Fintech workers and industry innovators are starving for human connection amid a crazy 10 months of COVID and a pandemic’s-worth of dull virtual events, said Zach Anderson Pettet.
“All of us nerds in our specific space — being financial services and financial technology — haven’t been able to congregate, so there’s been a lot of pent up demand for interesting conversations,” said Pettet, who works as the director of Strategic Partnerships for Bond Financial Technologies, Inc.
Launching an effort to better engage those sharing his passion (and boredom with the current slate of events), Pettet and industry colleagues Jessie Jacob and Ben Milne debuted Value-Summit (V-Sum) this fall.
“The intellectual connectivity that came from meeting new people at conferences and from being exposed to new ideas, became really difficult for a lot of us in the first half of COVID,” said Milne, who founded the Des Moines-based e-commerce startup Dwolla.
The trio’s reoccurring conference series, which features expert speakers and global participants, began with a tweet.
“I sent a tweet [asking], ‘What would a conference like this look like? Would you support it? And the fintech community was great in stepping up to help sponsor, plan, moderate and brainstorm,” he continued. “Before long, we had a list of initially a little over 100 attendees.”
Considering putting together a free fully-distributed conference with friends focused on global fintech technology& ideas with moderated debate topics. Feels like we need more ideas and less $3K conference tickets to lower barriers+share ideas. If we did it, would you attend?
— bpmilne (@bpmilne) June 6, 2020
Pettet and Milne tapped into their extensive financial services network to get the word out. Jacob — a culture advisor and innovation coach — brought the idea to fruition with her experience in elevating virtual events, they said.
Since the initial launch in October, V-Sum organized events in November and January, each including three new speakers who discussed their cutting-edge technologies, Pettet said.
V-Sum so far has featured the likes of Riddhiman Das, co-founder of TripleBlind; John Shammas, chief product officer at DriveWealth; and Matt Marcus, co-founder of Modern Treasury.
TripleBlind is on Startland News’ Kansas City Startups to Watch in 2021. Click here for the full list and to read more about TripleBlind.
Limiting October’s launch session with 100-person cap allowed V-Sum to better manage attendees’ participation, Milne noted.
“Our big focus is on engagement, so we took away price as a barrier. No one pays to attend,” he said. “We’ve made it more about what is the right experience for the right engagement, and not — ‘How do we sell the most amount of tickets possible?’”
The two-hour session is a firm commitment, Jacob said — noting that participants are required to sign in with their camera and audio in order to be fully present in the conversations.
Each session starts with participants getting sorted into breakout rooms, where they are prompted to answer a non-fintech question, Pettet explained.
“One of the questions we’ve used is, ‘What has brought you joy over the past year?’” Pettet recalled. “I think the things that are actually resonating with people have a lot less to do with the industry and a lot more to do with humans connecting online in a way that isn’t total BS.”
As the event wraps up, attendees are given “checkout” questions as well, Jacob added.
“I think so many times we end virtual events and we’re like, ‘Alright bye,’ but it’s like — ‘Wait, what did you take away from this?’” Jacob explained. “Or [we ask]: ‘What surprised you about this session today? What did you learn about yourself and what do you want to take action on?’”
A unique opportunity that arose from hosting a virtual summit: the global connection, Milne said — noting people are joining V-Sum from the tip of Brazil to the far corners of Asia during the middle of the night.
“That was not expected, but it’s been pretty cool,” Milne said. “It has been a great way to hear a diversity of ideas — not just east or west coast [of the United States], but far more broadly. And when people sign up, we don’t know if they’re 18 years old or 80 years old. We tend to find people on both ends of the spectrum who are really interesting.”
This global connection sparked from three Midwesterners: Milne in Des Moines, and Pettet and Jacob in Kansas City, Pettet shared — adding that it has been an incredible opportunity to show the world what the Midwest is capable of.
V-Sum’s fourth virtual conference is expected to be centered around Asia Pacific (APAC) Innovation with an official date not yet set, Jacob shared.
Click here to stay up-to-date on V-Sum’s APAC Innovation event and to apply to attend.
Will V-Sum shift to an offline, in-person model when the COVID-19 pandemic winds down? That’s uncertain, Milne said.
“For the first time, one of the things we need to discuss is, would it actually ruin the event to have it in person?” he said. “If making it a location event would make it more inaccessible to certain people, then it would decrease the value and diversity of minds in certain discussions.”
Slowing down or reducing impact aren’t options, he added.
“We are having way too much fun with it to stop doing it,” Milne said.