What started out as a couple of tech entrepreneurs trying to promote their new startup to a gathering of some 220 interested people, has metamorphosed into one of the biggest and most important technology events in the world.
Esther O’Toole sat down with Wytze de Haan, the managing director of events for The Next Web, to talk about this year’s offering.
Wytze de Haan went to The Hague’s Hotel School hospitality industry college; he was no ‘techie’ or ‘geek’ by nature. But then in 2011 he met serial entrepreneurs Patrick de Laive and Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten, the founders of The Next Web, and pivoted, as they like to say in Start-up Land.
For the last ten years The Next Web has had a conference in Amsterdam and this is its original home:
‘Amsterdam has everything, all the shareholders, creativity and working parts to make it a hub of innovation,’ says De Haan. ‘There’s great access to resources and with tech giants like Google and Uber having their European headquarters here it makes it the best tech ecosystem in Europe. It’s nice to contribute to that environment.’
Last year over 3,500 people attended the conference. This year is set to be bigger and better than ever, with the goal of attracting an estimated 20,000 people over the course of two days. Some 75% of tickets have already been sold. It is testament to the growing interest and relevance of tech in our lives that what started out as 220 people is now growing at an exponential rate as it enters its 11th year.
On May 26 and 27 TNW will be taking over the Westerpark in Amsterdam. This year they’re going all out for a festival atmosphere with the rolling kitchens on site, demos, places to play, a resident DJ and workshops; alongside the speakers, pitching and fast money opportunities that you may expect at a conference focussed on entrepreneurship.
‘I don’t see myself as an event manager. It’s a unique place to work, a safe environment in which to innovate. Every year we try to reinvent it a little.’ says De Haan.
2016 has extra importance due to The Netherlands leadership of the EU. Both politicians like Neelie Kroes and prominent tech champions like TNW founder Veldhuijzen Van Zanten himself have, in recent months, championed Amsterdam as the potential Silicon Valley of Europe.
The event also coincides with the final two days of the StartupFest – a nationwide start-up event held as part of the Dutch presidency of the EU.
There will definitely be a strong Dutch presence at this year’s TNW with keynote speakers such as Pieter Van Der Does, CEO and Co-founder of payment service Adyen, taking the stage alongside the CEO’s and co-founders of global giants like Basecamp, Reddit, Vimeo, Vine and Werner Vogels the Dutch born, CTO of Amazon.
‘Each year the tech itself offers so many opportunities to do new things’ de Haan added. ‘This year we have projections that move with the people of stage!’
As with other major tech events like TechCrunch Disrupt and SXSW, there will be a Hack Battle. ‘People realise now that you can build a viable company in 48 hours whereas it used to take you years of testing and prototyping,’ De Haan says.
For the laymen amongst us there is also a lot of emphasis on the imaginative, creative and the content side of digital life. Keynote speakers also include prosumer icons like Gary Vaynerchuk and YouTube Superstar Casey Neistat. It’s these kinds of names that will open the event up to a younger and broader audience than you might find at a traditional conference.
As our lives become more digitally dependent there will of course be new challenges and, according to de Haan, these too will be up for discussion:
‘With the emergence of the Internet of Things, cars, watches, fridges, bikes, you name it – everything is going to be connected. Finding ways to disconnect that will be the biggest challenge.’