April 22, 2011

Interview with Ben Bator - Summit at Sea

Interview with Ben Bator, co-founder of Texts From Last Night
Monday, April 11, 2011
Summit at Sea afterparty, Mondrian Hotel, Miami Beach, Florida
Conducted by Anneke Jong for the interview series "7 Leaders on the Rise"

Accepted to law school and comfortably unemployed, Benjamin Bator changed his career path in 2009 when he co-founded Texts From Last Night, one of the most popular sites on the internet. TFLN’s curated collection of humorous text messages receives 3-5 million page views and 5,000-7,000 submissions daily. With a published book and TV show rumors abound, Bator is now at the forefront of archiving the experiences of his generation. He returns to Summit Series after being a featured attendee in 2010 under the Summit Series banner of business.

Jong: Why do you like Summit and why do you keep coming back?

Bator: It’s a different experience each time. It’s not a conference where you’re getting the same thing every year. You can go in with a different mindset and totally make it what you need. You don’t necessarily go in and say, “I’m going to put in A and take away B.” It’s a totally personal experience, and I think they [the Summit Series team] do a really good job allowing people to make Summit what they want it to be.

Jong: What has your personal Summit experience meant for you? What have you taken away from the Summit community?

Bator: It’s hard to say in a sentence what I’ve gotten from Summit. My first Summit was DC10, and to be back here a year later has been a totally different experience. That’s a testament to the amount of personal growth I’ve been able to accelerate over the last year, mostly because of the people I’ve met at Summit and the relationships I’ve continued to put work into. The Summit community is a base of smart and really connected people that can facilitate your dreams. If you go in with a project, you can build out the entire project in no time because of the people here.

Jong: What have you given to the community?

Bator: Hopefully, a little bit of fun (not that they need help). More seriously, I’ve lent an ear to listen and help people out when they’re stuck — to look at a problem or a theory a different way.

Jong: What was your Summit highlight this year?

Bator: Wrapping up a discussion on identity and culture in a post-internet world, then running over to catch the last of The Roots’ set, and then going to a DJ session with ?uestlove [from The Roots] until four in the morning. I’m pretty sure that’s never happened before in my life. Or anyone else’s. It’s a completely unique and novel experience.

Jong: What’s next for you and Texts from Last Night?

Bator: I’m going to continue to make Texts from Last Night a really humorous, and somewhat archival, collection of interaction for our generation. And have a lot of fun while doing it. We have some growth plans in the works to make the content community even more fun and exciting.

Jong: What’s your favorite reaction from a Summit attendee who learned you started TFLN?

Bator: What’s really crazy is when I meet people and I’m kind of in awe because they have a product or company that blows me away, and then they tell me that what they do to relax is read TFLN. Nothing is more nerd boner producing than that.
You can catch up on last night's debauchery at TFLN or follow Ben on Twitter at @benbator.

Interview with ELEW - Summit at Sea

Interview with ELEW (Eric Lewis), rockjazz pianist
Monday, April 11, 2011
Summit at Sea afterparty, Mondrian Hotel, Miami Beach, Florida
Conducted by Anneke Jong for the interview series "7 Leaders on the Rise"

With a thunderous roar, Eric Lewis (ELEW) has pioneered a new genre of rockjazz piano. His upbeat renditions of popular songs from bands like Coldplay, Nirvana, and The Killers have earned him top billing at events like the TED conference and the TechCrunch awards. After wowing the Summit Series community with an underground afterparty performance at DC10, the Summit Series 2010 event, ELEW was invited as a presenting attendee at Summit at Sea under the Summit Series banner of revelry. He opened the conference’s first plenary session, setting the stage for presentations from TOMS Shoes founder Black Mycoskie and Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson.

Jong: How did you get tapped into the Summit Series community?

Lewis: I was at my cousin’s graduation from the University of Maryland, and Dave Koretz, whom I knew from the TED conference, was attending Summit Series in Washington DC. I had no idea was Summit was, but he was in DC when I was in Maryland and he put it on his Facebook page. He says, “Hey buddy, I’m around. Come to DC.” So I come to DC, and we created our own little motley crew after party. A bunch of people came to it, and that’s when [Summit Series co-founder Elliott] Bisnow and these guys first met me. They started checking me out around the country when I would play in LA, and then they invited me over.

Jong: What was your experience like at Summit at Sea, getting to perform and being an attendee as well?

