Burgers, Bright Lights & Self -Deprication

We take a look at the Web Summit, at Ireland’s self-deprecation, and why the country is losing much more than just an event on the calendar.

No country does armchair belligerence quite like Ireland. As soon as the announcement was confirmed that Lisbon would be the next destination for the Web Summit the opportunity couldn’t be missed.

Now it was too crowded, too expensive and now it was Lisbon’s problem. A running argument, all week, on the public laundry outing that had become the spat between the Government and the summit organisers.

A number of people within the start-up scene commented on the lack of Government appearances. One commented: “It tells all you need to know about where their priorities are, they all wanted to be part of the celebrity tent. Once they knew they’d be asked hard questions everybody worth something was a no-show. Their strategy is photo ops, not support”.

Then there was Paddy Cosgrave, himself. The face of the summit and precocious leader of the event. Earlier in the week he had blown a gasket on the national airwaves while outlining the exchange with Government representatives.

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Crowds watch the final presentation on centre stage at the Web Summit

Summit co-founder, Daire Hickey and RTÉ’s Sharon Ní Bheoláin’s interview on Six-one was awkward and tense. No Government minister was afforded the same wrath of questioning, because none were there to be asked.

In the midst of all of this was Paolo Portas, the Portuguese deputy Prime Minister. The cat that got the cream. It was interesting to see him on centre stage. He didn’t say it in so many words, but you could hear a sense of ‘your loss, our gain’ ringing in your ear. Lisbon is pushing its own tech and start-up agenda too. They know that the brand of the Web Summit comes with its own image. They’re serious about the scene they are trying to create.

Yet again, Ireland finds a way to shoot itself in the foot. An event had rolled up and put a platform out to the world, to show Ireland as a new place to do business. Instead, what we got was the result of in-fighting and egos. The implosion of a showcase event and a mess that only we know how to create.

It all feeds into the Irish state of mind. Be successful, but know someone will always pull you down for that success. Behind it all is self-belief, we lack it in spades. It permeates everywhere.

A New Zealand newspaper was summing up the Rugby World Cup by going through the teams. Ireland, it declared, had great players but lacked belief. Everybody believes in Joe Schmidt, but the players need to have that about themselves.

Even when we get success we self-deprecate like it’s too good to be true, that something we made can’t be this good. We immediately turn to undermining it, telling ourselves something has to be wrong.

From burgers to traffic, we went hell for leather at the Web Summit. Justified in some cases, for others not so much.

I saw somebody in Dublin have the stunning complaint about bad traffic during the Web Summit. Actually that’s Dublin all the time. I had a meeting late on Friday afternoon; the day after the Summit had finished. It took an hour to get to Junction 9 from the Red Cow on the M7 on the way back.

I hate to break it to you, but you just have rubbish traffic problems in Dublin. Always.

If the Web Summit showed how we could hold an event, then we certainly showed how we can lose one too. If we can’t even serve affordable burgers, how do we expect to support our start-ups? Maybe the Government is expecting a written invitation to do that as well.

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Al Jazeera Television broadcasting from the final Dublin Web Summit

As for the event, itself, it was as I hoped it would be. The opportunity to get up close and personal with some of the great innovators and thinkers. I managed to talk with some great businesses from home and abroad. We can never truly understand why people create a business, but we can at least try to understand their story.

Michael Fitzgerald, CEO of OnePage CRM, was celebrating his son’s birthday and the birth of his business on the same day. It was four years to the day that both started in the world. OnePage CRM is one of the great recent success stories in Irish business.

Michael gave up on his day-to-day to go full time at creating a business that was taking in just €400 a month at the time. By pure chance I bumped into a man who will be behind visuals of the next event in Lisbon. Their CTO is an Irishman. What they have in store for next year’s event-goers is nothing short of spectacular.

There was a great buzz in all the halls. For all the talk of money, costs, hotels and food many businesses were upbeat. When you’re starting a business all you can do is be upbeat and try to take the opportunities that come your way. The output from the media was that this was all about geeks and nerds. Comic-con for programmers.

It is an image portrayed that was so overtly stereotypical. Investors and CEOs were all over the place. Decision-makers were approachable as they wandered around the halls.

As soon as the last feature ended on centre stage on Thursday afternoon the Summit seemed as if it was getting out of Dodge. No fanfare, just everybody up and leaving. A friend of mine who works in electrics and rigging was there telling me it would be gone by tomorrow morning. They would be working around the clock to dismantle everything.

It takes a long time to build something up, but just a short one to pull it all down. I felt like the moment had been lost, our great opportunity was allowed to go with a whimper.

So what’s next for Ireland? Well, the start-up community will do what it does best in this country. Find something new and get behind it. Whoever comes in to fill the gap will have the support from Ireland’s business grassroots. I suspect, too, that established businesses will move to support as well.

The great lament for all of them is you won’t replicate the Web Summit. I doubt anyone will lament the passing of a €20 burger.

However, it did represent a country that was serious about creating its place in the world. One that was serious about developing its strengths and bolstering the image that we can create meaning to our talk about tech hubs and positive clusters.

We won’t miss some parts of the Web Summit, but we will miss what it represented. So, now it’s left to Irish business to pick up the pieces. Let down by the kindness of strangers, yet again.

I went out with some entrepreneurs and investors during the days of the summit. They are already speculating on who can come in to bring something that’s been lost.

The Start-up Gathering or TechCrunch are just a couple of the nominees. Whoever does come in, it would seem the formula has already been laid out for them. Just be careful how big it gets. We don’t want it becoming too popular now do we?