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Web Summit 2015: from start-up to scale, part 2

Article written by

James Matthews-Paul

Written on 18/11/2015 | Posted 1 year 7 months 9 days ago

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Photobook app bownd was amongst the start-ups to catch the eye of Output's editor-in-chief at Web Summit Photobook app bownd was amongst the start-ups to catch the eye of Output's editor-in-chief at Web Summit

With 2,141 start-ups in attendance, Web Summit makes for an intense, competitive show environment. For many it was a positive experience, providing them with a platform to meet some 42,000 like-minded individuals – including 1,000 investors and 1,231 members of the media, according to official statistics.

As with any event, there were a few controversies. Web Summit advertises 'free' places to exciting start-ups, who are then pre-qualified via a Skype interview with a member of a selection committee. However, business owners report that, post-qualification, they are asked to buy in for a couple of thousand euro to contribute to the running costs of the event. For some, this left a sour taste in the mouth – and for a full exploration of that we invite you to read Jason Calacanis's exploration of the matter, as well as Paddy Cosgrave's response on VentureBeat.

 To provide a different point of view, we asked four of the show's most exciting start-ups to give their feedback on the experience of exhibiting at Web Summit.

The nakeaid truth: Elena Gromova, chief executive

I attended Web Summit for the first time with my start-up nakeaid: a business that incorporates smart health and fitness wearable devices into sportswear. My first collection is designed especially for female cyclists and triathletes.

 Having completed L'Étape du Tour, a cycling race in the framework of Tour de France that took place this summer, I realised that women suffer from a lack of choice and comfort when it comes to cycling gear, which was originally developed for men and then adapted. This is how nakeaid was born. We aim to dress sportspeople in comfortable, stylish clothes, highlight their uniqueness, intelligence and strength of spirit.

We live in the 21st century and technology is our future. According to forecasts, every person will have at least one wearable device by 2020. Working in cooperation with Embedded Systems – a team of software developers from Latvia who have produced more than 100 devices for smarthomes – nakeaid has found a solution to incorporate fitness wearables into sports clothes, helping athletes to monitor their activity and protect them from heart disease. 

Web Summit was an exceptional opportunity to meet like-minded people, present the idea and improve it by sharing experiences, listening to successful entrepreneurs and seeing unique inventions. Undoubtedly, it is a great business and tech event and a must-visit in networking terms. Unless you're a complete newbie, you know the context and trends from, say, TechCrunch and Financial Times. If you're a professional, the value is likely to be in networking and in speakers' closed events. 

The speakers themselves were rather patchy in quality: you're equally likely to stumble upon someone brilliant, like the founder of Pebble, as to be trapped in an ego-wrestling panel discussion. It is surprising how many experienced speakers still can't convey their message in a 15-minute format.

There are plenty of opportunities for start-ups but success depends greatly on the amount of effort put into the stand, prototypes, messaging and participation (or not) on the Pitch stage. Using the app to find workshops and seminars was brilliant, but it's hard to get a reply or any output from the people on there you'd actually like to meet. It would helpful to have an opportunity to arrange these meetings in advance, or be able to use a room with short introductions between people of common interest.

Another area for improvement is the physical space around stands: it should be a bit bigger to make it easier to come up and talk to the owners of a start-up. Overall, I'd say the event was not eye-opening, but definitely inspiring. I will be back next year.

Find out more about nakeaid at http://www.nakeaid.com.

Bownd to succeed: Matt Morgan, chief executive

The original idea came after my grandmother passed away and left me in her will the letters my grandfather had sent her during the war. 75 years on we can still reminisce about the moments they shared together. As I approached my ten-year wedding anniversary it got me thinking that all of those messages, over email or text, that my wife Lyndal and I had shared early on in our relationship have been lost. We have pictures of course, Facebook and our current phones and emails, but go past about five years and there is very little. 

Now consider that last year, we snapped 560 billion photos with our mobile phones and sent over four trillion text messages worldwide. With a device in every pocket, we now capture moments at a rate faster than ever before in human history and share messages with loved ones more than any civilisation to date.

 

However, we spend less time celebrating them. While previous generations maintained photo albums, held slide shows, adorned walls with framed memories and kept shoe-boxes of glossy five-by-fours and hand-written letters, the pixel images of this snap-happy generation will remain buried inside hard drives and sim cards alongside a life of digital conversations and online interactions; out of sight, out of mind, forever. We spend more time capturing moments of our life and less time cherishing them.

Today, we live our relationships through our devices. All interactions – Facebook posts, text messages, emails, photos – from ephemeral, short missives to the great moments that define our lives, lie buried within few gigabytes of mobile phone storage. The memories of our lifetimes are forgotten in the memories of our hard drives. As technology improves, we upgrade our devices and often lose these captured moments forever.

From the ancient library of Alexandria to the Smithsonian Institute, mankind has been keeping a record of history for 2,500 years. Now, in our greatest age, we risk losing our personal histories. Future generations – our own children – will never know who we were or what we did. Printed materials are what generations have left behind for millennia. Moreover, it is hard-wired into the human psyche to leaf through a tangible printed item and gain something from it. While our digital generation has revolutionised how information is collected and stored it just won't replace the impact of or be as enduring as a well-printed book.

After huge support for the idea over the past six months, plus a positive reception at Web Summit, Matt [Batten] and I are now in the final stages of developing the app utility ready for a global launch and are continuing to develop the printed product while delivering our first 200 orders.

Visit Bownd at http://www.bownd.it.

