I had the opportunity to attend Web Summit this year in Lisbon, Portugal, along with almost 60,000 people from over 170 countries. If you represent a startup, a big technology company, something in between, a group of investors, or a media publication, this is an event you shouldn’t skip. But be prepared, because Web Summit is the Twitter of tech conferences.
Like Twitter, Web Summit is full of noise. It’s hard to navigate and parse. There are way too many stages, rooms, sections, talks, and gatherings happening at the exact same time. Just trying to figure out your schedule is an immense headache, and even once you do, the feeling of being overwhelmed by everything going on simultaneously never quite goes away.
Like Twitter, the only sane way to get through Web Summit is to accept that you’re not going to see everything. You won’t even get away with 10 percent. You just have to set up a few filters and for the rest, go with your gut.
Like Twitter, chances are you won’t see the news immediately when it hits. But don’t worry; Web Summit doesn’t have that much news. There is some, but you have to be in the right place, at the right time, listening to the right person. Or, like on Twitter, you can just wait until someone else tells you what happened.
Having said all that, if you’re a startup, an investor, or a journalist, there’s nothing quite like Web Summit. It’s always on, and something is always happening.
The real value comes from the spontaneous one-to-one conversations — direct messages, if you will. The more you put yourself out there, the more you get out of it.
Because the event is so short, just three days (the opening ceremony doesn’t count), you have to push through the exhaustion to make the most of your time. But really, you just have to be open to everyone that crosses your path.
My best experiences were not with the speakers, but the attendees. My best interactions happened not at the event itself, but afterward at the tangentially related dinners. My best memories will be not of the talks, but of the people who heard the same talks.
One experience in particular I will always remember. I attended a cryptocurrency dinner on Wednesday night, where there were maybe 50 people. I happened to end up on a couch at the venue, which was not only comfortable but ended up being the most important seat in the restaurant — interesting people would take turns sitting beside me and my night was filled with stimulating conversations. On Thursday morning, one of the attendees recognized me as we were both taking the metro to Web Summit. She had seen me at the cryptocurrency party the night before and remembered me, even though we had not spoken (I credit the couch). On Thursday evening, she spotted me again on the metro, when we were both heading back from the event. By complete chance, we ended up also getting off at the same station.
60,000 attendees? Sure, but cut through the noise and you’ll meet six people that make Web Summit worth it.
ProBeat is a column in which Emil rants about whatever crosses him that week.