Trust me. We’ve been to our fair share of events over the past year. Audio conventions, VR expos, startup conferences, local meetups, etc. And most of the time we’ve been a speaker or booth exhibitor, not just an attendee. Most events leave us with some kind of highlight — whether that is encouraging feedback, new relationships or even just fond team memories. Collision Conference took place May 2-4 in New Orleans, and proceeded immediately to stray from that trend. Don’t get me wrong, it was a fantastic event overall, but if we’re being perfectly honest, it was far from perfect for us. Collision is an event that can be great for certain people or people with a certain purpose. Here’s G’Audio Lab, at least, is not coming back to Collision next year despite it having some redeeming qualities.
If you are ALPHA, or an early stage startup, it might be worth it
Collision Conference bills itself as America’s fastest growing tech conference. It boldly proclaims that it’s the “anti-CES.” This claim obviously did its job, as my curiosity was sufficiently piqued. The three-day program of networking with, learning from and mingling alongside the world’s most cutting-edge startups didn’t sound too bad either. Their ALPHA program seemed to be a great opportunity for startups to get some hard-fought recognition, especially if Collision is the next big thing. Now, after the conference, I can see that it truly could be the fastest growing tech conference, only because it began very small and and has grown to a size that is not quite as small. If you’re having a party and you double its size from 2 to 4 people that’s still a lot easier than throwing a party with tens of thousands of people. Don’t expect something the size of CES anytime soon.
Failing to be the biggest and baddest after you claim to be exactly that isn’t anything new, but the way the Collision team treated mature startups was not ideal. I met several other teams who previously attended Collision as ALPHA and came back this year as BETA, and I wonder if their experiences were as good as previous years. Just for a little context, ALPHA startups are startups with under $3M in funding. In January of this year I applied to exhibit at Collision, without knowing there was a distinction for ALPHA. During the process I had to apply for a status, and after applying for ALPHA, I was informed that G’Audio is too mature to be considered ALPHA. G’Audio Lab’s roots go back to the year 2015 (the technology itself even before then) and in 2016 we raised a decent amount of funding. So instead, the Collision team “strongly suggested” participating in the BETA program. A BETA ticket and exhibiting package was more expensive than an ALPHA one, and there was no information about BETA on the website, but I pushed on since they had promised that the size of the booth was bigger and the location was better. Guess what?
ALPHA startups labeled with orange are spread out in the main area, while BETA startups in teal are at the corner of the convention hall, which is totally opposite the entrance. Imagine my surprise when I found out that the size of a BETA booth was no different from ALPHA ones. Why couldn’t they just be upfront about wanting to charge more from the mature companies? So not only do the two promised benefits of being BETA go unfulfilled, but we faced additional disadvantage. BETA startups were identical in every way but name to ALPHA ones, and had the unenviable position of being located in the back corner. As an additional note, because the majority of exhibiting startups were early stage, they attracted the investors in attendance who were most likely to invest in seed or very early stage rounds. Many accelerator programs were introduced and definitely could be helpful, but were just not my interest. When it comes down to it, I didn’t enjoy being called BETA throughout — we have officially launched our products, have users, and are going full speed ahead.
Where is the recognition for VR?
Every exhibiting company was labeled with their relevant category. G’Audio Lab fell under Gaming & VR. What bewildered me was that contrary to what I was told, relevant companies were not gathered together — in fact, they were scattered pretty far apart from one another. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Some conferences try to strategically spread companies around so that people can enjoy a diverse array of exhibitors while walking around. I felt betrayed because they mentioned they would group similar sectors together so that there’s a more unified collective energy. Let down once again.. When I tried to visit other VR/AR related companies, I had to go every which way. It wasn’t that bad — it’s not the size of CES after all. One other thing that bugged me is that while I was looking for Gaming & VR companies, not all of them were actually about gaming and VR. Some were about AR. Fine, it’s not like the two are total strangers, but the total number of VR related startups was significantly less than what I was made to believe.
There were five talks about VR, but I wasn’t able to attend any of them (partly due to questionable office hour schedule management) so I can’t comment about the quality of the talks or how much the audience was interested in the topic. One thing for sure is that just by looking at the number, this conference pays very little attention to VR. I wanted to see if that was also the case for other emerging technologies so I tried to search how many talks there were about AI, but the Collision app proceeded to give me the results of all the talks with the letters “ai” in the name of the event (“Email strategies,” great) or a talk by a company name with “ai” in their name like “AIG.” This is not when I searched for the keyword “AI,”but when I clicked the topic tag “AI.” Despite all this, I did manage to meet people whom we can collaborate with or help each other out, but it definitely could have been done more efficiently.
Miscellaneous places for improvements
On the very last day of the event, a chatbot created a chatroom with everyone who had the Los Angeles tag. This was a good move, but it could have been a great one if it had been created earlier, not when everyone was about to start packing. Now rewind to the technical difficulties I got to enjoy on the Breakthrough Stage. I was holding a remote that was supposed to move the current slide to the next one, but the person behind the scenes would do it on his own. It’s not like he and I had rehearsed it at all, how could he know the right way to do it at all? The audience would see the next slide I wanted to surprise them with, and he somehow managed to move the slides around again and again until it was all a mess. Why would you give me a controller if you were actually just going to control it anyway? I’m relieved the audience could bear with all those mishaps and still came to watch the demo with me. After all the excitement I was looking forward to unwinding after the event, but the after-party venue could have spacious enough so that a group of us didn’t have to stay outside the building. . And just to bring it all full circle, New Orleans treated us all to some pretty crummy weather. Thunderstorms, rain, and cloudy weather wasn’t exactly what I was expecting when I headed South but I have to admit, in the Big Easy, even I couldn’t help but to stop and enjoy the jazz.