January 31, 2012

summit basecamp

"Oh, you're an old pro."

In the cadre of the nascent Summit Series community, it's taken less than two years to be considered a grizzled veteran. My first Summit Series was DC10 in Washington DC in May 2010 (recap), and my second was Summit at Sea in April 2011 (recap). Just twenty months after my virgin flight through Summit space, I have the pleasure and good fortune to go for another ride: Summit Basecamp in Squaw Valley, CA.

Summit newbies ask me which was my favorite, but it's hard for me to say because each event has had a distinctly different vibe and I've loved them in different ways. Summit Basecamp was about interactive content, attention to detail, and intimate connections. It was more relaxed, more casual...like an entrepreneurial cup of hot cocoa wrapped in an apr├Ęs ski sweater.

The choose-your-own-adventure nature of Summit programming -- particularly at Summit Basecamp -- made for an infinitely rich universe of potential experiences that included everything from falconry to yoga to mountain lions to didgeridoos. I've written this recap largely for myself, as a personal reminder of all the experiences and people that made my weekend great. This is my story, but it is just one story of many.

My friend Cameron Sinclair met me in SF where we started our trek up to Tahoe. We stopped in Berkeley to pick up sustainability designer Dawn Danby and Wired reporter Andy Isaacson. Cameron founded Architecture for Humanity, and on the drive up, we got to hear about their latest projects, including a forthcoming throw-down with Pencils of Promise to be the first to build 100 classrooms this year. Cameron calls it "competitive compassion."

Carpool to Tahoe: Summit or Bust!
Fueled by Ikeda's (the Bay Area's favorite Tahoe-drive pitstop), we made record time to Squaw Valley.

Custom signs led the way
Check-in at the resort was a frenzied cacophony of hugs and high fives. The event's sylvan-inspired details were evident in everything from our wooden name badges to our leather wrist bands.

Summit Basecamp security wristband
When asked to describe my experience, I have always said that Summit Series is the greatest accelerator and incubator of friendships in the world. Basecamp was my third Summit Series event, and walking into registration felt like being welcomed into a turbo love-fueled family reunion. Words cannot describe how happy and grateful I was to be there.

Sleeping arrangements for Basecampers were split between the Resort at Squaw Valley -- where the majority of content was hosted -- and the Village at Squaw Valley. I stayed at the Village, and after registration, returned to check into my room. I knew I was supposed to have one roommate, but was surprised to find two women already in my room. I could barely contain my fangirl excitement upon learning that those two women were All Things Considered host Michele Norris and NPR Director of PR Danielle Deabler. We all headed to the lobby to get the room situation figured out. In the end, the hotel apologized for the mix up and upgraded me to a private room. My favorite part of the ordeal was when the hotel manager asked us each for our names. When I heard "I'm Michele Norris" in person, I almost cheered.

Ever since childhood, I've been prone to losing my voice, and as I we took a pass through the Summit Store (i.e., swag room), a noticeable huskiness took over my vocal chords. This year, Summit attendees were lucky to pick up all kinds of goodies including: PACT socks, a blissmobox full of great products like Yes to Carrots lotion, Donors Choose gift cards, Theo chocolate bars (we toured in November!), TOMS sunglasses, and custom Creative Recreation hiking boots.

Summit Store swag bag goodies
Creative Recreation custom Summit Basecamp boot (photo credit: Mike Del Ponte)
Back at the resort I ran into my friend Ben Bator whom I hadn't seen since he gave me a tour of the Mitten State last summer (partially inspiring my article on "Silicon Mitten"). After sampling some Handsome Coffee with education investor Nathaniel Whittemore, I bumped into social entrepreneur Nyla Rodgers (she's responsible for this amazing video) and The Lean Startup author Eric Ries. Basecamp was Eric's first Summit, so I filled him in on what to expect as we took our seats for the opening plenary session.

