Web Summit 2018.

Our Strategy Director Gill and Client Services Director Kirsty recently flew out to Lisbon to attend Web Summit. We caught up with them to find out about their experience of attending the most influential tech conference in the world.

Web Summit is the world’s biggest entrepreneurial tech conference which bring the industry’s leaders, inventors and policy makers together. At a time of great uncertainty for industry upon industry and the world itself, Kirsty and Gill gathered with the founders and CEOs of technology companies, fast-growing start-ups, policymakers, heads of state and around seventy thousand other people to join the debate around a simple question: where to next?

They heard from the likes of Tim Berners-Lee (yes, the inventor of the internet), ex-PM Tony Blair, President of Microsoft Brad Smith, Co-Founder of Twitter and Medium Ev Williams and many, many more. Here they share with us the key takeaways and stand out moments from the event.

Other than the amazing speakers and trip to Lisbon, what was it that made you want to attend this year?

Gill: It can be so easy to become all consumed by your own work that you forget that the world exists outside of the bubble you operate within. I was keen to experience something that would challenge my perceptions of how I see ‘tech’, who ‘tech’ is for and the limitations of it. We’re at a turning point now where tech, which was once seen as a standalone industry and something used to compliment ‘other’ industries, is now something that is infused and embedded within the successful businesses of now and the future. Web Summit gave me the opportunity to hear from legacy businesses who are in a transition period and the thinkers of the future who are leading the way.

Kirsty: For me, it was a ‘once-in-a-career’ opportunity. Without doubt, the industry (and the world) is at a pivotal moment in terms of the impact that technology has had on us so far and the huge shift that’s just about to happen. It’s impossible to think of tech and marketing as something that we only engage with in a work-sense as it affects us almost every moment of our lives. The chance to take part in the conversation at this point in time and learn from the greatest minds and the most successful people in the world was too good to turn down. The other thing that really appealed to me was to attend a conference outside of the UK. I think that, often, we tend to mix within our own cultures and with people of a similar mindset or career purpose but, at Web Summit, UK based participants were probably in the minority and it was amazing to experience it with people from all over Europe, Brazil, India and the US.

What were the key themes?

Gill: There were a couple: the impact that AI and data will have on the healthcare industry and how mobility will change in the coming years with electric vehicles and more prominently, autonomous driving. Underpinning these themes, and many other topics that were covered, was a theme of safety and responsibility. We, as the creators of that tech and part of the tech industry, have a responsibility to create and maintain safe and inclusive environments that tech makes better, not worse.

Kirsty: Not surprisingly, data was a huge theme as well as the way that it will be used to further develop technologies through Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Reality. It’s mind-blowing that we’ve only just scratched the surface of what’s possible in these areas and it did make us consider how our jobs are likely to change in as little as 5 or 10 years.  It’s obvious that there is excitement but, also, uncertainty, about the way that the web is developing. As more and more technologies are being used for harm rather than good the themes of humanity, ethics and consequences continued to be repeated. It’s definitely something that we don’t think about enough but we all play a part in ensuring that the things we make can’t be abused (and if they are, we should take action to make them better). Another really interesting theme that came up repeatedly was that, increasingly, as people lose faith in politics and large corporations hold more power than governments, people are looking to brands to make things better. In a growing activist culture brands have the potential to do good and build a set of actions that help inspire others to change.  

Were there any surprises/standout moments?

Gill: Tony Blair was surprisingly, excellent (I was pretty indifferent to him in politics) but his conversation was incredibly inspiring, especially among this Brexit fog that we’ve found ourselves in. He had a really optimistic, non-polarised and balanced outlook on the future, and in our current divisive political climate, I found this really refreshing and something that I’m planning to keep in mind. It’s not all about one extreme or the other, there is a space in the middle that we can all operate in. That got a bit deep, bet you weren’t expecting me to get all political on you!

Kirsty: Like Gill, Tony Blair was definitely an unexpected highlight for me and we were both hanging on his every word! I also absolutely loved Ray Dallio who is the founder of Bridgewater Associates (the world’s largest hedge fund) and one of the world’s 100 richest people but he could just as easily be your favourite cardigan-wearing, wise-cracking great uncle. That aside, the way that he has developed a simplified process of decision-making and the development of principles from failures was incredible. It was inspirational to hear from someone who has been a leader in their industry for decades and yet still genuinely embraces learning every single day.

You can watch the full Tony Blair talk here and Ray Dallio talk here.

Kirsty and Gill will be sharing their spin on Web Summit over the next few weeks and months so make sure you keep your eyes peeled on our LinkedIn and News pages to hear more from them.