Web Summit 2015 - My Opinion

As a startup, it is all about taking calculated risks, if we don't we fail, if we do, and we make the wrong decisions, we could also fail, but that is the life of a startup.  When all the mud was being thrown about the Web Summit in October, I committed to myself I would write a blog about my experiences from start to finish at the Web Summit 2015, the good, the bad and the ugly, so here it is, blow by blow.  Please understand, these are just my honest experiences and I am sure there are 1000s of others with different views, so use this information as you see fit, but you may have a very different experience should you choose to attend next year.

The Sell

The sale of the Web Summit does employ what I would call aggressive marketing.  You are initially attracted to the advert due to the promise of exhibiting "for free" if you are a potential ALPHA startup (one who has raised less than $500,000).  However, when you apply and then subsequently speak to someone, they were very clear that the cost is 1950 euros for the three day event, which includes discounted entry for three attendees and a "free" exhibition stand for one day.

They do also then make it feel like you "win" a chance to be chosen as an ALPHA and you don't get the option to pay for the conference there and then, you wait a few days before you receive a mail to say you have been chosen as startup with great potential, at which point you pay.  I have no idea how many startups who apply as an ALPHA get rejected, but it does make you feel good about your company and more likely to go for it than not, so I did.

Before the Conference

If anything, the bad press around the Web Summit 2015 actually helped me.  I do think, if I hadn't spent time before going to Dublin, finding out who else was there, ensuring I was applying for EVERYTHING as soon as the mail came out (i.e. Google 1 on 1s, round tables, pub crawls, mentor hours and so on) I would not have had the same experience.

I was also lucky enough to be selected for PITCH, but if I hadn't have been watching my mails and the Web Summit blog I would've missed it, like a lot of companies I met whilst in Dublin.

Exhibiting

We had an exhibition stand on the first day (Tuesday) and I am very glad we did, hats off to the guys exhibiting on Thursday, we were dead on our feet by then!

Anyway, you are exhibiting on a very small stand as ALPHA, but again it was made clear this was the case in advance.  There are rows and rows of other ALPHA businesses throughout the conference and you really do have to do something different to get noticed.

Initially we focused on those people who had "Media" or "Investor" on their badges, which was the same approach most people had, so I apologise to all you journalists and investors, it must've been tough!

In actual fact, we didn't have a huge amount of success with this approach and this is where being prepared comes into play as a couple of investors came to our stand after I had contacted them over the app in advance.

We had more success talking to other attendees and startups who were walking around, and then of course if your stand is busy it starts to attract other people as well.

Investment

We got "invited" to one meeting with a VC company on Thursday afternoon.  Actually, the VC was quick to tell me that they didn't ask to see us and it was set up by Web Summit, so be aware of that.  I was realistic, as I knew that VCs are in 99.9% of cases looking for much more well established companies than us (i.e. turning over millions and looking for millions in investment).

I also "hustled" myself into another meeting with a VC, really both these were just to put ourselves on the radar and get a business card, nothing more.  In my experience you have to be realistic and it certainly seemed to be a much more open and honest conversation when approached in that way.

However, we did get some very interesting discussions going with Angel Investors.  In fact, we are in contact with three, and I hope one of them will invest in Ding Dong Diary, but only time will tell.

We got these connections in three different ways:

  • Looking up angels through the app in advance and arranging a meeting before the actual event (the investor came to our stand)
  • From PITCH - we didn't get past the first round, but when we came off stage we were approached by an investor
  • Luck (and talking to a lot of people) - turned out one of the exhibitors at ALPHA wasn't the founder but the investor in the business! 

Talks

There was simply too much going on at the Web Summit for me to attend many talks at all.  I went to one on the Wednesday at the Startup University, which was very interesting, but I felt I was wasting valuable networking time, so quickly went out.  One thing I did notice, was the queue then for Startup University was HUGE, so if you do want to go to the talks, I would suggest you target a "Summit", get there early and stay seated!

One on Ones

We'd booked a few of the round tables, and due to arranging other meetings whilst at the Summit, only managed to attend one.  The one I attended was good, they really are small (i.e. 15 people max), so if they are on next year and someone who you are interested in is running one, I would definitely recommend it as you do get to talk directly to them rather than being spoken at.

We also had "mentor hours" booked, but didn't attend as someone wanted a separate meeting with us about investment.  I therefore don't know how good they are, but it was frustrating you had to select from 3 different options and only got one (we go the least interesting of the three to us).

The one on ones that were unforgettable were with Google.  My impression of Google after the event has gone up massively.  These guys were senior resources and were not only spending time with you at the event on an individual basis but have also connected with me subsequently and seem genuinely interested in what we are doing (helps me with the "why are you different to Google Calendars?" question for sure.  I cannot recommend these enough if they are on next year!! 

Social / Networking

This was the second key element for us at Web Summit (alongside the investment which I think was the case for all ALPHA businesses).  I was planning on going to every Night Summit and making as many connections as possible.  In reality I can only talk about one of the 4 Night Summits set up by Web Summit and that was on Monday night.  I also didn't stay out too long as we were exhibiting on Tuesday, but I know a lot of people who did and thoroughly enjoyed them.

