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We travelled just over 1,800 miles to attend the biggest tech conference in the world.

My Web Summit.

It’s been a week since Chris and I returned from one of the most interesting, insightful and exhausting weeks of our lives.

Day 1 – Hello Lisbon

Following our 3.20pm flight we arrived in Lisboa Airport around 6pm and the second we walked into the arrival’s area, there was a sense of excitement about the place.  Lots of WebSummit volunteers were in place to answer any questions for the thousands of people arriving.

Web Summit Lisboa 2018

To save 70,000 people trying to queue for registration on the opening day, there is a huge marquee at the exit of departures where you can show your ticket, get your wrist band and lanyard which enables easy and quick access to the venue itself for the week.

After a couple of stops on the metro, we arrived at Oriente Station which was very close to our apartment (and the Altice Arena where the WebSummit was being held). After a Pizza Hut, a sneaky beer and a couple of episodes of Friends, we hit the hay.

Day 2 – Launch Day

The official opening of the WebSummit was on the Monday and although doors opened at 4pm, we were advised to get there nice and early.  So, after scoping the area out, we made our way down to the main entrance where there was already quite a queue forming.

Once we were inside center stage, both Chris and I just looked at each other and said “wow”… we started to get a feel for the scale of this place.  Not only was there centre stage which holds 20,000 people but four other pavilions, each the size of the SSE arena.  We were lucky enough to get only a few rows back from the front where at 6.30pm on the button, Paddy Cosgrave addressed the full house and thanked everyone for coming.

Following Paddy, we were treated to an inspiring talk from the creator of the World Wide Web; Sir Tim Berners-Lee. He discussed how almost 30 years ago there was so much hype, excitement and energy about the web that is has almost done a full circle and become a negative thing.  His new mission; “Contract for the web” calls on all of us to stand up for the web we want and breathe some positivity back into the WWW.

After Sir Tim, Lisa Jackson, the Vice Principal of Environment, Policy and Social Initiatives from Apple spoke on how investing money into making your company greener can be seen as wasted but could not be further from the truth.  Apples goal is to power its global operations with 100% renewable energy.

Finally, Writer/Director Darren Aronofsky was interview by Lauren Goode (Senior Writer, Wired) on how technology has helped his trade and how he believes technology will never fully surpass human input but can open us up to new opportunities that were never before possible.

Web Summit Launch

After a busy few hours and inspiring talks, it was time for a wee drink at the many bars that surrounded the arena.  Each bar was dedicated to a specific country but I’ll give you one guess on which one was packed from the get-go… yip, Irish & Co although I am not sure how many Irish people were actually in attendance!

We met some fantastic characters such as the Director of KPMG, Patrick Kirby, UX Designer and WebSummit volunteer, Jason Castaneda and Digital DNA representative Emma McFetridge. After a few not so sensible drinks, we all parted ways to get some rest for the first of 3 manic days.

Day 2 Highlight: Hearing from Sir Tim Berners-Lee.

Day 3 – 70,000 People

After standing in a relatively long (but moving) queue, it was time to start the WebSummit good and proper.  I picked up my awesome reusable water bottle (part of the WebSummit save the ocean campaign), I attempted to make sense of the 4 oversized arenas and see where all of my scheduled talks were located exactly.

First off I made my way to center stage once to listen to Cal Henderson discuss the fastest growing business app in history – Slack.  Cal co-founded Slack 5 short years ago and it has blown up into something that now has over 4 million users. Although fascinating, I personally didn’t get a lot from the talk but it was interesting none the less.

PandaConf Stage Web Summit Lisbon 2018

Someone who was renowned for having good starts thought is 2016 F1 World Champion, Nico Rosberg and he was my next scheduled talk at the FORUM stage.  I was lucky to get only a few rows from the for the interview with Nico, Franz Heukamp (Desn, IESE Business School) and Mariana Porley (CFO, Siemens AG). Nico certainly attracted the crowds but this talk was right up my street asking the 3 successful interviewees what was most important for them when working with a team and ensuring that CEO’s and leaders put their energy into the areas that they can control and to trust their team.  This is as important in a F1 team as it is within our very own studio.

On over to the Creatiff stage I listened to Alex Tew and Michael Acton Smith discuss how a calm mind is a creative mind. To be honest, this was probably the most eye-opening talk of the whole event.  Calm is an app that allows users to disconnect from everyday life using technology.  The two creators discussed how it is as important to disconnect as it is to connect and how being connected all day every day has a negative impact on our mental health.  I was so inspired by the discussion, that I have written a blog about my thoughts surrounding tech and mental health.

