Conferences – to attend? or not to attend? That is the question

So a few weeks ago whilst going through a backlog of emails after some time away on holiday. I saw three emails from the KNect365  group for the recently concluded NigeriaCom 2018, AfricaCom 2018 and Fintech Africa 2018 and all I could think of was hmm so many conferences but “to attend? Or not to attend? That is the question!”

 

It all took me back to when I first started ‘conferencing’. About four years ago, a friend and fellow founder in the industry Ugo Okoye asked me if I was going to the Mobile Web Africa conference (2012 edition). I told him I knew nothing about it and even if I did, what was the point? At the time I had over 11 years experience in the software industry in multiple countries across two continents, what could the conference possibly teach me that I didn’t already know? Yes, a very arrogant assumption on my part but thankfully I had an open mind.

 

He advised me to look beyond that because there was always so much to learn from what people in the Startup world were doing, the experiences, challenges and breakthroughs. So after deliberating I decided to go for my first conference “Mobile Web Africa 2012” in Johannesburg, South Africa.

 

There’s a first time for everything

 

I remember being nervous about what to expect, would it be full of high end professionals? Would it be a shambles? Would it be relevant? Would it be well organised? What should I expect? In the end I was pleasantly surprised, there were a lot of talks and panels about whether to build a mobile web app or a mobile app, about how to monetize these solutions, how to target and educate consumers and most especially whether to go with a B2B solution or a B2C solution.

 

At that point in time, the more interesting players were the likes of Eskimi, Mixit, 2go, IRocking and a host of other Social Media/B2C focused apps and solutions e.g. Saya. It was truly exciting as at the time we planned on building similar platforms as I thought they were the best ways to scale in Africa. However I got discouraged from the experiences of the founders, even though they had built successful companies and I gained a lot of tips about what tech platforms to use/not to use. I didn't like that fact that most of them were not directly monetizable i.e. consumers would not pay for services and instead they relied on traction to build a large product base which they would then monetize via advertising or other means.

 

The different strategies had a profound development on my psyche and business approach ie: what solutions are right for Africa, the cost of building and maintaining a platform and how to monetize. From this event I made it my mission to go to at least two conferences a year, to know what was new in the startup/tech space, meet and network with fellow founders and possible clients, and to validate the ideas and solutions my company was working on.

 

The journey begins

 

Since that time I had visited Mobile Web West Africa 2013, Mobile Web West Africa 2015 Tech4Africa 2015, AfricaCom 2017, TechPoint Nigeria, Global Blockchain Congress 2018 and a few Hackathons.

All with exciting agendas and keynote speakers promising insights into the latest Tech revolutionising the industry, exciting start-ups and lots of networking. I would say that many delivered to my expectations but some did fall shy of my expectations. You always learn something new but the question is, did you learn enough to justify the expense of the trip and disruptions to your schedule at home? So i came to summarise the most important things for me, in this priority:

  1. Ability to meet potential new clients and partners for collaboration
  2. Opportunity to learn from Industry leaders and startups engaged in areas/sectors that i found interesting from a business point of view
  3. Discover and learn about key new technologies and trends that my company should get involved with in future as part of our Africa expansion strategy.

 

In practice my second and third objectives were typically met but the first one not so much, as so far in my experiences the conferences have tended to attract more like minds (tech founders and industry players) than potential customers.  It's been interesting to observe the tech trends over time and to see where they are now;

  • 2012 - 2014
    • Digital Marketing
    • Mobile Music & Streaming Apps
    • Messaging Apps
    • Social Media Apps and many Facebook like "me too’s "
  • 2014 - 2016
    • eCommerce Platforms
  • 2017
    • FinTech
    • IoT
    • AI
    • BlockChain
    • Drone Tech

As a whole going to these conferences has helped me in my career and development of my company. It's allowed me to learn from other founders in the industry at different stages of growth and also share my experiences and expertise as well.

 

This year’s agenda

 

The AfricaCom 2017 event was by far the best conference I have attended. It had the widest range of industry sectors from the major Mobile Network Operators, FinTech Utilisers and Players to digital media firms, startups and new technology enthusiasts. Last year's event truly exposed me to the opportunities in BlockChain Technology and how they could be utilised to revolutionise businesses and key sectors in Africa.

 

I also met many key players in the Tech industry in Nigeria and some other African countries who I’m still in touch with and have developed growing business links and opportunities with.

 

Based on this experience I finally decided to go to the AfricaCom 2018 Conference. My major port of call shall be the AHUB and AfricaCom 20/20 sections, these are the areas at the conference that tend to focus on startup software firms as well as new technologies e.g. Blockchain, AI and IoT.

 

This year I will be looking forward to meeting interesting individuals and businesses that we can work with next year and so yes I will be judging the success of the conference based on how many leads I can convert after the speeches and drinking is over 🙂 .

 

I’ll also be interested to see how the tech that was pioneered last year as the next big thing in Africa specifically AI, IoT and Blockchain have taken off and see what opportunities we as a company could take advantage of in those sectors.

 

 

Final thoughts

 

I would recommend attending tech conferences as a must for anyone in the industry, depending on the stage of development of your career or company, you could either:

 

  1. Find out about new technologies and business opportunities across the continent
  2. Learn from founders about what techniques they used to manage their teams and grow their business.
  3. Learn how to pitch to raise funding for your platform or to scale up after the initial MVP stage.
  4. And finally to network and meet exciting people that you can continue to build links with.

 

 

Personally I’ll recommend the Knet365 Africa focussed group of events anyday!

Ps: this isn't a sponsored post, its just my humble opinion 🙂