The ABCs of the big new tech conference: Collision

Did Collision Conference Just Come of Age in New Orleans?

A haptic mix of Venture Capital and hot startups collides with the music and party atmosphere of New Orleans. Can this unique conference help breath life back into an Iconic American city and make a name for itself in the process? Read on to learn the ABCs of Collision.

It rained. It was sunny. There was thunder and lighting. It was hot. It was a pleasant 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Sometimes all on the same day. New Orleans April weather keeps you on your toes. As Robert Scoble found out on Wednesday night as he rushed into Trinity on Jackson Ave to escape the downpour. There he was scrambling to get into the dry his red soaked shirt as if he was in a 1990s Southern Comfort Commercial.

“Collision (and Web Summit) are still my favorite conferences even though I've now been to many spectacular events around the world” – Robert Scoble

For an Ex-Pat Brit’s first time in “NOLA” this was quintessential “you’ve seen the movie, now visit the set”.

Collision conference is a collision of investment and startups. It is why we recommended it as one of our top conferences for Entrepreneurs in 2017. Throw in a few comedians, some marketing pros and music magnates and you have a recipe for the ABCs of Collision.

Wyclef Jean and Jason Flom

Wyclef Jean and Jason Flom

  • A is for Augmented everything
  • B is for Building. Building business, building technology, building relationships
  • C is for Content overload

A is for Augmented everything

If there was one key technology theme that just kept cropping up it was that of Augmentation. Augmented reality, the augmented scientific vision that Bifrost Corporation is creating to photograph the aurora borealis), augmented of intelligence by AI. Augmentation was everywhere.

There is something very new and different about the concept of augmentation – beyond the traditional improvements of technology. Many questions abound: how will wearables augment our experience of movement when we augment our bodies with them? What will the experience of social media be like when it moves out of the phone and into an overlay on the real world?

Paddy Cosgrave is augmenting the tech conference industry

Augmentation at Collision didn’t stop with technology We even saw our experience being augmenting with the culture surrounding the event. Dive bars that are open 24x7, 365 and only close for 6 hours a year (such as the Three Legged Dog, and it’s super friendly staff)). To crayfish boils where you’d least expect them (on top of a pool table). Street performers using fire or locals simply jamming out on pots and pans making some of the most awesome beats you’ve ever heard on the streets.

Paddy Cosgrave is augmenting the tech conference industry by creating something unique and enjoyable. It all seems to be happening, apparently, by happy accident and that is what Collision is achieving in New Orleans.

B is for Building. Building business, building technology, building relationships

If there is such a thing as “conference in the round” it is Collision. The sessions are around the outside and in the center, are the booths. Some startups will be there each day. Some for two and others for just one. There was much cool tech surfacing and it was refreshing to interact with so many founders. The majority had their technology message down, some had good stories and only a few did not impress. By-in-large it was diverse and included a number of socially conscious ventures such as Jozu for Women. An engaging view of the next wave of innovation and disruption.

“Collision gave us the opportunity to connect with brilliant entrepreneurs, founders, and investors against the backdrop of one of America’s coolest cities.” Said Mario Ciabarra, CEO of groundbreaking, machine learning powered, customer experience improving, Quantum Metric.

The more conversations you have the more new friends, investors or partners you make. The cauldron of ideas and money results in a highly-motivated crowd. Even those on the shy end were empowered to interact.

The relationships got deeper and the ideas more creative as the crowds shifted from the conference center to the French quarter where pub crawls, marching bands and crawfish boils created an atmosphere thick with fun, and opportunity.

Collision was in Las Vegas for two years prior to 2017 and after Robert Scobel’s impassioned appeal to Paddy Cosgrave the decision was made to return to NOLA in 2018.

New Orleans has been through the ringer in recent years, the devastation from Katrina may not be as obvious as it once was but the scars run deep. In certain places, buildings still look like it happened yesterday. The city is trying to bounce back. There is a historical backdrop, and unique cuisine set against the backdrop of the world’s biggest jazz festival that bookends the conference. By choosing New Orleans Collision makes a bold statement that building things goes beyond bank accounts, buyouts, and IPOs. Even if the NASDAQ closing bell was run from the center stage on Wednesday.

It is also about building a heart and a soul, the culture of what this conference is poised to become. It also went that way for the many startups forging their culture in this city during the event. A city which is by very definition a crucible of culture across centuries of American, French and Spanish influences.

C is for Content overload

“Not enough content in the world for me!” says no one ever nowadays. Collision embraces content overload, runs with it and makes it literally impossible to stay “on track”.

On the plus side, the sessions are very informal and natural.

For many events, there is a nice, well laid out track listing. Sessions are often 45 to 60 minutes long with time to move from location to location. Sometimes sessions will be repeated so you do not have to miss one for another. Collision does have “separate tracks”, to a degree, with the Music, Panda or Startup University stages having distinct content themes.

What you are not given is enough time. Time to catch a breath. Time to move from stage to stage. Time to get into a subject. Most “presentations” are 20 minutes long. Most were more fire-side-chats than formal presentations. Done, done, onto the next one.

On the plus side, the sessions are very informal and natural. Very few PowerPoint slides, lots of authentic stories and a natural feeling.

On the downside, you will spend the first half of day one wondering what on earth is going on. You will have marked off sessions you hope to attend, and realize many conflicts. You will try to make it from one session to another only to miss the beginning of the one you are going to. Passing by dozens of startup booths you will likely get waylaid. In some cases, you will get so tired from dashing around that you’ll end up staying and listening to yet another session on what we need to do to understand Millennials. Even though you swore you will never sit through one again.

You will try to keep up with the content. And you will fail. There is simply too much. It is good, organic and interesting content with genuinely noteworthy people and you will realize that you need to simply go with the flow.

By 9 am of day two, you are in a whole new headspace. You know you cannot consume it all. Embrace that and you will embrace Collision at its core. Go collide with someone.

In closing

For someone that was skeptical of the organization of the event on day one I was a convert before I knew it and a raving fan by the time I headed up through the bayou on a road trip to Baton Rouge.

The event isn’t perfect but it’s got something. Something special and by sowing that seed in New Orleans I have a feeling this might just become a phenomenon.

See you in 2018 for Collision and New Orleans’s 300’s birthday.