Web and Surf Summit afterglow: a Product Manager’s review

Lisbon, an up and coming tech hub in Europe, host to the Web Summit for the second year in a row. This year was also my second year attending the Web Summit and where I was overwhelmed by the amount of attendees, talks and start-ups at last year’s edition, this year I came slightly better prepared.

First of all key to the Web Summit are the side events. Like last year the best conversations did not happen on the Web Summit stages. The stage talks just set the tone, the start-ups took it further by presenting themselves at their booth or through a pitch, investors shared their thoughts, founders their ideas, attendees their knowledge.

Surf Summit

To make the most out of my trip I decided to kick things off with a special affiliated side event, the Surf Summit.

Discussion about the surf movie “Uma Vida Melhor”

In the weekend before the Web Summit, a group of outdoor enthusiasts met to surf, dine and network in the beautiful surroundings of Mafra, in the town of Ericeira. Ericeira is known for its great surfing conditions and being the first World Surfing Reserve in Europe. The talented team at Na Onda coached us in the water while we surfed along side, well at least in the same waters, as pro surfer Anastasia Ashley.

During the Surf Summit I met with some inspiring founders of start-ups, talked product with fellow product people and discussed the future of blockchain technology and how this can help industries become more transparent but also the risk bias brings to machine learning technologies with investors and CEOs alike. Similar talks would be held the following days on the Web Summit’s main stages in Lisbon, but not before we formed the base of new found friendships and potential future (business) connections. Monday’s opening night promised a good start, especially during the pub crawl.

Tuesday: The rise of flying cars and robotics

Tuesday’s talk by Des Traynor, Co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer of Intercom, highlighted some key issues start-ups face when creating a product strategy: the idea might be good, but does it solve a real problem, i.e. is the problem you’re solving so critical that people are willing to pay for your product? Obviously our Deezer product solves some clear user problems as our research team has been able to verify and our growing numbers support. Access any time and anywhere, a large catalog, audio quality, offline listening, all key elements that make our product work. But how does Flow fit in? I need to make sure the problem we solve is big enough to attract more users, keep them satisfied and surprise them at the right time. Something that was confirmed by one of my product mentors Dirk Bartels who was pitching with his BETA start-up Featvre: make sure your core product is on point before you add “delightful features”.

Another inspiring talk was a conversation between a “flying car” maker, the leader of an aerospace accelerator and the GM of Airbus’ Urban Air Mobility efforts, who explained why the idea of urban air mobility has finally grown wings.

As a fan of the Jetsons growing up, I can’t wait to see a world in which we don’t need cars anymore and can finally cruise through the urban air. Coming to us by the early 2020s, even if it won’t be a mass product just yet, the future is near. Based on the popularity at the AutoTech/TalkRobot stage, more so than last year, we can tell that self-driving cars are not the next big thing anymore, they are here to stay, even after last year’s obvious questions about safety and insurance issues. The next big thing is urban air mobility. Speaking of robotics, Sofia the AI Robot was quite an impressive appearance. What struck me most were her facial expressions. Even if her responses were sometimes still a bit unnatural, you can tell it’s only a matter of time really.

One of the talks to which I’d been looking forward, but which took a segue into Facebook and Russian politics, was the conversation between VP Product FB Messenger’s Stan Chudnovsky and CNN Money’s senior technology correspondent Laurie Segall. Where Stan Chudnovsky was trying to sell the future of chatbots for businesses within Facebook from a product point of view, Laurie Segall asked him some tough questions that needed a nod to Mark Z’s previous statements and unfortunately didn’t get the conversation about the future of AI in messaging communication back on track.

On Tuesday’s after hours, the Night Summit took the crowds to Pink Street. We decided to stop by the Sunset Summit first, go for a great dinner at Faz Figura to enjoy some more views of the city from Alfama and then headed towards the Funky Party by La French Tech, Duplex and MusicBox.

Wednesday: Curious moments with AI and blockchain

On Wednesday I spent some time at the Content Makers, PandaConf -nobody could tell me what this actually stood for- and the Creatiff stage, hoping for some inspiration in content and creativity. The best talk on the PandaConf stage that I managed to see was held by SurveyMonkey’s CEO Zander Lurie on Tuesday actually where he stressed the importance of asking why. “The answer to the arrogance in the business culture is curiosity: pushing the envelope to learn, in the age of AI and Machine learning, curiosity is the last defence in our trades.” It was a clear story that blended the sales pitch for their product with some interesting findings about the people that should matter the most: your employees, followed by your existing customers and thirdly your potential customers. For instance in the US 69% of C-suite thinks there are no barriers in asking questions within the company, whereas only 36% of employees feel the same way.

Asking the right questions is an art, as has been said by Tony Robbins, and Zander Lurie repeated this mantra while stating “the quality of life is created by the quality of your questions”.