Lewis: I actually met an angel investor who’s going to provide the principal opening funding for my next project, which is pretty huge. Besides that, I rocked out, I partied hard, I played some good piano, I practiced a lot, and I met a lot of cool people. I was surprised that it was a business atmosphere, because it was so sexy and cool, and at the same time very business. It was odd.

Jong: You’ve been to several high-profile conferences in the past year. How is the Summit community different?

Lewis: It was strikingly different from the TED conference concept — these guys are like my peers or younger than me, and they’re rocking out. But they’re also entrepreneurs in the fullest and most complete sense of the word, so it’s a very startling thing. I’m looking at beautiful women, and I can’t believe it because at the same time they’re working bikinis, they’re also totally awesome business women. This whole meshing of gender and youth with hardcore dreams and business and providing the life force of the American economy makes for strange bedfellows. It was strange for me to experience that merging and to see it: beautiful men, beautiful women, all getting along together, partying, but at the same time, conducting business and being geniuses. It struck me as alien and beautiful. I’ve played a lot of places: I’ve played the TechCrunch awards, the TED conference, X-Prize events, and Summit Series was very unique in that regard.

Jong: You’re blowing up right now and having a great year. What’s next for you and what are you most excited about?

Lewis: Everyone’s so fit and active here, so I’m going to start losing weight and working out so I can impress everyone out by the pool next year [laughs]. Besides that, Josh Groban just called me to open for him in his arena tour, I got the funding for my new record, I’ve got some stuff in the works with America’s Got Talent, I’m doing a ballet for Complexions Contemporary Ballet in New York, I’m doing an Australian tour in the fall, I’m doing some hits in Japan this summer…but the main thing that I’m working on it getting my deltoids and abs properly conditioned.
You can check out ELEW's tour dates on his website or follow him on Twitter at @ELEWROCKJAZZ.

Interview with Jason Russell - Summit at Sea

Interview with Jason Russell, co-founder of Invisible Children
Sunday, April 10, 2011
Celebrity Theater, Celebrity Century cruise liner, Summit at Sea, somewhere in the Bahamas
Conducted by Anneke Jong for the interview series "7 Leaders on the Rise"

In 2003, Jason Russell traveled to Africa with two of his friends in search of a story. They found the tragedies of the war in northern Uganda and their groundbreaking documentary, Invisible Children: The Rough Cut, was born. Eight years later, Invisible Children is one of the world’s leading non-profit voices using the power of media to inspire young people to help end the longest running war in Africa.

Jong: Why do you keep coming back to Summit?

Russell: I don't like conferences. I don't believe in them. I have attended very few where I felt like I got something out of it or met people that I would be friends with for a long time. Summit Series completely changed the game for me because it was so casual and so authentic in the sense of intentional fun while talking about incredible issues, causes, meaningful conversations. For me, there are people here — at least three dozen people — who I know I'll be friends with for life. It really is the power of what these young men, and women now, [the Summit Series team] have seen in the world and gathered together, and there really is a force and a power that I don't think happens anywhere else. It's so different from the TED community, so different from the Clinton Global Initiative, and that difference is really what sets them apart and keeps me coming back because I can’t wait to add to the friend group that I already have.

Jong: Just moments ago, Summit Series co-founder Elliott Bisnow said, “In the blackjack game of life, when you get a jack or a queen instead of a two or a three, there’s a great responsibility.” With that, he announced Summit Series’ new initiative to support global impact trips that enable the Summit Series community to get involved with global issues in a hands-on way. Particularly since last year’s Invisible Children treks to Uganda were the inspiration for this program, can you talk about what you have given to this community?

Russell: It’s really incredible when someone of affluence and influence asks, “How can I help?” and we’re able to say, “Come see what we’re doing in Uganda.” For them to take a week out of their busy lives, running their companies, to come and see the work on the forefronts of warzones in development, education, microfinance, is really exciting because we gain so much from the Summit community because they are at the cutting edge of business. They add so much to our brand, and they help us become sharper. But also, we know their lives become much richer, their paradigms shift, and their lives become more purpose-filled; so it’s a win-win. That’s what we love, and we’re glad that Summit Series has agreed to launch these altruistic adventures into Uganda, Rwanda, and now there’s a lot of people who want to go to the Congo with us, so we’re really excited.

Jong: Tell us about your trips last year to Uganda.

