Yesterday, Tech.eu’s Neil Murray got up at 5AM in the morning itching to write an opinion piece (you’re a blogger, or you aren’t) on some of the Web Summit‘s practices after some relatively mild tweets about the conference in the past. In it, he explained why he won’t be going to any of its future events.

Having edited and published his opinion piece, we both expected some response from the wider European tech community, but we didn’t see this coming. Since the article was published, we have received a tiny bit of criticism – mainly centered around the fact that Neil has never attended any of Web Summit’s even in person, which is a silly argument – with no one really disputing the facts.

What we’ve also received: heaps of emails, direct messages, Skype and Facebook IMs thanking us for ‘exposing’ Web Summit and sharing (off the record, of course) anecdotes based on personal experience from founders, investors and other folks.

I wish they would do so publicly, but so be it. That day will come.

But tonight, Web Summit responded to our post (though it remained unmentioned and unlinked) to ‘set the record straight’. So, though conscious of the fact that this is nothing but drama for a lot of people, it’s my duty as publisher and editor of Tech.eu to respond in kind.

web Summit

First off, I’ve always gotten along with Web Summit founders Paddy Cosgrave and Daire Hickey, and respect the fact that they’ve built a large conference business from humble beginnings. It’s a very competitive space, and they’ve nailed many aspects of the business down to an art. I’ve attended multiple Web Summits in Dublin over the years, as well as most of the great F.ounders events that are organised on the fringes of the main conference. For the most part, I’ve enjoyed them, although the Web Summit has gotten too big for me to get a lot out of value out of it, personally.

So let this be clear: I have no axe to grind with anyone on the Web Summit team, and we’re not ‘attacking’ them with an agenda, as some have ignorantly implied. We’re not in the conference business, and likely never will be (that’s not to say we won’t do events, just that they’ll be small and valuable, and not compete with Web Summit).

But (you know there was a ‘but’ coming) I’ve attended literally hundreds of conferences, summits, festivals and meetups over the past decade, in all corners of the world, and I have never received so many complaints about any organisation as vividly and frequently as the Web Summit. Every year, it seems to get worse.

Fear and loathing in Dublin

I’m mindful of not exposing anyone who doesn’t want to be named, and I actually think it is a shame that so many startup founders, investors, journalists, service providers and other previous attendees of the Web Summit have opted to tell me certain things in confidence and not willing to go on the record. Most are afraid, for whatever reason, to have their opinions out in public. That is evidently their prerogative.

We are not afraid. We are pro-startups and pro-entrepreneurs to the bone. We might get banned from all future Web Summits, but we don’t care. What we do care about is our ethics and reputation. It’s one thing to defend yourself, but it’s another thing entirely to imply that we are opinionated about Web Summit because of some hidden agenda or association.

I’ll say it loud and clear. Web Summit may be very proud of the fact that they don’t hire event managers but data scientists and engineers, and that their conference business is run more by algorithms than human beings. I think that’s the core of the problem.

Is Web Summit overly aggressive in its online marketing? Yes. Does that make it spam? I don’t know. What I do know is that the advertisements they run, and a large part of the emails that they send, are straight-up deceptive, to say the least. That’s worse than spam, and Web Summit has demonstrated that it’s prepared to take things up a notch with every event.

Examples aplenty: from toying with the number of attendees from a certain country that have purportedly signed up to buy event tickets (which Neil pointed out in his post) to actually showing logos from startups who haven’t registered – and some not even ever heard of – the Web Summit. That is downright misleading and unethical.

Sacrificing startups at the altar of growth

Worse is that I’ve witnessed Web Summit go out of its way to hide from startups that they will need to pay to attend. They are exceptionally good at making startup founders feel like they’ve ‘won’ something and that they’ve been ‘selected’ but all of them end up paying more than they should. The algorithms for that certainly work fantastically well.

No matter how much Web Summit tries to sugarcoat it, they are definitely and deliberately trying to capture founders’ attention by purporting to give away exhibitor space for free (there are people commenting on Web Summit’s blog post saying as much, too). They might make things clear later, but startups are definitely being tricked into the funnel. I would call out any company reverting to such tactics, because I find it despicable.

Paddy writes that he’s ‘proud to be a bootstrapped startup’ – I say he should be ashamed about the way they’ve treated some truly bootstrapped startups. I think it’s bullshit, and a disservice to fledging young companies with very little money and time to spare. If you’re in the business of running startup events, you shouldn’t be trying to milk them to improve your margins before the altar of exponential growth. Or at least be transparent about it.

Does it make Web Summit a scam? To many, clearly yes, also judging from our inboxes. I don’t know if ‘scam’ is the right word. But there are plenty of people who’ve come forward to us to say they feel wronged by the organisation, and I will gladly tell any startup asking me whether Web Summit is worth going to or exhibiting at that is absolutely not, for the reasons I’ve cited above and many more.

