MORGO Queenstown last year!

Building the MORGO programme — so many options!

MORGO Queenstown is just over two months away. I’m deep in designing another amazing programme for you! And I thought I’d bring you behind the scenes to share what goes into building a programme that fuels the wonderful conversations at MORGO.

The leaders building tech and other high growth companies out into the world come to MORGO to meet each other and for stimulating time-out. It’s an annual re-charge. The programme is important for setting the atmosphere and it’s food for the conversations over good coffee, food, wine, walks.

Where to start?

The programme is mostly entrepreneurs sharing their stories, plus some science or future technology because I like that and it turns out other people do too.

There are so many amazing businesses being built from Australia and New Zealand out into the world. I have a list of 140 potential speakers, but I’m sure there are lots more: companies that have done something surprising, companies that have grown fast, big companies that we haven’t profiled before. All driven by entrepreneurs we can learn from.

Diversity of companies

I love the saying that “the ways to success are many, the ways to failure are common”. There are many, many ways to build a fantastic company and this is what I love. Where do all these fabulous companies come from? I would not have thought of building Ask Nicely, Fuel50, Ansarada …

The first requirement for the MORGO programme is diversity of types of companies and approaches to building a business. Everyone who attends loves having different sectors, geographies, business models and management styles represented.

Sharing

The second MORGO requirement is sharing stories. Yes, there are heroes on the stage but there are also lots of heroes in the audience. The people who come are every bit as important as the speakers — and have interesting stories to contribute too.

The people who have agreed to share their stories as speakers are also part of the whole intense 2-day hyper-conversation that is MORGO. We don’t have fly-in/fly-out speakers who just come to hear themselves speak. They stay to enjoy the rest of MORGO — getting their re-charge too.

Science/future technology

We’ve had some terrific science speakers: Catherine Mohr on a history of surgery from 4000BC to the current day, Sean Gourlay on the Mathematics of War, Alex McDonald on Space Economics, Andrew Dzurak on Quantum Computing, Ruopeng Liu on Metamaterials, Mark Sagar with his digital baby. And, of course, David Hanson of Hanson Robotics — who came a decade ago and then had his team bring us Sophia, the world’s most humanlike robot 3 years ago.

Getting the science speakers is sometimes because of who we know/who our MORGO friends suggest. At other times, we choose a topic and then look for the right speaker. It took 3 years to find Melanie Johnson-Hollitt to talk on the square kilometre array. She was amazing: a real big data talk where we learned the word zetabytes.

The design process

There is a bit of alchemy in putting together the MORGO programme.

I usually start by reaching out to a few speakers who seem compelling — and then build around that. I’ve been trying to get John Wikstrom of Magic Memories for years. Now he’s back living in Queenstown so he’s on board! A great story of building a business with turnover over $100M based on taking tourist photos. (And now he has another story to tell as Covid ravaged his business.)

Most years we can bring in a couple of offshore speakers — love having Australians or New Zealanders who’ve succeeded in another country, an inspiring successful entrepreneur, or a science speaker who can take us to a new frontier. Last year at a conference in New York I lucked meeting Dave Ferguson of Nuro.ai (autonomous delivery vehicle company that has raised US$1bn), and he agreed to come to MORGO Bay of Islands. Awesome! So I also invited Ohmio, a small New Zealand autonomous vehicle company.

This year

This year, although we’re constrained on bringing in offshore speakers, we’re hoping the Aussies can come over. This is meant to be a combined New Zealand and Australia MORGO instead of doing one in each country this year. But there is significant doubt about when the border will open so have to keep the programme a bit flexible. In general, we won’t have the talks by video (you can find hero videos on the internet).

There are more and more amazing companies in the Morgo community — it would be good to include more of them the in the programme.

And we are going to have sections on ‘The Future of Health’ and on ‘AI’ where we have a few speakers and then break into workshops led by the speakers. These are shaping up well: Louise Schaper, CEO of Digital Health Australasia will kick off the Future of Health and our Morgo friend, Howie Xu (VP Machine Learning & AI) will kick off the AI one with a brief talk by video. Several more companies lined up in each topic and we’ll workshop them too.

I’m not a big fan of panels, but we might have one on growth by acquisition because there are some great stories about that.

The end result

The end result of all this musing and balancing is that we’d like you to hear lots of different stories to stimulate your thinking, while not losing the intensity that is part of MORGO — leave the room and you will miss something!

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Jenny Morel

In the Morgo Podcast, Jenny interviews people building Australian & NZ tech companies into the world, & runs Morgo events for these CEOs. Previously a VC..