As a startup hub, Oslo is becoming a more interesting city every day. We wanted to contribute in giving Oslo a more prominent position on the map, and create a bridge between Oslo and other flourishing cities in the tech scene. At Bakken & Bæck we are always looking for ways to experiment and innovate. To keep inspired, we decided to invite the innovators we admire to speak at a conference we hosted.
Creating a different conference
Over time we’ve visited quite some conferences. Although a lot of conferences try to be different from the others, they generally feel the same. There is a big venue that houses a lot of people and there is a line-up of great speakers. Throughout the day you’re served OK coffee and a sandwich, and you go home with a goodie-bag full of items you toss out later.
Some conferences tend to span multiple days, and while it’s great to watch a couple of good speakers talk on stage, doing that for two or three days straight gets exhausting. There’s a limit to the amount of information you can absorb in a day.
We decided to do things differently.
An intimate atmosphere
We tried to create an intimate atmosphere. A conference where you don’t feel like an anonymous sheep in a herd. When looking for a venue we wanted a space that could suit this experience. One option was to host the conference in Oslo, which would have made our job a hell of a lot easier when it comes to transport, logistics and administration. But, we wanted something more unique. When we discovered Steilene (the island) we booked it and designed the event with the island as a framework.
A small island suited the conference well because it helped us keep the atmosphere intimate. We could fit a maximum of 150 people on the island, so we had to be picky who to invite. Everyone could request an invite via the conference website, but we would sparingly accept them, allowing us to have a varied audience with people from different backgrounds, nationalities and genders.
We wanted to enable people to forge new relationships — to meet people they find genuinely interesting and inspiring. To do so, you have to be at ease. We like to think that the location helped increase the feeling of being a part of something unique. That it enforced the feeling of coming together in a place like this because we have something in common, because we’re likeminded, and thus allowing for easier conversations.
A short but varied programme
Since we’re not a big fan of long conferences — and getting everyone on and off an island takes a lot of time — the conference spanned one day. We had a total of eight great speakers, with topics ranging from Norway as an interesting country (Hadia Tajik) to the story of black metal band Mayhem (Necrobutcher), and from Artificial Intelligence (Henrietta Kekäläinen of Mehackit) to succailure (Mills of ustwo).
We kept the length of the talks to a maximum of 20 minutes with some time for a Q&A afterwards. This made the day a lot easier to digest.
Pasquale D’Silva created some memorable highlights as our magnificent host — blowing the fuses was as big a part of his show as involving Allan Yu as his talkative co-host — and Johan managed to nearly kill Helena Price with a confetti cannon. Jake Lodwick had the crowd sitting on the edge of their seats with his personal story about the highs and lows of his career, and Mills assured us that the best thing you can do to promote a iOS game is to appear on an episode of House of Cards. Thanks, Mills! ☺︎
We like to party (and Tobias loves to limbo)
Over the years we’ve made a name for ourselves when it comes to partying with a Mexican Fiesta, a German Oktoberfest and the recently hosted Spacefest. For our conference party we invited two big names in the Norwegian dance scene — Lindstrøm and André Bratten — to come out and play.
We turned one room on the island into a full-blown disco with lights, strobes and smoke machines and invited everyone to dance their butts off, which most of them did. We’re pretty sure the cocktails helped a great deal. Actually, we bet they played a key role in the event of that certain couple missing the last boat off the island 😉
Tobias arranged and won the limbo contest. He will probably remain unbeaten for a long, long time.
What we learned from hosting a conference
Great people make a great atmosphere
By combining people from different backgrounds in a small space we created a place where interesting folks could feel at ease and meet new, inspiring people.
Raise the bar
You should reach out to anyone you want. We contacted incredible people to speak at An Interesting Day. People we admire, and initially never expected to accept our invitation. They all accepted.
When you drag attendees all the way out to an island, they should not feel part of amateur hour. By creating a terrific line-up of speakers we set high expectations. We had to make sure that the entire experience lived up to them.
It was an interesting day
Hosting a conference on an island is risky. It leaves a lot of the experience to chance. What if the boats have trouble? What if the weather is terrible? What if the fuses blow? What if a big group of people misses the boat? There were a lot of what if’s. There was no Plan B. We went in head-first when the date was set and had to create a conference in just two months, with no idea how to do it.
But, it turned out great. The boats were on time. The weather was fine. Some people missed the boat and we just, well, picked them up. Even the fuses blew and when that happened we continued the conference without slides for half an hour. After that, the power was restored. No biggy.
We enjoyed the day tremendously. We met amazing people, had good conversations and great laughs.
Things we should improve next time
After the conference we gathered feedback from the speakers and attendees, and the outcome so far is very positive. Most of the people attending seemed to enjoy the size and intimacy of the conference, the varied programme, as well as the short talks.
A piece of feedback we received often was that the day could’ve been even shorter. Or, to compensate for the length of the day, we could have brought out some beers earlier and accommodated for more breaks in which attendees could mingle. Longer Q&A sessions were also a suggestion we heard here and there.
We assumed that a big part of the attendees would want to stay for the party — hey, you can’t really blame us — but some would have liked more opportunities to catch a boat back to Oslo. We could’ve guessed that in advance, as we hosted the conference on a Monday.
We’re glad we received some valuable feedback and we’ll definitely use it the next time we host a conference. Many thanks to all speakers and attendees! While we’re still buzzing from the day and all the great responses, we’re already dreaming up Another Interesting Day ✌︎