Rabbit holes and parentheticals can be quite annoying and I know I’m guilty of one here. Part III of my “Ramblings About VC Investing” will be coming out next week but I thought it would be worth sharing a few observations about the LendIt Conference given it just ended and is fresh in everyone’s mind.
To be very clear, I’m a HUGE fan of what Peter Renton and Bo Brustkern have done to build a great conference. It’s well organized, chock full of great speakers and content, and a fantastic gathering place for 6,000+ of my closest friends. If you haven’t been attending the conference you should. And if you have thoughts, criticisms or suggestions about how to make the conference better I’m 100% certain that Peter and Bo would relish the feedback.
With this said, I have one major takeaway that says a lot about human behavior as well as the state of the industry:
Drama drives energy and drama has left the house
There’s a reason why people enjoy sporting events. The spirit of competition and the clear delineation between winning and losing releases adrenaline. People enjoy polarizing topics because they can root for someone and against someone else. They can take strong opinions and argue with others with equally strong but opposite opinions. Let’s face it — this is fun! And whether it’s good or bad, there aren’t many polarizing topics in the fintech ecosystem these days. Contrast this to a few years back where the venture backed start-ups were making promises to wipe the Banks off the face of the planet and the Banks were volleying back by claiming that the start-ups had unsustainable models. Today’s environment is tame in comparison. The majority of sessions at LendIt were about how Banks and fintechs are working together and how both are here to stay.
Exception #1: Crypto is an exception to this observation because it’s still a very polarizing topic. But, it didn’t create energy and buzz this year because many people are just ignoring it vs. building strong opinions about it
Exception #2: Neo-Banks are another exception to this observation because if the Neo-Banks win the traditional Banks are likely going to lose. Now we have the makings of a sporting event! But it’s interesting how the drama isn’t there like it should be. Why? Sometimes the victim sees the knife coming which makes the entire fight uninteresting. When Brandon Kreig, the Co-Founder and CEO of Stash said: “The beauty of technology is that you can get rid of unnecessary fees” as well as “Consumers want and need digital access to financial services” it’s a bit of a “yup” moment. Nobody is going to disagree — even the Banks that are being disrupted. They have their own agendas in the space and will move slower than the Neo-Banks and will lose market share along the way, but there’s no disagreement on the topic. It’s just a speed/quality/distribution issue not a do/not-do issue.
Exception #3: Conferences are great for the release of original content. The buzz around cool papers and themes and distilled concepts can be very tangible. But for some reason Conferences don’t give these thought pieces top billing and marketing and therefore they generate more buzz afterwards than as a core part of the conference. Charles Moldow wrote the piece that coined the phrase “Marketplace Lending” and I’ve written a few pieces in the past and there’s plenty of cool content that thought leaders in the space end up releasing. But for some reason I haven’t attended a single conference that deems original content and debate around the content as “main stage” material. For instance, at this LendIt, a very interesting piece of content was released by my co-workers (the first in a series) and they had a chance to talk about it, but not to the masses. And it wasn’t marketed as a “draw” the same way known names are used to draw in the crowds. I can definitively say from my previous papers that over time they generated real conversations chock full of very opinionated perspectives from different constituencies in the ecosystem. I’ve presented to Bank Boards and Fintech Leadership teams and know how wide-spread good content can go (I’ve even seen my papers on desks at companies I’ve visited which makes me laugh). Why aren’t conferences using original content to generate buzz? I’m not sure. It’s at least worth a try…..
And in case you’re interested (and you should be), the paper my Partners wrote is about the Falling Barriers to Entry in Fintech. It has very profound implications for the ecosystem and would have made for a fun topic to promote and discuss on the big stage (just my two cents of course). You can get it here: (Falling Barriers)
So where does this leave us? I can only re-iterate that the LendIt Conference is among the best FinTech conferences out there and if you’re not attending it you should. But somehow we need to have more Thunderdome moments (the reference dates me but it’s perfect….Google it!). Then people will show up in droves to be part of the chaos!!!!