Opticon 2016 in San Francisco kicked off our series of three Opticon events with serious momentum and energy. For those of you who were able to attend, you helped make the event a huge success, with over 400 attendees from as far as Australia and Japan! If you weren’t able to attend, be sure to check out the livestream of Opticon NYC and our recap of all the new product releases. And, in the meantime, I’m here to recap the day for you.

Experimentation: What Does it Mean for You?

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Dan Siroker, Optimizely’s Co-Founder and CEO, gave the keynote address, focused around the theme of “experiment everywhere.” Dan shared the stories of several fearless experimenters throughout history, to show that experimentation can lead to gold medals, Nobel prizes, and market domination.

At Optimizely, we have several core values, but there was one that really captured the theme of the day above all others: Fearlessness.

I’ll explain. This wasn’t a typical Conversion Rate Optimization discussion—in fact, the day didn’t center around “optimization” so much as “experimentation.” What’s the difference? Here’s my perspective: I think of “optimization” as an end goal. You iterate on something until it’s optimized. But for those of us who have been experimenting and iterating over time, we know there’s not really such a concept as Capital-O Optimized. Rather, what’s more important is how we approach optimization. That’s where experimentation becomes so important: being brave and taking an experimental approach to optimization leads to the biggest ongoing wins.

“I trust Optimizely to keep innovating and help us keep and accelerate our competitive edge” —Mike Timoney, Director of Performance Marketing, Eventbrite

We heard from companies as diverse as Complex Media, Weight Watchers, Atlassian, Eventbrite, Hotwire, Legalzoom, Tripping.com, 99designs, Magento, Blue Apron, and General Assembly on how they have made cultural changes in their organizations to enable fearless experimentation and decision-making. Without experimentation enabled by Optimizely, they said, they would need to be far more cautious in their approach, or flying blind. And the process of experimentation has led them to be more fearless: for example, one customer shared the revelation that if all of your experiments work, you’re not being bold enough in your experimentation program, and probably leaving additional wins on the table.

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Jay Simons speaks during the keynote about Atlassian’s culture of experimentation

Throughout the day, happy customers took the stage to share what made their experimentation programs work, and how they were driving cultural change within their organization. Dan Haarmann, HP’s Head of Digital Transformation, joined Dan on stage to share stories about how his team was able to implement changes that move at a quicker pace than the rest of the business. Later, Atlassian’s President Jay Simons took the stage to share how Atlassian has continually built a culture of experimentation, and has been a long-time Optimizely customer.

So, you may ask, what are we doing for these customers who want to drive a culture of experimentation? Organizations who want to embrace fearless experimentation deserve a platform that helps them do it in a way that’s easy, fast, and powerful.

Introducing Optimizely X

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Dan Siroker introduces Optimizely X

At 9:48am, Dan made the big announcement. He introduced Optimizely X, our new experimentation platform. In case you missed Dan’s blog post, here’s a recap of the new releases:

  • Optimizely X Web Experimentation has been rearchitected for the modern web, containing many benefits compared to our classic Testing product.
  • Optimizely X Web Personalization is the personalization product you already know and love—but now, on the same platform as Experimentation, it’s easier for you to experiment and personalize in tandem.
  • Optimizely X Web Recommendations uses the power of machine learning to drive improvements to your online experiences without your active involvement.
  • Optimizely X Full Stack allows developers to experiment everywhere using high-performance SDKs, and removes the restrictions around web-only experimentation.
  • Optimizely X Mobile allows you to develop relevant, engaging mobile app experiences and staged rollouts, bringing our existing mobile technology to the Optimizely X platform.
  • Optimizely X OTT (Over the Top) is the first OTT experimentation product on the market, and will be a huge benefit to media companies trying to win in this new channel.

Building an Experimentation Practice & Enabling your Organization

After Dan’s keynote, we heard from several other customers on the best practices to be brave and experiment.

Linda Crawford, Optimizely’s Chief Customer Officer, led a customer showcase featuring Lauren Vaccarello (VP Marketing at Box) and Benson Chan (Director of UX Experimentation at Microsoft). After introducing Optimizely’s new services offerings, including professional services and training services, Linda turned the floor over to Lauren and Benson for quick presentations that showed how they took their companies on the journey of experimentation.

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Lauren shared several ideas for those in the audience getting started with optimization, including the importance of having clear goals and buy-in from the team. Benson also focused on the idea of buy-in, and tied it back to one of my favorite concepts: the Growth Mindset. To create meaningful, lasting change, you need to embrace a growth mindset where you learn from failure and believe that you can always improve; the opposite is having a fixed mindset where you believe that what you see today is what will always be. That’s the secret that experimenters are learning: you can always improve.

Learning from a Community of Partners

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Throughout the day, we heard from other thought leaders and experts, including Michael Dekshenieks (Managing Director, Accenture) on the future of personalization, Ryan Garner (Co-Founder, CPO of Clearhead) on his agency’s approach to experimentation, Optimizely’s own Hudson Arnold (Strategy Consultant), and several of Optimizely’s technology partners. In each of their talks, I noticed a common theme: we don’t know as much as we think we know. Technology and customer needs evolve quickly, so we should work to understand our customers and the technology that enables them to be successful on a deep level. Largely, that means being open to doing things differently.

Experimentation and Entrepreneurship, According to Ben Horowitz

The concluding event, Dan’s fireside chat with Ben Horowitz (Co-Founder & Partner, Andreessen Horowitz) brought the day’s themes home. In Ben’s view, the key to entrepreneurship and innovation lies in the willingness to be brave and experiment. He began by drawing a comparison between the realms of business and science: “People think entrepreneurship is like mini-running a business, but it’s actually mini-experimentation.” The conversation centered around the value of discovering something new in the world and using that knowledge to innovate. In other words, pursue even the things that seem like bad ideas because those are often the ideas that help you learn and innovate, instead of focusing exclusively on accountability to results and prioritization.

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In fact, Ben shared one surprising story of an experiment’s failure leading to an overall better outcome. His story centered around a failing game company, TinySpeck, who decided to take the brave move to pivot. Although the game wasn’t thriving, the company was experimenting with a better way to do internal messaging. When the company pivoted to focus on their messaging app instead of their game, the experiment paid off. Do you think you know what company this is? Well, you may know TinySpeck better as the messaging app Slack.

And with that, Opticon San Francisco concluded, leaving attendees to multivariate test their food and drink selections at the reception. (No statistical significance yet, but we had some promising qualitative feedback.)

Throughout the day, I returned to this thought: What starts as an experiment—something bold, crazy, maybe even unwise—will eventually become the way things are done. When we look on those same ideas in hindsight, they seem like they were predestined to happen. But that’s not how the world works. The best products, companies, scientific techniques, and so on took many iterations, but most importantly they took fearless experimentation and human creativity.

To quote Dan’s message, be bold and experiment.

And good news—you don’t need a blogger to recap Opticon NYC for yourself! Check out the livestream on September 21!