The Lowdown: Industry 2016
Industry is one of only a few Product-specific conferences. Considering attending next year? Here was my experience.
The Headliner: Ken Norton, Google Ventures Partner
If Product Management were literature, Ken Norton would be Shakespeare. Or Chaucer. (Note: my knowledge of literature is broad but not deep). His writing is bristling with product insights and his reading list is the stuff of legends. He discussed planning for disruptive innovations by shifting perspective to the long term. Ken was also a joy to watch, presenting a mesmerizing mix of metaphors, personal stories, and data.
Main takeaway: Try strategizing 30 years ahead — it will allow you to plan for large technological, social and economic trends without getting bogged in the details of specific technology.
The Wildcard: Graham Veysey, Founder of ManCan
Graham Veysey is a whirlwind of a person. He transformed six abandoned acres in downtown Cleveland into the Ohio City Farm project and a set of decrepit warehouses into the trendy Hingetown neighborhood. Graham’s talk focused on ManCan, which is his project to make the Bud Light of wines: dependable, standardized, budget-friendly wine in a can.
Main takeaway: Just do it. There’s something inspiring about a man with the life motto “why the hell not?”
Honorable Mention: Andy Sparks, founder of Mattermark
Andy participated in several failed projects, finally founding a startup blog to “kill TechCrunch”. Then his team had the crucial insight that investors would pay for the database they were using to write the posts. His talk was a reminder of what it feels like when a product finds you.
- Nice venue. The conference was held at the Music Box Supper Club. I got the opportunity to watch trains take jobs out of Cleveland while sitting by the water and sipping a ManCan. Perfection!
- Cozy attendee base. Only a few hundred Product people attended, so it was easy to get to know other attendees.
- Good length. The conference is about a day and a half long, which is about how long you can be innovative and network at the same time before exploding into a firey ball of exhaustion. Or maybe that’s just me.
- Better for newbies. Through a mixture of reading, experience, and TA’ing at General Assembly, I was familiar with a lot of the content presented at this conference. Many of the stories were still entertaining and inspiring, but it would have blown my mind during my first year of Product Management.
- Access to Speakers. There are “Talk Shops” after the presentations where the speakers answer questions in a more casual environment. Many speakers also hang around during the rest of the conference. This is a conference where you have the chance to talk to someone incredible.
My verdict: I felt invigorated after the conference, and would definitely go next year to end a product thinking rut. I especially recommend this conference for new Product Managers and PMs in the Midwest.
Industry was started two years ago by the intrepid Mike Belsito and Paul McAvinchey, two Product people who built a Product Conference because the kind of conference they wanted to go to didn’t yet exist. It’s hosted in Cleveland, and a few hundred folks attended this year.