Reinventing Business
Discovering Your Best Organizational Structure

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Craft Conference in Budapest

I had arranged via the Budapest Craft Conference organizer Gergely Hodicska to visit a number of companies before the conference, and this process (once again) added tremendously to the conference experience. I arrived in Budapest on a Monday evening, with two full days devoted to visiting companies -- and getting over the worst of the jet lag -- before the conference began. On Tuesday I met with Ákos Maróy and Viktor Szathmáry, who are probably best described as "serial innovators." They just keep making things up, including:

  • EU Edge – a flat organization doing innovative software projects ( http://euedge.com/)
  • Scarab Research – recommendation systems (http://www.scarabresearch.com/)
  • Google Glassware for aviation (http://glass.aero/)
  • Startup incubator Digital Factory (http://digitalfactory.vc/)
  • FabLab Budapest (http://www.fablabbudapest.com/)
  • Atlatszo.hu – transparency organization (http://atlatszo.hu/category/english/)

Akos is also an artist:
Next, I visited Balabit It Security, which is one of the more well-known start-up success stories in Budapest, and one of the earliest and now most-established. We talked about creating positive working environments.

Although it seems like I might be able to fit more meetings in on one day, in reality two is a more reasonable number, especially in an unfamiliar city, and coping with jet lag.

On Wednesday I had breakfast with Dan North, and the conversation intrigued me enough that I went to the first half of his one-day seminar, enough to want to see the rest, except that I had a lunch meeting with Prezi. Prezi seems to have taken ideas from Google about creating situations where employees want to hang out, rubbing elbows and ideas. One of the great things about the startups in European countries is that they often repurpose fascinating old buildings as office space, and that's what Prezi has done. In their building is a restaurant which they rent out every weekday for lunch, so employees can just go downstairs to a very nice buffet. I met with Gabor Veszi and Gábor Török, both engineering managers. We sat and ate in a lovely renaissance courtyard. Prezi is a trendsetter in Budapest because employees are distinctly and pleasantly surprised about how good the working environment is.

I usually get an additional sense of a company just by walking through and seeing the working spaces, but on this occasion I had my next meeting with Zsolt Bako at the incubator CoLabs, so I had to leave before the Prezi walkthrough. CoLabs started as a coworking space, and then discovered that the coworkers were forming companies with each other and needed offices -- but wanted to stay withing the social and cultural environment of CoLabs. So CoLabs evolved to add not only office spaces but other support for startups, including coaching and financing.

That evening I gave my Reinventing Business presentation at a pre-conference Agile Meetup (open to everyone), with perhaps 120 in attendance. I used the same material I had for OSCON, and realized that the ideas are evolving fairly rapidly, so I need to refresh the material with the ideas that are more current for me.

The conference itself was held in a building that, from the outside, looks a bit like a fish. Inside, it seemed like a kind of shopping mall, and we were occupying the top two floors. There were three presentation rooms, and during breaks and meals there were food and tech company booths spread along the mall aisle.

I have a significant advantage when speaking at a conference rather than attending -- people often approach me and start conversations. This brings my own experience slightly closer to Open Spaces (where everybody is having conversations all the time), although I still miss that structure when I'm involved with "eyes-forward" conferences. I think being aware of the difference makes me work harder to try to create and deliver the most interesting presentation that I'm (currently) capable of producing.

In the past I would probably have considered my presentation at Craft (video here) to be reasonably successful (and a number of people came up to me afterwards and told me it was quite helpful). However, I found myself dissatisfied with it -- and I immediately knew the reason, based on Start with Why. I had created a presentation that I thought the conference would want and would fit with their charter, rather than creating something that came from my "why." Fortunately, I was able to create the right presentation a couple of weeks later for the San Francisco Scala User's Group (video here), and it felt much better -- the process of creating the presentation helped me rethink some of my core ideas and directions. (We're discussing the possibility of an "evolved" version of the latter presentation at next year's Craft).

The start-up community in Budapest is small -- most people estimate about a dozen start-ups in existence -- but it seems quite vibrant. I really like the energy of everyone I met, and especially the attitude. In the SF Bay Area, I sometimes get the feel of "this place reeks of success, so just by being here we're automatically smarter than everyone else." Whereas in places like Prague, Poland and Budapest I get more of a sense like "we KNOW we have no idea what we're doing and the deck is stacked against us." So the effect is more humbling, and people pay attention to everything and make fewer assumptions; perhaps it helps compensate for the Dunning-Kruger Effect. I also suspect that a big part of the energy I find in former Eastern-Bloc countries is that now they have the freedom to do a lot more, and that's very invigorating.