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I usually come across buzzwords like innovation, Artificial Intelligence, autonomous cars, and smart-everything (I just coined the term) in the popular press which misses the angle of how to keep emerging technologies ‘human-centric’. Amid all this noise, Zero-in is an upcoming conference in Amsterdam starting on April 19th (it currently has 2-for-1 attendee tickets available here) focusing on ‘personalization’ in tech. It first appeared weird to me as the conference page did not contain ‘buzzwords’ like the ones I mentioned earlier. Silicon Canals reached out to Paul O’ Connell, the founder of Zero-in Conference and asked him about:
- The reason Zero-in conference is focused on ‘personalization’
- The difference of Zero-in from other tech events in Amsterdam
- Expectations from the event and the way Paul and his team are able to stay true to the theme of the conference
- His benchmark for assessing startups that can make it big
Tell us something about yourself in that how have your past experiences (especially being engaged with startups since long) shaped your current initiatives.
O’ Connell: “I’m living in Amsterdam for 10 years now. I’m Irish. I started events with UPRISE Festival in 2015 in a very different startup landscape and it has evolved out of the Netherlands and now we launch Zero-In Conference in Amsterdam for Europe. I also founded Dutch Startup Jobs: the largest startup jobs site in the Netherlands, as there wasn’t a platform for vacancies in 2013 and now its 5 years old. It was a different ecosystem with fewer resources and a lot of startups being created. Now that dynamic has turned around completely, which makes for a new dynamic.”
Is Zero-in an annual event and why have you focused on ‘personalization’, why not ‘automation’ or ‘AI’ or other current trends in technology we keep listening and reading about?
“Zero-In is an annual event hosted in Amsterdam. Personalization is a key area of growth and focuses since technology is more driven with bots and automation, the real question becomes ‘How do we keep technology Human-Centric? Is the answer anthropomorphization, simulation, approximation, and simulacra?
The key nature of the acceptance of technology is recognition on how relatable it can be, to us as users and present the value in a clear fashion while maintaining an empathic approach for copy and problem resolution.
The conference focuses on the real people building ‘personalization’ into technologies in the fields of digital banking, payment tech, AI, retail, automation, and Blockchain tech. That’s on the Fintech Stage and understanding data and personalization with boundaries of data protection on the Marketing Stage.”
What is in it for startups founders and teams that they can’t achieve by going to another tech conference in Amsterdam?
“There are a plethora of expos and standard conferences replicating formats that focus on numbers but our attention falls on enabling valuable relationships between attendees in an informal environment. We bring together decision-makers and global CEOs who build products and are influencers in their field of expertise. We arrange more meetings with better people.
Personalization is not just our focus but our mantra and it comes to life in the form of our sessions from intimate Workshops and Speaker Round Table sessions with a lot of attention paid to networking and building relationships between attendees, companies, and speakers.”
How would you ensure that what happens at other conferences does not happen at Zero-in, especially when you have 70 plus speakers, more than 1500 attendees and it all becomes a mega event?
“Attention to detail and focus on attendees make the conference format something we are revitalizing. I’ve seen TNW event has stepped away from the word conference but we look to refresh and examine what happens at a conference. More than just a meeting of minds for business and on topic. We aim to bring a new attitude to the expectations of a conference for Europe and beyond.”
What kind of preparation takes place behind the scenes, especially when you have an impressive roster of partners like AdRoll, Holvi, Bayer Foundations and other notables?
“Participation is key. We want to make sure our speakers and attendees get value for the time and resources they get during the Conference. We start on the 18th with networking events and our Opening Event and continue onto the 19th until the Final Afterparty. We spend a lot of time detailing the formats, making them unique and building experiences which makes the event memorable.”
Who are the key team members that have helped you in making this happen? What strengths do they bring to the team and to the event?
“The team is strong and feisty. We have Billy (the tallest Irish man in the Netherlands) heading up our Content and Experience Team with Alexia expertly looking after all the Speakers, mentors and moderators. Seba takes a lot of care to make sure our Partners and exhibitors have the best time possible and has done so for quite a few of our events. It’s a wonderful team who spend most of their time talking to attendees and participants building the events they would want to attend. It’s a gift to work with them in honesty.”
What message would you give to startups and founders regarding your event? And to potential partners?
“Don’t wait until the last minute to get involved in all the activities. There is so much happening for our Launch event and we are bringing the full brunt of our abilities to bear to create a unique and valuable conference. Get involved, learn from the speakers and expand your network. But at the very least talk to us about how you can take as much as you can from what we build.
There’s also Challenger Pitch to Investors we host. It’s more focused on Fintech and adtech companies pitching to those investors but the opportunity is there.”
So what’s your benchmark for assessing a startup whether they’ll die or make an impact (and are from that 10 % survivors that you talk about)?
“My benchmark is behavior-based. It’s easy to detect the ‘naval gazer’ founder and company.
Opportunity comes to those that have their eyes open to it. Companies that are too involved in what they are building to see the opportunities around don’t stick out.
You can have a great product but if nobody is using it, you have a shit product. Understanding your context can yield so many benefits and you can also contribute to it. The ‘stay local’ companies will never get noticed. They aren’t worth attention for the most part and they won’t fair well on whether you ‘drink their kool-aid’.”
Which other events/conferences do you think are doing a really good job at providing value to startups (even if they are not in Europe)?
“TNW is always a quality event with a lot of learnings and visibility to offer. I’ve seen it focus on scaling up in the last few years and keep the fun, vibrancy of the event. Slush is a conference I have yet to attend but will go this year and see what they build. If you are looking for an investment, this really is hard to beat as a startup.
This year I hope to get around to other global conferences and see what the competition builds while building an event bigger and better UPRISE Tech festival in Dublin as our next event!”