In 2013, some startup founders desperately tried to get my attention in the main hall to highlight how little they received from Web Summit in terms of exposure after buying into exhibitor space at an (evidently) ‘special discounted rate’. They were put in a separate room with hundreds of other attention-hungry startups, each receiving a small table and enough space to hang up their company logo on an A4 paper. Not a single investor or journalist dared enter that room, from what I can remember, and the real losers were of course the startups.

Since then (and not just in the past 24 hours), I’ve received complaints from organisations who’ve partnered with Web Summit, from companies who have sponsored their events, from startups that have exhibited, from journalists that have been invited to cover the content, from regular attendees. Heck, I’ve even heard my fair share of criticism from current and former Web Summit staffers (some of their feedback has been deeply worrying in fact).

And I didn’t even specifically ask for any of it. At least, not yet.

If these people opt not to go public with their complaints out of fear, that is their choice and there’s little I can do to change it. But I do want to urge people to share their personal experiences with us and the Web Summit team if they’ve been silently on the fence about it to date. We learned a long time ago that these complaints aren’t just a few disgruntled people.

It is clearly a fairly large group, and they’re invited to share their stories if they feel so inclined.

The Web Summit crew has every right (I’d say even a duty) to clarify its confusing pricing strategy, but it has no right implying that everyone is out to get them simply because they’ve been so successful. We don’t wish them bad luck, we wish that they would change their deceptive ways for the benefit of startups and the broader tech community.

Just for your information: you can contact us via this form or email me directly via robin@tech.eu (anonymously or otherwise).

Featured image credit: Dan Taylor from Heisenberg Media / Flickr

  • I attended in 2013 and felt totally scammed pretty much immediately upon arrival. Since then its become a joke in the office whenever we get emails from Paddy about his next new thing. His hustle, which is undeniable, would be respected if it actually helped founders and startups.

    • Mike Harvey

      For a view from those who attended Web Summit in 2014 go here: https://twitter.com/WebSummitL

      • Lenny Teytelman

        Mike, you do realize you are responding to a comment from someone who DID attend, right?

  • Paul Walsh

    For what it’s worth. I felt cheated when I was contacted and made to feel that MetaCert was special. We were invited to an evaluation process. After wasting my time over email and phone calls I was then accepted and given a price tag that’s greater than anything I’ve ever paid. OK, I’ve been lucky in the fact that I’ve never paid to attend an event or conference – but with the web summit, they were asking for a few grand (more than the amount they published in their last blog post.

    As for the data scientists? Yep, they’re great. And, their email marketing is second to none. They send emails in way that makes people think they’re from Paddy – they do this by getting another member of staff to follow up with a thank you to Paddy – with the purpose of having a call to action for $.

    Looking at the screen shot, you can see a number of different data points used to make this campaign look personal.

    I admire what they’ve achieved but I’ve always felt that their sales and marketing was creepy.

    • Gick Puke

      got the same email – smelled so fishy I had to ignore..creepy

  • Taro

    Our startup hasn’t participated in past web summits and is considering going for the first time.
    I’m sharing the funnel experience in order to throw light on the facts and to raise 1 important question at the end:

    Stages to get accepted to ALPHA class of 2015:

    (1) Facebook Ad “exhibit for free as part of our Alpha Program” [no mention of discounted registration cost]

    (2) https://websummit.net/startups/alpha. “What is Alpha? Each week we’re selecting 25 early stage startups from around the world to exhibit for free as part of our Alpha Program. How can we do that? Simple! We charge bigger tech companies €10,950 to exhibit. If you’re chosen to exhibit, we’ll give you a free exhibition stand and lots of other benefits – all you’ll pay is a discounted registration cost.” (picture attached)

    This makes the startup think they are getting the same “exhibit package” that bigger tech companies pay €10,950 but for much cheaper. [The discounted registration cost is still unknown at this point to the startup so he applies]

    (3) Startup gets an email with very convincing statistics (picture attached). “40 startups that exhibited at Web Summit 2014 have raised over $1 billion in funding in less than a year” + Data Science + Attendee List + uber story + Less than 10% of applicants are selected for ALPHA. In the last point the startup is exposed to the total cost which is €1,950.

    (4) Web Summit schedules a call to learn more about your startup. The call was about ~10 min and Patrick Griffith made sure the startup is aware of the €1,950 and what they are getting. Patrick asked for executive summary and links to media coverage which was sent to him.

    (5) Acceptance email with a discount code. The bottom of the email says “The information contained in this email is CONFIDENTIAL. If you have received this message in error or without the express direction of the original author, please notify the sender and delete this email immediately.” (picture attached) so I will not upload pictures of the full email.

    (6) Landing page to pay (picture attached). [Applying the discount code reduces the price from €10,950 to €1,950 (picture attached) [Note that it’s for the same package thus the startup feels that he is getting the same “exhibit package” as a €10,950 company if there are any that pay the premium price].

