The WebSummit Experience: Learnings from Lisbon

Alan Costello, Venture Investment Leader at NDRC, recently travelled to Lisbon’s WebSummit. Here’s what he took away.

I have been at WebSummit in Dublin on two occasions, but this was my first visit since it moved to Lisbon. I was looking for the best startups to consider for NDRC 2019 investments, and I got to meet maybe 80 potential candidates. Add in 20 investor meetings, three or four corporate meetings, and that adds up to a busy few days.

I love a tradeshow or conference – it’s a melting pot of likeminded people, competitors and a great learning opportunity about your industry. It helps if you enjoy networking or are, at least, a little bit outgoing.

For those unaware, WebSummit is a large conference largely aimed at startups, scaling technology and investors – there are then many breakout summits by sector or service area.

Be prepared, and be on time

The first learning from Lisbon is WebSummit is very, very big. There’s no hiding away from that as 70,000 people milling around an exhibition and concert venue produces a lot of activity. Far from a two-hour sporting event at Croke Park, this is a three-day event, with those 70,000 attendees swirling around in ever-shifting circles.

Everything was done through the WebSummit app. The talks, preparations for appointments, everything. And it nearly worked…

The schedule of speakers is thorough, and it was worth going through in advance to schedule out your week. The WiFi was fine, and the app had a good listing of attendees and did open a chat function, but it was definitely a bit buggy.

I found it very helpful to get involved in the mentor hours. If you’re an entrepreneur wanting to meet with investors, say pre-seed investors such as NDRC, this was how it was done.

I was there looking for these very startups, investigating them to see if they qualified for any of our investment opportunities in 2019. Some played ball, others didn’t know how. As with any other funding opportunity have a deck, and be at the appointments on time.

I heard one of the best pitches ... completely by accident

Assuming you’re an entrepreneur at WebSummit, and you’re looking for funding, we investors are everywhere. Those more likely to impress were pitch ready with a 30-second (its busy!) and a three-minute pitch. These are major events, and the WiFi worked largely, but be prepared, make a video demo in advance, just in case.

I heard one of the best pitches yet in a two-minute conversation while an entrepreneur and I were charging our phones. Completely by accident, but the entrepreneur was prepared.

From an NDRC perspective, I found the investor events great, but only when I got out into the room. There were great startups here and I saw significant deals being originated, qualified and moved forward in the space of 30 minutes.

It helped if entrepreneurs could stand out a little bit. I did see pink suits, but better than that is a tech demo (maybe on screen), smart business cards and a simple brochure.

When a startup team is smiling, and ‘on it’, it can prove very effective. I met people who bluffed and then handed me to the CEO – everyone on the stand should be well briefed. Being on the stand from early morning helped, too, as it was quieter then so a better chance to engage people in proper conversation.

The pace was relentless

The Summit finished on Thursday but in the few days since I have received follow-up correspondence with many of the entrepreneurs I met with. The prompter the better, obviously.

The pace was relentless, with small summits on at every part of the day and night. Those that paced themselves best probably came away with the most.

Should startups go to WebSummit? It’s expensive, and cash is tight in startup land, so that’s a case-by-case situation. But I would recommend attending once, and perhaps even without a stand. It worked for some entrepreneurs that I met.