In event management, first-time events are the hardest, as repeated occasions enjoy the advantage (and the laziness) of rosy retrospection over time. Debuts, however, are likely to be observed through a critical glass with one question in mind “will I come back next year?”

Following a pandemic-style event trial with a headcount of 200 last December, Sifted Summit kicked off in full swing last week.

Sifted became the go-to media platform for the European start-up ecosystem within less than five years, which increased the expectations for last week’s event. So, let’s see if the two-day event managed expectations and if we’ll meet again next year.

The Audience, Sponsors, and Exhibitors

One thousand five hundred people representing different European start-up jurisdictions participated in the Summit. The event was opened with the following words, “Welcome to the future, preparing for the next generation of consumers, investors, employees, and regulators.” Indeed, the event seemed to attract the heirs rather than their chairwoman and chairman parents – future leaders.

The coffee queues were, as usual, long and presented the best opportunities to mingle. Despite the adverse ecosystem developments, the founders’ overall mood seemed hopeful and enthusiastic about market appetite and fundraising. On the other hand, investors expressed a relative slowdown and stressed prioritizing their portfolio companies over new candidates.

Although the Summit was planned sector agnostic, the event overall had a big FinTech stamp. Silicon Valley Bank, and Morgan Stanley, sponsored the Summit together with Debite, the up-and-coming British FinTech.

The compact space made the exhibitor hopping manageable. Household names, including Plaid, MangoPay, Weavr, Affinity, Seedrs, and Pleo, were among the FinTech exhibitors.

Focus and Key Takeaways 

Resilience, Resilience, and More Resilience

Economic turmoil and resilience were at the heart of the two-day Summit.

The first panel, moderated by John Thornhill, including Michelle You (Supercritical), Helen O’Neill (Hertility), Lily Chang (About That Vibe), and Mike Turner (Latham & Watkins), started with stressing how today’s conditions are similar to those in 2008 and the fundamentals of crisis management haven’t changed. The panelists shared two pointers right away to get through the start-up winter:

  • Crisis establishes concentration (for start-ups) and allows putting the customer in focus. Start-ups should use this time to readjust priorities
  • Entrepreneurs must act fast about Product-Market-Fit readjustments and trying new things, as the crisis will require some adjustments.

Lily Chang of About That Vibe talked about the impact of the early-stage start-up chaos on value propositions. She recommended creating a continuous cycle of collecting lots of feedback, iterating, and developing to avoid the vicious chaos cycle.

Another panelist, Mike Turner of Latham & Watkins, started his talk by highlighting the differences between today and the crisis in 2008. He then portrayed a realistic picture and stated how the pressure on the capital markets would likely extend to the tech bubble. According to Turner, entrepreneurial confidence will get hurt once the bubble bursts, slowing the market overall. He revealed that the IPOs and exit opportunities have already started declining, and investors have started returning to conservative approaches.

Turner additionally talked about US-based investors increasing demand in Europe, especially with the USD’s strength. “Earlier Europe for an American investor was limited to the UK, Nordics, and maybe Germany. Now every European jurisdiction is in play and has unicorns. So, barriers are broken down, and Europe is overall interesting for American investors,” added Turner, explaining how Valley’s significant funds are doubling down on Europe.

Another crisis-themed panel (again led by John Thornhill) included Tayga Baltacioglu of Debite, Roxanne Varza of Station F, Suranga Chandratillake of Balderton, and Naren Shaam of Omio.

The panel was kicked off by the question, “what lessons have you learned during the crisis?” which led to the unanimous answer of “staying honest when things are good as well as when they are bad.” Next, panelists shared some survival tactics, starting with stressing how the crisis shifted the entrepreneurial focus from growth to survival and longevity mentality.

During the panel, Narem Shaam of Omio shared his pandemic learnings, revealing how his company lost almost 98% of its revenues in a week. However, Narem rebuilt the trust by constantly communicating with his team and investors. He suggests being vulnerable, showing strength, and managing cash properly while building resilience. “Focus and do small things right, and then big things will come to you,” specified Shaam, adding that the crisis resulted in a significant talent loss for his company. Nevertheless, they now appreciate the people who stayed.

Tayga Baltacioglu of Debite, one of the major event sponsors, shared how coming from an emerging market such as Turkey helped him during his entrepreneurial journey as he developed a “thick skin.”

“When you see a crisis approaching, investigate your company. Use the right supply and preserve it as long as you can and invest in resilience,” was Tayga’s advice, which he connected the conversation to Debite’s founding story later. “The crisis is why we have built Debite, as we want to help founders and reveal where their money goes,” stated Tayga, adding that being in his early 30s, he hasn’t experienced a significant crisis until now. He is optimistic that the ecosystem will get through this okay.

Metaverse and Co.

The second day had a broader focus, touching different niches such as the Metaverse, Sustainability, FemTech, etc.

The Fireside chat with Improbable’s Herman Narula attracted a big crowd eager to unveil metaverse possibilities.

