Web3, Sustainability, and Pastéis de Nata: AAX goes to WebSummit 2022

The first four days of November 2022 saw the city of Lisbon filled with faces from all over the world and all corners of tech. WebSummit, the event that The Guardian dubbed “Glastonbury for geeks,” was in full swing.

WebSummit, which features more than a thousand speakers and attracts over 70,000 attendees, is one of the best places to get a sense of the conversations and issues that are being discussed—and shaping—the tech world. The grand purpose of WebSummit, as its website attests, is to answer one singular question: Where to next?

Otilia Otlacan, AAX VP of Business Operations, flew to Lisbon to, as she puts it, “take the pulse.” This autumn, WebSummit talks and panels were shedding light on a new world, one that’s buffeted by fresh issues and challenges and contemplating the ways in which tech can help build a better future.

We sat down with Otilia to get her impressions of the kinds of topics that defined 2022’s WebSummit, how the conference has changed over the last year, which talks were important and inspiring and—of course—where to get the best pastel de nata in Portugal’s capital city.

AAX: Welcome back to gray Berlin! First things first: what would you say was AAX’s overall mission at the conference this year?

Otilia Otlacan: Honestly, our purpose there was to watch and learn. We were interested in absorbing as much information about the current climate—what are people thinking about? what conversations are being had? what developments and trends are being discussed?—as we could.

While AAX is a B2B business, the backbone of everything we do is the Acceptable Ads user. We need to understand who this user is, what they want, what they engage in. And that means getting a general sense of the pertinent issues; taking the pulse.

And, of course, we were there to support the Web Summit Women in Tech Networking Evening, hosted by our friends at eyeo.

AAX: Tell us a little more—what was the Web Summit Women in Tech Networking Evening all about?

OO: It was essentially an evening of networking, sharing stories, and good food and drinks, organized by Jutta Horstmann, COO and Managing Director of eyeo and Gertrud Kolb, CTPO at eyeo. The theme was “Successes and Failures,” which served as an opportunity to discuss the ins and outs—and the many challenges—of being a woman in tech. The aim was to listen and learn and, in doing so, inspire each other to further growth.

AAX: So what were the main issues addressed at 2022’s WebSummit?

OO: I think it can be distilled into three primary topics: crypto, Web3, and sustainability.

One event that struck me as particularly interesting was the talk that Toto Wolff (team principal and CEO, Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS Formula 1) had with F1 TV commentator Rosanna Tennant and Oliver Steil, CEO of Teamviewer. When you hear the word “sustainability,” it’s very unlikely that the first thing that springs to mind is Formula 1—but that’s exactly what this panel was about.

Formula 1 wants to be carbon neutral by 2030, which is a challenge because one of the necessities of the sport is the team of mechanics, the scores of people that have to fly all over to the world to attend to the car. The number of flights that necessitates translates to a massive carbon footprint. And Wolff wants to change this—the idea is to become remote first.

To be remote first, though, it’s necessary to have the right tools. Wolff talked a lot about how using Teamviewer, including headsets, allowed remote mechanics to give help and guidance to the handful that are required on-site.

AAX: What else made an impression? Any specific talks or speakers spring to mind?

OO: Yes, absolutely. No one was more inspirational than the Ukranian first lady, Olena Zelenska, who gave the last talk on opening night. She spoke about how technology has been misused for violence but that she believes that technology can be used to save and to help people and communities. The decision to create tech that acts as a force for good, Zelenska said, can have a huge impact and “move the world in the right direction.”

Besides that speech, which was a stand-out, the majority of the talks, at least on larger stages, were discussing Web3. Crypto was a big topic of discussion. And maybe the most memorable talks that hit on these subjects came from Tim Berners-Lee, the guy who invented the World Wide Web. He said a few bold statements that have gotten a lot of attention, like “Web3 is not the web at all.”

AAX: How did the conversations at this year’s WebSummit compare to previous years? Or even just last year—how did WebSummit 2022 compare to WebSummit 2021?

OO: The focus on Web3 and crypto seemed more emphasized this year, but in 2021 people were also talking about sustainability. Sustainability is a topic that’s here to stay!

But the most prominent change, I think, was just that this year was a lot more seamless. Last year was, from a logistics perspective, hugely complicated because of Covid. The queues were up to two and a half hours long—because it was important to check not just tickets, but vaccination status and negative tests, etc. This year people were queueing, sure, but thankfully for nowhere near as long.

