Gary Vaynerchuk brought his show on the road to Tahoe, hosting his own Tahoe Tech Talk conference. I was stoked that a conference of this caliber was being held within a mile of house. The Tahoe "tech" scene is pretty much non-existent, so it was fun to talk to so many people about the the cool projects they are working on.
Also now that Chris Sacca is working out of Truckee, bringing some cred to the region, it is probably time that those of us working in technology in Tahoe start to organize ourselves a bit better. It is not without challenges, but it is possible to run a tech company out in the mountains.
I have a lot of respect for Gary. He is a self made man who has shown the world how to build a brand around your passion, and use the internet to promote the hell out of yourself, and your companies. Many technologists undervalue personal branding, at the same time, many successful tech companies also have personal brands around their products: Fog Creek with Joel Spolsky, 37 Signals with DHH and Jason Fried, Crowd Favorite with Alex King, and Matt Mullenweg at WordPress. The founder of our company built the company on the back of his own personal brand and before blogging existing he wrote newsletters to our customers. You weren't just doing business with a company, you were doing business with a friend. The message that Gary is preaching is real, and I believe in it.
Most people I spoke with at the conference felt it was a great "authentic" experience and seemed truly jazzed about it, but I left feeling mixed about the experience. Other attendees mentioned the "value" the conference offered, but for people who traveled to go the conference the total cost could have easily approached $1000. I personally paid $350 out of my own pocket for my ticket. That's saying that I felt seeing Gary Vaynerchuck speak live was more important than an iPhone 4, or making a significant loan on kiva. Others felt it is was more important than investing it into their own startups. Every person sitting in the audience of the conference was a customer of VaynerMedia, and hence Gary's customer; more on that in minute.
Dave McClure's shtick is a cheap publicity stunt. Acting like a jerk might be a way to build some notoriety, but it is unsustainable. After hearing Dave's talk (which was funny in a late night stand-up comic sort of way) and seeing his behavior during the question and answer segment, I couldn't help thinking this is exactly the stuff that gives VC its reputation. After McClure's talk, the mood devolved into a locker room game of one-upsmanship, where the winner was the rudest and most vulgar. After AngelGate and shouting matches with Mike Arrington, and today's F bomb brigade, I couldn't help but think that SV needs to grow up and start acting like the professionals and experts they claim themselves to be.
I kept envisioning a young Warren Buffet going to all his friends and family asking them to entrust their life's savings with him. He worked hard to build his reputation on honesty and humility, which turned him into the world's richest man. If a young Warren Buffet came to me and asked me to invest with his fund, followed by Dave McClure, who would be more likely to win my business? Do these guys talk to their investors the same way they talk to us which I assume they considered potential investments?
But there is one incident that really stands out in my mind. One of attendees made a mistake. Although it was said over and over everybody makes mistakes, but Gary, much to my surprise, really lit into this attendee. I'm going to say this in all do respect, Gary:
Nobody, and I mean nobody, pays $400 to be publicly humiliated by their role model in front of their peers.
There is a difference between "tough love" and public humiliation.
I think Gary made an honest mistake -- he got carried away with the spirit of McClure's talk. And that's why I don't dig McClure's style. It changed the mood of the conference for the worse. Gary is transitioning from brash self promoter to mentor and role model. That's a new job, and I personally think that job requires a higher standard when acting as mentor. I received this exact advice, so I say that as reminder to myself as much as anything, and my influence is pretty limited.
Couple more points from the conference: Kevin Rose came across much more professional, humble, and frankly likable, than I would have imagined. I think he is going to have a long career. I'm also going to probably follow up with another post on Quirky, and my experience with them from the customer side. I don't think the company is living up the ideal of customer support that Gary espouses.
But, overall I enjoyed the conference: primarily talking to the other attendees. There are some people out there doing some awesome stuff and I applaud them.