    Conclusion:

    (i) At stage 1 the startup thinks they can win free exhibition -> Stage 2 startup understand there will be a discounted cost -> Stage 3 the startup becomes aware of the €1,950 cost. Smart luring technique.
    (ii) The “selection” process definitely makes the startup founders feel like they’ve ‘won’ and that they’ve been ‘selected’.
    (iii) The discount from €10,950 to €1,950 makes the situation feel like an incredible opportunity.

    The key information in order to understand if web summit is misleading / unethical is to ask if bigger tech companies really pay €10,950 for the same €1,950 experience smaller startups receive?

    • no, you are absolutely not getting 10k EUR worth as someone who would pay that amount.
      You will get 1 meter wide piece of wall. Nothing more than that.
      There is no large startup in that area either. You are in separate room with 200 other startups with 1m wide wall space.

      In other room, there are real exhibition stands and I believe that might cost 10k EUR.

  • zeppelinrepair

    It’s actually a pretty good way to separate the wheat from the chaff as an investor. You’re looking for SMART startup founders. Anyone who doesn’t see through this scam right away obviously isn’t one, hence: never invest in a company with a booth at summit/collision/rise.

  • Jane Smorodnikova

    4 startups came there from our incubator. All of them were “winners”. Nobody told us that there will be 500 more such winners in one exhibition space. We even could not get a morning cup of coffee for our money)) It’s almost impossible to get any value from conference where you have combination of people who want to pitch to people who are ready to listen like 100 to 1.

  • aikdeveneijns

    I agree with all the remarks, as well as the comments -and boy, do I love a bit of bashing every now and then-. And I love the stance that tech.eu is taking on this one. At first, I was actually thinking you guys were helping out TNW-conference which is going to be huge in 2016. Apparantly, there’s a market. Than I saw this vacancy (http://tyba.com/company/tech-eu/jobs/6736-event-manager/), making your rant somewhat less objective to say the least…

    • From the post you’ve not read very thoroughly:

      “We’re not in the conference business, and likely never will be (that’s not to say we won’t do events, just that they’ll be small and valuable, and not compete with Web Summit).”

      • aikdeveneijns

        In that case, I stand corrected. Good that this is extra-cleared-up now for lazy readers like me who only want to read the bashing and skip over the disclaimers.

  • aikdeveneijns

    And on a constructive note; how can we hack Web Summit in a way that we can benefit from networking, without actually going to the conference. Any good drinks / events you can crash by just flying there?

    • Paul Walsh

      I used to host events/gatherings. During the early days of the summit I asked them which nights would be best to host gatherings to ensure I didn’t clash with theirs. I got no response. I later found out that they keep a massively tight ship in regards to making sure every speaker never has the chance to attend anything that’s not hosted by the summit itself.

  • Gick Puke

    mind your inbox for spammy emails from “Paddy Cosgrove”….

  • Melissa Perri

    I was one of the startups in 2013 in the Alpha exhibit. I remember going through the emails and interviews to be “accepted” into the Web Summit’s Alpha startups. We were then told we would get tons of exposure to investors for only the price of 2 Web Summit tickets ($3500). We also would get one ticket free so we could bring our third co-founder and a free booth to present at. They said the offer would expire in two days, and as a new startup founder who has never gone through this before, I panicked. I used money from my savings to pay for us because our seed money hadn’t come in yet.

    When we arrived, there were 250 startups in the hot, densely packed room in the back of the exhibition hall. No investors ever entered, I checked every single badge. The internet didn’t work so we couldn’t demo to anyone. You could barely read the names of the startups on the tiny paper. It was such a joke. Half the startups didn’t even last half the day because they knew it was worth it to just walk around and network instead.

    Also, you only got a booth on one of the days not two, so in total about 400-500 startups paid that price and went through the same thing. We spent thousands of dollars to go to Web Summit hoping to generate some leads, and instead came home with nothing. There were over a thousand people in attendance, so it was even hard to track down people I knew.

    Web Summit’s not in the business of supporting startups; they’re in the business of extorting startups. I tell every young startup I know now not to attend Web Summit.

    • When I read you, I stand even stronger behind my no-conference policy. Or almost no-conference should I say. I have never attended a single startup conference and this “web-summit-gate” will not encourage folks like me to attend some in the future. Extreme? Maybe…

      Charging unreasonable amounts of money to a bunch of gals/guys hustling their way to make their dreams a reality should not be allowed. Unfortunately, in a (tech) world where there is a lot of noise, there’s more and more people trying to take advantage of founders grinding everyday… Luckily though, not all tech events are this bad, so it’s just a matter of identifying to right ones for the right stage of our products/startups.

      Thanks Melissa, insightful comment.

    • Mike Harvey

      For a view from others who attended Web Summit in 2014, go here: https://twitter.com/WebSummitL

    • Tom Bielecki

      It hasn’t changed much this year. I was “accepted” to Alpha.

