Nov 6, 2022 - Economy & Business

Dispatch from Lisbon

Illustrated collage of a tram with a cursor on top.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

As the annual tech startup conference, with its 71,000 attendees, drew to a close on Friday, I caught up with co-founder and CEO Paddy Cosgrave.

The big picture: “I think the West is just going through an uncontrolled demolition of venture capital,” says Cosgrave, adding that China was early in spotting the bubble and pivoting away from internet companies.

  • He also predicts that the largest VC funds will continue on their existing paths — even if it ends poorly for them — so that they can hold onto their fees.
  • Yes but: “That doesn’t mean, however, that the rate of new company formation in, let’s say, the web space will start to slow down. That’s because it’s never been cheaper to start a company,” he says.
  • In fact, he’s optimistic about his own conference business, adding that everyone from large companies to startups will still need to attend trade shows to find new, innovative tech and customers.

Crypto: Despite Cosgrave’s skepticism about the industry, Web Summit had a crypto portion of the conference this year, and invited top execs, including Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao, onto its stages.

  • “I think we’re in the ‘Napster phase,’” he says, pointing to the early peer-to-peer music audio file-sharing application born more than 20 years ago.
  • “Music on the interweb was always going to be a thing, but we went through a nasty illegal phase first…. I don’t think as a technology [crypto is] going to disappear. I’m just very careful in naming the good guys and the bad guys,” he adds.

Web Summit is still raising its two new funds to invest in startups. Cosgrave shared that, especially in the current market, he’s sticking with a strategy of raising smaller funds and investing alongside other firms.

  • “We would never raise $50m or $100m for a fund — it’s an enormous amount of pressure, especially at the early stage fund,” he says.
  • A couple of Y Combinator partners are among the limited partners, he said. A slew of tech executives have written checks for the funds, as TechCrunch recently reported.
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