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Digitising the Conference Experience with Data Science

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Mike Harvey, head of strategic communications at Web Summit, speaks with Dilin Anand from EFY.

WHAT IS YOUR VISION FOR SURGE?

Overall, our vision for Surge is that we believe people come to events not just because they like the speakers, but they value the event for the networking opportunities that are created, for the people they meet. We try to create an atmosphere at the event where you have an amazing mix of people.

Through this, what we hope to do is to engineer serendipity.

WHAT TOOL DO YOU USE TO HELP YOU IN ACHIEVE THIS VISION?

We use data science to analyse and figure out who the right people are to invite, and then work on bringing them to the event. The same goes for startups, investors and speakers.

COULD YOU GIVE US AN EXAMPLE OF HOW DATA SCIENCE WORKS HERE?

An example of data science in action: In the app, the moment you enter details, the app goes ahead and recommends people to you, people you should connect with or speakers you should listen to. For WebSummit, attendees using the app spent thousands of hours chatting, planning and connecting.

WHAT ACCORDING TO YOU, ARE SOME OF THE MOST IMPORTANT ELEMENTS IN SETTING UP A TECHNOLOGY EVENT OF THIS MAGNITUDE?

It is very important that we tell people how to prepare the event. It is important that people prepare themselves and believe in the hustle. SURGE is in its first year and we always have much to learn. We use technology to make these events the best they can be and deliver the best experience for attendees.

DOES THIS TAKE AWAY FROM THE OFFLINE EXPERIENCE AT THE EVENT?

We believe in the offline experience and we believe that even in a digital world. It is still very important to meet and talk to people, to chat in the coffee queue and all those real life experiences. At the same time, we spend a lot of effort to make the digital preparation more effective. We see these as gatherings of people. In that line of thought, it is deliberate that the conference areas are more open rather than closed. By closed, I mean the style you see in other events where there are closed halls and stages that segregate people away.

COULD YOU SHARE SOME DETAILS ON THE PRICING ASPECTS?

SURGE General attendee ticket prices started at $150 per person in our 2for1 offer. These became more expensive closer to the event. The majority of general attendees at SURGE paid the cheapest price. A startup exhibition package (including 4 tickets) cost from $495. About $115 per person. The majority of startups paid the cheapest price. The event sold out several days before we opened.

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