When life gives you Cyclone Debbie, Make a Storm Stage

A severe tropical cyclone hit during a new Australian startup festival, the event producers became the innovators. Here is how…

5 minutes before Rui Ma, a cross-broader investor & former partner at 500 Startups, got onto the stage to give her keynote speech on the first day of a new startup festival Myriad in Brisbane Australia, I got this message from her:

To my surprise, a couple of minutes later, Murray Galbraith, CEO of Myriad (mentioned above in the message) calmly went on to the stage and introduced Rui to the audiences, and the show went on…

Even though the event could potentially be shut down, the attendees were keeping their spirits up at the start of the day.

However, the tropical storm Cyclone Debbie was still approaching Brisbane. Shortly after Rui’s talk, the festival confirmed they had to shut down at midday due to heavy rain and flood risks caused by the cyclone.

According to The Australian Financial Review, more than 2000 people had flocked to the festival, many of which traveled from the US, Europe and Asia. As one of the speakers for this event, I knew this 2-day conference actually took the Myriad team at least 2 years of planning and preparation. With the $10 billion of funds under management represented at Myriad, they were hoping to turn it into the SXSW of the Asia Pacific.

The Brisbane Times also confirmed how severe the current cyclone was:

Meanwhile, I got this glorious email from Martin Talvari, ‎Co-Founder of Myriad, and former Chief Strategy Officer of Europe’s leading startup event Slush. If I could choose an emoji to show my expression when I saw it, it would be 😂:

The cancellation of the program turned into an impromptu house party at Josephmark Gallery, featuring speakers Patrick van der Pijl and security expert Mikko Hypponen, whom both flew more than 25 hours to come to this event, and needed to fly out on that night.

And the community embraced the spontaneity:

Even though no one knew if the weather would be ok the next day, the Myriad team worked hard to fit the Day 1 speakers, who had their talks canceled, into the following day’s schedule.

A couple of hours later, the Myriad app rescheduled and updated my original 5pm talk to 10am on the following day.

It felt like the physical manifestation of the downs and ups of startup life: Day 1 of the event started with cyclone 🌀, Day 2 started with sunshine ☀️:

In honor of the cyclone, Team Myriad even renamed one of their stages:

While I was still in awe of the energy and resilience from the people at this event, my talk started with cheers from the supportive audience:

The successful day 2 was wrapped up by jam packed sessions from Josh Constine (Tech Crunch), Insiya Lokhandwala (Lyft), Shawn O’Kefee (SXSW), Jonathan Teo (Binary Capital), Sriram Krishnan (Tinder), Marissa Senzaki (Slack), Mark Henley (Adobe), Anouk Wipprecht (Fashion Tech Pioneer), Scott O’Brien (Humense), Monica Wulff (Startup Muster), David Burt (CSIRO), Simon Raik-Allen (MYOB), the Honourable Leeanne Enoch MP (Minister for Innovation, Science & Digital Economy, Minister for Small Business) and so on, summed up in an animated GIF tweet:

… with a closing talk from the 2 founders Murray and Martin, sharing their experience and gratitude with the audiences:

Melbourne based That Startup Show even made an impromptu video after Cyclone Debbie shut down Myriad, asking the speakers “What do you do in a startup when 💩 HITS THE FAN?”

And indeed… this was more than an event,

… it was a taste of the collective spirits of MYRIAD: M for Motivation, Y for Yes, R for Resilience, I for Inspiration, A for Adventure, D for Dedication.

p.s. just in case you are curious how Cyclone Debbie got its name, here is the explanation:

Special Thanks to my friends Gregory, Iris & Tara’s feedbacks on this post. 🙌