The other day I blogged about the product updates announced at ICON this year; but I didn’t share my perspective on the rest of the conference. So, I want to do that here.
ICON is amazing. And you should definitely plan on coming next year. But just so you know I’m not a homer: Let me start by giving Infusionsoft some tough love. They did a lot of things right with this conference (as they always do), but in my opinion, they got a few things wrong this year. Things that I just found were…a little “meh“.
Before I get into those, I want to be abundantly clear that these are just my opinions. I also recognize that being in the space that I’m in, and being a former employee, it’s entirely possible that I perceive things differently than most. And it could just be that ICON is not for me, and that’s fine too.
Meh #1: What was up with the schedule?
In my opinion, there were far too many breakout sessions. I mean, I’m okay with giving people options, of course, but during slot that I presented, there were 11 other speakers simultaneously competing for the same audience. The room I presented in had 800 chairs set up. There were at most 4000 attendees. I’m no mathologist, but something doesn’t add up there. Initially I thought they had done this to provide an immense amount of content and if people felt like they missed out, then they’d just be able to buy the video library, but that wasn’t the case (more on that later).
Also, if there was logic to who was presenting when (outside of the Sixth Division breakout block), I couldn’t find it. There didn’t seem to be a rhyme or reason to the layout or flow of the breakout sessions. In the past Infusionsoft has organized breakouts into tracks, to help people decide which sessions they should attend. This year, they didn’t do that. In fact, at one point Jordan Hatch was presenting his session called Slice and Dice: Making Confident Decision Around Data at the exact same time as Ken Borkan was presenting Getting the Most Out of Your Data: A View From the Phoenix Suns Analytics Department. Both were during my presentation, so I couldn’t attend either – but even if I had been able to, how would I choose? Those presentations may have been really different, but they sure sounded similar.
Meh #2: Too much Emcee
Scott Harris was the emcee this year, and in my opinion, there was more of him than I was prepared for. And here’s the thing, Scott may be a perfectly nice guy. This is not a criticism of him as a presenter, or as an emcee, or as a person – at all. It’s just that if I see “Clate Mask: 8:30-10:30” on the agenda, well, then I’m looking forward to seeing Clate Mask.
Instead, I found myself doing my best to play along and envision my goals, next thing I know I’m stuck in a seemingly endless cycle of sitting, standing and high-fiving neighbors. And then Clate came on to talk for the last 30 minutes or so. Like I said, all good – I like high fives as much as the next guy; it was just different than I expected.
I also had some gripes I was going to include about what I perceived to be “budget related changes” – but I decided that I’m okay with it. I’m okay with not having breakfast, with not having a swag bag, or not having a full stage and video crew set up in each of the breakouts. This is a small business conference after all, and small businesses know about budgeting as much as anyone else. If they need to trim the fat, or the fluff, or tone down the funk and/or noise, I can be supportive of that. I just wish they had adjusted expectations – I saw more than a handful of people who had arrived expecting breakfast wandering around looking confused on the first morning.
Okay, now before this post devolves into the type of negative “whine-fest” that I detest so much, I want to make sure I give a few fist bumps for the things I DID like from the conference. (Note: a whine-fest is very different from a wine-fest, with the former being lame, and the latter sounding delicious.)
Fist Bump #1: Lots of Software Presentations
I train people how to use Infusionsoft, it’s what I do. And as such, I’ve had people approach me at ICON over the past few years asking which sessions they should go to in order to really learn how to use the application. Now, officially ICON is not the place to go to learn how to use the software. There are plenty of other resources for that. But, every year people still show up and are hoping for some technical nuggets that they can take away and use right then and there.
It’s for this reason that for three years in a row I’ve insisted my that presentation be based in the software – but this year there were a handful of others teaching Campaign Builder Basics, Advanced Campaign Builder, Ecommerce Intermediate, Searching and Segmenting, Pipelines, etc. I didn’t get to attend any of those other sessions (Again, there were a lot of breakouts, and I’m not sure that I’m the target demo for those); but it was awesome to know that they were there.
No matter what this conference becomes, I think it’s really important that the actual software this company was built around remains a theme.
Fist Bump #2: Gary Vee
Yes, I said this was one of the 6 things I was most excited about going into ICON, and it did not disappoint. Gary spoke at ICON in 2012 and at that point I had absolutely no idea who he was, but I liked his raw and authentic style. Here we are in 2016 and his style and authenticity are just as palpable, but his message has evolved.
This year’s Gary Vee connected with me in a way that I didn’t expect, and it’s probably at least in part because Gary is 4 years older, wiser, and more experienced. But I believe in large part it’s also because I’m no longer who I was four years ago. My life and corresponding perspective have evolved as well. This was my first year attending ICON as anything other than an Infusionsoft employee. And as much as I pride myself on the empathy I developed and exercised while I was working at Infusionsoft; it has continued to evolve and mature during my 9 months as an entrepreneur since – and I think that contributed greatly to the way I received Gary’s message about small business, adaptation, hustle, and brand.
Fist Bump #3: Logistics
I have to hand it to ICON, and the event staff that coordinated and delivered everything – it really seemed to go pretty smoothly. I checked in on the Tuesday before the conference and they were well staffed, and it was fluid. I remember a year or two ago seeing lines around the corner for people trying to check in, and this year I didn’t feel that. It just seemed smooth.
The expo hall space was also laid out really well. I liked the booth formats, the spacing felt natural, the field in the middle was a nice touch; and they brought in freaking puppies. Puppies that you could adopt! Strong play. Quite the strong play.
Fist Bump #4: Networking
I don’t think I’m alone in saying that I took more value away from the networking opportunities that ICON provided than the actual content that I consumed. And I don’t mean for that to be a knock on the content – Justin MacDonald’s presentation on Action Planning was amazing, and Greg Hickman’s presentation on R. Kelly was unparalleled. It’s just that the networking was really, really valuable. Every time I turned a corner I was bumping into someone I wanted to talk to. I connected with people who knew me as Monkeypod, former co-workers, partners I had been meaning to reconnect with, and perfect strangers who I was excited to meet. And, this extended beyond just the hallways of the convention center. I’ll be honest, I stepped offsite for a pint once or twice, and I ran into ICON attendees at the bars, restaurants and various other downtown locations.
It was really inspiring to see the connections taking place, knowing that with every conversation that took place, someone’s business was likely growing. Each time I walked through the Sheraton lobby the chairs were filled with entrepreneurs sharing ideas, and picking one another’s brains. Again, it may be unique to me, but I believe there’s something really powerful about being surrounded by that type of energy and those types of people. And kudos to Infusionsoft for creating the environment to support this.
Okay, there, I’ve said my piece. For the 4 of you still reading this, let me just say that overall, ICON was amazing. I took away a ton of ideas, a ton of inspiration, and the momentum that I expect will carry me for the next several months. I hope you did as well. I’d love to hear your biggest take-aways in the comments below. Cheers.