Fireside Conference Review

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I attend a lot of conferences. From CES to E3 – I spend a ton of time traveling around and checking out the latest and greatest technology events. The one thing all these technology conferences have in common is being in the United States. I am a Canadian. So when I heard about Fireside Conference – a technology conference held in the middle of no where Northern Canada I was intrigued. I knew it was something I had to attend. The invite-only event features Canada’s brightest and greatest Technology Founders, Venture Capitalists and Top Executives. Set in a stunning camp environment, this amazing weekend is one of the best and most fascinating conferences I’ve ever been to.

Where is Fireside Conference?

Unlike a typical conference, this one is hosted at a kids’s camp. Yes, kids summer camp. Complete with wooden bunk beds, sports equipment, mess hall and fire pit locations. The conference is held Sept 8 – 10th at a beautiful site in Northern Ontario – A 750-acre campground on two beautiful private lakes. Just before fall really starts in Canada. There are several areas of cabins with bunk beds, so teams could network together or you could go solo and meet some new friends like I did. Some even have bathrooms attached to the cabin for an upgraded experience. Early morning Yoga was offered to early risers. There were lots of people doing their early morning jogs by the lake. I heard there was a rock wall and rope course, but with so many things to do I didn’t personally get to those. Days started early with breakfast at 8 am and the late night dance would easily go to 2 am or longer. That’s a lot of networking time. Not to mention the weekend is all inclusive which means all your food and all your alcohol was taken care of. It was completely relaxing.

Fireside Conference Speakers

There are some amazing speakers at this conference. Sanjay Singhal, who is head of 500 Startups Canada, talked about what it was like to be bankrupt and how he has recovered to running Audiobooks.com and 500 Startups. Or Mike Katchen, who started WealthSimple a Canadian company that has received over $30 Million in funding for their Seed A. Or hearing a heartfelt inspirational story from Jeff Pulvier, one of the pioneers of VOIP, 140 conference organizer and amazing entrepreneur, on his business and personal journey to get where he is today. These three gentlemen and countless other professional speakers, executives and VC’s will be sitting right next to you at the fire through out the weekend. You can have a REAL fireside chat. There is no green room. There is no VIP area. You have plenty of genuine opportunity to talk, learn and share with the speakers all around you. Genuine conversations happen, bubble over and continue at the dinner table or during a late night smores making session. It’s something really special and unique. In fact, that would be my only criticism for the weekend. Because there was SO much stuff going on I was constantly shuffling from one place to the next and meeting amazing people with little time to digest it all. Of course, you could always skip the next speaker session and go kayaking, swimming or play some basketball with your new friends too.

Food and Drink Fireside Conference Review

Food was served as 3 main meals a day and several times a day snacks were also offered. It was all inclusive, so I never had to worry or think about where i’d be grabbing my next meal. Everyone ate together at the mess hall. I was never even close to hungry. We were served things like a Poutine bar with fresh cheese curds, gravy, mushrooms, bacon and grilled onions. Or how about some burgers, sandwiches, and pulled pork sandwiches? Even some Rice Krispies squares for dessert. Did I mention it was all you could drink? A wide selection of beer, wine and alcohol was available in the evenings, all served up by a professional bar staff from the Peacock bar in Toronto. There was even Baileys for hot chocolate around the camp fire. Juice and pop were also always available options.  Beer pong and games of pool happened at night. A DJ came in later in the evening and one of the meeting areas opened up into a dance hall with all your dancing favorites. I’ve really never experienced anything like it.

The Value of Fireside Conference

fcsa1234Everyone at this conference, not JUST the speakers, had an amazing story to share. Some were startups, just getting started working on a technology marvel. Some had large teams of people already. Some got funding. Some had boot strapped. Some were the guys who would give you funding. Pretty much everyone I spoke with had some awesome life experience, that they were happy to share and was directly related to where I currently am with the company I run. Part of being at kids camp in the middle of no where, means there was no technology. There was no cell service, no Internet, no cell phones. Wi-Fi was available at a small location for limited use (like making sure your tech company is still online or a quick email) but one of the main ideas behind the conference was to disconnect and connect with some real life people instead. The online connectivity disconnect of the conference, although initially nerve wracking, was ultimately very refreshing. It became clear through out the course of the weekend that many of the always on Startup folk, Tech founders and VC’s had just a hard a time ‘being unplugged’ as I did. It was a frequent topic of conversation. The connected world we lived in makes it very easy to pull out the cell phone at dinner when you are feeling isolated and no one immediately sits down beside you. There is no such safety buffer here and you were forced to *GASP* actually strike up a real conversation with that person on the other end of the bench. Everyone was very friendly and open to discussion. Even if you did go solo to the conference like me.

 

The Fireside Conference Bond

Just like a summer camp, I felt I made some very strong friendship connections at this event. People I may have seen at various networking events before around Toronto, I can now count among my friends (and Facebook Friends!) because instead of a “cold business card and elevator pitch experience”, we had actually started a fire together, or ate smores, played volleyball, or laughed and drank beer. We bonded.  One night there were even teamwork games and ice breakers to help people get chatting. I had countless conversations with people about parts of my business that countless others there had already experienced or been through. I was able to ask Venture Capitalists very serious questions that I would never normally ask but after winning at beer ping together felt it was acceptable to ask those questions I’ve always wanted to know –  like…. “What are you looking for EXACTLY to invest in a company” or “Is bootstrapping REALLY better?” and getting honest real answers. The value of this weekend experience is truly priceless.

After Fireside ConferenceFireside Conference

And it hasn’t ended there. The conference organizes have created a Facebook group and partnered with TechMaster to have a Slack Channel. There is even a meetup happening in Toronto in October. These avenues are really continuing the conversations that were started and created. Because there was no business cards or cell phone in your pocket (instead it was a flashlight and bug spray), networking really took on a whole different level. The follow up did too. You needed to scan through these groups to find those people you connected with. The organizers did a great job of including everyone in these groups and I found everyone I was looking to connect with.

All in all, Fireside Conference was one of the best conferences I have ever been to. You are able to learn, connect, share and grow in an fun, camp environment with countless other people who have been where you have been in your company journey. The lack of connectivity was a real bonus in making real true connections that have lasted well past the initial event. Sign up for announcements and to be notified of their next conference in 2017 on the Fireside Conference webpage. I’ll see you there.

 

Thanks to Billy Lee the offical photographer for many of the photos as noted on this page.  @makingsenses

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