André Marquet on creating the Productized Conference
InterviewBy Thomas Dahm,
André, can you share how you became an event organizer?
I started organizing events when I brought the first TEDx event to Portugal in 2009, and since then I’ve been involved in organizing events for about 1000 people every year like the Silicon Valley comes to Lisbon, the Explorers Festival, the Lisbon Investment Summit, and since 2015, the Productized Conference. When I’m not organizing events, I’m busy facilitating startup events, and hackathons, design sprints, and managing my Lisbon based innovation consulting company.
Productized is based in Lisbon, what the product design scene like in your city?
Ux-Lx is the most established event, they orchestrate a wonderful crafted yearly event. Otherwise, meetups like Product Tank Lisbon are also quite active, and several new ones are popping up lately.
What led up to organizing the Productized Conference?
Frustration essentially. Back in 2010 when I was working as a product manager for IT companies, I witnessed first-hand how these companies had great engineering resources, and actually pretty good solutions, but they totally lacked productization vision. Poor product design, and no product vision. They were (maybe still are) totally happy selling one-shot solutions, without capturing any added value. I thought that gathering established product thought-leaders in Lisbon, and asking them to open the kimono about productization techniques would draw their attention. What I’ve come to realize is that I was preaching to the wrong crowd. Established international product companies end up constituting 80% of our audience.
Which other events inspire you to organize your own?
When I began I did very poorly benchmarking, I had this idea on my shelf since 2011, and in 2014 I decided to give it a try. Our first meetups were in early 2015. Another mistake, although the product community was much smaller, events like Mind the product were already around, and I just realized that late into the game. I guess, UxLx where I’ve been a volunteer in the first edition in 2010 was my biggest inspiration – still is.
What is the story behind the conference name?
Productize was not available as a domain, so I stuck with the second-best choice Productized which is the passive form. Productized tries to convey that ideas, solutions, inventions can and should be productized in order to come to market and become part of our daily lives.
How do you find spreaker and curate the line-up?
I have a backlog of people I want to invite or that our community is asking for, via feedback forms. I have lots of freedom, in the sense, I don’t invite the rock stars first – sometimes I read a book, an article that I found interesting and I reach out to the author – sometimes, I’m puzzled about a specific subject and I try to find experts in those fields and invite them to speak. Almost 50% of the conference speakers come from our call for speakers that receives hundreds of responses, and then I have a small team of 3 co-curators that rank those applications according to quality/ interest to our audience.
Can you describe how Productized is setup?
This year all 10 workshops were on-line, every 15 days, across several months but in past years they happen during the first 2 days of the conference. The talks and keynotes happen along 2 afternoons online, in single-track format. I think there is a reason you do curation because you believe that the single track you are going to serve them is the best 'meal' you can prepare and that your audience should 'digest.' You don’t go to a Michelin restaurant to eat a buffet, you have to trust the chef. I think that is the job of the curator, to cherry-pick and de-noise the static of content out there.
Walk us through the speaker lineup, who can we expect to hear and learn?
All talks have been pre-recorded and are originals that are going to be premiered at Productized. We have gone the extra mile to help our speakers prepare their talks, providing them guidance, shipping them kit (HD webcams, lightboxes…) to several continents, and doing an editorial work of filtering and asking for several cuts until we were all happy with the result. We are going to simulate a live event, because the hosting is live and will be broadcast from our small auditorium, as well as the fireside chats where we are going to discuss the impact of COVID-19 in product crafting, productizing for good and ethical standards, and on products lifecycle philosophy.
WOW! You shipped around a home recording kit. Can you explain why you choose to do this and what the benefits are of doing so?
We wanted to give back to our speakers, and we also shipped them some merchandise a gift-box with a laptop leather-like sleeve, laptop stickers which they really appreciated!
The reason behind the production kit is that the speakers are the "product" of a conference, and we wanted them to shine the brightest and not be hampered by crappy laptop webcams/mics, or no proper LED lighting. This way, we also put some additional pressure on them to make this process as seriously as possible. In terms of the actual raw quality of the content, an online event can actually have some advantages, if we make good use of it.
We’ve created an experience where Networking is at the basis of any event. Getting to know new people and establishing new partnerships is the main key to Productized Conference.
What are you most excited about if you look at the complete program?
As the organizer, I shouldn’t play favorites but I’m looking forward to the talk by Radhika Dutt, Co-Founder, Radical Product Thinking movement on “Iterating less and achieving more: How to build products like a visionary”, also to our the coffee-break side room and surprise experiences are going to play out. At the end of the day, we want Productized to be a safe place to learn and share alike experiences with fellow productizers.