The migratory Enswarm: Joe Kay, chief executive

Enswarm is a software start-up that builds collaborative innovation, planning and decision-making tools. We are passionate about helping groups of people to work together to solve problems more effectively. At Web Summit we were demonstrating our decision products and talking to people about the upcoming alpha release of our innovation prototype.

Our decision software products give teams the ability to make faster and more transparent decisions. Specifically we are helping procurement teams to make supplier selections and recruitment teams to make candidate selections in assessment centres.

Our decision products are only the first step towards our long-term goal of giving all people the opportunity to be heard on a digital platform to allow large groups to solve complex problems together. This is where our upcoming innovation tool comes in. It allows someone to pose a question to be analysed and answered anonymously by any group of people in a totally new way. This will allow dispersed teams to develop their ideas together remotely on an interface that removes cognitive bias and rewards individual creativity. 

I heard mixed reviews of attending Web Summit as an 'alpha start-up'. When I was offered the place I saw some pretty negative reviews and was concerned that it would be a waste of my time. I raised this with the team at Milamber Ventures, an accelerator I had just signed up with; their advice was that I should go and they would come with me and buy my spare tickets from me. As an alpha exhibitor you are obliged to buy four.

Before we went, Milamber organised several evening events to introduce me to really interesting people who had been in technology for years as investors. That was fantastic for me as we may need funding in a year or so; starting to get into relaxed, initial conversations now about how to get investment and who to speak to was invaluable.

I was also pleased with the number of people who either specifically came to see me on the Enswarm stand or walked past and were interested in what we are doing.  Our stand graphics described us as developing 'collaborative thinking technology', which seemed to intrigue people. I had some fascinating conversations with other start-ups too and we may look to partner with some of these in the future. 

Overall, I was happy with what we achieved at Web Summit but I don't think that would have been the case if we hadn't planned well before-hand and had our own meetings organised for the evenings. I was feeling pretty daunted by lunch-time on the first day because of the sheer volume of start-ups: there are people everywhere trying to get noticed and it is a stark reminder of the chances of success, either at the Summit or as a start-up. However, the feedback I received about Enswarm was overwhelmingly positive for what we're trying to achieve: giving all people the opportunity to get heard within their organisations. 

I would definitely attend Web Summit again but I would always go with my eyes wide open, knowing that the chances of bumping in to future investors or customers are tiny. 

Enswarm's alpha release will be ready imminently. Use it for free by signing up at http://www.enswarm.com.

PrintHawk swoops on Dublin: Jeroen Burks, chief executive

What began as an idea to start a copy shop with two study friends grew to become PrintHawk, a start-up aiming to change the printing industry. After the copy shop on our university campus went out of business, we began making plans to start our own. Following market research, including door-stepping local competitors, the idea didn't seem that good anymore. With about five percent of the 1,500 printing companies going bankrupt every year, the Netherlands is a typical country when it comes to the printing industry.

PrintHawk's goal is simple: to increase the exchange of print jobs amongst graphic design companies, marketing bureaux and printers. It solves three distinct problems.

Firstly, only few printing companies are able to use their most expensive assets – namely, their office buildings and printers – in an efficient way. Small-batch jobs and too few runs a day means the cost price per copy is simply too high to compete with larger online print shops. By offering extra print jobs, PrintHawk decreases the average cost per copy.

The second problem is that most customers prefer to work with a single print shop. In order to supply their complete needs, printing companies need to have a digital printer, an offset press and a large-format printer. Aside from a large investment, they'll need the human resource to operate all three production lanes at the same time. PrintHawk believes that printing companies should be able to specialise in one of the three, plus desktop publishing and customer service. Jobs that you can't fulfil can then be outsourced to trusted industry peers.

 

The last issue PrintHawk solves is on the customer's side. Whether it's a high-profile marketing company or a start-up in need of its first collateral, finding a good print house is difficult and expensive. PrintHawk assesses the delivered quality and rates printing companies on a five-level scale. This allows the customers to choose the quality that they desire for a specific product.

Since the start of PrintHawk in 2014, the company has developed a prototype of its print-job exchange software, raised pre-seed funding and tested out the proposition with its webshop: printhawk.nl. At Web Summit, we had two main objectives: obtain seed investment and find one or two lead customers who see the potential of the system, and want to be the first to try it out.

With about 40,000 unique visitors, finding the right one isn't easy. After the first three hours of walking from booth to booth it becomes clear that you simply cannot visit all companies. An hour scrolling through the app and writing down some booths you want to visit appeared to be a lot more effective.

Having a booth is no easy task as well. First of all, there are lots of app and software developers from India and Eastern Europe coming to your booth, ready to sell you their products and services. I wouldn't be standing there if I didn't have some software completed; as soon as I need to scale up development, I'll come to you! Once you've filtered out this sort of visitor, you find that you have time to meet some really interesting people: visitors who are secretly investors, potential partners at other start-ups, and bigger companies who are getting a feel for the market. Having a good conversation about the proposition and then receiving a business card off Shutterstock, or being mentioned on Twitter after a conversation, is what makes Web Summit really interesting.

Then there are the night venues. We had drinks at the Dutch embassy and attended a late-night jazz concert organized by investors. It didn't result in an immediate investment but, suddenly, you're on first-name terms with guys from big investment funds.

In conclusion, Web Summit was great. The lack of wifi, needing to walk a mile between two locations, and overcrowded keynote sessions can be frustrating, but in the end I returned home with a pile of business cards and a call list which has already taken me a week to follow up.

Check out PrintHawk at http://www.printhawk.eu.

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