Last Friday during an interview in Amsterdam, I was asked what I thought made the Web Summit special. My response was that in taking a different approach to organising conferences, we try to build as much of the software that we use ourselves.
Then I said this: “Even the ticketing app that we use I built. It’s used by dozens of conferences around the world like XOXO and Brooklyn Beta.”
Brooklyn Beta was a ground-breaking conference that ran for 4 years and, like the Web Summit, was an early Tito beta customer.
In the one little statement above, I claimed credit for the work of Paul, Doc, their team and Andy Baio & Andy McMillan and their team. For this, I apologise.
I think it’s important I make clear my involvement in Tito because I owe Paul and his team more than one apology, having taking credit on a handful of occasions for an awesome product that is of their making.
I’ve known Paul for over 10 years, since we met in college. Towards the end of college we worked on an advertising platform together. That was a little over 9 years ago. While it didn’t go anywhere, beyond a working prototype, we stayed friends. Regularly catching up, always sharing ideas and wondering if we might ever work together again on something. In 2011, after briefly working together on another idea for an invitation-sharing app that I had, Paul asked me if I’d like to work together on a product called Tito.
From the start, Paul was the driving force behind Tito. Paul’s focus was on product, my focus was on raising money and drumming up some initial customers. We briefly incorporated a company to aid with fund-raising at the end of 2011, but shortly after that, it became clear that we had very different ideas about the direction things should go. We parted ways in early 2012 and didn’t speak for over a year. The company we incorporated never filed accounts and was ultimately struck off the Register of Companies.
Paul didn’t care. He just put his head down, said nothing and built something extraordinary. By the time the covers were really pulled off Tito in early 2013, I abandoned the ticketing software Web Summit had been building for over a year and switched to using Tito. It was just a great product.
Tito is the creation of Paul, Doc and their team.
My short involvement with Tito did allow me to briefly talk to the organisers of many of the then largest tech conferences in the world about potentially using Paul’s ticketing software. No single organiser I talked with however thought about conferences in terms of graphs. I’d assumed large conferences would use some basic graph algorithms, recommender systems or other methods to more optimally assign people at the scale of thousands of attendees to dinner tables, pub crawls or better engineer the many other types of interactions that happen when people come together.
The conversations I had opened my eyes just enough that by early 2012 I realised Web Summit could possibly become more than just a tiny, Irish tech conference. David, Daire and I decided to move out of our house, get an office and build a software company full time that would take an entirely different approach to bringing people together focused heavily on graph data.
In summary, I regret that by taking credit for work that was not my own, I also undermined the fantastic work done by the team at Web Summit. I’m very proud of the software that we’ve built. If I could re-do the interview, I would say that the way we use software to engineer serendipity is probably what accounts for most of our growth.
A seating plan for a data science dinner we hosted in San Francisco in 2015.