(#1 in a series of reports)
Date: November 28, 1999
Red Herring's "NDA '99: Where Business Is Going" was held October 31 -
November 2, 1999 at the Four Seasons Resort Aviara, Carlsbad, California
Dear Readers, Clients, Partners, Friends, and Buzz-Junkies:
We now join "My Excellent NDA Adventure, Edition #2" in progress...
So it's mid-afternoon Sunday (Halloween) as I arrive -- from Baja,
in fact, but more on that later -- clad in no costume, just my usual
shorts, sandals, and tanktop (the one with the lobster on the back).
Here's the scene: a gorgeous green resort venue in the hills north
of San Diego...overlooking the very blue Pacific (favoring us surfers
with a big NW swell)...combined with all the sun and record-high
temps you could handle.
It's happened, I thought: I've died and gone to Conference Heaven.
This could be worth leaving the beach -- a near-perfect environment
to kick back, meet a bunch of really smart people, and sort through
the possibilities of the New Economy....not to mention groove to
the sounds of some great blues.
I immediately headed for the pool to catch some more rays and ponder
the enormity of the situation.
But I soon found myself thinking, as I wandered around the growing
beehive of activity in the conference area of this fancy hotel, How
could this year's NDA event possibly could ever be as good as last
Those of you who have been on my list that long may remember "My
Excellent NDA Adventure" from November '98...you know, the one
I called "Polo, Partyin', Surfin', and Schmoozin'"?
...The point being, after that great time, I had some pretty damn high
expectations showing up for this one again...
I've found the excitement and energy of some first-year events to
be really quite special -- which has to be just a huge challenge for
the conference sponsors the second time around. In the end, though,
I thought this NDA definitely extended the buzz it started in '98,
as one the major meetings of the minds for New Economy execs...and
those out to makes huge sums of money bankrolling them.
NDA '99 was loaded with content, controversy, and cool that wouldn't
quit. Industry luminaries, high energy, drama, and interesting,
motivated attendees from far and wide. [And the parties weren't bad,
either -- the Monday night gig with blues legend Taj Mahal, at some
fancy San Diego art gallery, being the high point.]
But all the "cool" of this event is soon forgotten as serious business
starts happening both inside and out of the main hall. The number of
deals started or done at this event would probably place it in the top
three or four executive technology conferences of the year, based on
my experience over the years -- including five past Herring conferences.
One example: a sponsor at two recent Herring events, Compaq's venture
group, told me they did six deals as a result of one of these events
alone. And attendance by VCs and angels is higher at NDA than it is
at many other Herring events -- as is overall attendance, which was
more than 800 this year, up from between 500 and 600 last year.
In fact, by all indications, this year's NDA was a sellout. I saw
little room for squeezing anything more in: there were 19 sponsors
(of which 13 were "exclusive corporate partners"), with exhibits in
the main gathering spot outside the large ballroom, and 20 more demo
companies set up in a very nice "Technology Hub" exhibit room close by.
Herring holds six events per year. NDA is one of three it categorizes
as "Business Strategy Conferences" and has the biggest attendance of
those three. The purpose of these events is to "analyze the challenges
and opportunities of leading industry trends and predict how they will
shape the future of technology."
The lush, green resort venue in the hills of Carlsbad, overlooking the
ultra-blue Pacific, combined with a gorgeous stint of late-summer weather
with record high temps, made for a near-perfect environment to sort out
the future of the very red-hot New Internet Economy.
After a day of golf and other activities for early arrivers on Sunday,
NDA kicked off with an evening reception "launch party" (read: sales
pitch) for one of the sponsors, newly funded web training firm
Headlight.com. Not exactly the type of thing most people would have
in mind for a starter (and it turned out to be the latest investment
of Herring's close VC buddies, Draper Fisher Jurvetson -- what a
coincidence!). But crass commercialism soon blended into much
wine-swilling, major hand-shaking and schmoozing, and a first-class
buffet dinner. Then, for some night owls and those not still
jet-lagged, a malt whiskey tasting hosted by one of Scotland's
hottest tech companies (also with US operations), Orbital Software.
Bright and early Monday, the event opened to a packed room of some 800
attendees. An absolutely boffo multimedia presentation, with a very hot
rock music track, got everyone well fired up as we began wandering in
from a major caffeine infusion and well-stocked breakfast buffet. (The
event's production quality, again, was the very best you could expect.)
