As the sun sets on Web Summit – yes there was sun it was in Lisbon – it gives me an opportunity to reflect on the three days I spent there. Larger than ever, the event has now grown from 400 people just six years ago to 53,000 today – a true reflection of the growth within this sector. I attended over 30 talks, and met with many start-ups and investors.
Overall the zeitgeist is one of optimism, but set against a context of what I’m summing up as a real certainty in uncertainty. Whereas in previous events I’ve left perhaps with answers, I leave with more questions as the industry is seemingly still looking to figure out its role (cause/symptom) in the global geo-political and social turmoil the world is facing. More to come on that in a future post, but for now here are my 10 key take-outs from the event.
1. Universal Basic Income. Three words we will be hearing more and more of, certainly as our societies become increasingly fractured and the hollowing out of middle classes continues. At the event this year it really was talked about frequently. There was a sense that the industry can’t yet see its ability to create jobs and wages, despite its optimism about providing prosperity. There was a call for strong leadership from our elected politicians, more prescient thinking from governments (how are they going to manage rapid job losses) and for entrepreneurs to think of solutions in the absence of our political elite providing them.
2. The future of film, is really the future of storytelling. You will be able to consume and be immersed in “stories” not “films” as the number of screens and ways to consume content will continue to increase. No longer is a film a 90-minute cinematic experience, it will become just one channel of what will become much larger “living stories” that people can experience at any time, in many ways, across multiple devices, so said the CEO of Framestore.
3. Facebook has a big and bold 10-year vision; connect the unconnected (satellites and solar planes), build out AI as a platform, and go big on new (virtual) realities. Of course I’m sure they’ll serve a few more adverts along the way.
4. Technology has never been bigger. Last year was a record for investment in tech in Europe, with commentators also pointing to the US having perhaps now peaked. However, it was commonly agreed that Europe really is still hamstrung with scalability issues (no single digital market place) and therefore concerns as to why brands like Spotify have to consider moving to the US to really scale.
5. Look East. More and more of the great minds (entrepreneurs and investors) from the US technology sector are looking to India/SE Asia for growth opportunities – unlike the recent political polls the stats don’t lie here. With huge numbers of people becoming connected with low-end smart-phones all hungry for commerce, content and conveniences, the “seekers of growth” can no longer ignore the world outside of the US. Companies like iFLIX, for example, are taking western content to these audiences at an affordable price – combatting piracy through experience and generating new additional revenues to US content producers
6. IPO is more about trust than capital for many. Going public this year has been about trust. Building and establishing more trust with their customers, than it has been about “exits” – both Twilio and Square talked about the why and the what in going public. They put the main reason down to communications – credentialising the business with current and future customers which helps with their sales and growth. IPO is a marketing and trust exercise due to the transparency that comes with it.
7. Data driven storytelling and targeting is the future of advertising. In a panel with the heavyweights of the industry, the word “data” must have been used over 30 times. Data, data and more data. Better data that underpins the creative, the reach and the effectiveness. The science of data, is now as important as the art of creative, so said Maurice Levy.
8. We live in a zero growth age. At a macro level, the world is flat-lining. As a result any pockets of growth, in any size and shape, will find investment so said the CEO of Nasdaq.
9. Ad blocking still a zero-sum game. Established media (FT and Bloomberg in this case) think they’re above it and “know what their customers want” and the ad blockers’ success (AdBlocker Plus CEO in this case) would suggest they don’t yet. However, the AdBlocker Plus CEO struggled to articulate much that would suggest the ad blocking industry, perhaps starting with positive intentions, is now anything short of a racket at this point.
10. The on-demand economy needs a rebrand. Founder of Handy, talked about the challenge with regulation, and the need to find a “third way” on employment rights – between contractor and employee and was a big proponent of the “portable benefits” suggestion that is floating around the US right now (from companies like Handy, Uber and others). He suggested that had the industry called itself the Flexible Economy it would be having less of these problems that it does today, due to the more inclusive two-sided view this handle suggests. It explains the worker, as much as the employer, need. He was keen to stress that people really did want to work in this way.