Web Summit still not big enough for Paddy Cosgrave

“I think it can become much bigger, and as it becomes bigger the network effects get better"

The final morning of the Web Summit saw hordes of attendees, many visibly weary from Wednesday's Night Summit events, file back in to the RDS for the last leg of this marathon tech conference.

One man who showed no signs of fatigue was the eternally fresh-faced founder Paddy Cosgrave, who took questions from Irish and international journalists eager to understand how, exactly, this multi-ring circus came into existence.

But most pressing of all was the issue of wifi, or rather the lack thereof. Paddy wasn't pulling any punches: "It's incredibly frustrating that we can't control the wifi, that the RDS are not willing to let Cisco run the wifi, and they have successfully done that at conferences far larger around the world," he said, suggesting a solution is available.

Who is responsible for the present unreliable state of the wifi? Paddy was happy to name names.


"I'm optimistic that Michael Duffy, the RDS CEO, who is actually a very reasonable man, with the feedback he got last year and again this year, will move from his position and allow us to use Cisco. If we can't reach that, we have no other choice of venue in Ireland, our only other choice would be to move elsewhere in Europe. As an Irishman, that would be incredibly disappointing, but ultimately it's in the hands of Michael Duffy, the CEO of the RDS. But again, I do think he's a very reasonable person, I'm optimistic."

At this point, just a few years into its life, the Summit is a sprawling, unwieldy amalgamation of different stages and events, with most attendees deciding to base themselves in either the RDS main arena or the Simmonscourt, rather than traipse back and forth. Has the Summit reached its maximum size?

Paddy was having none of it: “I think it is not big enough, I think it can become much bigger, and as it becomes bigger the network effects gets better.”

The Summit, it appears, will only stop growing when it encompasses every aspect of tech. “Technology is changing so many industries, traditionally a tech conference has a narrow focus, but now its disrupting sport and music and food. Who would have thought that the taxi industry would be disrupted by an app on our phones? As the scale of the impact, and the number of industries touched by technology and software increases, I think we have an opportunity to bring all of those communities together and deliver an incredible experience...A lot of the magic doesn’t happen in the individual campuses here, it happens in the cross-polination when incredible engineers meet incredible designers, say.”

This appears to be a promise, or a threat, to keep increasing the size of the Summit exponentially until whole Dublin neighbourhoods are hosting various campuses. But no, even Cosgrave must bow to the limits of space: “However, I will say this, I do believe infrastructrually there is an upper limit to Dublin as a destination,” he says, sounding a tad disappointed.

Somebody raises the obvious parallel the other sprawling, exhausting, exhilarating event that attracts thousands of young people every year - Glastonbury. “I’ve heard that, an Irish Glastonbury for geeks. Some people have described it as ‘Davos for geeks’, but having been to Davos, I don’t think it’s anything like Davos. We don’t have suits, we don’t have a vast security presence, we don’t have snipers on the roofs. For the people attending the Summit, they’re young, and their experience of events is for the most part music festivals. Most tech conferences can be a bit stale, but we try to inject a bit of fun into the technology conference.”

It's a pleasing image, Cosgrave as Michael Eavis, surveying the huge event that he has swiftly built, with tech talks instead of guitar solos, panel discussions instead of DJ sets. And there's only a few hours to go before the big finale.