re:build Conference 2014

I’m writing this at 36,000 feet on my way home from re:build conference in Indianapolis. I attend a fair few conferences but re:build is going to be a hard one to beat. I really did have the most lovely time.

Speaking at re:build

I was initially contacted by Tony, one of the two organisers for re:build asking if I would be willing to speak. I’ve had a bit of a break from travel as I prepared to run the London Marathon, so despite that it would mean I would need to fly to the USA a few days after running 26.2 miles I said yes. My talk subject was left to me, with advice that attendees tended to prefer bigger picture stuff rather than technical talks, and so I proposed a talk I had been wanting to put together in part based on the material in the book I published earlier this year.

There has been a lot of talk recently about how speakers are sometimes treated by conference organisers. I feel that we often are quick to point out poor examples but forget to talk about the people who are really doing it right. The re:build team are really doing things right. As examples:

  • They worked with me to find flights that would be most convenient.
  • The picked me up at the airport.
  • They organised a nice business hotel, with wifi.
  • They took the speakers to a dinner the night before – but were aware that being 5 hours ahead having come from the UK, I’d be tired and so took me back to the hotel early after dinner.
  • They organised a green room. It’s really nice as a speaker to have somewhere to go through slides and prepare to go on stage. If there is no green room I usually end up leaving the conference for a couple of hours before my talk just to get a bit of quiet to think.
  • They gave us contact details and encouraged us to contact them for any reason at all.
  • Tony even showed up at 3.45am to drive me to the airport to get my very early flight in order that I could make a connection in Dulles and fly daytime rather than overnight back to the UK.

None of these things are huge things, but the thoughtful way we were treated as speakers really meant that all I needed to do was prepare for my talk. I didn’t need to worry about anything else. One attendee noted on Twitter that all the of the speakers were there for the last talk, being part of the conference. I really did feel part of it, in a way that often I don’t. Having nothing to worry about in terms of logistics certainly makes just enjoying being part of a conference easier.

The conference

I was the penultimate speaker, I didn’t start the day especially nervous, however watching speaker after speaker get up and deliver a great talk nerves definitely started to kick in. I really enjoy hearing people’s stories, and most speakers had brought talks filled with experience and insight from their own careers. Mig Reyes talked about the importance of creating and delivering things quickly, spending less time on things. In the Q&A he touched on something that Julie Ann Hovarth also mentioned. That we should have our specialism, the thing we are really good at, but not be afraid to learn and experiment in other areas.

First time public speaker Benjamin Dauer delivered an entertaining and interesting talk on designing experiences for public radio. Then Julie Ann Hovarth delivered a hugely positive talk about how we relate to one another in our industry.

Lunch was provided by food vans, I had a lovely chilli with sweet potato from the Caveman Van, serving paleo food. Then after lunch I listened to Morgan Knutson talk about Invention before scooting off to the green room to prepare for my own talk. I unfortunately missed Sacha Greif speaking about Meteor but I find I need to have a bit of thinking time before I get on stage.

My presentation

This was a new talk for me. As I was explaining to someone at the after party, given the amount of time talks take to prepare I tend to build a talk around a theme and then adjust the content based on the audience and length of talk available. I also try – in non-technical talks and if I am speaking later in the schedule – to pull in any common themes from talks that other speakers have given. There are often common themes that develop and it’s nice to refer back to them if you can. Many of the thoughts in this presentation are based on the work for my book, The Profitable Side Project Handbook.

I love talking and writing about business, I think we have this amazing opportunity as people who can develop digital products or services. We can build products with no real outlay, other than time. We don’t have to find someone to manufacture prototypes, find a factory to build our things or ship things around the world. Yet despite this ability, all we seem to hear about is the companies who are getting huge amounts of investment or selling to Facebook for billions.

The fact that everything we read is skewed to these stories and not to regular businesses, people making a thing and selling it at a profit, it can muddy the waters for us bootstrappers. We have to be able to decide what advice is useful to us, and what should be left for the “money to burn” brigade. So I just talk about what has worked for us, and what I’ve seen working for others. Try to give practical tips and examples and show that building a business around products is possible and even fun!

I was really thrilled with the reception this talk got at re:build. I hope that I have encouraged a few more people to go out a build a product, or to double down on something they have been playing around with for a while.

Some links and resources and the slides for this talk are available here, I believe it was also videoed and I’ll link that up once it is available.

Wrapping up

The conference was brought to a close by Michael Lopp, better known as Rands in Repose. He is an entertaining speaker and an ideal conference closer. He talked about the different types of personalities that you find in development – the Stables and the Volatiles. How both types are needed in order that companies don’t grow stagnant, but also are not a chaotic mess! It made me consider how those of us running micro businesses, without big teams, develop. I find that Drew and I often end up singing from the same hymn sheet – despite being quite different personalities – due to the fact that we live and work together.

After the conference we all headed out to a bar above The City Market, serving great local beers. I didn’t ever really time shift out of BST however so by 10pm I was begging a lift back to my hotel to get to bed.

I hope re:build will be back for another year and can absolutely recommend that if you can get to Indianapolis you get a ticket.

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