The Web Summit divides opinion like no other event I’ve been to. You either love the scale, diversity and complexity of the event or you think it’s an ego-driven event that adds little value. Then there’s the €20 burgers ! There is no doubt it is well put together event, but the whole start up experience needs to be reassessed.
The start ups are housed in every available part of floor space around the RDS. You can’t walk more than 2 steps without being jumped on by a start up, usually dressed in either a Google style tee shirt or suit jacket and jeans combo. They all look and sound so alike, it’s hard to remember which ones you have spoken to. They’re eager to tell you about their amazing product, built with some new technology that is about to… Actually, I don’t know what it’s about to do because they lost my interest just after “hello”.
Thoughts from chatting to start ups at #websummit so far: no one cares about your tech. Tell us what it will do for people
— Andi Jarvis (@andijarvis) November 4, 2015
Maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that a coder who has spent every waking hour for the last 9 months developing a product would want to talk to me about the code. There’s just one problem with this: I DON’T CARE. I don’t code, can’t code and even if I did code, I still wouldn’t care.
There are thousands of start ups crowded into the RDS like a battery farm and I’m sure they will all of technically brilliant products. That just isn’t enough to cut it in a saturated market place. In one area there are at least 20 guys with some new/better/different/quicker/cheaper way of handling online payments (all of which look identical to me) and talking tech won’t help them stand out.
The founders need to step back and understand what their product could mean to the user and try and articulate it in those terms rather than jumping in to a description of Java/Ruby or whatever it was the guy said to me.
Almost all of the start ups are here to try and attract funding and they go about it in a strange way. An old business mentor once told me:
“When a lion wants to eat an antelope, they go to where the antelopes are”.
— Simon Cocking (@SimonCocking) September 24, 2015
Most of these start ups have looked at the Web Summit, worked out tech funders and journalist will be here and decided this is where the antelopes are. Sadly, they’re wrong. They’ve just turned up at a lion convention.
They’re herded into areas with hundreds of other start ups, screaming over each other for the limited attention of the odd person who is brave or stupid enough to stop walking in their general vicinity. It’s like watching a bunch of puppies in a pet shop trying to look cute for a potential buyer.
This has caused some of the start ups to resort to ever more ludicrous schemes to get noticed – morph suits, megaphones, scantily clad ladies… classy. I’m not saying they don’t need to be here – it’s a great event and they could learn lots from the stages, but I’m not convinced it’s a great place to find funding.
If I had the secret ingredient of how to make a start up big, I’d be sitting on a balcony in Rio looking out over the Sugar Loaf Mountain. Alexandra Greenhill from myBestHelper https://www.mybesthelper.com/ gave me the best answer from any of the start ups I spoke to.
“It’s like baking. No one ingredient is more important that the other. If you put one in at the wrong time, or too much of another, it never works. There’s also a little bit of luck involved… you don’t want someone opening the oven door at the wrong time!”
From all the noise and chat I’ve heard at Web Summit, this was the thing that stood out. Of course having a fantastically developed product/service is important. But so is how you tell potential customers about it. As is your network, your finance, your dedication, your ideas, your team, your everything. It has to be the right things at the right time in the right amounts otherwise it’s not going to work.
Luck of the Irish
There is one other element that every start up has mentioned: luck. Knowing when to make the leap, being lucky with someone seeing your product or mentioning it to a colleague. It’s luck that helped set some companies apart.
That’s lovely, but it’s also rubbish.
Alexandra, sorry, Dr Greenhill, told me in the same conversation how she studied at university to become a doctor. She was a board member at the Canadian Institute of Health, voted onto a 40 under 40 list of business people in Vancouver and has been recognised nationally by the YWCA for her influence. She’s used all this experience to develop her service to help reduce stress in her friends’ lives and followed it through to a business venture. She then applied for the competitions and won a start up contest in Vancouver and third place in another one before winning the prestigious Cartier Women’s Initiative Award http://blogs.vancouversun.com/2015/10/15/vancouvers-mybesthelper-named-winner-in-international-cartier-competition/ .
None of this has anything to do with luck. It has everything to do with persistence, dedication, networking, research and hard work. In the start up world, you make your own luck.