I've just returned from the #Southland
conference in Nashville. I feel the trip was valuable overall, however most of the value was because of personal introduction, not the conference. I would have been introduced to these people the next time I was in Nashville regardless, this just happened to be that next time. This event is not yet worth the cost of the $1,500 tickets for me.
They decided to spend a lot of time focusing on entertainment and "having a good time" drinking and dancing rather than making the event educational and encouraging interaction and networking. I really don’t care if there is a live concert at the end of each night. I’m already in Nashville for the event and there are live shows every night of the week for the people that want to see them. Beyond that, the host sipped whiskey as she interviewed each person, starting before 9am. This quickly turned the focus of her comments to how often she could use profanity rather than an informative interview. I’m overstating that, she did keep the discussion focused most of the time and was professional about it. The whiskey didn’t help keep things on schedule though. I’ll admit she did a great job with unexpected last minute changes. There were no-shows like David Marcus who took a new job at Facebook, leaving his role as President of PayPal the night before the event. I think they did the best they could with that and Bill Ready was interesting to hear talk about Braintree. I do wish a lot more things had been explored in that interview about his experience starting a company, selling them and much more. Instead it was mostly focused on if he was going to be the next President of PayPal, something we’re going to learn eventually anyway.
The event was planned and organized well enough but lacked execution. There were lots of issues with staying on schedule and communication. The start time was delayed 30 minutes or more every morning and to compound that each segment went over time to push back the next already late segment. I'm not personally great at time management, but I'm usually only wasting my own time, not everyone else’s. I got the impression the already successful people responsible for planning this were more interested in throwing a great party for themselves rather than making it a purpose driven conference. That’s great for anyone that already achieved great success, but make it clear when you promote it. The list of guests was outstanding. They have the pull to get big names and that fills the seats, but it was hit and miss on the content. I didn't particularly like the interview format as the main focus, it was the 'salons' that were most useful to me. For salons they had different speakers in smaller groups talking about focused topics. This allowed the audience to ask questions and get feedback. If they had taken the time to announce these, make it clear where each speaker was going to be and at what time (with the off track schedule) that would have been even better. They started a couple hours late, while people were still eating lunch so it was easy to miss a few like I did. None of the locations were marked with any signage to designate which location was for which topic so more time is wasted finding the right one. In the end I only got to attend one of these, it lasted only 15 minutes because they were running so late and even the previous salon had gone over time. Even then I got more from that than I did most of the interviews.
The best interview was Aaron Levie, CEO of Box, who was not just entertaining but also very informative. I also thought Tristan Walker of Walker & Co. was good, just not as much detail as I would have liked. The biggest disappointment was Phil Libin, CEO of Evernote, and not because of what he talked about but because he was asking the questions rather than answering them. They decided to “mix it up” for his interview and that was a massive let down. I could have scheduled my afternoon meeting to start 30 minutes earlier if I knew this in advance. I really wanted to hear from him and didn't.
I will probably give this another try next year if the timing works with my schedule, the ticket price is cut by $1,000 and they change the format. I do think it has a lot of potential and this was only the second year, but I’ve attended other conferences that were in their first or second year and while they weren’t as much “fun” I got a lot more out of them.