At the 10th Internet Conference on the Gold Coast, industry veteran and great bloke Nathan Huppatz earned the top honour at a big show where nothing got sold for a record price.
The longest-running online retail event in Australia returned to the Gold Coast on 26-28 May to celebrate a major milestone. The Internet Conference (formerly the Professional EBay Sellers Alliance Summit) turned 10 years old last week, steered from inception by founder Phil Leahy.
Running a conference for that number of years is no mean feat, and the Internet Conference’s evolution has paralelled that of online retail in Australia – so many of the pureplay online pioneers having roots in eBay before expanding into stand-alone stores. The Internet Conference is still the top event for eBay sellers, but has transcended marketplaces with a more comprehensive agenda and a broader expo. This year’s mix of speakers from the US and Australia included Vicki Cantrell, head of Shop.org, the representative body for online retail in the US, Jooman Park, Head of eBay Australia, plus regular crowd favourites including Tim Ash of SiteTuners, Gabby Leibovich from Catch of the Day and Ruslan Kogan. Now, under the banner of Retail Global, Phil and his team are expanding across borders, having launched their first US event in 2015 with the next slated for Las Vegas in September 2016.
A unique event with a community vibe, the Internet Conference is a popular fixture on the annual industry events calendar, a blend of ‘infotainment’ focused on practical ecommerce solutions and inspirational case studies – plus it’s on the Gold Coast and for those of us embracing winter in the southern states, what’s not to love about that?
One of the highlights of this event is the Gala Dinner midway through the conference, which for this year’s milestone birthday was relocated from the conference venue to the Movieworld theme park. Guests were greeted with red carpet, cameras and applause from the rent-a-crowd on hand at the entrance for an excellent night. I pledged not to divulge who screamed the loudest on the thrill rides, but it was Fed, and over 300 guests were entertained by Austin Powers, Batman, circus acts and more.
Nathan Huppatz, co-founder of Costumes.com.au, was most deservingly awarded the Retail Global Industry Excellence Award, presented by Phil Leahy and Helena Stylman of the Internet Conference. A modest, quiet achiever, ‘Huppy’ kicked off his internet retailing career in the automotive category 20 years ago (yes, 1996) and has been a fantastic contributor to the industry over many years, as a host, speaker, commentator, panelist, writer and educator. Literally lost for words on the night (Huppatz was suffering a bad cold and had lost his voice), he was able to express a few squeaks about the thrill of the achievement.
“Winning this award means a lot,” squawked Huppatz. “We have won a few awards for the costumes.com.au business over the last few years, which is fantastic for everyone in the business as we are all working towards common goals. But to win a personal award and have it presented in front of the RetailGlobal Internet Conference crowd was a great moment.
“The first person to congratulate me was Paul Greenberg [Head of NORA], a previous winner of the award. On top of that, Paul is a great friend and has been somewhat of a mentor to me for a year or two now. It was pretty humbling to be honest. But a great surprise.”
There was unanimous agreement that Huppatz was a deserving winner of the award, working tirelessly not only on his own business ventures but in advancing standards and education across the industry, riding the ups and downs of digital entrepreneurship for more than a decade.
“There are a few things I am particularly proud of,” he said. “First, the team that we have in our business. We have assembled and trained a great bunch people, many of whom have been with us for a long time now.
“I am also proud to have been able to make a living out of ecommerce for such a long time. One way or another, through good times, but particularly tough times (and we all have them), we have survived as a business. I’m especially proud of our most recent projects, costumes.com.au which we built from nothing six years ago to a strong business today, and readytoship.com.au, a shipping integration tool that we originally built internally many years ago, finally commercialised and are now promoting more heavily.
“I’d like to thank my wife Tanya, my wider family who have always been supportive, my two business partners Brendan and Ian, and the whole team at Directshop and Web Publications. There are a few industry folk too who have given me opportunities and been great friends along the way. They know who they are!”
The Internet Conference is especially admired for its contribution to The Reach Foundation every year via the charity auction at the Gala Dinner. With the stars gathered at Movieworld, this was always going to be a big one, and the night did not disappoint. Auctioneer John Shore drove the crowd into a bidding frenzy, and more than $77,000 was raised via the live and silent auction, contributing to the more than $400,000 total raised for The Reach Foundation by the Internet Conference so far. There were two standout highlights among the many highlights of the night – the first, was a bidding war for ‘nothing’ – that’s right, a box of absolutely nothing (a very nice box though) that raised $26,000 alone. The second, an auctioneering cameo by Tim Ash’s 10-year-old son who took it upon himself to auction off a long chain of glowstick rings (you had to be there) for an extra $500.
The Internet Conference Gala Dinner shone a spotlight on the ecommerce industry’s cameraderie and generosity – it doesn’t make for a great start to the conference early the next morning, but nonetheless plenty turned up for the opening Power Panel at 9am the next morning, sponsored by Panadol.
Congratulations to the team on 10 years and look up next year’s event (now rebranded Retail Global Gold Coast) here.