Chief looks to the future and beyond ahead of conference
Web Summit boss Paddy Cosgrave is back in Dublin with the MoneyConf event, which was held in Belfast three years ago. Adrian Weckler chatted with him
This week saw the launch of one of the Web Summit's fastest-growing conferences, Moneyconf, as it returns to Dublin. To be hosted in the RDS over three days in June, the 5,000-strong event will feature financial technology speakers such as Ethereum co-founder Joseph Lubin and Square's Co Tyrone-born chief financial officer Sarah Friar. Ahead of the launch, Adrian Weckler sat down with Web Summit co-founder Paddy Cosgrave to talk about tech, politics and Ireland.
Adrian Weckler (AW): You're about to launch Moneyconf in Dublin this June. What about the Web Summit, is it staying in Lisbon? Your deal there was for three years, with a possible extension. This will be the third year. Will you stay next year?
Paddy Cosgrave (PC): Hopefully. But we always have our eyes open to every possibility. I think we'll do everything to figure out how to stay there, really forever. I mean the constraint for us now is that we're building a lot of temporary structures. So in an ideal world, the UN Secretary General would be able to check in inside a secured building. But, you know, we're building big tents and marquees.
That's fine and we could decide that maybe that's the right decision to make, that we'll just keep the event at about 60,000 give or take.
But there seems to be demand to make it even bigger, to cover more industry verticals. We've added a car conference that's internal to Web Summit called Auto Tech. All the big German manufacturers, not just Mercedes, have become partners.
And I'd love to do something in agriculture which requires more space again to have John Deere and these other companies participate. So it just depends on a number of factors.
But Lisbon is an incredible city. It's gone from kind of being off the radar, I think, for a lot of the world to becoming a really important tech city, almost overnight. Farfetch (luxury fashion website founded by Jose Neves) is about to go public which is the first Portuguese unicorn to do so. Google also just opened up offices there and are going to build out.
AW: Is it that you've proven the Web Summit can be a movable event? Was that always a goal for you, especially when looking at moving from Dublin to Lisbon?
PC: Well, I think we've proven that more with Rise and Collision, our events in Asia and in the United States that are very similar to Web Summit.
Both are growing faster than Web Summit did in the past and Collision may be larger than South by Southwest this year. So I think what the team - and there's 170 of us, almost all based in Dublin - has proven is that we can take this formula and scale other events anywhere in the world, not just move events around.
AW: One last issue on which you've had some interesting things to say recently is the prospects for tech multinationals in Dublin and Ireland. You've written that we may be putting too many eggs into one basket with regard to multinational firms. What's behind that?
PC: I think you can never know for sure whether this generation of multinational companies is going to do something that no generation of multinational companies has really done in the past. Fifty years ago, a lone civil servant, TK Whitaker, pushed some very significant changes to how the Irish economy was structured. We started introducing very competitive tax opportunities to multinational companies and over a number of generations, from textile manufacturing to electrical equipment assembly and computer assembly, these companies have come to Ireland.
We've benefited hugely, they've created vast employment and some have subsequently left to go elsewhere. It may be the case that this generation of companies might not do that. We just have to be certain, or at least in some way sure, that they're not going to leave and then we can continue to do what we're doing. But I think the Central Bank for many, many quarters in a row have warned that there are significant risk factors to the Irish economy because of the huge dependence that we have on this singular sector.
AW: Do you see any warning signs that any of these companies might be considering it at some point in the future?
PC: I think it's very difficult for me to say. We do work with all of these technology companies at a global level. We have partnerships, at our events all over the world. I think people should at least look at the office openings of some of these companies elsewhere in Europe.
Look then at the roles they're hiring for. Ask is the fact that they are offering relocation bonuses to mid to senior staff in their Dublin offices indicative of something greater?
They should ask does the change in how Facebook and other companies coming down the road - which hasn't been announced yet - account for their tax on global sales? Will the fact that they're changing that have a material impact on Ireland? Is the IMF and our own Central Bank correct in saying it will have a material impact or should we dismiss that? These are just kind of some of the factors.
AW: But what about the narrative that we're a skilled work base, English speaking and all the rest of it?
PC: Yeah. These are the largest, most successful companies to have ever existed in the history of the world. They're continuing to expand at such a pace that maybe it'll become almost kind of irrelevant that Ireland is used less and less for booking of tax on global earnings.
Maybe they will just double down here and it's almost like a rounding error, that it's slightly more expensive to have a large office here than Poland or Berlin or Madrid.
AW: Did you ever get an offer to sell the Web Summit?
PC: Yeah, lots.
AW: Not one that you considered?
PC: Lots of offers. And no. I'm really proud to have, along with a really amazing team of people, built what we've built. And I still feel that we're only just kind of getting started.
It's kind of bootstrapped from the very start and we're really just beginning to find our groove, I think. We had another 14 or 15 people join us in January. There are about 170 people now full-time, most in Dublin.
Moneyconf will be held in the RDS between June 11 and June 13. To hear an extended version of this interview, download or stream The Big Tech Show podcast from Soundcloud, iTunes or independent.ie/podcasts