Nine steps to creating an amazing experience (and inventing a cocktail)
Cisco Live San Diego was Cisco Investments’ biggest conference of the year. It offers tremendous value for our startup companies and Cisco’s customers and partners. But it’s easy to overlook how much effort it takes to put on such a big show. So I’m going to give you a behind the scenes look at how we made it a success in 2019.
A little context: Cisco Live brings together 30,000+ people, hundreds of showcasing companies, dozens of panels and theater sessions, and countless opportunities to engage with IT and business leaders as well as the industry’s leading innovators. It can also be a little bewildering when you’re in the thick of it – in the immense World of Solutions – with all the booths, demos, people and buzz going on all around you.
For Cisco’s customers and partners, it was a great opportunity for them to meet our carefully-curated group of Sweet 16 startups, which offer innovative solutions in analytics, collaboration, data center, and security. For our portfolio companies, Cisco Live offers priceless exposure to potential customers.
Let’s cut to the chase. Here are nine important things for Cisco Live success.
#1 Start Planning Early
Cisco Live is a huge production, and it takes a lot of people and effort and coordination to put it on. This year, we kicked off planning for Cisco Live San Diego in January, right after wrapping up Cisco Live Barcelona.
Of course, our goals wouldn’t be “goals” if they didn’t stretch us. It’s the eighth year in a row that Cisco Investments has had a presence at Cisco Live, and each year we try to top what we did before. So the whole team gets together and brainstorms about two main things: 1. creating an amazing experience and 2. making sure we stock the Investments Village with people that look good on Twitter. (Just kidding!)
#2 Get Good People to Come
We want to get the right people to visit us at Cisco Live. So we spend a lot of time analyzing data: Cisco Live registration lists, registrants’ company information, job roles, etc.. Then we triangulate that data with information about revenue size, industry trends, buying needs, and even executive insights. Based on this analysis, we identified the customers and partners that could benefit most from meeting with our portfolio companies and invited them for a visit. The results were great, with the vast majority of visitors wanting to follow up with our portfolio companies.
#3 Showcase the Right Mix of Startups
With over 120 companies in our portfolio, how do we choose who to bring to Cisco Live? Some startups are well suited for Partner Exchange, some for GSX, some for other events. For Cisco Live 2019, we did a lot of thinking about the right mix of portfolio companies.
We wanted companies from domains that are top-of-mind to customers and partners — Analytics/AI, Collaboration, Data Center, and Security, and show how we’re thinking about a space. The Cisco Investments Sweet 16 was the result.
#4 Make Sure You’re Interesting
More than anything, we wanted the Investments Village to take people on a journey. So we started with a garage.
The garage has been the home to many innovative companies such as HP, Apple and Google. We wanted to invoke that spirit of innovation, so we built one in the Investments Village. If you were there, you would have entered Investments Village through our very own “Innovation Garage”.
Once in the garage, the first thing you’d encounter was our VR lounge. Visitors could virtually visit Burning Man or a winery, see an HR training session on learn how to make a delicious latte.
Further inside the pavilion, you could visit with our portfolio companies and engage in thoughtful conversations with their principals. You might even see one of my Cisco Investments’ colleagues in a Cisco Investments #askmeaboutthefuture t-shirt.
Towards the back of the Investments Village, we up-leveled our thought-leadership game by featuring insightful panel discussions about Machine Learning, Data Centers and Security, with powerhouse speakers from our startups and Cisco, all MC’ed by Cisco Investments’ Janey Hoe, Philip Kirk, and Prasad Parthasarathi.
All told, after 37 theater sessions, thousands of scans, 4 daily raffles, and 10,000 lightsaber give-aways, I can safely say I think we nailed the experience in Investments Village.
#5 Go Deep
Over the last three years, we’ve seen a steady increase in visitors to the Investments Village, so we knew it was going to be a popular destination in the boisterous World of Solutions.
A big conference like Cisco Live is always great for the meet-and-greet, but not always great for in-depth conversations. So, we wanted to offer customers and partners experiences to meet their needs – from fast-paced guided tours of our portfolio companies, to more in-depth discussions with catered lunch in our private meeting room.
No matter the experience, our customers, partners and startups made great connections at the Investments Village!
#6 Host a Mixer
You can’t invite a bunch of people you like to a big event — and then not throw a great party somewhere outside the hustle and bustle of the conference center.
So months before Cisco Live, I flew out to San Diego, along with Simona, our Events Coordinator, to investigate venue options. Donning hard hats and protective gear, we even checked out venues that were under construction. In the end, we selected an oceanfront restaurant, Coasterra, with amazing views of the San Diego skyline.
#7 Invent a Cocktail
We invented a cocktail? Yes. In fact, at every Cisco Live we host a mixer and we create and name a drink. This very special drink needs to capture the ambiance of the moment and the local flavor.
This year’s cocktail was a mix of Mezcal, hibiscus syrup, salted habanero bitters, and lime juice we called “MezCaliente”. Naming the cocktail was almost as fun as drinking it. Almost.
#8 Go the Extra Mile
At the end of four days of Cisco Live, I was exhilarated, and I’m pretty sure most who attended were as well.
It really does take a huge effort from everyone on the Cisco Investments team, from our startups who spent countless hours prepping demos and presentations, and from all our partners across the amazing Cisco network. If you had a great demo but you weren’t a great presenter, our team helped you prepare. If you had a new product, and you were trying to reach new customers, our team helped make the right introductions. Whatever our portfolio companies needed, we provided.
#9 Work Hard, Play Hard
Finally, we worked really, really long days at Cisco Live to make sure everything was just right for all our stakeholders.
Ultimately, it was a labor of love driven by our belief in the impact our portfolio companies will make. So we work really hard. And at the end of each day, we get everyone on the team together for dinner. And over good food and wine, we relax and talk about the day. We talk about the people and the ideas we encountered. We talk about what worked and what we can improve. Because the next day was on its way, and we would be ready.
In 2019 at Cisco Live San Diego, Cisco Investments killed it. Now that I’m back home, it’s time to start planning the next one.
About the author: Glen Fisher leads strategy and operations for the Cisco Investments Portfolio Development team. Prior to joining Cisco Investments, Glen held various senior management positions in Cisco’s Collaboration, Enterprise Networking and Small Business technology groups, with roles in product management, business development, analytics and strategy.