Wow. Big Omaha was absolutely everything I expected and more. For those that don't know, Big Omaha is an entrepreneurial event put on by Silicon Prairie News in, well, Omaha. The idea is to bring together a bunch of entrepreneurially-minded folks excited about what they are doing and what they will do. Add in a bunch of speakers from across the country who have done exciting and inspiring things to generate discussion. Finish with a completely immersive, branded experience and you have Big Omaha.
You'll find lots of posts about Big Omaha from around the interwebs and if you're really interested in what happened you can check out the "live blogs" (Friday AM, Friday PM and Saturday) at SPN. I filled in on "live post" duty on Saturday and it was my first ever live post attempt so please bear with any spelling or grammar errors you find.
There are four moments at Big Omaha that really stood out to me and that I'd like to share here:
The first presenter was David Hauser, a young entrepreneur out of Boston who currently leads both Grasshopper and Chargify. David did something I've seen before at a conference and it was awesome. He shared with the audience the idea that the level of excitement a presenter has as they take the stage can influence the quality of their presentation, so everyone should give a standing ovation (complete with hoots and/or hollers) to every speaker as they take the stage, starting with him. He then walked off stage, re-announced himself, and walked back on (pictured above). The crowd cooperated and it was not only awesome but something that really contributed to the excitement of the event from beginning to end.
Scott Harrison took the stage just before lunch and I'm not sure that anyone in the room will ever again be the same. I've never felt that way about a presentation that I've seen anywhere at anytime before and I'm so appreciative that I had the opportunity. Scott is the force behind the organization "charity: water" which works to bring clean drinking water to people in places like Africa, India, and South America, who have never before had access to it. I'd heard of charity: water years ago but hadn't paid much attention to it - never again. I'm struggling to explain it here but I encourage you to check our their website, read Scott's story, watch the videos, and see the images. After that, you should probably donate.
On Saturday morning, a young San Francisco entrepreneur, Melody McCloskey took the stage to share the lessons she learned in founding and operating StyleSeat, an online management platform for hair stylists, estheticians, and the like. Her presentation was a little dry but solid (and a great use of Prezi, by the way) as she shared point-by-point the lessons she's learned as entrepreneur right up until she dropped this nugget: "If you're not in San Francisco, Boulder or New York MOVE".
Boom goes the dynamite. I've never seen a single sentence take the air out of the room in such a way as that. Basically, she told all of us in the Midwest that we can't be successful unless we relocate to one of the more well known entrepreneurial hubs. It wasn't so much the fact she shared something unpopular or controversial but more the fact that entire thesis of the event is "we can do this here". She either missed that point or fundamentally disagreed with it, in either case it was out of place and hurt her presentation as the assembled masses all immediately pulled out their iPhones, iPads and such to tweet about it. I couldn't find a single person after the fact who could tell me anything she said other than that one statement. There's more than one lesson to be learned from this shared experience.
Finally, the closing speaker was Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, a massive online retailer that was aquired by Amazon at the end of last year for $1.2 billion. Tony's presentation reminded me quite a bit of a younger, hipper, Herb Kelleher (founder of Southwest Airlines), who spoke at IU when I was in graduate school. Both men have a similar philosophy in terms of customer service, hiring, corporate culture, and are obviously successful for it. Tony finished his presentation by giving out an advance copy of his book (Delivering Happiness, to be published in June) to everyone in the room. It was awesome (I felt a little like I was on Oprah).
I enjoyed the entire slate of speakers and I think it will be tough to out due them next year. I also loved that all of the speakers were also participants in the event. For instance, it was cool to see Gary Vaynerchuck talking on stage about Foursquare founder Dennis Crowley, then looking a few rows over from my seat and seeing Dennis there in the crowd being entertained along with the rest of us.