Last year I attended a brand new event in Dublin called Founders (or F.ounders if you prefer the branding). I duly wrote it up here as an “overnight must-attend” and a welcome addition to the European tech events scene.
As one of the few writers to attend the first one, it was indeed a pretty damn good event, and an amazing achievement for 27 year old entrepreneur Paddy Cosgrave. And I see various others coming out with a bunch of superlatives to describe the events, which was run alongside the Dublin Web Summit.
First I’ll say what happened, then I’ll have something to say about what I think is going on here.
The events for delegates included a (quite moving as it turned out) visit to the outgoing President Mary McAleese in her last official engagement, a gig by the Trinity College orchestra , an appearance by Bono, lead singer of U2 and speeches by the Irish Prime minister Enda Kenny and his Deputy. Quite a list.
Perhaps more pertinently, this was gathering of 150 startup founders from diverse backgrounds, but all hand-picked to represent a very global tech scene. The conference brought together the founders of Skype, Netflix, Huddle, Rovio, GroupSpaces, Moonfruit, GroupMe, StumbleUpon, 4chan, Disqus and others. There were literally no ‘slouches’ in the room. Only the top VC partners attended such as Atlas Venture Partner Fred Destin and Michael Jackson of Mangrove Capital. I counted zero VC Associates.
The four-day event ran alongside the Dublin Web Summit – as it turns out an inspired move which means about 1,000 of Irelands tech people got to see on stage some of the worlds best tech founders, including Skype co-founder Niklas Zennström, as interviewed by MG Siegler.
Some real news came out of Dublin Web Summit, such as Dublin startup Redeem&Get winning the Spark of Genius competition, garnering 40,000 EUR ($56,000) in cash and a 100,000 EUR ($141,000) termsheet from ACT Venture Capital. The startup is targeting the redemption of vouchers to make the process easier for customers and merchants.
In addition, enterprise relationship management startup Datahug scored $1.5 million in a seed funding round led by Ireland-based Oyster Technology Investments, with Silicon Valley super angel investor Ron Conway also investing.
Back at Founders, the founders were rocking. Bebo co-founder Michael Birch and Angry Birds co-founder Mikael Hed gave a panel on the opening night. We had the obligatory pub crawl around Dublin (which Bono joined, incredibly, see below), and a few memorably late nights in the hotel bar but also high brow events like the dinner at Dublin Castle, hosted by – this time – the Deputy Prime Minister, Eamon Gilmore.
A reception in Trinity College’s famous library (said to be the model for the one in Star Wars). The after dinner entertainment on one night was Riverdance, set in the former Guinness factory. Incredible.
If anything this year’s Founders was even more baddass than last year’s. Although the Guinness Storehouse and the Halloween party also featured, along with the obligatory drinking in the hotel bar, it was also accompanied by 8am finishes and the trashing of a certain person’s hotel room. Who said Tech wasn’t the new Rock’n Roll?
However, possibly the most amazing thing came in the former of a signed copy of the famous Che Guevara pop-art image, created by Irish artist Jim Fitzpatrick, who also attended dinner. The image was made from tiny images for Steve Jobs. The symbolism was no lost on the crowd of revolutionary technology entrepreneurs who were told by Fitzpatrick that they could only ever sell the print to other “revolutionaries”.
But, in the final analysis the panels and fireside chats paled against the bonding that occurred between the attendees.
For what Founders / Dublin Web Summit has turned into is no so much a Le Web or Web 2.0 Summit, but more like The Lobby Conference in the US which started in 2009.
As Mike Arrington remarked at the time, “astonishingly candid conversations” broke out at that event.
And frankly, that is what Founders was really good at. Everyone at the event was a conference veteran, which meant that the sheer lack of bullshit became utterly noticeable. Literally everyone was up for a great debate.
And that’s clearly the point. Similarly, other events are aiming at the same atmosphere, such as the upcoming Silicon Valley Comes To The UK event in London and Cambridge, which will attract quite a few more of the long-time leviathans of the scene such as Reid Hoffman, Joi Ito, Kim Polese, and of course the awesome Sherry Coutu. SVUK’s guests will also get the Prime Minister treatment at Number 10 Downing Street.
Founders Forum in the UK – which started 6 years ago runs over two nights, hosts 330 hand-picked people, mixing new entrepreneurs and more established ones, not unlike The Lobby conference.
But Founders seemed to somewhat more represent the ‘young turks’ of tech. Clearly there was also a political and economic message to the event: do business in Ireland and base your European operations here. No doubt the organisers had noticed startups being wooed by the UK Royal household recently..?
Was this a pitch to take on London and Berlin in the tech stakes? In some sense yes.
But Founders takes its place among those events mentioned above. It also stands on it’s own as a great “off-site” event for European, US and Global entrepreneurs to let their hair down and chew the fat. Or at least, sip the Jameson’s…