Born in Dublin, the Web Summit has expanded drastically. We meet some of the core team behind its success in the Dublin HQ
Lobna Abulhassan, Event lead in speakers
Lobna is the event lead on the speaker’s team, basically guiding speakers and producers for Web Summit’s North American conference, Collision. Hailing from Egypt with a background in non-profit work, academia and journalism, Lobna has been living in Ireland since 2013. She wanted to explore her interests in technology and live events and found a producer position with Web Summit in 2015.
“I’ve found Web Summit to be very unique in that you are completely supported and encouraged to be yourself at all times. You can speak freely act freely, be creative and make suggestions,” she says.
As the event lead of speakers, Lobna and her team network at events across the globe and discuss priorities, plans and interests with companies and figureheads. Lobna says they focus on these relationships and plan their agenda far in advance of the event. Then about three months away from the set date, it’s all about programming and delivery. This includes everything from writing scripts and planning with crew and media to managing the onstage execution itself.
"Part of the reason our events have scaled and are so successful is because of the on-stage content that people don’t find elsewhere. We’re pretty selective about what we show and how it’s curated.”
“As producers, we have two stakeholders. One is the speaker who has traveled and taken time out of their office. They’re there to deliver a message or to network or to engage with the press or to meet investors, so we have to give them the right experience."
"Our second stakeholder is the Web Summit audience. Part of the reason our events have scaled and are so successful is because of the on-stage content that people don’t find elsewhere. We’re pretty selective about what we show on stage and how it’s curated.”
Networking brings in a lot of big names, and Lobna says it’s rewarding to see busy people like former CEO of Twitter Evan Williams, find value in Web Summit and offer their own voices. “I love the exposure to different topics and people and companies. People who have devoted their lives to these other areas. They’ve just devoted their life to becoming brilliant at whatever they’re doing and we get to work with them and help them develop their message.”
The fast-paced energy necessary to build up to this huge event may seem intimidating, but the supportive team never leaves anyone feeling isolated or overwhelmed. “I love the people that I work with, it never really feels like work, and that makes a big difference when you’re working events and you’re all working 15-hour days,” she says.
Aoileann Ni Chuilleanain, VP of business development in exhibitors
Dublin-native Aoileann is the vice-president of partnerships and start-ups. She’s in charge of overseeing the companies standing on the stage and those standing behind it, who are sponsoring and partnering with Web Summit. With a background in commerce with Chinese, research, journalism and handling events, Aoileann joined the Web Summit team in 2014, the spring after she first attended the conference.
Her position pioneered building up one of Web Summit’s start-up programmes, which focus on companies working to become the next “big unicorn”. She expanded the development from Dublin’s Web Summit to Collision and RISE as well.
“I just got to build it across the globe, which was extremely exciting and kinda still a bit of a whirlwind, but it was great.”
As one of the longest-standing employees, Aoileann has gotten to watch Web Summit grow from the team of 40 to 237, and she’s gotten to grow in her position as well. She’s gone from a freshly established position to leading several teams.
Regarding the “partners” side of her job, she manages relationships with sponsors and partners and plans engaging activations with some of the fastest growing companies in the world.
On the “startups” side, she and the team look for companies that fit in one of the three stages. The largest, an early, “alpha” stage, consists of early-stage start-ups. The matured “beta” stage includes developed alpha alumni, and the “growth” series are larger companies who have grown to become sponsors and center-stage speakers.
"The best thing about my job is building relationships with companies all around the world and then getting a meeting place for them at our events to get to continue to build that relationship."
The relationships Aoileann holds with companies makes it seem like more than just a job, as she describes founders meeting her with open arms. “You just realise how excited they are about what’s about to happen and then you realise how important these relationships are. I hold those relationships to date. A lot of them have gone on to do different things, a lot of them are still building out some unicorn companies. It’s a unique role to hold.”
“The best thing about my job is building relationships with companies all around the world and then getting a meeting place for them at our events to get to continue to build that relationship. Alongside the people I work with, they’re pretty great. A brilliant bunch.”
Anna O’Hare, VP of marketing
As the vice-president of content and marketing, Anna leads several teams that promote the show. She studied psychology in her undergrad at University College Dublin and went on to receive a masters in business management.
Originally from Dublin, Anna lived in and fell in love with New York city, but a position with Web Summit was an opportunity for her to both live at home and enjoy international perks.
“I thought I needed to go back to the States to get that kind of global experience,” Anna says. “It was very unusual to me at the time that young people here were working with such massive people in the tech space, and kinda every space.”
“It was an unusual thing at the time in Ireland. I don’t think there was, probably still isn’t really anything like it.”
“However you heard of Web Summit, we probably have had something to do with that,” is the easiest way Anna could explain what the marketing team she works with actually do. Anna manages five branches of marketing - email marketing, website, video, syndication and project management. “If you’ve seen one of our videos or if you’ve discovered us on Instagram, if you’re on our email database, if you’ve just hopped on our website, anything like that is probably something to do with the team.”
