrugs. The wifi was largely fine, which is what most people were really concerned about. The Web Summit has paid over €1m to a separate wifi company this year and it showed. Despite a few glitches, there was relatively little grumbling.

"The wifi? Yeah, it's fine," said Mike Schroepfer, chief technology officer for Facebook and one of this year's main speakers.

"We haven't noticed a thing." Mr Schroepfer was surrounded by dozens of data-gobbling colleagues.

But while startups pitched their hearts out to audiences of would-be investors and Michael Dell talked about the joys of not being a public company, the debate about the Web Summit leaving Dublin rumbled on in the .

"I think it's a disgrace that something this clever and wonderful has been lost at the hands of people who probably don't know how to turn on a mobile phone," stormed Game Of Thrones actor Liam Cunningham in front of a media gathering.

"It's an embarrassment. And the spin the boys in Leinster House are putting on it was disgraceful. I genuinely don't think they understand what this is or how important it is."

Others were more melancholy than angry about the event's departure.

"It's a real shame that it's leaving Dublin," said Bill Ford, chairman of Ford. "I love any excuse to come here."

Other speakers wondered about the event's future prospects in Portugal.

"Lisbon doesn't really have the same aura as Dublin," said Aaron Skonnard, co-founder and chief executive of Pluralsight, a US online education company. "I'll miss coming here."

While Paddy Cosgrave's beef with the Irish government and the event's Lisbon transfer has been the main story for Irish commentators, the issue has been largely ignored by the foreign press.

"What's the row about, anyway?" the man from Reuters asked Irish reporters at a fringe event organised by online payments firm Stripe.

Of greater urgence to attendees was getting to and from the event. Having overcome malicious fog in London, making their way to the RDS proved to be a challenging task for many. "I was waiting an hour to get a taxi," one tech executive said.

The Web Summit's official guidance to attendees this year is to walk to the event, regardless of how far you're coming.

Despite the public fuming coming from both Paddy Cosgrave and piqued government ministers, relations between trading partners seemed to be calm behind the scenes.

The IDA's chief executive, Martin Shanahan, chatted and joked with Mr Cosgrave as they jointly saw off Michael Dell in a car behind the event's main stage.

The IDA doesn't want to get mixed into the row one way or the other, officials say. No matter which way the argument turns, one official said, the State agency loses.

Thankfully, almost no-one outside of Ireland seems to give a hoot about the argy-bargy currently happening.

Most said it would be a shame not to return to Dublin next year. But they'll get over it. The Web Summit is business now, not pleasure.

Irish Independent

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