As much as conferences unite people, they also divide perspectives. Personally, I love to attend and contribute to large-scale events, and perhaps the idea of connecting with a vast amount of people is more appealing to some than it is to others.
On the other hand there are many conference skeptics and enough bad events out there to validate their argument. No matter where you are on the continuum from conference-hopping socialite to tech-hermit, one thing is for sure: we all know a great event when we see one.
TechSauce Summit last weekend was one of those great events. Growing from 800 to over 3,000 attendees compared to last year, the event (previously called Start It Up conference) impressively demonstrated the emergence of a vibrant startup ecosystem in Bangkok and the momentum of homegrown Thai startups in contributing to major tech verticals such as fintech/insurtech, media and Internet of Things (IoT).
In fact, fintech topics for a large part ruled the summit, including an inspiring keynote by Chris Skinner on the influence blockchain technology will have in our lives. It gave a nice overview of his latest book on the Internet of Value, carried by Singapore publishing house Marshall Cavendish Business (the same awesome guys that offered to back my book project, Fair Advantage, on building trust and value in the digital age). If blockchain is your thing and you want a consummate overview of the opportunity in distributed ledger technology, it is a very worthwhile read.
On top of welcoming prominent foreign high-calibre speakers (we even got to hear from ex-LINE CEO Akira Morikawa), TechSauce really did a fantastic job of showcasing Thai startup talent – which is well expected given the TechSauce founders are key connectors in the startup ecosystem.
So far, I have met three of them – Mimee, Aim and Charle – and it would be an understatement to say they support the Thai startup scene. More accurately, their relentless dedication to helping entrepreneurs succeed in Thailand is probably one of the drivers that put Thai startups on the map in this region.
Plus, which you would have expected I am sure, our Thai friends sure know how to boost the entertainment value of a large gathering by lining the event in their signature hospitality, and cooking up exciting evening programmes to make the most of the diverse and upbeat conference crowd.
Another dimension that surprised me with TechSauce was the perfect complementarity of the summit itself and its main sponsor, Digital Ventures – a spin-off from Siam Commercial Bank (SCB), the first and leading Thai bank. It was a case of sponsorship done really well, without force fitting marketing objectives into the startup theme or taking too prominent a stage.
Instead, the event served as a good benchmark for ways in which startups and corporates can connect and collaborate effectively. In the fintech space, finding ways to partner with financial services incumbents is almost always a major advantage, giving startups an edge in navigating regulatory complexity, accessing distribution and unlocking options to scale the business quickly by leveraging existing infrastructure.
This means that startups and financial institutions need to proactively seek better ways of working together. Surely, a similar logic can apply to other (albeit less regulated) industries.
My insight from Techsauce Summit was that a few corporates heading in a more progressive direction can and should contribute massively to supporting the foundations of a vibrant startup ecosystem, as is currently happening in Thailand. In this light, the idea of achieving ‘disruption’ increasingly seems to be the wrong yardstick for measuring success.
Running a great startup is never just about fighting for a place in the market, but equally about becoming truly incomparable and impossible to substitute. In many cases, partnerships can help get there better and faster. This is why the world’s most admired startups think carefully about when to build something themselves, and when to partner.
As disruption is becoming a fashionable concept, we need to keep in mind that the core spirit of success is always collaboration. Good conferences create an environment in which connecting feels natural, regardless whether you are a speaker, exhibitor or attendee. And, as mentioned above, we need more truly great conferences like Techsauce and Echelon.
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