Paddy Cosgrave: “Portugal is infused with Web Summit”

he Web Summit’s CEO and Co-Founder has given an interview to ECO about the business model, growth projections in Lisbon and the controversy between the municipality of Lisbon and FIL.

Web Summit celebrates its fourth edition in Lisbon this November. Paddy Cosgrave’s team have abandoned New Orleans to move to Toronto to set up Collision, a conference that gathered more than 25,000 participants and hosted an important Portuguese delegation of organisations and start-ups as well.

The Web Summit’s CEO and Co-Founder has given an interview to ECO about the business model, growth projections in Lisbon and the controversy between the municipality of Lisbon and the Portuguese Industry Association about the venue. And even about the ambition of bringing Cristiano Ronaldo to the stage on this year’s edition.

Web summit vs Collision… Same business model, similar events or is it different concepts and different scales?

They are two different kinds of events: Web Summit is now like a Mercedes or a BMW, a big series 7 or series 8. It’s like the big ones. And Collision is like a little Citroën at the moment.

But the idea is to make them grow?

Yes, the idea is to make them grow. You know, Web Summit is an anomaly… Coming to Toronto and having been in Lisbon, you can see that Portugal is a start-up lounge, a small tiny part of the story, while Canada is the story. Coming to Collision, you really realise how many things are going on at Web summit and in Portugal. There, the whole story is about Portugal and it is pretty amazing how much the place matters. The combination of place and event is quite a powerful one.

Considering that you have just said, Web Summit and Collision will never be a franchise of one another as they will have a strong DNA from each place hosting them…

Exactly! Portugal is infused with Web Summit. It is unique, like a pastel de nata and it is something that you cannot get anywhere else. Then, Collision is kind of different and there are a lot of reasons for being different. This was our first year and we struggled with internet issues. The venue last night agreed in total responsibility of refunding all the exhibitors and partners. This is a baby, a two-year-old toddler.

In Lisbon, Altice (Arena) is a very good venue that runs perfect Wi-Fi in a way bigger scale, in a way higher density. Web summit is matured into a responsible teenager that has many years of maturing ahead.

Were you surprised by the controversy between FIL and the mayor of Lisbon? Were you somehow expecting this?

I think if you read newspapers in any country, this is just… politics. I have complete faith in the mayor of Lisbon. Everybody I met on every side of the political spectrum in Portugal recognises that Fernando (Medina, Mayor of Lisbon) is a person with a huge amount of experience and is also a very capable one. And, so, I have total faith in him. In politics, anywhere in the world, there are always issues. It’s just the nature of the business of being a politician.

Aren’t you worried about it, then?

No. Next week or next month, there will be some other issues… it could be footpaths in the city, it could be trees, it could be the waterfront, the bridges, the schools… We’ve never had problems in the past. And think there are so many options. There is not any reason to be concerned with.

What will be the main changes, the main novelties in this year’s Web Summit?

I was in Estoril and I saw the catering experience there for senior businesspeople. I really want to do the same at the Web Summit. Hopefully this year. If not, in 2020. So that any senior businessperson in Portugal can have a high touch experience, a start-up experience. Food is, therefore, a big ambition for this year.

Hopefully, we are looking forward to increasing the participation of female entrepreneurs from around the world. In Collision, we had bigger female participation than in Lisbon. In fact, it was very close, 45% versus 42%, so splitting hairs… But I would love to bring on stage at Web Summit a female entrepreneur from, to say, for example, every African nation. We also have a schedule of announcements, so we will be announcing the major novelties closer to the event.

Have you ever thought in a Wine summit? Will it be running this year?

We have been contacted by all sort of wineries and wine producers to visit their estates. I went to visit Delta’s Factory. It was amazing! I got to tell you that I am not very sure if there are so many family-owned companies around the world like this one.  In such a small town (Campo Maior),  the impact they have there is amazing. The family runs it really well and they do other things as well

We’re planning an event for two days before the Web Summit to bring 500 of the most interesting early-stage entrepreneurs. What we have found over the last couple of years was that many of the biggest companies in the world increasingly realised that they can learn a lot from the smallest and the fastest movement companies. And if you are a 50-years company, the biggest challenge is speed for you to move. Siemens, for example, send over 100 of their global managers to Web Summit. And why? Literally, they want to experience the kind of energy and the kind of the pace that all of these small companies are working at. Sure, some companies are there to sell their products. But even for a lot of big Portuguese, it’s an opportunity to send their key managers and emerging leaders to learn and to meet people. That for us means that we need to continue to put even more emphasis on early-stage companies because that’s where all the energy is at.

