Both 'Shame' and 'Excitement' Over Trump at Web Summit in Portugal

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Mike Schroepfer, chief technology officer at Facebook, makes a presentation during the Lisbon Web Summit in Lisbon, Portugal, on Tuesday.
Mike Schroepfer, chief technology officer at Facebook, makes a presentation during the Lisbon Web Summit in Lisbon, Portugal, on Tuesday. Credit: Paulo Duarte/Bloomberg

Where were you when Donald J. Trump officially became President-elect Donald J. Trump?

If you were like most Americans, you were at home, either glued to your TV until the wee hours of the night or, awoke the following morning to first hear the news after looking at your smartphone. But at the Web Summit in Lisbon, Portugal, which is regarded as Europe's largest tech conference and attracts global marketing and tech leaders, many wondered what Mr. Trump's election would mean for the ad or tech industry at large.

Meltdowns were literally on display front-and-center fairly quick, when founder of 500Startups Dave McClure cursed at least 14 times in animated fashion to thousands of people during his panel, "Is ego the biggest reason for failure?"

"I'm so f**** pissed right now," he said on the main stage. "I'm sad, I'm ashamed, I'm angry."

His remarks were squarely aimed at No. 1 stunner Mr. Trump, who shocked experts, pundits and the world after he handily defeated Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

CNN senior technology correspondent Laurie Segall, who was also on stage with Mr. McClure, asked what technology's role should be to increase civil engagement.

"Technology's role is we provide communication platforms to the rest of the f****** country," Mr. McClure replied. "And we're allowing s*** to happen -- just like the cable news networks, just like talk radio. It's a propaganda medium."

"Even if people aren't aware of the s*** they're being told, they're being told a story of fear, that they're being told a story of Other," he added. "If they're not understanding that people are using them to get to f****** office, then yes, a******* like Trump are going to take office. And it's our duty and our responsibility as entrepreneurs, as citizens of the f****** world to make sure s*** like that doesn't happen."

Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, who attended the Web Summit for the first time, told Ad Age he was drinking with friends at a bar called "Cheers" in Lisbon until 3 a.m. as the election played out.

"The thing about the Web Summit in particular is this is a conference where you have tens of thousands of globalists who are, generally speaking, optimistic about building platforms for the world to use," Mr. Ohanian said. "The entrepreneurs are going to drive a lot of the innovation to come and are very much in the driver's seat as far as their careers go."

"The audience is sensibly very much not thinking about or talking about a lot of the rhetoric we've heard Trump use," he added. "As an American, a lot of people have been asking me how this could affect Silicon Valley and tech. Hopefully it will be something that makes the country and industry stronger."

On the third day of the Democratic National Convention back in July, Mr. Trump participated in a Q&A through Reddit's popular "Ask Me Anything" format. The event, which was on "The Donald" subreddit, set all sorts of records for the company: Within the first hour, the AMA reached more than 1.2 million users, generated 50,000 votes and more than 22,000 comments were made.

Although users have created a subreddit for Ms. Clinton, it was far less popular than Mr. Trump's. At the same time, the engagement for former Democratic nominee Bernie Sanders saw similar engagement to that of Mr. Trump's. Mr. Ohanian said that all candidates ran ad campaigns on Reddit, adding that both Mr. Trump and Mr. Sanders saw the highest level of engagement from users -- not Ms. Clinton.

"Four years from now any candidate of any hope is going to be investing on the platform probably starting today," Mr. Ohanian said. "This is where their constituents are. This is the town square. This is where opinions are being formed. It has clearly defied a lot of experts and predictions."

Winston Binch, chief digital officer at Deutsch North America and who also attended the Web Summit, told Ad Age the Trump election showed that many were "out of touch with the real heartbeat of America."

"Brands talk to themseleves too much," Mr. Binch said. "That's not their true customer. They rely on focus groups to get to know them. This is wrong. It's contrived and the data is never right. We need to have greater empathy for our audience. We need to get out in the field and get a better understanding of their needs and wants."

Ad Age went out to the field at the Web Summit on the sprawling expo floor, and asked marketers and upstarts what a Trump victory means to them as well as the ad industry.

"I was excited in one respect because Trump is a business man and it would be really interesting to see what a business person with support of the Senate and House of Representatives can achieve," said Neil Hartley, head of operations of Portugal-based ad tech company Morphis. "I think he'll be good for business and therefore any aspect of business such as advertising can only be a good thing."

Canadian resident Jordan Grant, who works at ad tech company AP1, said he was at a viewing party at a bar in Lisbon during the election. "As a Trump supporter, I was a little shocked and looking at everyone's reactions, I think there was a lot of disappointment," Mr. Grant said. "I think Trump will bring jobs back to the U.S. and there's going to be less restrictions. It will actually provide more opportunity for Canadian businesses because of NAFTA. And for us, specifically dealing in the advertising world, that can only be a good thing."

Many others who attended the Web Summit were reluctant to share their thoughts regarding Trump's win on the record.

"I'd talk about it but half the people who use my app are Trump supporters," said one CEO who asked to remain anonymous. "And I don't want to piss any of them off."

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