End of an Era – Observations on Day 3 of the Web Summit

My interest in the Web Summit lies in where technology interfaces with traditional industries. The disruption to traditional routes to markets, channels sales etc….

As such the talks I enjoyed most were in the “off piste” smaller Summit rooms talking about the impact technology has on fashion, advertising, consumer goods, marketing, brands, media, blogging, health & fitness etc….

What is very clear is that technology has a huge impact on all of our businesses so we have to embrace this changing landscape to stay relevant.

I attended talks by the following:

  • Jeremy Darroch – CEO of Sky (media group)
  • Ryan Smith – Founder of Qualtrics (online survey software)
  • Nico Sell – Founder of Wickr (encrypted instant messaging)
  • Jefferson Hack – Editor Dazed & Confused (magazine group)
  • Amber Atherton – Founder of My Flash Trash (online jewellery retailer)
  • Christoph Lange –VP Brand Solutions – Zalando (online fashion retailer)
  • Liam Casey – Founder of PCH International (technology manufacturing)
  • Lucy Greene – Innovation Group – J Walter Thompson (advertising group)
  • Alick Varma – Founder of Osper (prepaid debit cards)
  • Rahul Chopra – CEO of Storyful (social news agency)
  • Shervin Pischevar – CEO of Sherpa Capital (San Francisco based VC)
  • Rob Lloyd – CEO of Hyperloop (conceptual high speed transportation system)
  • Jeff Lawson – Founder of Twilio Rio Ferdinand – ex-Football International and BT pundit
  • Brian O’Driscoll – ex-Rugby International and BT pundit
  • Ed Catmull – Founder of Pixar (animation)
  • Andy Caddy – CEO Virgin Active (gyms)
  • Julien de Preaumont – Founder of Withings (healthcare tracking devices)
  • Dan Brown – Author

My takeaways were as follows:

  1. The Team from Lisbon who will host the 2016 event were introduced as the start of the final day of Web Summit 2015.Despite having aspirations to be the San Francisco of Europe I was left confused by the choice of such a peripheral European city as Lisbon to host the event. The Portuguese team seemed to sell the sunshine and the beach as the two more important things they could offer attendees next year.It was clear that the Web Summit was always going to outgrow Dublin but I, for one, have concerns that Lisbon will lack the start-up culture, foreign multinational technology presence, buoyant economy and downright charm that Dublin has provided the Web Summit with over the past 4 years.
  1. There was an excellent debate over the impact social media & ultimately globalisation plays on the creative process.This reminded me of the type of debates we had as architecture students where the latest  magazine in the university library would spawn a raft of look-a-like designs from students eager for ideas and stimulation.Jefferson Hack claimed that social media creates cultural numbness. Safety is the antithesis of creativity. We must fight against the erosion of difference if we want creativity to flourish. There is a huge importance in the transdisciplinary influences inspiring the creative process – with art, architecture, fashion, and publishing all having the power to act as a catalyst for change.The importance of changing channels for communication and authentic storytelling is even more critical in today’s digital age (Jefferson Hack – Dazed & Confused)
  1. Community is the thread that links e-commerce and brand building. My Flash Trash sells online jewellery and has a Charm Gang of 350 girls from 14-30 that create content, review products, come up with new ideas and act as customer service (Amber Atherton – My Flash Trash)
  1. Soapbox Labs were on the shortlist for one of the ESB Start up Awards. They have developed software to help assess children reading ability.Perhaps as a new Dad who is currently reading nursey rhymes to his 2 month old daughter this product struck a chord. They stated that at the age of 8 a child moves from learning to read to reading to learn whish really made me think. (Patricia Scanlon – Soapbox Labs)
  1. I loved the debate on what defined Generation Z and their needs and wants.Generation Z (age 12-19) have grown up in a post Lehmans, post 9/11 age of uncertainty. They see themselves as content creators as well as consumers and are tough on brands and the values they stand for.They expect to be working in and on things they feel passionately about and expect the celebrities they admire to display authentic passion for global causes.They seek to engage with and have an open conversation with the brands and personalities they admire. As an example Zoella has 7.5million followers on Youtube and has more girls between 10-14 watching her every day than those who watch regular TV. (Lucy Greene – Innovation Group – J Walter Thompson)
  1. The simple rule is for digital marketing and storytelling is that: “Good Content Wins and Authentiticity Wins” (Rahul Chopra – Storyful)
  1. One of my favourite quotes was from Ryan Smith Founder of Qualtrics when he described how he used to carry his display stand on the NY metro to attend trade shows to try to meet potential customers. He said that “What a lot of people forget in business is that persistence is a true barrier to entry”. (Ryan Smith – Qualtrics)
  1. The Private Web will contain more users and have more content than the Public Web in the next 5 years. Young people are very interested in content privacy. Hence the popularity of self-destructing messaging apps like Snapcht and Wickr. (Nico Sell – Wickr)
  1. Much of the world is supported by ageing transport infrastructure. The team at Hyperloop Technologies in Los Angeles are working on solving that. The hyperloop idea was originally conceived by Elon Musk and is a cross between science fiction ideas from the future and pneumatic interoffice message-delivery systems from the past. It’s not yet clear whether it will work as a wholesale replacement for trains, buses, cars and airplanes, but it is clear Hyperloop Technologies has big ambitions for the transit technology. They are currently working on a 3km test hyperloop vacuum tube that will allow passengers to travel at 750 miles per hour which should be ready by 2017. (Rob Lloyd – Hyperloop)
  1. The best line of the day for me was one that was used by Liam Casey of technology manufacturing group PCH. Casey randomly met the publisher Jefferson Hack in a restaurant as he was struggling to develop a new generation magazine for his publishing group that would incorporate technology. He asked Hack one very simple question: “What emotion do you want it to have?” To that Jefferson replied “Wonder”.The resulting fashion and design magazine AnOther Magazine has an LED high res front cover image of Rihanna that winks at customers from across the news stand.PCH’s mantra is: “If it can be imagined, it can be made” which I thought summed them up wonderfully.How often do we think of the pure emption that a product will bring to its consumer when we are developing it?
  1. To succeed as a start-up entrepreneur you have to care passionately about the product, market and consumers and have conviction or visceral belief that the world needs this product. Do not work on markets, industries or with consumers that you fundamentally do not care about as you will grow to resent them. (Jeff Lawson – Twilio)
  1. There was a great talk by Ed Catmull founder of Pixar.He described how he never thought it would be just as hard 20 years later after founding Pixar. The biggest challenge they faced is people trying to repeat what they did in the past.“Look at the dynamics of your team. Measure not by output but by the spirit, humour and belief”. When they (Pixar’s Senior Management) were asked to take over the failing Disney animation studios, Catmull said that it took then 4 hours to describe the Pixar principles and values to the Disney team but it took 4 years for the Disney team to believe them.In any team of high achievers there is a fear of failure. For the creative process to work failure has be to be embraced. It is an iterative process that cannot induce fear in its leaders. Largely the same team at Disney went from being big failures to being huge successes. Change of mind-set does not require a change of personnel. It just requires removal of the barriers and blockers.