Yesterday I attended the Meshwest conference in Edmonton. Meshwest is a uniquely Canadian tech conference, birthed out of the Mesh conference in Toronto.
I think it’s a great conference, with a great concept. It’s biggest challenge is that most folks in Edmonton didn’t know about it, or understand what it was about, or who it was for.
What the hell is Mesh?
Mike McDerment, one of the organizers, compared Mesh to the TED talks: find the most interesting Canadians involved in technology and put them on stage. However, instead of delivering a keynote speech, the speakers are made accessible to the audience, who can start asking questions almost immediately. A moderator kicks things off with interview questions, but the best “Mesh moments” occur when the audience interacts with the speaker directly (or asks questions via Twitter). While a panel isn’t as dramatic as a keynote talk, the interaction between the host, the speaker and the audience is much more valuable.
Who should go?
If you are an entrepreneur, web developer, journalist, university student, startup enthusiast, blogger, government employee, digital artist, programmer, or an investor, Mesh is a great place for you. Yes, the content is good, but even better is the networking potential. Mesh is designed to help you meet and chat with people that you might not normally interact with. This works on two levels:
- you get to meet some of the most interesting tech leaders in Canada
- you get to meet a wide variety of local tech talent
5 great things about Mesh
- It’s built for interaction: the biggest strength of Mesh is that everyone is accessible. It’s a great place to network, and meet new people.
- The panel hosts get it: Mike, Stuart, Matthew and Owen did a great job of interviewing the speakers, and facilitating discussion. Best of all: they weren’t afraid to challenge the speakers, push buttons or bring up controversial topics. I’ve seen a lot of panels where the moderator is pandering to the interviewee; not here.
- It brings national tech leaders to your town: the quality of the presenters at Mesh is equal to other conferences I’ve been to, like Future of Web Apps. But instead of having to pay airfare, hotel, and take 3 days off work, I’m able to access these people in my own backyard. This is a huge plus.
- It’s during the business day: for a family guy, having to use my evenings and weekends is a real challenge. Mesh is a great opportunity to get some professional development time outside of the office, during the workday.
- Goodies are provided: I didn’t realize that the good folks at Mesh were going to feed us! Coffee, drinks, fruit and snacks were provided throughout the day. Lunch was catered, and delicious. And the after party at 100 Bar had plenty of free drink tickets to go around.
5 things Mesh needs to work on
The biggest question Mesh needs to answer is: “Why should I pay $289 to come to this?” What’s the value proposition?
- Marketing: I found the Mesh Edmonton landing page really poor. Their Eventbrite page almost provided better information, but only after clicking “Buy Tickets.” I found out later that you could click the “Edmonton” tab in their navigation, and get more information. This is a bad design choice: Edmonton needs it’s own landing page, with it’s own horizontal menu.
- Speaker promotion: before the event I was listening to people browse the speakers page. “I haven’t heard of any of these people,” was the common thread. The sad reality is that Canadians aren’t aware of who our tech leaders are. To make up for this Mesh needs to do a better job of presenting it’s speakers: link to their most interesting work, link to their biggest news story, and provide a quote from a 3rd party on why they’re interesting. For example, Ali Asaria’s bio could have included a link to his CBC news story, and a quote from Jordan Banks, Ebay Canada: “What sets Ali and the entire Well.ca team apart is their collective ability to execute.”
- Local promotion: now that they have one event under their belt, Mesh’s marketing definitely needs to include testimonials from local stakeholders. These should be recognizable leaders in the local tech community that can lend their credibility to the event.
- Better describe the essence of Mesh: I have to confess, I was one of the many people that “didn’t get” Mesh before I attended. The organizers need to be able to distill Mesh down to a single idea. I think it should be: “Meet the most interesting Canadians in tech.”
- Produce media: I would have loved to have seen some high quality photos, video and audio come out of the event. These are the tools an attendee, like myself, can use to share the event with others.
1 thing Edmontonians need to work on
While the event in Calgary broke-even, the Edmonton event lost a lot of money. This is the type of conference that we need to fight to keep in Edmonton. It brings national expertise to our city, and celebrates our local talent at the same time. I came away from the event more excited about our local tech scene than ever; we have a lot of amazing companies and innovators right here in Edmonton. Now that we know what Mesh is about, I’d like to see a stronger push locally to increase attendance.