Last year, my friend and now partner, Paul, and I did something that’s not exactly an easy feat. We launched a national summit for product managers (and other “product people”) essentially from scratch. In fact, it was about this time of year in 2015 when Paul and I made the decision that we were “just going to do it.” Did we know that it would be a success? No way. In fact, the reality was we had no idea if it could all work out.
We saw 250 people from 21 states and 7 countries make their way out to Cleveland, Ohio to give our first-year conference a shot. I had personally never been to a single place that had more Product Managers, VP’s of Product, and other folks in product roles all converged in one single place. Truth be told, Paul and I weren’t even sure if it would be a one-and-done conference — or if we’d continue it on. But after Industry 2015, the emails started to pour in. People were interested in what next year would be like. Some even asked how they could buy tickets now.
Don’t get me wrong, we knew that we had a ton to improve on. Before we left the venue, we all had ideas on how to make the 2016 experience even more special. But the fact is, it didn’t take long for Paul and me (along with Rebecca and everyone else who rolled up their sleeves to make Industry happen) to realize that we were really onto something.
But, why? Why did the world need a product summit taking place here in the Midwest? Why did it matter to us?
I’m sure that Paul can share his own story, but for me — it all started with a death. The death of eFuneral. In fact, eFuneral was a startup that I co-founded and ran for 3 years with another partner. It was an amazing experience, and we did help a lot of people. But in the end, we ultimately failed.
After eFuneral officially wound up, I remember asking myself: Now, what? What does a founder with a former startup under his belt do when the doors of that startup finally close? One option is to start another company. And some of my investors had encouraged me to do that, offering to back me in the process. But I didn’t know what that startup would be. eFuneral was born because of a pain that my family experienced that was so deep, I just had to be the one to bring the solution to light. I didn’t have another pain like to solve for, at least not yet.
Then, I started getting emails from people saying that their company needed “somebody like me.” After meeting with them, I realized that they saw me as an ideal “product person.” Somebody that can navigate complicated waters, work cohesively with all sorts of different types of people, and ultimately — deliver on promises. That’s what I did as a founder — and that’s what they felt they needed in a product role.
Soon after, I accepted my first challenge post-eFuneral as Director of Product Strategy for a sports and entertainment ticketing technology company.
I remember receiving the offer, accepting the role, and promptly Googling: What does a Director of Product Strategy Do?
I wasn’t exactly expecting to find the answers. I knew I’d figure it out in due time. But I was hoping I’d be able to find great blogs, interesting books, places to meet other “product people” like me, and other forms of content that might help me accelerate the loads of learning I was about to do.
And I did find all of those things. But when it came to events specifically designed for Product Managers, there was really a big void. Some cities had their own smaller meetups. And there were a couple of conferences that looked interesting — but unsurprisingly, they were thousands of miles away from me in San Francisco. And yes, there are other tech conferences. Lots of other tech conferences. But I was a bit discouraged that none of those were specifically designed for me. A product person living here in the Midwest.
Soon thereafter, when I met up with Paul for lunch about a local startup event that he had just established (which I spoke at), we got to talking. What if we thought bigger? What if this didn’t have to be a local event? What does the world really need in another event?
I found myself getting genuinely excited about the massive undertaking we would have to go through. At one level, I have a soft spot for creating things out of essentially nothing. But the task of creating Industry was more than that, to me. I consider myself to be a curious learner. And now, I could have a front-row seat learning from the best product minds in the world. Some view me as a connector, and it’s true that I get a lot of joy from connecting two people that could benefit from meeting each other. This was now an opportunity to be that connector on a massive scale. Who knows? Perhaps at Industry, somebody might find their next opportunity. Somebody could find a co-founder. Somebody may get interest from an investor.
Fast forward to today:
We just recently announced that registration is open for Industry 2016. We’re already at registration levels of where we were last July — so yes, things have certainly accelerated for us. But the reality is, the rest of the year will be a lot of work. It will be a lot of early mornings, late nights, and uncertainty leading up to “showtime.” I’m confident that this year’s Industry will be the best product-focused event that anybody in the Midwest (and okay, I’ll say it… the entire U.S. and possibly the world) could go to. But in order to make an event like this happen, it takes a lot of passion, perseverance, and a little bit of love.
So why are we doing this?
In short, the next time that a Product Manager, VP of Product, Product Strategy type, or anybody else like that goes online and searches for a place for “product people” — I’d love nothing more than for that person to find Industry and know that they have now have a home.