Russell: We took two extraordinary trips. We started at the beginning of the story in 2003, and we walked the group through the lineage and chronology of Invisible Children from rebuilding schools to providing mentors for former abducted child soldiers. We talk to them about the programs, and they get to see it firsthand. Then we took them to Rwanda and we showed them the genocide memorials — the bones and remains of when the world stood by and didn’t act in 1994 when a million people were killed in one hundred days. That is happening right now in the Congo, and the world is not doing anything about it, so we really empowered them and said, “We need you. We need your time and your resources and your advocacy to make sure people are aware of what’s going on in the Congo.

Jong: Invisible Children has seen such growth with expansion into new countries and new issues, bringing new solutions to people beyond what started as a documentary. What’s most exciting for you on the horizon?

Russell: We’re most excited about launching The Fourth Estate this summer, which was inspired by a history lesson from the French Revolution. France was divided into three states: the monarchy was the first state, then the aristocracy, and the third estate was the people. The third estate said, “We want representation because we’re always getting out-voted by the other two estates.” This led to the French Revolution, which completely transformed democracy and the way humans govern themselves and the way governments are built. Our launch of The Fourth Estate is an ideology and a philosophy in which people agree that they aren’t going to fight for their own rights but for the rights of others. It’s the fourth dimension of justice and democracy. We’re excited about that because Invisible Children will go beyond this story, this specific cause and issue and war and we’ll say, “Whenever there is a warlord, or whenever there are massive crimes against humanity, we, the Fourth Estate — not we, Americans, not we, United Nations — we, the people of the world, will come to the rescue when children or women are being slaughtered.” That’s what we’re most excited about and that’s what’s next. We hope it doesn’t take fifty years to get there. We believe that we can do it in a rather short amount of time if we all work together and do it smart.
You can learn more at the Invisible Children website or follow Jason on Twitter at @jradruss.

Interview with Charles Best - Summit at Sea

Interview with Charles Best, founder of DonorsChoose.org
Saturday, April 9, 2011
Pool deck of the Celebrity Century cruise liner, Summit at Sea, somewhere in the Bahamas
Conducted by Anneke Jong for the interview series "7 Leaders on the Rise"

After five years as a social studies teacher in the Bronx, Charles Best founded DonorsChoose.org, an online platform for crowd-sourced classroom funding. Public school teachers across the country post classroom project requests on DonorsChoose.org, which donors can fund directly for a little as $1. Since inception, DonorsChoose.org has raised over $81 million to support local school teachers. After participating at DC10, Summit Series’ 2010 conference in Washington DC, Best is returning for Summit at Sea as a featured attendee under the Summit Series banner of altruism.

Jong: DonorsChoose.org was recently featured in a secret video embedded in a QR code within the viral video of Stephen Colbert singing Rebecca Black’s “Friday” on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. How did that come to be?

Best: This will actually be fresh news for you to break: an unwritten, untold story. Colbert had this portrait of himself which hung in the national portrait gallery, first in the men’s bathroom, then in the gallery. When Steve Martin came on his show to do this interview about this book on art appreciation, Colbert asked him if this portrait wasn’t art, and Steve Martin said it wasn’t really a work of art in his view. Then, onto the set came these famous artists like Shepard Fairey and all kinds of amazing artists who embellished the photo. That turned this painting into a really valuable work of art, which Colbert auctioned off with the proceeds going to classroom art projects on our site. The portrait goes for $26,000 — all for art projects on our site.

At the end of the segment, Colbert tells his viewers that his “best friend forever for six months” Jimmy Fallon (as of March 3 they’re best friends forever for a trial period) Jimmy Fallon would be matching all those proceeds with a personal donation of $26,000. As you can imagine, we were thrilled when we saw the show. The internet and Twittersphere started buzzing about what an amazing guy Jimmy Fallon must be. So generous, so dedicated to arts education. We’re high-fiving each other around the office.

But then Stephen called me two days later, to break the bad news: Jimmy Fallon had maybe never even heard of Donor’s Choose before, and he certainly had no idea about any $26,000 donation. Stephen Colbert was philanthropically “punking” Jimmy Fallon. Luckily, he [Stephen Colbert] had some ideas for how to make this work out, and he personally committed to, in his words, “cover the spread” if Jimmy Fallon couldn’t make good on the debt he never knew he’d incurred. In the end, they decided to ask Jimmy Fallon’s viewers to help make an honest man out of him and donate to art projects in his name, which they did to the tune of $65,000. As a condition of Jimmy Fallon’s viewers doing that, Stephen Colbert sang Rebecca Black’s “Friday” with The Roots [the Late Night with Jimmy Fallon house band] who are all psyched about DonorsChoose.org because of being introduced to it by Jimmy and Stephen.

