5 things we learnt at Web Summit 2019

Francis Mercer
5 mins

  • Thought leadership

Web Summit is a gathering of 70,000 techies, from freelancers to developers to startups at every stage, with representation from massive organisations like AWS, Google, Volkswagen and even the European Union. It’s ‘Glastonbury for Geeks’ or ‘the best tech conference on the planet’.

We spent three days there meeting some of the hottest technology companies and thought leaders. Now that the dust has settled, and in case you didn’t make it this year, here are our top five takeaways from the event.

1. Nordic digital businesses are flourishing

When you think of the home of digital businesses, you might think of Silicon Valley, or even the Silicon Roundabout. You might not immediately think of Sweden, Denmark or Norway. London may still be the digital leader in Europe for now, but it’s also clear that other territories are catching up. Remaining a member of the EU also surely puts countries like Sweden at a clear advantage in the coming years over the UK. In the recent World Bank Doing Business report which ranks the easiest countries to do business in, Sweden was ranked 12th while Norway and Denmark came in 7th and 3rd respectively.

As a Swedish company with distributed teams across the whole of Europe, we were pleased to interact with so many great people and brands representing the Nordics at Web Summit. From premium brands like Koenigsegg, the luxury sports car company which recently broke its own existing landspeed record, to the great Swedish startups we met, Nordic innovation is stronger than ever.

2. Put the user at the heart of products, no matter what industry

User-centred design has been a trend for several years but the methods and approach used by designers to build products with the user front and centre is only just filtering down into some industries, including financial services. Design thinking and customer centricity is becoming more relevant in financial services, as big technology players and startups with a different mindset enter the market, competing with traditional banks. Financial services providers have historically been blinded by the volume and complexity of regulation and clunky legacy technology or systems, which get in the way of the end user.

This may seem obvious, but it’s about making sure the customer’s need is met in the best way possible. At Intergiro, we take a ‘jobs to be done’ approach to product design, which puts the human need at the centre. By building a product which helps to solve a need, rather than obsessing about a particular technology or building on top of legacy systems, we can be truly innovative in our approach to re-designing how digital businesses manage their finances.

3. Tech giants are shifting towards using data for ‘good’...

Plenty has been written already about the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandal and the latter’s role in getting the current American president elected. At Web Summit this year, understandably, there were several discussions about the importance of using data to benefit society. Edward Snowden’s speech summed up the mindset of those who are willing to oppose the data harvesting of governments while Britanny Kaiser (formerly of Cambridge Analytica) highlighted the role Facebook can play in moving public sentiment in the run-up to the next presidential elections, particularly in influencing turnout. Over at Google, the AI hub is helping companies to build decision-making engines that will one day run large parts of their businesses. It’s clear there is a lot to do to maintain a check on the intrusiveness of big tech, but there is also a lot to learn from their scientific methods, if harnessed for less nefarious purposes.

4. ...but European politicians may struggle to keep up with the pace of change in a political climate of uncertainty

Sticking to politics for now, the European Union’s Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier delivered a well-rehearsed speech to rally the mostly European audience. One of several current and former politicians at the event, his message was clear: The USA and China are leading in economic and technological innovation and their trade impasse will be the defining political battle of modern times. However, closer to home, with Brexit dominating European politics and with no certainty of a clear end in sight to the process of extricating the UK from the European Union, Europe must come together quickly to foster a culture of innovation and challenge the world’s biggest economic powers, not with a divided front. Another big challenge, but one with great rewards if Europe’s technology and business leaders can deliver.

5. Digital businesses need a 21st century solution for their business banking

OK - this one’s a bit of a cheat. We had a hunch about this before we went to Web Summit - we’ve even written about it in Start with Why. But, after talking to hundreds of start-ups and growth businesses about how they manage their finances now, it became obvious just how problematic financial tools can be for startups and growth businesses. In a room full of the brightest technological minds, the leaders we spoke to told us they spend too much time manually working around various providers which offer clunky UX and very little in the way of value-adding services. Customers are demanding an end to opaque communication from their bank and a simpler, more beautiful way to work with their finances.

The ‘financial toolkit’ for digital businesses

That was the message we heard from digital businesses at Web Summit and Nick (our CEO) was delighted to be able to reflect that message when he presented on the ‘Future of Money’ to a crowd of finance professionals, startups, media and venture capitalists. It was a great session and a wonderful way to cap off an inspiring and exhausting week.

We look forward to spreading our message even further - and we hope to see you at Web Summit 2020!