@ramhatter moves up the leaderboard at #bigomaha
Me at Big Omaha 2011. Photo by Wendy Townley

For the first two Big Omaha events, I wrote a number of posts recapping, and highlighting, the festivities. Last year, I was unable to do so because I was starting up with my new role. As Big Omaha 2012 gets ready to start, I thought it would be good to look back at last year’s event.

In the moment, a number of speakers’ presentations are grand, but what are their lasting effects? Perhaps they entertained, but did they make a difference?

Here are a few things I remember from Big Omaha 2011…one year later.

Warby Parker 
In the opening of Neil Blumenthal’s presentation, about Warby Parker, he had a money line. “How do you feel after paying for glasses? I feel like I’ve been kicked in the balls.” I was hooked because I still chafed when I thought about how much I spent on my glasses four year previous. (Over $500.)

Neil talked about being catalysts for change, and how he wanted to have a direct impact on the beneficiaries. He got involved with a beta program for eye glasses in El Salvador. We’d like to think it shouldn’t matter, in developing countries, what someone has. We can get self-righteous and say they should be grateful for whatever, but style does matter when it comes to glasses. If you can get someone a nice pair of frames, with the right prescription, their productivity skyrockets.

“People would rather be blind than ridiculed. Good hearts and intentions lead to unintended consequences.”

There are a billion people in the world that need eye glasses. How do you serve that, especially when the businesses that own the market mark everything up 10x to 25x? You work directly with the customer. Build a 100 year relationship with them, not just a fifteen minute relationship. In the United States, a pair of Warby Parker frames costs $95.

Every pair of glasses sold by Warby Parker, someone in need is provided a pair. They’ve distributed glasses to over 85,000 people in need.

I bought my first pair of Warby Parker glasses last year. I’ve been an evangelist for the company, and have pushed others to buy from Warby Parker. I’m getting ready to buy a pair of prescription sunglasses from them. I love what the company is doing.

Besides a great product, I’m inspired by the company’s story. How can I be a catalyst for change? How can I have a direct impact on the beneficiaries I want to serve?

  • No idea is new. It’s all about execution.
  • Can’t be holistically good if you’re not looking at your entire chain.

Bo Fishback
I did not take notes during Bo’s presentation. I was standing in the back of the room because I was uncomfortable from sitting so long over two days. He was the last speaker of the event. I think I was on information overload by then.

Something strange happened, though. Even though I’ve heard a number of entreprenuers share their stories about how much energy and work goes into starting up a business/project, Bo’s story stuck with me. When I was starting up the Online Campus, these past few months, I’d reflect on what Bo shared. His story was an inspiration at times. I don’t think I could even quote you anything specific from his talk, but the big idea still resonates with me today.

Opening Speaker/Ben Huh
For the third year in a row the opening speaker was a hit. In 2009 we had Jason Fried, and in 2010 we had David Hauser. (No pressure, Ted Rheingold.) I think the expectations were low from many in the audience, but Ben had a fantastic presentation. He is the founder and CEO of the Cheezburger Network. His story was inspiring, and it took away a lot of excuses others may have about not starting up a business and/or a project. His mission statement sounds simplistic, but I think if a lot more people had it in mind the world would be a better place than is. (“Make the world happy for five minutes a day.”) Some random tidbits from Ben’s session:

  • “I participate, therefore I am the Internets.”
  • “Google, Facebook and Twitter, what do all three have in common? None of them creates content of their own.”
  • “There is not a line between the audience and the creator.”
  • “Being weird doesn’t mean your alone.”
  • Get a street MBA. “No matter how low the salary, I wanted a direct connection with the founder of the company.”
  • “Find that one corner of the Internet and connect. Find that home away from home.”

Leila Janah
Her story of empowering people living in some of the most deplorable conditions in the world was amazing. She is a living embodiment of wanting to make a difference instead of making a point. If she can make a difference in people who are living in refugee camps, why can’t we do it in our cities?

  • 4 billion people live on less than $3 a day because they lost the birth lottery.
  • 144 million youth are unemployed, or working but living in poverty that keeps them there. They turn to unsavory menthods to get money. Some join militia because they thought they’d get paid. 50% will consider organized crime because of money. In Somalia, pirates get 17x what normal wage is. 80% of women workers in Africa or SE Asia face vulnerable employment.
  • I went to Harvard where I thought I’d find solutions. I didn’t though, in fact I was turned off because the experts were staying at 5 star hotels, writing papers and getting tenture. They weren’t thinking about how to get poor people out of poverty.
  • Is it audacious? We’ve mapped the genome, everyone seemingly has a cell phone. I think we can and we will (end poverty). It will take bold solutions.
  • Slumdog Millionaire, the poor working in call centers for multinational companies. Possible for kids in slums to work. If it can work to in slums of India, how can it work in slums and poor ares around the US and world?

I’ve written about this a few times over the past year, but it bears repeating again. One of the great things to arise from Big Omaha is the community. Those that are a part of it champion one another. I’ve been blessed by the friendships and contacts that have developed since I attended Big Omaha in 2009. I’m grateful the event is still “small” and at KANEKO. I’m looking forward to people attending the entire event, and not just checking out after they hear one speaker.

Some things I’m looking forward to this week? Who am I going to meet? Who is going to be a new friend? Who is going to help me with my life and/or work? More importantly, who can I help with their life and/or work? I love the fact I still talk and interact with people I met in 2009 at Big Omaha.

Related “Community” posts from past year:
Dear Silicon Prairie/Big Omaha Community
Big Omaha 2011: Community
The Intern Who Is More Than An Intern

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