Jong: Coincidentally, The Roots are here at Summit at Sea. Have you spent any time with The Roots on the boat?

Best: I did get to speak with ?uestlove [the drummer for The Roots] for a little bit. He’s already been on our site because of Colbert singing on Fallon’s show.

Jong: You’ve obviously had a big year: at DC10 [Summit Series’ 2010 event], you interviewed Russell Simmons in the first plenary session, and every attendee received a $100 Donors Choose gift card in their gift bag. Now you’re back for another year, and I saw the gift card in the gift bag again. Can you talk about that program and how Summit Series has affected you and DonorsChoose.org?

Best: Summit represents this amazing opportunity to talk to influencers and entrepreneurs and awesome people. Getting influencers and entrepreneurs and awesome people on our site is worth enough that we’re psyched to underwrite these philanthropic gift cards to get people hooked on supporting classrooms.

Jong: Do you have a specific example of someone who got “hooked”?

Best: At DC10, I met the founder of Dapper — they do dynamically created banner ads. Now Dapper is helping us pro-bono by running and creating display ads which use our API to show classroom project requests that are geo-targeted and topically-targeted to the content on the webpage. This is giving us all kinds of learnings. Notably, these ads have taught us that for someone to feel like a giving opportunity is hyper-local, it needs to be in a 50 mile radius. We know that from testing these banner ads. That’s an important takeaway that we got from a partnership, and we only got it thanks to Summit Series.

Jong: What do you see as the future for your industry of crowd-sourced giving? Obviously you guys have helped pioneer this space. What’s next and where do you see the space going?

Best: I’m humbled by our brethren like Kiva and Kickstarter. I feel like each of them disproves an assumption. Kiva disproved the assumption that everyone needs a tax deduction to give money altruistically. Kickstarter disproved the assumption that people don’t want to give more than the specific request is asking for. I feel like half the projects on Kickstarter are over-funded and that blows my mind. People are willing to donate another $20 to a $1,000 request that has already gotten $2,000. We’re doing exponential growth, but Kickstarter is explosive growth.

Jong: What are the challenges for your growth?

Best: We’ve had a lot of growth, but there’s still a lot of work to do. To put it in perspective and show how much further we have to go: I was talking to a business school professor recently, and we were discussing the classroom total project funding that DonorsChoose.org is going to do this year: $31 million. He explained that if just one major development officer at a big university did only $31 million in a year, they’d be fired for terrible performance. That’s one development officer at one university serving a tiny sliver of the population — in contrast to our goal of every public school in America. What a big university raises in 3 months is more than DonorsChoose, Kiva, and Kickstarter combined, so we still have a long ways to go.
You can learn more at DonorsChoose.org or follow Charles on Twitter at @CharlesBest

April 21, 2011

7 Leaders on the Rise

About a week before Summit at Sea, I was asked by media empress Shira Lazar to be a special correspondent on the boat for her new CBS News online hub and interactive show "What's Trending." I had the enviable job of selecting some brilliant young leaders who I think are doing interesting things and, in some cases, quite literally changing the world. Six interviews later, it was impossible to not feel inspired both by the innovation and vision of these young leaders, but also by the energy they've harnessed within the Summit Series community to create connections, ignite partnerships, and take real action to make the world a better place. These individuals are changing their industries with grace and having fun while doing it. They're inspiring role models for our generation — people whom I'm proud to call my peers, mentors, and friends. Without further ado, I present to you: 7 Leaders on the Rise.

Jessica (left) and Dana (right)
1 & 2. Jessica Jackley and Dana Mauriello, co-founders of Profounder
[click here for interview]
After founding Kiva.org, an innovative microlending website that empowered individuals to invest in entrepreneurs in developing countries, Jessica Jackley turned her sights to supporting for-profit entrepreneurs back at home. With her Stanford Graduate School of Business classmate, Dana Mauriello, she founded Profounder, an online crowdfunding platform that provides tools for entrepreneurs to raise their investment capital from their communities. Jackley was a returning featured attendee under the Summit Series banner of entrepreneurship. At DC10, Summit Series’ 2010 event, Jackley and Mauriello introduced Profounder and won the live venture capital simulated stock exchange, the earnings from which they “paid forward” with a live pitch event at Summit at Sea.

