A non-conference if you could call it that.
Brio's organizers really played with the elements of a conference, creating a creative environment for two days of interaction and exchange. It was a place for self-reflection, honesty, and sharing ideas. It was also great fun!
More like a festival than a conference
The conference began with breakfast—in a surprisingly small location. I realized quickly that there were actually several breakfast locations, and everyone had been sent (unknowingly) to different ones in small groups. This removed the daunting prospect of walking alone into a large dining hall, and replaced with an intimate and relaxed meal. Before the day had even begun, I had gotten to know eight other people know really well, and I was already feeling at home in Dublin.
I found this kind of thoughtful planning throughout the entire conference.
The main event venue was the Mansion House, the building in which the first Irish Parliament declared independence in 1919. The Brio organizers chose the location to provoke and sustain our idealism, and what a perfect location for it!
The program was more like a festival than a conference. There were no VCs, no journalists and no event sponsors. The focus was on attendees as much it was on speakers, as well as on creating an environment for honest sharing. Between speakers, different bands would play. From Irish folk to indie rock, it gave us a chance to move around and chat, and think about something completely different from tech.
Sharing the spotlight
Between speakers, people also had a chance to jump up and give a "lightning talk." If someone spoke about a topic that you had a lot of experience with, you could just stand up and share your story. I really had the feeling that ideas were bouncing around the room, and that all eyes weren’t just on the speaker. We were all creating the conference together.
Breaking up the talks this way reminded me, in a way, of eating sushi. Listening to music and clearing your head was a bit like cleansing the palate with a piece of ginger between bites. It made it a lot easier to engage with the next speaker. So often at conferences, the last speakers miss out because people have lost focus. This is an awesome solution to that fatigue.
Another great idea, which I’ve never seen before, was a notebook stationed at every seat. We moved seats between talks, but the notebook stayed. For every talk there was a new book to write notes in, and a chance to read over what the people before you had written. To me this was a brilliant silent collaboration and gave me great insight into the people sitting next to me. It was a non-verbal introduction, encouraging honest exchanges among strangers.
It was great to read the notes people had written about my talk. As we played musical chairs, at each new seat I could read different people’s thoughts on my presentation and really reflect on what I do and how it's perceived. It was humbling to read how many people were really excited about what we do at Jimdo.
A little imagination
When I travel somewhere for a conference, I don't always have time to actually see the place. It’s always disappointing to return having only seen the walls of a conference room. But Andy and Paul, the organizers of Brio, thought of this too! Small groups of us were mysteriously asked to whisked away from the conference for a guided tour of the University of Dublin, Trinity College. We weren’t allowed to talk about it until everyone had been.
What became clear to me while I was in Dublin, and since I’ve been back, is that entrepreneurs really need a space to talk openly about their successes and failures. There aren't enough opportunities for this. It’s great to have platforms to sell our ideas, but we shouldn't forget about creating room to simply share them.
In a lot of ways, Brio's environment reminded me of how we try to run Jimdo. With freedom, fun, and collaboration. Running a great conference takes a lot of effort; to really build something brilliant, you have to create an environment people enjoy being a part of. If you really want people to engage, you have to let go of the controls and allow them to steer.
All it takes is a little imagination.
Co-founder at Jimdo
Fridtjof and Christian started their first company, dream-up.de, while they were still in school. Fridtjof went on to found another company with Christian and Matthias, which evolved into Jimdo in 2007. When Fridtjof is not in the office, he likes to mountain bike in the Alps, kite surf, and dream up other extremely frightening things he can try.