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All content © 2013 by Designwala
In an inspiring and engaging chat over Skype early in the morning, Philip McKenzie – founder of InfluencerCon and Tegy Thomas the lead organizer of InfluencerCon Mumbai, spoke to Maitreyi about InfluencerCon 2012.
What is InfluencerCon? What influenced you to start this event?
Philip: In 2010 when I first started Influencer, I was working with a lot of clients in the marketing space big companies like Beau Hennesy, Paggio, Jaguar, they were interested in reaching out to tastemakers, game-changers and influencers across industries and territories, but they really did not know how to do that effectively, they did not really understand the culture of influence. So I wanted to create an event that would speak to influence in an influencer culture in a meaningful and sustainable way. So for me it was connecting with artists, entrepreneurs, technologists, philanthropists, that was kind of the core group. Connecting with those kinds of people who were literally working collaboratively, breaking down existing instructions and literally changing the world, that was the motivation to shine a light on this culture.
The very first year it was held just in New York, but with the help of one of our partners Livestream, we broadcasted the event online. When we looked at the numbers of our viewership outside of New York, the second largest was Western Europe, and third most viewed region was India. We were very small at that point, we did not have any chance of marketing or campaigning in those areas, it was a very localized New York event. But looking at the numbers from Livestream we realized this is a global conversation.
So taking off from the success of the conference in Berlin and London last year we have expanded it to São Paulo and Mumbai this year. This is the third year for the conference as a whole, but the first time it is going to be held in Mumbai.
Who are Influencers?
Philip: Influencers to me are the individuals, or groups of people (sometimes it is more than one person so they could be a loose group of people) working from a position of passion and creativity towards something that is meaningful and sustainable. They have the ability through their action to motivate and inspire further positive action. We are trying to get away from this traditional way of thinking in terms of “silos”. We want to break people away from the silo’ed way of thinking. How I view this is, weather you are an entrepreneur in a startup or in a large corporate situation, it is the people who have the ability to connect dots, that are the ones that are going to be largely successful. The world is moving away from specificity based on a title, and moving towards knowledge and community based work. It is important for this person to work cross-functionally, and draw inspiration from across the spectrum than it is to be focused on any one thing as it pertains to any one-job function.
How is the event structured?
Philip: In terms of the structure, about how people are going to present their information, that is very similar to other design/innovation events. We are going to have a panel conversations, one-on-one conversations and keynote presentations. What’s important is the duration of the event, the amount of time the people that are going to be on the stage. When I look around at other competitive events, they keep reinventing the wheel on how to disseminate information. They don’t feel confident with the content itself. I am a firm believer that content speaks for itself. So if you have a talented speaker and interesting message, I don’t have to have a billion things going on to convey the message to you, the best thing I can do is to send that information to you in a way that is compelling and clear and concise and then let it speak for its self. So we are less about the fireworks so to speak metaphorically and spend our time and energy in collecting the best people. There is a phrase I use all the time, I am looking for people who are credentialed rather than titled. I think a lot of events go for the people that a lot of people know, but when I think about influence, authentic influence is going to always come from the people you don’t know yet. We want to put together the best combination of people you may know and people you may not know. And create the best-curated event that there is.
Are they given a specific topic to present at Influencer?
Philip: Sometimes we have curatorial relationships, if there is a very interesting partner or speaker that we feel is an expert in a particular space then we might ask them to pretty much put together a talk or a conversation in their discipline. Sometimes we also look at a potential speaker and say you know you are really good at this why don’t come and present this at Influencer.
Let me give you an example of one such group in London. There is a marketing and PR group called ‘The Industry’ and the women who runs that organization is putting up our fashion panel. Clearly she has the expertise and knowledge about the fashion industry. So I will go to her and say this is an opportunity for us to work collaboratively. Its much less about me telling people what is important, its more about me asking questions and trying to identity what’s in your area. Example, Mumbai is very different from New York which is very different from São Paulo. So me sitting here in NY can’t really tell the Mumbai audience what they should be focusing on. It’s more for me to rely upon the expertise of Tegy and Shagun and the team that’s formulating (in Mumbai) to find the best topics and best people and put together a particular focus that makes it unique for that audience. We are trying to be cautious about not being cultural imperialist. New Yorkers tend to do that, we feel that everything revolves around New York. That’s really not the case. I believe that there is synergy in these communities globally, that is really what we want to identify keeping in mind that on the ground situations are going to be really unique, but there is still things that are going to cross over and be focus points.