      For $2150 you get “4 tickets”. But I was the only one going from our team, so…

  • Lenny Teytelman

    Back in April, I almost fell for the Web Summit/CollisionConf/RiseConf scam. Almost. But realized what’s going on and wrote this: http://anothersb.blogspot.com/2015/04/hey-startup-parasites-we-dont-have-time.html. The conference folks responded with, “We are now reexamining our marketing collateral and the way we communicate costs to all attendees. We want everyone to have a great experience at our events and we apologise again for the misunderstanding. I want to wish you every success with your startup.” But nothing changed.

    • Mike Harvey

      Read the blog post to understand how we communicate costs up front, how the funnel operates and what the benefits are: http://blog.websummit.net/web-summit-scam-setting-record-straight/

      • Lenny Teytelman

        Read the blog post. No you don’t. Read the comments above and stop pretending that there is no problem. Back in April, in response to my post (http://anothersb.blogspot.com/2015/04/last-post-on-collision-conference-and.html) you guys promised to change. Nothing changed.

        • Mike Harvey

          For a view from those who have actually attended Web Summit in 2014, go here: https://twitter.com/WebSummitLove

          • RaftMat

            Sorry Mike, I can see your good intentions in bringing in another view (and from your twitter I can see also you work for websummit) but copying the same comment and crossposting the same comment elsewhere (in twitter as well saw) is not a good communications practice.
            I’d like also to read your point of view here (not via links) in a constructive way and for example commenting on the ROI that you think startups have from the Web Summit.
            I have been there in 2013 as general attendee but working in an accelerator with startups. In my opinion is a great event for listening to inspiring talks and find out about market trends, but I would recommend other events to startups where to spend money for a better ROI.
            Again, this is my personal opinion, I would be happy to see from you some comment on this hopefully with some support data.

          • Agreed. I find Mike’s quasi-spam disturbing.

          • Johann Q

            Quasi-spam?!? It is literally spam. And it’s definitely counter-productive.

          • Haider

            It appears your communicating with a robot

          • Paul Walsh

            This is not a cool response. It’s like a waiter telling you to ask all the other happy customers if their food is hot. Nobody cares about other people’s experience – they care about their own experience. And you should address their concerns head on.

          • Mike

            This, well put

  • Lenny Teytelman

    There are MANY more comments showing this Web Summit in a scam on Hacker
    News, back from April. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=9383045

  • gantushig

    Hello, I totally agree with you Robin. It was a waste of our precious money by attending #riseconf. Their conference should be forbidden. I strongly advise anyone not to ever attend these conferences

  • Martin Stolz

    I attended 2014 with my still-running startup http://elastic-items.de. I was subject to the same marketing tactics:

    – Artificial pressure “prices increase friday”
    – “Winning” a stand but having to pay discounted tickets (3 of ’em)

    – Tele-Marketers who convincingly call you and make you feel special
    – Truckloads of emails with upselling for other events and “personal” mails asking for opinions, where if you write some you never get an answer (I tried and actually this pissed me off most)

    Fact is for me, if you are not aware of this as marketing tactics and you feel fooled, welcome to the world where tricking customers is ok and sometimes called “lean” or “growth hacking” or whatnot. It’s the environment that is created by the very same people who attend WebSummit. It’s becoming increasingly aggressive and it kinda feels like doping in professional cycling to me.

    As for the value: Although you are only having a small booth and there are thousands like you, I personally profited alot from being there, in learnings, seeing what others do and acquiring several customers and new friends. Any conference I ever attended to in Germany that was more expensive than this never delivered that.

    And no I am not Paddy Costhingamabob and not affiliated with them.

  • Mohammed

    Web Summit is a scam indeed. We were part of their Alpha startups in 2014. They made it seem like a very selective process, which was clearly not judging from the quality of startups we’ve seen there. We paid lots of money though we had some investment, but we certainly agreed not to go there again or any events organized by the same organization. Thank you for the article.

  • Syd Lawrence

    I spoke at the summit in 2013 as part of the developer track. I was then asked to speak again in 2014 on the music track. After me saying that I wasn’t really sure how I’d benefit from the event they pleaded with me. Eventually I said yes, with the attitude of meh I’ll have a fun few days in Dublin. I booked my flights and found a sofa I could stay on.

    3 weeks before the event I couldn’t see my name listed anywhere on the site. I emailed to ask why this was. I heard nothing. I honestly still don’t understand what happened. But what I do know is that I’d rather gauge out my eyes than go to the summit ever again.

    Not a fan.

    Honestly if you are running a startup I see no benefit in going to an event with other startups. Unless they are your customers

  • Sadly, I’ve lost count of the number of weirdly-worded invitations I’ve received from this company.

    My scam sensors twitched a little, but I gave them the benefit of the doubt. So each time, I ask them nicely to be more specific about what it is they’re asking, but each time they drop the ball in some new and different way. After the final chance I gave them, I told Paddy so in words of one syllable.

