Ian Fleming knew what he was doing when he chose Jamaica as his muse. After our inaugural Tech Beach Retreat, I'm convinced that we should all do the same.
When Kirk approached me in January 2016 in Jamaica about Tech Beach, I was in the middle of reading "Goldeneye. Where Bond was Born: Ian Fleming's Jamaica" by Matthew Parker. Many people are surprised when I tell them that not only was Ian Fleming inspired by Jamaica when he created James Bond, he wrote all the stories in his retreat in Jamaica, at the house he built on the north coast of the island - Goldeneye. He in fact lived at Goldeneye for two months of every year for 18 years, until his death in 1964.
It's fairly common to have retreats in tech, sometimes purely as a team bonding exercise, sometimes with an agenda - brainstorming, fireside chats, etc. Perhaps it's the islander in me, but I've always drawn inspiration from being surrounded by beauty in nature. I immediately saw the attraction in being with a group of tech creatives at a Jamaican beach. And so when Kirk asked, I agreed to start spreading the word about this to get the a great group of people together.
So, top take aways from our first edition?
It shouldn't be a surprise since the conference being in Jamaica was a huge selling point. But a location can have a rippling effects. Being at an all inclusive, an idea that Kirk described early on, not only meant we didn't worry about where to eat/drink once we were there. It meant that new connections could easily be forged as we new and old groups connected over meals.
The panels seemed like the usual tech fare — but the content, the lens through which everyone saw the world was distinctly different. It turned a panel on the future of payments into a lively debate on how to not be left behind as a small country — as an example, Jamaica does not have full access to the power of PayPal. This meant that a conversation about a startup pursuing bitcoin and blockchaining was not just about describing a novel experiment, it could be the future of startups in many small countries around the world being able to accept digital payments. Perhaps not too surprisingly, the panel on AI very soon went to the implications of automation on jobs, and our panel on big data spent a lot of time discussing the role of open source in this space.
I've been trying to explain the unique glow I feel after Tech Beach Retreat, a glow that persists even through the flu. I've been to many fantastic conferences this year, and came away finding value from all of them, but there was something special about Tech Beach. Finally, as I found myself smiling remembering the different conversations, jokes, dreams, good natured teasing, it occurred to me. We were a community coming together, no competition yet wildly ambitious and wanting to change the world, hugely curious, unsatisfied with the status quo, and with a love for our home countries and communities. (A special shout out to Kirk, Kyle and Phin, the main conference organizers, for curating such a special group of catalysts, speakers and attendees.)
A reoccurring theme was the need for us smaller countries to band together - we are stronger as larger economic entities. We've seen this with the EU, the AU, and to some extent in the Caribbean with CARICOM, but what we really need as islands is a return to something resembling the short lived West Indies Federation. While we had good natured teasing amongst the different islands during the conference, I do hope that we captured something special there that will lead to more cooperation in the future.
There was this moment during the opening evening where I realized we'd captured something special. It was around 6 pm, and I had just walked onto the beach where we had the opening evening talks. There was a no shoes policy on that first day since we were on the beach, and I'd just taken my sandals off and been handed a rum punch. I turned to my friend Bianca and said "I can't even contain my excitement right now. I'm on a beach. In Jamaica. Drinking a rum punch. At a tech conference."
You want to be on the beach with us next year talking tech and drink rum punches.
I'll leave you with more pictures because Jamaica <3.
Until next year, #techbeachretreat2017.