STEP Conference 2014 – review

I went to STEP Conference 2014 on Wednesday and it was my first time there. It was a day long event held at Al Serkal Avenue in Al Quoz.

The team at Step actually tweeted me about 2 weeks ago and got my interest in the event (it clearly worked as I registered soon after!) and overall I thought it was a great event. I didn’t go to the after party (not my scene but also had another engagement to attend) but I’m sure that was fun as well.

I thought I’d write a quick summary of what was a hit at Step and what wasn’t. Of course, not all of it is/was in Step’s control (I can appreciate the effort involved in setting up an event of this calibre) so the following are just my sincere thoughts on the matter.

Step have ambitious plans to be the SXSW of the Middle East. I admire their optimism and wish them the very best in this endeavour. I think they’ve got a long way to go, given that SXSW covers a lot more than what Step does and they’d need to expand in every single way but if you’re going to replicate something, replicate the biggest/best.

For what it’s worth, after my attendance yesterday, I feel Step may actually prosper as a niche event than something like SXSW. They encourage quirky/weird (but nothing from Burning Man) and they aren’t afraid to challenge the norms when it comes to conferences in the digital/media space.

Disruption was the biggest buzzword of the day. If I had my digital marketing buzzword bingo sheet with me, I’d have ‘disruption’ all stamped out! Some really cool stuff is coming out of the region although people do feel it’s essentially just an Arabizing of what exists outside of the Middle East. Still though, there are some nuances of running things here so even if something is really just an Arab-centric version without any major innovation, I still think it’s worthwhile, especially when you consider how things work in this part of the world. The thing to remember is, MENA is buzzing and you need to pay attention!

Anyway, here’s my feedback from STEP Conference 2014:

Some of the things that Step did right:

– great website (check my post on what makes a good conference website!)

– great mobile website (seriously, it’s so good!)

– they had an event hashtag and encouraged its usage #STEP2014 (so many conferences fail to make the most of this!)

– twitterfall where all related tweets were on display (if you’re hosting a digital/marketing/media event without this, cancel right now!)

– getting 4 awesome companies involved in catering, giving us the opportunity to choose exactly what we wanted for lunch.

– dessert van!

– band on stage (they played intro music for panelists and speakers as well as during the lunch break and to kill a bit of time – awesomely talented bunch of people)

– STEPtrooper. (stormtrooper who was very brave to be suited up all day)

Рwhat formalities? (they kept the waffle out and focused on the meat of the matter)

– great stage backgrop (translucent jerry cans in rows which lit up in all sorts of colours)

– startup space (always great to see events giving startups a chance to spruik their wares

– and pretty good audio/visual to accompany each talk/presentation (if you’re constantly having issues with these, then no one will care)


Some of the things that didn’t make Step so great:

– wifi was jammed (as would be expected with so many people in such a small space)

– as a result, 3G got jammed too (people gave up on wifi and moved to 3G)

– there was only 1 charging station. If you had a charger with you, you could find a vacant socket somewhere but you’d need to scramble for it.

– seems like it was overbooked – more people than seating options in the main hall

– as a result, a/c seemed to struggle majorly

– and the lunch area was quite cramped

– some of the talks seemed like long, drawn out sales spiels (Careem, Anghami)

– twitterfall was not in front of the audience but to the side – as a result, it seemed to take focus away from the main stage (I suppose some cynical tweets were also to blame!)

– parking was a major issue (car pooling or using careem/car pool arabia was encouraged but most people drove on their own)

TL;DR version of this: STEP Conference is fantastic. It’s very different to something like Arabnet and just about anything else in the region. It’s fun and isn’t afraid to try new things. I know they’re looking at a new venue in 2015 and that’ll be interesting because it seems STEP will only get more popular from here on in. I enjoyed my time there and look forward to going again in 2015 and every year after.