[To read previous posts about Big Omaha, click the appropriate link. Big Omaha: Day 2 (AM), Big Omaha: Day 2 (PM) and Big Omaha: Day 3 (Dennis Crowley)]

After Dennis Crowley presented, the remaining speaker lineup was Melody McCloskey, a panel discussion and then Tony Hsieh. When Melody started, I’m not sure how many of us were familiar with her. By the end of her presentation, I don’t think any of us would forget her.

Melody McCloskey
Melody McCloskey founded StyleSeat, which provides business tools for personal service providers. She focused a lot on the process for entrepreneurs. Here are some notes.
  • Know your motivation. What’s your story? Why are you in the game?
  • People are everything. What is tech? Tech is people helping other people.
  • Credibility, honest and trust. Believe in something bigger. Doing something great. Build brand equity.
  • Let go of your fear. Don’t worry about respect of your peers. When you realize you’re doing what you want, it’s relieving.
  • What’s your worst case scenario? Your worst case scenario is the best case scenario for many others. Are you scared of those things, of your worst case scenario? If not, then why worry?
  • So go out there and suck. Really, really suck. Because you will.
  • Doing something poorly is better than doing nothing.
  • “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”. -Wayne Gretzky
  • And if you go down in flames, may they be glorious.
It was a fine presentation so far, but then came one of the memorable moments of Big Omaha. She said that if they wanted to be successful as a entrepreneur they had to move to San Francisco, Boulder or New York City. (She did add Chicago and Boston.) No one was quite sure how to respond to that, especially since we’re all at a conference this about building up the community here in Omaha and the midwest.
I missed the next segment of her presentation because I was angry. Like many who are from the midwest, I hate the way people on the coasts can be so casually dismissive of us. It’s an easy way to infuriate people here. Many of us in the audience got on Twitter to voice our disagreement with her stance. Melody had managed to offend a good portion of the audience.
I don’t think anyone here denies the advantages of San Francisco, Boulder and New York City, but many of us don’t want to make those established communities better. We like it here in Omaha and want to establish this community. Plus, with what had been shared throughout the conference, it seemed a ridiculous assertion that you had to be in one of a handful of cities to be successful. Businesses nowadays have employees spread out all over the country and world. Why must you be in one of five cities to make it?
(By the way, Omaha has more Fortune 500 companies than Boulder, 5 to 0.)
I wanted to focus back in on Melody’s presentation. Despite her assertion, I respected the fact she actually said what she believed at a conference which is about trying to build its own community. Some more notes on what she finished with.
  • Call 25 influential people in an area and do meet and greets with them. Have coffee and converse.
  • If you’re the biggest fish in the pond you’re in the wrong pond.
  • Know your battle cry.
  • What is your plan for world domination? People in business think at a scale of insanity. Make big bets.
  • Find ways to keep it awesome.
She finished up, and when she came off the stage she realized quickly the response to what she said. She was engaging those of us who had taken to Twitter. She responded to me, and then we started conversing back and forth. I was reading what she was saying to others, on Twitter, and I realized she misspoke in her presentation. It was a big one, but in her tweets she rounded out her comment. It wasn’t that controversial. (I also spoke with her for a few minutes later in person.)
Melody encourages people from smaller communities to travel and immerse themselves in some of the larger communities and their culture. There are great deal of opportunities and advantages by going to places like San Francisco and New York City. What Melody was saying is it will be easier to get funding for an entrepreneur, and it can only help someone by having a well-rounded perspective. Isolating yourself in a smaller city makes it more difficult.
Now, if she would have shared all that in her presentation, I think everyone in the audience would have nodded their head in agreement. That didn’t happen, though. But you know what? The best thing for her may have been her response to her own presentation. She engaged with everyone who was willing and won a lot of new fans. She admitted she didn’t execute that part of her presentation. She explained in detail what she meant, and it was solid.
When I talked with her in person, she was gracious and took the time to listen. She answered any questions. Melody said she hopes to blog soon about her presentation, specifically her comment about “moving”, and clarify her remarks.
I became a fan. I probably will never have any reason to use StyleSeat, but I’m all for it.

