Fast Forward wrap-up: The key takeaways from our first customer conference

Illustration of a food takeaway box. It's a play on the title of the post.
January 13, 2021


We held our first annual customer conference in 2020, called Fast Forward. We’re back to reflect on what we learned. Needless to say — with that many experts and digital leaders in one place — we learned a lot.

During the conference, we heard from some of the world’s biggest brands –– IKEA, Lyft, Shiseido, Electronic Arts, Equinox Media and Atlassian –– and a whole host of other valued partners. Speakers covered topics such as lean innovation, the evolution of knowledge management and scaling content on a global scale.

We also heard from Contentful experts that talked about content modeling, getting started with the app framework, and GraphQL. For existing Contentful customers, these talks provided a chance to sit down and explore how to further extend and customize the product to meet their business needs.

We came away from Fast Forward with full notebooks and more ideas than ever to expand and transform the digital playbook. One thing we know for sure is that there’s never been a more important time to be digital first and digital fast. Here are our key takeaways from the conference. We hope they serve as a reminder of what’s possible when teams come together with the right tools and services.

Take back the control 

A common refrain amongst Fast Forward conference speakers was that enterprises need to be in the content business, not the maintenance or infrastructure business. So many companies fall into the trap of spending precious time maintaining systems that aren't working, at the expense of creativity and innovation.    

For Gavin Estey, technical director at Appnovation, this means moving from picking single-vendor suites to modular stacks, thoughtfully picking industry-leading components and integrating to make a one-size-fits-you platform. Build solutions that you own, that meet your needs and that don't tie you to the roadmap of your vendor. 

Estey also touched on what he called the inversion of control. This concept gives the power back to developers, authors and platform owners. It allows companies to make their own decisions, choose programming languages and avoid high upfront costs for both licensing and development –– among other things. It's about taking back control of your digital products and using simple ingredients to build great things. 

For Brad Alan, VP of engineering at Equinox Media, it was this variable of control that was key when evaluating a CMS for the launch of at-home fitness product, Variis. When Covid-19 drastically changed the original rollout plan of the product, the team had to pivot quickly. This included looking for a new headless CMS that had robust APIs, the ability to design and evolve the data model and features to support the editors and creators in the publishing process. 

Of their previous CMS, Alan said, "Any changes within our model, we had to work with our vendor to change, so this was a pretty frustrating experience given the speed that we wanted to move." When Equinox Media settled on Contentful, Alan said, "We had lots of people that were super excited about the product and how they would work in it." 

Go global with localization  

Localization can be a challenge for even the most digitally-transformed enterprises. Not only did Lyft scale their content to eight languages, but they also increased the amount of content coming through for translation by 3,722 times. So, how did they do it? 

"Products were once so local, but now by nature of being digital, they're global products. Which is why language translation becomes such an element of the developer's workflow, and it's so important to get that right; otherwise, you can't engage your users worldwide," said Adrian Cohn, director of brand communications at Smartling. 

Speaking of Contentful and Smartling, Zak Haitkin, program manager of localization at Lyft, says, "the integration allowed content to move seamlessly between the two platforms... It was a massive undertaking that needed to have as much automation as possible in order to be successful." 

Dare to experiment and take risks  

A common call amongst Fast Forward conference speakers was for enterprises to take more risks. Jonatan Söderlind, product owner at IKEA, said it best in the keynote with Deloitte: “dare to take risks; dare to do it differently and test, fail and learn.” 

Anthony Baker, executive technology director at R/GA, also touched on the need for more experimentation and boldness. In his talk on lean innovation, he made it clear that lean innovation is not about making things cheap or quick fixes; it’s about cutting out all the waste and clutter to enable faster and better innovation.

He said, “Don’t shy away from experimenting with business models. Be bold in leveraging lean innovation to explore new business models and test creative value propositions. Don’t get holed up in the current ways of doing things. Try to capture opportunities for tomorrow not just solve the problems of today.” 

If you’re interested in learning more about Anthony’s work in lean innovation at Shiseido, and how they manage content in eight languages across 12 regional markets, you can read the case study.

Data as content

Aaron Bradley, knowledge graph specialist at Electronic Arts, challenged us all with his talk on the evolution –– and convergence –– of content knowledge management. Bradley explained the evolution of data and knowledge management. He says, "when your system understands both the meaning of the data and the structure of your content, you can use that data flexibly in your content products."  

While this might seem like a daunting task for those just starting out with structured content, Bradley says, "The more you’re adding meaning to your content, even with simple things like taxonomies for important business objects, the closer you are for being able to think of and use your content ecosystem as a type of knowledge graph –– a content graph. Start small, and just keep connecting content by adding structure and meaning as you find opportunities to do so." 

Hearing from the app makers 

During Fast Forward, we got to hear from some of the people behind the apps which populate Contentful’s marketplace. Nick Panagopoulos, VP of global strategic alliances at, spoke about the Global Link Connect app. The app, which integrates with Contentful and offers translation management including machine and human translation, and a variety of other features, typically reduces translation costs for enterprises by 30-50 per cent. 

We also heard from Mux about their integration with Contentful. Mux is an API-first, developer-first product. When describing the app, Dylan Jhaveri, senior software engineer at Mux, said "Customers of Mux, who are using Contentful, can stay in their CMS world that they're used to. They can log into the Contentful dashboard, manage all their content alongside the videos they upload, and that can connect directly to Mux. Mux can be the backend video infrastructure." 

If Mux is for all things video, then commercetools is your go-to for everything ecommerce. Commercetools is a full headless commerce platform with microservices-based architecture. The integration with Contentful allows creators to pull content directly from commercetools without the app. Ivo Bronsfield, head of integrations at commercetools, spoke about how hybrid data models enable better customer experiences. 

If you missed any of the Fast Forward talks, you can access the recordings at any time.

Thank you to all our speakers, valued partners and attendees for making our first virtual conference a success. Fast Forward was truly a meeting of the minds, and we hope everyone enjoyed it as much as we did.

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