“It’s trying to look to them for advice, then paying that back… Find a mentor and then become one yourself.”
The team goes above and beyond simply promoting Web Summit’s name. Inspired by feedback from those who have heard of or attended Web Summit, they find interests and personal ties to connect people with the conference. The team links people to speakers and other attendees through social media outlets, including Web Summit’s Women in Tech.
As a shortlist nominee of IMAGE Media’s Businesswoman of the Year in the digital and tech sector, as well as a name in Sunday Business Post’s ‘30 under 30’, Anna says she’s always found inspiration through other women’s successes. “It’s trying to look to them for advice, then paying that back… Find a mentor and then become one yourself.”
With half of the team being female, it’s easy to find mentors of your own at Web Summit. Anna says the impressive team is what got her attention from the start. “The people that interviewed me, I was like ‘wow, you’re so impressive, your experience is crazy’,” Anna says.
“We have people from all over the world here as well. The women I work with, most of them I’d consider my friends...Events can be stressful and fast-paced, but the fact that we can all help each other out and learn from each other is pretty amazing.”
Nidhi Naithani - Product owner
Nidhi is the product owner for Web Summit, meaning she guides a team through deciding what software is needed to help the conference run smoothly. With a master’s in computer application, Nidhi gained her first 18 years of work experience at GE Global Research in India. Her husband found pharmaceutical work in Ireland in about 2015 and she and her son joined him a year later. Not long after, Web Summit gave her a call, asking her to join the team.
“We have a world-class functional team here within the organization,” Nidhi says. “There’s a lot of support given to diversity. It’s not just women, but different opinions taken from different perspective, people coming from different races, could be from different gender, age, because everybody carries a different viewpoint.”
Nidhi contributes her viewpoint to helping the attendees. “We are helping people engage better so that they are satisfied once they come out of the conference,” Nidhi says. “Startups are able to connect with investors, the media are able to engage with more speakers.”
To ensure that satisfaction, Nidhi and her team develop Web Summit’s online sources and apps to help. “I basically define the products for the company. I tell the team exactly what to build, what features should go into the software and what the new products should look like,” Nidhi says.
"You’re managing your kid, you’re managing your family. I realised I need to give myself more credit because I am doing more things.”
She explains that she and the team take into consideration not only what they think works best, but look at feedback from attendees and the Web Summit employees as well. “Helping people meet their objectives is what drives me to build a new product,” Nidhi says. “The product needs to be an enabler to help people connect with each other and have a good experience when they come to the conference. The software products are basically developed keeping that in mind.”
Asked about her leadership role, she says she hasn’t always had the confidence needed to lead a team. “When I was quite young and I was new to the field, I used to be sensitive. Over a period of time, you start realising you’re doing more than your male counterparts. You’re managing your kid, you’re managing your family,” she says. “I realised I need to give myself more credit because I am doing more things.”
“I think that gives you more confidence.”
Carolyn Quinlan - Head of community in insight, strategy and growth
Carolyn is the head of community at Web Summit, basically running the support team and managing Web Summit’s communities. The Cork-native received a degree in commerce with German at University College Cork and later received an masters in innovation. Straight out of university, she began her career at Web Summit in 2013.
“I thought I’d maybe stay six months and learn a huge amount about the 2013 event and then maybe move on to something a little more structured or corporate,” Carolyn says, who stayed for about two and a half years before leaving in 2016 to pursue other interests. But Carolyn is what Cosgrave calls a “boomerang”, because she returned this January.
With her new role, Carolyn leads two separate sectors. She runs the communication team, which she says is “the front-facing communication channel,” so this is the team you’d most likely be interacting with. “We provide support to attendees through email, through live chat, through social, through a couple of live feedback and monitoring tools.”
Carolyn is also the point person for Web Summit’s communities. “These are groups of attendees, groups of people, groups of different interests that come to our events or are a part of our events.” This includes Women in Tech, Web Summit’s Open Source Community and promoters.
"Parts of it hasn't changed at all. The people are still the same, incredibly talented and passionate people."
Because of Web Summit’s drastic growth, Carolyn saw a lot of changes when she returned three years later. The size of the event itself grew, offering more variety on a larger scale and the team size grew to having a presence at five locations across the globe.
“We had a much younger team back in 2013-2014, and a lot of people have grown with the company,” Carolyn says. “We’ve also brought in a lot of senior experience and a lot of people from different industries not immediately relevant to events or technology that have been able to bring new aspects on what we do.”
“But then parts of it hasn't changed at all. The people are still the same, incredibly talented and passionate people,” Carolyn says, explaining that the team’s core values for Web Summit is really how it has become what it is today.
“It really is the meeting place, not just for technology, but for any other number of industries that we touch. It’s a wonderful explosion of technology and colors and food and fun over three or four days, three times a year. It’s great fun.”
Read more about the Web Summit 2019 here.