Once upon a time, there was a competing conference considering hosting its event in Amsterdam. I was annoyed when I first heard about it – the world is big enough for the both of us, but Amsterdam is pretty small for two huge tech events.
I made my objections known, but didn’t receive a reply. Then I found out that the founder of said conference was having dinner in Amsterdam to discuss their plans with some local companies. I knew when and where they were going to meet and felt this was an amazing opportunity to make my feelings very clear – in a classy and non-aggressive way.
So I went to the restaurant, explained that some friends were having dinner that evening, and I wanted to surprise them with a small gift. I ordered a bottle of the restaurant’s best champagne, and asked the staff to present it to the table at the beginning of dinner. I also wrote a letter in which I expressed my respect for the company and event, but that having two events in the same city would create tension and distract us both from what we really wanted to accomplish.
Why focus our attention on competing in one place if there’s a whole world of opportunity out there?
Of course I was very curious to know how they’d react, so two TNW employees enjoyed a wonderful meal (on me, of course) at the table directly next to our competitor. That evening I announced my little project at the office’s happy hour event. My spy faked selfies, posted regular Slack updates and even streamed live video. It was an hilarious evening as TNW employees from all over the world joined to catch a glimpse of the spectacle.
When the champagne was served, the entire table looked at each other confused. Everybody assumed someone else at the table had ordered it… until my competitor opened the letter, said three “oh wows” aloud and then passed the letter around.
Writing the letter, I assumed everyone would see the humor in it and maybe get together later for a laugh and chat. But apparently all parties at the table felt intimidated and/or offended. And I never received a reply from my competitor, save for some rumors that he wasn’t amused.
None of that really matters though. The competition never came to Amsterdam, the TNW team bonded over the experience, and two employees had a great dinner and can now add “spy” to their LinkedIn profiles.
Why am I telling you this? Well, we’re busy getting ready for this years event, and as usual, that means long hours, lots of stress and tons of uncertainty. But I know we’ll pull off an amazing show because we have an amazing team. And every single one of them knows I have their back and will do whatever it takes to pull the event together…
Even if it means pranking a competitor.