The Conversion Hotel 2018 took place in November in the great and sunny (but not that warm) island of Texel, famous for its large number of sheep, German people during the summer, Texel beer and, more relevantly, the annual Conversion Hotel conference. This time, Katia and I joined hundreds of people from over 10 different countries and multiple industries in a weekend filled with knowledge, networking, and fun (wow, they know how to party!).
After a train, bus and ferry trip, we arrived in Texel and had a classic Dutch meal. Offering free food is a great tactic to increase the conversion rate and ensure everyone makes it in time for the start of the event. Right at the start, we were asked to think of experiments to run during the weekend. People got creative and went from checking how many balloons would fit inside an elevator to how much vodka can be drunk by one person [after a certain amount, the person lost count :-( ]. Speaking of it, a potential experiment for next year's conference: pasta for 50% and sandwiches for the other 50% attendees. Let’s see what converts better (please, keep me on the pasta group! I can leave the sandwiches for the dutchies).
The first day was a mix of inspirational and technical lectures, with lots of time dedicated to networking. An interesting approach for us was the badge-exchange method: every person received someone else's badge and it was their goal to find that person and to find your badge by the end of the evening. If that does not push you into getting to know most people, what will? Mission accomplished!
The whole event was hosted by Annemarie Steen, from the ‘THNK School of Creative Leadership’, who made sure that everyone had a big smile on their faces, feeling comfortable for the event, and getting to know new people in only a couple of minutes.
In our opinion, the highlights of the first day were ‘Lizzie Eardley’ and ‘Chad Sanderson’. Lizzie, from Skyscanner, gave some great insights on how to deal with statistical ghosts, pursuing the correct things and making proper decisions: "there's no such thing as ‘almost significant’, or ‘trending to significance’: “It is either significant or it is not!".
Chad, from Microsoft, showed how to take experiments to a broader level. Not always having a big traffic is needed to run experiments; decisions depend entirely on your goal, how representative your sample is, and on the ROI goals of the business. Implying that RCTs (Random Controlled Trials) are not necessarily the best option for every experiment.
The lovely talks were followed by a night of partying, which made us realize: "I’m already too old for this!". I called in an “early” night at 1 AM, and would hear about how that was when the party just started getting wild!
Day 2 was quite different and yet still, extremely interesting. We had "unconferences" where the speakers become attendants and the attendants become speakers! This was an amazing way of seeing a variety of opinions from the lovely group of people on so many topics!
There were also some workshops for pre-registered groups. It was an interesting way to go deeper into specific subjects and getting to know people facing similar issues as yours (who might be able to help you).
After that, we continued with more universally applicable talks. We'd highlight the great talk from Margriet Sitskoorn, a neuroscientist from Tilburg University. She talked about "How to train your CEO brain", giving live examples of how our mind plays tricks on us and can be easily manipulated. I know, it’s always the one you trust the most who tricks you, right! She also gave good suggestions on habits and things to do to have a better and more successful life, such as continually trying out new things (really new things!), “flow focus” training to improve our attention span, exercising (3 times/week only might not be enough!), connecting today with tomorrow (knowing what you need to do today that's relevant for tomorrow), and managing time (finding time to do the previous things). Ironically, if you say you don't have time to improve yourself with the above, you probably need it even more.
We finished the second night with Greg Shapiro presenting "The World of Trump", a great way to laugh a lot and get ready for another (long) party! If you are wondering, it was possible for some of our co-attendees to party even harder after the first night. Real Heros!
Sunday was a short conference day, since it all ended at lunch. Nonetheless, there was enough time to enjoy a few great talks in the morning, which actually made the top 2 of the entire event for us.
Erin Wiegel, a principal designer from booking.com, shared her thoughts on how to have clean and functional designs that communicate clearly and with style. She showed how testing, market research, and creation through iteration help with refining ideas from initial to final completion. She believes that concepts don't fail, but executions do; and that's why even if an experiment failed a while ago, it doesn't mean you shouldn't test it again with a different execution method. Overall, super interesting and inspiring talk, filled with lessons on how we can also improve our experiments at FindHotel.
For a golden finish we had Nir Eyal, writer of the must-read book "Hooked: A Guide to building habit-forming products". He showed how technology has not only been adding ease to the world but has actually been changing our habits... how, in the film era, photographic cameras used to spend tons of money on advertisement to remind you to take pictures; meanwhile Instagram, with an extremely small team, and almost no branding investments, found a way to change people's behavior - 'take a picture now, and don't lose the moment!'. In fact, we use a lot of these products to modulate our emotions: people with depression tend to check their emails more often, for example. Are you lonely? Facebook! Are you unsure? Google! Are you bored? Youtube!
Of course, if it can be monetized, it will be monetized. Companies actually use your internal triggers to build products that change your behavior. There was also an interesting discussion on how to do it in a moral/ethical way.
Overall, Conversion Hotel was a great event, perfect to remind/introduce us to the best practices, get lots of insights on how to improve our work, and get to know great people! We recommend it, and hope to be back next year :-)