Introduction

The last conference that I attended in-person was Women in Product 2019.

I assume for a lot of you reading this your last in-person conference was also sometime in 2019.

Aside from travel and hospitality, one of the biggest industries impacted by the pandemic was the live events and conferences industry.

“The global events industry was valued at $1.1trn in 2019 and, pre-Covid, was expected to reach $1.6trn by 2028, according to Allied Market Research. That was before Covid-19 brought live events to a sudden halt. By March 2020, the industry had already lost $16.5bn, according to UFI, the Global Association of the Exhibition Industry. By November 2020, 52% of event professionals said they had lost income as a result of the pandemic, while 11% had been furloughed and 10% laid off.”

So you can imagine my excitement as I walked into a conference with ~200 people last week for the first time in 2.5 years.

It was the Creator Economy Expo 2022, or CEX 2022 in short, that took place at the Grand Arizona Parkway in Phoenix, Arizona.

 

Source: Architectural Digest

 

About CEX 2022

CEX calls itself a conference by creators for creators, and mentions on its website that its “mission is to bring you the brightest minds and most vibrant voices that help content creators develop into successful entrepreneurs who build profitable digital businesses.”

This was the first year of the conference, organized by Joe Pulizzi and The Tilt team.

Joe is regarded as a veteran in the content marketing space, having authored 6 books and founded three companies. I didn’t know of Joe (or The Tilt) before the conference. But I instantly liked his humor and stage presence when I saw him at the conference.

CEX 2022 happened mainly over May 5th and 6th, with a welcome ceremony on the evening of May 4th.

There were 6 talks on May 5th and 24 workshops on May 6th (that happened in parallel).

I had some surprising/interesting observations, thought of a few ideas, and met some very cool people. I’ve documented them below.

 

Surprising & Interesting Observations

  • 99% of those who enter the creator economy don’t regret it: This was displayed on one of the slides during the welcome ceremony with Joe. I don’t remember any of the other slides from that ceremony; only this one. This statistic was shocking, in a good way. Having entered the creator economy a few months ago, I don’t for a moment regret my decision to quit my job. It’s interesting to see other creators feel similarly.

 

 

  • The average age of the attendees was ~35 years old. This surprised me since I expected it to be my own age (~25). I expected the attendees would be a blend of young writers, bloggers, podcasters, and YouTubers. Rather, it turned out to be most veterans in the content creation and marketing industry, with a few young aspiring creators. In the end, I was glad for this as I got to talk to those more experienced.
  • I thoroughly enjoyed the first day; but much less the second day: The first day consisted of powerful (and witty) talks by Ann Handley, Jeremiah Owyang, Wally Koval, Dan Pink, and the likes. I enjoyed most of them and also wrote down a few ideas I could implement based on the talks. By the time the second day came around, I was already feeling impatient. I wanted to go home and start working on my ideas. Plus, many of the workshops I attended turned out to be speakers presenting content-heavy slides with no engagement from the audience. I zoned out on many of the talks. I felt like I could have left the conference half a day early. This brings me to…
  • I tend to tune out when there’s information overload or the speaker has an aura of entitlement: This was an interesting observation I made of myself. I tuned out of many sessions on the last day of the conference (as mentioned above), and during one of the sessions on the first day when the speaker (who I will not name) had an air of entitlement. His entire talk from my perspective could have been distilled into two points: (a) Money matters a lot because I made a lot of it, and (b) All of you should start a YouTube channel. I disagreed with both points.
  • I was fully comfortable being by myself during networking sessions: As an introvert, I craved some alone time during the conference as otherwise it was packed with people. So during some of the networking sessions, I was standing and eating by myself and felt comfortable with (and even enjoyed) that. This was an interesting observation since a few years ago the Pooja I knew would’ve felt intensely conscious.
  • Finally, Phoenix was really hot and spread out. Let’s just say I am so happy to be back in the Bay Area.

 

New Ideas

  • I could create my own “coin” on Rally and reward my newsletter community: Okay, I’ll be honest. I still don’t intuitively understand the point of creating your own “coin” that people can buy. I kinda understood it in the moment when one of the attendees sitting next to me — a very generous attendee — took the time to explain the use of creating one on Rally. It has to do with how as more people buy your coin and join the network, the value of the Rally network increases, which increases the value of the “RLY” coin, and in turn what your community invested. It’s kinda like your supporters investing in you, like how they invest in a stock. Obviously, I need to do more research.
  • Taking in inspiration from how Dan Pink structured his book “The Power of Regret”: All attendees got a copy of Dan’s latest book, The Power of Regret. While reading it during and after the conference, I got an idea of how I can structure a book that I’m currently working on. Especially around sprinkling quotes from my interviews throughout the book to create a connection to the reader. A connection of, “Oh! It almost feels like I said this.”
  • Participate in a writing marathon over the weekend: I don’t remember exactly when I got this idea. It was sometime during the first day. As I was swimming in a sea of people, and wishing I could spend some time reading and writing amidst the chaos, I felt, “Perhaps I could engage in a writing marathon once I’m home.” This also gave me the permission to not feel guilty about not working on my book.
    • In the end, it was less of a writing marathon and more of a brainstorming-researching-writing marathon. In fact, the weekend helped me go through a major pivot for my upcoming book! Read more here.
  • Build an analytics dashboard on Notion for the newsletters and website: One of the workshops on building a killer newsletter talked about how they have a google sheet to track all analytics. Now that I’ve begun sending not one, but two newsletters every week, it’s high time I begin tracking to see the trend.

 

Also, I really liked CEX’s idea of printing the entire agenda on the back of our ID cards. 😀

 

The Real Value: People Met

There were a sea of blurry faces I met during the networking events who I’m most probably not going to remember, which is okay because I’m glad to have met a few who I hope to keep in touch moving forward. Below are their names along with what I cherish and remember about the interaction.

  • Dan Pink, NYT best-selling author of 5 books: His astuteness, and openness, to sitting down and having a chat with me although he was in a rush to go somewhere. I’m really proud of myself for not having let go of the moment to meet with Dan.

 

 

  • Wally Koval, the co-creator of Accidentally Wes Anderson: His humor, for sure. I cherish how engaging and honest he was in sharing about the struggles he and Amanda went through to create AWA.
  • Jordan Harbinger, creator of the famous The Jordan Harbinger Show: His honesty in sharing what worked and what didn’t in his career of podcasting. Although he was quite distracted due to finding luggage + leaving for the airport, I appreciated him asking me questions and trying to help out.
  • Pamela Slim, business coach, speaker, and author: Her warmth and openness to having lunch with me. I also enjoyed her talk (probably one of the more engaging ones.)
  • Dave Hertig, a “super-connector” of CEOs: His calm, yet sometimes animated, demeanor. I also enjoyed his questions, and how we both could joke around easily. Definitely someone I plan on keeping in touch with.
  • Todd Smith, singer and founding member of the band Selah: His generosity in taking time to help me understand how social coins work, and how I can use this for my newsletter/book community. Especially, given how he was leaving the conference in 2 hours, but still chose to sit down and help, unprompted.

 

Closing Thoughts

Doing some quick evaluations…

Am I happy that I attended the conference? Yes.

Did I get some ideas worth implementing? Yes.

Did I meet interesting people who I’d like to connect with moving forward? Yes!

Did I enjoy all the sessions? Not really.

Did I enjoy visiting Phoenix? Yes-ish, but would not want to live there.

So overall, I’d say that was a pretty good experience. 🙂