Let’s be honest: we didn’t always cover ourselves in glory during the last five years hosting the Web Summit.
And that’s because, in a sense, it all caught us rather off guard.
After all, its dazzling ascent from a run-of-the-mill digital conference to a global unmissable event happened against a backdrop of austerity; an era in which Irish people were told, and conditioned, to keep their heads down and thank the Lord above for the small wins in life.
When you consider the fact that the first event took place in October 2010 – just a month after Brian Cowen infamously made the airwaves stink of booze with his performance on Morning Ireland, plunging the nation into a crisis of confidence that felt impossible to overcome – it’s all the more remarkable that anything grew out of this 500-strong gathering in Chartered Accountants House.
But grow it did – and say what you like about Cosgrave, this was down to the phenomenal efforts of him and his team, fuelled to a potent cocktail of arrogance, creativity, resourcefulness, collaboration and sheer tenacity.
They weren’t the only ones drinking from that cup, of course, and it was this blend of ingredients among restauranteurs, artists and entrepreneurs alike that formed the basis to Dublin’s wider recovery – it led us to the city we have today; one we’re seriously proud of, one that continues to grow and get better with every week, and one where every street boasts something worth getting excited about.
But that backdrop of austerity still loomed large. That sense of caution brought about by the shittiest decade in the State’s modern history, where austerity was not just a government policy, but a national state of mind.
You had stories of certain state boards being completely unhelpful, stories of food prices in and around the venue getting similar markups to the hotels – everybody focused on milking the cash cow, and nobody focused on feeding it.
And that state of mind was completely at odds with everything Cosgrave – along with the other innovators making magic across the city – were doing. Where they practised long-term investment, this was about securing the next quick win; where they worked on building something to be proud of, this was about balancing books; where they focused on taking a risk and creating something magical, this was simply about not fucking up.
The vast majority had bought into this mindset – or had it bred into them, if that’s how you prefer to look at it – and it made for an establishment that simply wasn’t ready to absorb something that grew this quickly.
And so, you had hotels jacking up their prices by shameful amounts (the Maldron on Parnell Street reportedly instituted a 600% increase). You had stories of certain state boards being completely unhelpful, stories of food prices in and around the venue getting similar markups to the hotels – everybody focused on milking the cash cow, and nobody focused on feeding it.
Add to that the absolutely disgraceful debacle surrounding wifi at last year’s event – that bore all the hallmarks of a low-cost, high-margin approach to what should have been a long-term strategic investment, particularly on the part of the RDS whom Cosgrave had to ‘beg’ for control of the service – and you wonder what sort of impression the 20,000 overseas attendees were left with.
Of course, with this year’s event expected to jump in size by more than a third to 30,000 – and the company aiming to grow it to 80,000 – some of this is a simple issue of scale. Lisbon is around twice the size of Dublin, so it only makes sense that this would be the kind of location they’d look to next.
But nonetheless, it all came down to one line from Cosgrave’s blog post announcing the move this morning: “Our attendees expect the best.”
This is one of the most fantastic, exciting, inventive and all-round excellent cities in the world; the Summit should have been our chance to shine. And while we may have dazzled with our cracking pubs, our incredible restaurants and an atmosphere unlike anywhere else in the world, the light was ultimately blocked out by greed and short-termism from the older, austerity-addled establishment.
Did we give them our best?
Did we fuck.