Staying at Creatiff, I heard from Oliver Robert-Murphy (Universal Music Group) on how to judge creativity.  The best quote that came from Oliver was:

“To see how we will judge creativity in 5-10 years time is to see how we have judged it over the last 5-10 years.  The basic 3 rules of design still apply: purpose, emotions and impact”.

The final talk that day was from Burger Kings global head of brand marketing, Marcelo Pascoa.  The basic message Marcelo was trying to portray was to have self confidence and break the rules.  He also said to “screw the hype” but make sure “no one dies” in relation to Burger Kings latest ad campaign to promote their delivery service: check it out. Overall a fantastic talk in which Marcelo also showed us the Brazilian ad campaign for “That Coke is a Fanta” – probably my favourite advert of all time (after Levis Flat Eric… obviously).  See for yourself:

After a walk around some of the 160 startups, it was time to head back to the apartment to get refreshed and out for Night Summit at the famous “Pink Street”.  I have to admit I was a little let down with the size of pink street – it had maybe 10 bars and with almost 20,000 people trying to squeeze into them it quickly became quite cramped.  We managed to grab a pizza and got chatting to two very cool French creatives’ from Akiani in Bordeaux who, like everyone we met, were super friendly and happy to discuss the possibility of working together.  After we met up with the David Henderson Design crew; David, Megan and Paul and Gareth Dicky from Flax Creative, it was time to head back and get rested for more of the same the next morning.

Day 3 Highlight: Selfie with Nico Rosberg

Day 3 Talk of the Day: Marcelo Pascoa, Who’s Afraid of Great Advertising?

Day 4 – All the talks

I originally had 11 talks in my schedule but after realising how vast the whole arena is, I knew attending all 11 wasn’t going to be possible.  Luckily for me, the majority of the talks I wanted to hear were all in the one stage  PandaConf.

First up was Alan Schaff from Imgur who again reiterated the importance of making the internet a happy place with the appropriately named talk titled “The Internet of Happiness”.  Although Imgur can be seen as a social media platform, in its own right it is essentially where (and I quote):

“People can go on to Imgur, look at some silly pictures of cats for 5 minutes and log off and instantly feel better.”

I am not sure I 100% agree but I get what Alan was trying to say – there’s no negativity and Imgur have very tight rules which try to minimise any form of bullying, political stance or negative vibes.  If these rules are broken there is no warning – you are banned. It also allows you to break out of the eco-system of your friends/followers list and see new things.

Next up on PandaConf was David Schneider (not Schwimmer!) from “That Lot” who gave a great insight on how to create a video for social and how he sees people using videos in the future.  He truly believes the days of horizontal video frames on mobile are gone – vertical video scrolling will be the next thing and I have to agree, it looks awesome!

Davids top tips for great social video were:
  1. Have a strong opening.
  2. Ensure the sound off version of your video is still perfectly fine but the users get a little reward (better experience) with sound on.
  3. Get your branding in early.
  4. Think about how it is presented (letterbox style with heading above and subtitles below for example) and also how it looks on different platforms (YouTube vs Instagram stories).
  5. Make the content relatable.

The next few talks entitled “influencing the influencers” and “creativity but not as we’ve traditionally known it” were both a little substandard compared to the 2 previous but Adam Petrick from Puma made up for them both with his “Forever Faster” discussion.  Adam went into great detail how 2013 was a low point for Puma but with influencers, bullish ad campaigns and having one very clear, direct message, Puma has once again become a force to be reckoned with in the sportswear industry.

Carlsberg at Web Summit

I attended a further 5 talks on the Wednesday including Jessica Spence (Chief Commercial Officer, Carlsberg) discussing “Probably the best advertising campaigns in the world” but I will finish today’s review with the stand-out talk from Sarah Bird (CEO, Moz) on the SEO Trends of 2019.

Sarah’s presentation was fast, furious and fun! She somehow managed to squeeze what should have been a 40-minute presentation into just over 20 mins. The long and short of her talk was that people become fixated on small increased in popularity on Bing, YT and Amazon searched – the reality is Google is still very much king and is actually continuing to grow in popularity year on year.  A great little snippet from Sarah’s talk was that the difference between PPC and SEO is like a hamster wheel and a flywheel respectively.  A hamster wheel is easy to get going but as soon as you stop turning it (paying for ads) it stops spinning.  However, although a flywheel is harder to get going, once it gets going, it is pretty much self-sufficient and only requires tweaking and maintaining. Food for thought!

Day 4 Highlight: Having a beer with my Subway!

Day 4 Talk of the Day: Sarah Bird, SEO Trends of 2019

Day 5 – Finishing Up

The third and final day of the WebSummit.  The last chance to chat with the start-ups, get your business card in front of as many people as possible and hear from some very inspirational speakers.

