Macworld is dead, long live Macworld! An Interview with Paul Kent

| Friday, March 5th, 2010

INTERVIEW WITH PAUL KENT, MACWORLD CONFERENCE & EXPO

Paul Kent is the General Manager, Macworld 2010 and Vice President, IDG World Expo and a 25-year veteran of the technology industry. He oversees the Macworld Conference & Expo, which this year took take place on February 9-13 at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, CA.

PROFESSIONAL

According to your bio at IDG, you started as a programmer. For us long time Mac users, are they any programs that you worked on that we might recognize?

I did contract custom programming for hire. Pascal, dBase /Foxbase, Basic and Multi-tasking Basic. This was in the stone age of PC programming. While it was exciting to meet and know many of the pioneers of PC hardware and software, I never contributed to a commercial product.

What lead you to start your own consulting firm in 1984?

It was really an outshoot of the custom programming efforts. In those days it was the like the Wild West – everyone who learned a programming of any kind had a marketable skill as companies were rushing to automate various tasks. I started with programming and then learned local area networking.

From that, you started Mactivity?

Yes, specifically the networking skill set. Mactivity stood for “Mac-Connectivity.” I was installing AppleTalk / LocalTalk, Novell and 3Com networks for people. Business was good and I had several clients in Silicon Valley – I couldn’t keep up with their needs, so I developed a basic network admin class to teach them how to be self-sufficient and troubleshoot simple problems. That led to me partnering with a well known trainer from Farallon Computing (creator of LocalTalk) and taking the class on the road to help others learn how to design and install networks. Feedback from those classes and demand for more topics led me to host my own conference – and form my company – Mactivity.

Where did Mactivity have its shows and what other type of shows did you help manage before you moved over to ING World Expo?

Mactivity: The Macintosh Connectivity Conference was held from 1991 to 1997. The shows started at the Santa Clara Convention Center and then grew into the San Jose Convention Center. For a thin slice of the world, we had a very loyal attendee base, and a very interesting exhibit floor. Those were the days when 14 companies were battling it out to be the leading bridge and router manufacturer, several server technologies were being launched, and different physical topologies were on the market.

Are you still involved with Mactivity?

No – Mactivity ceased operation when I joined IDG World Expo full time.

MACWORLD CONFERENCE & EXPO

How did you come to your current position at IDG World Expo and what was your first Macworld Expo that you managed?

The owners and operators of Macworld liked what I had built with the Mactivity events and asked me to become their conference chair as a contract position. I did this from 1997 to 2005.

I had been offered the opportunity to take over the whole show (as opposed to just the conference aspects) several times over the years. Mactivity was doing well and I didn’t have an interest in working for someone else. In late 2005, Mactivity’s business had slowed, I had a daughter who was going to college in Boston (IDG is located outside of Boston) and several other stars had lined up that cleared the way for me to take a full time position. IDG is a great company to work for – I’ve been very happy there.

We’re you involved in managing any of the other Macworld Expo’s in Boston, New York, Tokyo, etc.?

I was conference chair for all of the US Macworld’s during that time. The international events were owned by IDG, but managed by the business units in those respective countries.

What would you say are some of the differences in managing Macworld Expo when you first started compared to doing it today?

The tradeshow industry has certainly changed over this time – most notably the concerns about safety and cost of travel after 9/11. We spend a lot of time negotiating with air and travel companies to negate this as a concern. As for the show itself – our team is much more connected with the Mac market than it was in the early days. I always felt that in order to build the best show possible, we all had to live in the market we were serving to best understand our customers needs.

What effect did the iPod have on Macworld and do you see a similar effect happening with the new iPad?

One affect that many people noticed was the proliferation of iPod case and accessory manufacturers that would exhibit at the show. The iPad will have an effect similar to the iPhone – I expect many app developers to come to Macworld to show off their products.

After Apple slowly pulled out of each Macworld, were you surprised that Apple finally decided to no longer attend the flagship event in San Francisco?

While I was keenly aware of Apple’s actions with regards to pulling out of other shows around the world, and had certainly taken note when they would compare Macworld to their stores in some of their keynote presentations, I didn’t think Macworld SF was on the table quite yet. I was surprised when Apple actually informed us of this – it was just two weeks before our 2009 show.

What do you love best about Macworld and how did that translate into producing a show without Apple?

At our core – my team and I are hosts. We build this temporary world for our friends and customers, and we take a lot of pride in inviting people to come and enjoy this world. I love when we succeed in delighting our customers by providing them with a fun new experience at the show – whether it’s something to see like a new exhibitor that we’ve been able to bring in, something to learn in one of the many classes we offer, or some fun personal connection they make at the many social activities associated with the show.

Now since Macworld 2010 is over, how did the show do without Apple?

We were very pleased with the result. Attendees, press and exhibitors alike reported that the show exceeded their expectations and was a success for them. We succeeded in answering the question – “Is Macworld viable without Apple?” – and gave people a glimpse into how the show will evolve into a “fan fest” environment that they can enjoy.

