Our startup protocols.io nearly fell for the Web Summit scam back in April and I detailed our experience to warn other founders. After the comments above, there's really not much left to discuss about Web Summit itself - it's a lavish party, financed by the people least able to pay, with no benefit and a huge loss to the startups falling for the scheme.
There should be nothing left to say, except that I am deeply bothered by a condescending reaction to Neil's and Robin's posts from people who say that the startups falling for this scam deserve it. Many statements such as:
@Jason @Cernovich But why not? If a founder is that stupid he shouldn't be handling investors money. Its a litmus test for morons.— Loren Feldman (@1938loren) October 4, 2015
Founders trying to disrupt the world fall for oldest internet marketing scams in the book. Losers! Via @1938loren http://t.co/nGNMUbPCFW— Mike Cernovich (@Cernovich) October 4, 2015
@Jason @Cernovich learning to spot lies is the mark of a smart entrepreneur. The suckers deserve to go under.— Loren Feldman (@1938loren) October 4, 2015
The reason scams against startups are so successful is that there is a fresh and steady supply of inexperienced first-time founders. Inexperienced and stupid are not the same. First time founders are, by definition, novices.
The notion that founders should carefully weigh the ROI for attending a given conference and ought to skip ones like Web Summit if the startup can't afford them reminds me of the joke:
A beggar walks up to a Jewish mother on the street and says, "Lady, I haven't eaten in three days." The woman replies, "Oy vey! Force yourself."Even we nearly fell for the Web Summit scam, despite being a 3-year-old startup with great advisors, board of directors, at UC Berkeley's excellent Skydeck accelerator. I imagine founders in Ukraine or Brazil, spending the only money they have to travel to these conferences, hoping to raise capital for their effort. The Web Summit is a brilliant and successful scam, run expertly, and it's not trivial to spot that it is in fact a scam. It preys on the desperate and the inexperienced, as most successful scams tend to do. Blaming the founders for not spotting the sham is like telling cancer patients who resort to homeopathic placebos, "You deserve to die because you are so stupid."
Some VCs consistently forget that not all founders are serial entrepreneurs (I wrote before about this). And that's the part that allows these scams to persist. There would be no Web Summit if the VCs didn't attend it and didn't give the keynotes there. But when people like Mark Suster attend and defend such conferences, it lends legitimacy to the events and makes the inexperienced founders pause and say, "Well, perhaps this is exactly how you raise venture capital. If we can connect with people like Mark there..."
1/ @Jason you know that 140 chars can't do nuance. I don't believe in big conferences full stop for founders & say so all the time— Mark Suster (@msuster) October 3, 2015
It is absolutely true that startups and founders learn from mistakes. But it doesn't mean that Web Summit is a mistake one should make. And it doesn't mean that scams are harmless and somehow select for good startups - that's bullshit. These scams waste money and more importantly time, both scarce resources for startups. For some, attending Web Summit can be a lethal error, for reasons entirely unrelated to the strength of the startup's team/idea. It's important to take the side of startups rather than scammers in this case.2/ @Jason if you WANT to get to a big conference Web Summit is amongst the best run & team is very helpful and gracious— Mark Suster (@msuster) October 3, 2015
Note1. I am happy to see Mark making it clear that young startups should not attend Web Summit and the like. But he makes it hard for startups not to by going to them himself.
3/ @Jason I think Web Summit marketing & sales techniques too aggressive & say so— Mark Suster (@msuster) October 3, 2015
4/ @Jason but if we're going to do purely honest reporting let's look at the whole industry. many conferences sell value hard & cost $$$— Mark Suster (@msuster) October 3, 2015
Note2. Some people have asked why thousands of people attend these conferences and don't speak up. If a scam and waste of time, wouldn't we know that? Well, they do speak up - see the comments here. And those who remain silent - can you blame them when people react with "you are so stupid your startup deserves to die"?