His main advice on how to create a culture of curiosity in your business:

  1. Create a safe space for Q&A
  2. Hire a diverse team
  3. Reward great questions
  4. Connect all teams to customers
  5. Provide context about your data
Blade Runner 2049: first concept

While getting my brain re-hydrated I stopped by the talk of DoubleNegative’s CTO Graham Jack about “VFX then and now” used in Blade Runner 2049, being the not-so-secret geek that I am, only to stay for the most hilarious talk after: take a fake product from scratch to launch to show you the a-z of content creation by David Schneider, Gail Heimann and Zoe Henry. I was not sure if I needed SPATNAV, a personal AI for your love life, in my life but after watching the launch plan come together I think I might want to give it a try, if it ever becomes available on the app store of course. AI was clearly dominating most of the talks during the WebSummit.

Another buzz word this Web Summit as mentioned before was blockchain. Cryptocurrencies are just the start, blockchain offers huge potential for accessing medical data safely and immediately, creating a transparent supply chain and sharing resources for business solutions. Blockchain will continue to disrupt and improve several industries. Finance, health care and logistics are just the start.

Wednesday was also an opportunity to explore LxFactory, home to the Night Summit for this night. First we explored another side event ‘Hong Kong: Asia at the Cutting Edge’ at the most impressive venue I had witnessed during this trip: Palacio Foz.

Thursday: Music Notes for your ears

Thursday, last leg of the Web Summit and all about Music Notes. I was supposed to take part in an intimate Round Table discussion with Werner Vogel, the CTO of Amazon, to talk about the future of voice. Unfortunately the organization messed up the Round Tables and had let in too many people. Having seen some talks on the schedule about the future of voice in the work place, wondering how we will be able to use such technology without all shouting at our screens in the open space that is our office, I was left with questions unanswered.

Instead I decided to join our Chief Content and Product Officer Alexander Holland at the Music Notes stage where he expressed how curated playlists are indeed serving as the new taste makers, alongside (local) radio stations. Radio is a brand on its own, it’s personable, often has great local selections but only reaches a small audience. Streaming platforms can give them global reach, whereas curated playlists blend local content and provide data to artists featured in these playlists to know exactly where and when people have been listening to their tracks.

Funnily enough Laidback Luke seemed genuinely excited about algorithms as well as these provide an even more personal recommendation, if executed right, because Flow, Discover Weekly and I’m Feeling Lucky all have something in common in terms of users’ responses: “How did you find this track? I love it but this is crazy!” That obviously only works as long as the content on the platform is carefully tagged and curated, which is why tech can definitely help save the music industry.

Algorithms can dig up the gold your ears need to hear, especially when supported by curated content, dedicated fans and engaging artists.

Our CEO Hans Holger Albrecht highlighted this during his talk on the Centre Stage, but before his conversation alongside Martin Garrix and Wyclef Jean, Roland Lamb of Roli demonstrated with piano virtuosi Marco and Jack Parisi the future of synths. Making (electronic) music has never been this accessible. Thanks to new technology, not only for production tools, but also for marketing: “try giving out your personal phone number to increase social engagement” was suggested by Ryan Leslie on the same stage. Times have changed. Remember when we taped radio shows at night with the volume on low, to listen to the music the next day on our walkman? Or was that just me… I guess I was already trying to solve a problem at an early age: missing out on radio shows after bed time, hoping to discover new music of the previous night in the following morning.

To finish up a day of music talks right, we went for music tech drinks hosted by Tiago Correia of H Bureau. In the Impact Hub co-working space around LxFactory a group of musicians, tech people and start-ups gathered to drink and mingle. We headed back to the city centre’s infamous Pink Street afterwards and ended up at Beato, Lisbon’s brand new innovation and creativity hub, which is said to become one of the biggest hubs in Europe. Factory, Station F, StartupDelta, watch your back! It was a wonderful end to an eventful week.

To finish up my blog about the Web Summit 2017, I leave you with a shortlist of start-ups to read up on and a nice playlist to match the Web Summit experience, curated by yours’ truly.

Music start-ups to watch:

  • radiu.io (NL) — RADIU filters favourite music from radio stations around the globe and turns it into one personally adapted radio station
    Sounds a bit like Flow, but then more complicated… reminds me of Milk Music
  • partyplay.cc (ES)— PartyPlay is a new way to manage music at a party by creating one playlist for multiple users, combining content from different platforms
    Fun idea and we all know the problem, but how to work with freemium (and premium) access to specific content from different platforms?
  • gigworks.com (DE)— Connecting professional artists and event communities
    We saw a few similar start-ups last year, like https://www.livemasters.co/
  • jyve.io (US)— Jyve streamlines the music booking experience by connecting musicians to local venues, venues to music talent and fans to Seems to be in the same line of start-ups around booking platforms, reminds me of fyre bookings as well
  • alissia.io (DE)— blockchain powered musical journey technology
    Pay per stream and a-coin, the international (crypto)currency for streaming music, not sure if labels would be convinced about this