New years resolutions don’t always work out.. unless you make them happen. One of my goals for 2017 was to attend a world renowned international conference. I’ve always been interested in going to The Next Web (TNW) Conference in Amsterdam which is held annually in May. This conference has been described as "the most intimate technology festival on the planet”.

Being a kiwi Millennial i’m saving for a property deposit while spending all my spare cash on smashed avocado and delicious flat whites, this makes it hard to pack your bags and go to Europe for a “tech conference”. Realising this I decided to proactively apply for one of the more appropriately named grants "Conference Attendance Grant" provided by Internet NZ. In a spot of good fortune the panel of judges was pleased with my application and I was selected as one of the five grant recipients for this round so I booked my flights to the Netherlands.

On 15th of May I boarded an Airbus A380 and 27 hours later via Dubai I was getting off the plane at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport with my 12kg checked luggage and backpack. After a short ~€5 train ride to the Central Station I was stunned... because sun. I quickly realised I was not going to need half the stuff that I had packed, specifically the jumpers and thermals. Note to self: pack even lighter next time and look at the weather in advance.

Sun over the canals in Amsterdam, image includes canal boats, trees, houses, and clouds with sun

I took off my noise cancelling headphones (which at the time were blasting the latest Camo & Krooked Essential Mix) and stood still with the sun on my face listening to the myriad of foreign languages rush past. Those of you who have been to Europe will understand this feeling, for those of you who haven't its invigorating.. do it. For some odd reason instead of using the very extensive and convenient tram network, I decided to walk with my suitcase of somewhat necessary clothing for 1.5 hours to my hotel.

Photo of some subtle street art

Another stunning photo of the Amsterdam canals

The walk was filled with beautiful canals, street art, and espresso. My hotel was a short <10 minute walk from #TNW2017 or a quick tram ride to central station.. I enjoyed a couple days of good weather, museums, bars, and restaurants while adjusting timezones. TNW know how to party, so much so they hired three night clubs on Reguliersdwarsstraat in the middle of Amsterdam near their offices for the famous opening party.

Photo of the street packed with people at the opening parties.

Photo of the bar from out front

I highly recommend attending this, as it's a great way to meet people and share the excitement for TNW. Afterward I decided to head back to the hotel and catch some shut eye to wake up refreshed for day one.

Day One

I was going into the first day with an almost child like excitement, because TNW conference is no a regular technology conference it's more of a technology festival.. see map:

A map of The Next Web conference which shows all the different stages and the myriad of things to do- looks like an outdoor dance festival.

Pro Tip: If you are thinking of going, I recommend picking up your lanyard and cashless payment wristband at the airport on your way through. It means you don’t have to line up to get in.

First impressions were.. “What… seriously?!”. Having an event background I was overwhelmed and intrigued, thinking of the fact that >12,500 people were about to arrive. My first mission was to find caffeine, I went into the Exhibitor Area (marked 2 on the map) and the first people I spoke with were the team from Typeform (If you don’t know of Typeform, I suggest you google it). They had a decent coffee machine and knew how to make a flat white which boded well. There was a freelance illustrator who was illustrating t-shirts with what ever you wanted. It’s safe to say I left their stall feeling caffeinated, chuffed, and had already made some new connections for the next time I visit Barcelona (Hi if you are reading this).

Photo of the words "pixel fusion" illustrated that the Typeform designer crafted onto a t-shirt for me

After visiting a snippet of the 500 startup stalls that will exhibit throughout the course of the festival, I could see the masses of attendees arriving- a mix of geeks, investors, speakers, cyborgs, and tech enthusiasts. I knew it was time to try and find a good seat for the opening ceremony. One thing that surprised me is that there was no reserved row at the front. Most conferences/events you attend have a "VIP" type mentality that ends up with a half filled front row, it was refreshing and meant you could sit up the front. I found a decent seat just before the mind bending opening ceremony and connected with the people either side of me, making some fantastic connections who I look forward to keeping in touch with. The stage was backed with 2km of LED, mixed with lazers and audio equipment. See video:

After the ceremoney Boris (the co-founder and CEO of TNW) came onto the stage and shared opening remarks and introduced the MC Pep Rosenfeld who did a great job of keeping the flow of the entire conference going.. the rest of the day saw speakers from companies such as:

  • F-Secure
  • Niantic
  • Blippar
  • Product Hunt
  • So many more..

The general theme of the talks on day one were future focused, offering insights into trends such as:

  • Artificial Intelligence (AI)
  • Internet of Things (IOT)
  • Virtual/Augmented Reality (VR/AR)
  • Computer Vision (CV)
  • Machine Learning (ML)

The speakers at TNW Conference definitely made me realise that all of the above are no longer a thing of the future, these trends need to be embraced in order to create exciting new sustainable and competitive businesses.

The event management was flawless, together with great food, coffee, solid networking, a beach themed party, and then to top it off a trip to the TQ building (TNW Headquarters and co-working space).

Blue TQ Balloon
Image of the view from TQ, amazing canals, buildings and sun set

Day Two

The second day was just as eventful with another blockbuster line up of speakers. This day I explored more of what TNW has to offer such as the workshops, Hack Battle pitch presentations, and new exhibitors. It was inspiring to see such a vast line up of gloabl startup representatives and founders so passionate about their companies. At TNW Conference some of the exhibitors are being matched with investors in a series of 1 to 1 meetings. In 2016, participating startups raised over €14 million in funding. I'm looking forward to seeing the 2017 stats.

Image of the Hack Battle Arena, shows the multiple floors and people spectating

Some of my takeaways from the conference are:

  1. Blockchain will change the world.
  2. Every industry will be disrupted by AI and ML, to what extent and speed is unknown my most.
  3. 55% of people millennials in Singapore would rather give up sex than give up the internet.* (according to a 9GAG study - check out Ray Chan's talk below)*
  4. As privileged people we are no longer limited by technology just our ability to utilise it.
  5. Make sure your technology is secure.
  6. If a company knows they are building software that is addictive and don't take steps to inform their addicted users its unethical.
  7. IBM Watson is a decent product.
  8. Everyone should have a side hustle.
  9. The transition to automation is going to be rough.
  10. Computers follow instructions and humans don't.

If you'd like to talk about any of the points above please reach out

After the closing of the day, everyone has a few hours to kill before heading to the legendary after party which this year was at TQ. This is a final chance to network and swap ideas in person with a room full attendees that are all as inspired as you.

Spectacular is the best way to describe this event. Even though there is thousands of people, the layout of the festival makes it extremely easy to talk to people and create new connections. Thanks to the outstanding organisers and top notch speakers.

Here are seven of my favourite talks:

1. Chase Jarvis - Founder & CEO of CreativeLive

Creativity is the new literacy

2. Kathryn Myronuk - Faculty Lead at Singularity University

Convergence Lessons

3. Chris Guillebeau - Author of The $100 Startup

Notes on the New Economy

4. Mikko Hyppönen - Chief Research at F-Secure

Internet of Insecure Things

5. Nir Eyal - Author of Hooked

Technology is Distracting and Addictive

6. Jonathan Rochelle - Co-founder of Google Drive

Machine Learning Insights for Human Learning

7. Ray Chan - Founder of 9GAG

What Millennials are thinking

— Shane