As I discussed on this thread, I go to very few conferences a year, and increasingly doubt even the number of conferences that I do attend. Part of it is likely that I spent much of my life at—and running—conferences as a journalist.
These days, something has to really intrigue me for me to attend. There has to be a mix of friends there I rarely get to see. It has to be somewhere I love to go or is easy/cheap to get to, or ideally both. And the content has to be something I don’t see or haven’t seen before.
In the last few years, the Upfront Summit has wriggled its way into my very small number of must-attend events. It’s an over-the-top love letter to LA that not only took over where ReCode/D left off, it’s surpassed it.
If you’ve ever worked for a media company, you can tell the difference in a venture firm putting on a conference in about the first five seconds you walk in.
“You have pillows that simply read ‘2020,’” I said to partner Kara Nortman. “What could say ‘We’re throwing this away after today’ anymore clearly!?” We recycled the same TechCrunch pillows for years and only those were purchased after we had AOL money.
“Hey, it’s a long year!” she said.
There were things I didn’t love in the programming, but fortunately I’m no longer a journalist, and it’s not my job to be the world’s critic. Here are some moments I did love for those who couldn’t attend (or have no idea what I’m even talking about.)
1. JJ Abrams and his wife Katie McGrath spoke about building their company, Bad Robot, together. Abrams had a brilliant spiel about why it works to build a life, a family, and a company with the same person.
“I can’t conceive of running a company any other way,” he said. He talks about when he walks in and finds his wife in some sort of debate without their children. Without knowing any details or context, “I walk in and I am suddenly on her side,” he says. And at work, “When I hear you say ‘this is a problem’ I know it’s a problem or it’s going to be because you are so good at [seeing these things] in advance.”
“The way we live at home is the way we live in the office,” he said. It’s all about extreme—down to the cellular level—trust, and it explains why there are a lot of co-founder duos in Silicon Valley who are married as well. “If you can find that person, ideally marry them, and then, maybe, start a company with them,” he said.
2. I wrote already about my interaction with Tyra Banks, but in her keynote, she spoke about pain. Pain that frequently comes from rejection that you feel so deeply, that you then transform it into passion. And then it becomes a plan. You might say, “Well, that’s just entrepreneurship!” Not as it’s practiced in Silicon Valley these days, I’d argue. If you look at the demographic of people getting the majority of the funding here (not to mention some of the “problems” being solved) there’s not a lot of pain at the root of it.
3. Reese Witherspoon talked about how we are all still “living in the land of old systems”—something that rings true for Hollywood, Wall Street, Washington and Silicon Valley. She was able to create her own production company and take back control of her career for one reason, as she plainly said: “I had the money to self-fund.”
4. It wasn’t all celebrities. Michael McFaul, the former ambassador to Russia under President Obama, explained what he learned by witnessing propaganda upfront in Russia…and now seeing it seep into everyday life in the US. He drew a startling distinction between the role of propaganda and disinformation in the communist era, when he first lived in Moscow, and the Putin era. “The communists wanted to win an argument, Putin wants to foment the idea that there are no facts.”
5. Finally, exhausted with a day of intense content and networking and some not-so-subtle fundraising conversations, I sat down for the last fireside chat of the day with Ice Cube. So many good one-liners and things that stuck with me for another 48-hours plus. “The word hard tends to make cowards out of people,” he said echoing Tyra Banks’ point about pain. “Growing up in my neighborhood, it’s not gonna be ‘hard,’ it’s gonna be Thursday.”
Today’s new questions on Chairman Mom: