Putting a Dent in the Future in Sun Valley Idaho

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When you hear the word DENT, you might have a visual of a dental brand or maybe an auto repair company, but your mind might not automatically jump to a conference in the middle of the Idaho mountains whose goal is to shake things up across industries with technology.

Now in its second year, Steve Broback and Jason Preston are the visionaries behind this event, which aims to explore the magic and science of visionary leadership and groundbreaking success.

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While so many events and conferences focus on one main track or trending idea, i.e, mobile apps, enterprise software, wearables or connected devices, DENT the Future has focused on creating an “experience” for its attendees, all centered around entrepreneurship, leadership and having “fun.”

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Sessions and discussions ranged from mobile development, gaming, delegation and goal setting to the art of design, crowdfunding, wearable tech, data visualization and decoding the language of glamour.

We delved into education and IPs and then onto the importance of creating support networks when building a startup, before embarking on a dialogue with Richard Douglas “Dick” Fosbury, who is one of the most influential athletes in the history of track and field.

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We also heard from Chris Anderson of the CSI Centennial Observatory and the Falukner Planitarium, who shared how the current best understanding of gravity – based on Einstein’s relativity – suggests that everything creates its own dent in the universe, however small, how this connects everyone to everything, and how the relativity of simultaneity means that we all inhabit our own unique universes.

With crowdfunding on the rise as an alternate to traditional angel and seed investment, it was no surprise to see IndieGoGo Founder & Chief Development Officer Danae Ringelmann on the stage in an inspiring fireside chat with Jeremiah Owyang.  

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We explored the benefits of crowdfunding and debated if the crowd is actually wiser than vetted professionals from established companies.

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Says Danae Ringelmann of the value add for VCs, “we derisk the investment process, allowing them to step away from the vetting process so they can focus more on the amplification. We’re creating pre-markets from the community up and because we’re open, we don’t infiltrate the results.”

She asserts that by being open, IndieGoGo can inherently be a true market testing platform. “If you’re unsuccessful at raising money, you don’t have an audience that cares. If the market doesn’t care, you can either hone your product or go back to the table and focus on features or projects that truly matter to people.”

The notion is that as a true market testing platform, they democratize results, rather than corrupt them. This crowd-based approach is opposite to the corporation approach says Jeremiah, so “what can big corporations learn from a crowdfunding model like IndieGoGo?”

She says that large companies and brands are now using IndieGoGo as a market testing platform. For example, Phillips sponsored an effort where various projects went up to get feedback from the market so they could learn about what to incorporate into their products. Companies like Honda and Whole Foods are also using crowdfunding as a customer engagement and cause marketing platform. In essence, the crowd gets what they need from each other.

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My favorite learned “stat”?  Apparently, 47% of all successful ventures on IndieGoGo are run by women.

While Jeremiah may have shone in his bright red sneakers, Robert Scoble also did his interview with Fosbury in bright red. They weren’t the only ones walking around shining like Rudolph’s nose since Scott Jordan of ScotteVest gave away newer models of his fabulous jackets and most people chose “red.” In other words, there was a whole lotta red happening at DENT 2014.

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Virginia Postrel took us in the opposite direction, showing us how to decode glamour and where it shows up in places you’d least expect it, like the Marines. She asserts that people have a narrow idea of fashion and glamour and their images are largely made up of make up and old fashioned holiday movies.

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“Glamour draws people to technology,” she says. There are clearly a lot of glamorous images and ideas which shape what technology gets built and also how we use it. It’s never been easier to work at the beach with your laptop and mobile phone. Even language we use in technology has a quality of glamour to it.

A few observations: rather than think about what glamour is, think about what is glamorous. I loved this distinction: glamor allows you to build your own Reality-Distortion Field.

She nailed it here: Glamour is a nonverbal persuasion, a projection of longing. There’s an audience and an object and in the interaction between that interaction, a distinctive emotion is evoked. 

A lot of what glamour does is make us buy things; it focuses us on careers we choose, it makes us show up at certain places and wear certain things because of what the association means and buy things to look like celebrities we aspire to be.

