I was lucky enough to score a free Builder pass to LAUNCH Festival 2015, which took place earlier this week at the Fort Mason Center. As a fan of startups, attending a tech conference in the Bay Area has been on my bucket list for quite some time. It also coincided with a trip I was planning on taking to San Francisco to visit a friend, so going was a no-brainer.
While I was only able to attend for the first day, I still got to immerse myself in startup pitches, demos, exhibits, and speakers. Here are some of my highlights.
LAUNCH Festival 2015 Highlights
The energy in the room
Nowadays, many conferences are live streamed, but there’s something about being at live event that just feels special. At LAUNCH I was surrounded by tons of other people also bit by the startup bug and at various stages in the startup life cycle (the single founder, the MVP, the just-launched company). You could feel the excitement and energy as founders unveil their ideas for the first time. When a VC was on stage, everyone looked for clues as to what they could do better, while also imagining themselves as the next Twitter. Being at a live event definitely inspires you, which is important because it reminds you that you are not the only one choosing to undertake a risky venture.
The impromptu networking
My experience actually started before the conference when I was paired up with a fellow conference goer in my Uber ride. I met Payam from Bellhop, an app that serves as your hotel’s concierge service. He had signed up some hotels in Indonesia and flown in from New York for the conference – whoa. We discussed the challenges of hiring developers while competing with the big tech companies (Google, Apple).
You know you’re at a tech conference when you see food trucks lined up at the entrance. When you think about it, startups and food trucks are a perfect marriage. Both are testing the waters with their niche ideas. I took advantage of Fritas Shack, the breakfast pop-up serving San Diego style breakfast burrito. It was excellent.
— Ashley Mo (@ashleylmo) March 2, 2015
I managed to catch some interesting talks with Yancey Strickler (Kickstarter co-founder), Chris Sacca (Lowercase Capital), and Tony Hawk (yes, the pro skateboarder).
Speakers at a tech conference are not necessarily the inspirational type but it’s cool to hear about their experiences and learn how they think and how they got to be successful. Sacca believed in Twitter’s addictiveness so much that he bought up as much stock as he could find, digging himself in deeper until, well, it eventually paid off.
I also enjoyed the spontaneity of the fireside chats, like what happened here:
— Ashley Mo (@ashleylmo) March 2, 2015
The live demos
Live virtual reality, live video chat with an expert – there’s nothing like demoing your new product in front of 1100 people for the first time to make you sweat. I love watching startups pitch because there’s a certain thrill in having been in their shoes and not knowing what to expect. It takes a certain art to pull off a great demo, especially when your screen suddenly stops working.
The female founders
I was pretty psyched to see some diversity (including a startup from Finland) in the demo pit. Rush Tix, a monthly all-in-one entertainment pass, made me wish I lived in San Francisco so I could try it out. A married couple with kids started Red Tricycle, which helps parents find things to do with their kids and has already launched in multiple cities.
The startup swag
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy getting free stuff. To some degree, it also forces you to get out of your comfort zone and talk to companies, learn about what they are doing, and challenge them with questions. Walking out with a free shirt or candy is just a bonus.
I also stopped by two of the after-parties, which both had free drinks and a swanky setup. Who doesn’t love a launch party?
I only got to attend LAUNCH Festival 2015 for one day, but I was still inspired and energized from meeting so many other people. Here’s to the next tech event that I get to attend!
Have you attended LAUNCH or a similar tech conference? What was your experience like?