Last Friday, my friend Shak pathed, “Productivity at tech companies must be low today. Half the folks are headed to Utah while the other half are looking for an ice cream truck.”
Told to pack for a camping trip but not much else, 850 like-minded individuals showed up in Eden, Utah last Friday for the first Summit Outside event, hosted by the Summit Series team famous for its weekend retreats like Basecamp and Summit-at-Sea. For Outside, attendees were encouraged to disconnect, with the promise of “finding a better connection.”
Without WiFi or outlets, a group of the world’s most Internet-addicted human beings found immense freedom letting go of the digital world and reconnecting with nature.
It was the first major event held in Eden, Utah since the 45-person team purchased Powder Mountain for $40 million earlier this year. Weekend tickets started at $2,000 and went up to $12,000 depending on housing options like a 10-person dome, quad tent or air-conditioned RV.
Summit donated a portion of ticket sales to local nonprofits and attendees made optional donations at registration. In total, Summit Outside raised nearly $100,000 for Ogden Valley and Weber County nonprofits, including the Weber School Foundation, Ogden Valley Land Trust, Weber Pathways, Weber County Fire Officers Association and The Nature Conservancy.
When the mountain purchase was announced, there were several complaints from local townspeople who were dubious of the team’s ability to preserve the mountain’s old-fashioned charm. Change is still a thing you should believe in, as the event drove more than $2 million dollars into the local economy and resulted in over 300 local jobs.
Upon arrival, attendees geared up for the weekend with free Nike Fuelbands, headlights, tin cups and camouflage backpacks for carrying around their new Tom’s sunglasses. After chucking bags into tents and strapping on hiking boots, attendees were delighted by surprises at every turn like a sonic meditation deck, a late-night noodle truck, a flash sale of coconuts and LeWeb founder Loic LeMeur giving office hours in the middle of a forest.
Attendees stopped by the activity tent to sign up for paint ball, hiking, horse-back riding and mountain bike riding – or a knot tying workshop with Philippe Petit, the man featured tightrope-walking between the World Trade Center towers in the documentary Man on Wire.
Somewhat retired, Petit decided to climb the stage at the event’s closing plenary instead.
Each morning on Powder Mountain, we practiced yoga on The Lotus Deck, overlooking Ogden valley. Teachers included Sasha Bahador, Founder of ShaktiLife and Kenneth Von Roenn III, Creator of Skanda Yoga.
Just a 5-minute walk down the hill, Taylor Kuffner’s robotic orchestra, known as “The Gamelatron” was tied to trees in a forest of hammocks, providing an oasis of relaxation for weary Summiteers.
One of the more popular surprises was the Duck Pond, a hedonistic escape from the killer content and outdoor adventure experiences. Aerated and perfectly clean for swimming in, the Duck Pond served as an ideal cool down during the 90 degree days. Summit’s Chief Reconnaissance Officer Thayer Walker says the Duck Pond will be a permanent structure for the years to come.
As entrepreneurs do, the Summit team members are building a permanent community that didn’t exist before, a home they’re proud to live in, and one they can call their own. “Our goal is to create a center of gravity for the innovators, entrepreneurs, and thought-leaders of the world,” says Summit co-founder Jeremy Schwartz, pictured below with fellow co-founder Brett Leve. “We hope Summit Eden will become a community built around a shared ethos that emphasizes collaboration as tool to drive positive, multidisciplinary output.”
Many will compare Summit Series to TED, Davos or even Burning Man, but lining up such energetic entities side-by-side is boring. While there were quite a few speakers at Summit Outside who have also spoken in Long Beach, and people important enough to fly to Switzerland each year, and a lot of dust and dancing in The Electric Forest, what’s more interesting is why events like this exist, and how The Summit Series team has brought such magical experiences to life that are shaping a generation of change-makers.
The Summit Team offered content and activities ranging from a 3-hour mountain biking tour to a discussion of the female hormonal system to an hour-long talk about the recent Trayvon Martin trial. When asked to reflect on a high point from the weekend, Shervin Pishevar, Co-founder and Managing Partner of Sherpa Ventures, answered:
“The Trayvon talk. Cheeraz [Gorman]’s tears opened a flood gate of love and truth. It changed hearts and minds and planted the seeds of a new social justice movement. Our nation still needs a process of reconciliation. There’s too much locked within our hearts. We need to get in that circle we formed in the forest and widen to all so we can all feel what we did that day.”
Humans weren’t the only ones leaving Powder Mountain with new flight patterns. Summit partnered with Earthwings, a raptor nonprofit, to release two rehabilitated birds of prey into the wild at the event.
Summit also partnered with Pack and Pounce, a local animal shelter to create a puppy pen where attendees could adopt puppies destined to be put down. 9 puppies were adopted and saved.
The event could’ve been called the “Summit of Love” – not because of the plethora of mountain-top sessions – but because love was on everyone’s lips, particularly speaker and therapist Esther Perel, who wins the award for giving the most talks in a 48-hour period.
As entrepreneurs, we are used to giving all of ourselves to our companies and careers, then we come home at night with just leftover scraps of our energies for our loved ones. How will we ever have as successful relationships as we do careers if we keep carrying on like this? Esther didn’t have all of the answers, but she made us realize that if its a fulfilling love life we want, we need to explore the possibilities of adjusting our current priorities.
The Summit team’s production talents are extraordinary. On Saturday night, attendees were invited to have dinner around a quarter-mile long picnic table in a field. The walk to dinner was led by jazz musician Jonathan Batiste.
For many photo-takers, this visual feat and delightful feast was a highlight of the weekend.
