Guinness, Drones, and Bono: Three Days at the Dublin Web Summit

(This post was featured in Chicago Business, the Chicago Booth newspaper.)

I recently traveled to Dublin to attend Web Summit, a three day international tech and marketing event. The Web Summit attracted over 100 CEOs, 500 speakers, 8,500 students, 900 exhibitors, 1,000 journalists and 22,000 attendees from over 100 countries. At the end of the week, I left Dublin with several new insights, an increased penchant for Guinness, and even a few new friends.

I first heard about Web Summit through a Facebook ad that read “Do you want to hang out with Drew Houston and Bono?” I sat there for a moment, then said to myself “Why, yes, I do want to hang out with those people.” So I clicked on the ad, submitted my resume, and interviewed with a coordinator. Two weeks later, I was accepted as one of 75 MBA students into the Web Summit MBA Scholars program.

Off to Dublin! The Monday I arrived, our event coordinators had scheduled us a private dinner at the Guinness Storehouse, followed by a pub crawl with Drew Houston (Dropbox CEO). Not bad for the first night. The following three days were equally as star-studded and action-packed, with talks from people like Peter Thiel, Tony Fadell (Nest CEO), Brendan Iribe (Oculus CEO), and Bono. I spent most of my time at Machine Summit, a section of Web Summit focused on Connected Devices and Internet of Things companies. As I walked through the convention floor, hundreds of startups demoed their latest products and pitched me on why they were destined to be the next billion dollar company.

Web Summit Web Summit 1Web SummitNeedless to say, the whole thing was a bit exhausting, but ultimately it was well worth the trip. After reflecting on what I learned, here are my four key takeaways from Web Summit:

1. Commercial drones need a software platform.

Drones have boundless potential, and will soon be used for a wide range of applications that include precision agriculture, infrastructure inspection, and search and rescue. However, operating commercial drones is an extremely complex task. Therefore, companies will need a software platform that simplifies drone operation through increased automation. Jonathan Downey and the team at Airware are working to solve this exact problem.

2. The music industry needs greater revenue transparency.

The music industry’s move from digital downloads (iTunes) to streaming (Spotify) has drawn criticism that the streaming model does not pay artists appropriately for their work. However, Bono argues that streaming is not the enemy, but rather the opacity of record labels. As an example, Spotify gives up of 70% of its revenues to rights owners. The problem is that people don’t know where that money goes because the record labels aren’t transparent. If that money is not making it to the artists, then that’s a big problem. If artists could see how many times their song has been played and get paid direct debt for each play, it would be a big step in the right direction.

3. Internet of Things devices need to work together.

The Internet of Things (IoT) market is projected to reach $7.1 trillion by 2020, but many fear that lack of interoperability between devices will limit industry growth. Some manufacturers are producing closed system IoT devices that only work with other approved devices, as opposed to creating an open system that’s manufacturer agnostic. If the IoT revolution is to live up to its potential, manufacturers must embrace an open source system in which all devices can work together.

4. Wearable tech needs the tech to disappear.

Wearable technology has been hyped for several years now, but mass adoption has yet to be realized. A big reason for that is wearables are still somewhat of a pain to use. They need frequent recharging, break easily, and don’t provide enough relevant insights to be useful. In order for wearables to really take off, they should be smart, unobtrusive, and effortless. Not only that, they need to collect continuous data, and turn that data into insights that meaningfully improve our quality of life.