And maybe bring Cristiano Ronaldo to the Web Summit… That’s my ambition. Now, he’s into his older years… He’s a “statesman”… I think he could be a great speaker… And after all, we have been in Lisbon for three years now. It’s time.

You’re about to move in September to Lisbon…

I cannot do July or August, I am sorry…

Why is that?

I love Portugal, but it’s too hot at that time of the year. If I was on the coast, perfect. But I want to be based in Lisbon. I just rent a place that it’s very close to the office.

Are you planning to change the headquarters of Web Summit to Lisbon?

That is a very good question, I must say. We are hiring more staff and I think it is an amazing city to grow a team. We have a lot of Portuguese working in Dublin and there is even a cultural phenomenon that is in about 2 pm, each day, the Portuguese guys will not drink the Irish coffee, but they instead pick little cups and go to the Delta machine. It is like a religion. We have got a little Portugal in the office of Dublin. We will continue to grow in Lisbon. It is amazing to be there for 10 years. For the first time, we have this kind of certainty where we can really think about how we want to shape the event over the long-term. And we have got tons of ideas and lots of announcements to do as well.

But about moving the headquarters to Lisbon

I think it could be bilocated in Lisbon and in Toronto as well. In these days, there are remote companies that have no offices, still being truly global companies. Increasingly, we live in a world where work is just changing. There are people working remotely all the time, or even in coworking spaces. We have a pretty flexible work policy. People can work from wherever they want as long as they get their job done. Everyone is on Slack. If someone in the office turns out to me tomorrow and say “Oh, I want to spend the next month in Sagres working”, I just feel like “cool” with it. I do not mind as long as the job gets done. It’s a huge generational shift. I might be wrong, but I think that is the way.

You have recently twitted that you had visited Lisbon alongside with the world’s largest event venues constructor. What was the goal of that visit?

No matter where the venue is expanded or constructed, you probably want to involve the best in the world for doing that. It is quite amazing for such a huge city to expand so far out. Actually, because of historical reasons, the city and the municipality still own a lot of lands. I would say that is unique in Europe, which actually for a city creates so many opportunities. Not just for a conference centre, but for so many things. I think they are redeveloping much of the waterfront and that is not possible in other cities because they are so privately held. It would be a nightmare if you would go two kilometres without negotiating with those private owners. We are really fortunate, I think, but, whatever the outcome, the options will make for multiple good outcomes. That’s not a concern.

For over 20 years, there have been plans to build something bigger and over those 20 years, they have watched as much smaller regional cities, like Bilbao and Valencia, constructed venues five and six times as big, when these places not even have international airports. They are regional airports. Lisbon is probably the biggest city in Europe with the smallest facilities and I think that means many global events throughout the year just do not consider Lisbon.

One of the big questions for certain cities in Europe that have a lot of tourists is: Do we grow the number of tourists or do we grow the type of tourist that come to contribute the most for the economy? If you have a choice, would you prefer tourists that spend 30 euros a day or lots more tourist that spend 800 euros a day? If you look at business delegates in conferences, they spend on average five times more per day than a tourist, because a tourist is on his personal budget, he could be with family. People at business events, it is about the company and they’re trying to impress clients and customers. That is why cities like Bilbao and Valencia have invested so heavily. It benefits the restaurants, taxi drivers, hotels, everyone.

Do you know if the economic impact in Lisbon is growing with Web Summit?

My presumption is yes, but the scale of Web Summit until an expanded venue is constructed is going to remain the same for two, maybe three years. For us is an opportunity to catch a breath and make lots of improvements. If the event gets bigger, then obviously the impact will increase, but that will depend on the venue. There is no way you can make it bigger for the moment.