From technology to Hollywood, we then dove into politics, focusing on Obama who exuded glamour by creating mystery. He was relatively unknown and people projected their hopes and dreams for the world. We saw what happens when a brand becomes a movement through all the people who supported him.

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It’s so true: glamour is in the audience. Whether it’s funny or not, it’s not how hard you’re trying; the success is whether the audience laughs or bites. We learned that glamour is an illusion that tells the truth about desire — it is known to be false but is felt to be true. Glamour is a spell that makes us feel more magical than things really are. It contains the illusion of magic. Of escape. The illusion is the grace. Ahhh yes…Spot on Virginia!!

This is the quirkiness and magic of DENT. Just when you think you’re going to get another speaker from the world of all things tech, an astronomer, an author of glamour or a designer and illustrator comes onto the stage.

Chief Freak and founder of Freak’n Genius Kyle Kesterson is another great example of the speaker mashup so well curated by Jason and Steve.

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I loved Kyle’s human-ness. Rather than focus on his successes, he shared his life “story”, which dragged him through homelessness, numerous drop outs and years of suffering from severe depression. The discovery of artistic expression and creativity changed everything leading him through a series of wins at Giant Thinkwell, as Seattle 2.0′s “Best Startup Designer”, a Geekwire “Entrepreneur of the Year” nominee, a toy developer, photographer and beatboxer.

He talked about consumption, a word I love because of the complexity of the word and all that it represents. People either associate it with negative actions or positive ones depending on your orientation of the world.

Kyle asserts that there are two things that can come from consumption: Inspiration and Education. I think there are probably more, but inspiration and education are great places to start.

He reminded people that along your journey, it won’t always be easy and that critics will suck the wind out of you so fast you won’t know what hit you. Ask yourself: are you sucking the air out of other people’s dreams or are you contributing to making them happen? Great question!

Which person are you most of the time? How do you enable others to create, explore and let others shine?

Along your journey, you will have a story to tell and velocity will come through that communication. But, do you have a compelling story? Having a compelling story that is genuinely authentic is where you will get empathy from time and time again. You need to create more value for your listeners so that you accelerate their story not just your own. Are you inspiring and educating them, taking from them or merely a megahorn? It doesn’t get more human than that…

Then, Noah Illinsky took us on a data visualization journey. 

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Noah suggests that successful visualizations need to have the right:

  • Purpose – why we are creating this?
  • Content – what we are showing?
  • Structure – how we position it?
  • Formatting – formats, labels, fonts, etc.

The problem Noah asserts is that most people go through the process in the wrong order. It must be in this order because they stem from each other. You need to know what kinds of questions you need to answer and what actions you want to enable before you create a visualization.

Once you identify the answers, you need to think about what data you want to show and what graph (ic) you want to use to share that data. Lots of engineers start at the end rather than trying to identify what the goals are first. Engineers haven’t been trained how to go back upstream to figure out what problem they’re trying to solve. He suggests that as a team, you need to define the upstream sooner before the coding and creation begins.

Bottom line: nobody cares about your brand, they only care about whether you make them feel good. People don’t have time. The take away here was: serve your customers – purpose is everything and it dictates the deliverable. It always comes back to purpose!!     

Google Comparison CEO Dan Shapiro lives and breathes the comparison shopping space.

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Rather than focus on his “stuff,” he discussed what does it mean to be a CEO and what they do, which is basically Hire, Inspire and Fire. The job of the CEO is to hire effectively so you can delegate effectively and the team is the single most important part of the CEO’s role.

Vision can come from a bunch of different places but it’s the CEO’s connection to that vision that drives the company. The CEO must be the keeper of the strategy, which is something that he asserts, can never be delegated. Dan suggests that in fact, there are six things you can’t delegate as a CEO:

  1. Strategy – the CEO needs to drive that from the ground up.
  2. The Team – getting the right team in place is one of the most important things a CEO does.
  3. The Vision – it’s critical that the vision comes from the leader.
  4. Financing – investors want to see you in action. How you negotiate your deal with them is how you will work other deals and they want to see that. Investors also want to build a relationship and a friendship with the CEO.
  5. Investor Relations – investors want to hear from the CEO.
  6. Company Culture – sometimes it’s like a fungus, sometimes it’s like a ferry ring. No one knows what a company culture is about or how it evolves, but whatever the culture is comes from the leader.

