The Web Summit Careers Night, an evening of talks designed to inspire and engage the next generation of entrepreneurs, took place in the RDS on Wednesday night. The event boasted a 3000 strong audience and brought speakers from a variety of backgrounds together to talk about their experiences. For those of you unable to secure a ticket or couldn’t attend the evening, here’s what you missed.
The event was opened by Web Summit CEO, Paddy Cosgrave, and involved three panel discussions, followed by the headlining conversation with Ed Catmull and the NASDAQ Bell closing ceremony. Each of the three panels dealt with a different theme, the first of which was by far the most interesting and relevant to the entrepreneurial theme of the night.
Rhona Togher, CEO of Restored Hearing, Conor Nolan, CEO of WattSpot and Niamh McHugh, Co-Founder of Pucker, made up the first panel, focusing on founding and developing a company during and after college. “My business was growing in college” said Togher, “so it was difficult time. I made the scary decision to go on sabbatical to develop the product, but it benefitted me in the long run, it prepared me for the life of an entrepreneur, which is scary”. Nolan was a bit surer of himself starting off. “I never really thought the idea was going to fail – people will always need to charge their phones, and WattSpot provides them with an opportunity to do so” he said. “If you’re looking for inspiration for an idea, try and base it on your own experiences – people were always coming into the shop I worked in, asking us to charge their phones. That’s where I got the idea”. McHugh admits to having a more selfish reason to starting her own company. “I was always a hard worker, but it was killing me to be putting in so much time in someone else’s business and getting nothing in return. Working for yourself means that you’re not looking at the clock, waiting for your shift to end. It’s great to be in charge of yourself like that.”
In terms of a help, Togher believed that it’s important to ask. “Ask anyone for tea, and you’ll be surprised how giving they are with their time” she said. “Especially here in Ireland, people are always willing to help you out.” Nolan believes that the best time to try a business idea is as a student. “We have no or very few responsibilities – at what other point in your life can you say that?” McHugh recommends the internet, saying “everything you could possibly want to or need to know is online somewhere. With some time and dedication, you can learn anything, so don’t let lack of knowledge or experience hold you back”. As closing remarks, both McHugh and Nolan took time to convince the audience to not be afraid of trying. “Follow your idea; even if it is terrible and goes nowhere, the fact that you were thinking creatively and you tried, that looks good on a CV, and employers admire those willing to risk something”. McHugh agreed, saying that is always better to “fail at something you love than succeed at something you hate.”
The subsequent panel discussions focused on more general career advice, with the second bringing together representatives from BT, KPMG, and Microsoft to discuss the role of a traditional job and what students can do to be attractive to employers. All speakers recommended the need for travel and diverse experience, as well as strongly recommending learning a second language.
Following a brief pause as a heckler was escorted out, the final panel discussion brought Philippe Botteri of Accel Partners together with Nicolas Brusson, co-founder and COO of BlaBlaCar, to discuss how working life will change in the future. Botteri reflected on the mindset changes that need to take place for people, companies and governments. “There is no longer such a thing as a job for life” he said. “People will start to be contracted to help companies achieve missions, be they 3 months or 5 years long, and so social protection policy will have to adapt to deal with this”. Nappex agreed, pointing out that “the students here are likely to have 10 jobs in many careers over their working life. It is up to employers to make sure that every role benefits both the company and the employee”.
Finally, Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar Animation Studios, took to the stage to speak about his experiences and to offer some advice for current undergraduates. “Try to like everything. When I started in college, I highlighted all the course I wanted to take, and it worked out that it would have taken me 300 years to do them all” he admitted jokingly. “Try and have a broad knowledge of lots of things – history is a perfect example. Deep experience in one field is also a must, as it changes how you experience the world and how you apply yourself in it”. He also advised to pick a field where the frontier is close, and where your passion lies. “I managed to combine my two passions in Pixar – computer science and animation – and that is why I am still here today”.
It became quite clear that Catmull could relate to the audience, earning a round of applause for his commentary on the term “millennial”. “It’s an inappropriate concept”, he argued, “as the new generation are different, yes, but no more so than any child is from their parent. To say that you are dealing with ‘millennials’, to presume that a label like that tells you something about this group, that’s unhelpful and a disservice to those it tries to describe”. Finally, he spoke about the need for companies to encourage their employees to be creative and to try and remove the fear of failure. “The trick is” he closed with, “how do I encourage an atmosphere where people, such as the audience here tonight, will be able to do things I can’t even conceive of?”
Catmull was followed by the NASDAQ Bell ceremony and closing remarks from Paddy Cosgrave, marking the end of an enjoyable and informative evening.
Photos sourced from the Web Summit at https://www.flickr.com/photos/websummit/
Correction 9/10/15: Nicolas Brusson, co-founder and COO of BlaBlaCar was speaking at the event, not BlaBlaCar CTO Francis Nappez as previously reported.