Top 10 Lessons Learned from 2016s Hottest New Conference: AfroTech

People go to conferences every day. I go to at least 15 per year. Mostly they’re the same. Everyone has an agenda. No one really cares about meeting new people and building meaningful relationships. By the end you’re unsure if it was worth the effort and time. Sound Familiar?

It’s rare to find a conference that stands out, especially a new one. That’s what was so shocking about Blavity’s AfroTech Conference. It stood out, in a big way. So the million dollar question is: how? 

Attend A New Conference–Great Start

First and foremost, it was genuine. Everyone I met cared. About their work, each other, and the world. People were focused and engaged on the moment, not the outcome or what comes next. All of that culminated in a spirit and energy that was uplifting and empowering, even spiritual.

As result, the conference wasn’t just informative or engaging, it was fun. From the quick conversations in between speakers, to “Drake Breaks,” 5 minute DJ sets, running jokes, and a killer after party, the whole experience was designed to be a blast. 


When that energy was combined with a speaker lineup that included CEO of Pinterest Ben Silberman, President of YC Michael Siebel, Founder of Jopwell Porter Bramwell, Marketing Legend Everette Taylor, and more, dynamic becomes an understatement.


During Conference

During the conference, take notes, post statuses, and tweet. Find some great takeaways that you can start putting into action.

Here 10 Key Takeaways From AfroTech in quotes:

  1. “Your execution can be niche but don’t constrain your vision. Your vision can be big” – Michael Siebel, YC

As an entrepreneur you’ll constantly be placed in a box by those you meet. Everyone wants to simplify and label new ideas. It’s why every tries to frame their startup as “The uber of XYZ”. Alternatively, you might be dismissed as too ambitious, impractical, or ‘pie in the sky’.

While it’s important to be open to feedback, think practically, and conduct detailed execution, don’t let it take away from your vision.

  1. “It’s about finding the right funding partner. Someone that understand and values the core business” – Emeka Anen, CEO @ Throne

Many founders take on a ‘funding-at-all-costs” mentality without thinking about what they are looking for in a funder. In order to create alignment your funder needs to believe in the business and understand the industry you operate in. Otherwise you’ll likely have different priorities and timelines.

  1. “I meet too many founders that are chasing the logos of yesterday to put on their resume” – Michael Siebel, YC

© Blavity

Put another way, you can either chase a brand name or build the next brand names. There’s nothing wrong with working at a ‘brand name’ company but it’s certainly not essentially to being a successful entrepreneur.

  1. “Either you can take the risk of chasing your dreams or you can have the safety of working on someone else’s”  – Cedric Rogers, CEO @ LookLive

Similar to Michael Siebel’s quote previously, this one frames it differently. Greatness cannot be achieved without risk. If it there wasn’t a possibility of failing, everyone would do it. In order to chase your dreams you need to be ok with that. 

  1. “Theres riches and niches. If you try to be everything for everyone, you’re not going to be anything for anyone” – John Henry, CEO @ Cofound Harlem

This might appear to contradict Michael Siebel’s first statement but they really go side-by-side. Many founders forget the difference between vision and focus. While it’s critical to be unrestrained in your thinking and ambition, it’s equally important to know what problem you are solving and for who. No product or service can be everything for everyone.

  1. “The company becomes bigger than you at some point, and that’s an emotional and exciting thing” – Porter Braswell, CEO @ Jopwell

When you pour your heart and soul into something, it becomes your baby. It’s almost unfathomable to let go, but the real hallmark of a sustainable company is one that can function without its founder. It takes time but one day all the people you hire and decisions you make culminates in something far greater than you.

  1. “Be authentic. Be you. Don’t be who you think they want you to be, you’ll never be successful” – Frederick Hutson, CEO @ Pigeonly

You can’t be the next ‘Mark Zuckerberg’ or ‘Elon Musk’ but you can (even better) be the next you. Never let norms or expectations dictate who you are.

  1. “Don’t count on friendships with investors, instead rely on motives, goals, and purpose to create alignment” – Rodney Williams, CEO @ LISNR

Rodney’s advice can be applied to many business relationships, whether they are friends or not. You never want a friendship to be the only reason someone is an investor or partner. It’ll strain your personal relationship and leave both parties worse off. Instead ensure that there is a clear and significant benefit for both parties that holds outside of friendship. 

  1. “Diversity is not about charity, it’s about understanding different markets and doing good business” – Jessica Matthews, CEO @ Uncharted Play

© Blavity

Enough said. Finding quality candidates or pipeline are not excuses especially for something critical to the future of your business. 

  1. “I studied successful people that were unconventional to learn how to be successful with Travel Noire” – Zim Ugochukwu, CEO @ Travel Noire

Absorbing Experiences And Lessons

Zim’s advice is similar to a classic Tim Ferriss question: “Who is good at this that shouldn’t be?” However you phrase it, this strategy is brilliant. These are the people that reached their current state through pure hard work or uncovering unique strategies and tactics rather than being bestowed with natural talent. 

One of the most underrated skills of entrepreneurs and creators is being able to absorb the experiences/lessons of others before them and build on them.

AfroTech provided a remarkable opportunity to learn ‘best in class’ leaders and implement those lessons into your own lives. That’s really what makes it stand out. Attendees felt empowered because there was valuable knowledge and insight to be gathered.

AfroTech definitely set some high expectations with but if anything the experience over-delivered on what was promised.

AfroTech Conference Next Year 2017

Next year’s conference is slated for November 10th and 11th and is poised to attract even more speakers and attendees. The key is capturing the same intimate, energized, and real environment that made this year’s event so memorable.

The Full AfroTech & Blavity Team © Blavity 

Jeremy Webb Blog | Startup Grind

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Jeremy WebbTop 10 Lessons Learned from 2016s Hottest New Conference: AfroTech

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