The Summit team knows how to throw a party too. After dinner, the electronica ensemble Thievery Corporation played a 2-hour set before 50 fans jumped on stage for a late-night dance party. There were all dozens of artists and DJs, like Big Boi, RAC, Sean Glass and DJ Equal, who played until the wee hours of the morning for sparkly-pantsed dancers. To listen to all of the artists who performed this weekend, SoundCloud’s David Noel made a playlist for you.
While Summit is often knocked for being exclusive, its curated community creates an environment for some of the world’s most ambitious people to open up professionally, emotionally and physically. “It’s going to be a place on Earth that becomes a sacred space for growth and development,” says Nicole Patrice De Member, the Founder of Toi and the woman responsible for introducing Summit to Greg Mauro, the entrepreneur and Eden, UT resident who brought the Powder Mountain opportunity to the team. “The people who need love will end up here. We want the world to be a part of this. It’s not a secret journey, but you still have to go on that journey to get here.”
Summit designed the event with serendipity built-in so that porch-front dinner conversations, afternoon walks down dusty Main Street, or late night discussions in the tea hut became places where we shared journeys of success, failure and personal hardship. “No matter where I went or what I did, I stumbled upon some of the most amazing, interesting people I’ve ever met. It’s a magical experience unlike any other,” says Summit first-timer Ryan Matzner, Fueled’s Director of Strategy.
The first night of Summit Outside I stood next to a stranger as we waited for our camp mates. I said “Hi” and gave him a warm hug the way you might a friend. He said, “Thank you, I really needed that.” He then told me his father had just passed away that morning. And instead of canceling plans to be with his immediate family, he decided that his first step towards healing was to be with his Summit family. In a place so loving, empowering and supportive, I understood.
Summit Outside was the team’s first big event on Powder Mountain – and for most in attendance, those 72-hours were a transformational experience. The Summit Team’s passion shines through everything it touches, and they’ve fortunately chosen to build their home in one of the most beautiful settings on Earth. In Eden, once again, we feel like we’re just at the beginning of it all…
Venture capitalists, especially those investing at the early stage, could be described as “relationship capitalists”. You’ll often hear how investors approach their commitments like a marriage, and that they think long and hard about with whom they want to go to bed. Avoid picturing that second part.
But the VC mystique can be inexplicable at times. Why do they send such curt emails? What the #%$! do they mean by “traction”? Are they even paying attention?!
Here are some things they might be thinking (but probably won’t flat-out say) during the courtship process, and how you can prepare, take ownership, and rock the pitch.
1. “I can’t remember what you do.”
VCs have countless meetings with entrepreneurs, and review even more pitches remotely. Chances are, you’ve scheduled a meeting weeks ahead of time due to a jammed calendar and travel itineraries. Or, you got turned down before, months or years ago, and are having a follow-up discussion.
Don’t take it personally if you’re met with a semi-blank stare. Start the meeting with a brief sentence or two that subtly describes your business and background. It’ll help prevent confusion (and potentially glazed eyes) deeper into the conversation.
2. “I don’t get your product.”
Speak simply, and get to the point. VCs understand that you’re 1,000% excited to be tackling the problems you’re tackling, but stick with one storyline at a time. Reading between the lines is a little too much work. Treat them as if they were a valuable customer. At the very least, it’s great practice for when that is the case.
Moreover, ensure that the investor does, in fact, understand your business, rather than just thinking so. One approach might be to say, “Now that I’ve told you what we do, I’d be very interested in how you describe the business from your perspective.” You’ll likely gain some enlightening feedback on your pitch.
Of course, the above implies that you know your business and market inside and out. The less you understand, the less value you’re likely to provide to your startup, and the less an investor will want to get involved.
3. “I know I’ve heard of others doing this…”
Have a clear handle on your competitive set and address them outright. Entrepreneurs should be fluent in the goings-on of their industry, and have a firm understanding of how their business differentiates itself. Unless the VC is very familiar with your space, they may withdraw temporarily as they rack for comps.
This is also a common test. Either way, be prepared to knock it out of the park.
4. “Can I add value to this business?”
Illustrate how your VC can provide value to your enterprise. Every VC wants to feel like s/he can offer more help than signing a check; your investors want and should be a part of your braintrust. Demonstrate that you know the firm and profile, and can explain how this will take your company to the next level (which, with any luck, will reap benefits for them too).
5. “You’re not solving a real problem.”
Answer this: How is your business changing the world? Put in other words: Why would anybody (or more importantly, many people) care? Hopefully, it’s not another rendition of the ice cream glove.
“Real” is often a measurement around market size; how many customers are out there, and how much are they dying to pay you?
6. “I don’t believe you’re right to lead this business.”
Now that you’ve convinced your VC that this is a market going after, make it undeniable that you’re the dream team to go after it. Explain why you have the perfect blend of skills, knowhow, network, and passion that no one else can flaunt. If your investor had to make only one bet on your market (as investors frequently do), why should it be on you?
7. “I’m not sure if I can afford this.”
VCs allocate their funds towards new investments and follow-on rounds. Your terms must make sense in regards to their financing ability and equity interests. “Affordability” also refers to time; investors may simply pass because they’re stretched thin with their existing portfolio companies.
Do your homework. Potentially save yourself some time by looking into the VC’s investment stage, investment size, and board commitments.
8. “It doesn’t feel right.”
You may very well be something like a 90% Match, 10% Friend, 0% Enemy for your VC. You’ve checked every box, made them laugh on numerous occasions, and shown them a good time or two. But sometimes, the chemistry falls short of science. Don’t sweat it and move on. There are many opportunities out there.
(Special thanks to Brad Gillespie (IA Ventures), Steve Schlafman (Lerer Ventures), and Michael Klein (Canaan Partners) for their thoughts and contributions to this post).
Image credit: Comstock / Thinkstock