Business by Bike

A windowless conference center is the enemy of creativity, a firewall to innovation. Events conceived to get industry colleagues talking only undermine themselves with such stale environments. You can’t factory farm business relationships.

The crux is this – if you’re not happy to be there, you won’t network as effectively. And no one is happy to travel away from home, from family, to spend a couple of days trudging around a stuffy show hall. A pocket full of collected business cards is not the measure of time well spent.

Adobe has hit upon an alternative: the rolling conference, and it’s our kind of work trip. Called Adobe Offsite, the most recent, held last month over a long weekend in Girona, Spain, comprised three days of riding fantastic roads, eating gourmet food, and hanging out with friends old and new. It might sound like a key-account treat, but this is ‘experiential marketing’, and there’s one very good reason why the tech giant continues organizing them and why time-poor senior executives keep coming back – it works.

“Business trips take you away from the things you love. By including the thing that is your passion it makes the networking event much more powerful,” says Ben Rabner, creator of these events which are now his full-time job as Head of Experiential Marketing at Adobe. “These events are more effective than many other marketing initiatives we do, for much less cost. We’ve found that people are more open to having authentic conversations and walk away with considerably deeper relationships.”

The Girona event was hosted by former professional Christian Meier and his wife Amber, through their exquisite bike shop, The Service Course, and their artisanal cafés La Fabrica and Espresso Mafia – look out for a profile of that triumvirate here soon. On the Saturday night, David Millar hosted the group of 30, the biggest Adobe Offsite yet, at his CHPTIII studio for dinner, including an entertaining talk on the founding of his brand and sensational food prepared by Henrik Orre, a former chef for Team Sky and now a restauranteur and author. ENVE is a technical partner, helping to deliver the best ride experiences by fitting out Adobe’s fleet of BMCs and giving some of the guests their first taste of our wheels. It’s the best of everything.

After an easy 36-mile spin on the Friday afternoon to loosen the legs, we rolled out from The Service Course at 10am for Saturday’s main event: 75 miles out to the coast, taking in a couple of big climbs, with a stop for lunch and a tasting session at an award-winning olive oil producer. Though it was cold in town as we set off, an hour and a half later everyone was shedding layers into the support vehicles as the sun blazed unfiltered in a cloudless sky. The climb of Sant Grau hosted a little friendly competition; levels of suffering were self-selected and everyone reached the top smiling. The grins were even bigger after the fun, fast descent.

Sunday’s ride was all about one thing – Rocacorba, the climb made famous as the favorite form test for the many pros who live in Girona. It’s arguably the hardest in the area, at 6.2 miles and with a gradient of 11% for most of it. Don’t be fooled by the official average of 7% – which is pulled down by two short, slight descents punctuating the effort – it’s a brute. Having made it to the top, the guests drank in the view and basked in the mix of satisfaction and light-headed exhaustion.

Notable on all three rides were the conversations happening up and down the double line of riders. As often as not, they were about digital technologies. Anne Goodman was at her second Adobe Offsite and had changed jobs in between. “I came back for the known networking opportunity and the chance to catch up with contacts,” she told us as we pedaled. “It’s much less formal, so you have more open conversations.”

Sam Thompson, from Boston, USA, runs an investment company and said simply: “I do real business here and make valuable contacts.” Another guest suggested that the Adobe Offsite rides are now the best reason to go to the Cannes Lions conference – where this concept originated in 2012 as an alternative “to yet another cocktail party” – not only because they’re fun but because they’re also better for networking. The power of the bicycle is unending.

After the guests had departed for Barcelona, either to fly home or to attend the Mobile World Congress, Ben declared himself satisfied: “It was a lot of work to scale it up to 30 people but it went smoothly, we had a great bunch of guests, the level of riding was high, and no one got lost!” The only challenge we can see is how to make it sound like a work trip and less like the best weekend of the year. Why not run your next meeting from the saddle?