Web Summit 2017 Summary: It Wasn’t Perfect, But It Was Worth It

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Web Summit 2017, claimed to be the largest tech conference in the world, took part 6-9 November 2017 in Lisbon, the capital city of Portugal. This year’s edition gathered over 60,000 participants from all over the world.

The variety of conferences and subjects, famous tech gurus among speakers, international business environment, and of course the beautiful city of Lisbon itself were among top reasons why, together with my colleague Monika, I decided to take part in this year’s edition.

In this article, I wanted to summarise my experience and give you useful tips on what to consider before buying a ticket. As I’m writing this from the viewpoint of a marketing expert, my conclusions may differ from the perspectives of a startup owner or a programmer.

The speakers were not equal

I expected a very high overall level of talks. Unfortunately, the quality of the speeches was very uneven. Some were outstanding, inspiring, and thought-provoking; whereas some were like self-promotion performances with very vague thoughts that did not present any value to the speeches.

For example, I was amazed by the talk from Brian Halligan, CEO of Hubspot, entitled ‘The three secrets you need to know about the future of scaling your business’. Brian started his talk with the statement that it’s never been easier to start a company, but because of very high competition, it’s never been harder to scale a company.

He was disarmingly honest; for three years on the market, Hubspot got stuck in growth and something was stopping them from achieving satisfying results. His tips, based on his own experience, were very valuable and not once did he verge into self-promotion for me.

Brian Halligan's talk on Web Summit 2017
Brian Halligan’s talk on Web Summit 2017

On the contrary, ‘#makethefuture: The story of Shell through social’, the talk from Dean Aragon, CEO of Shell Brands International AG, was – to say the least – unsatisfying. His whole presentation was based on the campaign released by Shell. I agree it was great – the idea, social impact, and realization. However, there was no hint as to how small and medium businesses without the budget of a huge corporation can create something with a similar outcome. As I listened, I wondered what the purpose was – should we all admire Shell for creating this campaign? The advertising spots were played three times during a 20-minute presentation.

Sophia and Professor Einstein discussing the future of AI

Can you imagine two robots discussing if they have a plan to destroy humankind? Well, it’s not the scenario of a sci-fi movie, it actually happened this year at the Web Summit!

Sophia, a humanoid robot created by Hanson Robotics, received Saudi Arabian citizenship in October 2017. This caused huge controversy and provoked a discussion about robots rights in the future. Will they be able to vote, marry and in general be subject to the law?

Sophia is able to conduct simple conversations and imitate the facial expressions of a human. Although most of what she says is pre-scripted, it’s still very impressive. Asked about the collaboration between robots and human she said: “We’re going to steal your jobs, yes, but it’s going to be a good thing” and gave the audience a disarming smile.

Professor Einstein, created by the same manufacturer as Sophia, wasn’t so positive though. He warned that if people want a positive collaboration with robots, they should fix their problems first: “Humanity has to heal itself to ensure that its creations remain healthy.”.

It’s hard to say how much this conversation between the robots was influenced by their creators. Despite this, listening to the discussion gave me a lot to think about the future of AI and how it will look. Will robots really help our society or will they become a source of many conflicts? Let’s hope for the optimistic scenario.

Marketing path – Panda Conf and Growth Summit

Web Summit consisted of 25 various conferences. In terms of marketing, two of them were the most interesting: Panda Conf, dedicated strictly to the marketers and Growth Summit, focusing on the business scaling and growth hacks. If you’re more interested in content marketing and media, you may have found something interesting at the Content Makers conference as well (I recommend this year’s talk from Julius Dein – ‘How I got 15 million followers in 15 months’).

Panda Conf gathered many experts from the marketing world, including CEOs and global CMOs of well-known brands. Guests presented or discussed very interesting and actual topics, like SEO, branding or digital advertising. Like I mentioned before, not all of them were valuable for small businesses, but I’m sure every marketer could have found some inspiration.

Growth Summit presented some of the world’s fastest-growing companies. Each guest briefly described his business, then afterward in the discussion were asked about the story of their growth, what mistakes they did along the way and what was their key to success. It was very inspiring and most of all,  very concrete because it was based on their own experience. A real informational heaven for every marketer interested in growth hacking.

In general, I was very impressed by the rich offer that Web Summit prepared for marketers. It’s a sign to me that the tech world has finally recognized the important role marketing plays in the growth of online businesses.

Web Summit Lisbon 2017 Badges

Tips to consider before the next edition

  • Keep up with the schedule – pay attention to it before attending an event. To avoid missing interesting talks and running around the four pavilions like crazy, it’s good to plan your programme first. To do so, pick the most interesting talks and try to organize them in consecutively (this is also possible to do in the Web Summit app).
  • Prepare your pitch – if you’re thinking about any networking, you should prepare a short presentation of yourself and your company that will present it in the best way possible and will attract your speaker to ask more questions. Believe me, in a stressful situation, speaking in your own words might not sound so professional.
  • No business cards required – you can, of course, bring some with you, but most of the people will want to scan your QR code to add you as a contact in the Web Summit app. Let’s save some paper!
  • No official dress code – you should first of all be dressed comfortably – remember you will spend the whole day walking, so you will need good shoes. Don’t overdress – smart-casual is totally acceptable.
  • Set your goals – it’s good to have an idea about what you want to achieve during the conference and plan your activities accordingly. Do you want to establish new business contacts? Plan your time for the networking events at the Night Summit. Are you looking for new inspirations for your business? Take part in interesting talks and note down all your ideas.
  • The first day is not really the first – I expected the conference to start on 6th, but surprisingly this day was set aside for just registration and opening talks. The actual conference started on 7th and since I came only 15 mins before the first talk (my bad), I ended up waiting in a very long line of 60,000 attendees wanting to get inside. So on the first day, I really recommend coming much earlier.

My personal summary

If somebody had asked me ‘Okay, so from your perspective does it make sense to take part in the Web Summit?’ I would answer: it depends. If you already have an idea of what you want to learn/achieve during the conference, it’s definitely worth it. But to avoid disappointment, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone with no knowledge around it or expectations of what they want to learn.

Personally, Web Summit was a very valuable experience. Although it wasn’t perfect, some talks and people inspired me a lot, broadened my horizons and helped me with finding new ideas and inspirations for the future.

If you have any questions about Web Summit, I’m happy to help – just write them in the comments below!

If you want to watch the talks from this year’s edition, click here.

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