Serious business

Interview with Paddy Cosgrave, founder of RISE and Web Summit

The chief executive of two major tech conferences describes the biggest tech trends and what it's like to run a startup about startups

What’s it like to be in your position?

It has been amazing to me to see how our flagship event Web Summit has grown. It started with just 400 people in 2010 and there will be about 70,000 people this November at our event in Lisbon. The company is based in Dublin, but we now run events around the world, including RISE in Hong Kong in July. So I am travelling often and so are many members of the team.

What do you see as the big trends in startups at the moment?

There is a huge surge in blockchain startups and in fintech. Artificial intelligence is also attracting lots of investor interest. And many Chinese companies and investors are ready to go abroad. For example, the founders of Mobike and Ofo, the two largest app-driven bike-sharing players in China, spoke at Web Summit in November last year as they rolled out globally. This is really one of the product categories that was totally created in China and brought into the West.

What’s planned for RISE this year?

The biggest names in technology and media, global business leaders, and VCs and investors from the world’s biggest funds will be at RISE this year to hear from world-class speakers on 12 stages. Topics will include cryptocurrency, marketing, the future of finance, the future of transport. Now in its fourth year, RISE has grown from 1,000 attendees in 2015 to an expected 15,000 attendees this year. It’s going to be awesome.

Thought leader, Paddy Cosgrave, Web Summit and RISE
Horacio Villalobos/Getty Images

It’s interesting that you have a startup about startups. What’s been your own experience as a founder?

I’ve always been interested in software. I started a little conference in 2010 with a couple of friends, and we tried to apply software to the challenge of bringing people together. It seemed to work. We use things like graph theory, computer vision and statistics. Our team is part engineers, part data scientists, part conference people, and we just focus really hard on making every tiny component of what we do better, from our lanyards to our signage to our own mobile and web apps. It seems to work most of the time. But there’s no such thing as perfect, and we work on that basis. Everything we do is imperfect, and next time around we need to work hard to make it better.

What is the most important way tech is influencing business?

It is a truism that tech is disrupting just about every industry and sector. And in many cases that disruption has been deeply uncomfortable as well as deeply positive. These issues are some of the most important discussed on our stages.

Do you have any advice on what investors should be looking for?

Invest in people first, ideas second.

Cathay Pacific sponsors RISE, held 9-12 July in Hong Kong

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