Why You Should go to Web Summit

and what to do when you get there

Photo taken from the official blog. It’s from 2015, but you get the idea.

Web Summit is an annual technology conference that originated in Dublin and as of 2016 will be taking place in Lisbon, Portugal. The event is known as Europe’s largest IT conference with attendance in 2016 reaching over 50,000 visitors from more than 160 countries. It’s almost like Burning Man except people wear clothes most of the time and everyone either has a startup, wants to invest in one or is about to quit their job and start one I swear. So why should you go?

Web Summit is unlike any other conference I’ve attended. Yes, it’s also the largest one I’ve been to, but that’s not the main reason why I find it so appealing. The focus is on technology and web, but among 21 separate conferences within Web Summit each with their own track during the whole three days, it’s hard to imagine that even the most obscure interests won’t be covered.

Just a fraction of attendees.

Most people I talked to had a hard time devising a schedule of the separate talks they wanted to attend. The issue was anticipated, so a Web Summit app was available showing the entire programme on every stage each day. Still, the sheer number of things happening everywhere around you at the same time was overwhelming.

But of course not everyone is there for the talks. Most people go to Web Summit in hopes of finding fresh business. Depending on what your goal is, it may or may not be a good idea to attend.

If you have a startup Web Summit is the place to be

The event is highly startup-oriented as this is still kind of a huge hype. During the three days there were a total of three pitch stages where founders were constantly rotating to present their ideas in front of a judge panel and the gathered crowd. Additionally, over 500 startups were on display at the event. Each startup had a booth, but only for one day.

That means if you can’t go through all startups currently on display in one day (which no way you can) the next day features a whole new set of startups. It’s not possible to randomly go through every founder and have a conversation with them about their idea.

But that’s a good thing.

See, not being able to meet all startups means people have to filter out those they don’t find relevant. That leaves you, as a founder, with a lot of attendees who come specifically to your booth, because they’re interested in what you do.

On the other hand, there’s a ton of investors lurking around, searching for the next big thing. You can recognise them by the investor badge and the dollar signs in their eyes. Even if you don’t land your next big investment round it’ll be a great opportunity to practice talking to important people.

This guy was there.

If you’re a vendor and want to find clients —

Web summit might not be the ideal place for that. From what I noticed and the conversations I had, the attendees can be organised in several groups:

  • Founders — want to gain exposure and/or attract investments.
  • Investors — don’t care about your offer — only there to stay up-to-date or find the next unicorn.
  • Employees from big corporations — glad to be at the event on company budget and don’t care about the business part.
  • Other vendors — expanding their network with the hopes of finding a new client.
  • Students / media / independent attendees — got a free ticket or bought one because they’re interested in the talks or get paid to be there.

That being said, this shouldn’t entirely discourage you to go to Web Summit and expand your network. There are numerous stories of business opportunities emerging in the most unlikely places. It’s important to note, however, that you shouldn’t leave things to chance — start preparing at least a month in advance. A valuable piece of advice I failed to follow.

Identify the companies and people, relevant to your line of work, contact them and try to schedule a meeting during Web Summit prior to going there.

It’ll be a lot harder to set up these meetings once you arrive and the madness begins. By creating a fixed schedule you’ll have a goal to pursue, which will give you a sense of accomplishment once you start ticking off items on your list as opposed to aimlessly walking around.

What happens in Lisbon stays in Lisbon

Lisbon is an amazing place. It’s a vibrant city with a remarkable night life paired with magnificent architecture in a colonial spirit. The streets are pure chaos and yet somehow everything works. People are unusually polite and you can tell it’s not the kind of forced politeness native to a lot of Westerners.

If I have to pick one thing that really differentiates Web Summit from other similar events it’s the incredible emphasis the organisers put in events outside of the daily program. Networking is a lot more fun when everyone is drunk.


The pressure accumulated from spending the whole day concentrating on other people’s ideas and figuring out the best way to express yours is released during the evening hours when everyone hits the streets. It’s where you get to bond with the people you already met, or meet new ones — all on the streets of Bairro Alto in the heart of Lisbon.

There are special perks for Web Summit attendees such as bar crawls, drink discounts and other get-me-wasted kind of privileges that make you feel like part of an exclusive social group. Even if you don’t talk to anyone, just walking around on the streets of old Lisbon is a good enough reason to skip a few hours of sleep.

Web Summit is an exciting event with a lot of potential.

Don’t get confused, though — it’s not likely that you’ll learn something groundbreaking that will change the way you think. Conferences rarely do that to people. It’s interesting to hear different people talk and you’ll surely get inspired by the ideas you’ll come across, both from speakers and attendees. This inspiration might even last for a few days. But in the end Web Summit is an event meant to entertain people — and it does it excellently.

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