Published on

Web Summit in Lisbon takeaways Part I


Just last week during the first week of November, I found myself in the charismatic and vibrant capital of Portugal in Lisbon attending the world-class Web Summit. It was held along the Tagus river in the Iberian Peninsula in the renowned Altice Arena initially built for Expo ‘98. This amazing opportunity was enabled by my remote-first and fully autonomous company.

The amount of words simply cannot describe the exhilarating energy I felt as an attendee there, the wealth of knowledge I gained through the insightful talks and workshops, and the connections I made. This was my first time in Lisbon and first time attending a tech conference that amassed 73, 000 attendees with representation from over 100 countries. Try to imagine that populous number of people descending into a city for a week, their undeniable hunger for knowledge, connections, and a shared vision to use technology to enable and innovate for a better and sustainable future, was most definitely felt in the atmosphere in those 4 days.

I knew going into a large-scaled event as such would require a proper tactical plan to ensure that I attain the benefit, value and experience in exchange for the energy and time spent there. It’s one thing having the thought of strategizing a plan, it’s another actually making one. The Web Summit days came at the tail-end of an already whirlwind remote working trip in Europe visiting ex-colleagues and friends. So the planning of the conference didn’t actually happen until I found myself standing in the middle of the exhibition floor, admittedly overwhelmed with the number of people and bustle, that only then did I start looking at relevant tracks and sessions to attend. Fellow new conference-goers, I do not recommend this!

Because of my obvious inexperience in attending a massive conference prior to this, I’d like to relay some of my learnings on how to make the most out of a large-scaled multi-track conference:

  • First define the purpose(s) of attending the chosen conference and scope out what value you would like to extract from the it ahead of time
  • Do prior research on the talks and speakers and make note of some questions you may have. This will also help in deciding what talks you’re interested in attending for each time slot.
  • Take notes - whether it be written, audio, or clacking away on your keyboard. You will be able to reference back at them for a more holistic understanding and retention and also have the opportunity to knowledge-share with your colleagues after.
  • Make connections and network - recognize that most attendees may be in the same boat with feeling out of place but eager to make connections. Be open, friendly and kind and you may find it quite effortless to strike up a conversation with someone standing in line for an espresso refill or one sitting beside you at a session.

As a technologist in the web space, I had hoped to come away with some exposure to new developer tools, best practices, and innovative methods to develop and contribute to the web ecosystem as a whole. With that in mind, I decided to hone in on the fullstack track which happened on Day 2 and immersed myself with talks across topics of interest such as Sustainability & Clean Tech, AI & Machine Learning, and B2B SaaS for the other summit days.

In between sessions, I free-flowed on caffeine and devoured finger foods in the Developer and Women in Tech lounges which were dedicated spaces hosting workshops, fireside chats, and panels. Throughout all the sessions, I made sure to take relevant notes as I knew no one in their right mind can effectively feed all that input in, process it, and store it in memory. That being so, read on for some high-level summaries I came away with on ideas and questions across the various tracks I attended.

Confessions of modern design: How design is changing, and how we need to change with it

Yuhki Yamashita, Chief Product Officer, Figma

Yuhki started the talk with a lead-in on how design in practice is different from design in theory and that solutions should always precede problems. We function in a world where changes are inevitable and everything is perpetually a work-in-progress. Yuhki says it is simply the chaotic reality of the modern product design and development process. But I don’t think of it as chaos. I believe it’s innate in human nature to keep moving, keep developing and iterating in the metaphysics of life or in the case of his talk, product design.

Some of the notes and thoughts I came away with will be written in points below:

  • During product research and design, when is it best to review work?
  • Review iteration needs to happen - be it a weekly cadence critique or daily
  • Not necessarily sharing only when there is a status update
  • Review should be done at a predictable cadence versus at the perfect moment
  • There is no perfect moment. It is better to get iterative immediate feedback then at the end of a task when your head finally pokes out of the cave

What does travel have in store for us?

CTO of Expedia

Traveling has always been a part of my upbringing and most part of my adulthood so I was particularly excited to attend this talk. The CTO of Expedia shed some insights into their innovative approach to providing personalized experiences and support for travelers and partners.

