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Big Omaha 2010

Geoff Wood

David Hauser of Grasshopper opens up Big Omaha 2010. Photo by Malone & Co.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 - image by Malone & CoScott 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.

Photo by drimington on FlickrFinally, 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.

Contributing to from Des Moines

Geoff Wood

Several week ago, I mentioned an online publication based in Omaha that documents the creative class in the Midwest (in this post).

The guys at SPN (Jeff, Dusty, and Danny) were very helpful to me in getting to know the entrepreneurial scene in Omaha when it looked like we would be moving there so Hope could attend Creighton Law.
When she decided on Drake Law instead so that we could move to Des Moines, I kept in touch with SPN and we decided it would make some sense for me to sign on as a contributor to their publication and proclaiming all the good things the creative class is doing in greater Des Moines, specifically.
I've been having a good time and it's been a great reason to network in the community. Check out my first few video stories below:


The Summer of Change, Part 2: Almost Omaha

Geoff Wood

For most of this summer, I’ve been planning on moving to Omaha, Nebraska.

Inspired (apparently) by my decision to go back to school and earn my MBA in 2007, Hope had decided it was time for her to go back to school, too. She settled on Law School, took the LSAT, rounded up here recommendation letters and applied to schools in cities where we would be interested in living. The school whose interest best matched ours was Creighton University (in Omaha).

Early in the summer I made a field trip to Omaha with the idea that if I found a job we’d make the move and she’d start in the law class this fall. I started my search by contacting Jeff Slobotski at SiliconPrairieNews to ask him what he knew of the local entrepreneurial community. Jeff knows pretty much everything that is going on and everyone who is doing something. Jeff referred me to several folks, who then referred me to several other folks and suddenly I was very connected in the community.

I booked a quick flight and spent just about 24 hours in town and was able to schedule seven different meetings that were all fruitful.

A few weeks ago, we decided to remove the earlier qualification and go whether I found a job or not. I scheduled another flight, met with my newfound network again, and felt pretty good about the situation.

Then last Friday, things changed. I left work thinking about moving to Omaha and running the move scenarios in my head. When I got home, however, I found out that Hope had just received a phone call from the old 515 area code. It was the Drake University Law School asking her to join their law class rather than Creighton’s. Wow.

We spent the weekend discerning the question and decided that Des Moines was the better place for us (more on that in the next post).

I’m excited for Des Moines but a little disappointed that we won’t be moving to Omaha. Having been on the ground there a few times and having met lots of great people, I was very excited to join the community. I’ll definitely keep up on Omaha's goings on in the future and I’m hopeful that I’ll get the chance to be there often since I’ll only be a couple of hours away.

I want to thank the many folks who welcomed me, took time to meet with me, and got me so excited about what was going on in Omaha: Jeff Slobotski, Dusty Davidson, Dave Milligan, John Gustafson, Joe Olsen, Tom Chapman, Brody and Niki Deren, Eric Paisley, Matt Helt and several others.

Silicon Prairie News

Geoff Wood

One of my favorite web sites the last few months has been, an Omaha-based organization that documents the activities of the "creative class" (entrepreneurs, artists, musicians, etc) across the so-called flyover states.

I've enjoyed reading their posts and watching their videos and have had the chance to meet Jeff, Dusty and Danny - the folks behind the website - a few times.

I recently wrote a guest post for them on the Startup Weekend: Des Moines event that I participated in. Check it out here - Guest Post: Startup Weekend Des Moines is a Success

Also, this post made their new weekly-video wrap up show, too. Check that out, too -

My favorite quote: "Geoff Wood, solid guy." I'll put that on the back of my autobiography one day ;)