Collision 2024: The good, the bad, and the perplexing

I'd really love to magically brain-dump a post-conference debrief every time I attend one but it's so much work! I'll make an exception with Collision in Toronto this year because I was left with intense thoughts that I wanted to share with c11n readers.

Collision 2024: The good, the bad, and the perplexing

Collision is (was!) an annual conference that brings (brought!) together over 40,000 folks, including 2,000 startups and about as many tech journalists, to share ideas and invigorate our collective imagination. This year marked the last edition of Collision in Toronto and organizers are aggressively redirecting any Collision traffic to upcoming Web Summit Vancouver so you'll have a hard time finding any digital footprint of it. "The king is dead, long live the king!", I guess.

But let's discuss what I experienced at my first (and last) Collision experience.

First of all, like many of these massive tech conferences, there are three major areas:

  • The commercial booths area (aka "partners"), which take 50% of the space. I had little interest on this.
  • The stages area, surrounding the partners area, which takes another 40% of the space. I was looking forward to this.
  • The Speakers lounge, which takes some 5% of the remaining space. Here is where I found myself spending most of my quality time.

I was invited to deliver a Growth stage keynote titled "Developers: The x for design tool hypergrowth". For 15 min I'd be able to express how collaborative design tools need developers to experience unprecedented growth and why only open source design tools will bring you developers.

The only slide that had something other than a couple of words was the last one. Notice the third chart!

I had a great time on stage and I could see many heads nodding when I referred how inherently broken (for future growth) incumbent design tools were in bridging the gap between design and code.

The "open-air" stage concept was interesting but was brutal for less experienced speakers

My schedule highlights

But what about the rest of the conference? Collision is all about great minds "colliding" at a crossroads full of diverse perspectives.

  • "A new era in DefenseTech investing" with Jai Das (Sapphire Ventures) and Marc Vartabedian (TWSJ). A nice glimpse on how anticlimatic VC investing in Defensetech is. Kudos to Marc, who inserted a question on the challenges attracting talent for the DefenseTech world I had suggested to him earlier.
  • "Bootstrapping a product-led business from 0 to 7 million developers" by Alan Shreve, Founder & CEO at ngrok. A very insightful talk on a quite heterodox founder journey. It's a pity that Alan has got almost zero digital presence.
  • Breakout pitch sessions on Growth stage. The usual formula with a 3 min pitch and a Q&A from the jury. Many were actually quite good!
  • "Female founded, female funded" with Eva Wong (Borrowell), Candice Faktor (DISCO) and Charlotte Herrold (Canadian Business). A great commentary on the challenges women founders face.
  • "What Creative Industries can teach us about the use of AI" with Ramona Pringle (Professor at The Creative School TMU), Umar Ghumman (Chief Experience Officer at VML), Neishaw Ali (President at Spinvfx), Zina Rahman (CEO at Transitional Forms) and Yves Jacquier (Executive Director at Ubisoft). Mixed feelings about this, I'll comment below.
  • "The new era in agriculture" by Diego Hoter (Co-founder and CEO at Traceability, traceability, traceability!
  • "The Black Innovation Zone" stand was always full of great buzz!
  • "Playing away: How to take your business global" with Kristina Lucrezia Cornèr (Cointelegraph), Mark Loughran (President at inDrive), Mio Kawada (Executive VP at JETRO), Brett Martin (Co-founder at Kumospace). I was there for Kawada & Japan but also got insights from Loughran on spread versus depth on a country by country basis and how that changes over time.

There was even some super cool almost sci-fi looking announcements like the new drone tech by BRINC on Center stage although I’ll admit I felt somewhat at odds with the whole narrative.

Did we really "collide"?

There's always the risk with a generic IT conference even if they set up thematic "stages". Sometimes panels feel a bit too scripted (even if the panelists are amazing) and you’ll get the occasional misleading talk title which means you might regret not attending that other talk. In a world where there’s a constant fight for our attention, you sometimes need a bit of luck to come out victorious from your schedule choice.

Some people that had attended past Collision editions would comment that they had expected a better grand finale for this Web Summit franchise but otherwise were happy with the format. Unfortunately I didn’t have their context but I do agree that it was unfortunate that there was no streaming or recording of the sessions. I think we, as an industry, need to be bolder in how we exchange ideas, how we collaborate to bring them to fruition and how we are honest about what we know and what we really think and sharing all that with a bigger audience is vital.

On a different note, let’s discuss generative AI coverage at Collision. It was everywhere and it was nowhere in a weird way. The noise that came from vague statements and superficial approaches outranked the small bits of useful signal here and there. It’s a pity how something this transformative can be so massively hyped and misunderstood at the same time.

It was interesting to listen to how many VCs would publicly state that they won’t listen to any startup that has AI in their elevator pitch, period.

In some ways, the conversations and statements very much felt like we were back in 2007 for the beginning of the smartphone era in the sense that everyone claimed they "got it" and were already "ahead of the game" when they really had no clue of what was going to happen to their businesses and careers.

I’ll tell you a little secret. There were almost no genAI builders in the room, just consumers and nervous knowledge workers.

"Female founded, female funded" panel

The Speakers Lounge gave me hopes!

This was a relative big space with nice sofas and catering but, most importantly, full of really smart people that, devoid of the pressure of giving a talk, would engage in really deep conversations. Kudos to Collision to get all these people interact with each other so effortlessly!

I really enjoyed chatting with so many brilliant minds (many names overlap with people I referred to above) and here I got a glimpse of what can be built if all those different perspectives could really work together, but also the immense difficulties that all of us face on a daily basis. Above all I could feel the pain around the disorientation and the lack of a clear picture in part due to the abundance of external dependencies.

This uncertainty factor that has always plagued our industry was exacerbated by the recent rise of genAI amidst a bit of a recession. There's no silver bullet for this but I'm adamant that at the core of taking control of what we build and scaling up our ambitions sits a massive alliance between designers and developers. We need the right mindsets, the processes and the tools for this.

Ultimately,, I believe these events can play a huge role in how we shape our industry moving forward but we need more people and content around how to build the technology and the businesses of the future and less of a rushed commentary on some status quo.