Home BIGOmaha: The Little Conference That Could

BIGOmaha: The Little Conference That Could

Yesterday in the gorgeous Nebraska sunshine, about 300 techies, entrepreneurs, and creatives from all over the country gathered in a large but simple room to learn, listen, and make connections.

The one-day, one-track show was just a hashtag to some and entirely unknown to others; still, the pre-show buzz on Twitter and in various blogs had resonated with freshness, immediacy, and inspiration. A week before it opened, the first-ever BIGOmaha conference was sold out.

So, did the reality live up to the hype?

Photo by Nick Stankus / nixter.net.

“#bigomaha is Amazing! This is the best Conference I have been to in awhile, the heart and effort of the peeps that put this together = Rad,” wrote keynote speaker Gary Vaynerchuk in a tweet Saturday.

In their own words, the speakers’ and organizers’ enthusiasm about the event is apparent:

Aside from Vaynerchuk, the conference’s all-star lineup included luminaries from well-known companies and stand-alone scene rockstars such as 37signals founder and president Jason Fried and Threadless chief creative officer Jeffrey Kalmikoff, both of whom were particular crowd favorites. Themes of the show, both loudly voiced and unspoken, included the hidden blessings of failure, the importance of good design, the creativity of Midwesterners, the value of hard work – regardless of how unsexy the project may seem – and the joys of getting fired or quitting a “stupid” job.

Also, no one could overlook the sheer cool factor of the venue. Part library, part converted warehouse, part art gallery, the space was immaculately and consistently conceived by Oxide Design (with critical concepting, online, and on-site execution support from BrightMix and Silicon Prairie News to be hip, fun, and functional. A DJ kept the vibe going during breaks between speakers, and three flavors of Red Bull were flowing throughout the day. BIGOmaha was also one of the most Twitter-friendly conferences we’ve seen. Handles were printed on all nametags, and Twitter walls kept the microblogging stream active all day and throughout the night at the Nomad lounge afterparty.

Photo by Shane Adams, shanelife.com.

One surprising note during the show was the mysterious non-appearance of WordPress founding developer Matt Mullenweg, who was scheduled to speak at 1 p.m. Around noon on Saturday, Mullenweg posted a Twitter note stating he’d missed his flight; closer to midnight, he said it had been overbooked.

“I usually pack carry-on only and get to my flight about 30 minutes before, which works fine,” Mullenweg wrote in an email early Sunday morning. “However, this time – because it was a red-eye and because Northwest had oversold the flight by the time I got there – the counter was closed and they had already given away my seat. I really, really wanted to be there and meet the people (and the other speakers), and was disappointed that I couldn’t.”

Many fans were sorely disappointed to not find him at the show. Others, however, tweeted “No @photomatt, no problem” as the conference organizers shuffled together an impromptu Q&A panel comprised of other speakers. Event organizers declined to comment on the incident, instead praising the flexibility of the panelists.

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