I am just coming back from my first visit to the Web Summit in Dublin, Ireland in 4-7 November 2014. Perfectial sent a small delegation to the event. The show featured heavy hitters and small-fries, all gathered in the spirit of networking and innovation in a city which itself has become a concentration for startups.

Web Summit ’14

The Web Summit 2014 was held in Dublin, Ireland 4-7 November 2014. Web Summit is sometimes described as ‘Davos for Geeks’. It was held on the RDS grounds in Ballsbridge in the south of Dublin.

Very Relaxed

The event is very casual. Most people wear jeans. T-shirts are not at all out of place, nor are sneakers. There are pained sheep in the middle of the grounds. I showed up on the first day wearing a blue suit. Although I was still smart enough to have left my ties at home, I somehow managed to look like a dork at a show for geeks.

People Very Approachable

Pink Sheep at the Web Summit 2014 Dublin

People are much more approachable at the Web Summit than at your typical technology conference. It’s really a networking event and that’s one of the big things that people are there to do. Unlike a lot of such events, it wasn’t at all awkward asking the guy or gal next to you what they did. Everyone seems to expect it and is ready with their pitch. I was even sitting one day at lunch minding my own business when I got approached by a nice young lady with a startup eager to tell her story.

All Startups

If one wants to meet startups, this is the place to be. Technology entrepreneurs from all over come to sell their ideas and seek investors and customers. In fact, there are so many startups, they have to rotate them out to let others in. Corporate types are not to be found at this event.

Heavy Hitters for Speakers

Jeff Thiel, Bono, John Sculley and a few others were among the many high-profile speakers at the Web Summit. This is not to omit Paddy Cosgrave, the organizer of the event which regularly attracts industry big-wigs from Apple and Google to Cisco and so on.

“Here in front of me was the guy who connected big data, analytics and baseball”

I had the chance to meet Bill James, the baseball statistician of ‘Moneyball‘ fame at lunch one day. I was having lunch with a buddy and I saw a tall gentleman with a ‘Boston Red Sox’ badge walk by. Being a Red Sox fan in Dublin, I had to find out who it was. I went over to him and read his name: Bill James. Having both read the Michael Lewis book and seen the movie with Brad Pitt, I connected the dots immediately. Here in front of me was the guy who connected big data, analytics and baseball, indirectly making the careers of guys like Kevin Youkilis and Scott Hatteberg. We sadly wasted the ensuing conversation telling him about expat life in Central / Eastern Europe instead of picking his ample brain.

Dublin

Web Summit Dublin 2014 Night Summit

The city of Dublin is very engaged with the Web Summit. The conference doesn’t end at 6pm. There is a whole Night Summit both near the conference grounds and in the city center that runs into the late and early hours.

Dublin seems to be quite an appropriate venue for an event like this. A native said to me “These days, Dublin is all coffeehouses and startups.” That is indeed how it felt.

I’d visited Dublin in 1992 while on a rugby tour. I was very struck by the differences in the city and the effects of wealth, prosperity and over a decade in the EU.

Growing Quickly

Four years ago, this conference had 400 people participate. This year, 22,000 people attended, which was double last year’s attendance.

Irony about Trade Conferences

“The innovation that killed conferences is growing exponentially”

Web Summit 2014 Streets of Dublin

I found the whole growth in attendance extremely ironic. When I was a young technology salesman, we regularly attended big trade shows like Cebit in Hannover, Germany and Comdex in Las Vegas. Both were huge. Cebit went on for a grueling 10 days. Comdex dominated Las Vegas for a week. We used them to look for customers and to see what our competitors were doing. Companies would time their product releases for one or the other event.

Then the Internet and World Wide Web came along and they killed the big conferences. All of a sudden, it was possible to provide and obtain product information over the web. Exhibitors and attendees at the big conferences dropped off dramatically. People concluded: ‘I can now get all of this info at my desk. Why invest the time and money to go to a conference?’ This has been the reality for years.

Now, a conference on the Web – the innovation that killed conferences – is growing exponentially. I hear they want to do one in Las Vegas and Singapore. It seems like the World is coming full circle when it comes to technology conferences.