Her comments were good in the sense it got many of us talking about what do we want the community and culture here to be?

I don’t think anyone at Big Omaha this morning will forget Melody McCloskey. My thought now? I hope Melody returns to Big Omaha next year.

7 thoughts on “Big Omaha: Day 3 (Melody McCloskey)

  1. OK. I'll bite.

    Most of that presentation was complete fluff. “People are everything.” “Let go of your fear.” The Wayne Gretzky quote.
    Give me a break. Anyone with half a brain could regurgitate stuff like that with very little effort. This is nothing revolutionary. These are all the same things we have all heard a thousand times before. Along with that shrink-wrapped bilgewater was the nonsense argument that you need to move to one of 5 or 6 cities if you want your idea to survive. Cripes.
    She's obviously pretty proud about living in San Francisco. I'm happy for her. I'd probably do the same thing if I had no noteworthy talent and a nicer midriff.

    She dated a popular young CEO and was elevated to web-celeb status in 140 characters or less. Then she met some people with a lot of money and resources and she pitched an idea that to a bunch of rich people who build and manage this thing while she travels repeating stuff we've all heard over and over and over.

    Quit being such a dude-guy, Ramhatter. Yeah, she's cute and all but why should she have a free pass? Equality is equality! She said a lot of stupid crap and just because she later realized it and gave you all the “what I meant” and “supposedtas” you think that what she said was “totally solid.” Give me a break! She didn't mis-speak! She just didn't know what the hell she was talking about because there wasn't any actual content in her presentation. It's all regurgitated.

    We're all working prett yhard to make Omaha great. Businesses can and do succeed here. I know of 4 or 5 places where I could turn to tomorrow for information on funding, mentoring, or support. I most certainly don't have the option to “go down in glorious flames,” so I'll just bootstrap instead.

    We have a great airport, too. I can (and have) travelled all around the world and I've spent quite a bit of time experiencing other cultures. We can drive down to Chicago, Austin or over to Boulder with ease. Or we could hop on a plane and be anywhere in the country in hours. If you are “isolated” in Omaha, it is your own fault.

    Let's hope that next year we can have more women like Alexa Andrzejewski and Danae Ringelmann and less of the painfully embarrassing noise.


  2. Thanks for taking the time to read the post, and to comment extensively.

    Was a lot of what she said revolutionary? Probably not, but then was a lot of what other speakers said revolutionary? There are a lot of core themes the speakers all talked about. Themes that we heard last year at Big Omaha, and themes you hear at similar gatherings. You could say any number of the things the speakers said were regurgitated.

    However, some speakers were much better at executing their presentations than others. Melody wasn't as hyper-energetic as Gary or Dennis, she didn't have the quiet power of Scott Harrison, she wasn't David Hauser, Jason Fried or Tony Hsieh.

    You talk about how her comments of “people are everything” and “let go of your fear” are examples of her not having depth. Gary Vaynerchuk, Dennis Crowley, and Tony Hsieh all said the same thing in different ways about the “customer being king”.

    “Let go of your fear” is in line with things Micah Baldwin said last year at Big Omaha, and Dennis talked about his failure as well. As far as go down in “glorious flames”, I take that as holding your head high. Staying true to your vision and values, even if it doesn't work out in that particular venture. Other speakers said that in their own words as well.

    For instance, I like Gary Vaynerchuk, but strip away his panache and f-bombs, there are a similarities between Melody and him. Melody talked about passion, knowing who you are, and world domination. Gary talks about passion, knowing your story, and owning the NY Jets. Gary wants to be the biggest in the business.

