SWITCH was cancelled for a lot of reasons. Below text by SWITCH founder and curator gives more insights.
It was September 2009 when, from my bedroom, I started researching events that would allow me to connect with my peers – people who were creating things from whatever point in the globe. I found some very cool ones, I must admit.
One of them was SHiFT, the first and foremost event for technologists and entrepreneurs in the tech space in Portugal at the time. I attended SHiFT that same year – and loved the vibe, energy and the spirit of “making everything possible”. Later that year I had the same feeling at LeWeb – without a doubt one of the biggest inspirations for what SWITCH became – it was such an inspirational and useful place to be.
Please mind it was in a time when “entrepreneurship” was not a word most Portuguese people would know, it was before Beta-i, before Startup Lisboa, before “Planos Estratégicos”, before the unbelievable number of TEDx events that appeared, before entrepreneurship became sexy.
That same year (2009) I decided I would go ahead and create an event in Portugal that would gather some of the best people in technology, science, innovation and marketing in Portugal for two days of networking and learning. At the time, in high school, I started STD Conference, which later became SWITCH. It was my high school project. It was hard. The school prohibited the project and we had to do it as a side project, after classes. To date I’m still immensely thankful to my colleagues that went ahead with me in this project and to the team at jeKnowledge that felt this could be added value to Portugal. We had a clear idea of what we wanted: an interesting event, packed with valuable speakers from Portugal and abroad, all in English and all over Portugal. We started off with Coimbra in 2010. It was, again, hard. First edition, one of the most intense periods of learning in my life. We did so many mistakes. We learned so many things. I met people I’m now good friends with. Unbelievable we proved what Portugal was really good at: dozens of people around us came and helped. We managed to get a (somewhat buggy) live-feed even in Second Life (thanks Rui and Hugo). We had more than 1000 people watching the event (!) – thanks Celso and team. A group of 17-year-olds managed to stream to all over the world and became the most discussed topic on twitter in Portugal the two days. The proof that everything was possible. Generous speakers offered their time and came to Portugal to discuss ideas with a group of curious people. People ahead of their time, I’d say.
And then the volcano news. We had to cancel some of our best speakers because they couldn’t take off or land in Lisbon/Porto. Many were quick on calling it “an impossible event to put together” and suggesting us to cancel right away. We felt it would be disrespectful to our audience that would be there and to the speakers who were saving their precious time to discuss ideas with us. Out of the financial chaos that the volcano brought we were still able to do an almost profitable event. There were many things that we felt could be improved. And so we decided to run it again.
2011. Porto. One of the most beautiful cities in the entire world. We gathered what I believe was our biggest audience to date. Thousands watched the livestream again. A new team, people who heard of SWITCH and decided to join. Crazy ones, Jobs would have said. We had Ji Lee (thanks again Ji!) who delivered what many consider one of the best talks ever. We had David Rowan (who I admire and respect a lot), Ricardo Diniz (who I’m now friends with), we had so many great ones. It was again hard. On one side we are not a professional team nor do we dedicate most of our time to execute the event and in the other side sponsors seemed unable to understand the value of this event that is all in english. Despite our failures, our problems and sleepless nights preparing everything, SWITCH was still valuable for those who attended. People decided to start their own thing and are now running it, other launched their speakers careers, others got press coverage abroad… SWITCH was an economic failure though. I’d to cover some of the losses that this edition represented, but then again and because I felt we left value way past the money, I decided to do so. With the help of some friends I will never forget. SWITCH was always meant to be a non-professional event. We did many mistakes, but we deliberately decided it wouldn’t be a €600+ event.
Then Lisbon. It was the next logical step, what is now the hotbed for the entrepreneurship scene in Portugal. And again – with maybe much more trouble than what we were expecting – we still were able to deliver value. Thanks to a group of sponsors, partners and attendees we gathered amazing speakers in Lisbon… and, again, thousands online. We had fun, too much fun. We enjoyed the city to it’s fullest and we proved internationally that Lisbon had value. That’s always what we were good at… making the bridge between Portugal and abroad. SWITCH in Lisbon was our “make it or break it” – it was again a push (economically and time-wise) that we did out of the feeling we were working for a somewhat bigger cause.
Again Microsoft, ActiveMedia, Portugal Telecom … showed they were on the forefront of this movement and yet again betted on us. Oh my, I’m thankful.
SWITCH became a small phenomenon I wouldn’t expect. We received emails from all over Europe trying to get more informations about the event so they could attend. We were highlighted by TechCrunch, TNW, FastCompany, WIRED and many other bloggers as one of the key events in Europe. We even had three international cities trying to host the event. This makes us so proud of our work and effort. However, in Portugal, where it was more important, we couldn’t unfortunately find the recognition nor the support to carry on our work with the level of quality we aimed for in future editions – where the financial constrain wouldn’t be the reason to not do things the way we wanted.
And now today. We announced the 2013 edition a few months ago. We tried everything. Seriously. We did, in partnership with Oupas! design, we thought for days on how to impress potential speakers and we developed what I believe is some serious kickass invitation for a selected group of speakers. Who does that? For another selected group, we crafted this insane invitation (just click the right arrow to restart) – which has a lot of “admin” goodies you can’t see but were critical to understand how speakers interacted with it. Again, we did everything. And we were able to get good speakers, but we needed the sponsor support. I’m immensely in debt with my team, we nocked every door until we decided to stop and think. And when we did so we realised we were pushing for something that was no longer useful. This brilliant post by SWITCH speaker and personal friend Gianfranco was the last trigger: our expiration date had come. Modesty aside, I believe what we accomplished in these three years was significant. It was important for us, it was important for our attendees, startups and partners and it was mostly important for the Portuguese startup ecosystem which is now growing more steadily.
It’s also time to stop talking and start doing. SWITCH had it’s time and mission. Now it’s the turn of our entrepreneurs to prove themselves by doing their jobs.
It is always sad and difficult to say goodbye. This time is no different, specially for me. SWITCH was and will always be my major project thus far, sort of my own first baby. It was hard, it was a three-year-long life lesson and I couldn’t do it again. Most of us in the team have other projects, day jobs and dreams. SWITCH was what connected all of us. I’m thankful to you. I’m thankful to those that at certain points or throughout a longer journey shared all of this with me. We might use the same team, connections and resources to create a new thing, but that’s it for SWITCH and it’s format.
I’m sorry for those that we disappointed. We could have done better, but we absolutely did all we could. I will never forget the nights, the discussions, the dinners, Ricardo Diniz rocking the stage, Ji impressing us all with his work, our own staff crying out of tireless work, the stories that will remain private, the effort, the fears and the small victories.
For you my team and for all of you who supported us in some way or another, there will always be SWITCH as long as there’s this spark of energy, ideas, dreams and action that will turn Portugal and Europe around.
On to the next journey, I thank you from my heart.
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Founder & Producer
on behalf of the best team in the entire world.
Thanks: Rafael, Rita, Cristiana, Dores, Pedro, João, Joana, Laura, Cláudia, Nuno, Vasco, José, Maryana, Daniela, Pedro, Tânia, Miguel, Romina, Daniel, André, Hugo, Tiago, Rui, Alice, Tiago, Pedro, João, Sílvia, Raquel, Jorge, Catarina – thanks speakers who made 3 awesome editions, thanks those who made it possible and I can’t remember right now.