Entitled "Laws of Nature," the formal kick-off event for Summit Basecamp injected the 650 attendees with a power boost of wild anticipation. Dub step dancer Julius Chisolm popped and locked, musician Jose Gonzalez crooned, and filmmaker Tiffany Schlain tried to persuade a crowd full of tech entrepreneurs to disconnect from their devices. The undeniable favorite of the session was Israeli mentalist Lior Suchard who previewed Saturday's full-length show by reading the minds of audience members. Say what you will about his "supernatural" abilities -- this guy is a killer entertainer. The plenary closed with new age reverend Michael Beckwith whose theologically-inspired hyperbole (he called us "entrepreneurial spirits of divine good") had some leaping to standing ovations, but left others scratching their heads.

After hitting the bar with LaunchRock founder Jameson Detweiler and Particle Code CEO Galia Benartzi, I made my way to the W+ mixer -- an event celebrating the community of Summit Series women. The Summit team's Director of Community Building Natalie Spilger shared a few words.

I found my pal (and digital marketing genius) Liz Cebron huddled by the electrical outlet, and we shared iPhone juice with filmmaker Ondi Timoner. Liz and I headed to dinner together where we learned about e-commerce from the Shopify guys (Tobi and Harley) and Israeli entrepreneurs from Dror Berman. Our table also had a great crew of digital media ladies including Google's Caroline McCarthy, ABC's Maya Baratz, and TechCrunch's Alexia Tsotsis. By this point, my voice was pretty much gone, but that didn't stop Caroline and me from going on a recon mission that ended with us giggling in the elevator carrying boxes of Jimmyjane products. It's sort of a long story.

Making off with our booty
We, of course, share our spoils with our loyal table-mates, and Liz and I head to a fireside chat with film director Gus Van Sant and NPR's Michele Norris. After a brief pop onto the dance floor to see Q-Tip and DJ Jazzy Jeff spinning, I headed to a friend's room to drop off my "box of toys" before sneaking into the Summit Speakeasy. It was impossible for me to talk, but I got to listen to my buddy Neil Blumenthal offer his advice about fundraising for his eyewear company Warby Parker.

On my way out, I bumped into Cameron and Summit's Director of Digital Audrey Buchanan (a.k.a. SummitD) who told us to check out the jam session on failure. We headed downstairs into a dimly lit room where chairs were spread into a rough circle. The candor and vulnerability shared in that room was powerful, not just from presenters like webvan founder Coppy Holzman, but also from other attendees in the room like Eve Blossom and Falling Whistles's Sean Carasso. I particularly appreciated the perspective of Reshma Saujani who shared her experiences as an unsuccessful Congressional candidate and pointed out gender issues affecting failure: "Women feel like they have to do the job before they can apply for the job." The money quote for the session came from Sean: "The depth of your failure will equal the breadth of your success."

Even though the "Silent Disco on Ice" at the skating rink might have been perfect for me, I decided to rest my voice and call it a night.


When I woke up, my voice was completely gone. In 2012, I couldn't imagine a worse day to not be able to talk to people, but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. On Saturday, I got to listen.

"Make no small plans"
I had to come up with a creative way to let people know I wouldn't be doing a lot of talking that day:

I met up with Eric Ries at the shuttle stop and we headed over to the Resort. With hot tea in hand and my friend Brian Forde (now an advisor to the CTO of the United States) by my side, I hit up a workshop on How to Shine in On-Air Interviews led by the "Ryan Seacrest of Australia," Andrew Gunsberg. Tons of specific, actionable advice for entrepreneurs who engage with the press.

We snuck out to catch the end of a panel on female trailblazers (titled: Is it Hot in Here? Or is it Just the Glorious Potential of Diversity, Progress & Gender Partnerships in the 21st Century?). There were a handful of men in the room, including former San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom. The conversation was heated, but I really liked this suggestion from comedian Baratunde Thurston that emphasized the need for allies and empathy: "A vision for the future is that each group works for one group over."

Since I couldn't really talk, I did a lot of listening at lunch with my sharktagging homie Kristofor Lofgren (creator of Bamboo Sushi). My hair twin Jake Strom (we share a stylist) and my dim sum partner Mike Del Ponte joined us, too.