    So… a scam? I came to the conclusion that they’re just horribly disorganized and perhaps lacking a clue or two.

  • orliesaurus

    I attended the 2013 websummit.

    I felt bad for all the 500+ startups that spent thousands of euros to attend and were given a table the size of a shoe box and had to stand for hours and hours.
    They also grouped all startups in a way that made it super redundant and repetitive:
    I.E. 15 startups in a row working in the event ticketing area followed by 15 startups working in the event-socialmedia-management space… by the end of the day 1 not only i’ve had it with event, I just wanted to drink myself and forget there was a day 2

    The food was good but I enjoyed most that Twilio and Spotify threw cool after parties with openbars, thanks for the invite folks – that was probably the highlight of the whole “thang”.

  • Johann Q

    When does a conference stop to be overly commercialized and too watered down and when does it start to be a “scam”? If Web Summit is a scam, are not a couple other conferences around Europe quite similar to them, just maybe less succesful at what they do? I think you should question the conference circus in general. Fun to be around there, you can (superficially) get to know a lot of people there in a short time, but if you actually have a busines to run and develop, the value is rather limited.

    What’s the value of getting initial interest from an investor at such a conference, for example, if you do not have sufficient traction to get beyond a good first impression?

    • Mike Harvey

      For a view of how conferences like Web Summit work, try this view from Mark Suster: http://www.bothsidesofthetable.com/2015/10/02/what-should-you-make-of-the-web-summit-controversy-a-view-behind-the-scenes/

      • Muhammad Saad Khan

        Hey Mike, why are you keep spamming the shit out of that thread? One time is quite enough.

        • Dude, it’s not a person, it’s one of those algorithms that drives Web Summit’s email marketing campaigns. Wait for the up-sell in 10 comments’ time.
          >>>
          “Been to Web Summit and had a good time? Write your own blog post now and we will share it – FOR FREE!”
          (***$1000 sharing fee if post is selected to be shared***)

          >>>

          • Muhammad Saad Khan

            WTF! I was advising board members of Cloudways to attend the event this year. Not anymore! This is insane!

      • Johann Q

        Really “thoughtful” of you to spam everyone with the same comment. Pathetic!

  • Paddy Cosgrave’s marketing emails are second to none, I keep them simply as a template for how to get the highest open rate possible from luke warm / cold email lists. I take my hat off to these guys for their perseverance. But i’m glad to have never spent the money to exhibit, I was very close to saying yes, but a bad gut feeling at the costs involved and the final straw was the pushy sales tactics.

  • Vladimir Kunovski

    Web Summit is more like a festival then a conference where startups pay to see the “rock” stars. Last year Alpha exibit.

  • Omid

    As somebody who attended their Collision Conference last May, I could tell that they make you think that there is a “selection” process and that if you are selected, you’ll get “extra advantages” like “access to investors”. I’ve been invited to many conferences before and after and none really behaved the same way. It’s “at least” misleading.

  • Came here to see an employee defending them by spamming/copy and pasting replies.

    Achievement unlocked.

  • Same here: we were there last year and really felt nailed, to say the least.

    To me it was really the first impression getting there: they screwed us. Just enter the hall where you are going to exhibit and you’ll get it: you were not “selected” you’re just part of the show and paid quite a lot for it.

    The “expo one day-visitor the other” is brilliant in terms of marketing but really not in terms of retention. I mean, they should know it, at some point people speak, they talk to each other. What do you think 200 or 300 startups stacked like that will talk about?

    So yes we did it, yes we were disappointed (no real interesting lead or meeting, days lost at work hanging around this totally unwelcome and crowded fair, huge costs when you add up their fee + travel expenses).

    And NO, a 1 meter construction wood booth is not appealing, especially with no chair.

    We really felt nailed but nevertheless, they wanted us to join for 2015 with a bigger booth.

    “Hey, what’s a bigger booth, something with real value like Dropbox or Google? Could be great, send us a proposal.”

    The bigger booth was one of their “cross booth” meaning 1 fourth of a circle, cut by those ugly construction walls, representing 6m2, a high table and 2 or 3 chairs.

    Wow, not really the big booth we dreamt, more like a mini-upgrade from the ugly regular booth.

    Are you seating now? Do before you read: they asked us $50K for that :-) Startup spirit I believe…

    We were just laughing with my marketing teammates when we read the offer, it was just so ridiculous.

    They came back anyway with a better proposal, a hefty $30K.

    We’re quite used with trade shows at Sellsy, it’s a good medium for us.

    Generally, we spend around $30K for a big (20+ sq. m.), nicely decorated booth in a well recognized tech event.

    These guys are just not understanding that screwing startups and sponsors at the same time is unworthy. They spread the good buzz for a few years like storm, but it could easily go the other way.

    As it is for us, we’re not going there anymore under their existing terms.

    And as in Paddy’s own words, it’s just like winning the lottery if you do something there.

