I was lucky enough to have the chance to attend Connect 2, a programmer’s conference put on by Oculus VR, one of, if not the biggest player in the nascent virtual reality industry. I was thrilled to get the opportunity to attend and was sure that Oculus would put on a great conference, but there is always a little trepidation going into these things. As as a startup, every decision must be looked at in terms of benefits gained versus the expense. I have been to conferences before where, after all was said and done, the payoff just did not live up to the promise. I am very happy to report that this was not the case with Oculus Connect 2! The conference was full of amazing tech and software demos, took place in a beautiful venue, and had all the pomp and perks of a first rate event. However, the most valuable aspect of the conference came as a bit of a surprise to me. The sense of community evoked at the conference, the feeling that we are all in this together is what was most important to me.
As a small startup in the Midwest you can feel a little isolated sometimes. The established tech centers of California and the emerging tech hotbeds like Austin, Texas and others can seem light years away. Resources, expertise and investment can seem frustratingly out of reach and I must admit I was worried that I would feel a little outclassed at the event. I could not have been more wrong. As I walked around introducing myself to attendees I found them eager to meet others, answer questions and learn about projects. I talked to representatives of companies big and small, independent game developers to industry giants, and nearly everyone exhibited a genuine sense of curiosity and enthusiasm that I had not experienced in similar settings before. I went away from the conference confident that I was on the right track and that I had just as much of an opportunity to be successful and have an impact on this industry as anyone else.
After I returned from the conference I reflected on my experience. Why was this conference different from others I have attended? Perhaps it is the newness of the industry? That could certainly be a factor, but I have been around for awhile and have witnessed the birth of industries before. That alone could not explain it. Then it hit me. This sense of community was carefully planned and nurtured. It was the goal of Oculus to evoke community as a central theme and they succeeded brilliantly. It was a top down approach exemplified by the founder himself, Palmer Luckey. He spent two hours or more at the wrap party answering questions, reviewing projects and taking selfies with attendees. John Carmack embodied this sense of community as well. The CTO of Oculus and legend of the computer gaming industry would park himself in a hallway and talk for hours about virtual reality, the future of the industry and the company’s plans moving forward. The goal was to make sure that everyone shared in their passion and vision for virtual reality and it worked. It was passed from each of them and others to nearly every single person in attendance and in turn to me, a small startup founder from the Midwest who was unsure that he was making the right choices. To me that sense of belonging was worth any price I had to pay to attend.