Why You Should Go To LAUNCH SF, Feb 2014

LAUNCH_CONFERENCE_LOGOI’m fortunate to live behind the Redwood curtain in one of the most amazing yet untraveled regions on the planet. However due to a relatively low population and poor bandwidth, there isn’t much in the means of “tech” businesses here. I’m not blessed with water cooler talks at the office with colleagues, and at most I travel to a conference or client a few times a year. In order to stay conversant in my field, I read blogs, follow influencers and listen to podcasts here and there, one of my favorite being This Week In Startups. The interviews and round table conversations make me feel like I’m actually sitting next to others in cubicles talking shop. It was on this particular show I heard about the LAUNCH conference festival, which I attended last year in San Francisco.  It’s happening again next week (Feb 24 – 26th) and the Concourse Exhibition Center in San Francisco, and you should go.

The festival (and This Week in Startups) were created by entrepreneur and angel investor Jason Calacanis. LAUNCH is actually a spin off event derived from the original Tech Crunch 50, which ran from 2007 – 2009. The first time I’d heard of Jason was when I attended his keynote at Affiliate Summit back in 2008. While some in the audience appeared to be turned off by the content and his approach, it was one of the better keynotes I’ve seen. The five year old video is still up on YouTube and the main points of his messages are just as relevant today. For a more up to date profile, Jason had a recent interview published over at Pando Daily, which goes into some of his recent endeavors like Inside.com.

Financial bootstraping meets festival accommodations.

Financial bootstraping meets festival accommodations.

As an early subscriber to the LAUNCH ticker, last year I received a note about applying for a free builders/founders pass in advance of the festival. It happened to be at a time I already planned on being in SF for work, family and pleasure, so it was an easy fit into my travel schedule. In the end it morphed into an epic three week adventure in my van along with my surfboard, skateboard, snowboard and mountain bike. The first leg of my extended excursion started at the LAUNCH Festival.

In financial bootstraping meets festival accommodations, I parked my trusty VW Westfalia camper van in a paid parking lot across the street from the event, more or less living out of it for three days. I did my best not to let the parking attendants know, which meant lots of time at the conference and then coffee shops at night. I also befriended a gas station attendant so I could use their restroom at odd hours. Anyhow, onto the festival.

The Demo Pit & Exhibitor Floors At LAUNCH 2013

The Demo Pit & Exhibitors- LAUNCH 2013

Many of us have been to some business conference or another where attendees are there “because my company required me to” or “to party then sleep till noon”. LAUNCH was the exact opposite. Everyone I talked with was enthusiastic and passionate with what they were working on. You know that that mid day conference lunch, where you eat at a big round table with other folks you’ve never met. Everyone might introduce themselves, explain what they do, why the came, etc. The two lunches I attended at LAUNCH were the most interesting and engaging conference lunch tables I’d ever been to. Each day, eight strangers eating together, every one of us amped on what we were doing and why we were there. Each of us had a unique and cool story, everyone listened.

It also wasn’t an event loaded with competitors, which I think opened the communication lines a bit more. As an example, look at the exhibitor and attendee profiles of search marketing and affiliate conferences. There will be the solutions providers(networks, platforms, SaaS, etc), the merchants(entity selling B2B or B2C product), the advertisers (affiliates, publishers, etc) and the agencies(marketing know how).  In some way, 25% or more of the attendees could be closely, or loosely, your competitors.  At LAUNCH, everyone seemed to get along just as friends, no pushy sales guys or cheesy booth babes.

A short list of startups that appeared or debuted at LAUNCH (and TC50) over the years include DropBox, Yammer, Red Beacon, oDesk, Boxbee, Adstage, Boosted Boards and dozens of others. If you’re interested in learning more, check out the exhibitor list for this years demo pit or the full festival agenda.

LAUNCH Festival Main Stage - 2013

LAUNCH Festival Main Stage – 2013

This years speakers and judges list include the likes of Mark Cuban & Paul Graham, along with a cornucopia of founders, VCs, and Fortune 500 executives. The main stage last time around was something along the lines of Shark Tank, but way cooler. I saw winners win, I saw loosers lose, and the panels of judges let them know in every way. I actually wish I had the time to sit through more of the live presentations, as they were quite entertaining.  There’s also the Hackaton which takes places a few days prior, here’s a cool video of last years five finalists.

While most of what I’m personally working on in terms of a “start up” is still just an idea, I’m going to LAUNCH 2014 for the atmosphere, to soak up some positive energy and mingle with like minded entrepreneurs. Last year I helped out as a volunteer, and I may so do again.  Hit them up over here if you’re interested volunteering.

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