Una Mullally

Society, life and culture on the edge

Web Summit Vol 3: the heart of the matter

Day two of the Web Summit threw up some interesting social ventures amongst the dollar-lust.

Fri, Nov 1, 2013, 08:43


I didn’t play day two of the Web Summit too well, as first of all I was working all morning, so only started checking out speakers from 1pm, and also had to be back in the city centre to talk to Cindy Gallop for Le Cool’s Spiel series in the Stag’s Head at 6pm, which meant missing Ironman V Tin Man (Elon Musk on a panel with Enda Kenny) and a talk I really wanted to get to and probably the most interesting one for journalists at the Summit: David Carr and Shane Smith. But all that was worth it for the Stag’s Head event which was fantastic – more on that later.

So what went down on day two? For some reason I came across a lot of stuff in the social venture / let’s make things better zone, so let’s talk about those.

The Kids
One of my first stops of the day was TechSpace, because one of their guys asked me if I’d be interviewed by the young people who were recording chats with people at the Summit. TechSpace launches today proper, and it’s an initiative that trains youth workers to facilitate young people to express themselves better using technology. The young people at the Summit were from tech spaces the YMCA has in Cork. The previous day I had a chat with one of the guys at Camara, an education company that refurbishes desktop computers and laptops, loads them with Adobe education software, and sells them on at remarkably reduced prices (€100 for a laptop here) to places in the developing world and also in Ireland. That’s where TechSpace get their hardware.

A brand doing things right
At the Summit, TechSpace was supported by ESB, who once again, showed some fun in how they promote themselves in a different setting. ESB had something that always works well: free coffee, at Cafe De Vine. The hook was simple, tweet a Vine with the appropriate hashtag and get a free cup of coffee. The staff were great, it was always buzzing over the couple of days, they had a huge video wall where dozens of Vines were playing as they were being made, they were supporting a social venture involving young people, and the coffee was actually decent. An all round win for them. I generally like the stuff ESB does – remember everyone chasing the blue guy around the IFSC to get an Electric Picnic ticket? And Mr Motivator at the Picnic? Cafe De Vine was another hit.

It’s the first of November/Movember today, and the charity brand had a strong presence at the Summit, with a barber shop set-up doing hot towel shaves. Movember is now comparable to the pink ribbon breast cancer awareness movement or the red ribbon HIV/AIDS movement, but where the pink ribbon campaign falls down in sexualising breast cancer, and the red ribbon campaign has only moved forward in the clunky and consumer-capitalist form of Bono and co’s RED buzz [side note, Bono was everywhere over the past few days] Movember is fresh, fun, it celebrates masculinity in an ironic and cool way, and gets things done. Here’s a good synopsis on the BBC site. Over on the Digital Marketing stage, Justin Coghlan (JC) one of the original Mo Bros, ran through the history of the venture, ending with a video from Nick Offerman of Parks & Recreation which brought plenty of laughs to the room.

Maybe I missed something, but there was surprisingly little on crowdfunding during the Summit. I did pop into a conversation on the main stage between Christine Lagorio (exec editor at Inc), Sam de Brouwer (co-founder of Scanadu) and Slava Rubin (CEO of Indiegogo) where de Brouwer was showing off her new product. Slave talked about his ’4 Ps’; perks, passion, profit, and I can’t remember the fourth one. Pinot Grigio?

One of the things you really notice is the bang of desperation and chugging off some start-ups. Media are hassled (I only chatted to the people who were actually polite, which was I’d say 50% of people who approached you – start-ups REALLY need to brush up on their people skills), VC dudes are like Pied Pipers leading a conga line of start-up people waving their phones and cards, and a lot of the big dudes on the main stage deliver self-help clichés as encouragement. There is a sense of The Mega Church about the main stage at the Summit, you walk in to this huge crowd listening to some white dude telling you to believe.

Anyway, Mark Suster called that out, saying that sometimes as a start-up you feel like you’re begging people. Suster said that we’re all naked in the mirror, but when you’re looking at your competition you often imagine that they’re wearing tuxedos. His version of the 10,000 hour rule is “take 50 coffee meetings” when it comes to looking for money from various threads of funders. If you get 15 positive rapports out of those 50, then that’s a good start.

I met John Gilmartin who has a really simple but practical app that actually has a use. You don’t see many of those around! Barrcloud is an app for barristers that allows them to manage their diaries, their accounts and case documents. Makes sense. I suggested to John that he build one for freelance journalists who strangely have similar needs to barristers when it comes to keeping track of accounts. This kind of app-help for the self-employed could be really useful.

Gonna make a change
On the Digital Marketing stage, Ben Ratrray, the founder and CEO of Change.org was talking about the impact that site had made. He gave a couple of examples, like when Bank of America decided to introduce a $5 fee for using your bank card, and a part-time nanny called Molly called bullshit on it, ended up getting 300,000 people to sign a petition on the site, and the biggest bank in the US reversed their decision and apologised. Or when a teenager realised Gatorade were still using BVO, a fire retardant chemical banned in the EU, in their drink and ended up on the cover of the New York Times business section. It took three weeks for Gatorade to stop using the chemical.

The power is in the specific, Ben said. You don’t ask banks to get rid of all their fees, you just ask Bank of America to drop a $5 fee and others will follow. So personal stories are a the root of these campaigns, and because of the internet “companies no longer work behind closed doors” Ben said. When someone started a petition addressing the dangers of flower picking, 1880-Flowers woke up to 55,000 people joining the petition and a huge negative conversation happening around them on Facebook. The CEO was embarrassed because his daughter was on Facebook, “Shame is an incredibly powerful force,” Ben said.

Now, they’re moving towards being more helpful for companies, giving them the power to directly engage with consumers and positively respond as well as being petitioned.

Stupid costumes won’t get your start-up noticed
Someone has to say it.

A side note on hotels
I came across Enon Landenberg, the CEO of Infinity (you might of heard about their work with Google Glass) bitching about hotel rooms on one of the Pitch stages, and he was dead right. How come, he said, if he’s a member of Hilton and on their userbase that when he walks into a Hilton hotel room anywhere in the world it’s not personalised? How come there’s not a Bruce Springsteen song playing in the room because he’s a fan, or pictures of his kids on the TV screen? “I think they’re not changing because they don’t need to,” he said, “They are lazy. The first company that does do it will take the whole market.” I think he’s got a great point. Air BnB has subverted the hotel room market, but Air BnB offers OTHER PEOPLE’S personalisation, you’re tapping into the person touch created from someone else’s identity, not your own.

More to follow in other posts on women in tech, Cindy Gallop and Harper Reed, and the Web Summit report card.

Here’s Davin O’Dwyers report on the day’s proceedings, and loads more coverage here.

Previously at the Web Summit:
- The genius of Leonard Kleinrock.
- Notes from Day 1.