photo credit: Jahub
3. Sean Carasso, founder of Falling Whistles
[click here for interview]
When Sean Carasso traveled to the Congo in 2009, he learned that children too small to carry a gun were sent to the frontlines of war armed with only a whistle. This experience gave birth to Falling Whistles, a campaign to make their weapon their voice. A three-time Summit Series attendee, Sean is an important part of the Summit Series community of altruism and global action. His indelible mark on the community is evident in the quiet jingle of whistles hanging on the necks of the many “whistleblowers for peace” at Summit at Sea. Falling Whistles' current project is to bring awareness to the second democratic elections in Congo, which will happen later this year. They recently unveiled a petition to the US senate to tell President Barack Obama to send a convoy to the African country to aid with the democratic process of their elections. The first petition, which appealed to local congressmen, was signed by over 10,000 people, and 35 congressmen and women wrote to the President on the Congolese people's behalf.

photo credit: Bridget Best
4. Charles Best, founder of DonorsChoose.org
[click here for interview]
After five years as a social studies teacher in the Bronx, Charles Best founded DonorsChoose.org, an online platform for crowd-sourced classroom funding. Public school teachers across the country post classroom project requests on DonorsChoose.org, which donors can fund directly for a little as $1. Since inception, DonorsChoose.org has raised over $81 million to support local school teachers. After participating at DC10 as an interviewer for Russell Simmons in the opening plenary session, Best returned for Summit at Sea as a featured attendee under the Summit Series banner of altruism. In the interview, he shared the inside scoop on the viral video of Stephen Colbert performing Rebecca Black's "Friday" on Jimmy Fallon's show, and how a "secret video" helped support DonorsChoose.org.

photo credit: BIGB Photography
5. Jason Russell, co-founder of Invisible Children
[click here for interview]
In 2003, Jason Russell traveled to Africa with two of his friends in search of a story. They found the tragedies of the war in northern Uganda and their groundbreaking documentary, Invisible Children: The Rough Cut, was born. Eight years later, Invisible Children is one of the world’s leading non-profit voices using the power of media to inspire young people to help end the longest running war in Africa. At Summit at Sea, the organizing team announced Summit Series’ new initiative to support global impact trips that enable the Summit Series community to get involved with global issues in a hands-on way. Invisible Children's treks to Uganda on 2010 were the inspiration for this program, and Jason talks in the interview about what that means to him and the organization.

photo credit: Nancy Hirsch
6. ELEW, rockjazz pianist
[click for interview]
With a thunderous roar, Eric Lewis (ELEW) has pioneered a new genre of rockjazz piano. His upbeat renditions of popular songs from bands like Coldplay, Nirvana, and The Killers have earned him top billing at events like the TED conference and the TechCrunch awards. After wowing the Summit Series community with an underground afterparty performance at DC10, the Summit Series 2010 event, ELEW was invited as a presenting attendee at Summit at Sea under the Summit Series banner of revelry. He opened the conference’s first plenary session, setting the stage for presentations from TOMS Shoes founder Blake Mycoskie and Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson.

photo credit: Ben Bator
7. Ben Bator, co-founder of Texts From Last Night
[click here for interview]
Accepted to law school and comfortably unemployed, Benjamin Bator changed his career path in 2009 when he co-founded Texts From Last Night, one of the most popular sites on the internet. TFLN’s curated collection of humorous text messages receives 3-5 million page views and 5,000-7,000 submissions daily. With a published book and TV show rumors abound, Bator is now at the forefront of archiving the experiences of his generation. He returns to Summit Series after being a featured attendee in 2010 under the Summit Series banner of business.

April 18, 2011

Summit at Sea

Monday, April 11, 2011. 9:00AM. I’m standing in a cab line at the Port of Miami, never so happy to be a shell of a human being. I’ve just disembarked from Summit at Sea, the latest event from the Summit Series team, and the experience demands every last drop of energy you can muster. We're all hoarse from impassioned conversations, sore from ocean obstacle courses, and exhausted from three nights of you-can-sleep-when-you're-dead. Surreal is the only word to describe Summit at Sea: a cruise ship full of the 1,000 most influential young entrepreneurs, global leaders, and changemakers in their industries. Fast Company called it "part TED, part extreme sports," while Forbes coined the description "Davos for the Y generation." One attendee called it, “capitalistic Burning Man where everyone wants to change the world.” Summit Series is powered by the energy of its attendees, and the experience pulsates with potential, excitement, solutions, partnerships, house music, bikinis, sharks, hugs, and whistles. Against the backdrop of the massive, M.C. Escher-inspired Celebrity Century cruise ship and a private island in the Caribbean, Summit at Sea — like the Summit Series events before it — is a uniquely awesome accelerator and incubator for friendships. Not just contacts or business partners, but real friends whom I talk to every day.

