The Web Summit in Lisbon was a great excuse for me to finally travel back to Portugal. Having spent many holidays over here when I was young, it was time for me to explore Lisbon properly and attend the huge, huge Web Summit that brings you anything that's related to digital in any way, it's a hub for the international start-up scene and a pretty prestigious event with an amazing line of speakers, more details about that down below.
My mum is a translator for Portuguese and spent some time living there as well, so when I still lived back with my parents, we spent many holidays over there. I have many fond memories of Portugal, many of them really without context as I was just waddling after my family back in the day, so 9 years after the last visit, I finally travelled back to refresh some memories.
The Web Summit – some thoughts
With 53.000 attendees now in the 2017 event, it was the biggest one thus far and was honestly a bit overwhelming as well. The event took place at the fair centre in Lisbon, including four large exhibition halls (called pavilions here) and the massive arena, which fits 20.000 people alone. Despite being technically aware of those numbers, seeing said number in actual people at the event was a whole different pancake. Numbers like that also get an issue when it comes to proper crowd and participant management, often resulting in long lines, loosing a lot of time and making it difficult to plan properly. I opted for either having a late breakfast already at the summit and then a late lunch, because the queues at the food trucks during the lunch break were...well. Too long for me to be bothered - someone mentioned lines of 50+ people just to get a mediocre burrito. Some of these issues were just a bit frustrating, so I didn't actually take an awful lot of pictures which I regret a bit now in retrospect. My personal highlight: meeting the prime minister of Luxembourg!
With the location of my airbnb, it was very easy for me to get to, hop on a train for 15 minutes and I was at the Oriente station, near the venue. From the train, bus and metro station where you'd arrive to, you would walk past the arena, and pavilions 1-4, to enter at the fourth and last one. I wish there had been some entrances straight to the pavilions, or the arena, that would have saved you a good half hour to walk to the complete other side of the area just to walk all the way back (if you wanted to see something in the arena). I'm sure that was a simple and practical decision for the organisers, but as an attendee I was mildly annoyed by that and the extra time I needed to schedule just to get it.
Below I gathered some pro/contra thoughts on my personal experience, maybe it's helpful for some of you who are considering to attend next year.
Europe's largest tech conference attracts people from many different industries, start-ups, entrepreneurs, media, entertainers and politicians, state leaders and company executives. I got to talk to people and listen to topics that completely pushed me out of my professional comfort zone, which was wonderful. This was also my main reason for going - to hear something new and different.
Speakers and overall content
This might contradict my previous negative point, but again I'm outlining my personal experience. For my understanding and interest, the line-up of speakers was truly amazing and the topics controversial, engaging and current. When looking at the agenda and filling in my schedule I could barely I was impressed by how recent events were integrated into the program, and how effectively it represented current issues (such as, at that time the results of the presidential election in the US).
Oh I was totally in love with the app. I've attended so many fairs and conferences and events that have struggled hard to develop a proper meeting management system and a platform for attendees to interact and connect effectively and mobile. This was to date by far the best solution I have seen for this. In addition to the standard in-app schedule and the possibility to add favourites and create your own schedule, every attendee had their own proper profile with an open message function that allowed you to quickly get in touch. This was great to ask questions during talks or afterwards if you had a comment for a speaker, you could scan other attendees badges and automatically add them to your contact list and the whole thing was just great. I wish they all had this.
Side events and Meet-ups
The Web Summit side events and selection of meet-ups was great, interesting and provided some proper networking opportunities outside of the actual exhibition and conference out there at the fair. The Web Summit took over Lisbon at night for the so-called Night Summit where they somewhat occupied a particular street or area in Lisbon where attendees could get special deals in bars and mingle with other summiteers. There was also an official Pub Crawl but I kinda missed the moment to sign up for it and couldn't figure it out, but then again I wasn't too invested in the idea anyway. So whatever 🙂 I attended a meet-up of Digital Nomads at a little cocktail bar in the centre, which was lovely, I met some very interesting people and a co-Luxembourgian gal which totally made my day. You know, us people from Luxembourg basically NEVER randomly meet people from our country because there's like five of us. So that was awesome. There were plenty of more similar meet-ups that were really interesting, such as for bloggers etc. - but hey, I ain't too old for that shit. Knowing the kinda day I'd be having ahead of me, I decided to rather have a quiet dinner and some wine at the restaurant of the grumpy grandpa in my street that going all out there.
