There is a new wave of networking and community building events taking place all around us. Events that focus on the overall experience and longer lasting benefits on our life. The latest one to emerge is The Collective Conference retreat – an all-inclusive, tech-free, retreat-style conference, where communities are forged and experiences created. We speak to the founder, Anique Coffee, to learn all about this exciting event.
Who is The Collective for? What problems are you addressing with the retreat?
The Collective retreat originated from the need for support and mentorship for a both thriving and growing community of entrepreneurs, innovators, freelancers, creatives and startup lovers in Europe and around the world. Many times, these people work in small teams at small businesses or startups, or have no team at all and consider themselves solopreneurs. So they are just that – solo, alone. Yet, they crave a community of like-minded professionals who provide support, mentorship and tools to help grow their businesses or provide inspiration. This same theme is the reason we see so many co-working and co-living events and businesses springing up all over the world; they are remote communities where people can go work amongst others and glean support and inspiration. We saw the need for this type of community for this audience, and also determined that there weren’t many options in Europe if any.
Also, we wanted to provide an inspirational, professionally challenging, and semi-remote event for people to enjoy a tech-detox for the weekend. Upon arriving at The Collective retreat, attendees will take their last selfie and turn in their phones to enjoy a weekend without technology, allowing them to disconnect in order to reconnect with themselves, each other, and nature. All this in an environment where community rules over competition, and inspiration is abundant.
The agenda for The Collective seems very broad and mixed over many disciplines and areas – from business to marketing to holistic – why is that?
In general, entrepreneurs must have a vast skill set and wear a lot of hats. It’s important to at least have a general understanding of a wide range of skills when starting or growing a brand.
We have speakers from all different backgrounds, industries and professions who share our ethos of “community over competition,” and want to share their knowledge with others. They were all strategically chosen so as to provide our attendees with a well-rounded roster of speakers.
The idea is that attendees can get a bit of everything; from Kendall Beveridge of Facebook, a Product Marketing Extraordinaire with a deep knowledge of advertising due to her agency education and experience; to Matthew Manos, Founder of a socially-conscious design agency, verynice, who not only shares stories about the startup life, but also shares his model on how to give away half of your work for free to support nonprofits and more.
We also have speakers who are sharing tips and tricks on how to implement a fruitful social media strategy (Teressa Foglia), how to document travel and turn your passion into a full-time gig (Liz Schaffer of Lodestars Anthology), how to publicly speak about your brand with confidence (Jessica Leijgraaff) and charisma, and more!
Then, we have hands-on creative workshops from amazing artists and makers, including Earl of East London, brilliant candle makers with an interior home line; woodworking with Lindsey Zuelich; and screen printing with Gillian Henderson of OhMyDays from Dublin. When your brain needs a break from the learning, you can opt for a hands-on workshop instead. During these sessions you’ll get your hands dirty – you’ll MAKE something tangible, but you’ll also get to rub elbows with some amazing entrepreneurs and hear their startup stories.
What were your criteria when you were picking the speakers?
We are SO excited about our speakers! It has been so thrilling to search and find these amazing professionals from all over the world who are interested and excited to speak at our event! Some folks are from our existing network, but most are brand new to our community.
While we do have some amazing American speakers, we really wanted to select an International panel of speakers. Since this event is the first of its kind in Europe, and we are working to cater to the European audience, we wanted to make sure our audience could relate to the speakers, and visa versa. For example, European law is not the same as US law, so we wanted to make sure we selected a speaker with international experience. We couldn’t be more happy to have Diana Joosten, Legal Counsel for NIKE Europe, on board to solve that need. She’ll be hosting a Legal for Small Biz workshop where attendees will glean business legal advice about how to structure your company in a way you and your team are protected.
Another unique element of The Collective retreat is that speakers only teach one session per day, so they have a chance to enjoy the conference as an attendee during the rest of the day, and network and mingle with the entire group. This is great for speakers AND attendees as they will be able to spark off each other in a really special way. We wanted to have speakers who were willing to be a part of the community, not just speak then tramp off to their room. We want to create an environment without hierarchy between speakers and attendees, where we are all on the same level.
To learn more about Anique Coffee – the founder of The Collective, go to Part 1 of the interview here.
The event is tech-free. What has the response been so far to this idea? Sure people think they can do without their phones, but when they have to commit to it, does it put people off?
