Last week saw the infamous Web Summit move from its home in Dublin to the Portuguese capital of Lisbon. The Irish team behind the Summit felt Dublin was too small to accommodate the size of this year’s conference – and, as the rumour goes, the Irish government made no effort to change their mind.
In Lisbon, the opposite was true. From the Web Summit posters at the airport to the Portuguese Prime Minister’s opening speech, the country has bent over backwards to make the Web Summit feel at home. For Lisbon, attracting 50,000 of the tech industry’s top professionals was a major coup; it is a city keen to brand itself as a new start-up destination. But not the new Silicon Valley, as the posters dotted around are clear to point out: the new Portugal.
At our first ‘Night Summit’, where attendees mingle with CEOs and venture capitalists from across the world over a few (too many) drinks, we met a young Portuguese entrepreneur who embodies the start-up spirit of ‘the new Lisbon’.
What is it your company does, we ask. Pedro Andrade, CMO of Craft Wallet, grins and says: “It’s simple. We make the sexiest wallets on Earth!”
He produces one from his pocket and hands it to us. I get the impression this is something he has been doing to everyone he has crossed paths with so far.
“We gather the best materials that human engineering has ever been able to produce, and combine them in a practical way.”
His enthusiasm for the start-up world, and the Web Summit in particular, is obvious. Still at university, he is here as a volunteer, which entitles him to a free pass.
“I first went to the summit in Dublin as a volunteer on a whim, but it helped me finally understand what I wanted to do. I had this amazing opportunity to see how things worked, how to start a business even whilst I was still at university.
“This year I’ve launched Craft Wallet, and I’m hacking the Web Summit. I’m not paying for a stand, but I’m getting great results. I now have six partnerships lined up and I’ve met investors from all over the world – Web Summit has given me ambassadors from Silicon Valley to Indonesia.”
Chatty and immediately likeable, I don’t doubt the networking opportunity has worked in his favour. But what does he really think of Portugal as a destination for start-ups?
“Lisbon is great!” he exclaims, without a pause. “There’s a lot of hype here and the start-ups coming out of Portugal are really cool. There’s also lots of support from both universities and the government, and most importantly, its really cheap. I don’t have to worry about not being able to pay rent, so I can put more money into my business.”
“I think its greatly benefitted people in Lisbon, especially in terms of tourism. Restaurants, hotels, all businesses… normally Lisbon is so quiet in November but now it’s packed, it’s crazy.”
I was unsure of what to expect before attending the Web Summit – it has sparked some controversy in the tech world, from spamming start-ups with “over-priced tickets” to false advertising. But meeting Pedro, it is clear the inspirational effect it has on start-ups.
Our final question to Pedro: Where do you want to be in five years?
“A billionaire”, he replies, without hesitation.
A few weeks ago, I might have laughed at this answer. But after seeing the success of hundreds of start-ups at the Web Summit, I don’t doubt it’s possible.
By Miranda Wadham & Safiya Bashir