Web Summit 2015: Day Two, In Review

Tech conferences are where optimism comes out for a gallop.

Walking around on Day Two, the energy levels had not decreased. The rotation of the startup stalls really works. Every day there’s a fresh injection of energy. You walk the same halls as the day before, but with a complete reset. You can’t see everything, so must surrender to what you encounter.

As I wandered around the Web Summit, I was constantly enriched by those I met.

John Delaney from proprietary hot-spot company Open Wifi offered up a stream of wisdom. “You’ve got to make your product easy for people. It’s got to be stupid proof. We’ve learned from our own mistakes rolling stuff out in the marketplace: if there’s a single complication, it goes wrong.”

“This year the Web Summit is is all about big data and IOT”, John observed, “Analytics and controlling things in your own home. We all want control. This is no surprise, This has been going on for years. We’re IoT, we’re not interested in analytics, we’re not trying to do it, it’s already been done. We’re putting people in touch with their own customers.”

Although the cliche is that companies come to the Web Summit to hound investors, John was one of many I met who had all they needed for now, “We’ve raised enough money and we’ve revenue coming in. We’re looking for more areas to distribute to and we’ve signed up new markets here today.”

From Milan, the design and manufacturing base of Italy comes programmable reusable Wood-Skin, an amazing material that has a range of B2B and B2C applications. They’re reclaiming the whole concept of flatpack assembly in a way that Ikea never imagined as COO Susanna Todeschini explained to me, “The good thing about Wood-Skin is that you can disassemble and re-use it as many times as you want without throwing it in the trash. You can fold our furniture up and store it under the bed when you’re not using it.”

CTO Stefano Baruffaldi explained to me that although they are focusing on B2B applications first, they look forward to enabling a whole way to engage with furniture. “Ikea is outdated”, Stefano told me, “you’re going to buy everything online in the future; go to your local shop, where it’s going to be built right away and in 15 minutes you have your fresh-made product ready.”

Adrian Burns is CTO of Firmwave an end to end IoT design company based in Dublin. “We help companies go from prototype to product very quickly,” explained Adrian, “There’s a big gap between what the silicon providers are providing and the end product. You need a full solution from chip to cloud which we provide.”

The Cesanta team were giddy with excitement when I passed their stand. They had just landed a massive new customer and had launched the beta of their full stack IoT platform. “You work with our software to connect with IoT quickly, easily and securely”, their marketing manager Evelyn Wolf informed me.

Yesterday was a day for asking about the future, and it means something different for everyone.

Adilet Abylov from Spalmalo, based in Kyrgyzstan, told me that “Machines make humans happier because machines can’t lie. They can’t make harmful things. I think people need to be more integrated with machines”. He works on both hardware and software projects integrated to help us make the most of machines. Their Z-BTN allows you to “Track your work hours and fill in your timesheets without leaving your project management app.”

SkyAlert from Mexico also develop hardware and software in parallel. They have a suite of complementary solutions which help communities to minimise the impact of natural disasters such as hurricanes, volcanos and earthquakes. Data from the sensors goes directly to the end users’ smartphones. Their usage in Mexico has already saved many lives and, Alvaro explained, “We faced this massive hurricane, Patricia, two weeks ago and we had an excellent response from people because everybody got the information direct from Skyalert storm much faster.”

Alvaro brought up a theme many start-ups echoed: the combination of social good and profit. “We chose this business because we believe in social startups,” he told me, “You can make money but as well you can help people.”

yanceystrickler-kickstarter-web-summit dublin-globe

Yancey Strickler from Kickstarter’s words from day one had been already ringing in my ears. “Most of the great ideas in life don’t have the aim of making a profit but just want to exist”, Yancey had declared from the main stage. “A company’s goal shouldn’t be for everybody to get rich and shop for boats all day. Don’t sell out the long term for the short term. Be idealistic. Act with integrity always.”

Kees Blok, founder of MIWI was emphatic about their mission, “We’re looking for solutions for causes that really matter. Especially if you see innovation for companies like Tesla which combine green and technology.”

I asked Kees how they struck the balance between the causes they support and making money.

“You make sure you have a good business model”, he explained, “You need to have a viable business which can support staff who can work full-time. MIWI creates awareness and solutions for causes through our products. It’s very important for causes to be transparent. We hand-select every charity, so you can only get on our platform if we think you are doing something good and spending your money wisely. We select investors based on how green they want to go. Of course we want to give them returns, but they need to have a mission.”

When I asked Kees if he could make more money in a different industry he just laughed and explained that “If you’re doing something just for the money, it won’t be spent well anyway because you’ll end up giving it back. My family think it’s great that I’m spending my time on something that’s valuable to society and also viable as a business.”

TeamTalk were another one of the many businesses with a mission I met yesterday. Their plan is to put “Money back into the grass roots of sports clubs and communities all around the world”, as co-founder Brendan Kelly explained, “We’re going to strip away the corporate structures and give it back to the people on the ground.”

Team Talk’s model is that funders can support their local club but earn rewards from local businesses. “We make a small profit, As people donate to their club we take a percentage of the transactions.”, he outlned, “We can’t do good unless we grow and the only way you can grow is if you monetise.”

I was curious as to how Team Talk walked the line between business and social good. Brendan was happy to explain, “The only reason we’re in this space is because we know how much of a pain it is. We’ve been involved in arranging auctions, quizzes, everything for our local club and it’s time-consuming and a lot of hassle. We’re trying to make that easier for clubs, and do good by them. If we can make enough money to live comfortably, that’s great. We‘re bootstrapping at the moment, this is a part-time thing for us, so at some point it’s going to come to a stage when I’m going to go for this full-time.”

As Brendan explained all of this to me he was surrounded by his three other Co-Founders. They were joking and laughing and full of the joys of life.

Running a startup is tough. Maybe running one that does good for society as well as paying a wage makes it easier. Meeting startups who are balancing the two has given me much food for thought.

That’s the invigorating thing about the Web Summit: you never know what each day will throw up.

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