Alptitude — a pretend conference

“Where else can you get up at 5am to climb a mountain with a Startup Accelerator from Michigan and a Green Party Councillor that runs a fleet of buses on chip fat?”

“I’d rather be at a pretend conference than a real one”
Laurence McCahill, The Happy Startup School

What’s the point of a conference?

It’s something I’ve been asking recently.

  • We go to meet people but never stay in touch
  • We go to find new ideas but hear the same old stuff
  • We go for inspiration but leave feeling depressed

I’ve spent two decades loitering under the unnatural light of conference centres, swigging rank coffee, pondering which lanyard-scheduled, thinly veiled sales pitch to suffer next.

To escape the horror I’ve got blackout drunk and woken up with nausea, amnesia and anxiety about how inappropriate I probably was again.

The conference format is obsolete, unfit for purpose and in dire need of re-invention.

I’m all for relationships, ideas and inspiration but I can’t bear the thought of another formulaic conference that doesn’t deliver any of them.

Inspired by their Summercamp, I teamed up with The Happy Startup School to test the theory of a ‘Pretend Conference’ and the now legendary Alptitude was born.

Our hypothesis

Do cool stuff with cool people in cool places and great things will come of it.

The method

  1. We invited 25 entrepreneurs we knew we would have fun with
  2. We took our families
  3. We saw it as a holiday, rather than a conference
  4. We did it in the French Alps instead of Earls Court
  5. We didn’t schedule any business content
  6. We did yoga, meditation and other wellbeing activties
  7. We did hiking, rafting, climbing and other adventure activities
  8. We all mucked in with the cooking, cleaning, etc
We took the kids


  1. I had one of the best weeks of my life.
  2. I made 24 lifelong friends and am already planning collaborations with 7 of them.
  3. Together, we are going to change the world. No doubt.
  4. I have notebooks and braincells overflowing with killer ideas which i am hungry to apply. A burgeoning toolbox of models and mentors.
  5. I am inspired beyond all previous definitions of the word. Entrepreneurial hormones racing around my body itching for a creative outlet.
  6. I didn’t get hammered and I didn’t have a hangover. That’s a first. I guess I felt comfortable enough not to have to resort to blackouts.
  7. There was a stack of business content but it wasn’t prescribed. It bubbled up when, where and for who it was needed. It was organic, emerging naturally.
  8. My wellbeing was taken care of. I ended the event on a high, feeling fit as a mountain goat and with a deep sense of calm.
  9. Emergent gets deep. I left thinking i’d only scratched the surface of what I could learn from and do with this wonderful bunch of people.
  10. I wasn’t alone. These sentiments were shared by the other 24 entrepreneurs in residence at Alptitude.
An impromptu Impact DNA Workshop by Richard Alderson

So why aren’t all conferences like this?

Most organisations won’t sign-off on a pretend conference because it doesn’t look like work.

They will insist you pay for it and use your holiday allowance. Muppets.

If it looks like it might actually be fun, it’s seen as a benefit and subject to tax, making it doubly expensive. But surely expensive fun beats cheap misery.

If the business content isn’t prescribed up front, then it can be hard to get it signed off. Fear not. Show your boss a copy of Learning 3.0 by Alexandre Magnos (a book he finished writing at Alptitude) which proves emergent learning is infinitely more effective than prescribed learning.

Corporate event companies make money rolling out the formulaic conference format across every industry. They won’t change it so we need to boycott their events and create our own new ones.


If you want to be happy, develop game-changing relationships, pick up dynamite ideas for business innovation and connect with endless inspiration, get yourself along to Alptitude or another pretend conference. My prediction is that events like this will be the norm in a few years.

Dream Valley Projects and The Happy Startup School are on a mission to reinvent business meetings. Join one of our pretend conferences or talk to us about your own pretend conference idea.

The 5am hike with Tom, Blake & Jack. No chip fat in sight.