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Nametag Highlights - Year One

Geoff Wood

Almost 11 months ago, my wife and I both quit our jobs in Indianapolis and moved to Des Moines. She was set to start classes at Drake Law but I wasn't quite sure how I would spend my time. Looking back, it's been a great year.

By nature of my interests, and my personality, I attend a lot of events. They range from meetings and meetups to conferences and unconferences. Typically, these events come with a nametag and much of the time I keep the nametag as some sort of keepsake or "proof of participation". I've been doing that since college and I know I'm not alone.

Now, in addition to keeping the physical nametag, I plan to do an annual post here on the blog showcasing the best events in one image (see above).

In Year One of my new career these three topped the list:


  1. Highlight Midwest - Des Moines, Iowa - October 2009. The event had a few hiccups but was a great early intro to the tech startups, creative class, and social media community around the Silicon Prairie.
  2. South by Southwest (SxSW) Interactive - Austin, Texas - March 2010. I was very fortunate to get to attend SxSW last minute. I'd wanted to go for the last few years and the event did not disappoint. Great exposure to the world-wide version of the groups listed above and a great time to get to know the SPN team better.
  3. Big Omaha - Omaha, Nebraska - May 2010. SPN's own event, Big Omaha was actually the best of the three. Even though I'm on the team, I was more participant than organizer at this one and I'm so glad I had the opportunity to experience it.


Note: the nametag/image idea is totally borrowed from the creativity of Erin Sparling on his site I'm not exactly sure who linked me to Erin's site but I loved the image so much that I wanted to recreate it for myself. Also, it's obvious his is better than mine but I'll work on it for next year.

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.

5 days, 3 observations, 0 meat

Geoff Wood

Image from marcp_dmoz on Flickr

I'm now five days into my no meat experiment and I have three initial observations:

1. Some restaurants make great no meat food

I was worried that it would be hard to find food that I liked that didn't contain sausage, bacon or at the very least, chicken. However, on Saturday we watched the England/France Rugby match from Fado in Washington, DC, and had the Veggie Boxty Quesadilla and the Tomato Mozzarella Potato Bread and both were awesome. I don't know if flavors are more noticeable without meat of if the food was really that superior but these two dishes are my favorites, so far.

2. McDonald's is out

We're big fans of the McDonald's drive through while on vacation (and sometimes nights when we just don't want to cook). However, we tried to stop on the way back from our trip and I was disappointed to see that other than salads, there is not a single no meat option on their menu. It's probably a good thing for overall health, anyway, that we'll have to remove them from our list.

3. There a zillion types of vegetables

We picked out a few no meat recipes and I headed out to Hy-Vee to pick up the ingredients. I had never paid a lot of attention to vegetables before so little did I know that there is a multitude of types of potatoes, two types of parsley, about 8 derivations of portabello mushrooms, several types of carrots, that green onions and scallions are the same thing, etc. Unfortunately, we'll have to be more specific in grocery list crafting in the future.

SxSW Interactive 2010

Geoff Wood

In about an hour I'm headed out to Omaha to meetup with the other gents from Silicon Prairie News. We fly out from Eppley first thing in the morning en route to Austin, Texas for South by Southwest Interactive 2010 (SxSW).

I'm very excited to get the opportunity to participate in this year's event and plan on blogging as I get the chance down there. The Silicon Prairie News crew has a lot of stuff in the works so it should be a good time. I'm particularly excited for the Silicon Prairie Party (hosted by Big Omaha) that should be a great forum to network with other Midwesterners as well as show off some of the great things we have here to people from all over the world.

SxSW is sometimes called "Spring Break for Nerds" and it's fitting that this trip to Texas is almost 10 years to the day from my last Spring Break (also to Texas - South Padre Island). There's a history of new technologies debuting a SxSW, such as Twitter in 2007 and Foursquare in 2009. We don't know what the 2010 event will bring but one technology, Uppward, built by four of Des Moines technologists, launched today!

Favorite Washington DC Attraction: Old Town Trolley Tours

Geoff Wood

Image from EclecticBlogs on Flickr

As I wrote in my last post, we’re heading to Washington DC next month. This trek is an annual event for us and part of the tradition includes a tour around the city on the famed trolleys of Old Town Trolley Tours. The “trolley tour” (as we simply call it) is one of our favorite parts of visiting Washington and we recommend it to friends, family, and pretty much anyone who mentions an upcoming visit that direction.

We took our first trolley tour in 2004 when a friend of my wife’s recommended it. Her advice was that since there is so much to see in Washington the only way to see it all is to take a guided trolley tour. She suggested we do it first so that we get an overview of all the sites as well as the opportunity to scout out the places that we wanted to visit in person later on the trip. We took her advice and enjoyed it so much that we took a second tour on that first trip, this time viewing the monuments in particular by moonlight.

To clarify, Old Town Trolley Tours has a “hop-on, hop-off” model so you can ride the trolley between locations as well. However, we prefer to do the entire loop all at once. It takes a little while but we love listening to the live tour guides who narrate the tour with historical fact and personal anecdotes. Many of them are quite amusing, to boot.

There are several tours in Washington so make sure you choose Old Town Trolley. Our experiences with them have inspired us to take tours in other cities we visit, as well. Specifically, we’ve done the tours in London and Bath in the UK, Dublin, Ireland, and Rome, Italy. Each was with a different tour company and Old Town Trolley in Washington was the best, though the Big Bus Company of London is a close second thanks to the dry humor of the Brit tour guides.

If you’re headed to Washington and ready to take my advice, here are a couple things to note: 

  1. Buy your tickets online ahead of time. The tour is tremendously valuable but the tickets are not cheap. If you buy online you get a discount. Buy tickets here.
  2. If you’re visiting friends who live in Washington, have them sign up for the Hometown Pass. Residents within 50 miles of Washington can register for a free tour pass! So long as they’re riding with a paid-tour guest (you, the visitor) they get to ride for free (brilliant marketing). Register here.

Enjoy your trip!