On October 30th and 31st, the third annual Web Summit took place with over 10,000 of some of the world’s most influential attendees gathered to discuss the current state of the startup economy, the future of the web, and for some of us, to pitch and display our startup amongst the more than 2,000 other exhibitors in Dublin, Ireland.
In an effort to bring together both established and budding startups, the Summit put together an “Alpha Startup” program that allowed selected startups to exhibit for free on one of the two exhibit hall days, have one free attendee pass and purchase two additional passes at a discounted rate. My startup, Alumni Spaces, was fortunate enough to be selected as part of the program. Given only a week to decide if we would accept the invitation or not, there was a flurry of analysis on balancing the fiscal cost of attending compared to the potential reward. After being pushed to jump off the fiscal cliff that a week in Europe and three international flights presents for a young startup, my fellow co-founders and I set out making a list of everything we wanted to get done in the next three months to look our best at the conference.
Leading up to the conference there was what we would describe as a lack of vital information being shared by the Summit leadership. Things like a sortable attendee list, panel/workshop schedules, hosted party locations/schedule and exhibit stand location were shared only weeks before the actual event. With things like the Night Summit and Food Summit being added late in the game, we quickly felt overwhelmed and unprepared in terms of conference prep. That said, when the Summit finally did release their iPhone and Android app specifically tailored to the conference, their full workshop schedule, panel schedule – with the addition of the Irish PM and Elon Musk – it became clear that the Web Summit leadership was simply experiencing the growing pains of a conference that was becoming larger than they had imagined at the start.
As a year-old Brooklyn-based startup, we went into the conference with four primary objectives: to hone our pitch, meet startups of all levels from around the world, take in what information was disseminated in panels/workshops and forge relationships with potential investors and advisors who we might not otherwise have had the chance to meet. With three months of prep on our part and almost every element of the conference seemingly tailored to helping its attendees to achieve these goals, we left the conference with no regrets.
Stepping away from the conference and beginning to follow up on all of the connections made, my cofounders and I are extremely happy that we took the risk of attending a relatively new conference. The Summit was an informative, rewarding and enjoyable experience all around. That being said, we do think that it has a ways to go before it can be properly billed as the “SXSW of Europe.” Things like, the Food Summit being a mile away in a country where it seems to rain in daily; the internet never being reliable any where on the conference floor; late attendee list distribution and extremely limited access to opening/closing parties (we were fortunate enough to get a ticket, but many we met weren’t) were some of the things that frustrated us. However, in the end, the investment we made to attend was well worth it: the conference was extremely well run, once it got started, and from the standpoint of a budding startup. we would highly recommend that if you are considering to attend in 2014 do so, but do prepare.