Disconnecting to Connect at the Fireside Conference

Sometimes you simply need to get away. Back in July, an invitation crossed my inbox that I knew I needed to respond too.  The email was from Daniel Levine, the co-founder of the Fireside Conference inviting me to be a guest at the Fireside Conference. I had heard of the Fireside Conference at technology and small business events over the last couple of years here in Toronto.

 I spoke with Daniel and by the end of the end of the day, I was at a barbeque at  Steven Pulver’s home ( he is the other co-founder). At the barbeque, I was surrounded by past attendees and learned more about how the conference came to be and what to expect.

Daniel and Steven had first met many years ago when attending Camp Walden and when they reconnected several years later and wanted to design a retreat/conference for the tech crowd, influencers, investors and some other very interesting folk they knew Camp Walden would be the perfect setting.  They were tired of what they had seen at tech events where they saw a lack of real connection. Everyone was busy looking at screens and not really talking to each other except for maybe a brief conversation or the handing over of a business card.

In comes the Fireside Conference, at Camp Walden, a chance for attendees to disconnect and connect in ways I have not seen at any other event. At Camp Walden, there is no cell service and one spotty wifi location so attendees of the Fireside Conference actually connect one with another in this kids camp setting.

This conference is unlike any I have attended, speakers may be your sharing your cabin or those you walk with or sit around a campfire staring at the stars with. It is a conference when connection is palpable and meaningful. It is a place to make new friends, reconnect with old ones, have real conversations that can change you. It is a place of retreat, a place to take a risk and a place to grow. 

What did I love about the Fireside conference and why do I hope I get invited back? The beauty of the place, the campfires, the food are all givens but I was challenged and took a few risks. I also had some great conversations and cried real tears. There was even a military plane fly by!

On Thursday, I travelled the back highways to Camp Walden with a stranger from Las Vegas. Did I mention Camp Walden is about 3 hours from Toronto on a private lake? As we drove the backroads to the camp, we had a great conversation. Once we got there we were greeted by a campfire and quickly got to know those who we would be hanging out with all weekend. I shared a cabin with some women with some neat stories from one who works with teens, to a woman who created a new way for pets to be cared for by vets to a woman who worked in crypto for those in the adult entertainment industry. We were quite the bunch! 

One of the things that impressed me most was the diversity of the crowd. From start up CEOs and founders, to artists, to investors, to influencers to those that work in tech from around the globe, you never knew who your next conversation might be with. I met people from Europe, Australia, many from the US and from all across Canada. 

On Friday, I decided to challenge myself and took part in the pitch workshop. There were about 15 of us who were coached by angel investors as we attempted to perfect our pitches. I am not a founder but believe very much in uCarenet (the homecare app I have been working with since January) and decided I wanted to share the story of this app. In tech language, it is in preseed and we have some great partnerships so I am excited to see where things lead. At lunch, we all pitched in front of the crowd and 5 of the founders were chosen to compete the next day to win time with some amazing angel investors who were there.

My Friday night had me enjoying board games, snacks and a roaring campfire. I spent part of my evening with four podcasters from the US playing Boggle. Little did I know, they are some of the best podcasters around. Since Fireside, I have become a regular listener of both The Jordan Harbinger Show and Grumpy Old Geeks

The other highlights for me were axe throwing, a risk-taking workshop that literally had me looking into the eyes of fellow attendees while remaining silent, a few live podcasts and a session on working from anywhere. Currently, in all of my roles, I work from home. Working from anywhere is the dream. 

Saturday evening I cried more than once. Peter Katz and Blake Fly combined music, storytelling and gratitude to get this girl a hot mess. Literally, as I listened to Peter share his newest song, I thought the lyrics of “Paper Thin” were written for me. It had me in tears and then Blake shared about the importance of thank yous and how we often forget to acknowledge people in our lives. I know I have done this. It was a sweet reminder on this journey to remember and show gratitude for the little things. 

After Peter and Blake, we headed over to another building where we would hear from Michael Landsberg who shared about mental health and his charity #sicknotweak. The stories he shared touch everyone who was there and we were able to raise thousands for his charity.  I even donated a Twitter party to help raise funds and am looking forward to working with Michael on this endeavour

My time at Camp Walden ended with me starting up at the stars for about an hour and playing connect the dots with the stars and contemplating all that I had learned, the conversations I had and what I can do going forward.  

I will always be thankful for the invite, for those I met, for those I got acquainted with and for the lessons learned. 

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