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 après 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!|
|Custom signs led the way|
|Summit Basecamp security wristband|
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)|
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|
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 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 Chasen, Yes 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|
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|
|Lior Suchard punks Brian Singerman real good|
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|
|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|
|The EC Twins: beats at 9,000 feet|
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|
|Dome of Discovery|
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|
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|
|Ice cold water|
|Rolling in the snow|
|Great Polar Plunge of 2012 crew|
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 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|
|Sean Stephenson gets his head shaved for charity|
|Summit Series logo|
|Sean Stephenson and me|
|Photo credit: Chester Ng|
|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|
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|
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.