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's talk had similar content to Russell Simmons’ opening talk at DC10: when asked for examples of failure he said, “If you have not failed, you're not a true entrepreneur,” and cited Virgin Cola and his pass on Trivial Pursuit as examples. When asked how he allocated his day, Branson explained, “I've learned the art of delegation. Many people cling and micromanage to long, but you need to find someone who's better than you and put yourself out of business.” Branson went on to talk about two of his social initiatives: Carbon War Room and The Elders, an elite group of world leaders attempting to create positive change. Desmond Tutu is one of Branson's conspirators, and he ribbed his pal with an impersonation of the Archbishop: “People always say I namedrop. In fact, just last week I was at Buckingham palace and the queen says, ‘Arch, you name drop too much.’” Directly related to Branson's work with The Elders, Israeli model Noa Tishby asked Branson during the Q&A, “What do you say to a tyrant with $100 billion to get him to leave?” Branson laughed and replied, “Offer him $101 billion.

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
Blake told the genesis story of TOMS Shoes, citing a proliferation of interns as one of his company's keys to success. “We used Craigslist like you wouldn't believe,” he giggled. Behind him on stage was a TOMS branded “mystery box” which he explained contained the next iteration of TOMS's innovative 1-for-1 model. “We're not just doing shoes anymore,” he announced. The mystery boxes will be opened in June, and Summit Series attendees will get first dibs mailed to their homes. Woot.

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
You'll hear a lot more from me about Bre.ad in the coming months, but suffice it to say it's a disruptive new take on cutting the noise in online advertising. I really liked some of the other pitches, too, including Gobbler (a data storage tool that facilitates cataloguing, versioning, and collaboration), Hendricks Park (a virtual personal shopping service for men), and Hindsight Con (a conference for entrepreneurs focused on sharing and exploring failures).

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
The short version: we catch a shark, pull it onto the boat, put an oversized hose in its mouth to flood its gills with sea water to keep it from “drowning,” take measurements, take cartilage and blood samples (to test for toxicity), attach the “tag” (a little beacon that transmits the shark’s location to the scientists studying migration, reproductive, and extinction patterns), and then return the shark to the water. The whole process takes about 10 minutes. At the info session, I finally ran into my “Four Hour Body” pal Tim Ferriss who was a plate deep into a “cheat day” meal that looked suspiciously like a healthy day for someone like me.

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
After the morning on the water, we docked at Imagine Nation Island, a private island somewhere in the Bahamas, populated with beach chairs and a lot of beautiful white sand.

Imagine Nation Island
Inflatable aquatic playground, Imagine Nation Island
Activities included an inflatable ocean obstacle course, jet ski tours, 80s-inspired beach volleyball, a 3-story waterslide and a dance party in the tradition of Spring Break. My beautifully-coiffed LA pal Jake Strom (we used to share the same hairdresser) learned to hula hoop:

Jake Strom, hula hoop king
After a few hours on the island, it was a short boat ride back to the ship. Another fascinating Summit connection: I shared the journey with Steve Cohen, the "millionaire's magician" who's had a running show at the Waldorf-Astoria in NYC for years. When I returned to the room, I peeked over the balcony into the absurdly clear Caribbean waters where I saw a HUGE shark just below my balcony. It had to be at least 12-15 feet, as I was many stories up and it still looked massive. Wish I had a picture. I did some balcony bonding with Qwiki COO Navin Thukkaram, who turned out to be my neighbor.

