When I first saw Andy Baio’s announcement that he was teaming up with Andy McMillan to produce XOXO, I went to the Kickstarter page, watched the video, and thought “hmmm, this could be interesting.” I went back to it a few hours later, watched the video again and decided I pretty much wanted to go. A conference about creativity and disruption organized by a friend in Portland during September? Yep. Sounds good. Then I checked the growing list of backers and saw several familiar names. People I knew and loved and would travel a zillion miles to see all together in one place. Except that I wouldn’t have to travel anywhere. Within moments, I had pledged $400 for a ticket.
Good thing. Within 50 hours of launching, XOXO was sold out.
A day or so later, I got an email from Andy wondering if I would like to photograph the event. Since, you know, I do that kind of thing professionally. But after thinking about it for a few minutes, I decided I’d take a pass and just be an attendee. Of course, that didn’t stop me from making a few photos. I couldn’t help myself. But not many. Just enough for myself and almost always from wherever I was sitting. And only on the first few days. The last day was a no-camera day for me.
An early highlight of the event for me was meeting with Dan Provost and Tom Gerhardt from Studio Neat on the first night. Not only do I have both a Glif and a Cosmonaut, but Studio Neat is a company that Luma Labs—the camera strap business that I run with Greg Koenig—can certainly learn a few things from. The four of us had a great conversation, the first of many I hope, and one that has had Greg and I kicking a lot of interesting ideas back and forth since. You’ll almost certainly see the implementation of some of these ideas over the next few months over at Luma Labs.
The attendee list at XOXO couldn’t have been better curated if one had tried to. The fact that it wasn’t actively curated at all is almost surprising. On the other hand, it shouldn’t be as everyone who signed up was almost certainly connected to the organizers in some way by somewhat less than two degrees of separation. In the crowd, I found an interesting overlap of all the worlds I’ve participated in over the last 15 years. Geeks from the old O’Reilly conferences like ETech, builders from the Maker community, and even a few connectors from the TED universe. It was gratifying to see more connections between these worlds get made and grow stronger overnight. I feel like a lucky bastard in that I get to participate in these various circles, and even more lucky that I get to watch them come together like this.
Another great thing about XOXO was that it was a distinctly Made in Portland event. Andy and Andy bucked a lot of traditional rules of putting on a conference. Instead of holding the event at the convention center where everything would have been both easier and more drab with a stage in a dark hall swathed with black drape, they held it in a brightly lit space at the Yale Union in southeast Portland. That decision also gave them the freedom to skip the traditional practice of catering in crappy food at insane prices that would have had to be built into the ticket charge. Instead, they talked a bunch of awesome Portland food carts into coming out and selling meals directly to attendees. There was even a mini-café operated by Stumptown for everyone to get their morning espresso fix.
Beyond the venue, Andy and Andy also made sure that everyone got a lot of time to venture out and explore a bit of Portland. There were organized pub crawls, Panic threw an open house in their offices downtown, and Wieden+Kennedy opened up their rooftop deck on top of their building in the Pearl District. In fact, the entire first full day of the event was dedicated to getting out, socializing, and letting people really get to know each other before settling into sessions on Saturday and Sunday.
So, what was there not to like? Not much, honestly. I mean, you’d really have to stretch to complain about things. For example, you could say that there were simply too many great people there to meet them all and that it was impossible to have an hour-long conversation with everyone you really wanted to talk to. Oh, and did they really have to run the parties so late? And really, what was up with starting the sessions in the morning at 10:30? That’s just too polite for those who were inevitably going to be a bit worse for wear from the night before. Who wants to start a day of sessions on a decent night’s sleep, anyway?
Seriously, the event was amazingly well executed, especially within the budget—the magnitude of which is plainly public on the Kickstarter page. Having been part of hundreds of events over the years, there’s very little I would have advised the Andys to do differently if I’d been a core part of this event’s planning. The minor operational quibbles that did come up were the sorts of things are inevitable the first time you put on an event in a venue. They won’t be repeated.
In short: XOXO was awesome. If you weren’t there and the topics it covers sound even remotely interesting, you shoulda been. What you’ll see on the videos of the conference sessions when they come out is only a small fraction of what it was like to be there. If you were there, well, thank you for helping make it incredible. Every single interaction I had was significant, even if it wasn’t long enough. My only regret is that I was recovering from a head cold and couldn’t participate at 120% like I wanted to.
Finally, if you were on the fence about going this time, don’t hesitate to jump in on tickets for the next time. Oh wait, forget I said that. I don’t want to miss my place in line for the next one. Oh yes, if there’s another XOXO, you better believe that I’ll be there. Wouldn’t dream of missing it. Thank you, Andy and Andy.