Web Summit 2015 – A Personal Recap

Last week I have been in Dublin at the Web Summit. It’s the largest conference for startups in the world! What started 4 years ago with just 400 attendees, was expected to draw 30,000 attendees in this year. Actually, it ended up being 42,000 attendees who flocked into Dublin – a city with a population of 700,000.

At Web Summit 2015 Dublin

Unlike at RISE this year, we didn’t have a booth for Swapit because I didn’t actually plan to attend. I guess, if we had applied for a startup booth at the Web Summit, we would probably have been accepted as well. It’s actually quite a selection process startups have to go through, in order to get a booth there.

So this year, I was invited by Hong Kong’s main startup advocate Casey Lau. Casey co-founded StartupsHK, is our point of contact at the SoftLayer Catalyst Program and was the co-host of RISE 2015 and will also be the co-host of RISE 2016! In the end a great group of people from Hong Kong made their way to Dublin as the “Web Summit StartupsHK Entourage”. This included some Hong Kong’s startup industry leaders like Simon from NEST and Yat from Outblaze who were both also speakers, Bay from Brinc.io, Gabriel from Jaarvis, Gene from Citymapper, Nina from NBD Ventures, Mike from Gormei, Kay from Easi-Way, Julien and Mathis from Ambi Climate, Farook from Mark Masons Investments, Ovey from EventXtra, Joey from Shortlist, and many more – including our lovely friends from InvestHK.

Drone photo of HK peeps on Web Summit stage.

Drone shot of Web Summit StartupsHK Entourage – a bit dark due to low light as we had to sneak in after the sessions

It was my first time at Web Summit and like many others, I was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of startups, companies, investors, speakers and information that was all around you. The Web Summit took place at the Royal Dublin Society (RDS) which is just massive. Because there were so many people and startups attending, the whole summit had to be split into two locations on the RDS premises which were a fluffy 10 minute walk apart – with a horse race track, staples and sports arena in between. Just to give you a rough idea about the size. The Centre Stage alone had seats for 6,000 people.

Like usual, the Web Summit started before it actually started. The night before day 1, our great friends at SoftLayer organized a dinner for all SoftLayer Catalyst Startups who were attending Web Summit. Being jet-lagged and roughly 40 hours awake (it’s not easy to get to Dublin!) I made it there on time. Coming from Hong Kong, I didn’t expect much from the dinner as those dinners are here usually a boring event where most people just go for the free food there. Anyway, I was very positively surprise by the SoftLayer Catalyst folks. Besides the fact that the food and drinks were outstanding (note: red wine hits you quickly when you’re in sleep deprivation mode), I met very interesting people. Next to me on the table was Andy from 500 Startups London, in front of me was a guy running an accelerator in Dublin, left to me a great startup from the UK. It was interesting to see how other startups use the SoftLayer infrastructure, but it was even better for me to get to talk to many industry / accelerator / investor folks from Europe.

The actual Web Summit was running for 3 days and divided into 21 sub-summits. So it was easy to follow the summit(s) which you’re interested in. There are a lot of great startups out there and many are working on very interesting businesses. For example, my old friends from the BlackBerry days, Krishna and Teemu, were there for Juno – a mobile payments company. Startup pitch competitions were also taking place over all three days. Besides all the exhibiting and pitching startups, there were constantly talks, interviews and panels at many stages across the venue. For instance, it was great to get some insights from Michael Dell on his journey traveled and ahead – especially with the $67bln takeover of EMC. Or startup unicorn founders like John Collison from Stripe, the co-founder of Slack and many others.

Let’s take Slack for example. While I have been using it with the StartupsHK folks to communicate efficiently, as a result of Slack’s co-founder’s talk, we are now using it internally to communicate about the development and design work on Swapit. It has always reminded me a bit of IRC which it was probably based upon.

Of course, we also needed to have a bit of fun at the Web Summit. There was a proper Lion Dance scheduled to take place at the RISE 2016 booth, but we couldn’t wait any longer and practiced it ourselves first. Still needs some more practice, though.

Slack for iOS Upload (1)

The RISE 2016 booth also gave us the opportunity to promote Hong Kong as a startup hub to the (pre-dominantly European) world. Of course, I was happy to help promoting Hong Kong to everyone who wanted to know more about it. There seems to be a lot of interest out there. Many startups know that Asia is a great place to be for a startup and RISE having set up shop in Hong Kong (and not in Singapore), added fuel to our thriving eco-system here.

So all in all, it was a great trip. I could make some great new connections, meet and talk to peers whom I am connected with for years. Often, we just don’t get together because everyone is busy with their own businesses. Web Summit is a great place where the travel routes of many people in the industry intersect. Only at these kinds of events, you run into people like Dave McClure (founding partner of 500 Startups) at night during the Pub Crawl Summit. From a Swapit perspective, we are currently in our seed raising mode. Some of the investors I talked to, are a bit “later stage”, which is fine. It is always good to say “Hi” first, let them know about our product and our roadmap, and when we enter their level of investment size, we already have our credentials established.

As for RISE 2016, we will absolutely apply to exhibit with Swapit in the START level of Startups next year. We are absolutely confident, we will get in there and be able to show our track record and traction gained over the course of the year.

So far, stay tuned, and keep an eye out for the next Swapit update. It’s coming your way soon!

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