  • Bruno Pereira

    OK, so i just went through the hoops this year and today got my email of congratulations that we had been chosen even if all we did was a 15m chat with a lady that had no clue what she was talking about.
    Anyway with the email there is now a fee of €1950, and link for you to go and pay, what is not my surprise that the €1950 now reads as €10950!!!!!!!
    All due to respect, this a joke, startups like TVA who bootstrapped from day one can’t be taken for fools like this!!!

  • Haider

    I exhibited my early stage startup in the Alpha Track in 2014.

    I spent approximately $6,000 to attend, which included flights, “discounted” exhibition space (free technically, but we’ve established that logic across this thread), hotel, my key developer’s flight from Pakistan, hotel, food, transport, etc. etc.

    In Pakistan, that amounts to 6 months salary for a mid-manager in a major multinational. In other words, that great salary were our savings of many years.

    But I’m not complaining about the spend because no one stole from me.

    No one forced me to go out of my way, apply for a visa, desperately struggle to find a connection to the Irish General Consul (Pakistan doesn’t have an embassy, instead they depute a Pakistani to represent and process visas on their behalf – the ironic horror!), to book a hotel that turned out to be a scam (another story, preferably at a bar).

    I alone am responsible for buying into the ‘win’ and following through the funnel.

    In the end, what came of it all? Quite a bit actually, much of it ends up being intangible. My first conference as an exhibitor and I was awestruck before, during and after.

    Just the sheer number of participants attending. The amount of people who stopped by to learn about our crazy little idea about providing people accurate and reliable access to information about restaurants was the cause of a conversational uproar near the far back wall between the machine and the other summit (each industry had a summit – even the food serving area was called the food summit – what branding I tell you!).

    Prior to flying out, a blog post came out by the Summit about 11 startups from the Middle East. Because of the uncanny and sometimes maniacal marketing by Web Summit, this post got a lot of coverage and lift.

    As a result, Wamda listed us. Arabnet reached out and invited us to participate in a startup pitch in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (couldn’t go because apparently it’s impossible to get a visa, duh!). Two accelerator founders/VCs invited me out to dinner, one of whom’s CEOs met with me in a 1-on-1 during my exhibition day (WHAT? That’s insane – an investor wanting to meet ME? GFAW). The other is an established partner at a silicon valley/Dubai based VC with an incubator space in Dubai and a lot of opportunities to take up to $30K for 10-20% equity for a 4 month product build/development placement.

    Finally, I have since been in talks with an up and coming VC, who have constantly pursued us for an investor deck and IM to review our eligibility for possible funding. We are days away.

    But I think the most significant takeaway for me was that my key dev, a young aspiring man who has been by my side through thick, thin and runny, got to see a beautiful country as his first ever journey out of his motherland. That for me was my Golden Ticket to see Willy Wonka. Can you imagine the sheer joy in his heart, mind and body to be able to experience the world outside, for the first time, in a land so beautiful as Dublin, Ireland?

    Ladies and Gentlemen, that was my experience and take away.

    I read through all the comments below, after thoroughly absorbing the blog above.

    I couldn’t agree more – there is an ethical boundary that must be drawn and respected. We don’t have the cash flow to be throwing it around – lest we know it’s being thrown around. I can assure you my experience was unique and many of my fellow exhibitors did NOT have the same fortuitous outcomes.

    Have I become part of the many billions of dollars that funded a former exhibitor at the Web Summit? No.

    Is there a possibility it may happen? Yes.

    Can Web Summit track that and jump to claim a role in that? Perhaps.

    Is that fair or right for them to do so? I suppose; they did facilitate a lot of the opportunity, the rest was up to me to pursue and materialize.

    This is not a charity so money will be charged. I did feel that @disqus_VPYKdX5PUP:disqus’s comment was awesome – by articulating the details of the experience when being ‘selected’. I was reliving my days last year as my ‘win’ was being revealed. Man, what a morale boost! All my friends cheered me on. My mom and dad were super proud. My wife actually believed this was a possible step in the right direction, despite the expense that awaited me. It was real and it happened.

    Every celebration and award is a concoction of some committee who wants to reward or make you feel like you’ve ‘won’. The Oscars? The Grammys? The Olympics? How is any of that different? That’s right, you don’t pay to win. But Seth and FIFA showed us, didn’t they.

    I am in no way defending the Summit or Paddy, who I think is a downright shameful guy.

    On a separate note, I wrote him twice, personally, like he did me when he wanted my money for that $10,000 worth of exhibition space for next to nothing (maybe not for Google or Microsoft maybe). I emailed to tell him I’d be in Dublin for a training and would absolutely love to grab a beer with him. Maybe I should have offered to pay so my intent was clear – it was his company I sought.

    I even know he opened both emails (thanks Hubspot and Sidekick). But did he reply or make an effort to reach out and even say “Sorry man, I won’t be there but thanks for taking the time to reach out.”? No. Even a lie to show he respected my time the way he expected me to respect his would have been better than silence.

