From the moment we entered the boarding terminal at the port on Friday, we could feel the energy in the air. The check-in line snaked through the glass-roofed atrium, dance music bumping through a sea of reunion hugs and peanut butter cookies. We picked up our Poken devices (the latest iteration in the still-awkward-and-cumbersome world of contact information exchange). I dropped my bag in my impossibly small triple and scoped out the gift bag. Great stuff with some welcome repeats from last year's DC10 (John Varvatos discount, DonorsChoose.org gift card, and the undeniable deliciousness of Sweet Riot chocolate) with some new additions (Yes To Carrots sunscreen, Invisible Children t-shirt, and custom boat sneakers from Creative Recreation).
The first session opened with my buddy ELEW who played an underground after party last year and returned this year to play on the main stage. First up was Sir Richard Branson who donned his trademark wavy white hair and a velvet blazer. When interviewer Chris Sacca — clad in a plaid shirt and a scruffy beard — joked that Branson had launched 14 new businesses that week, Branson pointed to Sacca’s flip flops and retorted, “I'm setting up a sock company for you.”
|Sir Richard Branson interviewed by Chris Sacca|
Branson was followed by a short performance by Eclectic Method who spun a house music medley accompanied by, no pun intended, an eclectic video clip mashup featuring Summit attendees like Russell Simmons, Jacqueline Novogratz, and Ray Kurzweil, alongside the likes of Mother Theresa and Congressman Dana Rohrabacher.
Next up was TOMS Shoes founder Blake Mycoskie who broke from last year's white oxford shirt and madras slacks to don a denim shirt and artisan-batik parachute pants topped with his trademark moppy haircut.
|Blake Mycoskie interviewed by Elliott Bisnow|
Sean Stephenson, the 3-foot giant, closed the session with one of the more inspiring talks of the weekend. Sean paced the stage in his wheelchair, exuding an attitude and charisma that immediately captivated the audience. He set the jovial mood right off the bat: “I have some bad news,” he said, “several people have already been taken off the boat...but they were the only ugly ones.” He talked about his life purpose: to rid the world of insecurity. Lamenting the fact that we often “put our glow on low,” he encouraged the audience to embrace self-confidence. “Why am I sexy?" he asked the audience, gesturing to his body: “This good 55-lbs of love — this was built. I wasn't born with some confidence gene. But I want to show you what it's like to see me in a club,” he said before breaking into dance. Sean closed by encouraging everyone to embrace the spirit of Summit and take advantage of this unique opportunity to learn from others. Money quote: “There's lots of alcohol, you're young, and you're here to save the planet...there's going to be some hookups.”
|Sean Stephenson (photo credit: Summit Series)|
After dinner, I attended the women's mixer which was inspiring and exciting. Summit still has a long way to go (note the complete absence of women in the opening session), but women made up 35% of the event this year, which is definitely a move in the right direction. I wrote about Summit Series’ struggle to incorporate more women into the community after last year's event, and over the course of the year, I worked with Natalie Spilger, one of the team's new hires and Director of Community Building, on initiatives to get more young women on the boat. Although the programming we created brought 6 awesome ladies to Summit, I think we missed some opportunities to create partnerships that could really up the ante. Here's how I see it: There are plenty of organizations that purport to support the advancement of young women, but hardly any of them do it well. If I'm a foundation grant-maker or an individual philanthropist, I have very few high-impact opportunities to grow and invest in the next generation of female leaders. That's why Summit is so important. When it comes to creating an environment that truly facilitates leadership and professional development, they're pretty much the only game in town. I really look forward to working with the Summit team over the course of the next year to continue to create these opportunities and build the community.
The night closed with open bars, live music from DJ Cassidy, and enthusiastic usage of the pool deck's four bubbling hot tubs. Crowds died down around 5:00AM, when my buddy Ben Bator admitted that he had a double and no roommate. I immediately moved out of my triple and into his room with a balcony, greatly improving my quality of life. Best roommate ever.
Having quietly left Miami sometime after dinner, we woke up somewhere in the middle of the Caribbean.
A thousand drowsy partygoers were awoken by what the schedule billed as “the world's best team building exercise ever.” Turns out it was an emergency drill, notable mostly because many people were still in their clothes from the night before. My stateroom's emergency meeting point was in the ship's casino where I waited patiently with TED curator Chris Anderson and his wife, Acumen founder and fellow GSB grad Jacqueline Novogratz, until we got the all clear.
I missed the talk by my TED buddy Tony Hsieh (I heard it was his standard content) and spent part of the morning trying to track down some internet access, which turned out to be both elusive and expensive. Upside: everyone was a lot more present than they would have been with access to Twitter and email. Downside: it was difficult to find people for meetings and meet-ups.
