I got a free ticket to RISE 2017 (I’ll talk about how I did that in a future article) 3 days before it kicked off. So, I took it as a sign from the universe and in 18 hours, I moved everything in my life around so I could fly out for a week and attend RISE, since this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. A free #RISEconf media ticket for a 21 year old college student from the Philippines? How many other people can say they have that?
My biggest hurdle though was, there’s no information on what to expect at RISE, especially as a Southeast Asian or Filipino girl. Aside from what’s on their website, I didn’t see any blogs or extensive coverage about the RISE experience. [I probably wasn’t googling hard enough, but with 72 hours to put everything in order, cursory searches are what I gave and generic press releases are what I got. Sad.]
So, to help those still on the fence about RISE 2018, I’m writing an extensive review on RISE 2017, specifically about the vibe and actual layout of the place to prep you before attending next year. (My next article will be a more in-depth look at the RISE 2017 talks.) But to provide a different perspective as well, I invited a friend I made at the conference to chime in with his thoughts and opinions.
V is a business student in HK, a transplant from Singapore. His parents wanted him to come home for the summer but he wanted to attend this conference so bad that he told them he had school-related stuff to finish. So it’s in his best interest to keep his identity secret.
We met because we were both feeling super out of place during a mixer pre-RISE, and me being extra, sidled up next to him and broke the ice with a “So you know nobody here too?” We ended up teaming up and trading notes on the talks for the whole conference, which is why he’s here now.
My goal for this article is to write something that’ll help you, whoever you are, decide if RISE 2018 is worth your time, energy, and growth experience. At the end will be my conclusion and V’s conclusion on it, specifically ‘would I go back?’ and ‘what do I wish I’d done differently’. Thanks for reading and hope we wrote something useful for you!
General Insights on RISE’s Talks, Startups, & Workshops
V: My overarching insight from all the talks and conversations: “Innovation isn’t going in one direction.”
J: Mine is “Learning never stops, those who stop are going to get left behind and become the loudest complainers, critics, and detractor.”
Re: Talks & Workshops
V: RISE had a lot of panel discussions with 2-3 experts on all kinds of topics, and they usually had different ideas for how change will happen. My favorite was one where three Japanese automobile executives from different companies talked about the future of autonomous driving. Two see a driverless future and the other interpreted “autonomous driving” to mean driving aids that allow old and disabled people to drive. They’re all working hard to make their innovations a reality. I’d like to think that’s how the best options for the future are going to come out.
J: For me, the panels were only worth it if people there were disagreeing with one another (like during TV is dead, long live the on-demand video star) or even talking to each other. Some panels were just people answering the question individually, instead of building up on each others’ answers.
In general, the talks at RISE are extremely informative, but don’t expect them to be filled with new, secretive knowledge that you can only get from attending RISE. Anyone updated in their field would be aware of what they’re saying, but for the general public (like me), it’s a great way to access insightful information from Asia’s leading experts who are practicing what they preach in the Asian field. It can also be a great way of affirming or confirming what you’ve already learned.
What I’m most appreciative about though, is that RISE is focused on the business landscape and current trends happening here in Asia. The chosen speakers plus the brands they represent are well-known figures in various Asian countries. I’ve seen a lot of talks and read a lot of blogs that provide perspective on the same topics as RISE, but this was the first time it was a ‘by the Asian, for the Asian, all working in Asia’ perspective. All in all, I’m happy to see the East being represented on the stage at RISE, dishing out practical tips that worked for them for us in the audience to learn from.
Startups are divided by ALPHA, BETA, and START. Alpha has around <600 startups, Beta <100 startups, and Start has <20 startups. Alpha are startups that are not making money yet, Beta are they’ve soft launched already, and Start is up, running, and money-making startups. Life is hard for Alpha startups, there’s no specific place to sit down unlike Start which has their own private village for sitting with some free food and drinks.
A lot of startup concepts were similar or had overlaps which reminded me that it’s not the idea that wins, it’s the execution. But but but I realized a startup is just a business that solves a problem that few people thought was a pain point big enough to exploit. For example, the startup that struck me the most was one on shrimp farms. Specifically on growing a sustainable shrimp farm. That just blew my mind. A shrimp farm growth hacker is a startup. That made a lot of money and got millions in investment. A shrimp farm.
Ageism & Sexism at RISE?
