Conviction Over Consensus — when you believe it and you know why
I have recently been getting a lot of email from people asking why, after seven years, we have decided to discontinue our annual conference called Strictly Mobile. Held at such Bay Area venues as the Computer History Museum in Mountain View and the NASDAQ Entrepreneurial Center in San Francisco, this ½ day event (including lunch) had an audience of more than 300 people (about one third each of startup founders, VCs and industry executives) and consistently featured speakers and discussions on the future of the evolving mobile ecosystem well ahead of what mainstream conferences were talking about. So, when the consensus opinion is to keep doing what has worked in the past, why on earth change?
There are three reasons:
It was the right conference at the right time in the evolution of the mobile ecosystem.
When we raised our first venture fund dedicated exclusively to investments in mobile software, services, content and technology in 2008 many people questioned whether or not mobile would be a big enough category for an entire venture fund. They agreed that mobile would be a “thing” but they questioned whether it would be “the” thing. Well, we know how that debate turned out. Mainstream tech conferences took the same cautious approach. So, starting more than seven years ago, we curated speakers to debate, explain and articulate how they thought the mobile ecosystem would evolve. Without a doubt, mobile is the dominant computing platform of our time and as I argue in my book, it is the largest man-made platform in history.
We proved that we could curate speakers and build interesting programs ahead of what mainstream conferences were talking about.
Over the years we tackled such diverse themes as the digital classroom, mobile’s impact on consumer healthcare, AI-powered voice assistants, self- driving cars, autonomous delivery drones and the connected home. Speakers included: Sal Khan (Khan Academy), Eric Topol (Scripps Health), John Couch (Apple), Jennifer Haroon (Google/Waymo), Jeremy Bailenson (Stanford VR Lab), Mike Lee (Under Armour/MyFitnessPal), Bob Richards (Moon Express), Jeff Bonforte (Yahoo), Charlie Kindel (Amazon Alexa), and Kevin Mitnick (the world’s most famous hacker).
It was free so how could we tell if people really valued what we were doing.
I have a philosophy about free stuff — it is usually only worth what you pay for it. Were we attracting more than 300 people to attend our conference annually because it was great content or because it was free? The cost of producing Strictly Mobile consumed nearly all of Relay’s annual marketing budget and was only made possible with the gracious support of sponsors like Silicon Valley Bank, Gunderson Dettmer, Deloitte and Dentons.
So, with a reputation for hosting a must attend event, we decided to change things up, to follow our conviction that we could do something different, better.
Here is what we did and why.
We decided to build an event for entrepreneurs and innovators that was different from other mainstream tech and startup conferences (for details on how this event is different see Why Do Most Startup Conferences Suck?). It’s called Flying Upside Down and it is designed to help entrepreneurs and innovators maintain “level flight” and navigate the challenges of building a startup featuring real authentic stories and actionable advice from founders who have lived through the ups and downs of success and failure.
Flying Upside Down is a full day. With more than fifteen speakers including keynotes, master class talks and authentic founder vignettes plus time to network with other attendees, speakers and VCs in attendance, we needed an entire day.
This year’s lineup includes: Chris O’Neill, CEO of Evernote; Matt Munson, Co-Founder of Twenty20; Jen Holmstrom, Head of Talent at GGV Capital; Angus Davis, Founder of Upserve and co-founder of TellMe; Acacia Leroy, Asia Pacific Trend Strategist for TrendWatching; Norman Winarsky, Author of the book If You Really Want to Change the World; Spiros Michalakis, Quantum Physicist at CalTech; Jacco Vanderkooij, Author of Blueprints of a SaaS Sales Organization; Rob May, CEO of Talla; Geoff Clapp, Co-Founder of Better; Al Ramadan, co-author of the book ‘Play Bigger — How Pirates, Dreamers, and Innovators Create and Dominate Markets’; Greg McKeown author of Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less; Amy Wilkinson author of The Creator’s Code and Lt. Col. Rob “Waldo” Waldman, United States Air Force (Ret).
Paid vs free.
This was the most controversial decision within our team. Will people pay a nominal fee to attend or were they only coming to Strictly Mobile because it was free? This is a conversation we often have with our portfolio companies who have free services that have yet to be monetized. Are your customers using your service because they see value in it or because it is free?
My view is that with a proven track record of producing high quality events, fifteen incredible speakers curated to deliver actionable advice that can used today, breakfast, lunch and snacks by Foxtail, the hottest caterer in the Bay Area and a phenomenal (and fun) venue (the Hiller Aviation Museum) this conference is worth every penny. If you attend, I guarantee you will not be disappointed.
So, that is why Strictly Mobile has been replaced by Flying Upside Down.
Pursuing your conviction over consensus is advice that I give entrepreneurs everyday and it’s a philosophy that we follow at Relay Ventures to find the next great startup. Silicon Valley investors generally follow the herd. There is comfort in numbers. Consensus amongst partners and consensus within the industry gives us security. But, consensus is the lowest common denominator. Consensus means general acceptance or a widely held belief. We are challenging the status quo by continually innovating and improving and that is what good entrepreneurs do too.