    Nevertheless, I won’t post a screengrab because I’ve said enough to demonstrate my sentiment.

    But a conference is a conference. It’s not a charity. Someone has to pay – might as well be me.

    In the end, was it worth it to spend 6 months of a mid-manager’s salary or my life savings on a shooting star? Without a doubt.

    Would I do it again? Probably.

    Would Web Summit be the recipient of my investment at a conference? That’s where I may draw the line because after everything, I got what I needed out of last year’s. Any more and I’m just setting my money on fire.

    @robinwauters:disqus thanks for putting this post up. Also to all the people who commented.

    I think a collection of perspectives helps us narrow our focus. The summit itself is/was/will be what we make of it.

    The question is, how we arrive there and what our expectations allow us to achieve as the ideal outcome? To each their own.

    Kindly excuse the absolute lack of brevity.

  • daviddoherty

    The accusations of spin by sales people for the Websummit are disappointing but I’m surprised that so many think that charging companies looking to raise money for the opportunity to present makes the entire event a scam. Because WebSummit is different shouldn’t make you think it’s a dishonest scheme and ​from what I have experienced and can see of this events company they back this up eg. check out the completely free to attend “WebSummit for Schools”, head to ​Dublin this weekend where they are hosting a completely free Coder Dojo for 7-13 year olds​ in their ​office, etc, etc.

    I work in the healthcare industry which has a very different conference circuit from the tech industry because it’s very hard/expensive to reach Healthcare workers when they are working so paying to be at conferences where they convene ​and you can establish trust 1-2-1 ​works out to be the inexpensive option. For the tech industry things appear to be very different as nearly everyone is just a click away thanks to Facebook/Linkedin/Twitter ​and connection networks are so obvious, ​but surely the tech industry can see that this increased availability of access is increasing the filters being used and with that the value of meeting face to face?

    The value for me as a delegate is clear: Websummit has proved to be a gold mine for meeting with super talented people and learning from the really diverse tech crowd it draws. At WebSummit I’ve met with several of the world’s most famous investors and most savvy entrepreneurs (both while heading to the event, at the event and at the countless social events) but the personal highlight for me was the Sports Summit (where I spent a lot of time last year). Several of the speakers there could’ve run their own sold out events in Dublin. As I made notes on the invaluable insights being shared from these speakers work with the world’s leading sports teams I realised WebSummit is just scratching the surface of the opportunity.

    To be fair I’ve met plenty of people at the event who are struggling to comprehend what’s going on. Startup founders see themselves in a row of alpha startups that all target the same sector for the first time and conclude that this is a bad thing but I think they’ve just failed to appreciate that investors typically want to see opportunities in this way and I also think if they think standing out there trying to get attention is challenging then they haven’t really begun to appreciate the enormity of the challenge ahead of them when it comes to getting attention on the web.

    Charging companies to present has an upside for delegates visiting the booths that it’s also worth recognising. Having incurred costs the startups are clearly invested in achieving a goal of doing at least enough new business to make up for their investment. If the booths were simply given away for free I wonder how different it would be touring them eg. I wouldn’t be surprised if the founders were absent as they’ve already benefited from being profiled at the event.

    I think it’s important that startups who want to go to something like WebSummit realise that the opportunities won’t always be obvious – someone you chat with might be ‘someone’, might advise ‘someone’ or might be prepared to introduce you to exactly the type of person you’re looking to meet but it’s not going to happen if you’re begrudging the lack of differentiation between your booth and the one next door, the absence of comfy chairs on your booth, etc. One funny experience I had was when someone I’d been listening to for a while in a bar asked me where all these investors were supposed to be because they hadn’t seen any. So I pointed to Shervin Pishevar (early Uber investor) and Michael Birch (Bebo) who were stood a few yards from us. “Oh he asked me where the toilet was… …BLEEP I should’ve been nicer”.

    I’m going to be sorry to see Websummit leave Dublin as the country benefited greatly and think anyone who thinks WebSummit is expensive should try meeting a good investor at one of the huge events in the US or one of the other big European tech events (eg. Mobile World Congress in Barcelona) where you’re a side show of a side show and you’ll be hot footing it to Lisbon for Websummit 2016.

  • Valentin Radu

    @melissaperri:disqus & @disqus_bMv9Xp03BW:disqus – I 100% share your pain and opinion.
    We were launched in July, got this once-in-a-lifetime email from Paddy Cosgrave announcing me that time is running out. So, our young Marketizator start-up spent the few money it had at that time to waste 3 days in a crowd where we’ve met no investor.
    Looks like their karma follows them! :)

    PS: the good side of the experience: we’ve focuse on building a product, now we are a team of almost 30 people, profitable and bootstrapped!

  • robert

    Web Summit is a total scam. It’s borderline third world an event that markets itself as “the world’s internet best conference”, “defines the ecosystem” …. has NO INTERNET not only for visitors, but neither startups that are charged €2000. Not even a separate wifi for those companies. MWC in Barcelona, for example, is several times bigger than this and internet works flawlessly, and the organizing crew is professional yet not constantly moaning as “the best”.

