While Web Summit and Coachella are two very different events, we believe that one of the biggest tech conferences in the world is embracing the Coachella “vibe”. What do we mean by that? Well, Coachella is undeniably one of the trendiest gatherings on the planet. Every digital influencer wants to be seen there and every service provider wants to promote their brand to audiences via it. Some of the most famous names in the world travel to LA for it… but is this where business is really done?
When announcing Lisbon as the new Web Summit venue in 2015, Paddy Cosgrave, the event’s executive president, said the main reasons for moving from Dublin were the infrastructure, similarities to San Francisco (with even better weather) and all social media buzz pointing to Portugal’s capital as the best choice. Combined with a prosperous start-up community, the future was bright.
However, it seems that Web Summit has lost its way. Yes, there are start-ups, entrepreneurs, investors, private equity funds, venture capitals, business angels… But are they a catalyst for economic growth and investment in Portugal? Are they attracting enough capital? Or has Portugal just bought into a very expensive marketing proposition to drive tourism for the next nine years?
Let’s look at some of the facts. According to Airbnb data, guests spent around 50 million euros in Lisbon – on accommodation, services, and meals – over the course of the two previous Web Summits. It is also fair to say that the majority of us don’t remember most of the start-ups exhibiting in the past two years. And what are these start-ups doing now?
4Geo was announced at the time as one of the top 12 favourites, yet a small look at its social media highlights that not much has changed for them. It is still a start-up looking for actual investment or opportunities. Another example is Farmcloud which showed a lot of promise and which is a super cool concept. When asked why they go to Web Summit, the answer was clear – it helps with marketing and PR but, for the business itself, not much has happened. Nevertheless they still believe in Web Summit – they will be present again over the next couple of days.
However, it isn’t all bad news. Web Summit did put Lisbon on the start-up radar, growing from 2,193 in 2016 to 3,214 in 2018 according to Startup Portugal data, creating more job opportunities (+24 % in 2018 ) and Hubs/Accelerators (153 in 2018).
When asked about the topic in an interview with national newspaper Público, Ricardo Lima – responsible for the team that follows the start-up growth at the event – confirmed that the KPIs for investment had been successfully achieved, however, Web Summit, nor any other event part of the group can claim credit for it.
Start-ups have the same struggles as before, most of the capital invested does not stay in the country for long (five years maximum), and the job opportunities that Web Summit itself creates are mostly for volunteers.
So what does Portugal stand to gain from this? This is very simple, loads of free PR and more than 45 million of pure earnings from taxation in only four days – the catalyst for a growth in Portuguese tourism growth over the last few years. According to Deloitte’s study for the Lisbon Tourism Association, Lisbon alone generated more than 13.7 million from tourists (direct or indirectly) in 2017. Due to the influx of foreigners, real estate prices have skyrocketed with more and more demand for temporary accommodation at very high prices, creating a new revenue stream for owners.
But what does this mean for the average Portuguese citizen with a regular job and a standard salary? What does this economic growth mean for them?
Well, the average salary in Lisbon is 1,000 euros/month, and renting a small one-bedroom in a not so good location costs on average 830 euros/month. We’ve started seeing entire families living in one bedroom in a shared house/apartment, or having to move out of the city centre (oftentimes due to landlords’ bizarre updates on the contracts), leading to a two hour commute in traffic and/or on public transport every day.
Web Summit is not what the Portuguese ecosystem needs, but what the country wants to showcase. Plus, Portugal definitely wasn’t ready for the magnitude of the event and support required to make it a success. Hence, it will take time to straighten out the country’s priorities.
For now, let’s hope all players can benefit from this event. Just as with Coachella, while business might not be the priority, making connections, being inspired and creating lifelong memories can all be achieved at Web Summit. And, we still have another five years of it ahead of us. Here’s hoping Web Summit can deliver success for all, but especially for those that help make it a reality each year here in Lisbon.