Camp Mighty mighty, letting it (almost) all hang out

some very pretty ladies having funI spent last weekend in Palm Springs at the awesome Ace Hotel attending Camp Mighty, a second-annual event that’s filled with lots of smart ladies, socializing, speakers, and innumerable Instagrammable moments. Ultimately, the event itself is pretty hard to describe to someone who hasn’t been. Presenter and cofounder of Pinterest Ben Silbermann summed it up best when he referred to it as “a mafia of industrious women”, which seems about right.

Silbermann gave one of my favorite talks of the weekend*, which centered on the idea that it’s a strong network around you that helps you succeed. I had the pleasure of meeting and sitting next to his wife during his presentation and loved that he publicly gave her so much credit to his success, from encouraging him to leave a job he hated, financially supporting him in the company’s beginnings, to even coming up with the name “Pinterest”. He also showed photos of his cofounder, his early mentors and even a roommate that used to walk around in a towel on his way to the shower while Silbermann was still running conference calls out of an apartment. It was refreshing to hear that such a down-to-earth, thoughtful person can be successful in what can be such a solipsistic industry.

I’ve long a been a reader of Camp Mighty cofounder Maggie Mason’s MightyGirl blog, and attended the event largely because I admire her straight-up moxie. She’s one of those people that makes everything a little more fun than it would ordinarily be; in fact at the tail-end of the last day of the conference when I finally had an opportunity to say hello to her, she literally danced over from where she was relaxing at the pool even though she must have been incredibly exhausted and tired of talking to people she didn’t know.

White balls in water

I’m coming away from the event with much admiration for the women I met, laughed, drank, danced and hot-tubbed with. I agree with my new pal and fellow PNWer Sandra Harris’ post that it’s the in-between times that mattered most, when you find kindred spirits and bond almost instantly over a mutual passion for 80’s music or a hatred of doing laundry (it never ennnnnnnnnds…..!)

There were some grumblings about certain aspects of the conference (attendee Mindy talks about it over on her blog Budget Fairy Tale, as does the mighty herself @MaggieM on One Good Turn.) As one of the many people who’s Life List (the sharing of which is the centerpiece of the whole event) never made it to the group, I definitely experienced some of the same frustrations.

Woman looking at gift table

I’m hopeful that event organizers will give attendees the chance to provide feedback and that they will take it to heart. Overall the sponsors were generous with their many gifts, the space-themed party dazzling and fun, every stylistic detail of the event beautifully packaged and presented (FYI polka dots not stripes, apparently. Who knew.) Yet at the closing night dinner party, I looked around and realized that although I had had conversations with most of the women near me at the table, I still didn’t really know what their goals were or if we had a shared connection in achieving them.

It takes an enormous amount of effort to put on an event like this and I applaud what the team has achieved given this is only their second year. I think with a little less emphasis on style and more on substance, Camp Mighty could be even better. Put the right people together in creative, interesting ways and the magic will happen naturally — no filter or blur effect needed. And any time I spend with one of my favorite people riding bikes around the desert, meeting cool new friends, and dancing to Footloose in a wig is good time as far as I’m concerned. Mighty indeed. I’ll take it.

Photo credits: Sexy ladies by Smilebooth; Pool balls by @pattyok; Gift table by me; Lifelistin’ by Smilebooth; Me on a bike by @pattyok

*I have to write an entire post devoted to presenter Derrek Kayongo because he is amazing.

Poker Space: Tech Stars Demo Day After-Party

In my last post I mentioned that it’s been a busy time for tech in Seattle lately (although, when isn’t it?) Another recent event I had the pleasure of attending was the Tech Stars Demo Day After-Party, put together by the always enthusiastic Red Russak of StartupSeattle and the unflappable Bob Crimmins of Startup Poker 2.0. I attended as a sponsor, helping rep the good folks of Mandrill by MailChimp.

Because the event had a casino theme, we thought it would be fun to sponsor the poker chips and tables. It was super cool to see the Mandrill face on all of the chips and to watch people enjoying themselves at the packed poker tables. My colleague Kaitlin who works on the Mandrill team flew in from Atlanta for the event and seriously kicked so much poker butt it was amazing.

