If twenty-twenty has proven anything to me, it’s that we can face huge changes to the way we live our lives… and still stay happy, without losing any of the essence that makes us who we are, doing what we do.
That, and self-reflection of course. I would have never thought about it that way, but this summer, as I realized that I likely won’t be seeing the inside of an airliner until at least next year, it dawned on me that not only have I not flown as little as this in well over a decade, I’ve actually not gone for this long without organizing some kind of business event or gathering for almost twenty years.
And it’s on my mind all the more as my team and I are making plans for restarting our exclusive SummitSummit venture getaways again in 2021… in-real-life but pandemic-proof.
Although I’ve always had some kind of “normal” professional title - law school student, junior lawyer, junior corporate manager, entrepreneur, venture capitalist, etc. - my guiding theme has always been bringing people together. I grew up moving to a different country every few years and speaking three or four languages at home, and by the time I reached official adulthood, I knew well that my “edge”, if I ever had one, was in connecting people over a mutual interest or opportunity.
But then March hit. Cancel everything.
So what do you do if you’re in the business of face-to-face facilitation of business?
First, I think it’s important to appreciate the place we call home. I was lucky to make a very conscious choice about a decade ago to set up a home base in Bulgaria, and I’ve been tremendously enjoying spending unlimited time here all of this year.
All the mountains we wanted to hike, all the beaches we wanted to visit, all-you-can-eat tomatoes, barbecue, fresh fruits and the like every day, and all the friends we usually don’t have enough time for. As much as I love traveling, I honestly feel intense gratitude for all this unlimited splendor every day of this strange year.
I know I would have been way less happy being stuck in some other countries that I consider home, besides Bulgaria. With my friends across the globe, I see a lot of the same appreciation for their home bases, but I also see a lot of you taking months-long road trips in newly acquired camper vans, going for long-stay rentals in fabulous locations, or simply taking a one-way ticket to a country you always wanted to spend more time in (and often with a person you always wanted to spend more time with ♥️). And that’s really fantastic. The amount of joy and fulfillment we’re getting out of choosing and appreciating our surroundings is a true gift of 2020.
Second, let’s zoom out for a second. As much as this pandemic is a generational-shift kind of event in our lifetime, it all happened before. The influenza contagion of exactly a century ago, the Second World War, even the 1970s oil crisis, were all grave events that upended the existing world order. But to those that survived and lived beyond it, everything they always liked came back. The travel, the parties, the consumer confidence, and the inevitable acceleration of innovation that happens after each major crisis.
There’s no reason to believe that it will be any different this time, as much as the fear-mongering headlines of our click-bait media would like to convince you that “nothing will be the same”.
The business opportunities that we considered ours will be there after this is over, waiting for us to take them back. Or for someone else of course, if we don’t do it.
Third: sustainability. Like “happiness”, “freedom”, “wealth”, or even “love”, “sustainability” is what they call a hurray-word, a term we load with exclusively positive meaning. But when we have to exercise any of these, we end up working long days and staying up long nights to get it right.
Good things need hard work and dedication.
Let’s face it: all the events and networking opportunities we invested in, as participants or organizers, were there to create value that was to be put to use elsewhere. Jobs, business opportunities, actionable insights, useful connections. We meet so we can learn, make money, or find partners, for work or for life. With all the social capital we accumulated, now is the time to invest it into our livelihoods.
Sustainability goes further still. As 2020 is coming to a close, together with my business partners we’re contemplating our plans for 2021, which to me are centered around three pillars:
- Investment activity with our fund,
- Startup founder education with TRACTIONCamp, and
- Restarting SummitSummit in a Covid-proof (or post-Covid) way.
And that last thing is the experiment I’m probably most excited about: can we go back to hosting a great in-person networking retreat event, in a great location, without endangering anyone’s health or limiting anyone’s freedom of movement?
We’ll be sharing details on Insta @summitsummit.io in the coming months, but the gist of it is that we’re working closely with our sponsors and partners, particularly Icelandic organizations and public agencies, to:
- Design a flawless process of flying to Iceland which involves a completely seperate and isolated area for groups that will be invited by the Icelandic government.
- Getting tested in a special facility and then transfered to a dedicated hotel with individual rooms (with all the food and drink you could want ... is the ideal scenario) for 12 hours while waiting for results. And in order to avoid the "isolation" factor, we're working on establishing videolinks between all the rooms. Upon a sucessful negative test result, we'll then be
- Transferring as an isolated group to the breathtaking venue to enjoy a completely responsible, in-person, real-life, networking event of a lifetime
All hopefully coming in Spring 2021, unless the situation doesn’t get seriously worse, which we all hope it won’t.
I guess it’s clear by now: I don’t believe for a second that real-life in-person events are a thing of the past.
As far as “Zoom” and virtual networking is concerned, I don’t hate it either, and I’m grateful that technology allows us to simulate human contact to such an advanced degree.
But all the video chatting and calling is just that; advanced simulation of the real thing. A great way to replace the real thing when that real thing is unavailable, a useful tool to maintain contact as we focus on other things. But human progress has always been marked by human connection, and that’s not going anywhere.
Business, life, love… hey, procreation itself is impossible without physical human contact 😊
As we emerge from the shift that 2020 brought upon us, we will go back to what we do best in ways that are more advanced technologically and conceptually.
Every crisis, always, speeds up technological innovation.
And technological innovation is always about giving us new tools to fulfill our age-old needs and desires. Like networking and connecting with each other. In real life.
2021, bring it on.
Lead image provided by Agon Nimani
Some of the events I'm looking forward to in 2021
SummitSummit - TBD spring 2021 - Twice-annual invite-only retreat for 50-100 curated founders, investors, innovators, and connectors. Pristine, under-the-radar locations and venues, honest conversations, lifelong friendships and connections.
Latitude59 - 27 - 28 May 2021 - Latitude59 is THE place to be for various networking opportunities, in-depth discussions with top international players, several pitching rounds for both startups as well as investors, and an overall chance to get together.
DokuTech - TBD - June 2021 - A little gem of a tech event, held annually in Kosovo, on the side of the DokuFest film festival. Inspiring talks and workshops around the questions of why we use tech, and how tech interacts with creativity, civic responsibility, and sustainability.