Tech Dispatchs from Davos: How to Get the Elusive Invite

By Matthew Prince , written on January 24, 2012

From The News Desk

So I'm sitting on a plane somewhere 30,000 feet over the Atlantic en route to Davos, Switzerland, the setting of the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum.

Attendees will include Bill Gates, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, German Prime Minister Angela Merkel, US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Internet Architect Tim Berners-Lee, and, you know, little ol' me. It reminds me of the old Sesame Street segment: Which of these things is not like the other?

So who am I? I'm the co-founder and CEO of CloudFlare, a San Francisco-based startup. We make the Internet faster and protect websites from bad guys. We launched a couple years ago and have grown pretty fast but, sitting here on the plane, I'm reflecting on the surreal path that got me invited to this crazy event. Sarah Lacy asked me to write "Tech Dispatches from Davos" for Pando Daily and it seemed only fitting that the first be my take on a "how to" guide on getting invited to Davos.


The standard way to get into Davos is to be the head of one of the world's biggest companies (think Nestlé, Unilever, General Electric, Exxon, and the like) and then pay a substantial conference fee (I'm told it's over $100,000 per person for an invitation to the 1-week event). Reading over the list of attendees, it is striking how many wealthy people there are in the world and what a high percentage of them run companies that suck squished up dinosaurs out of the ground.

Another traditional route is to be a significant government official. If you're the head of state of you're one of the top 50 economies in the world, or if you set monetary policy for one the United States, Europe, or China, then you'll likely to receive an invitation. After that, so far as I can tell, seems it depends how much your nation state has been in the news recently.

There are a handful of other traditional routes. If you're a business journalist with significant readership, you can get invited for a couple of years. If you run a significant non-governmental organization then you're likely on the list. You can also get invited if you're an academic, especially one that covers macro economic issues and teaches at an Ivy League school. Harvard, for example, has 21 faculty members in attendance, which appears to be more than any other university.


Of course, none of that applies to me, or probably you either. If you're reading Pando Daily, you're probably building a startup or working at a technology company. For the rest us, here are the three potential routes to Davos.

The first is the one that got me invited. Every year, the World Economic Forum selects approximately 25 "Technology Pioneers." These are startup companies that are doing something to "improve the state of the world." The process starts with a nomination. In our case, one of our investors nominated us. We made the first cut and were asked to submit answers about how CloudFlare was a pioneer in the areas of leadership, growth and sustainability, innovation, and potential impact for both business and society.

Their questions reveal what they're looking for: Startups that can stake a credible claim to making a big impact. So, if you're building a startup, think about how you're providing something that used to be expensive and complicated and making it cheap and easy. How you're causing fewer trees to be cut down, or fewer greenhouse emissions. How, even if you're yet another photo sharing app, some of your customers span the globe and are using you to tell important stories and bring people together.

Look at some of the other startups that have been selected in the last couple years -- Scribd, Dropbox, Kickstarter, OpenDNS -- and you can quickly imagine their answers to the questions. A bit cheeseball? Sure. But you have to tell the story about how you're going to change the world before you can. And, to their credit, the World Economic Forum has been pretty good at picking some of the long-term, big-impact companies as Technology Pioneers over the program's history: PayPal, Google, Twitter, and Mozilla.


Even if you're not starting the next Google, you can still get yourself invited. Two programs exist depending on your age. If you're a 20-something, you can be a "Global Shaper." If you're a 30-something, you can be a "Young Global Leader." In both cases, the World Economic Forum claims to be looking for interesting individuals who are working to change the world.

The Global Shapers program is the newer of the two. Less than a year old, this first year's group includes academic researchers, some startup founders, and even the occasional venture capital associate. The first step is to get yourself nominated. After that, pitch yourself as a talented 20-something that is making a difference in the world.

The Young Global Leaders program has been around longer and seems more challenging to qualify for. Current Young Global Leaders include: Google's Marissa Mayer, Wikipedia's Jimmy Wales, and the Crown Prince and Princess of Norway. While that is a pretty intimidating list, the complete list is long and isn't exclusively populated by royalty of one form or another. If you're doing interesting things to make the world a better place and in your thirties, get someone to nominate you and see what happens.


Overall, the goal of including Technology Pioneers, Global Shapers, and Young Global leaders appears to be an effort by the World Economic Forum to broaden the perspectives included at the meeting.

Surprisingly, I know several other attendees all who have a varied background. My former classmates Alex Taussig, a venture capitalist at Highland Capital, and Demet Mutlu, founder of, will be at the conference as Global Shapers. Rye Barcott, a friend, former marine, and author of "It Happened On the Way to War," is a Young Global Leader. Several friends and acquantances that are also running startups from San Francisco will be sloshing through the Davos snow.

As my flight descends on to the Swiss Alps, I am looking forward to the week ahead and sending back more dispatches from Davos.

(Photo courtesy of the World Economic Forum.)