    With a lot of the speakers, there isn't a secret formula. It's basic stuff they put their own personal spin on. A big difference is they are “hustling” non-stop. They are learners. That's not to say others around here aren't, but there are a lot of people I know who call themselves entrepreneurs who'd rather watch tv or play PS3.

    I think Melody's comment about moving, during her presentation, is wrong. I still don't agree with it if that's all it was. I do wish she would have fleshed out the point, like she did effectively afterward on Twitter and in person. The point of not isolating yourself in your community is a good one. Get out, travel, immerse yourself in other cultures. There is a lot to learn outside your own community.

    Many of us who love Omaha with a passion, and want to see it become a community/culture that is respected nationwide, have travelled and tasted other cultures. As we build up Omaha, though, we continue to see what other communities are doing.

    (Thoughts continued in next comment…)


  3. Are there advantages to living in SF and NYC? Yes. Even the panel discussion immediately afterward said as much. What I think Melody meant to say is to go to those communities and leverage those advantages for your work. It's not something you can necessarily get on day trip there. You have to spend time in the community, build relationships. I've built a lot of relationships with people online, but it always goes up a level when I meet with them in person.

    I, like many others here, can list off advantages I think Omaha has over San Francisco. (taxes, way of life, etc) Omaha does have a lot of funding for people. It's not as known as other places, though. Like I referred to in my post, it surprises people that Omaha has more Fortune 500 companies than a lot of communities. (like Boulder)

    I can't read Melody's mind, I can only go by what she talked about on Twitter. I can only go on what we discussed in person for about five minutes. Maybe it is damage control and she's changing her tune, but I don't think so.

    Whatever opportunities she has had, she's leveraged them. Some people don't take advantage of opportunities when they are staring them in their face.

    As far as being a “dude-guy”, well, I did like The Big Lebowski. What she looks like doesn't matter to me. And, if she's proud to live in SF, so what? I'm proud to be born, raised and living in Omaha.

    A good thing to come out of her presentation was many people asking what should Omaha be striving for? What should the next ten years look like for creatives/entrepreneurs/techies? We see these other established communities and see we things we'd like her, but what is it that makes Omaha set apart from them? What makes Omaha a destination instead of a stepping stone? I don't know if Melody meant to start that conversation, but it's happening. It's good for Omaha to think about where we are headed and how we can accomplish it.

    I, like you, also liked Danae Ringelmann. One of my favorite things she did was raise a counterpoint to Jason Fried in the panel discussion. She raised a different opinion and stuck with it. She, like Melody, also had the misfortune of following a charismatic speaker, but she stayed true to herself and gave her presentation. I'm already thinking of using IndieGoGo on an upcoming project.

    Thanks again for taking the time to write a thorough comment. Much appreciated. Hope you come back to the blog again.


  4. I agreed with swankston's comment. Most people in a Business Admin 101 class would have yawned at her one-liners. It was like she was talking to 9-year-olds. That was as offensive as her ignorant location comment.

    Really, I felt like the two women presenters at this conference were duds. Both were flat, gave boring presentations and were overall disappointing. Considering the constant discussion of women in business and women in technology, I felt like this was a pretty poor showing and is only going to perpetuate those discussions, rather than put them on ice. It would be a breath of fresh air to move beyond banal issues like location and gender in business and technology and discuss something truly relevant.

    Big Omaha was a Good conference, but they have a ways to go to get to Great. I was surprised there were no presenters from the Omaha area. Not people who lived here once long ago or attended school years ago, but people running businesses and flourishing in the Omaha area. How do you put on a great show without representing the city itself?

    Thanks for the great post, though it was kind of a let down that you ended up defending her in the end. Of course, we in the world of the “new business” where you can make it what you want, so why not recognize the “new presentation” where you get to engage your audience afterwards and make up for things you might have misspoke along the way. I'm surprised she stuck around to talk to people who were probably pretty upset, so that's saying something.


  5. @germanny – Thanks for reading the post and commenting.

