As a follow-on to my earlier post today, I asked Esther Dyson some questions about her upcoming event in Carlsbad, CA, March 12-14. She was kind enough to take out some time to give me her perspectives. Here's the interview:
What should attendees expect at this year's PC Forum?
Esther Dyson: The people they sit next to at lunch and dinner will be interesting -- either prospects or competitors or potential partners or both, with challenging ideas and opinions. [Ed: and that doesn't even include breakfast, my personal favorite!] Aside from that, the content will be thought-provoking. The subtheme -- "Users in Charge" -- sounds like a mindlessly cheery, rarely-delivered-on slogan. But it's preceded by the provocative reality of "Erosion of Power." New business models, when they're delivered on, often destroy old ones. Users in charge is no mere slogan; it's a threat to the people who were in charge. Businesses have a choice whether to lead the changes or resist them. But just deciding to respond isn't that easy. You have to figure out how: how to put users in charge, how to listen, how to mediate among users who disagree, how to collect revenue (and for what)....and most important, how to change a culture. So, in many ways, things are easier for startups -- except they lack resources and have to prove their new business models. So, the discussions will be fun. I have spent the last two months interviewing all the speakers -- but I know I'll still be surprised with what they say, especially once they start talking to one another and engaging with the other participants.
How might it compare with previous years' events?
Esther Dyson: In character, it will be the same, but we have new material -- everything from recent developments around Google to a gaggle of startups ranging from Spot Runner to invisibleCRM.
How is PC Forum different from other conferences?
Esther Dyson: The content tends to be more provocative because we don't have any outside sponsors. By and large, we don't let speakers "present." We ask them questions. And they really talk among themselves, rather than presenting serially. There's a dramatic tension that gets people paying attention. Beyond that, we really cater to all the attendees, not just to the speakers. It extends to the details: The badges are large and readable and don't flip over, so it's easy to find people you want to meet. [Ed: And they have a great attendee networking site, with features better than any I've seen.] We keep the lights up in the auditorium so you can see the other attendees as well as the speakers. We encourage people to bring their families, and that makes the atmosphere more relaxed and friendlier than at most conferences I attend. Also, we hold it in a slightly out of the way place, so people (even speakers) come and stay, instead of dropping in.
Please tell us about the types of attendees you attract, and the quality of networking attendees can expect.
Esther Dyson: They include entrepreneurs, investors, industry veterans, big company execs, analysts, press. We're proud of what we do and we charge for it, so we get high-level attendees. On the other hand, we work hard to bring in new people and especially startups, so many of these high-level people are ones you haven't heard of -- yet. And things start happening at PC Forum: for example, Eric Schmidt met Larry Page at PC Forum, IBM met Lotus, and AOL met ICQ/Mirabilis.
How do you select the categories for companies you debut, and the companies themselves?
Esther Dyson: We select the companies first, by and large, and then we design the categories to fit them. We're looking for companies that will be successful, of course, but we're also looking for new ideas. We want attendees to walk out saying, "Now that's a neat idea!" Over the years, our debutantes have included Flickr, Brightcove, IronPort, Technorati, Emode (Tickle), Groxis, Junglee, Mirabilis (ICQ), Eurekster, and JotSpot, to name several.
What are your conference themes this year, and which of these are getting the most buzz so far?
Esther Dyson: Well, in addition to what I said in answer to the first two questions, "Users in Charge" is getting lots of buzz. But it's my contention that many people who think they resonate with it don't quite get all the implications.
What are the three outcomes you most hope will result from this year's PC Forum?
Esther Dyson: I'll give you four, actually: that 400 people will walk away with new ideas and new friends and business partners...that the 70-odd family members who came will feel appreciated and closer to the world of the attendees who brought them...that the ideas that were floating around PC Forum will get crisper....and that the companies embodying those ideas will learn from one another and will compete more effectively, giving their management better tools and goals, and end up serving their customers better.
My thanks to Esther for these great insights into PC Forum, especially for those of us who've never attended. I look forward to seeing any and all of you who can make it. And I of course plan to do many more blog posts on this one...