Opening remarks from Herring events director John Mecklenburg, editor
Jason Pontin, and CEO Tony Perkins set the tone: the Internet is already
a $507-billion industry, according to a University of Texas study, and
encompasses really all business sectors, Mecklenburg said. The "Top 10
Trends" for 2000 that Herring was presenting at the event are arrived at
by a team of editors doing the same thing investment bankers do (and
looking to certain of them for help): they watch deal flow. "We follow
the money," said Jason Pontin, "applying editorial skepticism." Tony
Perkins noted that "there's never been so much excitement going into
a Herring event" in the five years they've been doing them. "This one
caps a huge year," he said, "when all our events broke records."
Conference content at NDA '99 was basically organized into five sessions
(each with a panel):
1) The Future of E-tailing
2) Internet Technology Changes Business Value Creation
3) The Future of Venture Capital
4) The Future of Internet Broadband
5) The Top-Ten Trends (1999 Retrospective and Forward to 2000)
In addition, keynoters were Georger Gilder, noted technology futurist
and commentator (what apiece of work!); Rich McGinn, CEO of Lucent; and
(via satellite) Sol Trujillo, CEO of US West. Tony Perkins also conducted
an excellent interview (taped for later showing on Red Herring TV) with
former Sun founder and longtime general partner at Kleiner Perkins,
Mixed in between all of the above were two one-hour "Rapid-Fire Company
Presentations" sessions, one each afternoon. In each of these, 10 CEOs
from promising startups selected by Red Herring were given six minutes
apiece to tell their story, using supporting slides or demos. (First
day generally weak, second day very well received. Packet Video and
Mongo Music got the biggest hands in the audience vote afterwards.)
Did the conference hosts achieve their lofty goal of predicting how the
latest industry trends will shape the future? Did they make the event
fun? I would say yes to both, based on the quality of the insights I
gathered from top names in the industry, the number of laughs I logged,
and the upbeat tone I observed among attendees -- who by the way
lingered much longer and in larger numbers at the closing reception
than at last year's highly successful first-year event. Looking back
at how much was packed into the two and a half days, it would hard
indeed to beat this conference value.
Like to read more about it? Check out my recaps of two of the best
sessions at NDA '99:
The Future of E-Retailing
The Future of Venture Capital
(If you want more, please email me.)
Also, an abbreviated version of my main report above was posted at
Conferenza.com ...this is a wonderful new site you should
know about that reports on technology conferences (requires signing
up for a free trial). They've asked me, bless their hearts, to provide
coverage for selected events on an ongoing basis. I met one of the
advisors to this startup at the "NetReturns 2000" event in Aspen (see
my previous reports): Gary Bolles, a longtime technology journalist
and editorial consultant to Ziff Davis, and a very well connected guy.
And Now for the Rest of the Story...
Oh yeah--I promised to tell you about Baja. It was great! A two-day
surfing getaway just prior to my stop at the Herring NDA conference.
This was the inaugural trip in my nephew Mark's newly acquired
beach-house-on-wheels...a very cool "Minnie Winnie" (22' Winnebago).
Otherwise known as the "GT&A Strategic Marketing Mobile Unit"--which
was the sign Mark had plastered onto the side of it when he picked
up my son Chris and me at LAX. What a hoot!
Anyway, it provided very nice accommodations for our cruise down
the coast after a one-night stay in Pasadena...motoring through the
beach communities of South Orange County and San Diego County...then
for our stay in Baja, at a great new hotel and RV camp, right on the
beach at Rosarito! (Only an hour or so south of San Diego.)
Hey, we're talking Mexico's answer to Maui here, folks! This place
was great! All the amenities you could imagine--pools, hot tubs, fancy
restaurant & bar...plus perfect weather! Record highs and a *big* surf
swell...absolutely the best waves we could hope for, with offshore
Santa Ana winds for perfect surfing conditions. We were stoked! And,
the eating--wow! Lobster for every meal--no kidding! I never knew it
could be fixed so many ways...
Baja was the best! What could we do as we got ready to back north of
the border but plaster the definitive decal to the back of the Winnie,
as a promise to return again soon: "BAJA MANANA"!
It was a great guys weekend--lots of good food, good tunes, and good
times. Okay, we drank some cervesas, too! And we spent some fun times
in town, hangin' out with with the locals (Mark speaks fluent Spanish,
and Chris hold his own, too), shopping at the street markets, meeting
people, checking out the clubs and the historic Rosarito Beach Hotel,
where the old Hollywood stars used to escape to...
It was a much needed diversion from our busy lives back home.
Meantime, stand by for more event coverage (I just can't help
myself!) ... I'm headed to two in the Bay Area in a couple weeks:
"The Personalization Summit" and "NetMarketMakers 2."
As always, I remain...
Your ever-vigilant conference buzz-hound,
Graeme Thickins, Founder & Principal Consultant
GT&A Strategic Marketing Inc.
*Twin Cities *LA *San Francisco *Seattle
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