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
They started by sharing their lifestyle: there's no division of work and life when they all live together in a massive-but-still-not-massive-enough house in Miami (the latest team member lives in a tent in the carport). They harness their greatest resource — their “collective intelligence” — to create nonstop dynamic shared experiences. They have a private chef that serves family dinners every night. Members of the Summit family come to visit and they host speakers throughout the week. “It’s like mini business school,” they explained. Co-founder and Chief Creative Officer Jeremy Schwartz talked about The Collective, the Summit community’s new platform that aims to be the “smallest, most curated social network in the world.” Attendee Bo Fishback was invited on stage to share the story of founding Zaarly, and how he couldn't have done it without the experiences he'd had at Summit. On the topic of altruism, a pervasive theme at Summit Series, co-founder Elliott Bisnow said, “In the blackjack game of life, if you get a queen or a jack instead of a 2 or a 3, there's a great responsibility.” His teammate Jordan Brown then introduced Summit Series Impact trips, a new initiative to create opportunities for Summit community members to travel with non-profits to developing countries to get involved on the ground. Inspired by last year's trips to Uganda hosted by Invisible Children, the initiative kicked off with a video. The team went on to talk about their work style, reiterating that they have a no-follow-up policy. “We do business based on trust. Everyone is the CEO of something. Entrepreneurship is a lifestyle.” Summit's COO Justin Cohen, theself-proclaimed youngest person ever to charter an ocean liner, closed with the advice, “Some people say you should never go into business with your friends. I say you should only go into business with your friends." Summit co-founder Jeff Rosenthal chimed in: "If it's not fun, it doesn't count.” A thirty-second dance party rounded out the session.

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
The aforementioned lack of internet and cell service on the boat made it almost impossible to coordinate, and it seemed as though our months of practice may be for naught. But in the clutch, a critical mass assembled in a quiet corner of the ship and set a time to execute: we conspired with The Roots and they agreed to play “The Seed (2.0)” as their final encore. 11:20PM on the dance floor, we'd form a circle, clear some space, and break into a coordinated dance.

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
After hopping through a gyrating crowd of people I love, I was eventually pulled up on stage with DJ Axwell where I danced my face off until he shut the pool deck down.

DJ Axwell at Summit at Sea
My foresight on the glowsticks for the flashmob was quickly proliferated as hundreds were tossed into the crowd until it seemed everyone was glowing inside and out. Between the lasers, the beat, and the overwhelming energy of Summit, it felt like we might just dance forever. Money quote from DJ Axwell: “Should you fail to become geniuses, should you fail to become CEOs, you can always become dancers.

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
In a display of mass exhaustion, we draped across lounge chairs and cabana benches, mentally invigorated but physically drained. The once rambunctious crew of revelers, eager to explore the power of being at sea with 1,000 new best friends, was noticeably quieter, having given every last ounce of energy to the surreal experience that was Summit at Sea.

My view from the pool chair at the Mondrian hotel

April 16, 2011

palette for your palate

as a lover of bright colors and delicious foods, i must say i'm a huge fan of tattfoo tan's nature matching system. using photoshop's eyedropper tool, he turned 88 fruits and vegetables into a palette for your palate.

thanks to GOOD for sharing this gem.

April 6, 2011

the midas list: where are the women?

forbes' 2011 midas list is out, and although i was stoked to see my TED pal jim breyer at the top of the list, i was overwhelmed by one question as i scrolled through the names of the 100 top tech investors:

where are the women?

in a list of 100 (mostly white, middle-aged) faces, you have to scroll down to #77 -- starvest's debroah harrington -- before you find a woman. she's joined only by stanford MBA theresia gouw ranzetta at #93. that's it.

particularly here in california, where we proudly espouse professional equality of the sexes, the midas list is a sobering reminder that two of our home-grown industries (venture capital and high tech) are ripe for sex disruption. a possible explanation for this gross imbalance is that fewer women choose these fields because of the nature of the job. but the growing movement of women in tech and venture-stage investing is hard to ignore, and i think we're seeing the last vestiges of a silicon valley boys club on the brink of serious change. to paraphrase sheryl sandberg's TEDWomen talk last december, these guys had better figure out where the women's restroom is, because it's going to become a necessary part of doing business.

i'm proud to be a member of the generation that's going to lead this shift, and as a student at stanford's graduate school of business here in the heart of tech country, i can assure you this has been a hot topic on the women in management mailing list today.

watch out silicon valley, you've been warned. there's a generation of brilliant young women champing at the bit to disrupt the tech industry and change the gender balance on the midas list.

April 1, 2011

accidental hipster

never have i read a description so spot-on. liberal arts? skinny jeans? florence + the machine? you got me pegged, ryan o'connell.

i'm an accidental hipster:

check out the whole article to learn more about the other types of hipsters, including the hipster heartbreaker, the DIY hipster, the hippie hipster, the gay hipster, the fashion hipster, and the bourgie hipster.