While we’re not ready to share every surprise we’ve got in store quite yet – we thought we’d get some intel from Startupfest’s Content Chair, Alistair Croll, regarding what we look for in our speakers, his bets on the biggest themes in the startup community right now, and the magic of a festival where serendipity in a food truck line could lead to your next co-founder.
What do you look for in a Startupfest speaker and in crafting a session?
When we put together the program, we try to find people who can strike a balance between technical depth, long-term vision, and fun. It’s a festival, so it can’t be too serious; but it’s also precious time out of a founder’s summer, so there have to be concrete takeaways they can put to work when they get back to their desks. The best sessions either teach you how to do something right now, or paint a compelling vision of what tomorrow will be like—that’s why we have the “How To” and “Future of” breakout tracks.
What do you hope the takeaway will be for this year’s audience based on what you’re seeing so far?
I think attendees will leave with more of a “full stack” mentality than in past years. We have speakers who have built massively scalable, rock-solid platforms, whether those are running social networks, mission-critical storage, or high-profile national elections. Today, it’s easy to build something fast, but when you do so, you’re standing on the shoulders of giants. Which sessions will you not miss (or is that playing favourites?)
I know some of the best sessions in past years have come out of nowhere—impromptu office hours, or heated debates. It’s hard to pick a session or a talk, because as in past years, Startupfest is about the experience. It might be a fascinating conversation in a food truck line, or an introduction to the perfect partner at one of the parties. It’s hard to say.
What do you think the important themes are this year in the startup community?
That’s tough, but here are three big bets: Certainly the shift to crowd funding and Angellist has changed the startup landscape significantly. Both make it easy to test things out—after all, the question is often not “can I build it?” but rather “will anyone care”—and in the case of Kickstarter, it’s also a way to finance the product with pre-sales, as Founderfuel companies like Infoactive and Vanhawks have done.
I think we’ll see how the crunch of human population and the fluidity of digital channels are inextricably linked. The human race is facing a lot of crises, from conflict to population to pollution to climate change. I’m optimistic that tech will change our lives for the better; as I said late last year, “as a human, I have to believe that we will do more good with something than bad.”
Then there’s the not-for-profit startup world. We used to have governments, or benevolent monarchs, who undertook truly great projects: the moon landing, for example. Today, that work is being done by a different group: “social good” startups like Robin Chase’s Zipcar, whose business model relies on a positive outcome; philanthropists like Bill and Melinda Gates tackling diseases like Malaria; and quasi-Bond-villains like Elon Musk pushing envelopes.
We look forward to seeing you in July! Get your tickets today!