Propeller Festival 2016

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The South by Southwest of the Northeast. That’s how I once heard Propeller Festival, New Jersey’s first technology and media festival, described. The inaugural Propeller Festival took place this past Friday on Hoboken’s Pier A Park, a perfect setting for a beautiful day in the sun. With a few minor setbacks, the festival was a huge success and I can’t wait to see what they do next year. Here are some of my observations about the day and what I hope to see next year.

Disclaimer: I work for Audible.com, a sponsor of Propeller, and while we don’t have a direct tie, I was part of the planning team for the event. We put many hours into planning our booth, speakers, and agenda for the day, but I think it paid off well.

Propeller’s agenda included a day of speakers on a wide range of topics mostly focused on technology. Gary Vaynerchuk was one of the most widely known names and while his talk on venture capital and how building a startup isn’t for most people, was interesting albeit a bit over the top to me, the crowd loved it. Audible’s own Francis Shanahan, VP of Technology spoke on where Audible has been, is now, and will continue to go, celebrating 20 years of Audible. Our own MC Zeps, world famous freestyle artist, did a freestyle with beatboxing based on live tweets and audience participation. Other speakers included Jet.com’s product officer, talks from Uber, and author James Altucher who went off script and railed for 20 minutes in an incredible run-on sentence that may have broken world records. One of my favorite talks was from Girls Who Code’s COO about diversity and the value it provides, rather than just being for charity or nebulous goals. I’m working to set up a Girls Who Code event at Audible this summer so it really hit home for me.

The exhibitions were also great. Obviously I loved Audible’s booth with the massive listening wall where we demoed several of our listening offerings including the very new Audible Channels. It’s always great to meet real users and hear how the stuff we work on affects their lives and boy did we hear some amazing stories at Propeller. The New York Red Bulls also had a cool booth where they had seats set up like their stadium with soccer video games set up which was quite popular. 

The Oculus Rift demos that Stevens Institute of Technology ran had a line of dozens of attendees the entire day and night. Jet ran a recruiting lounge and Digital Ocean had cornhole and ping pong, plus a few dogs to play with on couches inside their tent. 

Maker had a cool setup with a bunch of 3D printed items like a full scale motorcycle and T-Rex head. Lastly, several startups had exhibitions along the “Innovators Row” which was cool to hear their pitches and see live demos.

Apparently there were major issues with ticketing in the morning which resulted in attendees waiting in line for nearly an hour in the morning, though getting in for us was very easy.

The setting was perfect with the skyline of New York providing a backdrop to the stage. The weather was also perfect though it did get a bit crispy in the afternoon. I think the entire Audible team got a sunburn during Francis’s afternoon talk.

Concessions were pretty good, with several food trucks on premises and beer available all around. However, what I’d really like to see next year is more celebration of the local area. For instance, the trucks were fairly generic food trucks, and didn’t show off the amazing food options of New York or Hoboken. With the way Infatuation has been raising the bar for food curation at events like Governor’s Ball and Coachella, I’d love to see something similar for this featuring some of the Hoboken and Jersey City restaurants that are becoming foodie destinations in their own right. A Talde sandwich or wings would be amazing, or Indian from any of the awesome places in Journal Square. Similarly for the beer. Other than Brooklyn Beer, there were no local options. NJ Beer has great beer trucks that come to the NJ Devils games in Newark, I’m sure they’re available right now (thanks a lot Devils!). Jersey City and Hoboken are known for their bars and several breweries have sprung up, it’s time to include them.

A video posted by Tyler Lund (@mrswingngoodtime) on May 20, 2016 at 7:01pm PDT

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The day ended with musical appearances by Beatie Wolfe & The Digital Orchestra and headliners The Naked and Famous. These got off to a bit of a late start with a lot of downtime between the last speakers and the beginning of the music. Unfortunately as a result, lots of attendees left. Fortunately this left lots of prime lawn space for getting close to the bands. I know it isn’t a music festival, but I’d like to see a bit more music next year. Maybe an additional stage with live music throughout the day, even if it’s small local bands. This would also be a great way for local bands to get exposure.

A video posted by Tyler Lund (@mrswingngoodtime) on May 20, 2016 at 9:10am PDT

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All together, it was a phenomenal day with perfect scenery and a great agenda. Aaron Price, the city of Hoboken, and the organizers put on a great event that I am happy to have been part of. The drone racing was a great touch. I thought I was getting good with my mini drone, but those guys are on another level. All day long the place was packed, far beyond what I expected. I can’t wait to see how the success of this year’s festival translates to bigger and better things next year. I think it perfectly demonstrated how much demand for this type of event exists in the New York area and others should take note.