  • Want to be known as a technology company powering travel
  • Started as a house of brands through acquisition
  • Supply shrunk but need to expand on call support, built virtual chat platform, powered by AI to support
  • AI to predict price predictions from past data so that users can book with assurance
  • Smart shopping - leverage ML to aggregate all data and display to users in one view
  • Not about just providing cheaper options, more about custom experiences, personalize experiences through searches and history
  • Extending virtual chat when there are trip disruptions, flight cancellations
  • Decomposed travel services so partners can take advantage of Expedia as a service platform
  • Travel is changing because people expect it to change organically with external factors but people want the flexibility and to happen with no friction. A trusted source, the validity or places and experiences.
  • Personal assistant or travel companion so to speak is what people want and need
  • How does Expedia look at innovation - get fundamentals right first. Innovation is the way we build products, we have to keep disrupting ourselves otherwise others would. Hackathon, idea generation factory. Keep generating ideas. 20% time. Test ideas rapidly
  • Feature request for headless commerce

How Mythical are Unicorns?

CEO Crunchbase, Edith co-founder and CEO of LaunchDarkly

The CEOs of Crunchbase and LaunchDarkly discussed the changing landscape of the tech industry and what it means to be a unicorn company. The conversation was centered around the idea of creating a sustainable business model that focuses on core business metrics to grow, rather than solely chasing unicorn status. From the challenges of the market downturn to the potential for personalized software, more of my takeaway notes below:

  • What is most misunderstood as a unicorn? Unicorn was never the goal, it was always creating a product
  • 100mil in ARR, more numbers base
  • Crunchbase is a prospecting platform
  • Always based in last valuation
  • Don’t want to hype up employees even if you raise and being up valuation to over a billion
  • Game of expectations are higher and higher for Unicorns
  • Growth mostly happening in private market
  • Not feasible to go public anymore compared to a couple years ago
  • Market is terrible - crushed valuation
  • Unicorn needs to be sustainable to grow to ARR number not about IPO. That should be the goal.
  • What the the economic turn that has to happen - efficient growth
  • With VC money, pressured growth at rapid pace
  • Now the question and goal is how to grow efficiently and sustainably
  • VC money is one source of growth and another is through customers paying you
  • Does unicorn still indicate how successful a company is?
  • About education now, label is not as indicative of success
  • Media should reframe to talk about customers more, value added and ARR not about unicorn status anymore
  • 350mil funding with LaunchDarkly. Funding round is not the end but the start
  • Big names that might IPO - Instacart, stripe, Reddit, Epicgames. How do they respond to market downturn? How do you survive right now? Survive or thrive?
  • What most excites you? Potential for software than people realize. Based on core business metrics to grow. Take consumer model to make personalized and ease of use

Incident response

CEO Pagerduty

PagerDuty's CEO has shared insights about how their platform is helping businesses redefine what interrupt work really means. The platform focuses on mission-critical, time-sensitive, and high-impact work that's important to the business, and not just on management. With the increase in the volume of data and proliferated systems, there's a greater need for orchestration and automation to prevent major problems from occurring. By automating unplanned work and empowering employees to manage issues, companies can keep the flow going without disrupting employees. The ultimate goal for businesses is to provide tools that enable employees to be productive and work without toil.

  • What is the real definition of interrupt work - mission critical, time sensitive but high impact work
  • Ticket system were built for management
  • Automatically detect unstructured work in service of people who need to respond
  • If you keep adding to top of list, you will never need up checking things off
  • Loss of a minute can average 300k loss, 30 mins can be huge
  • Pagerduty high empathy platform - get to the problem to the blast radius first before customers know
  • Time spent diagnosing and downtime and long
  • Big data, proliferate system through CI, bigger problems now
  • Requires intelligent orchestration now to prevent a major problem from happening
  • Automating toil, most are noise
  • Comes to you because you are an owner but needs to be sifted through
  • Dark time, time blocking but inevitably unplanned work will come up
  • Have a platform that automates unplanned work because whoever owns it will be notified. Less interrupted
  • Flow should not be disrupted especially as a developer
  • Incident commander that is well trained
  • Empower employees to manage and empathize with issues that come up
  • Emergent work is agnostic across all functions, collaborate and coordinate
  • Companies and brands that arm ppl with tools to be in flow and be productive. Not measure how ppl deal with toil - these companies are that ones that will win. Don’t get distracted by macro problems
  • Have equal opportunity to kill it and lean into automation

Part II coming soon on the rest of the 10 other talks I have notes on!