Oct 10, 2016
When most people think of technology, they think of Silicon Valley, Stanford and legions of brogrammers. It’s quite specific, simultaneously a monolith and monoculture. What people don’t think of are the smaller, specialized loci popping up around the country, the Kansas Cities and Detroits out there that are worthy and in need of just a little water, fertilizer and sunlight. The events group Techweek, which lands in New York today, exists to be this catalyzing force, and it’s led by a woman only three years out of a midwestern university. Now, less than a year into her CEO role, she has a plan to expand into the wild world of digital media. Everyone, this is Amanda Signorelli. Q: You are relatively new to Techweek and you have a background with McKinsey. How do you apply a Fortune 100 consulting methodology to a conference startup? A: Techweek has been about structuring problems and work flow. So the grand plan is important, but what is more important is how you get there—boiling it down into different pieces to ensure efficient and timely execution. The thing that has been most insightful for me is understanding how malleable and flexible startups are, which makes things so much easier. You can have an idea, work on different solutions, execute them and move quickly. There are so many opportunities with a startup: Let’s try this thing in this market and see how it works. And if it doesn’t, let’s try to figure out how to do it better the next time. Q: It must be refreshing. A: It is, as is this element of tangibility. With startups you can see it right in front of you and you can see the change. Q: As an events organization focused on technology, how do you decide where to host? A: The mission of Techweek is to provide a national platform for cities that often don’t have a voice. So we are looking at the cities that are the next iteration of Silicon Valley that are really driving technology. We look at criteria from a clinical perspective, such as investment activity: What are we seeing in terms of angel investments? Tech sector job growth? Engineering? Then you’ve got the concentration of the ecosystem, which is incredibly important: Is there an incubator that is driving the momentum? How involved are the universities and how connected are they? And the other big piece is the concentration of corporate partners. With regard to flavors and personalities, there are a lot of differences. Detroit is the leader in mobility. Kansas City is the leader in big data. Toronto has a very large clean tech sector. In L.A. there is a lot of focus on gaming, which is also starting to rise up in Dallas. Then there are other elements such as the types of entrepreneurs that come to life in the cities. So, for example, Dallas seems to be a young professional community, which is an older demographic than the kind you see in Chicago. Things like that are very interesting in terms of how the event comes to life. Q: Which city is the most fun? A: The city that has really retained a soft spot for us is Kansas City. It is a market that we anticipated being smaller, but in the first year we had 6,000 people come through, and the partnership with the Kansas City grant foundation is unique. We’re able to award $50,000 grants to companies that then come in and build their businesses in KC and contribute to job growth. So it’s one of the clearest examples where we’re really driving toward improving the ecosystem, the community and investment in these companies. Landing page promoting Techweek New York, happening now. Q: What are your plans for growing the business? A: Techweek is currently an events company, but we’re transitioning to become a media company, and in order to do that we have had a lot of conversations among ourselves about what this means in terms of content delivery. We’re catching up quickly when it comes to becoming a voice in the media in a way that is both tactful and aligned with where content delivery is going. You’re going to see a lot of different content coming from us, whether that’s streaming videos that can circulate, live-streaming videos of speakers, articles by contributing editors and so forth. We’re most excited to really understand what will work and what won’t, and we’re hoping to be a good example and pilot for what to do as we embark on this new phase in digital media. Q: Who are some of the players that you’re looking to as a model as you expand into media? A: We’re fascinated by what The Onion is doing. They’ve got a large production team here in Chicago, they have this great partnership with Facebook, they have a partnership with Univision, and they’re just turning out amazing, incredibly humorous and high-quality videos, and so they’re the first people we look to as the gold standard in terms of content production. Q: Are you a cord cutter? A: I am definitely a cord cutter. My go-to device is my iPad. I carry that with me and I am constantly watching videos on tech news when I’m traveling or commuting. I used to have two TVs, but I sold them because I don’t need them. I’m not willing to pay for cable; I have all the access I need while I’m traveling, which is significantly more valuable. My favorite binge is Mr. Robot. I am in it for the long haul. They have a very active and loyal viewer in me, and I am going to stand by them. I even ran into some Mr. Robot people at South by Southwest and I have been pitching them to be a part of the L.A. or New York conference. Q: Are you considering an OTT/VOD track currently? A: Right now we do not have one. But it is something we’re thinking about for the future. I think OTT will be interesting in two years. I’m no expert, but the premise itself is something I would be very bullish about. I think the biggest piece for me is really watching where we are at in terms of streaming, to see how much it’s going to proliferate. For example, Twitter is now streaming the NFL, which is a massive step forward when we think about content delivery. It completely changes the game when live-streaming is not something that’s super-niche anymore but a critical part of content delivery. For something like video on demand, I agree we are in a phase of consolidation, but it will take some time and effort to get there. Techweek New York runs from Monday, October 10, to Friday, October 14. Click here for more details.