I'm not going to talk about what Big Omaha was, or was not in the "Big Omaha brought the counties best and brightest creative blah blah blah" type thing. I'm not going to write much about what the speakers had to say. I'm going to tell my tale of the first ever Big Omaha conference and the parts that mattered to me. This will probably be long and spread with random photos. Everyone knows I was excited. If you were to ask me why, I'd be completely honest and tell you that I didn't know. I even posted a video for Big Omaha's use explaining that It's going to be great, and I won't be able to tell you why until Friday night. Friday night came and went, and now I can tell you why it was awesome.
It was the perfect mix of new and "old" friends. You know I'm going to have a great time hanging out with people like KT and Lasertron. I'll always have some great tech conversations with Matt and Corey. But the new faces were awesome. I finally met Chris Rich, I've only known him from Twitter since forever. Met Steff Childs at Slowdown at the kickoff party. A handful of KC'ers were around that I got to meet. While at the awesome What Cheer / Secret Penguin party Thursday night I met Jolie O'Dell because of a tweet she sent out. Now I have a crush on her, I won't lie. I also met a new friend, LeAnn, who now hangs in #TheCabin... so that's a big win there. Jimmy Winter introducted himself to me and we had a chat while waiting in line for beer. By the way, the beer line is a huge opportunity to meet people. Man, I met so many awesome people. I can't really go on any longer just listing them... but seriously. Cool.
Thursday night was the kick-off party featuring Gary Vaynerchuk. Anyone who knows me knows I'm not a fan of Gary. There's a ton to like, and he's one inspiring bastard, but there's one reason I can't click with him. He positions himself differently online than he does in person. During his talk on Friday he said he doesn't have the answers, and he told the story that worked for him, and all he can do is hope you'll find what works for you. But online he positions himself as a role model with all the answers, when in reality: he's a wine salesman. When he gives an idea online, many people jump at it believing that his spontaneous ideas are somehow better than their own. And I think Gary would be the first to agree that it's not cool. After seeing him in person he wants people to succeed based on what they want, not because they copy verbatim what he has to say. I really believe he means well, but it's hard to be an online personality, and also say "I have no idea" at the same time.
I only bring this up because during the awesome speaker panel he told the crowd to quit college, and it's an outdated institution that is "going down". Jason Fried said it's the next big bubble to burst. I sent out a tweet saying it's probably the first thing I've ever agreed with coming from Gary.
Gary replied via twitter with a smile. He then mentioned my comment during his talk saying he's bummed when people have problems with him. I found him at the party that night he looked like he had his plate full, so I left it at that. So all in all, I learned Gary Vaynerchuk is human. But I still think he's a salesman who doesn't have the answers.
I also found Micah Baldwin to be way cooler than when I checked him out online. His personality and stories were infectious. He was completely honest about things that have happened in his life to bring him to his point. Things like "you have to wake up in a pool of your own vomit" really made him personable. We then connected over Twitter that night, and I met him in person at the Tweetup Saturday morning. Very glad to come out feeling like I met someone who is really a good person and doing well in the space we're all interested in.
Other highlights of the actual conference? Seeing my good friends Megan and Kt up on stage representing Omaha's chapter of Girls in Tech. That was seriously great. Also the presentation from Ben Rattray from Change.org, I expected to be "do your part to help blah blah", while a great message, wasn't what I was there for; it ended up being a "do something that matters, make it important". What a kick in the ass. The slide that says "Are you working on the most important problem you can think of?" made my jaw drop. No matter how important your corporate management thinks your job is, it isn't. Another slide saying "If your company was gone tomorrow, would anyone notice?" was another question. I answer "NO" to both of those questions. And so begins the journey to make my life worthwhile and do something to enrich the world.
Another great surprise were the sponsor presentations. I thought Yahoo! would be full of "Hi, we're yahoo. Let me tell you why you should use our search engine. Now look at Flickr, cool huh?" It turned out to be this great guy, Micah Laaker, who is originally from Omaha, presenting all the APIs and developer tools Yahoo offers. I learned a lot. I met him at the Girls in Tech party and we chatted for a while. I told him about how some of the tools I've used in projects, and some I've never even heard of and was thankful he was there to tell me about them. A really great guy. Another high point was the local Omaha panel where we saw the co-founder of Saddle Creek records, the person who runs Film Streams, the guy who started Nomad, etc. How cool is that. Local success stories from people that matter.
But I'm being long winded. So let me narrow this down. The quality was 150%. Every detail from the coffee cups, to the VIP lanyards, the signs for the bathrooms, the lunch, the sponsors for the parties... everything. Top of the line in every single way. The speakers, where I expected them to be cocky "I'm important and let me tell you how to do things" type of personalities turned out to be completely different. They were fun, intriguing, and approachable. They wanted to be there, and they all wanted to meet you. Most of them even gave out their personal telephone numbers to *everyone* who attended. (Micah Baldwin gave out his mom's too. I got her voicemail.)
There's one hundred things I missed talking about, but that's ok. Anyone who was there experienced it, and anyone who wasn't has a glimpse into the first ever Big Omaha conference. What a wild ride.