The reason we didn't attend the one on Tuesday and Thursday was just plan tiredness, we had pushed ourselves so hard during the day, but 7pm we were exhausted.  I did get invited to the Google Offices on the Wednesday night which was another great experience and well received by all the startups as a couple of hours to just chill and chat without needing to "pitch".

Our networking was mostly done during the day, walking round the event and talking to other startups.  This point could still be the biggest win we get from Web Summit as we met an amazing American company with a lot of synergy who we will be hoping to work with in the future.

Summary

The Web Summit for me and for Ding Dong Diary, was an incredible experience and, with potential investors, potential collaborations and some incredible new connections, definitely worth the total expense.  We obviously don't know the true value until we see which of our opportunities turn into realities, but if you'd said to me before the event what we actually achieved at it, I would not have believed you.

Anyway, feel free to get in contact if you want any additional info, happy to help.  Assuming we are still alive and kicking next year, we will most definitely be in Lisbon for Web Summit 2016, hopefully as a BETA or START business (next level up).  I'll leave you with a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Decide for yourself if you think your company is at a stage where you can get value from the event
  • Book hotels and flights early, they get very expensive if you leave it until the last minute
  • Ensure you do as much prep in advance as possible, registering for everything, and contacting everyone you want to speak to
  • HUSTLE - make sure you talk to everyone you can, don't be arrogant, but ensure you take the opportunity to push your business as much as possible, you won't get another chance like this in a long time, so go for it!
  • Make sure you rest up before the event and wear comfortable clothes and shoes, you will walk, a LOT
Good luck to all the amazing startups I met in Dublin as well as the incredible people both in Web Summit and around Dublin in general, the most friendliest city I've ever had the pleasure to visit.

Al

The Family Planner and Ding Dong Diary

Setting the Scene

At home, we have three young boys; Jake is eight, Matthew is six and Nicholas is nearly five.  They have very busy schedules, probably busier than the grown-ups! Not only do they have the obvious responsibilities of attending school, there are also things that need to be remembered such as MUFTI (translated to non-uniform) Days, school outings, bottles required for Tombolas, ordering of school lunches and parents meetings.  The list goes on and on, growing longer and longer.

If that wasn’t enough, the boys enjoy a myriad of clubs in the evenings, ranging from Cubs on a Monday, Scrum Kids (rugby) on a Tuesday, swimming on a Wednesday, football on Thursday and Tae Kwondo on a Friday.  Luckily they all enjoy the same clubs at the moment, but I am sure that will change in the not too distant future!

Of course, that’s not it!  The boys also lead very busy social lives as they seem to have a never ending stream of birthday parties that require their attendance over the weekends……..

Whilst life does tend to revolve around the children these days, they are not the only members of the family, and once you throw in work commitments and the rare occurrence of a social life for the busy parents, life tends to become very, very complicated.

The Current Solution

With the above mind boggling summary of the life that ensues within our household, I am sure you think there is some amazing, all-encompassing system in place that helps to manage this chaos and ensure that everybody is where they need to be at the right time and with the right materials, and you would be spot on, well mostly……

As with a lot of families I know, we have a “family planner” attached proudly to our fridge in the kitchen.  There is a big double A4 sized section for each month with a column for each member of the family, so you can add that Jake has a party on the 16th at 4pm, or Matthew has to hand in his summer homework on the 12th, and so on.  By the way, there are usually 5 columns, so if your family is bigger than five (and best of luck with that), I guess you have bigger fish to fry anyway!

Anyway, the bottom line is this simple system works pretty well.  Every morning, when, after making the morning tea or coffee, you can check on the fridge to see what everyone is doing and plan the day ahead.

The Problems

The system however starts to unravel when you aren’t at home.  This can be as simple as being out and about when someone invites you to a party or evening out.  However, it gets even more complicated when another calendar or diary is involved, such as a work related one.

The family planner, being on a wall at home is fine, until you need to synchronise it with another diary.  We have had no end of problems when I have to go away with work or have a late meeting and forget to put it on the planner at home.  Likewise, the planner at home is no good for me to coordinate work events.  The only way it is possible is if I call my wife and ask her what’s happening on a specific date and if she is out and about there is no way for her to look either.

I am sure a lot of people reading this can relate to the above scenario, and it doesn’t just need a busy family life to cause the problems.  We have the same issue when we try to plan a weekend to meet up with friends, it takes a very coordinated discussion between a lot of different people to find a weekend that everybody is free and it generally ends up being months into the future.

How Can We Help?

The idea of Ding Dong Diary is to simply take the family planner and move it to the internet.  The advantage of the internet is that nowadays you can pretty much always access it (and don’t worry if you can’t, we have a solution for that too!).

It’s safe, secure and only people who you want to see details of your family planner will see those details.

Create an account with us, and immediately start to manage your diary (or calendar for those of you reading in the US).  You can create multiple diaries for each member of your family and even share your diaries and events with friends and family who can create their own accounts.

The solution is available as an app on Android and iOS as well, allowing you to see diaries and events when you are not connected to the internet.  It’s also completely FREE to use from a personal aspect and always will be.  We will also not be adding any of those annoying ads.

So what are you waiting for, sign up and try Ding Dong Diary today to start to manage the chaos of daily life!