There’s a few things I just hate in tech conferences:
Startup competitions that go on waaaaay to long.
People who show up to speak and then disappear back to their office without even setting foot in the hall.
After lunch programming.
For our Southland conference, which kicks off next week in Nashville, TN, we’ve eradicated almost all of those things. And the ones we’ve kept — afternoon programming and panels — we’ve added a Pando spin that you’re going to love. If you haven’t already you should probably get a last minute ticket right now.
Getting rid of after-lunch programming might be our most surprising decision, but post-lunch sessions are just a no win proposition. One of the single best discussions I’ve seen on stage anywhere was Larry Ellison at Kara Swisher’s D conference two years ago. And yet because it was programmed deep after lunch, people were still shifting in their seats and restless.
Let’s face it: A big part of conferences is social. It’s the only time I stay up past 10 pm anymore. And you just can’t go all night, get up early and continue to sit in a conference hall all morning and all afternoon. There’s not enough shitty banquet coffee in the world to keep you awake.
This is particularly the case if your conference features, say, evenings full of intimate performances by bands like St. Paul and the Broken Bones — and vats of Southern whiskey — as Southland does.
But our line-up is so packed that we couldn’t completely write off the afternoon. Also, attendees have paid for a full day of programming, and that’s what they deserve.
So, in lieu of formal programming, here’s what we came up with. Between 2pm and 5pm each day, we’ve organized a handful of intimate 20-30 people startup salons. Unlike the big main stage talks, these are designed to be very tactical, with successful names getting honest about what they did well and what they didn’t in their own entrepreneurial journeys.
Many of the people hosting salons won’t be seen on the main stage at all, but rather are drawn from the conference attendee list (which says something about the caliber of people attending Southland.) For instance, Lockhart Steele of Curbed and Bryan Goldberg of Bustle and Bleacher Report will host a salon when to sell your media company…. and why frankly most of those exits are well under $100 million. Jason Hirschhorn and Ben Lerer will talk about the everlasting power of email and how to build a company around it. We’ll also have two salons hosted by Jay Simons, Jose Morales and Pete Curley of Atlassian (disclosure: Atlassian is also one of the sponsors of the conference — because even our sponsors are industry rockstars.)
And — one of my favorites– Leigh Rawdon of Tea Collection will talk about when you shouldn’t raise venture capital. If you have kids, you know Tea Collection. It’s a phenomenal kids clothing line that draws inspiration from another country each season. Adorable and educational. And Rawdon and her cofounder have built it all with minimal venture capital. (And, she’s a Memphis native like me.)
The inspiration for these came about a little bit by accident. Tatum had made the rookie conference mistake of running a multi-track program, which left Ali Partovi in the very cool but very small Mercury Lounge club giving an intimate talk about what he’d learned building companies. While there were only 20 or so people in the room, it created a really interactive session that produced the most positive feedback out of all the offerings from last year’s conference. So I am taking that idea and making it bigger, better and a key part of the conference in the afternoon….right before the whiskey tastings, food trucks and great music.
These are really conversations more than “talks.” So come with questions and opinions. It’s a rare opportunity to pick a tech celebrity’s brains in an intimate forum.
You can check out the already announced sessions here — but given the amazing line-up of people attending the conference, there’s every chance we’ll slot in more as we get even closer to the event. Don’t miss it.