GO goes GOAB - Hugo's experience

27 August 2015

Ok, my first GOAB is a wrap! Having only attended conferences in Europe so far, the scenery for this one really sounded too good to be true. Tropical island, drinks on the beach.. But then it turned out that tropical does not necessarily signify sunshine and blue skies..! Nope, unfortunately the island had a substantial amount of rain and winds waiting for us, so instead of a tan we had to settle for a permanent layer of water and sand on our geeky glasses :-)

But that didn't hold anyone back from making it an interesting and inspiring conference anyway. The vibe was really nice from the very beginning, when we (Tricia and myself) attended the opening drinks get together in the White Beach resort. We didn't know anyone, except for the lovely Dulce, but we quickly met some nice people and hit it off with good and interesting conversations. I myself have never been in a startup-like community or environment before, but of course have picked up a thing or two about it over the past few years. But I quickly found out that reading some blogs or watching some vids online is something totally different than immersing yourself into a group of people that are living and breathing startups every day. Wow! Such energy and enthusiasm, and a real “yes we can” mentality. There are no problems in startups, as someone put it, only opportunities. We had definitely come to the right place :-)

What I also noticed is how everyone is starting to think with you about your idea once you explain it to them. Most people get to the core of the problem, ehm sorry.. opportunity, very quickly and start sharing insights from their point of view.

When we attended a session for learning UI/UX for startups for example, we were divided into groups of eight by design ninja Doralin Kelly. She gave us the assignment to start looking for pain points in the user experience of your application, by quickly setting up a matrix to investigate how people are thinking, feeling and doing in different stages of the buying proces (given you have an e-commerce app). Our idea was picked out to work with and the whole group started brainstorming about the different stages. It was really nice to hear so many of the things pass by that actually motivated us to build Grow Organics in the first place: knowing where your food comes from, assurance that it’s actually fresh and organic, etc, etc.. I know from experience that there’s a lot of companies out there that don’t even get to the core of what they’re doing like this, ever. Even with the help of renowned (and expensive) agencies. And this group of bright minds distilled the whole concept into practical components in under 20 minutes! That’s seriously cool. So we wouldn’t have minded if the session lasted for an hour longer or so (tip for next GOAB maybe, since many sessions felt short..?), but unfortunately time was up when the UX solutions for the problems that we had isolated were starting to flow. Nevertheless, it was amazing how much useful input we acquired for executing our idea further in such a short time, so thanks for that Doralin and group! I hope we can return the favour someday by hooking you up with some fresh and healthy foodstuff nearby!

There were many other insightful talks and sessions, like the one from Rico Sta. Cruz, who gave some good pointers about how to keep developing and deploying fast while your internet connection sucks (check out Mina and Docker). Or the improvised 3-headed panel that discussed online marketplaces.. Also a session that really deserved half an hour more. But maybe the biggest take-away from being there for me is that I no longer have the feeling we're all alone in building our platform for organic farmers and gardeners. We've had so much positive feedback, great examples of other startups (like the winner of the startup competition NearCircles and runner-up ProTEES) and again numerous valuable talks, tips and insights, that I'm actually a lot more confident in our idea being able to sustain itself somehow in the future. But, truth be told, I'm also (still) a bit daunted by seeing the long road still ahead, laden with financial, technical and operational obstacles. There seems to be no sitting back and watching stuff unfold automagically when it comes to startups. Time is infinitely precious, and good things come only to those who persist.

And since complaining is the national sport in Dutchland, may I be so bold to add some critical side notes too?

  • For starters, the audio in the main conference hall was extremely poor.. I think only the first 2 rows could really hear anything, so I didn’t catch most of the speeches and panel sessions on the main stage.
  • The room was almost empty for the session about social good by Tonyo Cruz. This amazed me a little bit.. Not only did Tonyo’s talk deserve a bigger crowd, but it’s no secret that the Philippines has quite a bit of fairly serious problems to deal with. I mean, a typhoon went over northern Luzon at that very moment! I hope you guys realise that you possess the knowledge and energy to address some of these problems, so please think of startups not only as a means of making money… They are also meant to make a difference.
  • The fruits were OK, but my stomach didn’t really agree with the rest of the food.. Organic supplier next time maybe? ;-) Or at least more veggies / salads please?
  • And did I mention already that most sessions where too short? ;-)

But all in all, these things had little effect on the overall experience for me. It was a conference well worth attending, and I had a really good time being there. So a big thank you to the entire GOAB crew for making this happen! In the end, it was a perfect mix of organisation, improvisation and fun!