At noon, I joined a panel session called “How to drive profits through creative design,” which was one of the highlights of the weekend. Not only were the speakers inspiring (I was especially keen on Kristofor Lofgren, supply chain master and founder of the first sustainable sushi restaurant, Portland’s Bamboo Sushi), but the discussion afterwards epitomized the positive energy we can harness at Summit. Attendees and organizers frequently marvel at the power and accomplishments of Summit attendees, but you don’t always get to actually see this group of thinkers and doers actively thinking and doing in such a collaborative way. After the speakers finished, panel moderator Bobby Chang suggested we leverage the brains in the room to engage in a real discussion about creating sustainable businesses. Although the session was scheduled to end at 1:00PM, everyone stayed almost an hour later to participate in an exciting brainstorming session that left me feeling energized and hopeful.
After lunch, I had a nice coffee chat with Paul Bricault of Greycroft Partners about the future of digital media, and then “Silicon Beach” angel Paige Craig (my pal from TEDx) and I talked about how the internet facilitates everyone's “15MB of fame,” particularly among so-called “lifecasters.” We continued our discussion until the Profounder live pitch event in the afternoon. The Profounder team (my fellow GSB alums and inspiring friends Dana Mauriello and Kiva co-founder Jessica Jackley) won the live pitch event last year and used some of the winnings to pay it forward and showcase young entrepreneurs on the boat. Unsurprisingly, the winner was my friend Alan Chan for his latest venture, Bre.ad.
|Alan Chan pitching Bre.ad at the live pitch competition|
After the Profounder pitch event, I spent some time at the pool with some of the most inspiring people I know, people who are changing the world whom I'm proud to call my friends. Typical Summit moment with Kiva co-founder Jessica Jackley, Invisible Children co-founder Jason Russell, DonorsChoose.org founder Charles Best, and FEED Projects co-founder Ellen Gustafson:
Before Summit, I was asked by the lovely Shira Lazar to be a special correspondent on the boat for CBS’s new online hub and interactive show “What's Trending.” For my content, I interviewed 7 amazing Summit attendees who I believe are changing their industries and the world around them. I hope to see all the interviews published sometime in the next week, and I may republish them here on my blog as well. The highlight of the interviews was definitely Charles Best, who — in addition to having the surprise six-pack of the century (see above) — regaled me with an exclusive on the genesis of Stephen Colbert's performance of Rebecca Black’s “Friday” on Jimmy Fallon's show. During the performance, a dancer held up a QR code that linked to a secret video about DonorsChoose.org. Since the video had just gone viral the work before, it was pretty fun to get the back story.
After a dining room dinner with two of my favorite Mikes — Fast Society's Michael Constantiner and Misson Motors’ Mike Rosenzweig — I broke away for a shark tagging info session with the lucky few (~3% of Summit attendees) who would head out into open waters the next day to wrangle sharks for science. The Summit team selected the group based on submissions to their open sourced project Shark Tag You're It, which was picked up by National Geographic in the weeks preceding Summit at Sea. The shark tagging group included “regular” people like my TED homie and oncologist Krupali Tejura and winemaker Loren Trefethen, and some fancier folk like Imogen Heap and Kristen Bell. While clutching an actual shark tag in his hand, Neil Hammerschlag from the University of Miami shared some shocking statistics (“270,000 sharks are killed every day”) and then explained the process of shark tagging.
|Neil Hammerschlag holding a shark tag|
Energized with shark anticipation we returned to the main deck where The Roots had just taken the stage.
After some drinks and socializing, I headed back to the room around 1:00AM to go to bed early before shark tagging at 6:45AM the next day. Before calling it a night, I stepped onto the balcony to take in the ocean air, when I heard Russell Simmons’ distinctive voice. I looked up and found him one floor up, peering over his balcony. We chatted briefly about shark tagging and he invited me up to hang out. What followed was a typical Summit experience in that it was totally extraordinary and surreal. I arrived at Russell's room just in time for his nightly meditation. When I told him I'd never meditated before, he offered to teach me, and I proceeded to have a 30-minute private meditation lesson from Russell Simmons followed by a discussion of veganism, yoga, and how he's overcome his past life of gangs and drugs. After that, I certainly couldn't go back to sleep, and I knew my roommate — one of Russell’s biggest fans — would love to hear this story, so I returned to the pool deck to play with my Summit family. Favorite interaction of the wee hours was when Sophia Bush found out my roomie Ben was responsible for Texts From Last Night and began quoting her all-time favorites. I noshed on pizza, stopped by the afterparty in The Roots’ suite, and had a hallway heart-to-heart with my friend Sean, and left myself just 45 minutes of shut eye before reporting for shark tagging duty on Sunday.
