A Scene Out of a Hollywood blockbuster - A 22 year old’s perspective of Asia’s most unique (un)conference by Kenneth Lou, Novelsys
Two weeks ago, I expressed my interest to be part of Stream Asia 2015. The email that soon followed was “direct” and “casual” on so many levels. It read: “For the bravado of the request at such notice, we will say yes!” And that turned out to be the beginning of a short but memorable adventure.
I am Kenneth, a 22 year old who started up together with 2 co-founders, based in Singapore. Novelsys, is a year old startup focused on setting up Asia’s charging network for powering devices across all platforms. We had taken a one-year sabbatical from the National University of Singapore (NUS) to pursue this passion full time and I was the officially youngest Streamer at this year’s event. The honest truth was that I did not know who WPP was until I did some research on WPP digital and found out about the vast variety of advertising, Public Relations, Media companies that they have under the umbrella group. It was then I knew that it was indeed a unique opportunity to network with the individuals who were headed over, and more importantly share our ideas in the different spheres of the digital and marketing technology world.
Upon arrival, my first impression at the Club Med Phuket resort was much of a super villain from a Hollywood blockbuster where the plot thickens when he gathers the avengers together on a holiday island off the coast of civilization to discuss his plans to rule the world. Back to reality, it was quite a nice thing to know that there was an interesting mix of Digital agencies, clients and of course, startups to spruce up the thoughts behind the future of technology.
An (un)conference, a word that unsurprisingly could not be found in the dictionary, meant that it was literally taking away all formalities that was associated with normal technology and business conferences. I remember reading about this online but I had to see it to believe it. Soon, within the first evening, all attendees were in slippers and Bermudas… There was even one guy with his shirt perpetually off, tryly embodying the spirit of the (un)conference.
If there were three words to describe the events that were soon to follow, they would be: Fun, Intellectual, and of course, Network.
In a holiday resort off the coast of any tall commercial buildings and infrastructure, there bound to be activities that would make you smile and laugh. But less so than the well planned and executed activities that were the flagship of STREAM events. The first was the Gadgethon! It felt like a mini-CES with almost 28 individuals heading on stage to showcase drones, virtual keyboards, running AR, and even a smart cup. Did I mention that I was one of the 28 who went and showcase Novelsys Ampere, the world’s first wireless smart charging sleeve for mobile phones which drew one of the loudest applause and cheers from the crowd. That feeling was something special, and thereafter, I was knew officially as the ‘gadget guy’. Another big event was the Extravaganza and the Stream band! This was collectively displayed as Stream’s got talent! And I was quite baffled at the level of quality that the acts that were on display. Who knew that the participants also had such amazing talent, especially in singing and performing on stage.
On the first day, there was a speaker who mentioned that the Discussion segments were going to be the most interesting parts of the STREAM event. It was purely ground up, where participants hosted discussions in different timeslots throughout the 2 days where there were nice locations set up to facilitate the discussions and intellectual curiosity. And I truly understand why many participants coined the discussions as the ‘lifeblood of STREAM’. The range and quality was bountiful, from digital marketing, to discussions on the future of mobility, to debates on the future of the handset. I remember there were timeslots whereby I was split between attending discussions because I was so tempted to learn from the many opinions and ideas from multiple topics. One of the most insightful discussions I had attended was the future of smart nations, and what does that truly mean, from both the softer moral education aspects, to the hard data driven communities. I now can take these ideas and share them with my counterparts in Singapore, on how the digital industry thinks and act, from Corporates to Startups, to leverage them and build a more scalable company.
During the second day, It hit me while I was having a pina colada that I was with some of the best and brightest individuals in the digital corporate and startup space. I soon whipped out my notebook and went around speaking with different individuals from different backgrounds to learn what would their best advice be to young and aspiring entrepreneurs, the millennials. I spoke with Yossi Vardi, one of the founders and early investor of ICQ, which has spun into MSN, and a wide array of mobile chat services. His advice was simple but profound… “Be a good man”. Another advice that I got from Joe Ow, from POSSIBLE was the phrase “If you can, you must. And If you must, you can” it speaks from a leaders perspective on issues surrounding growth and managing teams. The last piece of advice was from Jeff Green, CEO of the trade desk, where he mentioned strongly on the ideals and importance of finding a great team, developing individuals within an organization to grow as a whole. I was like a sponge, going around, soaking up advice, experience and thoughts from these industry representatives, and again, learnt to see from different perspectives on growing big sustainable companies.
The 4 day (un)conference came to a close and while on the bus back to the Phuket International airport, I thought deeply about how this has influenced my thinking in so many areas. One big takeaway was that Singapore is indeed a really small country but has many possibilities within the region and greater Asia. And learning from the WPP’s inspiring and engaging culture, led by Sir Martin Sorrell, I would strive to plan yearly events like this for my startup in the very near future — Not only fun, but also a deep level of intellectual curiosity. Now it comes down to this question, have you applied yet?