After lunch, I got my DIY on in Erica Domesek's "P.S. I Made This" arts and crafts workshop. I made a sweet iPad and iPhone case. Other crafters included Blackboard CEO Michael ChasenYes to founder Ido Leffler, my cross-country crafting buddy Danielle Abes, Thre.ad founder Mimi Nguyen, and the human personification of a spirit animal Doug Akin.

P.S. I made these golden beauties
Although Summit Series attracts interesting speakers, content hadn't been their strong suit in the past. That definitely changed at Summit Basecamp. Content was structured as let's-talk-together-and-help-each-other roundtable discussions and jam sessions rather than let-me-tell-you-about-my-company panels and keynotes...and it was awesome. Much like the morning's workshop on talking to the press, the next session I went to (Exit Strategy: What You Need to Know About Selling a Company) was equally practical. Some of my favorite advice involved boards of directors (3 people is plenty for a small company, use term limits) and rules of thumb for valuation multiples (for tech companies: 10-12x profit or 3-4x revenue). Cindy Gallop hit the nail on the head when she exclaimed at the end, "This session is absolutely bloody brilliant!"

It was such a beautiful day, I headed outside to check out the grounds, including the Dome of Discovery, a temporary structure dreamed up by the Summit team. Ringed with lights, the dome's igloo-like door flaps were skirted by a sea of its tenants's discarded footwear and a fragrant wood-burning chiminea. I found author Michael Ellsberg (whom I met at the launch party for his book The Education of Millionaires) and took a seat next to him on a custom-made memory foam viewing couch. We hoped to catch some of the documentary "Connected," but it started too late, and we had to head inside for the discussion on Building a Massive Consumer Following Overnight.

Despite being next door to a competing keynote from the President of Georgia (yes, the country), the discussion on consumer following was well attended. Method founder Eric Ryan moderated mini-keynotes from Rohan Oza (Vitamin Water, popchips, Vitacoco) and Narry Singh (Talking Tom app). Rohan focused on the demand for great, healthy products in the market and the need to vet them with "influencers" (e.g., Summit attendees) before partnering with celebrities. Narry talked about tapping into users' core desire for self-expression and building an international user base.

I'm a big Twitter user, so I couldn't pass up a Q&A between Twitter founder Evan Williams and start-up investor Chris Sacca. I sat in the back with food system pioneer Ellen Gustafson and Donors Choose founder Charles Best. The discussion wasn't earth-shattering (Chris tends to ask high-level softball questions), but there were some great quotes when Chris described the dot com bust and Evan talked about his new venture, Obvious. My favorite quote from an audience member: "#hashtagscompletemylife"

Evan Williams and Chris Sacca
Charles and I hustled over to get good seats for "This Will Blow Your Mind," the full-length performance by supernatural mentalist Lior Suchard. I do not believe in magic or mind-reading, but I have to say, this guy's show is ABSOLUTELY UNREAL. If you get a chance to see him live, do it. Positively jaw-dropping entertainment.

Lior Suchard punks Brian Singerman real good
I headed back to the Village for pizza dinner with StyleSeat founder Dan Levine, Clothia founder Elena Silenok, Nathaniel Whittemore, and Cameron Sinclair. Cameron had, earlier that day, publicly challenged Pencils of Promise founder Adam Braun to a race to see who could build 100 classrooms first. It's shaping up to be quite the Summit rivalry, so we were all curious to hear how it went.

After dinner, I took a disco nap, then around midnight boarded the gondola to head up the mountain. I've ridden that gondola in daylight several times as a kid, but the Summit Basecamp experience was completely different.

Ceiling inside the gondola
As we crested the first tower, coordinated lasers shot out over the gondola and across the Valley. Look down, and a massive glowing Summit Series logo bounced off the snowy mountainside illuminating the atmosphere with a sense that something big is happening.

The largest gobo light I've ever seen (projected from Squaw Valley High Camp onto the mountainside)

Once at the summit, we entered High Camp for "Beats at 9,000 Feet" where Questlove was spinning. Summit's Director of Community Building Natalie Spilger presided over a dance competition in which she beat everyone by a longshot...

Natalie Spilger (a.k.a. Lt. Tutu) prepares to throw down
...except maybe Marquese Scott.