V: The conference had a lot of old people, not just as investors and VCs, but as part of the showcasing startups.
J: I totally agree, I was expecting people in my age bracket (18-25 year olds) to dominate RISE but I was pleasantly surprised. There was a 12 year old and a 62 year old, but the dominant age there seemed to be late 20’s to late 30’s. Plus, the 2 ends of the spectrum happened to be girls as well which was another pleasant surprise.
RISE was not a sausage fest. Not from the speakers, from the startups showcasing, from the VC’s. Not even from the volunteers and managing team. I saw a lot of women there, and I was so happy?? I’m not even sure why I was so happy but I was. Also, a lot of the media from high profile outlets were women, while most of the independent media coverage were men, so yay for more balanced coverage!
V: Official figures for RISE 2017 say that 40.1% of the 14, 281 attendees were female which is huge, it’s the closest RISE has ever gotten to 50%. There’s no data on the age range though, just our own personal observations, which leads me to my next point.
We always think it’s only the young people who try to solve age-old problems with new, innovative ideas, but the older generations can do that too. They have a depth of experience to know what to do and where the root problems lie.
RISE is just for startup bros?
V: Just because RISE is branded as a startup/tech conference doesn’t mean that other people who are not part of the scene wouldn’t understand it at all. I don’t know much about anything tech-related, but I found the conference to be a lot more insightful than I expected.
J: Originally, I was a little worried. I’m not a startup person; I’m barely a tech person. Will I even be able to follow the topics? What am I going to listen to while I’m there?? It was useless for me to worry though, because RISE apparently covers a wide range of topics that would spark interest in anyone (like so many brand talks!!).
Every talk is centered around the key issues of either running a business or changing the future. You don’t have to be a startup bro, “hustler”, or tech expert to learn from and relate to the discussions.
V: And that’s connected to a problem I see with the startup scene. Going in, especially as an outsider, I felt like it was very exclusive to a small group of people with specific kinds of skills who all think with a specific type of mindset. There are people there who like to make it seem like they’re hot shit who are doing something special when in reality, they’re entrepreneurs like everyone else. We’re all the same, and this startup/tech exclusivity thing should not discourage others from attending it. It’s an insightful experience for all kinds of people.
J: Same. As someone going into FMCG, and as part of their business solutions department, I found the talks to already be helpful to my future self. They primed me into thinking already about how we can solve problems plaguing our giant company in a more design-centered, user-friendly way, something the conference really pushes. RISE also pushed me to google and learn as much as I could on design-centered thinking as soon as I left the conference floor, because it highlighted it so much.
V: Even if you’re just interested in things like cars or gaming, the RISE talks got you covered. Any enthusiast would enjoy the new developments in whatever they are interested in.
Friendship & Networking
J: Let me preface this with: I made 0 new friends on the conference floor.
V: I didn’t fare any better as well.
The conference isn’t an easy place to make friends. People already have solid friendships in place going in to RISE. You need a mentor, VC, or just someone already set in the ways here to introduce you to everyone. A lot of them also expect to gain something out of networking, so you can feel their waning enthusiasm in talking to you when they realize you have nothing of interest to them, which leads me to my next point.
The usual people going to these events already know what their goals are and what they want to get out of RISE. That helps them know which talks to prioritize, who to network with, and what business ideas they are looking out for. It’s difficult to go to this conference without setting goals beforehand.
J: Huge mistake on my end, I literally was just going to see what it’s all about.
V: Same, I only expected to go to this event with a bird’s-eye view, to get a glimpse of what the startup scene is like from an outsider perspective. I’d like to think though that that’s our goal in going to this event, and we made the most out of it.
Another added advantage of having a big network before going to RISE is that you’d know about all the different perks and benefits RISE delegates get during their stay in Hong Kong. For some reason, the conference did not properly disseminate any of these things to us. We didn’t know that rides to and from the airport are discounted, or that bars serve free drinks to delegates. We only found out about these things from WhatsApp group chats when it was too late already. You won’t realize you’re missing out on so much if you go alone.
J: Honestly, I wish I was more active in the ASEAN Whatsapp group but I really wasn’t because again, I knew next to no one going into RISE. I didn’t feel comfortable being active in the chat, so I was really just a lurker there. Reading everything they were talking about and not joining in, especially when they were making meetup, lunch, or dinner plans.
