The festival that felt like a hug

A story about XOXO Festival in 3 acts. I will start first with something that set the tone, then talk about the importance to me, and then what I hope comes from it in the future.

Act 1: Interjecting awesome

One moment stood out to me in the swirl of ideas and amazing that was XOXO. It was at the beginning of the conference, when the organizers were on stage. They were talking about how they wanted the conference to be experienced. The sentence that I think changed the entire conference experience for me (paraphrased):

This should be a conference where you can go up to a group of people you don’t know, and they will include you in their conversation.

This seems like something very simple, but it set an important social contract. Normally my introverted self will balk at the idea of joining a group of unknown people. Especially at a conference with so many people who I look up to and admire. However, this idea, set forth by the organizers, dispelled this apprehension, and instead I viewed it as my responsibility to interject.

This was a fundamental change in how I experienced the conference. I spend most of my time at conferences talking to people I’ve known for years, rarely breaking into new groups. At XOXO, though, since I knew only a few people beforehand and felt compelled to meet new folks, I spent the entire conference striking up conversations with complete strangers. This was a profoundly different and amazing experience.

Act 2: Bring out your trolls

Consuming the world through twitter is not a way to be inspired. Getting together in a room and seeing people who have changed their world, and the world for others, is an amazing experience. It allows you to perceive and appreciate people’s aspirations.

I started XOXO in a funk that can only be explained as cynical. I had heard of Kickstarter and the ilk, but never really invested or taken the time to fully let the idea wash over me. As the talks started, and I heard Kickstarter over and over, it at first felt like a promotion and a buzz word. However, through the genuine excitement and joy of bringing something new into the world, my skepticism turned into inspiration.

Greed being destructive was a theme behind the conference, and I think this is the primary thing that won me over. People were creating things because they wanted them to exist in the world, and they had to do it. It wasn’t about making money, or getting famous, but because they had a drive to change a part of life. This drove the jealousy and skepticism from my heart, and started the search for the thing in life that I was meant to change.

Act 3: Radiating change

I think that this conference was an amazing view into a world that could exist. At a high level it was a distancing from the classical tech world that is so focused on money. A place where we can be open, share our ideas, successes, and failures. Somewhere that people can actually introduce something into the world and have support for it.

During the talk on Kickstarter, Yancey mentioned that Portland has been the most successful city on Kickstarter. Something like $7.5M has been given to creators in the rose city. On the technical side, we have a burgeoning, but not well formed start up community. This means that we can form this community into something that is different than has existed in other places.

As Paul Graham once said, each city sends you a message. I think that this conference was in some ways a call to action, that a place like XOXO needs to exist in a more permanent manner. I think that Portland has a chance of doing this going forward. I can’t, and won’t, try to spell out how this could be done. I will say that I can’t imagine another city that is better poised to do it.

I want Portland to be the place where you come, and think you can change the world.

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Published 2012-09-18

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