Marquese Scott
The EC Twins came on to finish out the party.

The EC Twins: beats at 9,000 feet
I eventually left the dance floor to chat with Learn Capital's managing partner Greg Mauro about Bridge International Academies and how they are revolutionizing education in Kenya. Last call came and went, and they shut down the music. After braving the coat check line, we were packed Tokyo-subway style into a gondola for a dark ride down the mountain. Perhaps unsurprisingly, someone produced speakers and before you know it, house music was blaring and the gondola was pulsing in time with its dancing contents.

Back on the valley floor, a bunch of us piled into Nicole Patrice Johnson's suburban for the short drive back to the Resort. Dhani Jones jumped in the trunk as we pulled out of the parking lot, and we all listened to 88.1 KSQR, local radio station pirated by some secret squirrels to play badass sets of music specially curated for Summit Basecamp. I certainly don't know who these scofflaw squirrels are, but if I knew and if I had hypothetically been involved, I would have outsourced my set to one of the most talented DJs I know: DJ Wait What. But of course, I know nothing.

88.1 KSQR: squirrel pirate radio
A group singing jam session led by Bear Kittay was in full swing in the Resort lobby when we returned, but we heard the pizza was all gone, so Mike Del Ponte, Jake Strom, and I headed over the the Dome of Discovery to lay in a dog pile of pillows, surrounded by ambient beats and blanketed by the planetarium-style visual art projected on the ceiling.

Dome of Discovery
Since the shuttles stopped running two hours earlier, by 5AM a group of us had to beg the valet to give us a ride back to the Village.

I woke up fairly early, and found my friend Jameson for some much-needed breakfast. We went to a discussion on The Currency of Cool: Brand Building Through Creative Collaborations. Like many of the discussions, this one was in a room with a circle of chairs and a Summit Series flame in the middle. This roundtable-style conversation quickly got away from the speakers (including former Gap CMO Ivy Ross) and turned into an all-out argument between different voices in the room, but that made it kind of awesome. The Summit team took risks this year experimenting with different content formats, and I actually really appreciated the opportunities to meet everyone on an even playing field to share and debate the real issues we all face as entrepreneurs. Someone suggested that companies hire a Chief Listening Officer to make sure brands are listening to customers, and I liked that idea. Because I work in digital marketing, I was particularly struck by a comment from Brooks Brothers' Ken Seiff: "The industry used to be aligned around having the biggest audience possible, but now we need to align around having the truest audience possible."

Packed room for the Currency of Cool discussion
I grabbed lunch with Wordpress founder Matt Mullenweg (introduced to me by my boy Matthew Rosenberg of One Blue Brick) who successfully convinced me to move his company's placement in my graphic depicting the internet landscape (Type vs. Hype). We also ate with superhuman memory expert Jim Kwik (I was bummed to have missed his Friday afternoon session on remembering names) and Batman aficionado Michael Uslan.

After lunch, I walked through the Summit Impact Trip Fair where various non-profits showcased impact trips attendees could take to both learn about and support the charity's work abroad. I stopped by the Invisible Children table to fist bump Jedidiah Jenkins and Jason Russell and then hit up the Mama Hope table to support my friends Nyla Rodgers and Amy Vaninetti.

Amy and Nyla showcase Mama Hope's 2012 impact trip
I wandered around a bit with my buds Anthony Adams and James Reilly, but eventually saw the Great Polar Plunge of 2012 starting by the pool and figured I better go watch. I had no intention of joining them (I was not wearing a swim suit), but when I arrived, Change the Ratio founder Rachel Sklar was the only woman in the group and I thought, "Dammit, I have to change the ratio." With only slight hesitation, I stripped down to my skivvies and joined the plunge. The intrepid group, which included musician Cisco Adler and marketer Pelle Sjoenell, prepared to follow the lead of pro kayaker Eric Jackson. First, we sat in freezing cold fresh water, the astonishingly frigid temperature of which would literally take your breath away. Then, we hopped into the hot tub, followed by a roll in the snow. Repeat. Dream Champs founder Jill Felska and all-around badass Cindy Gallop served as our supportive cheering squad.  Eventually, marine biologist Ayana Johnson and Founders Fund co-founder Ken Howery joined us.

