Web Summit 2019 – Insights & Ideas

Web Summit 2019 ideas and inspiration

The following are some of the initial insights and ideas gained from attending Web Summit 2019 in Lisbon. Don’t know what Web Summit is? In short, it’s a tech conference or as BBC News puts it ‘geek Glastonbury’ ;-). Find out more at WebSummit.com.

How to Grow Your Start-up Quickly

One theme that was certainly present throughout the four-day presentation schedule was ‘how to grow your start-up quickly.’ In fact, this is one of the primary purposes of Web Summit for many – getting investors, making connections and accelerating growth.

During a talk on ‘Building a billion-dollar company beyond the Valley’, one of the ideas that resonated with me was from the CEO & co-founder of Canva, Melanie Perkins. Melanie spoke about her own successful strategy of ‘starting off niche and then going wide.’

Canva is online design software that has experienced rapid growth since launching in 2013. They offer a platform that’s low-cost and easy-to-use, making it hugely popular with social media managers, marketers and budding designers. This business model has allowed Canva to steal market share from well-established brands like Adobe Photoshop.

Another way to grow a start-up is to expand geographically. Markus Villig, the CEO and founder of Bolt, an eastern European on-demand transport operator, had some insight. Bolt, which is somewhat similar to Uber, ‘only enters a city where they can be the best – both for employees and for customers‘.

For Bolt, this means a city where they can pay more than a regular taxi driver earns and offer a better service than a regular taxi customer receives. Markus added that this often means a city where there’s a monopoly in place.

Another panellist, Juan Pablo Ortega, co-founder of Rappi an app where you can order (almost 😉 anything, felt that their growth was ‘all about making people’s lives easier.’ An example Juan gave was how Rappi grew their business by making it easier for a regular Mexican to open a bank account – something not many Mexicans have.

You can find you great idea.

ext big thing? Well, it seems that it has a loBut what does all this mean for the budding entrepreneur? How do you become the next big thing? Well, it seems that it has a lot to do with having that initial ‘great idea.’t to do with having that initial ‘great idea.’

  • Seek out an under-represented niche
  • Find a poorly served market
  • Identify a pain point in people’s lives

How to Grow Your Start-up Sustainably

A day-two panel discussion on ‘Setting company values’ with Gillian Tans (booking.com), Simon Segars (Arm Inc.) and Adaire Fox-Martin (SAP) brought the perspective of more mature market players. However, the advice given was still geared towards start-ups.

A core concept agreed on by all panellists was not to be dictatorial about values. ‘Purpose needs to not only come from the top-down but also from the bottom-up.’

It was generally agreed that employees should be involved in setting a company’s core pillars and defining its values. The application of these values might change as the company grows but the ‘north star’, as Adaire Fox-Martin so eloquently put it, should not.

Find your company's north star & follow it.

Adaire also highlighted the importance of not having Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) as a bolt-on but incorporating values into every aspect of business operations. For example, looking at who we order office supplies from and the community impact this has.

This concept of embedding values in business decisions was brought up again during the ‘Beyond diversity: Making tech truly inclusive’ talk on the final day of the summit. Andrew O’Dell of US advertising agency Pereira O’Dell spoke about not just setting diversity goals internally but also demanding diversity from our suppliers to really help move the dial.

On a day three Centre Stage talk about the climate the Costa Rican diplomat Christiana Figueres reminded us that ‘we’re not saving the planet, we’re saving ourselves!’

Christiana pointed out that the planet will be fine, it’ll survive in one form or other, but without immediate and dramatic action we won’t be able to survive on this planet. This reframing of the conversation was particularly powerful. It suggested that there’s nothing charitable or noble about saving our planet – it’s an entirely necessary and selfish act.

Even on the morning of the last day during a talk which gave every indication of being wholly mercenary – ‘Building the next great ad empire’ purpose made an appearance. Sir Martin Sorrell echoed the sentiment of previous speakers, without prompting from the interviewer, when he said ‘purpose is served by long-term decision making.’

The general theme running through more than just these presentations was clearly that – doing good is good for business.

How to Grow Your Start-up Tactically

A third theme which ran through a number of presentations was one of tactics. Whether that meant using technology, interpreting data or creating cutting-edge content.

On day-three in ‘Multi-platform media: The digital challenge’ Kelly Bales the Executive Director of Video at Condé Nast made an important distinction by saying that they’re ‘data-informed not data-led.’

At ‘The New York Times: Storytelling and brands’ talk Graham McDonnel used video to illustrate the elements of a good story – protagonist, problem and outcome. Most inbound marketers are well aware of this, but Graham’s reminder that ‘the protagonist should always be the audience, not the brand’ could certainly bear repeating.

On the third day, Fernando Machado of Burger King talking about ‘Marketing in 2020’ spoke about how ‘sometimes we need big creative bold ideas to move brands forward.’

Of course, this is all very well but it’s interesting that Sir Martin Sorrell who founded and ran the WPP plc, the world’s largest advertising and PR group for many years had little to say about creativity. He sees the greatest challenge for advertising in general, and his own latest venture S4 in particular, to be ‘how to manage conversion at scale?’

On the final day of the conference Tim Kobe, the man who came up with Apple Retail joined a panel discussing ‘Predicting the future of brand design.’ Tim reminded us to ‘look at the human outcome first, then the strategy, then the tactics’. Something his co-panellist market researcher Amy Buckner Chowdhry very much agreed with.

The human outcome first, then the strategy, then the tactics.

Amy also brought up the topic of diversity explaining that sometimes you develop something for an underrepresented minority which ends up benefiting society as a whole. Such as TV remote control voice commands for the visually impaired.

So what does this all mean? What tactics should you employ to grow your start-up?

  • Find out who they are & make it all about them
  • Make it smart enough to replicate & convert at scale
  • Explore the unknown & be open to the unexpected

This is just a handful of the insight we took from Web Summit 2019. Keep an eye on our blog, where I’m sure to be weaving in ideas throughout the coming year.