    Our startup complained several times during the exhibit day to clueless volunteers. They just told us to “drop by every hour” to ask again if internet would ever come. The 9th time we went they offered to invite us to a coffee. Nobody who wasn’t a teenager volunteer ever showed up. Nobody who wasn’t a teenager volunteer ever asked our mails, twitter complains … just missing.

    But we should have figured out. As you dig a little into WS you realize the total scam: Star attendees not coming, “Web Summit App” is just a thousand-people browser mess, not even alphabetically sorted. Your “personalized recommendations” just randomly selected people, organizing crew not caring at all about anything, any mail with negative remarks not answered, or responded with monosyllabic words (even rude) signed with “The best conference on the planet”….

    And much more things …. Throughout Dublin for example there’s not a single Websummit indication: To reach the venue you have to figure the Gaelic translation to the Sandymount station in order to board a train. Only when you are on Web Summit street you see a Web summit indication.

    In general, a chaotic scam, at least for startups. I strongly discourage anyone for attending. The best thing of WS? Irish people and dublin city. The worst: Anything related WebSummit crew.

    Also watch out for the next scam they’re planning: The Surf Summit! To all startups they send us mails like “Hey!! All inverstors and Venture Capitalists will be in surf summit looking at a couple pro surfers (personal friends of Mr. Cosgrave?) so drop by the best Surf event! That’s pathetic.

    I wish them failure and very soon.

  • Dess Kabakova

    I am just back from the 2015 and my 1st Web Summit edition. Here to join opinions expecting a presumed low value for money for Alpha and Beta companies, especially when considering the inequalities of attendees local economic standards and situations.
    However, here to outline an element of objectivity: early stage entrepreneurs and startups willing to be there mainly to network instead of briefly exposing a company logo, have been given this chance for totally free of charge – via the https://websummit.net/volunteers program; this was a visible and easily findable option on websummit.net and blog.
    I have personally suggested this way to a number of friends, business, and project founders bootstrapping right now, or eager for cost-effective solutions. One of my web tech clients attended as an Alpha company, for another one we did not follow the Alpha offer.
    Now, after attending myself this 2015 edition, I can confirm volunteering can be a viable alternative to exposing as Beta or even Alpha, and a viable option to leverage an Alpha or Beta or even Start presence.
    Web summit 2014 have had an estimated number of over 2000 volunteers. From what I have seen last week, volunteers were much more than needed for the sole event organisational purposes. Having the conference site over-invested by walking, talking, wearing the nice #websummit T-shirts, excited volunteers is also a viable PR technic promoting this win-win situation which should not be discarded for next editions (and should remain totally free!).
    Last 4th Nov @WebSummitHQ also announced 10 000 free tickets for women entrepreneurs for next year 2016 https://websummit.net/change.
    Just gave it a try by sending my details, still have not got the reply email and hope those will be really free i.e. will not involve other “registration” or whatever further clarified fees.

    For “taking the most of” the very past 2015 event, we sadly feel the need to deploy additional efforts to scrap the web summit mobile app directory. I believe, again for the cost involved, attendees should be given easier to use tools with clear guidance till when the info will remain available.

  • David

    We attended 2014 and I can tell 100% Web Summit is a total waste of time for startups. It is full of lies and I will never attend any event made by Paddy Cosgrave.

  • Thanks for the article, Robin. Did the interview then received the email that we were selected to the Collision ALPHA event in New Orleans. The catcher? Pay $1950 for 4 tickets and we get a free booth. The discount code drops the price from $11950 to $1950. Um, that doesn’t sound like a free booth to me. Plus, we’re simply not in the business to pay someone to be put on the shelf with everyone else. If we have value, they will come. If we don’t, they won’t. I do not see any reason to pay-to-play at all, and glad I thought this through without an impulse reaction due to their “fear of loss” techniques. We’re in marketing so we get it. We’re very aware of these things. If it were completely free since we were “chosen” then we’d probably go. But the asking price for a free booth, makes absolutely no sense. Then on top of that, trying to make you feel special. I do not feel so great for the startups that get their hopes up for this, attend, then get crushed by disappointment. Without a doubt, I truly feel for you all. Stay away, and put yourself on stage, somehow or someway. Do not purchase booths that are on a shelf with everybody else. You’ve been warned…

    Remember, this isn’t a race as the hare actually lost. It was the tortoise that won. 😉

  • We participated at Collision Conf in 2015 and got a booth. There were over 2000 startups and very few investors and media representatives, so don’t count on that too much. I think it might make sense to go there only if you are selected to participate in the startup competition, then you might have a chance to get noticed. However, we didn’t get a lot of traction from our competition either…

    Btw, this is how the pitch stage looks like: https://youtu.be/kvRxwkWVxGA