We now live in a world where being virtually connected rules all. But how authentic is that connection? It’s possible to have a deep, real conversation with people utilizing technology (and I’d be lost without video chats with my family back in the US), but it’s not real human connection. The tech distraction is changing the way we communicate and connect with people and things. Ensuring that The Collective retreat is tech-free is our little way of encouraging others to disconnect in order to reconnect with each other, themselves, and nature. Without our phones, we will experience a vulnerability which I know can be scary for some, but will truly benefit us all in the end.
This also challenges both the speakers AND attendees to think, explain, and work differently – without a slide deck, without the internet. This inherently makes the sessions and workshops way more hands-on, collaborative, interactive. Our speakers will provide goal workbooks, handouts, or break the attendees into small groups for exercises.
People seem to love the idea, but it will be tough for most when it comes down to it. The first day, attendees might feel naked without their phones, but it’s SO beneficial to detach now and then. This is a really big part of The Collective’s ethos, so there are no exceptions. We’ll take the bet that you might not even want it back at the end! We know that people are 100% dedicated to their clients – however, they will survive without you, over a weekend, for three days. We encourage folks to position this tech-detox weekend away as something like this:
“I’m currently out of the office learning innovative, new business skills so that I can come back, both refreshed and better for you, my client. I’ll be back in the office *insert date* and will be in touch soon after. Thank you for your patience!”
What are your hopes and aspirations for The Collective – how do you see it growing and developing?
Our hope is that attendees of The Collective retreat will, through these shared experiences, find inspiration, learn tangible and easy-to-apply skills to improve their businesses, the determination to succeed, and the community they crave for support. The Collective Community we are building is limitless, reaching beyond the event for its members to thrive in the real world. Our intention is for members of The Collective to leave with full hearts, feeling refreshed, inspired, and reconnected to nature, themselves, and each other.
Our plan is to host The Collective retreat each year as an annual creative conference. I’ve already had a bit of interest from some friends in the US who would like to create regional events (like, The Collective Europe MIDWEST in Chicago), but first, we want to grow a strong following and community who believe in this new type of event.
There seems to be a real move away from the traditional conferences towards more engaged and immersive experiences like retreats and all-inclusive “learn and play” type of events – why do you think this is? Trend or fad?
With so many entrepreneurs launching events/retreats/workshops – they are all fighting for the same type of client and usually they are not yet flush with cash – how are you managing to differentiate yourself and build your community?
We are at the forefront of a new movement – a new category of business conferences where community rules over the competition, where inspiration is abundant and prioritized, and where there are no tech distractions, creating an intensely captive audience.
These tech-free, retreat-style conferences are special, and I don’t believe them to be a fad. A trend, maybe – but the truth is, we are craving this sort of support and connection. The community that is built during the event will last long after the conference ends.
Europe offers plenty of business conferences, but few (if any) fits with our creative, freelance/entrepreneurial needs. It’s all very much big audiences being talked TO rather than hands-on, practical workshops where you get to really connect with the top experts. We felt that we could create this experience that would fill a gap in the market and be unbelievably beneficial. We realise it’s not for everyone, but those who do “lean in” to experience this incredible event will not regret it.
What have you found most challenging so far with organising this retreat and how have you overcome it – or are you still in the midst of it?
The most challenging aspect of organising this conference is building brand awareness for a completely new category of events WITHOUT any past events to lean on. I’m not a huge fan of stock photography and we obviously don’t have any photos or videos from previous events, so we have to use words, graphics, some photos to communicate what we are all about. Plus, our speakers play a HUGE role is spreading the word. Without their cross-promotion, we’d be dead in the water.
Instead, we keep swimming. We are very much still in the midst of it, as we are using a wide range of social and a cross-promotional to get the word out!
What has been the best part so far about setting up and organising The Collective?
The best part so far about organising The Collective retreat are the many meetings I have each day. At this point, they are with speakers, sponsors, partners and mentors – all who believe in this project and want to see it exceed. It’s been such a blessing to be surrounded by all of these amazing people from all over the world, all successful in their own right and all with a unique perspective to share.
Will there be more such events in the future? Are there plans to perhaps make some of the talks available online for those who can’t make it?
We won’t be recording the talks (given the tech-free aspect), but we are planning to host a series of recorded webinars, talks and online workshops to share the knowledge and sessions from the conference. The community and knowledge transfer will live on beyond the event through a series of in-person and online touchpoints.
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