There’s a recap of the event along with some great photos over on the StartupSeattle blog and their Facebook page*, but I thought I’d add my perspective as a attendee. I met a ton of great folks from brand new starter-uppers to rock stars – in fact I lost my voice by the end of the evening from talking to so many people! But by far the most notable part of the evening was how engaged everyone was. As someone who attends a fair share of events, I’m always disheartened to see people standing alone, staring into their phone. No one comes to a networking event just to tweet that they are at a networking event. The Tech Stars After-Party was a lively, fun and I’m even going to say raucous event, where everyone was playing games, chatting, and enjoying themselves IRL so much that there was nary a cell-phone-as-shield in sight.

It’s a sign of a successful event when people are more engaged with each other than their mobile device. Sure the Twitter hashtag chatter for the event might have been a little light, but I think that’s a good thing. I’m hopeful the future holds more events that put an emphasis on “life” rather than “social”. Now what to do with all these leftover poker chips…

* Updating to add another recap from Startup Poker 2.0 — thanks Bob!

Seattle gets Interactive

Last week was a busy one for tech-loving Seattleites. The week began with the second annual Seattle Interactive Conference (SIC). The event organizers did a great job improving on a major complaint from last year, which was long check-in lines at registration. Checking in this year was a breeze with no waiting at all, so it was especially disheartening when a small electrical issue (smoking wires!) resulted in a building evacuation just as we were settling in to our first session. Once again, organizers rose to the occasion as the Seattle fire department took care of the problem, sessions were quickly moved around, and a slightly soggy though more caffeinated crowd of conference attendees filed patiently back into the Conference Center after a brief delay.

The theme of the conference this year was “Game Changers” and the majority of the sessions I saw centered around this topic. The Digital Music panel and the Digital Media and Journalism panel both had lively debates around the “old” versus “new” ways of doing business but the overarching theme in both sessions was that these two professions, for better or worse, were in the process of significant change primarily as a result of new technologies. A panel entitled John Roderick & Friends moderated by Seattle musician John Roderick showcased the artists’ view on the same topic, with panelists John Hodgman from The Daily Show, writer Merlin Mann, musician Jonathan Coulton and writer/former Amazonian Scott Simpson all talking about how social media has both helped their careers and changed what it means to be a performer with a public presence (in between yelling at and making fun of each other). They later performed together at the Showbox, where they confiscated a photo-snapping iPad and put it down Merlin Mann’s pants. Definitely a new sort of fan interaction!

Day Two keynote speaker game designer Elan Lee spoke about how new technology (and creative uses of old technology, like pay phones) was changing the way stories are told, with audiences expecting more engagement and bigger payoffs. Lee presented this as both an opportunity and a challenge: as a marketer or game developer, you can take bigger risks but need to understand that your audience is smart and will always be thinking ahead of you. He urged attendees to check out a site called Byzantium for a look at an interesting way a company was blending social with gaming. I checked it out and at least the first level seemed cool, I didn’t feel like progressing further even though others swear it is the most intense thing ever. These days my definition of intense involves doing yoga in a super-heated room so maybe I am too old. And inflexible.

My favorite session of the conference was‘s CTO Kate Matsudaira Engineer Whispering, which explained how to better work with technologists. Since I both work with and am married to my favorite technologist, I found her tips on how to communicate with developers to be quite practical and eminently useful (in fact I told her it was like getting free marriage therapy – wahoo!) She’s posted slides from her session here but the bottom line is: involve devs in projects early, be respectful, understand that they are creating something not just building something, be nice and say thank you. Great advice for work and for life in general.

Last from SIC, you know that any conference that closes with mega meme-spotter Beh Huh from Cheezburger talking about humor and dancing Gangnam-style is an entertaining one. Check out his moves.

