May 19, 2010

summit series 2010: day 2

(read first: what is summit series?)

early wake up call to head around the corner to the national press club to see ted turner, media mogul and current chairman of the united nations foundation, talk about his life.  after being introduced by elizabeth gore, ted was interviewed by TOMS shoes founder blake mycoskie (the chief shoe giver who's given away over 600,000 shoes to date).  when blake asked him to share a good fish story, ted replied, "i love fishing. all fish are exciting."  ted shared his slightly pessimistic outlook on our future, driven largely by his concerns about population growth.  however, he ensured the audience that it was not too late.  "the situation is hopeless," he said with a mischievous smile, "but i might be wrong."  he called global warming the most complex problem humanity has ever faced, and he's bullish on wind and solar, encouraging america to catch up with other countries who can innovate more quickly.  "china doesn't have all this yakkity-yak," he lamented, "those communists just say, 'goddammit, this is what we're gonna do!'"  ted clearly had a good sense of humor combined with his sense of urgency about tough issues like nuclear disarmament.  money quote:  "there's only 4 communist countries in the world. we should declare them an endangered species."

in the "idea crockpot" panel, drew houston of dropbox (philanthro is a big fan), adam smith from xobni, and trip adler of scribd shared their thoughts on how to think of and start a business.  big takeaway from drew:  "the worst thing is not that an idea fails.  it's that it takes a really long time to fail."

facebook founding president and napster co-founder sean parker spoke next, mostly trying to dodge pointed questions about facebook's future (i.e., "what the hell is happening with facebook right now?").  despite being twitchy and fidgety, he was clearly a super bright guy with some interesting thoughts on the need for facebook apps that "use social capital to get things done." he pooh-poohed "spammy games like farmville" and called out chris hughes for being slow to define his new venture jumo.  (hughes responded with a still vague "explanatory" email to his mailing list yesterday.)  after briefly describing his new music streaming venture, spotify (which sounds amazing, btw), and jokingly estimating facebook's potential revenue if they diversified revenue streams to be $650B, sean closed by talking about the physicalization of the internet and the need to incorporate social capital into capitalism.  "the elite have underestimated how unconnected the un-elite are," he said.  money quote of the talk came after he made a comment about live video and someone asked him about chatroulette:  "chatroulette is only 22% penises. it's for the pervert that lives in all of us."

we broke briefly for a humid lunch in the park before returning to the air conditioned goodness of the hotel.  the "going green" panel featured philippe cousteau as the moderator, seth goldman from honest tea, and adam lowry and eric ryan from method.  they talked about what it's like to start a company with sustainability at its core, and how to stick to those principles.  i particularly liked adam and eric's opinion about competition:  "if our competitors want to copy what we do, that's fine. it makes the whole world greener."  adam shared his story about working in politics on the kyoto protocol and losing faith in the government's ability to facilitate swift change (i had a similar experience after living in washington dc).  "politicians and policy are the last things to come along, " he explained, "they just follow the lowest common denominator."  seth had the money quote for session:  "the sustainability movement failed in the past because we tried to change people instead of changing what they consume."

before i talk about the next panel, i want to talk about the gender imbalance at summit series.  you may have noticed from the photos that summit series is heavily male-dominated.  the 2010 conference apparently had double the ladies of miami's summit, but i'd estimate that it was still only 15% female.  i think there are two reasons for this:  1) the conference's origins and planning team are overwhelmingly male, 2) according to josh zabar (on the summit series team), they just have a really hard time finding young female entrepreneurs who are able to pay the registration fee.  this 3-day fun fest comes at a pretty steep price -- about $4000 -- and it seems they have trouble finding enough women who are willing to cough it up.  given my situation, i sort of buy this argument.  unlike many of the other (male?) attendees, i'm not backed by VC money, so i was lucky to receive a non-profit discount grant.  i think summit will slowly build its female attendance, but the conference is still very much targeted to men.  there's definitely a "sophisticated frat party" vibe that imbues the conference:  paintballing, pizza parties, gambling, grey goose bottle service, and washington redskins cheerleaders as "ambassadors" (read:  fillers) at all the events.  i don't think the guys are trying to make it a boys-only affair -- frankly, what would be the fun in that? -- but they still have a long way to go before all the sexism is stripped from the event.  some of the statements i heard (from panelists, no less) during the conference were less than inclusive.

that said, they certainly made some efforts (okay, an effort) to highlight women at DC10.  they had one panel featuring all women called the women's leadership forum.  moderated by teresa carlson from microsoft's federal affairs group, the panel featured MTV personality suchin pak, julie smolyansky of lifeway foods, UNICEF executive director ann veneman, deanna brown of federated media, and film producer shauna robertson.  having been to a lot of "women's leadership" panels, i have to say the content was pretty standard.  i did appreciate veneman's response to my question about women who exclude other women because they enjoy being the first and/or only woman in their field:  "it was gloria steinem who said, 'you must open doors wide enough for others to get through.'"