Tegy: I am in the midst of finding those kind of Influencers in India. There are very similar things going on in all our different cities. What I am trying to do is go deeper and beyond what is normally portrayed in the Indian story to the western world. What those stories are the challenge, and who is telling it, who is doing it maybe, different. Their age might be an indicator of how passionate they are.
In terms of speakers one example that I would highlight, I had a conversation with Sonia Manchanda, the co-founder of Idiom a design studio in Bengaluru, the interesting thing that I want to highlight is that she is also working on this initiative called Dream.In , she has a deeper vision of what design would look like in India. That’s just one example of somebody who has a perspective of being in the business for a long time but also trying to break out of her silo to engage and have discussions that are meaningful to larger context of what is happening with Design in India but also connecting it at a global level.
Another example I would like to give is about Mayank Sekhsaria the Co-Founder of Greenlight Planet – a global social enterprise and a product leader in the low-cost solar home lighting space. In its first few years of operations, Greenlight Planet has already reached over 1.5MM village users across 25 countries with offices across Kenya, USA, India and China. Prior to starting Greenlight Planet, Mayank worked with various technology companies including Google in Mountain View, CA. Mayank is an engineering graduate from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and currently resides in Mumbai, India.
What are your expectations for this year’s event globally and specifically in Mumbai? What are your future plans?
Philip: My expectations are two fold; immediate view – the event is happening in October, we are about 2 months away so to basically produce an event that is going to add something new to conversations that are happening in Mumbai. We want to push to make obviously a successful event and bring people together that might not otherwise be in the same room. For us it’s all about breaking down the silos and bring people from different disciplines together to have deeper conversations.
The long-term goal is to use this event to create a community that will exist and continue to interact when influencer is done. We make a commitment to be in these cities perpetually. So we are going to bring an Influencer conference in Mumbai hopefully till the world comes the end, whenever that happens.
This is not like a TED event that pops up and disappears and then there is another one some place else. Our goal is to create creative communities within these cities and become an active participant in these cities. We will be doing a lot of listening and some bit of talking always trying to keep a pulse of what is going on. This event is kind of an introduction, from then on it is kind of heavy-lifting of building a sustainable community of creative and thought leaders in Mumbai that can use themselves as a resource to further themselves and their projects and tie that Mumbai community with the other cities. So our goal is to have everyone talking to each other all the time. A speaker in Mumbai should feel empowered and encouraged to reach out to one of our past or present speakers in Berlin, or São Paulo.
Long term we would like to have about 12-15 active InfluencerCon cities. And then from there on have this interconnected community that can then work together creatively and cross functionally to further their projects.
Where in Mumbai is InfluencerCon going to be held?
Tegy: The space we are having our event is called Studio X , which is in Mumbai. It’s a space owned by Columbia University, but it’s also in various locations around the world. So by default that is a parallel to what influencer is already doing.
Who should attend this event? What are the take-aways for the participants from this event?
Philip: On a broad perspective someone who is intellectually curious and the creatives should definitely attend. On a granular level, people who are involved in the change industries which I would define very loosely as marketing, advertising, design, entertainment, academia, social enterprise etc. The topics that we cover intersect into their roles quite naturally.
Anything you would like to add further:
Philip: This has been such an amazing experience, for me personally, because I get to work with so many interesting people like Tegy who was the one who organized TEDx Brooklyn before this. This has been my whole life’s work and it’s amazing that I have an opportunity to spread this work and pick up on the energy while talking to people that we all have unique cultural perspectives.
When you are in the space to create change we have a lot more in common than not and I think what we are trying to find are those commonalities, either in our discipline or city so that each one of us don’t feel like we have to tackle these problems alone. The change that people are trying to make in India, is the change that people are trying to make in New York, Berlin, cities we are not even touching.
It’s very encouraging to see that if we work together and over come the silos we can really make some amazing things happen. So excited to be a part of that process.