This year I attended Big Omaha to listen to speakers come from all over to share their story.
Big Omaha Day One
Tony Conrad is both a founder and an investor. He is the founder/CEO of Sphere & about.me, and also a part of Founding Team True Ventures, Investor Automattic (WordPress), MakerBot, and Blue Bottle. Conrad’s focus at Big Omaha was to motivate its attendees to not start companies, but to start movements. He mentioned that people shouldn’t be just thinking about how to start a business, but instead think bigger and think about how it will change the world. He asked the audience to ask themselves, “How does my product impact the world?” and “How does this product capture imagination?” This was a great point because people are looking for the back-story to businesses today and why said company is different from all the other companies out there.
Megan Casey is the founder/CEO of Pack, a site where people create online profiles for their dogs. Prior to Pack, Casey co-founded Squidoo, a community website that allows users to create pages about subjects that interest them. After working at Squidoo for seven years and getting “comfortable,” Casey relayed quite a few points to the audience that we should strive to be creative, create new and exciting things, and not allow ourselves to be bored with what we are doing. The last thing we should focus on, according to Casey, was making a profit. While we want to create something that is profitable, that shouldn’t be our primary goal.
When there is a passionate story behind why an individual started a business, I’m always all ears. From a young age to his adult days, Hudson has witnessed his father have a grand mal seizure, attended an all-Spanish school in Guatemala, spent time as a rafting guide, ski coach and tree trimmer, practiced medicine in Africa, and treated gang members in Oakland, CA. When he brought his wife in to the ER and experienced what it was like to be a clueless patient not knowing what his wife had or what could help, Hudson found a need in the medical industry and created iTriage.
iTriage is an app that helps patients answer the questions, “What can I have?” and “Where should I go?” This helps lower the costs of health care and close the gap between patients and health care providers.
Alejandro Velez & Nikhil Arora
Alejandro and Nikhil came from an investment banking and consulting background at Berkeley, and from the idea of growing mushrooms with waste coffee grounds from a Business Ethics class, they eventually came to found their own company, Back to the Roots.
Starting with the sale of mushrooms, their product offering evolved quickly. Mushrooms have the tendency to take a unique shape when being grown, and Velez & Arora realized this and the potential for a new idea; to show this process to the consumer. BTTR then created the mushroom kit, which yields up to 1.5lbs of gourmet mushrooms in less than 10 days. Customers are able to purchase the mushroom kit, open the box and when watch them grow right before their own eyes.
Product innovation didn’t stop with the mushroom kit. Back to the Roots is releasing a self-cleaning fish tank that also grows food. That’s right, grow mint, basil, spinach and much more – all without having to water it.
Alejandro and Nikhil came to share a few lessons they have learned since their launch a couple years back: Be transparent, observe how consumers react to your products, and create valuable partnerships between the brand and the customer and treat it like you are both experiencing this “journey” together.
If the audience was looking for some true and honest inspiration, Catherine Rohr certainly came equipped. Rohr found her inspiration during a prison visit during Easter weekend with a friend in New York. From there she wanted to help demolish her own stereotype that prisoners were all “crazy locked-up animals.” A lot of the prisoners she met had great entrepreneurial skills, but some of which that weren’t legal. Her idea for Defy Ventures was to utilize the skills these prisoners have, make them legitimate, and help them do something important with their lives.
One of the most intriguing questions she asked the audience to participate in (not answer out loud) was, “If you were known for the worst thing you ever did, what would your life be like?” Rohr asked this to make people realize that having that as your primary identity is not the way to live. She wanted to create a world for some of these individuals to live in to improve their lives by showing their true potential.
“We must find meaning in the time we spend online.” This was the overall tone for Dash’s talk during Big Omaha. We all know it to be true, we spend the majority of our lives online. Dash even went to say, “I’ve spent more time in the past two years reading my Twitter stream than to my kid.” His point was not to have others spend less time online necessarily, but to find the meaning in the time we spend online and understand the value of it.
With the large amount of time we are wasting online, Dash created ThinkUp. ThinkUp is an app that helps people get more meaning out of the time they spend online. It gives you access to your data by allowing you to search through your social networks and find old tweets or posts. The app also lets you know how your participation makes a difference on the network. All of these features within ThinkUp backs up Dash’s point; to find more meaning in your time spent online.
If you are needing a blunt and honest opinion about your start-up or your attitude toward business in general, Ben Milne is your guy. Ben Milne is the founder of Dwolla, an online payment network that takes the power away from traditional payments that are costly to businesses. Today, Dwolla now moves more than $1 billion each year.
Milne is a Midwest-based guy who believes that the majority of talent he is looking for is right here in the Midwest. A lot of people in the Midwest believe that the only way for them to succeed is to move to the coasts; something Milne stressed not to be true. His strong point in speaking at Big Omaha, as well as Thinc Iowa, is the advice he gives to fellow entrepreneurs and startups. This advice includes investing in sleep, surrounding yourself with great people, keeping the manners that the Midwest possesses, and staying away from what is “normal” and “standard.”
At the end of the day, Milne was right about everything he spoke to. While some of it is harsh, I believe that his points at Big Omaha were dead on and a great way to finish day one.
