What makes a great conference experience? Some might say the speakers, some might say the venue, some might say the scale (whether it be intimate or blockbuster).
At Web Summit we think that the reason most people remember and value a conference experience is the connections they make. Our polling tells us that many people come for the speakers but they return for the contacts and the networking.
So what is our approach? Our answer is intimacy, powered by great design and powerful data analysis. That approach permeates everything, including and perhaps most critically our mobile app. Just login into our mobile app and you’ll find recommended talks, speakers and attendees personalised to you.
We believe a different approach to conferences is possible, and that that different approach can help create the world’s smallest biggest gatherings.
We fixate on helping you find the right people and ideas from millions of possible connections and conversations. In other words, we believe that the desire for human-to-human interaction is still incredibly powerful. It might seem counterintuitive in the age of the machine, but I think that human to human means more now than ever. I believe that humanity’s greatest achievements have been made possible through gatherings of people generating the connections and serendipity that accelerate real-world change.
We work relentlessly to marry great design and powerful data to create a very different type of gathering. While traditional conference companies typically hire experienced event planners, we hire physicists and engineers, some folks who know a thing or two about machine learning and AI, incredible designers and brilliant event planners.
While traditional conference companies fret over manually curating seating plans, compiling speaker lists and handpicking invites for pub crawls, we approach the challenge differently. We build algorithms that take into account who you are and who you might benefit from being on a pub crawl with or at a table with or in a meeting with.
In other words, we work hard to “engineer personalised serendipity” at the scale of tens of thousands attendees. This creates greater intimacy when you bring together such a huge critical mass of interesting people. We help you find the people and ideas that may be of most interest to you from an ocean of millions of possible connections and conversations. Just as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn have designed recommender systems to help you find friends and followers, we’ve done the same for potential attendees and speakers to meet and hear.
We apply this methodology to every small element of Web Summit. Your lanyards and name badges have been custom designed. In the ceilings of our venues you’ll find GoPros that allow us overlay what we observe manually with computer vision to help us constantly improve attendee movement and queuing at our gatherings.
This has been a momentous year for the team behind Web Summit. We are now the proud owners of four international conferences, including Web Summit, with more to be added next year.
We have Collision in the US, which next year will be in New Orleans. We founded RISE in Hong Kong and in February 2016 we go to India with SURGE in the entrepreneur capital Bengaluru.
But our flagship event is Web Summit. In five years Web Summit has grown from 400 to 40,000+ attendees. It’s grown from a couch for a team of 3 people to a refurbished tramway station for 140 people.
In 2010, attendees came from a single country, in 2015 attendees will fly from 134 countries to spend three days and four nights together in Dublin. Nowhere on earth this year will more tech CEOs and executives, startups and investors gather in one place. Next year we expect more than 100,000 people will attend our gatherings.
In the last year, our company has more than doubled in size. Will Web Summit 2015 be better than 2014? Absolutely. We now have a robust signage system, a far superior attendee app, we’ve dramatically increased the staff to attendee ratio and more.
In 2013, we ran investor speed dating for startups. Feedback was mixed. In 2014, we canned speed dating and introduced investor Office Hours, which were highly curated one to ones between relevant investors and relevant startups organised in advance of Web Summit. Feedback was very positive.
For 2015 we’re not standing still. We’re introducing Mentor Hours, at which experienced entrepreneurs and investors offer candid advice to startups on any challenges they may have in one to one sessions.
We’re also introducing Startup University, a stage packed with speakers addressing critical issues for startups, which also gives startups the opportunity to ask relevant questions of speakers. Additionally, we now have a full time team of startup mentors in-house. From our office they have been working with startups attending Web Summit helping guide them to get the most out of their time.
Will we just repeat what we do in 2015 in 2016? Absolutely not. We’ll tweak, modify, add and ultimately improve the experience for every attendee type. We’ve made lots of mistakes. And undoubtedly we’ll continue to make mistakes. We’ll never be perfect. But we will always be getting better.
We like to think of ourselves as a technology company but the scenarios we are attempting to generate could not be further away from bits and bytes. It is a shared conversation over a beer, an introduction at a roundtable or an animated discussion over the latest star speaker while standing together in the queue for a lunchtime burger.
Some people complain that technology is cutting us off from each other, even as the distances between countries and peoples disappear in a digital puff of smoke. And while we are connected ever more closely in the digital web of Facebook, Weibo, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter, it is still fundamentally important to us that we look others in the eye, shake their hand and introduce ourselves.
So bring on Web Summit 2015. I hope to see you around somewhere soon sometime.