Herman started his speech by stressing how companies in the metaverse should engage people with real-world experiences that are better than real-life experiences and those currently available via games, online events, VR, and so on. Herman continued the conversation by confessing how the existing companies are not interested in interoperability, new experiences, and competition, and the greater focus, especially for those in the gaming sector, seems to be on user acquisition. He challenged this approach by stating, “The most important aspect in the metaverse is the user experience that involves an exchange of value. It should be better than the experience provided via VR.”

Herman also briefly discussed the metaverse-crypto frenzy and the monetization aspect. He stressed that spicing the metaverse up with digital assets should come later as the first and most important challenge is “utilizing the user experience.” Finally, he answered Tim Smith’s question about how the metaverse will change journalism with a set of intriguing questions. “What if we could have this Summit with 20,000 people worldwide? What if they could interact with us directly and simultaneously? What if we could see their real-time reactions and converse with them? That would disrupt journalism for sure.”

Herman believes the metaverse should become a network of platforms rather than one single platform.

When the conversation shifted toward Nina Jane Patel’s metaverse experience of being harassed “within 60 seconds of joining Facebook Venues with an almost real experience due to the embodiment,” his horror was visible, and his answer wasn’t reserved. He argued that centralized platforms, such as Facebook, have a role in making the metaverse a safe space. He claimed that Facebook, being the evil corporation it is (Hear, hear!), could have easily prevented this incident “in 100 different ways” but didn’t. He talked about the role of creators and platform owners in creating a safe space and enforcing rules and recommended hiring moderators to act as the platform police.

Herman’s last prediction will remain with us for sure “As time goes on, we will make more meaningful relationships in other realities, including the metaverse. These relationships will start impacting our culture, work, and entertainment. It will start taking our lives over in the next couple of years. Expect this change not in the next ten years, but more like in the nearer future.”

On a different note, remote work was a recurring topic tackled by some panels. Some speakers highlighted how challenging it has become to manage remote projects in bigger teams since it is hard to transmit the “feeling” and the culture through the distance. Discussions evolved towards non-remote employees getting better benefits from their employers than remote employees since they are “long absent, soon forgotten.” Expert speakers suggested creating constant communication flows and a space for people to ask questions to remedy remote work culture challenges. However, specific speakers were more concerned about the remote working culture than others. Dan Garrett of Farewill went as far as saying that remote working is terrible for society. Garrett said that working in an office is our last chance against isolation and is a remedy for community building.

All in all, the panels during the Summit were distinct and vivid, revealing how effortlessly organizers could diversify an event if they wanted to. But on the other hand, the fundraising stories shared by some female founders’ re-established the remaining challenges in the ecosystem we have to work on for female-led ventures.

We created an assorted list of the rest of the entrepreneurial messages we came across at the Summit below for our readers:

  • Things don’t happen overnight for start-ups, especially if you are in your early stages. Learn patience and follow the process precisely. If you do everything as they should be and work hard, things will come to you.
  • (How to amplify purpose-driven entrepreneurship?) The drivers for people in start-ups used to be wrong. They used to be attracted to stock options and similar benefits. Now being in a purpose-driven start-up is much more important. NextGen entrepreneurs want to change the world, not just to make money. It doesn’t make it easier to run a business, but it makes it easier to attract people. All hires are motivated. Use this to your advantage.
  • (How to convert researchers into entrepreneurs?) Researchers and non-business practitioners should be educated about the world of business and its fundamentals of it so that they won’t start off on the wrong foot and lose time when they want to become entrepreneurs.
  • Go humbler with hiring and focus on improving quality, as this could help you get through the crisis.
  • Whether there is a crisis or not, working on improving the company communication couldn’t hurt.
  • ESG started as a risk mitigation exercise and is now becoming a company mission statement for most. However, the message isn’t clear. Ensure to align it with your company’s value proposition first.

To Be Continued Next Year

The Sifted saga will continue next year in London, and we will be there! However, if you feel you can’t wait and have already started holding your breath, you can attend one of the more compact but earlier events in Stockholm (March 2023) or Berlin (Q2 2023).

There is a prize draw to win a free ticket to the upcoming Sifted Sessions event in Stockholm in March 2023. You can pre-register via this link.

Gazi University Faculty of Law graduate Ş. Elif Kocaoğlu Ulbrich has degrees in Private Law from Galatasaray University and MBA from WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management, and is also a fellow of Jean Monnet, Joachim Herz Stiftung. After working as a lawyer in various international law firms in Istanbul and Ankara for more than six years, Denizbank A.Ş. He started his banking and finance career in 2013, specializing in business development, project management, FinTech regulation and lobbying activities at FinTech startups (FinLeap, Cringle, Lendico) in Hamburg and later in Berlin. Co-author of The PAYTECH Book, The AI ​​Book and The LegalTech Book, which are planned to be published in 2020 in cooperation with FINTECH Circle and Wiley, Kocaoğlu Ulbrich has been providing consultancy, training and publishing services since 2019 through Berlin-based Contextual Solutions, which she is the founder of.