One of the most useful and special aspects of being a Founder – especially in London – is the tight community that has sprung up of other like-minded souls going through the same struggles and euphoric moments that come with being a tech founder.
And one of the special features of our community is the trips away that are organized by some of the more generous members of the community. ICE organizes a couple of trips away each year which are always highly entertaining and valuable. And more recently I’ve become a member of Foundrs, which has an annual Unconference called – aptly – FUNconference.
Fun by name and fun by nature, it turned out. I’ve been to quite a few “unconferences” before (for those who don’t know, “unconferences” are conferences where the content and events are chosen and led by attendees, rather than by organizers). But I have to say, having just come back from FUNconference this past weekend, I feel this was just a little extra special.
Firstly, the content itself was wonderfully varied, and included as many activities and new skill sessions as it did topical discussions. This past weekend, I learnt to do calligraphy, explore my drawing abilities, spruce up an online dating profile, achieve enlightenment, and run a sustainable ethical business. There was also a talk on being a founder vs CEO (led by me based on my recent experiences), how to create an app using AirTable, how to extend one’s life. There were sessions on aqua aerobics, improv acting, and how to fire a cannon (literally!).
Which leads to the second extraordinary feature of FUNconference: its location. Thanks to the exceedingly generous Nick Jenkins of Moonpig fame and success, the event was held at his personal home… which just happens to be a breathtaking mansion in the Wiltshire countryside. We played sports games on the huge lawn, froliced in the beautiful pool, had sessions in the ornate living room, dined in the airy terrace… and yes, fired real cannons into the fields behind the estate.
And the final feature which made the weekend extra special was actually not something that can be attributed to the fabulous duo behind Foundrs – Dan Murray and Rob O’Donovan – but to Mother Nature herself. FUNconference was lucky enough to be on the warmest mid-April weekend I have ever experienced in London. It was 27 degrees Celsius each day. So we were all in shorts and swimsuits and there was a LOT of basking in the gardens and by the pool going on. There is something about a bit of unseasonal heat that casts a spell on anything it touches, and this weekend was particularly blessed.
Oh, there was one more highlight to the weekend, which I would never have expected to work out as well as it did. A fancy dress theme for the Saturday night party is pretty standard. The Foundrs team had an extra special brainwave though: an immersive theatre evening with the attendees as the actors. The theme was “The wedding that went wrong”, and each of us were assigned a character to assume. We had to dress up in character, come up with a name and backstory, and work with our little team to come up with what we were going to do at the wedding. Of course, we didn’t know what anyone else was going to do, so no one knew how this little experiment would turn out.
65 confident and creative entrepreneurs… no one should have been worried. The “wedding” was intense hilarity from beginning to end. I was assigned the role of groomsmen, along with a few other women, and another woman was assigned the role of groom. We came up with names (I was Alex, the Grooms-gender-non-binary-person, who the groom met while backpacking in Australia and who was secretly having a relationship with the groom now). Snow White and the Seven Dwarves turned up at the wedding too, as did The Godfather, as did Poirot, as did a pregnant lover of the groom, and many more. There were twists and turns, shocks and horrors, interjections and hilarity. Quite the highlight (and for the sake of the professional reputation of those founders involved, I will avoid sharing photos of the event).
I’ve come back from the weekend replenished and invigorated. I got to spend time with many of my best friends in an idyllic and inspiring environment. I got to met a bunch of new founders that have become friends now. I learnt a bunch of new things, felt reassured about a bunch of others, and feel even more pumped about this next stage of my life as I look to embark on new ventures.