Startup Success: Web Summit’s role in the founding of Verble

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In our series exploring successful startup stories at our events, we sat down with Verble.app co-founders Victor Straatman and Devin van der Berg.

Founded in 2023, Verble is an AI speechwriting assistant designed to help people with professional business pitches and public speaking. Interestingly, Verble was born out of a serendipitous meeting at our Lisbon event in 2022.

Web Summit is all about making connections. But it’s almost impossible to predict how each meeting will develop. For Victor and Devin, it was simply a case of being in the right place at the right time.

One is an entrepreneur and investor; the other is a three-time Dutch national debating champion. Combined, they are Verble, and this is their story.

So, how did you come to start Verble?

Devin: Well, it’s a Web Summit story. We were on our way back from the event, and we happened to sit next to each other on the plane. We had never met before, but we were both wearing the Web Summit accreditation bracelets. So at one point Victor, who was in a very social mood still, in ‘networking mode’…

Victor: I was still in Web Summit networking mode. I was totally exhausted, by the way, because of the whole week in Lisbon with all the side events going on and Night Summit etc. So I was actually sleep-deprived, but still wanted to, you know, shake hands with my neighbour on the plane.

Devin: And then one of the things that Vic said is that he really liked all of the speeches and pitches, but that it would also make him quite anxious if he had to prepare something like that.

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The Verble app in use. Image: Verble.app

Victor: In my experience – throughout my career – pitching for investors, but also commercially pitching or presenting has always been a thing surrounded with anxiety for me, right? The whole preparation process has always been a bit of a hurdle for me.

I was also at Web Summit with a few entrepreneurs who needed to pitch, so it was on my mind. And then, because Web Summit had so much content about AI, I thought: ‘How cool would it be if you could just chat with an AI and then get support that helps you structure your thinking and prepare you for a presentation or pitch?’.

Devin: That was actually before Victor knew he was sitting next to a professional public speaking coach: me. And then we started talking about it. So as a public speaking coach, I thought: ‘That sounds awesome’. If we can digitalise the practices that I’m doing, then it sounds like a great combination.

So we were very hyped up about this idea on the plane, but also wanted to find out if it was just because we were sleep-deprived – or whether we actually liked the idea. So we let it rest for a while, but the enthusiasm didn’t go away at all.

Then we just continued with it. We found two more co-founders, Thibault Gloaguen and Ronald Hagenstein, and then we started building. So that’s how it all started.

And this all happened at your first Web Summit?

Devin: For me, last year was the first year.

Victor: For me, too. I found out about it because some of my entrepreneur friends went before and they really enjoyed it. So it was like: ‘OK, we’re going on a bit of a trip together as friends’ – basically combining work and pleasure. And of course, getting to explore Lisbon for a week.

So, you both attended just with general attendee tickets. Did you go with any particular plan in mind, or were you just open to possibilities? Did you know you would come out of it with a company?

Devin: I just went there because it was a great work-related excuse to have a fun week with like-minded entrepreneurs, and I was there with some friends too. It was just about learning whatever you can learn. And I liked all the speakers that were around. So I was going into it without any plans or expectations and just seeing what would happen.

“There’s a lot of inspiration at Web Summit”

– Victor Straatman, co-founder of Verble.app

Victor: There’s a lot of inspiration at Web Summit. So I was thinking a little bit: ‘What am I going to build?’. I was looking for opportunities and a little inspiration. I’m quite connected to all the tech developments. So from a content perspective, I was looking for what’s new.

Did you expect to make a connection that would help you down the road?

Victor: You make so many serendipitous connections. I think that’s the value for me. Although it’s a very big conference, right? It’s massive, in terms of attendees. But still, you sit somewhere, you speak to somebody who’s very interesting and doing something that makes you think: ‘Oh, wow!’.

There are so many connections that you make outside – sitting at the tables as well as in the conference itself – which basically feeds into this whole idea of people inspiring each other, and then the things that can happen out of that.

“It’s just very easy to start a conversation and meet a lot of people. I would call it ‘organised serendipity’”

– Devin van der Berg, co-founder of Verble.app

Devin: I would also say that one of the things I like is that Web Summit brings a very diverse group of like-minded people together, and what this creates is plenty of opportunities for you to meet someone new.

It doesn’t even have to be during the formal events. But just the fact that when you’re waiting for your cab, you see someone wearing their accreditation bracelet and you start talking, or whatever. It’s just very easy to start a conversation and meet a lot of people. I would call it ‘organised serendipity’.

And obviously you connected with one another. Did you make any other important connections while you were there?

Devin: Not directly, at least not for Verble. But this year we can go back and reconnect – and we sort of know the crowd. That’s a big thing for us.

We have more than 10,000 users now. It’s not a direct connection, but it’s more like we’re part of a community now.

What are your plans here at Web Summit this year?

Devin: I really hope that not only can we show off our pitching abilities, but we can help as many people as possible at Web Summit.

If there is anything we can do to help others tell their stories. Because at the end of the day, that is what Verble is about – creating a platform for others to share their message is one of our goals.

Finally, what advice do you have for people here at the event?

Victor: That the opportunity is there, but it’s only there if you’re open; looking around; checking what’s there. Go with the flow.

Devin: I fully agree. I think if you go in just thinking about what you want to get out of it, or what you want to get out of someone, you might not be successful. People want to leave with more energy than they came in with, so it should be your focus to add to that in any way you can.

Main image of Verble.app co-founders, from left to right, Thibault Gloaguen, Victor Straatman, Devin van der Berg and Ronald Hagenstein: Verble.app

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