Q&A: Paul O’Connell, UPRISE festival

In this week’s column, Kehlan talks with Limerick man Paul O’Connell, the person behind the UPRISE festival.    

UPRISE is a start-up festival happening next month in Dublin’s RDS. By its organiser’s own admission, UPRISE is not a conference: “We aim to misbehave”.

What is UPRISE all about?

UPRISE is a tech festival and we started last year, so it’s actually quite young. We’ve had four of them since then. 

It focuses on start-ups and connecting them in a very real way to recruitment, finance and also to partnerships for business.

It started from the idea that so many companies are still searching for these three golden cruxes of business and find it very hard to gather these connections from large-scale events.

Those events don’t focus solely on start-ups. 

A lot of those seem to focus on speakers and enterprise, larger-scale companies, and not on the vibrant start-up that could benefit from it more than anyone else.

What we want to do is talk to them, those start-ups that need it. That is where we started and it has developed into more, creating a unique sense of identity. 

There is a reason why we didn’t call it a summit, it’s not a conference either.

You’ve had three festivals in Amsterdam, why bring it to Dublin?

We’ve done three in Amsterdam and we’ve done pretty well there. We’ve had about 15,000 people at the three events. 

We’ve had a 38% success rate of people hiring at the festival, which is a really strong metric.

It also approaches it in the right kind of way. As in, everybody is approachable, everyone wants to converse in the right kind of way, chat with you and build relationships. 

It’s also designed so that you get something out of it and not just be there just for visibility. Being there for the sake of being there.

It’s been in Amsterdam three times and that was enough. We looked at our network and sought a place where we had the right network to bring this to another country. 

Dublin was where we believed the right ecosystem was developing and we had the network to move into. 

We got offers to do the festival in Dubai and Nashville, but we didn’t have the right network to move there. 

It would have taken about six months to get that right and ready for an event in those places.

People like travelling to Dublin and Ireland. They like the approachability of the people and the place. 

I know I may sound like a travel brochure, but there is a warmth that encourages people to come to events like this in Ireland.

Can we expect to see an UPRISE USA, an UPRISE Europe, or will this be a travelling show?

I want it to go where it should go. I had a meeting with a PR company recently about us setting out that we needed to have a plan, a vision about what we want UPRISE to be in two or three years’ time. 

That’s rubbish and I don’t want to do that.

Start-up ecosystems, as a whole, refresh themselves every six months. We’re not deploying the same thing every time. 

This festival won’t be the same festival that happened in Amsterdam. 

The core of what happens is dependent on the marketplace where we are. Dublin’s marketplace is different to that of Amsterdam’s and so it needs to be approached and laid out differently.

We create the festival around the marketplace. It’s an iterative approach, we’re taking away some things that didn’t work in Amsterdam and adding new ones for our Dublin festival.

So if it does get big enough to move around the world, how will you keep that essence of the start-up at its core?

Well, that’s what I’m here for. We’re already in a niche because we focus on start-ups and we’re not talking to everybody deliberately because we want to be practical.

We want to develop a sense of need and we’re answering a problem. We’re not just having a visibility event. 

You can look at bigger conferences and I’m looking at the Web Summit specifically. The size that it has grown to now. 

I think that there is some soul-searching going on as to how it’s actually relatable and implementable.

Even if you look at something like The Next Web, which is a great show, but I’ve wondered for the past few years who it’s actually talking to. 

They are looking like they are trying to find where their fit is.

However, if you focus it in and you know what your product is and you’re able to move with the ecosystems when they move, I think that you can do it.

Will UPRISE furnish people with the realities of being a start-up?

Start-ups are essentially quite lazy. They want talent to come to them and they don’t want to spend any time or money on it. 

They are quite lazy at presenting themselves, there are start-ups that come to these events that are quite happy to have a stand and point at a video on screen to show people their product.

Those companies deserve to die. They are not companies that compel you to think they have a bigger vision. 

As much as 90% of start-ups are going to die and they should die. It’s the 10% you should focus on, the 10% that steps up and takes the opportunity.

We want to build a platform for them to shine. They deserve to be shown and that’s what we want to build.

Is that something that has changed, that companies now are compelled to pitch to potential employees, not just investors?

Yes, of course. Companies like booking.com are realising that the normal recruitment patterns don’t work anymore. 

You have to be clever about it because you have to tap into the person’s talents, passion and interests. 

It is no longer in the nature of people to apply for jobs, you have to find the right people with the right mindset to apply for the jobs.

You have to pitch your company to the applicants as much as they have to do the same for them to you. 

We do this within the festival with ‘Pitch Your Job and Culture’. Culture is now just as important as the job itself. 

So we’ll see start-ups pitching to potential employees about their company, the culture and why the job is the right fit for them. It’s the same with investing, it’s the team that gets invested in, the products come from the team.

Start-ups have an investment deck and should also have a recruitment deck as well.

So we’ll have that recruitment edge to the festival. You need to have a recruitment deck for the talent that’s going to come to you. 

If you make yourself attractive, half your work is done.

UPRISE Start-up Festival is on at the RDS, Dublin, on October 20. For more information, go to www.uprisefestival.co


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