A Behind-the-Scenes Look at How the RISE Conference Became THE Startup Event in Asia on its Inaugural Outing


Photo by Teigi Lee.

I first met Paddy Cosgrave a few months ago at a China Club dinner organised by Anson Bailey at KPMG and little did I know that was going to lead to the biggest startup conference in Asia.

Paddy is a full on legend already having turned a 400-person startup conference into what this year will be the 30,000 person Web Summit in Dublin, Ireland. This is what Dave McClure (also a guest at RISE) looked like on the stage of last year’s Web Summit in Dublin – if you can see him:


As many of you recall, we at StartupsHK put on the very first Startup Saturday conference back in 2010 where we expected 100 but got 500 people to come to Cyberport! So we were on similar trajectories as Paddy but he was going to take it just a little bit further.

We had a few short exchanges and I met some of his team that were here like the incredibly awesome Aoife Buckley and Teigi Lee on their way for a 13-day, 7-city promotional tour for RISE.


Me and Paddy at the China Club. Photo by Fred Saurat.

So everything was in motion already and ready to go, the fact that he later invited me to be co-host was just icing on the cake on having one of the biggest tech conferences in the world come to Hong Kong and not Singapore or Shanghai. I’d never been to Web Summit but had heard great things about it; that it was even better than landmark events like Techcrunch Disrupt in San Francisco.

I’ve been to tons of startup conferences all over the world; compared to what I’ve seen and what RISE turned out to be; it was going to be more than just a startup conference. It was a startup experience!

Talking to Paddy by email and Skype I got the feeling this wasn’t just a regular conference in the normal usage of the word, when he tossed words like “data scientist” and “algorithms” and “go pros on the ceiling to watch traffic flow to improve” and also hearing his first questions to people he just met at the show “what don’t you like?” This guy was treating the conference like a startup, reiterating stuff, using data to make it better and taking all suggestions into account.


Photos by Ruby Law.

Walking the show floor the night before Day 1, I tweeted this out during our site walkthrough after Converge and before the pub crawl

I noticed the center stage seating area was quite small from other startup conferences in Asia. So I mentioned this to Paddy and he told me that A) people in Europe rarely care about the content and B) it was to force people outside to network more. I loved that second answer because I do see 60% of content seats filled with people sleeping, working or checking Facebook on their iPhones. Why go to a conference if you’re not going to attack it from every corner possible!

But Paddy really was surprised at the demand for content and tweeted this:

Paddy was excited to see that people here had such a thirst for content. So expect a much larger stage(s) next year. But hopefully not too much bigger.


I personally loved the layout of the show floor and found it very good for startups to meet people – which is the main thing. I loved the focus on meetings for investors media and startups to meet, office hours had 300 meetings set up a day. The roundtable room was genius for closer conversations on important topics like the future of IoT and Fintech.

One of the magical things that you probably won’t notice and that I am very lucky to have come into contact with was the RISE production team:


40 of them flew in from Dublin and honestly these people are the magic you don’t see. Each of them a ninja at their jobs – from Rebecca Roche arranging the pub crawl to Jack Costigan arranging all the startups on the pitch stage to Mike Harvey helping the media hack the event itself. I’m 100% sure Paddy hired the best people he could find and got out of their way. Also a big shout out to Aoife Buckley who held both Paddy and myself together over the entire week and to the amazing Sinead Murphy who directed the event so well and so perfectly.


The speakers were great with a mix of East and West and though I didn’t get to see many of them I could tell they were popular by the number of people lining up to get into each of the 3 stages. I did like the open environment to the Builders Stage – it gave it an open mic feel and even if you walked by it quickly you would pick up cool phrases like “biohacking your body” and “building elasticsearch.” I moderated a Marketing panel with 3 hip, young entrepreneurs which was 15 minutes long and I think I was able to pull 5 minutes of good content out of each of them to a packed room. Some people said they liked the short format some said they would’ve liked it longer – I think its about getting conversations started and there should have been follow-up rooms set aside after each panel for those who want to discuss more with the panelists.


The biggest complaint I heard most often was that the HKCEC food choices sucked! It’s only a 10 minute walk to the choices at Brim 28 but we hadn’t conveyed that clearly to attendees. Luckily SoftLayer sponsored a lunch at the Grand Hyatt on Day 1 – next year we call Gormei and Foodpanda to get food set-ups! How cool would it be if we had food trucks lined up on 1 Expo Road?

We were very lucky that the men behind InvestHK were able to get the Hong Kong Secretary of Commerce and Economic Development Greg So to do a walkthrough and watch Paddy and I close Day 1. This photo of him watching Paddy and Anson Bailey from KPMG arguing about something needs to be captioned by you in the comments below.


But the main things to take away from RISE from a behind-the-scenes look is that anything and everything can and should be hacked. If you see something that is always done a certain way but doesn’t necessarily work; you should hack it. If you see something that can be done better: you should go and do that. If you don’t know how to do something yourself try and find the best person to do that job and get out of their way.

This was as much an eye-opener for me as it was for everyone who attended. This was more than just a “startup conference” it truly was engineered synchronicity.

See you next year at RISE 2016 in Hong Kong. Maybe you can help put it together!


A ton more photos we’ve posted to our Facebook page and at the RISE official Flickr.

© StartupsHK. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit AND link of actual article is given to StartupsHK with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


  1. Great job guys! Looking forward to next year.