Web Summit 2018 happened with almost 70k participation figure. It was big, it was very well organised, it was crowded, it was awesome and it was tiresome.

As professionals who are getting experienced, we grow assumptions which come with expectations. For example; we expect it to be crowded, we expect to have good wifi, we expect to see many people talking about Blockchain, etc… but we do not expect these events to be ground breaking since they are mainly designed for networking.

There were more than 1800 startups participating and networking around to get some exposure to media and to some VCs. All those 1800 startups were talking over each other loudly to grab some attention to an extent that it became overwhelming. Imagine a huge farmers market with lots of vendors shouting to sell their goods which you can only see if you go closer to check their monitors. I assume many of them were not even understood. And I also assume that many of them didn’t even know what to expect.

But as ‘guests’, 70k of us, we knew what we came for and we kept running after all those instagramable moments. We usually did not pay attention to the speaker since we can watch the content on YouTube later. We also barely remembered to applaud the speaker, since we need to run fast for the next session.

And unfortunately – since the content to watch later / read later / care about later are getting more and more piled up everyday, we had to skip them once again. So basically, we missed the whole event.

For me, it was more like being a part of Instagram Scavenger Hunt at some point. I was trying to run from one stage to another all day long, trying hard not to crash into people walking around the pavilions and food vans as if they were spending a lazy day in a shopping mall. My introvert died many times but it was definitely worth it.

Here are my key takeaways and notes from the event:

Nothing is new while everything is changing

Machine Learning, AI, Blockchain, the art of attracting investments, the cost of growth… These topics have been exploited in almost all events within these last five years. So it is still going on: Some do not expect Blockchain to impact common people’s lives not in less than 7-10 years, some already announced that they have been talking with authorities in Malta about citizenship for the robots using SingularityNet platform on blockchain.

The areas in which AI and Machine Learning are being used is expanding enormously. From automotive to fashion, from content creation to GDPR… everybody is after the ways to be much smarter with rules, algorithms and create lots of content accordingly. Therefore according to IBM; only in USA there will be 2.7 mio positions around data sciences by 2020. In my humble opinion, the threat and the opportunity is the same and it is pretty clear in this case: In a world where data and content is abundant, what can make your content or your product to be more meaningful or more appealing to the audience? If relevance will not be optional but the norm –  what will make your sales content stand out and be appreciated?

Grow yourself first, before creating an obese organisation

Growth hurts and many speakers were sharing really valuable insights in regard to their learning. Many confessed that they were moonstruck by their own success and they could not see organisational problems coming. Most of them agree that having a strategy is the key to replicate the success, and they believe that you have to define what that strategy is while you’re riding the wave. So it is evident that the growth that happens only in numbers is not as good as the growth that helps with your capabilities as well. Also, the formula to deliver a sustainable growth seems to be quite easy:

  1. Do not be apologetic about your vision and values and protect them,

  2. Keep investing in building new capabilities,

  3. Do not get obsessed with your past success, focus on the future

  4. Solve real problems of real people

Here are some very nice quotes coming from them to support these points:

“As a leader if the job you’re doing is not changing every six months, it means that you’re holding people back.”

“The people who brought you there, may not necessarily be the same people who will take you to the next level”

“Embrace the change and grow yourself first, because culture will keep happening.”

“Define the people you need to keep for the next level, it is toxic if you insist on the people who are attached to the past.”

“Make the distinction between who you are and how you work. Who you are will not change but how you work will change every six months if you’re growing fast”

“Sales pipeline is not everything, consider to slow growth if the quality is going down”

“If your brand is authentic, the employees would know what to do and what is on brand. If not, you’ll need to spend more time to align internally”

Trust is scarce on every level

There were three major trust issues mentioned over and over which seem to have a massive impact in tech ecosystem:

  • Respect for Privacy: Facebook was not there and people talked behind their back a lot. They were questioning their business model which is abusing data to suck traffic into Facebook and its consequences. The need for a wind of change was evident with lots of emphasis on building trustworthy platforms and ideas. Next Generation Internet is being seen as necessary next step to create a sustainable future internet.   

  • Mainstream Manipulation: We heard lots of “Fake news” conversations. It is not only about a country or any elections, but people are well aware how technology can be abused to create a public opinion and/or feed polarisation. Media representatives and journalists -as expected- claim to be very responsible about it, they talk about content safety a lot. On the other hand, the amounts of content that they have been publishing every minute is getting more and more. It is already mind blowing to hear that even mid size content creation companies can manage to test thousands of contents for their clients every week. So with such a scale, media need to trust the ‘machine’ to choose well for them among all that ‘vomit’ at the end of the day. And we need to trust them to do so?

  • Authenticity: This is more of an introverted topic compared to the first two. Most of the speakers who represent giant tech companies were putting a very honest auto-critic about the wrong decisions they made for the sake of growth. Not very openly, but they were referring to the unbearable pressure coming from the investors for growth and its unpleasant consequences. They were advising the new startups to bootstrap as much as they can, and choose a slow growth to be able to chase their dreams. So sustainable growth, sticking with the values, focusing on learning first to be able to replicate success, building stronger brands… These messages were very popular. An interesting case about authenticity was coming from Slack. I didn’t know that Slack was a by-product of a games company. So the people who created Slack were working together to design and deploy games, but not an enterprise communication software. Their story is very inspirational to see how entrepreneurship functions, and to understand how creativity and fluidity can help a culture to focus on solving real problems rather than just delivering what they are supposed to deliver.

And one last quote from Slack’s Cal Henderson also summarises the whole event real well. He said -more or less-: “It is very easy and it is a trap to find yourself being really busy. You’re probably too stuck in tactical, day to day work, and you’re not focusing enough on the long term… Even if long term means just three months from now.”. And remember, this comes from a leader who was supposed to deliver a game not Slack.

So some of the tech people are too busy to deliver what they need to deliver to please the Investors or Instagram. And some of them have the luxury to choose to focus on real problems of real people to get humanity to the next level…

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