From Pieter Welten – Prime Ventures (@WeltenPie)

Next week I will be attending the Web Summit in Dublin for the third consecutive year. Together with the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the Web Summit belongs to the largest tech conferences in Europe. Within only five years the event managed to attract +30,000 attendees and speakers such as Elon Musk (CEO SpaceX/Tesla), Niklas Zennström (former CEO Skype), Bono (U2), Tony Hawk (pro skater) and  this year even the legendary Edwin van der Sar (former Dutch national goalkeeper)! This is obviously a great achievement for Paddy Cosgrave (Founder of WS) and his team.

When I was preparing my visit I came across an article titled ‘Is Web Summit a Scam’. Unsurprisingly, it is a very negative article about the Web Summit set-up and included words like deceptive, spam, misleading, unethical, sugarcoating and despicable. Not great PR! Apparently, Paddy strongly responded in a post and Mark Suster – a reputable investor and blogger – shared his view on the event as well. I personally don’t believe you can label the Web Summit a scam, that’s simply too harsh. However, all of this really made me start thinking and reflecting on tech conferences in general.

Yes, I can understand that start-ups, often financially constraint, sometimes feel that they don’t get that much value out of a tech conference. That s*cks, because attending one costs a lot of time and money. This obviously applies to all those established tech conferences, not only the Web Summit; think NOAH, Slush, LeWeb, South Summit and TNW Conference. The huge number of attendees, i.e. start-ups, speakers, investors, is also often overwhelming to all (especially first-time) participants. I don’t think you can or should blame the organisations of the respecitve conferences for this – they are doing a great job. I am opinionated this has all to do with managing our own expectations.
What I am trying to say is the following. There are hundreds of investors and thousands of entrepreneurs at a conference. First of all, due to time constraints both entrepreneurs and investors need to decide who they will and won’t meet up with. Hopefully we realize that. Secondly, as far as I am concerned investors want to identify investment opportunities, whereas entrepreneurs are looking for investment. That’s the ultimate objective right? But with thousands of attendees it is difficult to find a (perfect) match at such a massive event, though not impossible! Let me put it differently. If you are going out to a large club with a bunch of friends, chances are that you will meet the love of your life that night. It can also happen that you talk to a lovely girl who turns out to have a boyfriend or that you are just having a good time with your friends and didn’t talk to a girl at all. In the latter case, will you be disappointed? Perhaps, but you knew that this could happen. Unfortunately, not finding or talking to the right match is also more likely to happen at large scale events such as the Web Summit.

I believe both investors and start-ups, especially first-time attendees, should manage their own expectations when they decide to attend these tech conferences as well. I attend them on a regular basis, it happens to be part of my job. In order to get most out of it I make sure that I am well prepared and schedule meetings, coffees, and drinks with both entrepreneurs and investors in advance. I carefully check the WS database of start-ups that attend and try to identify interesting and relevant companies. I also carefully consider what events I will attend during the conference. Basically, I want to make sure that my attire and fragrance is noticed when I ‘enter the club’, it is the least I can do.

My advice to entrepreneurs? Target relevant investors in advance, think out of the box how you can rise above the crowd of start-ups, participate in as many events as possible, and get inspired by top speakers. That’s all you can do. But above all, enjoy the experience, you deserve it! Running a start-up is tough and requires hardwork. A tech conference is entertainment and a great bonding experience for your team as well. Since, I am a big believer of teamwork and team building I want to finish with a quote of Michael Jordan, the legendary basketballer: “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships”. Maybe a tech conference is like a trainings camp, hard work, but it can help you winning the championship. Hopefully Michael will be invited to the Web Summit someday. Paddy?