TNW is a Global Digital Brand that informs, inspires and connects people who love tech through media, events and services. Each year TNW Conference brings together thousands of industry leaders and tech enthusiasts to uncover the Future of Technology. This year, TechUkraine became an official TNW Strategic Partner. Within collaboration, our team opened up a dialogue with the TNW’s Event Director — Zach Butler.
Read below in the interview about how The Next Web started, it’s management essentials, relation between media and conference, and a franchise opportunity in Ukraine.
About how The Next Web started
“The first TNW started in 2006. Our founders Boris and Patrick had a startup and they wanted to take it over to Silicon Valley to showcase it to investors and the tech ecosystem there. But they couldn’t afford to. So they decided to try and get relevant people together in Amsterdam and they managed to get a few speakers. And it was the first successful event bringing together some tech geeks talking about what the future tech could look like. The funny story is that the conference outlived the startup and I think they realized that there was a real need to bring people together to talk about the potential of technology. And then over the next few years, it started to become an annual event in Amsterdam”.
What distinguishes TNW from other European conferences?
“So I’d say two things. The first thing I think about is what people say when they’re on stage. Our speakers are a mixture of people who have well-known names. Some speakers attend other events as well in the same year, and a lot of speakers have spoken at other big tech events. But I think what distinguishes us is really how we work with them to cut out the bullshit and to cut out the marketing, the PR, and parts of speaking to get down to the crux of their story. People give us time, and the experience of speaking is very valuable to them. The second is the experience of being at the event itself. So yes, the TNW conference is a business event where you come to share knowledge and make connections to find future business partners. But we want people to live the event and feel like they’ve been at a consumer festival. They would, you know, pay their own money to go in their own right. So that comes also with music. It comes with the atmosphere that we bring people into and lots of the different kinds of experiential things that we do throughout the week to give people a great experience”.
I would say our uniqueness is around our higher production values. I’ve been to a lot of events over the last 13 years. They have the same level of product, and higher production values as TNW has. And probably the other thing is, it’s been mentioned many, many times to us, that TNW is a place where the future stars are found
“And you know, soon after the conference (not necessarily because they engaged with the conference, but certainly because they were part of it), they kind of popped and they became, you know, the big names or big companies. So there are a few companies that have launched outstaff mode at TNW certainly and a couple of them are now large Dutch unicorns or scaleups that came out at TNW years and years ago. And then also individuals, Casey Nice, who is a YouTuber. We’ve got a video of him back in 2016, going around the Amsterdam canals and then coming on stage wet as if he’d just come from the canals. At that time I think he had 100,000 followers and now he has I think over 15 million followers on YouTube”.
How to manage such a large-scale event?
“The thing for us at TNW is that we’re not an events company. TNW has four different business units and the event is a real central killer and the part of the business where we bring everyone together. People need to get more together in real life. And I think the key for us is a mix of the key event experience. So it’s sort of a business for a couple of years now and over a decade of experience and large-scale events and tech exhibitions and there are lots of people in my team that have got a lot of event experience”.
You know, we love to give smart people who have their quirks, a brilliant space to be creative and to do good things with the platform that we have. So with that TNW has kind of this creative element as well, which I’ve not experienced in my career so far, and that blend of people that don’t know anything about the events but are smart and come up with ideas that I will never be able to think about myself.
The people that know how to turn those into action are quite special. That’s great, yes. Blending such smart people inside one conference or gathering them together is great
Relation between the conference and the media
“So we have the media channel. The media channel was founded about two or three years after the first conference. So it’s probably 13-14 years old now and certainly over the last decade it’s become a little independent source of new startup and investment space. I would say a couple of years ago, there was not much synergy at all across the media and events channels apart from them, being a part of the same business. Because what we were writing about in our media and the audience that we were generating through our media was quite different from the people that came to our conference. So different geographies, different types of people”.
“But over the last couple of years, there’s been some alignment there. So what we write about on-site and in terms of the themes, startup news, investment news, some things that people should know about — there are the types of things you also see at the conference. There’s certainly more alignment in terms of our content strategy now, and how we work together. They still operate as an independent newsroom, we have a separate editorial team and obviously, we want them to pick, we pitch to them and we want them to cover things at the event. And it’s really important for our editorial integrity that they can write about things that they think are important”.
The Future of The Next Web
“So I think it’s quite widely reported that we launched our first event in Valencia this year which took place in March earlier this year. It was really exciting and successful and we were really happy to help the Valencia startup ecosystem with a platform that will enable it to accelerate and grow and showcase to the world some great things that are happening there. So we certainly have the next few years looking to help that ecosystem accelerate and hopefully in the same way that the Amsterdam startup ecosystem has over the last 15 years. And I think that’s great, it’s a great ambition for the TNW conference”.
“In Amsterdam, we have a real ambition over the next two years to further align to the city’s big milestones coming up in 2025, which is the 750th anniversary of Amsterdam, alongside our partners in the city, and in the city, and government. And we’re passionate about aligning with their mission, which is connecting the different parts of Amsterdam. And all of the citizens in Amsterdam from the technology industry. So everyone knows that Amsterdam is very famous and well known for some parts of its tourism. We may not be as proud of it as others, but these are still parts of the DNA of the city. And with that, we want to showcase Amsterdam, also on the tourism level around things like ours and technology. So we see that the Next Web and the Next conference and the week of the Next Web can be used to connect businesses and the citizens of Amsterdam and also the world as well”.
Opportunity for Ukraine. Opening a franchisee
“We’d love to [do it]. And we’ve followed very closely with events before the last few years: the startup and the technology system. And we’ve done a lot on our media site to cover and to support and to shout about the good things that are happening there. So any new venture like in Valencia requires a strong public-private partnership. So it requires the ability to pull something like this off. So I think we need to evaluate what and how we can do that but there’s an opportunity and we see it”.