AAX: I’m sure the experience of being in Lisbon was phenomenal. What’s your favorite thing about Lisbon, in general?

OO: It’s impossible to pick one thing! It’s such a gorgeous place, and the weather and food are both phenomenal.

One thing I noticed about Lisbon, and about this WebSummit, was how freelancer and consultant-friendly it was. There was a huge global contingent, but I was surprised just how many people there came from Lisbon, and from around Portugal. And this really does represent a huge shift in the audience demographic—the people attending events like WebSummit used to be predominantly older, and predominantly people from large business hubs like London and Frankfurt.

That’s changed. Now you see a huge number of younger people, and they’re from everywhere. This is because you don’t need to be based in one of a few major tech hubs to do exciting work.

And I think Portugal has done a great job in attracting a vibrant demographic. Because young, talented people now have access to resources, and have the freedom to work and to exist and thrive anywhere they want. And they want to be in Portugal, eating a pastel de nata for breakfast.

AAX: Okay, last question: where’s your favorite place to get pastéis de nata?

OO: Probably Fábrica da Nata. Their pastéis de nata are so amazing, and the café is gorgeous as well.

Obama, snowboards, and beer: the impact of Bits and Pretzels

This marked the first year AAX headed to Bits and Pretzels, the three-day Munich-based founders festival that famously culminates in a massive networking events on the Oktoberfest grounds.

But, as our team found out, the jolly atmosphere of this “liquid networking”—like-minded people mingling and beer drinking under the decorated dome of the Schottenhamel tent—wasn’t the only memorable thing about Bits and Pretzels.

In fact, for AAX Head of Operations Otilia Otlacan, time spent in the Schottenhamel tent wasn’t even the aspect of Bits and Pretzels most conducive to networking. For her, that was the speakers.

Want To Make An Impact? Help Your Neighbors.

The theme of this year’s Bits and Pretzels was impact. This created an unofficial dialogue between the speakers: everyone pondered what it meant to be impactful.

“The talks ranged from companies trying to tackle food waste at the local level to multinational corporations thinking about supporting entrepreneurship and how to support women. People were really considering their impact onto communities,” says Otlacan.

What does the word impact mean for AAX? For CEO Frederick Leuschner, impact refers to directly to value exchange. “The ad ecosystem is a community in need of balance,” he says. “The ideal is a three-way equilibrium between publishers, advertisers, and users.”

How To Thrive On A New Continent

Obama, Snowboards, and Beer: The Impact of Bits and Pretzels

One of the most inspiring speakers, says Otlacan, was Donna Carpenter, CEO of Burton Snowboards. Carpenter spoke about her journey, dwelling specifically on the lessons she learned when she brought the company came across the Atlantic. Carpenter, an American outdoors, was new to Europe and a much of the knowledge she brought from home just wasn’t applicable.

“If I had to distill her message,” says Otlacan, “it would be that, in order to be impactful, you ask for input, ask for help, and listen to feedback.” That message is especially vital, thinks Otlacan, in the fast-moving and ever-evolving start up environment.

The message of impact was also strengthened by Bits and Pretzels designation as a festival for founders. “What you saw was diversity in mission,” says Leuschner. “By building events around founders, the focus becomes centered around a particular stage in business instead of a particular industry. It becomes about helping people who are all at the same step.”

Barack Obama’s Secret To Success

Of course, no discussion of Bits and Pretzels 2019 is complete without mention of the star speaker: Barack Obama.

“His focus on leadership wasn’t just applicable at an entrepreneurship event,” says Otlacan. “It managed to link these large concepts of responsibility and global thinking back to start-ups.”

Obama stressed the importance of diversity, both in a larger context and within a team. “All of us have blind spots,” he said. “We have strengths, but we also have weaknesses. We have different perspectives. The greater mix of people I had around me […] with common values but different perspectives, experiences, and strengths, the more likely it was that we’d have fresh eyes and fresh approaches to problems.”

The environment of Obama’s talk, a hall packed with a mix of 5,000 attendees, helped bring these words into reality. It’s all too possible to lose sight of where we exist as part of a larger ecosystem and participating in acts of community—like coming together for a festival—can help you reconnect with a sense of being part of something.