A day in the life of a Web Summit startup: Kahana

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Matthew Taylor
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More than 1,500 startups from around the world will attend Web Summit Rio. So what is the experience like for startups at our events?

Ahead of the first Web Summit Qatar, we asked Kahana founder and CEO Felix Ochefu to write a diary about what it’s like to be a first-time startup attendee at a Web Summit event. 

Kahana is a travel coordination app that allows groups to plan and book trips together seamlessly. It connects travelers through a single API, bringing together more than 300 airlines and one million accommodation options.

Users can search for flights and hotels, build itineraries using AI and communicate with their group all in one place, allowing for an integrated collaborative experience. Kahana’s goal is to eliminate fragmentation for group travelers by providing an end-to-end AI-powered solution. 

As a first-time attendee and as part of the ALPHA startups program, Felix wanted to connect with other founders and show off Kahana’s tech, as well as find parties interested in an initial US$1 million pre-seed investment round.

Here is the founder’s breakdown of the Web Summit experience: 

Day 1

Day 1 was our exhibition day, so I got to the venue at around 8.20am. I had worked with my team the night before to push a new version of our app in time for kick-off, so I didn’t get much sleep. But once I got to my stand, I felt an overwhelming sense of pride and excitement seeing our name and logo hung up. It cleared the tiredness right up!

I spoke with other founders exhibiting near us, and I was very impressed by the caliber of entrepreneurs and the diversity of companies. Investors were spoiled for choice. 

Once the doors opened, people trickled in slowly for the first couple of hours, and then the flow really picked up from around 1pm. My team and I had agreed that the best use of this opportunity was in two ways: to showcase our technology and to meet with investors to discuss our US$1 million pre-seed funding round.

Firstly, we showcased our AI-powered group travel technology, the Kahana app – an all-in-one group travel solution we’ve been testing with our community members for the last couple of months. 

We’ve also been experimenting with AI-powered chatbots since late December 2023 ahead of attending a destination wedding in Nigeria. We rapidly built and launched a prototype for the guests to see if it would help make their planning easier. 

For both products, the feedback we received blew us away, and we got dozens of investment interest and partnership inquiries by the end of the day, which I hoped we would.

Secondly, we’ve been working on an angel round since Q3 last year as part of a wider US$1 million pre-seed round we’re launching very soon. So we’re very much in fundraising mode, and I was excited to meet and talk to interested venture capital and angel investors attending Web Summit, especially Qatari and other Middle East-based investors, as they are serious about leading the world when it comes to creating the future of travel and tourism.

As an ALPHA startup, I believe the best ways to attract great investors is to craft a truly innovative product, demonstrate a deep understanding of your customer’s challenges, and show serious focus and commitment to solving those problems for your customers. 

We definitely demonstrated those three elements strongly, and the investors who met with us and checked out our tech were clear about this, as they requested to connect and chat more. We have loads of follow-ups to do now!

I also met Mikel John Obi, which was pretty cool. Hopefully, I can bring him on as an angel investor, haha!

After a short nap at the hotel (exhibiting is exhausting), I ended the day with some networking and a seafood dinner at Old Doha Port, a location so stunningly beautiful it almost felt like I was walking around in a work of art.

Day 2

On Day 2, my focus was to follow up on conversations from our exhibit, explore partnership discussions with select companies and attend some talks. 

I kicked off the day with a key meeting with two investors from a US-based fund that I had been matched with. The conversations went very well and set the tone for the rest of the day. I then explored some of the other startups and met really cool founders. 

I attended really insightful talks by Mikel John Obi, Bacary Sagna, Soheil Var and Patrice Evra. Afterwards, I spent time at the Qatar Airways stand – in my opinion, the most innovative airline in the world.

I got to explore two really amazing pieces of new tech: an e-bag tag that allows you to check in your bags at home before you travel and a virtual reality tour of Qsuite, where I ate steak in VR for the first time (and probably not the last).

The investment and partnership conversations were very productive and definitely an achievement. I can’t share too much here, but H1 is going to be very exciting for Kahana as we continue to build on our traction.

My last stop of the day was at B12 Beach Club for the final night of Night Summit, and all I can say is, if you weren’t there, you missed out – Web Summit put on a show!

A bunch of us attendees danced away on the beach completely unaware that we were about to witness a mindblowing firework display and drone show. What a way to end the night!

Day 3

The main goal for the third and final day was to deliver a strong pitch for the Startup Showcase. The pitch had to be done without a presentation deck, which I hadn’t done in a while, so I had to factor that in.

My pitch was at 4pm, so I used the earlier parts of the day to tie up some last conversations and structure follow-ups, and spent some quiet time to mentally prepare for the two-minute pitch.

Delivering a solid pitch was the main achievement for Day 3. I’ve been lucky to have worked with some strong public speakers throughout my career who have shared effective tools to manage fatigue, nerves and anxiety before a presentation, so I leaned on those to ensure I covered my bases.

I had a few people kindly approach me afterwards to say they really enjoyed my pitch, so I’m happy with the result.

After some quick lunch, while meeting a couple of really smart founders at the Startup Lounge, I was made aware of an opportunity from the Qatar Financial Centre, which had launched a Web Summit-only opportunity for startups to set up a company in Qatar.

I found this intriguing, so I went to get some more information and was shocked at how many companies were signing up on the spot. It just showed how serious the Qatari government is about working with the best founders in the world, and how excited founders are about being part of Qatar’s technology ecosystem.

Overall takeaways

We hit all of our goals, and I’m extremely happy and proud of my team for the hard work we put in to make our attendance a success.

We connected with founders building companies in Nigeria, Tunisia, UAE, Germany, Namibia, France and the USA, to name a few, and with operators and world-class investors from global funds, which is always great.

I have a ton of follow-ups to execute, so that’ll keep me busy for a while, but I will also take time to reflect deeply on my experience in the Middle East for the first time and dive deeper into the lessons learned from this trip to understand how it can impact our business as we scale. 

I will be sharing a whole lot of content about Doha, and encouraging my friends, family and professional network to visit!

My biggest learning from exhibiting as an ALPHA startup at Web Summit is that the work we’re doing at Kahana isn’t just unique and cutting-edge, but it’s also valuable to real people.

Our mission is to scale humanity’s empathy with travel technology, and experiencing how travelers reacted so positively to our tech in a market we haven’t been immediately targeting – but are very excited about – is amazing. We can’t wait to build on the momentum from Web Summit Qatar.

My advice to other founders is this: 

  • Don’t be too transactional, get to know people on a deeper level. The real value exists at the points of shared experiences.
  • Manage your expectations.
  • Listen more and talk less.
  • If you’re more introverted, find quiet spaces where you can decompress your mind.
  • If you’re exhibiting, try and bring at least one other team member with you. You can achieve more at the actual event, but also being able to share the awe and wonder of a new city with your teammates is great for team bonding.
  • Use the platform to market your brand. A single Web Summit is enough content to fill out months of your content calendar.
  • Remember, it’s all about people.

You can find out more about Kahana on its website. Check out our startups page for more information on Web Summit Rio’s startups program.  

Main image of Kahana’s Felix Ochefu at Web Summit Qatar 2024: Ramsey Cardy/Web Summit (CC BY 2.0)

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