Checking in for shark tagging was a blur of sunscreen and tater tots, procured from the breakfast buffet, along with 4 hardboiled eggs I snagged for Tim Ferriss who made a personal request for some protein (per his “30 grams of protein within 30 minutes of waking up” rule).
We set sail away from the boat as the sun was coming up, and it was a beautiful sight to take in this magnificent cruise ship in the warm, orange dawn.
I staked out a lovely spot on the aft of the ship with nightlife and talent management mastermind Carl Choi where we had front row seats to the 4 sharks we caught that morning (an 8-ft tiger shark, a Caribbean sand shark, and two small black-nosed sharks).
We each had a job on the boat, and after the tissue sample was taken, my job was to administer some shark first aid and smear Neosporin into the wound.
|Ready to administer some shark first aid|
|Imagine Nation Island|
|Inflatable aquatic playground, Imagine Nation Island|
|Jake Strom, hula hoop king|
The final session of Summit at Sea was “Curating Life 3.0,” the sequel to last year’s session in which the now 19-person Summit Series team shared their philosophy on life, their vision for the Summit community, and some of their new initiatives.
|Summit Series team - Curating Life 3.0|
I snuck in interviews with two men changing course of history in Africa (Invisible Children co-founder Jason Russell and Falling Whistles founder Sean Carasso) before dinner with a rag-tag group of awesome including fellow GSB alum Darren Bechtel, serial entrepreneur (currently working on a line of luxury sex toys) Michael Topolovac, author and ray-of-sunshine Mei Mei Fox, and Google VP of Business Operations Matt Stepka. We drank some wine, ate some food, and did the wave before sneaking away to catch the last part of Imogen Heap's intimate performance on the boat. She, as expected, was moving and graceful and lovely.
The next part of the night embodied nothing short of a small miracle, as a small group of secret squirrels successfully executed a delightful exhibition of revelry. In the months leading up to Summit at Sea, 40 people from across the world were selected to participate in a flash mob on the boat (I know, I know, it seems passé, but trust me, it was awesome). Gaby Poler-Buzali , executive director of the Limon Dance Company in NYC, choreographed an aggressively complicated 2:30 dance to be performed live with The Roots, and we rehearsed in earnest before getting on the boat.
|Pre-Summit at Sea flash mob rehearsal|
I broke away to my stateroom to pull out my secret weapon: glow bracelets. Our biggest concern had been whether people would see us dancing amidst all the hubbub of the concert, and I figured this was a surefire way to attract attention. At 11:15PM, I slipped through the crowd and met my fellow secret squirrels on the dance floor. I started quietly strapping glow bracelets onto their wrists, and we began to create our circle. We heard the first few notes of the song begin, and as I tossed the remaining glow sticks into the air with a final attention-grabbing flourish, Gaby began the dance. Within moments, a coordinated symphony of glowing arms moved in synchrony across the middle of the dance floor and the surrounding Summiters went nuts.
I can't describe the energy on the dance floor as we created this moment of pure bliss where everyone rejoiced at being part of this collaborative display of fun — truly the “dynamic shared experience” the Summit team spoke of earlier in the night. After one cycle through the dance, we pulled onlookers into the fray and closed out The Roots’ set with a glee-filled dance party of epic proportions.
I recovered on a couch with The Roots's producer Richard Nichols, introduced to me by my beloved friend-cum-mentor Nicole Johnson. Despite the lasers and glow sticks and pounding house music, I had one of the most personal and reflective conversations of the weekend. Truly delightful.
The final main stage performance was DJ Axwell, one third of Swedish House Mafia, which may replace Girl Talk's 2009 show at Treasure Island as one of my favorite dance parties of all time.
|DJ Axwell at Summit at Sea|
|Tim Dybvig embodies Summit energy|
|DJ Axwell at Summit at Sea|
The party continued in the ship's nightclub where ?uestlove spun until 4:00AM, a reasonable time to go to bed, but not for a family trying to squeeze every last drop of energy out of the weekend. When I eventually went to bed, the sun was just coming up on the Port of Miami, where we'd come full circle after a truly magical adventure at sea.
Wake up time came too early for a ship full of sleepy entrepreneurs, most of whom did not get the memo about our 8:30AM departure time. Loud speakers into the rooms corrected any misconception that we'd have a leisurely disembarkation, and the voice-less, energy-drained masses tumbled off the ship into the interminable cab line. Except for Peter Thiel. He had a driver waiting for him:
Before hitting the airport, we made a quick stopover at the Mondrian Hotel in Miami Beach for stolen brunch and naps by the pool.
|Tammy Camp, ping ponging in Miami Beach|
|My view from the pool chair at the Mondrian hotel|