My last day started a little later than the others (around 10.30am) where I heard Rik Strubel from Axe (Lynx) discuss how they have had to adjust their marketing strategy and ad campaigns to an ever-increasing insecure and sensitive male market. Picking up some samples of the “Ditch The Brand” deodorant was a nice little highlight.


Larry Kim Web Summit 2018

In the middle of the day, Larry Kim took to PandaConf to discuss The Four Growth Marketing Principals You Need To Create Your Unicorn. Larry started WordStream in his 20s with very little and grew it into the world largest PPC marketing software company in a very short space of time.  Larry’s strange obsession with Unicorns made the talk oddly relatable after comparing Unicorns to Donkeys.  In Larry’s own words:

“Unicorn Hill is better than Donkey Hill – always aim for Unicorn Hill”

Anybody can get a donkey, think like a donkey and act like a donkey, but it only takes 1% of believers to make something, anything achievable.

The only other talk I attended on the final day was “A complete history of branding in 15 minutes” by Debbie Milmam (CEO, Design Matters Media) which was fascinating and showed how for over 50,000 years we have been branding ourselves using flags which then moved on to wall art, uniforms and religious symbols until it continued to transform and turn into what we know today as “branding”.

After one final walk around, I found myself at the BOLD standing and using VR for the first time.  It was an incredible experience but I feel we are still only touching the barebones of it.  Reason being – I had to put on a mask, headphones, hold two levers, take off my glasses and then was getting caught up on the wires around my ankles.  Once it is a more natural process, I can see VR taking off and being used in ways we never thought were possible.

The final night of Night Summit was held in the heart of Lisbon at Casa Independente, a strange old house converted into a bar.  The thing that makes the Night Summit so popular isn’t the venue or the drinks (although €1.50 for a bottle of beer was great!) it’s the people – our fellow attendees.  We once again caught up with Jason but also got chatting to two Italian guys who run their own marketing agency, a Brazilian couple who own multiple businesses dotted around the globe and possibly the coolest man on the planet – a man named Tony Koop who is using blockchain to bring weather forecasting and environmental monitoring to the sharing economy with his company Wrfcoin.

After a few too many drinks, Chris and I headed back to the apartment, watched some more Friends and crashed out before the long wait to 6pm the following day for our flight home back to Dublin.

Day 5 Highlight: Using VR for the first time

Day 5 Talk of the Day: Larry Kim, The Four Growth Marketing Principals You Need To Create Your Unicorn

WebSummit Top Tips

Thinking of heading to the WebSummit next year? Then below are a few tips that may assist you if it’s your first time:

  • Phone Charger – Bring a phone charger/power pack. Although the WebSummit has sufficient phone charger points, they fill up fast come lunch time.  With so many great talks, your phone will be used plenty!
  • Time Management – As you have probably gathered, 70,000 people trying to make their way between each pavilion can cause some traffic jams so always try to leave plenty of time between each of your talks to ensure you get a seat or you risk being quite far back.
  • Food – Due to the insane amount of people, it’s not surprising that when “break out” is on (around 1.15pm – 2.00pm) the queues become quite large, quite quickly. Providing you don’t have a talk on, I would suggest grabbing lunch around 12.30/1 to avoid the queues. Oh, and bring snacks… lots of snacks!
  • Business Cards – Although the WebSummit app allows you to connect with your fellow attendees, there’s nothing quite like exchanging business cards so get plenty printed and make sure you give them to everyone!
  • Accommodation – We stayed about a 10-minute walk away from the entrance of the Altice Arena just off Av. Dom Joao II. However, this meant for NightSummit which is mostly held in the centre of Lisbon, we had to get a metro, change lines and another metro.  Although it is very cheap it was a pain (especially after a few drinks).  The flip side of this is that if you stayed closer to the centre, it could take around 40 mins to get to the event each day.  Personal preference really but next year, we will be staying as close to the arena as possible.

Thank you!

I just wanted to give my own personal thanks to every single person who helped make the WebSummit 2018 by far the single best event I have ever attended.  From the volunteers, the speakers, fellow attendees, startups and of course the man himself, Paddy Cosgrave it’s clear they have a winning formula which I believe will see the next 10 years of WebSummit Lisboa grow from strength to strength.

Steven Legge, Gareth Dickey and David Henderson


Steven Legge
Director & Project Manager

Motorcycle obsessed Steve has 15 years in the web design industry working with some of the biggest brands in NI. Stevens people skills are what make him the perfect liaison between the tech guys and customer.

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