Big Omaha 2011, an Attendee’s Recap

So Big Omaha 2011 ended on Friday after 2 1/2 days of speakers, parties, networking, etc. and I wanted to throw together a quick recap the observations I had from the conference.

I didn’t attend the opening party on Wednesday night, so the first Big Omaha experience I had was in the parking garage across the street before the conference even started. I got there at 8:30 (the conference started at 9) and was immediately greeted with a huge line of people waiting to use the one self-service ticket machine you needed to use to ensure you wouldn’t get a parking ticket. I’m not going to lie, the long line was pretty annoying, but the Big Omaha staff was running around trying to find a solution and they did a good job of delaying the opening speakers a couple of minutes to ensure those caught in line did not miss anything. Also, our wait in line actually worked out ok. It gave a me a some time to meet some people around me who were doing cool things. One guy was running his own web development company out of Lincoln and I also ran into the folks from Red Clay who won the free ticket to Big Omaha from the contest that Ram Hatter ran on his blog. Everyone was super psyched to be there and it made waiting in line a bit easier.

Once we got into the conference, we strolled through the registration area and past the food and lounge areas to take our seats. We didn’t have much time to check out the space at Kaneko because we wanted to make sure we didn’t miss the start of the speakers. I was there last year as well so I had seen Kaneko before (a very awesome, unique space for a conference) so I didn’t mind breezing through really quick. Anyway, the conference started with Dusty and Jeff from Silicon Prairie News (the organization who puts on Big Omaha) welcoming everyone followed by Hal Frances from Kaneko doing a brief intro about the space. Then we jumped into the actual meat of the conference. David Hauser, a speaker at last year’s Big Omaha, was the MC this year. He was responsible for getting the crowd to give every single speaker a huge standing ovation as they came to the stage last year and he carried on the tradition this year. You could definitely see the speakers get a bit more excited when everyone went nuts for them before they even said a single word.

The first day speakers were decent, but not overly exciting to me. When looking at the schedule, I was more excited for the second day before the conference even started. Of the speakers on the first day, I did particularly enjoy Ben Huh (Cheezburger Networks) and Sarah Lacy’s (TechCrunch writer) talks. The others were solid as well, but nothing that got me super excited. One of the things that actually made the day the most exciting for me was all of the new people I met. I probably had 10 -15 people over the course of the 2 days come up to me and say “Hey, I know you from Twitter”. I am not sure if I have ever had someone say that to me before this conference, but it was pretty cool. It definitely led me to meet a lot of new people who were all super passionate about the stuff they were doing.

After the first day of speakers, my friend Lauren and I headed out the party with the Hood Internet at the Slowdown later that night. When we got there we were greeted with some free shirts from the Dwolla team. I’m not going to lie, I love free stuff. Especially t-shirts. After we got the shirts we took a seat and started enjoying the concert. After we had been there for a bit, I met up with Shane Mac to talk about some side project work he was working on and to get a first person demo of Zaarly. I have to say, the app looked pretty sweet and Shane did a great job of yelling in my ear over the top of the loud music so I could understand what he was showing me. Lauren and I didn’t stay super late because we wanted to head home and be energized for Friday.

Friday was the day I was most excited for. The speaker line up was right up my alley. When I first got to the conference on Friday, I immediately noticed that the Big Omaha staff had taken care of the parking issue by getting an actual person to work the parking garage (props for making sure it wasn’t an issue for day 2). We jumped back into Kaneko and were ready to go. Gary Vaynerchuk was the first actual speaker of the day. He traded spots with Bo Fishback from Zaarly which I actually think worked out well. Gary is a super high energy guy so it was cool to have him speak first and set the tone for the day. Anyway, he nailed it like he always does and day 2 was off and running. Day 2 was more of the same. Speakers, networking during the breaks, taking photos in the photo booth, eating eCreamery at lunch, etc. Going into the day, I was most excited to see Gary V and the Bo Fishback speak but I ended up really enjoying the speeches from Philip Kaplan and Mark Ecko as well. I honestly didn’t know much about Kaplan before his speech, but he was very interesting. As far as Mark Ecko goes, I thought he was going to be unbearable to watch. The day before, he was part of a Q&A session at the end of the day, and I could have sworn he was baked out of his mind when answering questions. I thought his speech was going to be too dumb for me to care about, but I was wrong. His speech was very thought out and very intelligent. He was damn near too intelligent and deep for me to even follow along. I was very pleasantly surprised by him. None the less, day 2 did not disappoint. Between this year and last year, that was by far the best day of speeches Big Omaha has had. Every speaker crushed it.

As Big Omaha came to a close on Friday, I started thinking about how ridiculously lucky Omaha is to have guys like Jeff and Dusty put this thing together. The energy from the conference was so freaking infectious I couldn’t believe it. I have never been in a place where so many people were so friendly, accommodating, motivated, and helpful. The very first post I wrote on this blog was about how Omaha is on the brink of massive change. After attending Big Omaha, I am thinking that the title should be changed to “Omaha is massively changing”. This conference is creating a difference. Things in Omaha are changing because of it and the changes are extremely positive and beneficial to the community. It’s definitely given me a bit of a kick in the pants. I’ve already started working on moving forward with some side projects that I have been thinking about (more details soon). All in all, my writing can’t really do Big Omaha justice. Yes, it has great speakers. Yes, it has awesome networking opportunities. And yes, it is held in a cool space. But unless you actually attend, I can’t really describe why I think it’s so great. You just need to experience it for yourself.

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