Now in its fourth year, the Web Summit in Dublin is being heralded as Europe’s answer to SXSW Interactive. A record 20,000 people attended the 2014 event last week (from 500 when it started), and the speaker lineup included everyone from PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, Nest founder Tony Fadell, former Apple CEO John Sculley and Google VP of engineering Anna Patterson to a smattering of celebrities (Bono, Eva Longoria, Lily Cole) for light relief.
So what happened when the great and the good of the tech world descended on Dublin? Despite Eva Longoria’s appearance, the event felt more tech- and tech-industry focused than SXSW, and was perhaps the lesser for it. SXSW has a more cerebral feel, with cross-disciplinary speakers from outside tech and an emphasis on big ideas. There was a polarization between the major names onstage and the exhibitors, which were mostly still in developing stages and seeking investment; more mid-level new companies could have rounded it out. And more women—it’s tricky with tech conferences, but this felt very male. I would also love to have seen more exploration around the convergence of transmedia, gaming, entertainment and tech, where so much interesting stuff is happening now. In terms of access to the superstars of Silicon Valley (and, rapidly, the world at large), however, the Web Summit was difficult to beat.
Big Data and privacy were naturally front and center, as well as the future of media, marketing and advertising in the digital age. Content—what makes good content, how to use good content, etc.—was a constant. Tech giants and multinational lifestyle brands touted their innovation programs (Unilever and Coca-Cola both held talks about theirs) and startup-support initiatives. Among the tech stars, there was a recurrent focus on company culture and the struggles they’ve had in identifying who they are, how to build a company DNA and attract the right people. Some of the highlights:
Stripe’s rapid ascent into the world of payments: When I mentioned Stripe to the head of innovation at a major payments company two years ago, it was dismissed as a blip. The company is now worth $1.75 billion. Stripe is quickly gaining ground on PayPal and others in the space, and is now managing Apple Pay. Stripe supports Alipay payments and is facilitating Twitter and Facebook payments. When asked how big his business could get, co-founder John Collison, 24, said, “It’s a question of how big online payments could get.” So, pretty big, if we’re going to be integrating mobile platforms into our taxi payments and store transactions.
Next, Collison said he wanted to help U.S. and international brands enter the Chinese market. Collison also talked about wanting to remove some friction in e-commerce and payments—a subject that comes up a lot in our recent report on payments and currency—by storing consumers’ financial IDs, as long as security is ensured. Find the talk here.
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