“Are you ready to be transformed?” - Scott Ross, THU 2015 Opening Ceremony
I’ve mentioned before that, when I started working on the first Trojan Horse was a Unicorn (THU) event, my experience in producing events was almost non-existent. However, I was driven to discover that very something I personally felt was missing from the many other digital entertainment industry events I had attended.
Most of them were fundamentally based on sales and numbers, but this always felt soulless to me. My personal opinion is that sales really have no place at events like THU, where the ultimate goal is bringing artists together: the focus should be on making connections, not selling products.
But events like THU are expensive. Really expensive. There are so many bills to pay to create an experience that goes beyond the efforts of other events, specifically designed to be different and evolving every year to stay true to this.
Ticket sales only bring in so much. I always knew I was going to need sponsors, but I was searching for a different way to work with them; I wanted them and the attendees to coexist in a natural, organic way.
In those early days, it was honestly very hard for me to explain why they should support us to potential sponsors, especially big companies used to sponsoring and exhibiting at other events, expos and festivals, by boasting slick booths and banners in every direction. What we were asking them to do was probably unheard of at the time.
“Sponsor us without any banners or booths, but just by experiencing the event!”
Were we mad?
I can see now how this must have been a baffling suggestion three years ago, but there was something in me that just wouldn’t budge — I knew it had to be this way.
I stubbornly refused to give in to the sales focused route, regardless of the expenses I was running into trying to reach my end goal without any help. And honestly? I never would’ve expected that three years down the line, we’d be planning a fourth THU with the backing of world-leading brands. Actually, I didn’t even think I’d see THU live a day past its third edition.
So what happened? When did sponsors become partners, and how did they start seeing attendees for the real people that the event was truly for and about?
Trying to change the way companies invest in and interact with events was a tough call. It took three very long and difficult years of discussions, meetings, and inviting companies to experience the essence of THU, before one mammoth brand finally understood what THU is all about and the power of the incredible community behind it.
When two attendees from Chaos Group in Los Angeles first heard about THU and decided to check it out in 2014, they were overwhelmed and inspired by the amazing artists we brought together on the peninsula of Troia, and they were motivated by the resulting energy and talent showcased by the community.
The keyword behind THU is “community”, by the way. Deciding to make THU an intimate event for only 500 attendees three years ago seemed like a big problem at the time. Events, for sponsors, are about numbers. The bigger, the better. It makes sense, of course! The more eyes you get, the higher the chance of a return on investment. While it seemed at first that our modest number of attendees was our biggest weakness, it actually turned out to be our greatest strength; what we had created was a community: the THU Tribe, as we now know it. By keeping the number of participants low, we nourished a feeling of belonging in them, of being a part of something bigger than themselves. With this, developed trust. And then came the credibility.
So in the 2015 edition of THU, Chaos Group, the makers of VRay, became our first major partners. We will be eternally grateful for their support, which still lives on in THU’s spirit today.
Thanks to the amazing team at Chaos Group, their passion, and their foresight, others started to notice us too.
However, that didn’t seem to be enough. Towards the end of September 2015, I was ready to end THU. We’d had a good run: a trilogy, if you like! It had been fun, but I was broken, and I couldn’t see beyond the fog of debt and complete and utter exhaustion that surrounded me. I’d spent countless hours, weeks, months, and even years explaining and fighting for my vision for THU. I came so close to giving up, to saying farewell to the event that had formed some of the strongest bonds and friendships I’ve seen in the industry. I came so close. And then, a company stepped up that truly understood me, THU, and the Tribe.
Lenovo shone a beautiful bright light at the end of a very dark tunnel. We owe so much to Greyson Davis and Robert Hoffmann, who came to THU in 2015 for the first time. Greyson wrote an incredible article about his experience: ”Investing in the Soul is Good for Business”
He totally got it!
“Only when watching them from a distance do I truly understand exactly what we, Lenovo, have invested in. We are investing in those who can touch the soul.”
Sr. Manager Worldwide Workstation Marketing at Lenovo, Greyson Davis
When Lenovo came to THU in September 2015, they did so as a gigantic hardware company that had a lot of doubt about what THU was and what it was trying to do. Scott Ross developed the iinitial relationship between Lenovo and THU, and they were intrigued enough to check it out. Intrigued, but not convinced. But by the end of the festival, we were both firmly on the same page and ready to save THU from the brink of collapse.
Neither of us really knew exactly how it was going to work, we just knew we shared a philosophy, and that there was power to be harnessed by looking at marketing from a completely new angle.
Lenovo committed to supporting THU in its original mission: to help the artists, the creators; to reignite their passions and inspire them to become better artists.
Everyone should know that Lenovo saved THU. THU 2016 is truly the beginning of something new. It’s a rebirth. It’s still the THU that our Tribe knows and loves, but it now has confidence, it has support, it has the strength of partners who will help it continue the journey.
We’ll continue seeking out partners that share our same vision for THU in the future. There has to be more, and we can’t wait to meet them and share our ideologies with them.
THU now is a global experience that allows all artists to connect in a way that will make a difference to their lives, whether they can travel to Troia in Portugal to be one of the 500 attendees, attend a meetup in a nearby country, or watch the full festival online through THU TV. Everything we do and every platform we offer is designed to empower artists and, like Scott Ross so rightly said, to enable “transformation”. This transformation is ultimately a process of self discovery, through the sharing of information, networking, and reinvigorating an artist’s passion for their craft.
So it stands to reason, then, that when it comes to bringing brands to THU to help us pay the bills and make each year a better experience, those brands must also be capable of building connections with the attendees and empowering them. They shouldn’t just invest in the product, but also in the people. I know that the Tribe trusts THU and me to choose partners who are true to our ultimate goal. I worked so hard to gain this trust, I will not let the Tribe down. Because without trust there wouldn’t be a community, and without the community there would be no THU.
This is how it works at THU. This is how it has to be. Different.
Check Chapter 1 - Before THU