Big Omaha Day Two
Antonio Neves, Emcee
To start day 2, our emcee took a break to offer his stories to coach and support the start-ups watching. Neves has been committed to supporting start-ups since his 6th grade teacher picked him as the lead role in The Nutcracker. Through the challenges Neves has experienced, he’s learned that whenever he has wanted to give up, that’s when he needed to push harder. With that, he has chosen to coach and support start-ups to offer them inspiration and create an atmosphere for them to develop their ideas. Neves is the CEO for THINKQACTION and co-founded The Ignition Lab that offers support and coaching to entrepreneurs in tech.
Marc Ecko started his presentation with some Notorious B.I.G. and a cocktail; something you wouldn’t expect before 10am at Big Omaha. Ecko took the collaboration of hip hop and business to a whole new level by uncovering the ten rules of business in The Notorious B.I.G.’s song, ‘Ten Crack Commandments‘. His presentation of the ten rules of business was both educational and obviously entertaining.
- Never let no one know how much dough you hold.
- Never let ’em know your next move, don’t you know bad boys move in silence or violence?
- Never trust nobody.
- Never get high on your own supply.
- Never sell no crack where you rest at.
- That G** d*mn credit, dead it.
- Keep your family and business separated.
- Never keep no weight on you.
- Stay the f*** from police.
- If you ain’t got the clientele, say hell no.
Kander’s main focus was to discuss the ‘birds and the bees’ of entrepreneurship. As Kander was 6 months pregnant, she obviously had babies on the mind, and what better way than to identify how much babies and start-ups have in common?
Kander stated that “there’s a fundamental flaw in how we think about start-ups.” She identified that most people consider themselves a start-up (Like Dwolla), before they even give their own ideas a decent amount of time to develop. Like having a baby, start-ups need to have a great deal of research and planning in order for it to be successful. This takes time. This discussion was great because with a high fail rate in start-ups, entrepreneurs need to step back and think through all aspects of their idea to create a great product and solve a real problem.
If you weren’t able to be at, or watch, Big Omaha live, the conversation on Twitter would have told you that Dave McClure‘s points were being drowned out with curse words and offensive slurs. McClure’s point was to convey that “everything sucks” in the tech industry because there are a lot of areas of improvement, but since they are not billion-dollar ideas necessarily, they get forgotten. However, with the amount of unnecessary cursing, this point wasn’t received well by the crowd at Big Omaha.
ifwerantheworld & Make Love not Porn
Cindy Gallop, in my opinion, is a game changer to traditional business models and start-ups. She believes you have to change something to where it makes you feel uncomfortable to truly be different and potentially successful. She follows this philosophy with her two start-ups, If We Ran The World and Make Love Not Porn.
Gallop believes that change drives creativity, which reflects in her company, If We Ran The World. She believes that “in order to predict the future, you have to invent it.” Gallop took this idea and created her two start-ups with the thought that these ideas will carry weight in the future and will change the game in their own industries.
Noah Kagan came to the stage at Big Omaha to share what he believes controls his happiness: wealth, health and love. He wanted to do this by sharing his fails, showing that failure happens, and how people can learn from his fails to find happiness and what they really want.
Kagan stated that when he is doing what he wants to do and having fun, he is far happier than he is when he focuses on making money. Once he started to invest in himself and spend money on improving himself, he was happier.
Having a healthy lifestyle is what Kagan believes is necessary to improve your business and your personal life. This involves eating well, sleeping, exercising, and “having people around you that you want to have around you.”
Kagan’s focus surrounding love is to motivate the audience to surround themselves with great people. Family, friends and relationships are extremely important in one’s life, and by surrounding yourselves by these people, you will be happier. He suggested that if you are unable to be around the people you love the most, put them in the background of your phone, have photos of them around, or give them a call.
“In terms of fulfillment – health, wealth and love – I feel amazing. But you have to keep doing what you did to get there,” said Kagan.
While Micah wasn’t suppose to talk at Big Omaha, he did an amazing job. His focus was to have everyone focus on themselves, to slow down, and why it’s important to be happy. “Why, as entrepreneurs, don’t we smile more?” Baldwin asked. We focus on the companies that we start or work for, but the majority of us might not focus on ourselves enough. Baldwin then walked attendees through seven tips to find happiness in the startup world:
- Be selfish
- Gift yourself
- Fail purposefully
- Find “easy”
- Join life
- Be happy
- “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.” -Picasso
If you spend too much of your time sitting down, connected and working, then you get burnt out too soon. Go outside and do something exciting once or twice a day to take a break from emails, phone calls, tweets, and computers in general. By focusing on how you feel, you’ll become more productive with your start-up or the company you work with.
Gentry Underwood co-founded Mailbox, which was acquired by Dropbox less than a month after it launched. As the majority of talks at Big Omaha were about sticking with your start-up and not selling out, Underwood said “Even though we might be able to raise a bunch of money, we might be able to put together a big enough team fast enough. Mailbox fits Dropbox’s mission.” In the launch of Mailbox, the public demand was so high that they had to enforce a waiting list. Since Underwood didn’t want the app to crash, he was forced to limit the number of individuals who had access to Mailbox.
Since then, I am happy to hear that his team continues to seek a more user-friendly mail system that could be better than Mailbox. Underwood has a bright mind, and I believe he can continue to come up with great products/services to better the mobile industry.