Eamon Leonard: Why I Joined Web Summit

The first time I ever heard of Paddy Cosgrave, was in 2009.

Someone on Twitter shared a link with me. It looked like a wordpress blog, that had been shoehorned into a conference website called “Dublin Web Summit”. I loaded it up, and something immediately grabbed my attention.

No, it wasn’t the amateurish, designed-by-a-twelve-year old vibe (this was before CoderDojo, before 12 year olds started running their own companies). Nor the use of brash colours, bad typefacing, poor photo cropping, horrible layout, lack of real information, or any useful feature in general.

No. What immediately grabbed my attention was that this guy, Paddy Cosgrave, was putting on an evening “tech” event, and his keynote speaker was Jimmy Wales.

Jimmy “effin” Wales. Founder of Wikipedia.

How the hell, did he get someone like him to come to Dublin? No one comes to Dublin!

And who the hell does this guy think he is? The gall of him? The cheek! Doesn’t he know there’s a “community” here? How dare he not consult us!

How dare he not consult me.

I think that’s what pissed me off the most. Well… that and the grandiose name. “Summit”. World leaders put on a Summit to discuss things like global trade, economics, peace treaties etc.

But calling hanging around a lecture hall in Trinity College, listening to the Wikipedia dude go on for a few hours? And charge me for it!? Hardly a “Summit”. Needless to say, I didn’t go.

It might be hard to remember, but just five years ago, there was no tech community in Dublin to really speak of. We were a rag-tag, disorganised, random cluster of people who sometimes had a shared interest in stuff, sure. But it was lacking the potential it holds today. It was lacking the coordination and shared vision that is emerging.

And Dublin certainly wasn’t on the map as far as a newer wave of tech startups from SV were concerned. Angel investors were fewer and further between, and VC was minimal. As for people founding things, and giving it a go… there was no real hive of startup activity happening in 2009.

But it was all we had. And at the time, I succumbed to that lovely Irish pastime: begrudgery.

A few months later, in early 2010, I found myself having dinner with Craig Newmark and Matt Mullenweg in Trinity College. “The Harry Potter Experience” is what Craig called it. I had somehow managed to gatecrash this gathering of 10 people, the night before the second Dublin Web Summit. I had only just met Paddy half an hour before.

And he had never heard of me.

Yeah, screw that guy.

But I’ll still eat the free dinner with Newmark and Mullenweg, thanks!

Later that night I confronted Paddy. I said something like “I think you’re full of shit and you don’t care about the community here, you’re just doing this to line your pockets”. Because, how dare he make some money from his fledgling conference business.

I think you can tell a lot about a person by how they respond to their critics. And, I think it’s fair to say, Paddy has had his fair share of critics over the past few years.

I was impressed by how he responded to my line of interrogation, and over the course of the next 20 minutes he laid out for me what his vision was for the Dublin Web Summit, and the impact it would have on the tech landscape, never mind “community”, in Dublin and Ireland.

I had to hand it to him, he was saying all the right things. Things that I knew were beyond my power and resources to participate in. It was hard for me not to be a fan of the summit from then on.

Like all good entrepreneurs, of course, that vision has been refined and even re-defined over the subsequent 4 years, as Web Summit, their team and audiences has scaled.

I’ve been lucky over the past few years to be invited to speak, present and curate technical content on show at the conference. And I’ve observed from the sideline as the conference and their team had their ups and downs… but mostly ups. (You don’t get to this level of scale, in Ireland, without pissing off a few people, and making some mistakes, but learning from them.)

But that’s a defining trait of some of the most successful entrepreneurs I’ve known over the years. A headstrong, dogged determination to realise a vision, that pissing off people along the way is inevitable. They don’t mean to do, it’s not in the business plan… but it happens.

And behind every successful entrepreneur is a great team. A great team will help, over time, smooth out those bumps, and help turn a founder’s vision into reality.

At over 100 people, I’m delighted to be joining the Web Summit team, as we take the next step in the realisation of what this event and organisation can be, and continue to iterate on the vision.

The Web Summit is an organisation that runs global events, driven by technological innovations. There is huge opportunity ahead of us to employ the tech we are building to change how conferences are conceived, planned and executed, and I’m excited to play even a small role in that.

My official title is Chief Community Officer and Entrepreneur in Residence. Bit of a mouthful… what does it even mean? It means there are areas of activity in the organisation that I’m going to be bringing my experience as a community activist, founder, angel investor and software engineer to. At the up coming Web Summit in November, you’ll see me presenting the Builders Summit, which is an evolution of the Developer Stage that I’ve hosted over the past few years. The quality of speakers this year is exceptionally high, and there will be a mix of practical talks, keynotes and panel discussions.

I’ve always encouraged a lively interaction with the audience and speakers, so if you’re going this year, I hope to see you there. Please say hello 🙂


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