Synthesis: Big Omaha 2010 (Part 2)

As you can tell from our previous blog post (and this picture of dinner from Friday night), Adam Seitz (@adamseitz), Arlo Oviatt (@onwardcreative) and myself had a lot to digest. The first day had been a real headspinner in terms of great speakers, great content and great ideas. But they don’t call it Big Omaha for nothing. On to day two…

Dennis Crowley

@patchchord: Having the opportunity to hang out with Crowley for a little while on Friday night at the Nomad Lounge (many thanks to our new friends at Archrival!) was a highlight of my time in Omaha. Little did I know that when we parted ways around 1am that he would go on to hang out for another 2 hours with folks from the conference. And yet his energy at 9am was insane. His passion for his work was obvious, based on a single intriguing question: can you use game mechanics to motivate people to do or experience things they wouldn’t normally do? Foursquare certainly fits that bill. While his presentation was primarily centered on how he got to where he is today, he did give a taste or two of things still to come for Foursquare…including the potential rollout of features for businesses and venues. One he described was giving businesses the ability to subscribe to dashboards that let them access info and user stats that will better help them manage and enhance their customers’ Foursquare experiences — an interesting way to potentially further monetize the platform.

@adamseitz: The joke was that, after not showing up to his 9:00am presentation, the Omaha police were going to find Crowley in a field, passed out and clutching his iPhone … proudly displaying the “Crunked” badge. The man can party and is quite interesting. The path he took to get to where he is now is very unique, and at times, a bit backwards. But he continues to push himself and technology and continues to even amaze himself. His view that life is one big game played with friends where even going to lunch deserves a reward is such a unique perspective to have. I feel like the best way Foursquare can differentiate themselves in the geolocation services market will be with a subscription service and dashboards for business to use so that they can connect with a consumer and customize their experience (or provide value) the second they walk in their door.

@onwardcreative: Unfortunately, I missed most of Crowley’s talk. But I heard he described the idea for foursquare as being on page 10 of a 100+-page dissertation he wrote–meaning, there’s much, much more to come. That’s mind-boggling to me.

Melody McCloskey

@patchchord: Honestly, I wouldn’t have even bothered to include McCloskey in this write-up as I found her presentation to be rather aimless and lacking any real depth of content. However, McCloskey’s awkward presentation style lead to the most discussed gaffe of the entire conference. In talking about the prime locations for startups, she stated that “If you’re not in San Francisco, New York or Boulder, you need to move.” The murmur of disapproval at that notion from the crowd turned into a virtual shitstorm on Twitter. (I think that was also about the time @onwardcreative stepped out to grab a coffee next door and was moved to bust out a tweet in response, inspired by a poster that caught his eye.) One of her final pieces of “advice” to the crowd was recounting a story from one of her entrepreneurial colleagues (located in Austin, ironically enough) that led to the question of “How will you be f$&%ing legendary?” I decided to respond to her question via Twitter.

@adamseitz: Meh.

@onwardcreative: McCloskey would have been better off if she had talked about her actual business and insights she has gained from her unique individual experience (whatever that is) instead of platitudes like “If you’re going to be in business, have a passion about something.” No, really?

Tony Hsieh

@patchchord: There was so much in Hsieh’s presentation that, honestly, I’m still digesting it all a week later. His dedication to the idea that Zappos doesn’t sell shoes (or clothes … or accessories) but instead sells customer service is an incredible testament to the culture that has been forged within their walls. Much has been said about their social media efforts, an organic offshoot of the Zappos culture coming to life on the web. Yet Hsieh’s statement that “the telephone is one of the most valuable branding devices out there” when it comes to their company is a reminder that sometimes there’s no school like the old school. One quote that still has me chewing? “What would you be passionate about doing for 10 years even if you didn’t make a dime?”

@adamseitz: Tony gave a great presentation on the story of Zappos and how it was born from selling pizza back in college. He has, and will always be, known for the customer experience. He is known for being able to successfully scale the 1:1 experience and that is what has made him so successful. His model is less about the products and more about the level of happiness a consumer can attain when doing business with them. He noted that you must build both personal and emotional connections to be successful. His marketing plan consists of two things: customer service and experience. When done right, people will tell others about Zappos. He had a myriad of quotes, each valuable. I’ll throw a few key ones out: “Be real and you’ll have nothing to fear.” “Your culture is your brand.” “Whatever you’re thinking, think bigger.” He was also kind enough to provide free advance copies of his forthcoming book Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose to all attendees. Happiness indeed!

@onwardcreative: Hsieh’s research on happiness concludes that there are four “frameworks” of happiness. 1) perceived control, 2) perceived progress, 3) connectedness and 4) drawing vision and meaning from something bigger than yourself. Zappos has found multiple ways to impact employees’ well-being in each of those four areas, with an area like perceived progress benefitting from more frequent (if, admittedly, smaller in scale) promotions and salary advancements for employees who uphold the company values. It provided me with a completely different way of thinking about perks and employee motivation.

That’s it! The long and short of it from three different perspectives. Below are a collection of shots from the event, taken by myself and Adam:

Big Omaha Big Omaha Big Omaha Robert Scoble & Matt Mullenweg Big Omaha Big Omaha Big Omaha Big Omaha Delivering Happiness Webcast Dennis Crowley Big Omaha Tony Hsieh Overload Truckers Skillet Man Vs. Skillet

And we’d be remiss if we didn’t give a little love to the great space that was used for Big Omaha…

The Kaneko

@patchchord: What can I say about the Kaneko? Its sole purpose is to serve as a creative space for artists, educators and performers. Located in the heart of Omaha’s Old Market, it was the perfect setting for the festivities. As expansive as the space needed to be to accommodate over 400 attendees, it was also perfectly staged to allow for the digital needs of the tech-savvy audience.

@adamseitz: A great space well within walking distance of downtown Omaha’s finest features. The Kaneko was a sprawling building large enough to feel like everyone had their own personal space but intimate enough to dialogue and exchange information in the many alcoves and enclaves it had to offer.

@onwardcreative: The Kaneko had a great vibe to it — definitely felt like the right home for a conference that is, at its heart, about changing paradigms and seeing the world of entrepreneurialism and innovation differently. BUT, one of my other favorite venues? Aromas Coffeehouse right next door (it’s where I grabbed the pic of the Omaha-centric poster, by the way).

In closing, Big Omaha was a great experience. For only being two years old, it’s already turned into quite the happening for Midwestern techies, entrepreneurs and creative thinkers. While I’m thrilled that founders Jeff Slobotski and Dusty Davidson have been able to create such an inspiring¬† event in Omaha, I’m left scratching my head why Kansas City seems to be such an undiscovered gem. From great agencies to fantastic web development/technology solutions shops, startups to groundbreaking artistic organizations, KC has a story to tell too. Among all the takeaways Adam, Arlo, myself and all of my KC colleagues that attended the event collected, I’d like to believe that thought was near the top of each of our lists.

Until next year…

[Speaker photos via]