published 10 Nov 2014 by Claudia Kaefer 6 minutes 54 seconds to read

On location @Web Summit 2014

Our journey-themed series gets closer to home than ever as we follow inventures cofounder Claudia Kaefer on her trip to Dublin where she met some pink sheep and Mike Butcher, and snapped some exclusive photos and insights.

Retracing my steps to Ireland and back, head still dizzy from the early flight, I can safely say that Web Summit Dublin has grown tremendously the second time around in more ways than one.

The mission

Last year, I visited the Web Summit out of curiosity and because it ranks among the top five startup events in Europe together with the Next Web in Amsterdam, the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Le Web in Paris and Vienna’s Pioneers. This year, however, was different, because I went to the summit as part of the arrangement with our client Advantage Austria Dublin, who sponsored 13 Austrian startups’ trips to the event. If you have missed our series dedicated to the Web Summit Picks, you can check them out here.

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I also had a personal mission – chase as many celebrities as possible to take a photo with them. But on the serious side, being there as both a media representative and the cofounder of a startup proved to be an almost schizophrenic experience. On the one hand, I had future material to worry about – to keep in mind all of our new content types and be on the lookout for interesting startups that could fit each of these. Chase them down, grab a business card, quickly tell them about inventures and off to the next booth. Live-tweeting the event (53 tweets in total) also fell into the responsibilities that came with my media hat, but the entrepreneur in me had a different goal – meet up with as many potential partners as possible.

The distance

Vienna and Dublin are 1,680 kilometers apart, or about a three-hour plane ride. But what really got to me was the footwork. I must have walked over 30 kilometers each day I spent at the summit. I stayed with friends and walked about 25 minutes to the venue and once there, often had to trek between the two venues (last year was only one). The main event area and the exhibition village were a good distance apart, with organizers going as far with the planning as building a bridge to prevent traffic jams forming over the constant flow of pedestrians sporting badges.

The nutrition

With so many things to cover, it is no wonder that by the end of day one, I realized I had been functioning on Mozartkugel candy alone. Luckily for me, the Austrian startups had all brought the country’s most famous chocolate balls and doing the rounds I managed to treat myself to no less than 17 of these.

On day two, I fully planned to take better care of myself, but the prospect of storming the FoodSummit (just over the bridge) together with 22,000 people more was not too appealing. We had food vouchers, but knowing the horror it was last year with half the participants, I brought those back untouched and went for a tuna sandwich and a hot chocolate instead. Copious amounts of black tea helped me replenish – and believe me, they were much needed. I had to leave early on day three to make it for a meeting in Vienna, and airplane food is really not worth mentioning.

The organizers

Infrastructure was just one area where the growth compared to last year was clearly notable. For me, the biggest impact was on the "media village" it had grown in size by at least five times and this was reflected in its name - last year it was just a modest “media lounge”. Someone must have listened to the complaints from 2013, because there were press kits, a dedicated space for press conferences and even Ethernet cables stuck to the tables because, let’s face it, with over 20,000 techies attending, the WiFi was struggling again this year, as organiser Paddy Cosgrave also admitted in his initial speech.

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That still didn’t stop the twitter storm, and the aftermath of the event was 120,000 tweets published from over 40,000 unique Twitter accounts between the attendees and the live stream viewers. With a node to their shortcomings, the organizers later reported that: “despite the issues with WIFI, the term appeared in less than 2,000 tweets.”

As a whole, it seemed to me that in just a year the team behind Web Summit managed to both expand the event and make it much more professional, which is quite impressive. This was evident in the dedicated areas – the developers’ summit, the e-commerce summit, etc. Not only did these come in handy for visitors, but, I am sure, they also had a good effect on business as each exhibitor could position themselves correctly and the bigger ones had to be present in more than one.

The networking

Ahh, the good stuff! Frankly, this was why most of the entrepreneurs present had coughed up the funds for the quite expensive ticket. With so many people around, most of my best encounters were due to slight klutziness as I bumped into people. But where else can you literally rub shoulders with someone you have been trying to chase with e-mails for over a year? Sometimes I had to work harder at it, breaking into a run as a badge bearing the logo of a potential partner sailed past me, but I did catch up with that one and had a quick chat.  All in all, I must have spoken to hundreds of people and I brought over 130 business cards back to the office to triage.

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And there were also some serendipitous encounters, like bumping into someone I had only met once before at another startup conference in Seoul of all places. Or the time I exchanged business cards with someone with someone to realize a moment later we went to business school together.

We are focused on covering CEE, but there is an entire planet out there and it is one thing to read about it, but completely different to see the startups and talk to them. There were so many interesting people and so many different options of meeting them, other than becoming a human pinball from hearing their presentations to waiting in line for a coffee.

The memories

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Perhaps the most surreal experience was what is now known in the office as “the sheep incident.” It was already dark on day 1 and I was walking from venue 1 to 2. Then I saw pink sheep and had a pause. I thought my exhaustion was making me see things or that it was the light, but other people said it was actually real – someone had painted and therefore, branded the sheep in the nearby field in the summit colours...

There was also the robot – it turned and followed me with its eyes as I was walking past. I did a double take and got closer.  When it arm I tried to shake hands and it pulled back with someone nearby commenting “It doesn’t want to be friends with you!” Seeing it move and have emotional expressions on its “face” based on the people around it was amazing, but also quite scary. And yes, you can tell I am not a techie...

inventures' Top 5 of Web Summit 2014

This is a ranking that has nothing to do with success, pitching or achievements. Based on my gut and on what I stayed with me immediately after this blur of an event was over, I find myself mentioning these companies the most:

Pirx – these guys had brought 3D printers with them – it was something you can look at, something that created an outcome, and, understandably among the booths that drew a huge crowd.  

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Tablet Solutions - many people don’t find the b2b industrial market sexy, but it is a potentially very useful one and there is space for good revenue if managed well.

Bitninja server security - hands down they get the best costume awards – they were dressed as ninjas!

Fojo this company i liked because of their idiot-proof analogue photo creator and the fact that it has a very well defined target group – riding the hipster DIY wave.

sofasession had hilarious pictures on their pitch slides and they get a special mention for keeping it EXTREMELY cool in front of hundreds of people.

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