V: I know we said earlier than anybody can attend RISE, but I’d like to add that while the insights are for everyone, the networking is only for those who already have a way into this circle or those who are super thick-skinned. Here’s a few tips for future RISE goers.
Start printing a ton business cards (if you have any). Everyone is trading them like Pokemon cards here. (J: If you don’t have one, have cool ones made in a different shape!! I kept all the not-rectangle cards and ended up emailing their owners too.)
RISE conferences do not end at 5 PM when the convention closes down. It continues in the bars of Lan Kwai Fong, everyday. Make sure to check on the app which bars have the nice deals for delegates. (J: THE DAY ENDS AT MIDNIGHT FOR THESE PEOPLE, OK, I DON’T LIKE IT BUT I DON’T MAKE THE RULES!! I always quit by 10:30 though.)
Talk to the startups and ask them about their stories. I guarantee that you will learn a lot (and if they have, you can get freebies from them). (J: Aside from learning about a shrimp farm startup, I talked to a lot of peeps and got free shirts + a USB.)
Team up with someone and strategize on which talks and events you want to prioritize attending because a lot of them will be going on at once throughout the day.
Food & Drinks
J: The Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center is pretty, airy, and extremely expensive. There’s no food inside that is ~affordable~ aka your whole meal is under 80HKD. There’s also no ‘nearby’ aka <5 min walk restaurants. Everything yummy and affordable is a good 500+ meters away, according to Google Maps, but felt more like 1km. So prepare to walk a lot before tucking into a meal.
If you’re Media, an investor, or part of START, you’ll be lucky enough to have free food in your specific location. And free coffee + tea. Everyone else can get free water.
Also, RISE has a lot of cafes on site that charge an arm and a leg for food. Like 2x what the outside world cost. Prepare to pay for convenience.
Seats & Sockets
J: There a lot of seats, but there are a ton more people so assume that you won’t find a seat all the time. Even during the talks. Seats are a valuable resource during RISE, that unfortunately Alpha startups and regular RISE attendees need to fight for. Which is why you should wear something comfortable if you’re planning to be there all day. And your shoes need to be even more comfy since you’ll be on your feet for most of that day.
Sockets on the other hand are even more rare, so come prepared with powerbanks, extension cords, and adapters for the HK style sockets. I saw a lot of formally dressed people sit on the floor because they needed a socket to charge their laptop to type things up on. And I saw a lot of people sitting outside the conference floor by the windows overlooking the bay because seats and sockets.
But a cool thing RISE had was a complementary little wall closet that had compartments where you can leave your phone to charge. You just had to trust nobody would steal it. As far as I know, no thefts happened on the conference floor, but I could be totally wrong.
J: RISE is worth it only if a) you have a plan and b) a very real, very solid reason to go.
If you’re just floating around, if you don’t want to make connections and partnerships, if you’re a bum, don’t go. You’re not the target audience. You’re not going to have fun. You’re just going to get in everyone else’s way.
V: You’ll learn a lot listening to the talks, but you don’t need to fly all the way to Hong Kong just to hear them. Several of them are posted on Facebook, and the stuff they talked about can be found online if you research well enough. What I liked is that it was all packaged together neatly for us to listen and understand.
But I agree with Justine. I guess its up to you if the networking, the partnerships, and the learning experience is worth buying a ticket, flying to Hong Kong, booking a hotel, and setting aside travel money for. Hong Kong isn’t a cheap country to live in either so living comfortably here for a few days requires you to spend some serious cash.
J: All in all, I don’t regret going. It was a good learning experience, I got to meet a lot of new people, I experienced Hong Kong on my own for the first time. And RISE is my first major conference, which made me realize I love conferences and am excited to go to more in the future.
Even as a non-startup person, it was an overall excellent experience. The people I met were very value-adding and the parties I went to at the co-working spaces of HK definitely made staying out late worth it. I’m still tired a week later though.
And if you’re going next year, hit me up. I’ll probably be there again. (Yes, it’s that good that I’m willing to go again.)
If you have anything else you want to ask, say, or comment about to me, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org! For partnerships and business deals, like our features on Startup Weekend and Woman Up 2016 (and apparently RISE 2017), you can email email@example.com and let’s work something out.
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Thanks for reading and hope I wrote something useful for you!