The show floor was very crowded; do you have an estimate on the number of attendees?

We don’t estimate attendance numbers. We will release an official number once our attendance audit is completed.

We know there will be a Macworld 2011, which is scheduled for January 25-29, 2011 in Moscone West. From your experience this year, what are you going to keep the same, or do differently for next years show?

In a word: more – more exhibitors, more and new Feature Presentations, more/new/timely conference sessions. We’ve got a lot of great ideas and look forward to providing the market with another fun and productive show. The next chapter in the new era of Macworld will be growth on the exhibitor side. Exhibitors from this year are re-signing and the exhibitors from previous years will start coming back now that they’ve seen the overwhelming press and market demand for this show.

IN DEPTH

MACINTOSH

When did your love for the Mac first begin and what was your first Macintosh?

Saw my first Mac in 1985. I’d been dealing with text based computers since 1981 – and the first time I used that graphical user interface (I doodled with MacPaint) – I knew this was going to be world changing.

How many Macs have you owned since your first one?

I’d have to guess 40-50. I’ve had just about every model they’ve made in one form or another over the years, including a 20th Anniversary Mac (TAM) – that was a lot of fun when it first came out.

What Mac do you currently use and do you see a place in your life for an iPad?

I have a MacBook Pro now. Absolutely – I think the iPad as a communications and media consumption device will be very useful. Still need the big screen for media creation, though.

What Applications could you not live without on your Mac?

Mail, BusyCal, Garageband, and all the iWork apps.

Are you an iPhone user and if so what are you favorite apps?

Of course, I’m an iPhone user! Favorite App is iMacworld – the app I helped design that helps people get around Macworld. Other cool apps – Tweetie, Shazam, Tab Toolkit, Wurdle and Money.

SPORTS

Do you have a favorite sports team or teams and what Apps (assuming you have an iPhone) do you use to follow them?

My favorite sports teams are the San Jose Sharks (I live near San Jose) and the New York Yankees (born and raised in NY). SportsTap is my trusted sports app.

MUSIC

What instrument do you play and who are your musical influences?

I play guitar and sing. Many influences – I love Springsteen, The Stones, The Beatles, Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes, 60’s Soul (Stax and Motown), Roy Orbison. I appreciate great guitar players like Larry Carlton, Robben Ford, Satriani and Vai – but mostly I love songs that stand the test of time – Pretty Woman, Born to Run, A Day in the Life, Brown Sugar, Like a Rolling Stone.

What’s your history with the Silicon Valley Houserockers Band?

I formed the Houserockers in 1999. I played guitar through high school and a little after, but put it down when I started my business. My wife gave me a guitar as a Christmas gift in 1997, and I immediately got the bug again. I originally wanted to put together a band just of guys in the tech industry, but eventually started meeting other great musicians and decided I just wanted to play with the best guys I could. The band went through a few lineup changes, but has had the same group of guys for the past 5 years. We’ve become one of the most popular groups in Northern California – the only band I know of that plays Rock and Soul with a 5-piece horn section. It’s a lot of fun – definitely a great release after a long day planning Macworld.

MACWORLD ALL-STAR BAND

What’s the history behind the Macworld All Star Band, how did you become a member and who’s all in the band?

Originally it was an idea of Macworld’s Chris Breen and myself. We wanted to put together a group of Mac industry people to jam at Macworld’s. Ilene Hoffman had an interest in taking over the legacy of the Mac the Knife parties – so we now had a venue and the basis for a band. Ilene referred drummer Dave Hamilton from The Mac Observer, and bassist Chuck LaTournous from Random Maccess– both very accomplished musicians – and we had a foundation. Bob Levitus on guitar, Duane Straub on bass, were added to the group as we prepped for the first gig at Macworld NY 2001. The band has truly become a band of brothers – we all look forward to these parties at Macworld as a chance to renew the deep friendships we have formed. We exchange song ideas by email, someone sets up a server to host the songs we decide to learn, we learn them on our own, rehearse ONE TIME (a few days before the show) and then perform at Macworld. For the last 7 years we’ve performed at the Cirque du Mac parties that Dave Hamilton hosts. Bryan Chaffin joined the group on guitar and vocals in 2002. We actually had two other original members – Tom Irish (amazing Mick Jagger impersonator) and Scott Scheinbaum on keys – but unfortunately they stopped participating after a few years as they got busy with other non-Mac related personal projects.

Here’s a good recap by Ilene:

http://www.ilenesmachine.com/macworld/ny01/macworldny01.shtml

INSIDE THE MAC STUDIO

What is your favorite word? Tone.

What is your least favorite word?  – None. They’re just words.

What turns you on? Harmony

What turns you off? Dishonesty

What sound or noise do you love? Acoustic guitar

What sound or noise do you hate? Nails on Chalkboard

What is your favorite curse word? F*ck

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? Professional Musician

What profession would you not like to do? Politician

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? “Thanks for treating everyone with dignity. Good job.”

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