Admittedly, after me ranting about the sheer masses of people this might sound off, but I still felt an extraordinary sense of community amongst everybody I met. People were open, genuine and without an exception very interesting and also interested. The Women in Tech group I was part of actively connected through Facebook and organised spontaneous quick meet-ups around and it was wonderful to be part of that.
Losing its focus
The large variety of attendees and topics are great and super interesting on the one side, on the other hand, they tend to make the content a bit too varied, too superficial and not specific enough for the pros of the respective industry, as they aim to serve a much larger crowd. Admittedly, I'm not the tech person per se, so I couldn't tell the significance of many of the topics discussed in that regard, but I heard plenty of disappointed voices of "watered down" content. Considering the areas of my expertise, I can agree with that unfortunately, basically anything that had anything remotely to do with influencer marketing was a complete waste of time. Also I felt like a bunch of the speakers were only there for the name. Like, great that you had a big youtuber like Meredith Foster there, but with all due respect, that girl had absolutely nothing to say that was in any way relevant to anybody there, except maybe her fanposse.
Session length and disruptive agenda
Almost all the sessions were ridiculously short. The majority of talks and panels were just 20 minutes long, which is honestly a bit silly. Especially with amazing speakers that have so much great input to give, 20 minutes is nothing - especially for a panel when you have several people up there. I felt like I was just getting into the topic in that time and like I was kinda left hanging when they ended.
There were not even a few minute breaks between the talks, so that if you wanted to see a talk that happened to be at a different stage, you had to either leave the first one early or miss the beginning of the second. I personally attended mainly for the talks and the content provided, but I don't feel like I could really get invested in any of it because I was just running from one stage to another all the time.
I'm not aware of their organisation, but being in the event and conference industry myself, I was wondering how they would waste a speaker budget on 20-minute sessions - although many speakers were booked for two or more sessions throughout the event.
Women in Tech lounge
While the idea and the purpose was great, at least I personally experienced it a big negatively, to be honest. This might be a problem only I kinda had, but in between all the running around, I found it hard to slow down and find a moment of quiet. With the Women in Tech ticket I was supposed to have access to the Women in Tech lounge, which in general was a great idea, but it turns out I would have had to sign up for access to it beforehand which I didn't know (1-WHY would I sign up for an area that I have a specific ticket for already?! 2-You could "sign up" for it on site as well, but the lines to do that and just get in to just have a place to sit and a coffee were just silly.), and then it was still closed sometimes for events that at least I hadn't been aware of and that you couldn't still join, so basically all the mornings it was not accessible most of the time.
I'm kinda sad that this something that's coming up here as we were at the WEB summit, but hey guys, you gotta figure this wifi thing out asap. Since I was in Portugal for an entirety of two weeks, I had gotten myself a Portuguese sim card with a decent data plan so luckily I didn't have to reply on the wifi, because if I had, I'd been really annoyed.
What can I say, Lisbon has always had a piece of my heart and all the things that might have frustrated me otherwise were just easily balanced out with great food and wine, the best November-weather imaginable and city vibes to make me smile.
I was staying in a lovely airbnb in the Alfama district (people there hate airbnb as it takes living space away for the locals and push prices up - and I feel kind of bad for it, but hey, for the traveler it's the best way. Still.) which I loved to explore and go for walks and discover restaurants. Below is just a collection of Lisboa-impressions to take you over there. This was a holiday for me as well and it couldn't have been any better.
From starting my days with a Galão, fresh orange juice and a Tosta Mista, some of the touristy drinking expensive wine at touristy viewpoints, to roaming the small streets and alleyways, eating with Portuguese families at community tables in the local seafood joint, it was just everything.
Disclaimer: I have an irrational fascination with the sunfish. So there's an extra selection of sunfish photos just for you fellas who share this from the three hours+ I spent at the Océanario. Including a cheesy selfie. You're welcome.
I was in Lisbon and at the Web Summit entirely on my own expense and initiative. No sponsorship or co-operation was involved in this trip.