In all, it was an impressive two days with lots of great sessions to choose from. While Seattle certainly can’t compete with the sunny clime and world-famous BBQ in Austin, perhaps some soon day we’ll be able to host our own multi-day interdisciplinary conference that rivals our Texan friends’. We’ve got the geeks, the music and of course, the coffee.

image via Seattle Interactive website

Down (but not out) with Daily Deals

As a consumer, I have a love/hate relationship with social couponing sites. I enjoy doing stuff and I like saving money, so when they first hit the scene a few years ago, I happily purchased a half-off meal here, a housecleaning there.

But as time went by, I noticed expiration windows were getting shorter, and in the firehose of work/kids/school/activities that is most people’s lives, who remembers that they need to hustle out to that gourmet spice shop to select their artisanal salt trio? The allure of hot rock massages cools off quickly when there’s never any time to schedule or redeem them.

Now if the coupon expires, instead of just losing the money altogether (which used to be the case until customers started complaining), you’re left with the dollar value of the coupon. This forces you to either lose the money or spend it to purchase stuff you probably didn’t want in the first place, like organic rose water or toe brightening polish. Yay…not really.

My favorite story about a daily deal gone bad is from my friend Angie. An adventuresome woman, she had purchased what was billed as a “wine and cheese rafting trip” for herself and her husband. They ended up in a van deep in the woods with a toothless, mumbling guy and his partner, a seven-foot man with a hunting knife strapped to his belt. Eventually, they arrived at a small inflatable raft with a styrofoam cooler stocked with a half-eaten block of cheese and some Triscuits. The wine, it seems, was meant to be purchased at the gas station where they all met up (given the circumstance, they had opted not to.) The men kept glancing nervously at each other as they floated down the river, occasionally pointing at a tree or a crow or a stick. Angie kept envisioning these being the last moments of her life, ending a la Girl with the Dragon Tattoo style because, like that killer’s victims, she and her husband were simply too polite to say anything (“Excuse me, fellows, are you planning on beheading us then leaving our bodies in the river? Because if so, we’d prefer that not to happen.”).

Potentially murderous woodsman aside, there are many other reasons why daily deals can suck for consumers. I’ve noticed how surly businesses can be when you mention you have a coupon. For example, I called to schedule a car cleaning I bought in March (well within the expiration date for the coupon) and the man said they couldn’t schedule me until August! Seriously, six months out to vacuum my Prius? Suffice to say, when the appointment time finally rolled around, I wasn’t even in the state. So much for that money. And a handyman service I purchased just never called me back. Maybe his handywife decided he was needed at home.

Because I’ve written on this subject, I also know that sites like Groupon, LivingSocial and their ilk are not really that great for most businesses. For example, the stats show places like restaurants get very little repeat business from social coupons, instead appealing not to people looking for a new favorite place to become a regular but to deal-hunting cheapskates who rarely even leave good tips for their servers. Sometimes a Groupon deal will sell so many that it leaves a small business scrambling to fulfill orders that are making them very little (if any) profit, especially once the deal site takes their cut. Small wonder that daily deal services are struggling and people (like myself) seem increasingly ambivalent about using them. (For in-depth statistics on this topic, see MailChimp’s recent Daily Deal Study).

Despite the angst they’ve caused me, I still receive two to three deals offers a day. I should really take Amy Ellis’ advice and turn off the radio. But maybe not until I’ve tried that new Hawaiian restaurant downtown, and say this resort on Orcas Island looks nice…

Raising writers

I grew up in a house full of books, none of them off-limits to me. I was allowed to read in bed until as late as I wanted as long as I could get myself up the next day (a rule that we loosely follow in our house now). I’ve kept a journal off and on since fourth grade, and in high school, I wrote for the school paper and published “underground” magazines with my friends. My high school creative writing teacher was convinced I was going to be the next Woody Allen.