the 4-hour work week panel was the one i approached with the most skepticism.  i haven't read the book, but i've heard a lot of the buzz, and i was worried that the panel would be full of stories of exceptional people who somehow made a living out of goofing off.  it turns out, tim ferriss' philosophy is a lot more sophisticated than a soundbyte captures.  he's clearly a very intelligent, thoughtful guy, and i got a lot out of the talk.  he shared the stage with world champion kayaker eric "EJ" jackson who had some interesting insight on setting priorities in an "uncompromised life," but was a little short on details when describing his ascent from guy-living-in-his-car to successful-man-of-leisure.  tim gave the audience two really good tips:  1) eliminate unnecessary fear (i.e., don't live a life based on unreasonable fears. face them and get over them so you can live a life that makes you happy), and 2) eliminate unnecessary embarrassment (i.e., learn to be ashamed of only the most shameful things).  both tim and eric gave advice to leaders of an organization to help them get out of the weeds and reduce the amount of time they spend putting out fires.  tim suggested that after a while, you can probably identify the types of issues that arise frequently, so you should just set policies and procedures to deal with them in your absence.  tim also admitted that his book isn't for everyone; it's just for the 5% of value creators (he actually wrote it for 2 of his friends in particular).  the "value creator" distinction was reemphasized when he said: "i don't like people who start a personal brand without a quality product."  his thoughts on peer groups were especially interesting. "i choose to live in san francisco because i like my peer group there," he explained, saying that if he bought a ferrari, his friends would call him a douchebag.  my favorite quote of the session came from tim:  "you are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with."

while settling into my seat for the final afternoon session, i noticed magician david blaine in the row in front of me, bending someone's quarter.

the afternoon wrapped up with the first ever(?) live venture capital simulated stock exchange.  founders from five start-ups got on stage to make their pitches to the audience.  meanwhile, the audience had downloaded second market simulated stock exchange apps on their iphones and blackberries to "trade" stock in the start-ups in real time.

the founders' powerpoint pitches were projected on one wall, and the live stock prices were project on another.  competitors included airbnb's online marketplace for space, fastsociety's group texting tool, and PACT's sustainable underwear.  the winner was profounder, the latest venture from kiva's jessica jackley and dana mauriello (both stanford GSB grads!).  profounder's crowd funding platform for entrepreneurs took home $50,000 from presumed abundance, a unique VC that invests in relationships with promising individuals rather than in ventures.  a portion of  the award would also go toward fellowships for 3 people to attend summit series next year as a way to pay it forward.

i stayed put in my seat and had a great vantage point for president bill clinton's keynote before dinner.  he gave a well-delivered, if structurally meandering talk about communitarianism -- the political and social philosophy that our fates are bound and we should therefore work towards reducing inequality and unsustainability in the world.  in his discussion of concealed weapons and immigration, he displayed sympathy for reactionary conservative attitudes (i.e., tea partiers).  "what they're really saying," he explained, "is 'stop the world. i want off. i want one little thing that i can control.'"  what resonated most with me was his discussion of donor fatigue and the need for social entrepreneurs to make sure they're truly adding unique value to the market place.  "unless you're moving somewhere no one's been, i'd be sure i was doing everything that's already worked and do it better. it's crazy to have this bifurcation."  this is an issue i'm pretty passionate about -- i think the market is oversaturated with non-profits, and a little consolidation would go a long way towards sharing best practices and eliminating wasteful duplicated overhead.

we all ate dinner at mccormick and schmick (a national chain restaurant described in the programme as "one of DC's best restaurants"...haha) before heading to josaphine for the "do what you love" party with DJ cassidy.  at one point, summit organizers dressed in hot pink gorilla costumes stormed the club.

i headed back to the hotel before last call because i can't say no to an after party with a craps table.  our timing was great, since we walked in right at the pizza was being delivered.  luggage carts full of pizza...

they had an altruistic casino set up in the lounge where you could buy in at whatever amount you wanted (with proceeds going to charity) and then play till you dropped.  with some other late-night gamblers at my side, we shut the casino down; i increased my pot by a factor of 15, and as the highest placing woman in the bunch, i walked off with new northface luggage, an xbox 360 elite system, and a guitar hero aerosmith limited edition bundle.  anneke, FTW!

read more:
recap of summit series 2010: day 1
recap of summit series 2010: day 3


wikigirl said...

Thanks for your recap, this is something that I would love to attend. Although I don't think I'm in the same league as the previous attendees :)

What would you recommend to get invited? I'll be driving around the US during April meeting the users of my site (Wikifashion) and would love to attend. Any advice you can give would be lovely. said...

you have a dutch name.
Im from holland and you can find my profile on
You can look at my music clips i made, if you want.
Greetings; rogier.