Can you share how Productized grew to the conference it is today?
We started as a 400 people gathering in 2015 and we’ve been growing steadily at 15% per year ever since. I was never too worried about dimension, but about trying to craft a great event experience, so we’ve never settled in the same venue, always looking for someplace that would be a perfect fit… this year we had secured our dream venue, just in front of the river and then…
This year it's Productized 6th anniversary. You pivoted from an in-person conference to a digital-first event. Was this a hard decision?
We never really took the option of skipping 2020 as a real possibility, because we had working contracts with sponsors and speakers, and we didn't want to push it to 2021 - also because back in April 2020 when we took this decision, we were (still aren't) sure regarding the behavior of the pandemic next year, as we might still have a couple of waves ahead of us, in the Sprint, and even Fall 2021 preventing governments and city councils authorizing big people gatherings in closed spaces like conferences. We just decided to play the safest option, an online event, and we did it very early because attendees' safety and well-being should always come first.
Is organizing an online event different from an in-person event?
Many of the same drills remain the same, I think one of our strong points has been our relation and care for the speakers’ needs after they have been invited to be with us. Logistics wise is a completely different fight, with no food, no hotels, nor plane tickets to cater for… Event organizers end up becoming tourist operators – that part of the business is mostly gone.
Which tools are you using to host the conference? How did you choose them?
We are a little bit conservative so, we’ve moved away from Eventbrite (mostly because they stopped payouts to organizers and me to keep paying my staff salaries), so we have switched to a stack of HeySummit / Stripe for agenda + ticketing and Zoom on PC + Slido/ and Slack on mobile, dual-screen experience for the actual streaming and interaction.
Can you describe how you going to bring the conference atmosphere to the people at home?
We’ve created an experience where Networking is at the basis of any event. Getting to know new people and establishing new partnerships is the main key to Productized Conference 2020. Even online, our attendees will have plenty of opportunities to meet your product soulmate… leverage on their careers, and gain new perspectives of the product community.
What do you want your audience to take away?
I believe to remain true to the core foundational vision, that productization is and should be a priority in our economy. I’ll be happy if people get inspired by cases like the one of Bloom from Amin Bashi, trying to build a community for “boomers” at hellobloomers.com, or the case of Masterclass from Ken Sandy, that is re-inventing life-long edutainment, or how companies like AirAsia are rethinking service design and customer service to stay flying in this very shaky year for the air travel industry. I want people to take away inspiration and the feeling that they are empowered to think about productization and creation for their companies or projects.
What has been the most challenging part in organizing Productized as an online event?
We start with a zero budget every year. So, that means that every single year, we have to raise sponsors and market the ticket office and in good years, we manage to break-even. It’s lots of work, high-risk, low pay. Also, the business model of big conferences, even in normal years, is very risky because, and I personally think, it's not very sustainable from an environmental point of view – in past editions, we paid to offset CO2 emissions but still doesn’t feel very sustainable on the long run, does it?
What's your ambition for the Productized in the next five years?
Like so many other conference organizers, we’re trying to productize Productized, by January 2021 offering a subscription model, that will include access to workshops, our VoD catalog of 5 years of talks, and discounts to online courses, first access to podcasts, and more. In 5 years we want to be an established partner of higher education Universities for life-long education on all things product education curriculum.
Where do you think design-driven events are heading in the next five years and how will you adapt?
We have a saying in Portugal, an almost millennial nation, that “after times, times will come.” The COVID-19 pandemic is toiling even our medium-term vision, but I think that events will come back stronger than ever in 2-3 years. For our part, we will try to put Productized Conference on hold in 2021, and come back stronger with a premium in-person event in 2022, maybe with a nice setting like the Algarve.
26-27 November 2020
Tickets from 3,99€ — Get your ticket
Speakers are: Ken Sandy, Sabrina Rzepka, Amin Bashi, Bettina Goerner, Shobhit Chugh, Jasjit Singh, Annie Pugliese, Ashley Nicodemus, Blair Koeneman, Saurabh Gupta, Radhika DuttFabrice des Mazery, João Rodrigues, Kavita Appachu, Mihaela Draghici, Mário Araújo, André Marquet, Sean Silcoff, Karolina Kohler, Elena Tisato, Anna Stepanoff, André Albuquerque, Tony Fernandes