Wednesday 23 October 2019

What a tangled web Cosgrave has woven

Darragh Clifford
Darragh Clifford
Web Summit co-founder Paddy Cosgrave.

As a marketing strategy it was quite brilliant. It started back in September when Web Summit co-founder Paddy Cosgrave let it be known that he was open to moving the event away from Dublin at some stage in the future.

Then, a week out from the event and boom - Cosgrave drops the bomb many had expected and feared - the Web Summit was leaving on a jetplane (and we don't know when they'll be back again).

It meant that Web Summit was primetime news, long before the first hipster tech guru had strutted through the doors of the RDS. A propaganda war erupted between Web Summit and the government which was played out in a very public manner. It got heated, it got messy and it certainly got confusing as to who held the upper hand.

Cosgrave cleverly leaked correspondence between himself and the Department of the Taoiseach. The emails were quite revealing, and on first look, it would seem that Cosgrave was right to throw his iPad out of the pram and head for sunnier Lisbon.

The government seemed slow to react to Cosgrave's requests surrounding traffic management, garda resources, hotel availability and wifi.

This 'stick it on the long finger' attitude flew in the face of Cosgrave's Web Summit, the conference start-up that has impressively mushroomed from 400 visitors five years ago to 30,000 this year.

Cosgrave then went on RTE's Morning Ireland on the first day of the event and took the opportunity to stick the knife in. He claimed the €700,000 that Web Summit had received from the government was nothing short of 'hush money', basically a pay off to ensure Cosgrave and co would continue to say nice things about Kenny and co.

In fact, this 'hush money' was spent by trade agencies IDA and Enterprise Ireland buying exhibition space and sponsored events.

Cosgrave claims the government missed a golden opportunity to do proper business at previous Web Summits, and instead were only there for a photo op. Enterprise Minister Richard Bruton strenuously denied this was the case.

The truth, no doubt, is somewhere in the middle. Cosgrave's frustration over the government kicking the can down the road is understandable to a point.

Yet Web Summit is, like those who flocked to it, a rather successful start-up in its own right. And like most successful start-ups, there will come a time when a multi-million euro sell-off will happen.

If this is Cosgrave's ultimate goal, the events of the past week have done Web Summit's valuation no harm at all.

Wexford People