Ice cold water
Rolling in the snow
Great Polar Plunge of 2012 crew
Snow nap
The weather in Squaw was surprisingly beautiful, and it felt like we could play out there all day, but I went back to Rachel's room to dry off and talk #changetheratio before hustling to a panel on marriage equality. Former San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom and Lady Gaga's manager Troy Carter were supposed to lead it, but they were not able to attend. Audrey Buchanan kicked off the session by watching the "It's Time" video from Get Up!, and she very kindly credited my blog as the source who brought the video to her attention. As usual, the video made me cry.

Doug Hattaway stepped in to lead the roundtable discussion, which started with statistics that shocked most people in the room, and then somehow devolved into a fight for airtime in a heated debate between different factions of a splintered constituency. On the up side, I was really pleased to see Emmanuelle Chiriqui in the small audience, and she gladly lent her voice to the discussion, sharing her outrage at the inequality statistics. The takeaway for me was that when we think about education on this issue, we need to lead with love, a recommendation from Anthony Adams (who also shared the custom Credit Cover on his credit card).

Anthony Adams's credit cover

On my way upstairs, I passed supernatural mentalist Lior Suchard in the hallway. With coins on his eyes and black duct tape all over his face, he was "reading" random cards foisted into his hands by onlookers. I saw him guess Shervin Pishevar's birthday -- totally crazy.

Lior Suchard entertains in the hallway
I sat with Samasource founder Leila Janah and Kristofer Logren for the closing plenary session, but we used the time before to sing the praises of our mutual friend (and fellow Summiter) Darren Bechtel. The session started with an acoustic performance by Metric ("Help I'm Alive" and "Gimme Sympathy") and continued with a two-man rallying speech from Green Dot Public Schools (Marco Petruzzi and Doug Weston). My lunchmate Michael Uslan took the stage next to tell the inspiring story of how he went from being a comic-book obsessed kid in New Jersey to the award-winning executive producer of the Batman movies. His talk was particularly inspiring because, he was humble in sharing the true story of his evolution. The session closed with a performance from 2002 National Poetry Slam Champion Sekou Andrews that encouraged us all to "maintain a level of awesome-nity" in everything we do. Money quote from Sekou: "I am not perfect, but I'm perfect like I am."

I rode back to the Village with Schematic Labs founder Steve Jang and StumbleUpon founder Garrett Camp, washed the chlorine out of my hair and then hitched a ride back to the Resort with a car of teenage lift operators. I explained to them how venture capital worked, and they told me their favorite websites were Facebook and Pandora.

Back at the Resort, I headed down to the pop-up Bolt Barbershop where, in partnership with Movember, they were giving haircuts and shaves. Apparently, Joe Mahon (a Summit team member) had complimented Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh during registration and claimed to admire his trademark buzz cut. Tony challenged Joe to shave his head, and Joe said he'd only do it if Tony donated $10,000 to charity. Tony agreed to match if Joe raised his own $10,000 from other attendees, and it was on like Donkey Kong.

Tony loves pretzels
When I walked in, they were just finishing shaving his head, and motivational speaker Sean Stephenson was queued up for his own charitable head shave. I ran into Sean later in the night, and apparently he had a small Summit Series logo shaved into his head. Now that's loyalty.

Sean Stephenson gets his head shaved for charity

Summit Series logo
Sean Stephenson and me
Speaking of loyalty, venture investor Shervin Pishevar took the head shave to a whole new level, having the logos of investments (Fab, Uber, Warby Parker) carved into his hair.

Photo credit: Chester Ng
I ate dinner with, among others, Art.sy founder Carter Cleveland and "the woman with the hardcore back tattoo" Amy Lehman.

Amy Lehman shows off her back tattoo at the dinner table

Next, I headed to the Dome of Discovery and sat with Soundcloud founder Alex Ljung for a fireside chat with Burning Man founders Larry Harvey and Marian Goodell, moderated by Gobbler founder Chris Kantrowitz. They talked about the 10 Principles of Burning Man, dismissed concerns about scalpers reselling tickets, and suggested we "do to the world what we've done to the playa." Things got really interesting when Pete Dutro, a founding member of Occupy Wall Street shared that Burning Man was, in some ways, an inspiration for the movement.

