A few weeks ago I was at the ConversionXL Live 2016 conference in Austin, Texas. Since we, at FindHotel, are busy setting up CRO & AB testing processes for our website, it was a good opportunity to get insights and make connections. This blog post is more about the fun and social side of the conference and Austin though. While I mention some of the talks, for the insights from the conference check out the inbound.org page that has slides & notes (including detailed crowd-sourced ones!) and the key insights at the ConversionXL blog.
I arrived a few days before the conference since everybody recommended Austin as a very cool and un-Texas-like city. Austin is also the live music capital of the world but unfortunately I missed the SXSW Festival which was the week before. Still there was a lot to do. Using the very cool Firehouse Hostel as a base, I discovered the bars and the live music, the quirky shops, the great food (think food trucks, tacos, Tex-Mex) as well as the climbing scene. I met some really cool people, went bouldering indoors and even climbing outdoors! The venues, people, getting around by bike, climbing and the countryside really made it feel like home.
Banger's sausage house and beer garden
The day before the conference I attended a pre-conference workshop on Landing Page Optimization in downtown Austin. It was a good warm-up and afterwards we headed over to The Dogwood to join the official drinks organized by the conference for the hundred or so attendees who were already in town. A surprising large number had come over from Europe also.
The morning of the conference we met outside the Texas Capitol (Austin is the state capital) to board the special “tacos buses”. They were regular coaches but we continuously got served tacos during the 1.5 hour journey. I lost count of how many I ate. The conference was in a lakeside resort on the Horseshoe Bay. It is an event that focuses on the networking so the goal is to have everybody attend the talks, eat, drink, sleep at the same remote location for two nights and three days to maximize interaction. After the 400+ attendees (not a very small conference) checked in to their rooms, everybody went over to the huge conference hall. The theme of the talks on the first day was Psychology. The first talk, and also one of the most interesting ones, was from Bart Shultz, from Amsterdam, who proposed a psychology based testing framework. Another interesting talk was from Nir Eyal who explained his popular “hook” model about products that suddenly become a habit and change people’s lives. The rest of the talks were about influencing customers by using various persuasion and emotional methods.
Bart on how Kahneman's two modes of thought relate to testing
The second day’s topic was Optimization and Testing, the meat of the matter! There was quite a few very good talks but the top one was from Ronny Kohavi who leads Microsoft’s huge Analysis and Experimentation team. He talked about the pitfalls of A/B Testing and it was fascinating to see the amazing scale that Microsoft tests at and the kind of issues they run into. There was also other interesting talks on measuring your testing process and making the most of your testing capacity. Definitely a lot of take home! The talks ended with a panel on “the hardest testing questions” followed by "Conversion Jeopardy". We had the dinners in a huge outdoor tent, with live music of course. Afterwards the party moved to the conference hall where attendees showed off their karaoke skills. Incriminating photos can be found online.
The third and the last day of the conference didn’t have one unifying theme but was about various topics like Analytics, Personalization and Retention. Overall I found it less interesting than the previous days but there were still quiet a few ideas on Personalization and Retention to remember as they are subjects we'll be getting more into soon. Afterwards, it was back to the buses and to Austin. I checked-in to the Drifter Jack hostel near the university campus, quite a change after two nights in a resort! Coincidentally there was another conference attendee in my room. Then I ran into another attendee(who I had sat next on the bus) while having lunch in town. Small town, large conference! We then went to the rooftop terrace of Speakeasy for drinks arranged by the conference. It was a good night of talking about testing and life over gin tonics.
The conference had organized a few social activities on Saturday for the attendees that were still in Austin. I joined a large group of people to go kayaking on the Colorado River! We got into kayaks, two people each, and kayaked for 2 hours to the Barton Springs and back. There was a lot of wildlife and it was a beautifully sunny day. Austin really felt like a great city to live in (I haven’t seen the summer heat though). After kayaking we went to the nearby Rainey Street, this time to Craft Pride that serves endless number of craft beers on tap. We had our beers in the sun and got Detroit style pizzas (apparently there is such a thing, it’s square) from a food truck at the back. Then it was time for last goodbyes, it was a very fun bunch! Meeting all these people across the five days of the conference, including (and maybe especially) the pre & post conference events was amazing. While I learned a lot and got inspired by some of the talks, the individual connections I made with some of the attendees and speakers was even more valuable. The conference’s obvious focus on facilitating this ended up being successful, even for someone like me who is rather skeptical on the game of networking. The amount of new ideas, tools, companies, processes etc. that I walked away with from this conference was huge and almost overwhelming. In the end it was with a heavy feeling that I left this great town where I met so many great people in and outside the conference but I was also already looking forward to the next such adventure.
Kayaking on the Colorado