Calgary’s tech community makes BarCamp a big success

By Lloyed Lobo, Partner, Boast Capital

Despite the snowy weather on Saturday, May 5th, Mount Royal University was packed with over 120 people (SOLD OUT!) collaborating and exchanging ideas at Startup Calgary's BarCamp. If you're unfamiliar with BarCamp, it is an "un-conference" where the agenda is created by the crowd. So, unlike a traditional conference where speakers are pre-selected and announced in advance, at BarCamp you post topics of interest on a board which are then voted on, and if your topic is selected, you have to run the session.

Three very inspiring speakers formally kicked-off the event —€” USB inventor and partner at iNovia Capital, Shawn Abbott; MRU Entrepreneurship Director and the first product manager of Blackberry, Ray DePaul; and Western Canada's Woman Entrepreneur of the Year and CEO of Splice Software, Tara Kelly.

At any given time there were four to five sessions running concurrently, with over twenty-five sessions throughout the day.

Since Nabeel Khan of Zyris (BarCamp Calgary Touch Voting) and Robert Woolley of Calgary Scientific (BarCamp Recap) have provided a detailed account, I will share my key takeaways from the event:

1. Never beta test in public
BarCamps are typically scheduled either using sticky notes or a large white board, where people post their ideas for different time slots and the crowd chimes in by dot-voting.

We tried to do something different a few days before the event, where we worked with Zyris to develop a Touch Voting platform facilitated on a 46" digital display provided by POSH View. There are 350 BarCamps around the world and something like this had not been done before. Although Touch Voting was extremely successful in processing the votes, beta testing in public, coupled with having only one display, turned out to be a bad idea.

This was a perfect example of how technology became a bottleneck; however, the feedback we received from the community was invaluable for future improvements.

2. More roundtable discussions vs. classroom style sessions
While the classroom sessions worked great, many of the delegates were looking to collaborate on ideas and share views in an informal setting.

3. Disruptive technologies need disruptive channels
Ray DePaul shared the story of Eric Migicovsky, who founded Pebble, a customizable watch that runs a lot of cool apps and connects wirelessly with mobile devices. Eric had a difficult time drawing attention to his idea, until he posted it on Kickstarter. As of this morning, Pebble has raised almost $10 million in exchange for 64,616 Pebbles.

4. Relentlessly obsess about your story
Tara Kelly is full of energy and has the ability to keep people at the edge of their seats. More importantly, she's very passionate about her company, and it reflects in her speech. Tara said Splice's staff don't just show up each day for a paycheck and free water… they are there because Splice offers a passionate story, and shares a common vision on the need to change people's lives. Give staff a mission, a sense of purpose, and as your company and role grows, be sure to stay juiced about your story. Tara also shared a document for figuring out your brand architecture —€” Brand Pyramid.

5. Entrepreneurship is a team sport
Shawn Abbott is one of the most successful entrepreneurs in Canada, so when he talks, people listen very closely. Shawn shared the importance of collaboration as the key to startup success, and said most venture capital firms do not invest in companies without a strong team.

6. Innovate on your business model, then your product
Shawn also shared that many entrepreneurs spend too much time on their product before thinking about how to make money. He urged the audience to figure out creative ways to monetize, right from the start.

7. The answer is in the crowd
Our Touch Voting platform inspired one of the attendees, Mike Tighe, to introduce us to Foundation Zurb, a multi-platform, multi-browser, mobile-ready framework that dramatically decreases the time needed to create front-end user interfaces. Mike learned the framework in 10 minutes, and developed the front end in under half an hour, which made for some interesting conversations, especially with Nabeel Khan who developed the Touch Voting platform.

8. Calgary has the most awesome tech community on the planet!
Ten organizations '€” A100, Calgary Herald, Cybera, Digital Alberta, Pixels & Pints, Innovate Calgary, Innovation Exchange, Productivity Alberta, Techrev and TechVibes —€” came together to promote BarCamp. I've lived in nine cities on three continents and I've never seen anything like this support before, which is a strong testimony to Calgary's tech community.

All in all, the attendance and participation of the community made it an astounding success. Check out the hashtag on Twitter #BarCampYYC and keep an eye on Startup Calgary's Twitter account for links to other events.

A big THANK YOU to everyone who came, contributed, and especially those who volunteered their time and efforts. Our sponsors supported us in amazing ways, and we hope you'll check them out and give them mad props.