While I haven’t yet lived up to my English teachers aspirations, I have been able to make a living doing something I love. In every job I’ve had, being able to write has been an enormous asset. Now that I’m the parent of two grade-schoolers, I’m happy to see that writing is playing an important part of their learning curriculum. In her kindergarten class, my five-year old daughter is making little books for the letters of the alphabet that she and her classmates take turns reading to each other. She also keeps a reading log, just like her older brother, and every night we initial that we’ve read together. It’s something that she’s very proud of, and some of my favorite time is spent snuggled on the couch with her, reading and re-reading from her book collection.

My nine-year old son started a new school this year, one that takes a very hands-on approach to learning. Last week, he spent three nights camping at Mount Rainier, taking intense day hikes and bringing with him both a science and a writing journal. As his teacher pointed out different wildlife, talked about weather patterns and showed them what a watershed was, my son and his fellow fourth-graders jotted down their thoughts and experiences in their notebooks. This careful observation and analysis of the world around them will serve them well as they transition from young students to life-long learners regardless of what vocation they choose.

This great article recently published in the Atlantic describes how one failing school was able to turn itself around when they focused their curriculum on writing. By focusing on the basics of writing: sentence structure; how to write persuasively; expressing differing opinions; forming theories etc., students achieve much higher test scores and are better equipped to deal with life outside of the classroom walls.

Here in Seattle, we’re lucky to have  a chapter of Dave Eggers’ brilliant 826 writing centers, whose free programming is geared to “fanning the sparks into full-blown creative wildfires” and whose “celebration of writing, learning, and arts education engages under-resourced youth, enables them to flare up and rise to their full potential.” Noble goals indeed.

While I certainly love technology and all that it offers, there will always be a place in the world for careful readers and thoughtful writers. Providing our kids with the space, the confidence and the tools to articulate their thoughts gives them a better chance for a limitless future.

All photos by @mriggen

Need help with your newsletters?

My friend and colleague Amy Ellis was recently interviewed for a new podcast called Creative Little Beasts. The podcast is the latest project from Danielle Maveal (a.k.a @daniellexo), the former seller education lead for Etsy. Amy’s podcast episode is called “Email Marketing for Misfits“, and it’s a great way to learn more about email marketing for what Danielle calls “creative small business owners”.

As a follow-up to the podcast,  Amy is going to be reviewing one lucky person’s newsletter, which is super cool because she’s an expert at email marketing! If you’d like a chance to have your newsletter reviewed for free, drop a link to it on Creative Little Beasts’ Facebook page.

Amy and I are currently at the School House Craft conference in Seattle, where we are meeting crafters, handing out MailChimp stuff, talking about Craftmonkey and learning from lots of awesome, crafty presenters. Tomorrow Amy is presenting and leading a workshop on “Getting Crafty with Email Marketing”, which should totally rock. She’s very kindly made the slides available here, so if you’d like to check it out you can do so! We’ll also be giving away an original painting from Seattle artist Matthew Porter (shown below – monkey with a robot!) during the presentation.

If you’re in Seattle, you can still buy tickets to the conference at the door so feel free to come on by. Hope to see you there!

InstaChimp connects Instagram and MailChimp

What does the app world need? More monkeys, we say! So we’ve built a great little app called InstaChimp, which connects Instagram and MailChimp and allows Instagram users to send out their photos in a sweet, simple newsletter.

Now you can easily share info about new products to your customers, send photos and updates to your family and friends, or show off pictures from a conference or event all with people who aren’t even on Instagram. Just use InstaChimp to connect your MailChimp and Instagram accounts, choose a template and use your favorite photos to start creating your newsletters. In keeping with MailChimp’s luv of all things mobile, we’ve even included a couple of mobile-friendly templates. After all, Instagram users are always on the go!

InstaChimp joins our earlier, craftier app Craftmonkey as our second project through MailChimp’s Integration Fund. And like Craftmonkey, InstaChimp is free! All you need is your computer, your cameraphone and your contacts.

You’re out there making crafts and taking pictures, and we want to make it easier for you to share all this great content with others. Show the world what you’ve got in a way that is simple and dare we say fun. Want to see what InstaChimp gets up to? Follow us on Twitter @instachimp and on Instagram as InstaChimpApp so we can say eep to our peeps!