Burning Man founders in the Dome of Discovery
In search of a bathroom, I wandered into a nearby resort restaurant and came upon my friends F*ck Cancer founder Yael Cohen and Imaginary Feet founder Tom McLeod, and I made some new friends including Clearspring founder Hooman Radfar. With Mike Del Ponte, I eventually made my way upstairs to the Summit Speakeasy cocktails and a talk on Prohibition with Simon Ford and the Bon Vivants.

After Prohibition, we headed over to the bar to catch Metric's live set, where I ran into a great crew of old friends and new polar ice plunge pals:

Rachel Sklar, Ben Bator, Pelle Sjoenell, me, Cisco Adler, Mike Del Ponte
We went downstairs to a dimly lit room full of incense and floor mats where we sprawled out to discuss the concept of utopia. The conversation was moderated by Michael Hebb of OnePot.

Afterwards it was time to hit the dancefloor where The Glitch Mob and Castro & Guevara were spinning throughout the night.

I scooted over to the other bar and caught the last 15 minutes of ELEW's set and took a breather to have some one-on-one chats.

Walking through the lobby, I was conscripted into one of Nicole Patrice Johnson's infamous games of Werewolves and Villagers, but was the first player killed (probably because my voice was almost entirely gone again). Relieved of my villager duties, I returned to the dance floor:

While grabbing coffee for the road, I ran into my friend Nik Tarascio, a pilot who's planing an adventure to fly back across the country to NYC. The Subaru crew (Cameron, Dawn, Andy, and I) checked out and said our goodbyes. We stopped by one of my favorite Truckee restaurants, Jax at the Tracks, where over omelets and milk shakes we had the inevitable "how did he do that" discussion about Lior Suchard. As we descended the mountain, I gave Andy Isaacson a social media crash course before taking the wheel in Auburn and bringing us safely home to the Bay.

As I reflect on my time at Summit Basecamp, I'm amazed by the abundance of learning, experience, sharing, connecting, hugging, and life we crammed into three short days. As I literally come down from my Summit high, I continue to be exceedingly grateful to be a part of this collaborative and loving community.

January 27, 2012

Free e-book on cyberbullying

This summer, I read an early copy of lol...OMG!, which is now Amazon's top selling cyberbullying book. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in online reputation management. The author is my friend Matt Ivester, someone whose experience makes him uniquely qualified to write a book highlighting the importance of digital citizenship for young people.

In honor of Data Privacy Day, the e-book is available for free (regularly $9.99) all weekend, January 27 to 30. You can download it at www.lolOMGfree.com.

About the book
lol…OMG! provides a cautionary look at the many ways that today’s students are experiencing the unanticipated negative consequences of their digital decisions – from lost job opportunities and denied college and graduate school admissions to full-blown national scandals. It also examines how technology is allowing students to bully one another in new and disturbing ways, and why students are often crueler online than in-person. By using real-life case studies and offering actionable strategies and best practices, this book empowers students to clean up and maintain a positive online presence, and to become responsible digital citizens.

January 24, 2012

ricecake prom: asian impossible

last year's racecake prom video took the internet by storm. this year, they're back. and it's not one of those cheap sequels where they can't afford to bring back the original stars. shout out to ted lim, who shot and edited this video.

asian impossible: rice protocol

(what is ricecake prom?)

January 7, 2012

melted crayon art

my new years resolution (ok, one of them) was to be more creative. inspired by pinterest yesterday afternoon, i ditched a networking event to head to michael's craft store to score some artistic ingredients which i combined with stuff i already had:

  • two 64-packs of crayola crayons
  • one 16"x20" canvas
  • hot glue gun
  • hair dryer
  • plastic sheet for easy clean-up (my roommate probably wouldn't appreciate crayon splatter on the walls)
want more #colorporn? check my my other blog: givemeallthecolors.com