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The Mamabear Tech Conference was a pretty unique opportunity – a tech conference focused on products designed for families. For us, this was like a gift from above – while we’re all passionate technologists here at Bookboard, we really founded the company because we see the potential for technology to improve real family life. Hosted by 500 Startups, and with keynote speaker LEVAR BURTON (!), the conference description seemed to be speaking directly to us.
The Mama Market is $2.1 Trillion Strong…and GROWING
Moms today are economic powerhouses – and like mama bears, are loving, nurturing, and fiercely protective. MamaBear is a 1-day conference for startups, platforms, and thought leaders to explore new technology for moms, kids, and families —from education to safety, and health & wellness to community.
Like many folks in tech, I’m a sucker for a good conference. In past jobs, I’ve attended, led sessions/labs, and had the harrowing experience of presenting keynote segments in front of 1000s. These events are loaded with potential : I’ve found potential employers and business partners, landed large deals with new customers, and launched new products, all the while managing to actually have fun. As a new startup founder, I’ll admit that I was almost nervous going in – even though we’re not ready to do real pitching, these are the sorts of events that can unlock all sorts of opportunity, especially considering how tailored the subject matter was to us. So how did it turn out?
Out of the Gates
The basic setup : one conference room in Microsoft’s Mountain View campus, with speakers booked from 9-5. It was interesting to note the demographics in the room, which was full at around 300 attendees. Median age would be 35, and the gender split came in pretty evenly at 50/50. This was clearly not going to be a bro-down, and I don’t think I saw a single energy drink (in fact, milk and cookies were generously provided by mailchimp during one intermission). The agenda was *aggressive*. 24 speakers in 8 hours, not counting breaks.
The conference started off strong. Particularly useful was Dr. J. Allison Bryant of PlayScience, who kicked things off with a great preso, centered around product design considerations for families. Lots of stuff to think about here – I found myself taking notes, which is so rare that I thought it worth mentioning =). Slides are up here.
The 1st panel discussion (usability for families) was also really informative, even if the format made it a little challenging. Each of the 5 panelists had their own deck, and the entire panel had an hour to power through their collective content. Miles Ludwig from Sesame Street Workshop was really strong, emphasizing the need for multiple levels of design, appealing to both parents and kids, much as Sesame Street’s content aims to do. Other speakers, from Tadami, Motion Math, and Citrus Lane, also got some note-taking love from me.
By the time a few good questions from the audience had been answered, we were about 45 minutes behind the agenda schedule, and I got a bit of an ominous feeling, considering we had 18 more speakers to go. The 2nd panel (building trust) started pretty well, with some inspiring stories from ecomom and Common Sense Media around how they engaged with their customers and built up a sense of authenticity.
Finding an Authentic Voice
I’ll admit that this is about the point in the conference where my notes start declining. At a glance through my notes, insight from youtube seemed to be “use youtube”, which is understandable. A PR firm gave the advice of hiring a PR firm. There were several speakers who devoted the bulk of their presos to general internet marketing advice (seo, blogging/content strategy, social strategy), none of which seemed to speak very directly to the subject of family tech. There were a few standouts (Wittlebee‘s Sean Percival got note-taking love for his preso) during the marketing and monetization panels, but as time progressed, I felt myself hearing too much repeated advice, and wishing we could go back to the 1st panel and talk more about building products.
LeVar Burton (directly post-lunch) was awesome, and definitely gave a boost to the energy level. I won’t say I learned a ton, but still, LeVar gets an eternal free pass from me. His message was simple but heartfelt – that entrepreneurship has an opportunity to create a better society.
The audience was given a few 15 minute breaks and 45 mins for lunch. Mingling/networking was a bit of a free-for-all in a tight space, although I had a few really interesting conversations. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to attend the reception (an hour later than advertised), because it was Friday night and my ride had other responsibilities – I’d have to imagine that given the demographics, I wasn’t the only one with this problem. I left a little disappointed that I didn’t have the opportunity to make any significant new contancts – this is partially my fault, seeing as how I needed to go, but it’s also due to the number of presos that needed to be packed into such a short amount of time, leaving little time to breathe.
Overall, I’d say that I’m glad I went, and would check out the next edition. I agree with 500 Startups chief Dave McClure that this is currently an underserved, ready-to-heat-up market, so it’s a good sign that conferences like this are starting to pop up. I think a conference more dedicated to product design and development, with fewer speakers and more time, would have been more successful, but I’m hopeful that as this space matures, we’ll start to see “niche” tech conferences like this go even deeper.