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What it was like to attend the 2014 Launch Festival

September 11, 2014, 10:06 pm | This story has an Influence Score of 813

By @mariocantin

As the founder of a still embryonic startup with a hypothesis that largely remains to be tested, I had nonetheless felt it necessary to attend the Launch Festival 2014 in San Francisco hosted by Jason Calacanis, despite the expense it would represent, coming all the way from Toronto, Canada.

My wife and I arrived a few days prior to the festival so we could get acquainted with the city of San Francisco. I made a point on Sunday February 23rd, 2014, the day prior to the start of the three-day event, to conduct a reconnaissance of the venue’s location, so I could easily navigate there during the Monday morning traffic and would know where to park. Being prepared in this regard has turned out to be immensely helpful.

There have been reports over the Internet about the 2013 Launch Festival’s registration process being slow. This time around it went smoothly. We were in really quickly.

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Security was tight and yet not overly conspicuous; but you certainly wouldn't have gotten in without a pass.

We were in at 8 o'clock and basically waited until the event started pretty much on time at 9 o'clock.

The venue itself was rather sprawling. There were essentially two stages running concurrently, one being the main platform where most of the interviews conducted by Jason were happening, along with where the startup launches took place. There was also another space upstairs where multiple classes/speeches were being delivered throughout the three-day period.

Additionally, the demo pit was taking place into yet another spacious hall, essentially consisting of various startup teams and vendors showcasing their wares on display tables.

One would not physically be able to attend all three segments simultaneously, of course, thereby giving the attendees options as to what to take part in at any given moment, thus greatly reducing the possibility of losing interest.

The hall of the the main stage would have been too large to be able to see the speakers for anyone sitting anywhere between the mid-section and the back; however, this was effectively remedied by the use of several large screens.

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The immense preparatory  work and attention to details in order to produce a world-class event were most obvious.

Putting my “social butterfly” hat on, I've provoked many a conversation and have really enjoyed the process of getting to know other attendees.

This process alone, coupled with an observation of all the various technologies on offer on the demo pit floor, has really helped to concretize for me where we currently stand, and where we might be headed beyond 2014. Agile methodologies and Scrum are definitely “de rigueur”.

And I've met some who seem to share my understanding that Node.JS will become the next "cool” language beyond Ruby on Rails, and that, as such, it will most likely have an extended shelf life.

Jason interviewed Paul Graham on the first day of the event at 1:30 pm.

Whenever I read a book or attend a lecture, etc. I make a point to try and retain at least one important thing.

My takeaway from Paul Graham is that when you create a startup you find that *one* customer that really digs what you're about and is totally into it; and you make your effort about that one user. You could even go as far as putting her name in large letters at the top of the website, he jokingly added.

The point is to “print” a positive mold of that customer so as to subsequently being able to “mass produce” other users based on that initial individual.

Something else Paul Graham has put emphasis on is that focus is of paramount importance for a startup. Are you working *right now* on the most important thing that you should be dedicating your time to and discarding everything else?

At 3:00 pm on the same afternoon, I attended three back-to-back 20-minute panels on the subject of Bitcoin.

The consensus was that cryptographic currencies are here to stay, and there’s a strong likelihood that Bitcoin will remain the leader in the race.

It was also clearly reiterated that Bitcoin is not at its core a currency, but rather, a platform; and that the currency per say is only the first app built on top of the platform.

These three panels have reinforced my personal views that the skeptics are simply not grasping the full implications of the breakthrough that Bitcoin represents.

The analogy was made that where we stand with Bitcoin today is where the internet was at in 1994, and that by the end of the year we’ll have reached where the web had gotten to by the late nineties.

It seemed to be also understood that as cryptographic currencies stabilize, we shall pass through perhaps several bubbles, so “proceed smartly” would be my personal two cents.

As well, with the impending release of a Bitcoin ATM network, the rate of adoption will likely accelerate.

So while it is admittedly hard to procure Bitcoins at the moment, now maybe the time to act if you're thinking to get in on the action.

There was an overall sentiment by the panelists that the Bitcoin might rise to $10,000 by the end of this year, whether it is a bubble that's going to burst early or not.

Another discussion that I’ve very much enjoyed on that same day was the interview with the co-founder and CEO of Uber, first thing in the morning.

Various company launches occurred on the main stage on the second day of the festival, and one of the more notable moments that afternoon was the fireside chat with Yves Béhar, the design guru.

Having arrived at 12:30 pm on Wednesday,  I can only comment about the afternoon of the final day of the event.

I was surprised at how vibrant the festival still was. The interest level had not diminished; quite on the contrary, there was electricity in the air -- a sure sign of success from the standpoint of the organizers, I'd say.

The main stage area was absolutely packed for the Mark Cuban interview at 2:20 pm.

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For one thing, the sheer stamina of Jason Calacanis was impressive to witness after three days of back-to-back interviewing and other master of ceremony duties. His mind was always fresh, his questions at all times pertinent and skillfully crafted, constantly engaging the guest and invariably sustaining the crowd's interest.

My wife, although having always been supportive of my efforts, had never been really interested in technology; however, whenever Jason was interviewing away, she was actually enthralled -- it was most intriguing for me to watch her as she listened on.

It was definitely "à propos" that  Mark Cuban had been interviewed on national TV by Piers Morgan the night prior to his appearance at the Launch Festival.

Mark Cuban has a commanding stage presence. One cannot deny being in the proximity of an extraordinary individual.

He comes across as being the nicest guy, well-balanced, and definitely not full of himself.

You get the sense that he would never crush a hard-working, honest individual's feelings, but also that he would have no qualms calling someone out on their bullshit. Most people would already know that from watching Shark Tank, though.

Being competitive is what drives him.

He also stressed the importance of making time count. "Today is the most time you'll ever have for the rest of your life", he exclaimed, quoting the words of his father.

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But the Mark Cuban takeaway is this:

"If you can live your life and be happy, you'll be as successful as I'll ever be", he concluded.

Soon after, the nine last companies launched onstage.

I've personally found the judges, without exception, to be level-headed as well as tactful, and yet not compromise on their views.

Finally, when you think about it the word "festival" kind of contains the word "festivities", and so it was quite fitting that during the last hour during which the final winners were being determined, cocktail drinks were being served in the adjacent space.

It's a smart move, as injecting a few milliliters of alcohol in one's attendees' bloodstream is a surefire way to add a little sparkle to any event (when done in moderation, of course).

While this was going on my wife and I took our drinks and found empty seats on the fourth row of the main stage area, so we would be well-seated for the final announcements.

We had no right to do so as we were on the $49 dollar Builder Passes -- which is also why I can't comment on the food and dinner parties.

But having remembered that Jason Calacanis has by own admission crashed many an event in his early days somehow has helped to mitigate the shame that I should have been feeling.

Heck, we were anticipating the rightful owners of the seats to come back and claim their right. But luckily, magically, all the chairs eventually filled back up, except ours and one to the right of us. And so we were situated up close and personal for the last segment while the winners were being announced.

The three-day event reached its culminating point when Connect were awarded as the grand winners and the recipients of a $200,000 investment by the Launch Fund.

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I feel the need to add that, as the event was drawing to its very conclusion, and I was now standing three feet away from Jason Calacanis --although it's hard to express in words -- it became a tangible notion to me that, beyond any business motivation a startup founder might have for wanting to know Jason from a career advancement perspective, the real windfall would be to get to know Jason on a personal level as a friend.

In closing, the excitement of attending the 2014 Launch Festival stayed alive and well until the very end seemingly for all who were present, and I felt overcome by the appreciation of the sad fact it was finally all over.

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