    Her points may have come across simplistic, but I still think a number of the speakers said similar things. They just presented it better and/or in a different style that was better received to the audience. In my opinion, there were a lot of things that were presented throughout the weekend that were fairly straight-forward. Her presentation skills are not that of Gary V. or Scott Harrison

    She made a huge mistake in her presentation that cost her. She deservedly caught grief for it. I was one of those that tweeted as much after she made her “move” comment. She tweeted me back, we conversed online, and then we talked for awhile offline. I have that benefit that most don't. I don't know if she was aware, when she was presenting, what people were saying on Twitter. She did once she came off stage and started engaging people who were willing to talk.

    I don't blame anyone for being upset at her presented remarks. I was as well. It taps into an anger that most of us have, who are from here, when we hear similar comments from people on the coasts.

    In my post I wanted to elaborate on my conversations with her, and reflect her persona in those conversations. She admitted she didn't say what she wanted, she messed up, which goes back to presentation skills. She was gracious and heard my pro-Omaha opinion.

    Her presentation wasn't my favorite of Big Omaha. However, the irony is her presentation may have done more to initiate more conversation about the future of Omaha and the creative/entrepreneur/tech community with those of us who were in attendance.

    Separate point, I agree with your tweet that there needed to be some local biz representation amongst the speakers. Hopefully next year.

    Thanks again for taking the time to write a thorough comment. Hope to see you around sometime and chat more about Omaha.


  6. @ramhatter great piece. You made some great critical points, definitely thinking about them hard. The stage fright was totally unexpected and made sort of a mess of things but I'm glad I did it and I'm determined to get better.

    Thanks for the great talk afterwards, it was awesome to meet you in person.

    @swankston I'm sorry you felt that way. It's challenging to provide useful information to 500 people when there isn't a highly focused group of folks (like a conference around a programming language for example). By those standards pretty much any information one provides is regurgitated unless it's new research or an advance in technology, but I can certainly improve delivery and I'll take your feedback into consideration.

    I'm probably the farthest you can be from being a web celeb, so don't know what you're talking about there. The other points you made about my appearance are cheap shots which I don't respect and won't address.

    You, and a few others have brought up interesting points about community building. This is a very minor goal for the cities I mentioned. It's absolutely all about building competitive businesses. Both goals are admirable ones, but aren't necessarily related really.

    If you want to build a community, attract talent to create companies in the Midwest. Educate youth and incentivize them to build startups. Bring more investment to companies created in your area and get the government more involved. My talk was about advice I've learned to build the best business as quickly as possible, a different topic.

    Also, my points aren't based on pride for a particular city, but advice on creating a startup. Omaha is great, SF is great (I might move soon), France is great, I lived there for a long time too.

    I, too am bootstrapping my business. The “flames” quote was a point to put 100% of your effort into your work, otherwise your product suffers. I've heard this from many VCs, angels and entrepreneurs who refuse deals because they didn't want to make a bet on someone who wasn't 1,000,000 percent in. Lot's of beginning entrepreneurs who don't get funding need to learn this.

    @germanny thanks for your feedback, I'll have to work on my speaking skills 🙂

    I don't mean to incite anger, just start conversation (you have to admit this happened at least).

    I also agreed that it would have been nice to have a stronger local startup presence. I added that as well as a few other ideas for next year in my blog post I'm writing about the event.


  7. @Melody – Thanks again for taking the time to respond to my post, as well as other comments. Sorry I didn't respond sooner. I took some vacation last week!

    The conversation has been good. It's almost been a month since Big Omaha, and here we are still talking about topics you shared in your presentation. Regardless of what you intended to say, I think it's great you've sparked so many discussions. Plus, you've been willing to be a part of them as well.

    Look forward to reading/hearing more of your thoughts on community.

    @Everyone – I just posted a follow-up to this post that you can read by following this link. http://ramhatter.blogspot.com/2010/06/team-melody.html


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