From astronomy, data visualization, illustration, glamour and leadership, we moved to violence with Dr. Gary Slutkin.

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Slutkin is a physician and epidemiologist, an innovator in violence reduction, and the founder of CureViolence, a scientifically proven, public health approach to violence reduction which uses disease control and behavior change methods.

Through their work, they’ve statistically demonstrated reducing shootings and killings by 41% to 73% by three extensive independently funded and independently performed studies.

Gary has a fascinating story and history — he was recruited by the World Health Organization where he worked in over 20 countries, including leading the efforts – using behavior change methods - to reverse the AIDS epidemic in Uganda. The analogy here is that Slutkin sees violence as an infectious process, and credits his WHO training and experiences in multiple countries to informing his understanding and approach to violence and behavior change.

I was inspired by other on and off-stage discussions including Andy Grignon, Mark Anderson, Kathleen Warner, and The North Face founder Hap Klopp.

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Speaking of inspiration, a great conference isn’t complete without art and music and this year’s musicians blew me away.

Roem Baur whose roots are in opera, has played thousands of shows in a career that spans 4 continents. He nailed it on guitar and with vocals alongside Tae Phoenix, whose 3 octave range voice made me cry on two occasions.

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The other inspiration came from the humor and intellectual wit from the team at Buick. Yes, Buick. I left DENT with a much more hip view of the brand than when I arrived, so much so that I’m now dying to try out a few Buick vehicles as well as experience a much more cooly polished culture than I ever imagined. And, truth be told, their marketing and social team is smart, genuine and fun, a rare combination. Thanks for the insights Nick Richards and Phil Colley.

Buick

Of course we all know that most of the learning and engagement at an event comes from the hallway chats, the after parties, the breaks, and the other activities that ‘surround’ an event. What makes DENT such a standout is not just the unique and eclectic curation by Steve and Jason, but the interesting things to do in between.

Want some examples? How’s this for off-the-charts?

On the two days leading up the conference, activites included an at-dawn trek where you learned about the world of wolves led by Oliver Starr, a photography walk led by the ever so endearing Kris Krug, a scavenger hunt led by Buick, a private gathering at ScotteVest CEO Scott Jordan’s house where great wine was poured, a rustic mountain lodge visit where we drank more great wine by a blazing fire, skiing at Sun Valley Resort and an evening of hosted dinners where we were thrown together with interesting personalities from all walks of life.

I personally attended the SouthWest Airlines dinner, which was a perfect match given that I run an online luxury travel magazine, only to be led afterwards by local and not so local entrepreneurs to three more stops in downtown Sun Valley where we experienced more fabulous food and tons of warm Idaho hospitality. SouthWest Airlines also sponsored a nerd bird flight from Oakland to Boise where their social media guru Adam Rucker not only applauded the geeks from the front of the plane but gave away surprise $100 off coupons to everyone on the plane, not just DENT attendees. All I can say is “classy move!”

It all came together graciously through a combination of efforts and hard work — a huge thanks to:

  • Steve Broback who is personally responsible for dragging me to Idaho
  • Buzz Bruggeman and Doug Rowan for pestering me to attend for the last year and a half
  • Maryam Scoble for making the logistics seamless and easy and for making me smile
  • Greg Randolph of Sun Valley Tourism for making sure I knew where to go, what to do and why
  • Therese Magner of Sun Valley Resorts who went well above and beyond the call of duty to make sure I left the area with one thing on my mind….returning
  • Shannon Allen of Knob Hill Inn for her gracious generosity
  • Beryl Barnes of Zenergy for providing a place to relax and reground myself
  • Wendy Muir at Globus for amazing sake and an exquisite culinary treat

And, hats off to Jack Sibbach and Therese Magner for getting me on the mountain more than once and to Therese, Ellen, Cecile and Alex for supplying me with jackets, socks, hats, gloves, glasses and gear to make sure I didn’t freeze my ass off on the top.

Renee and therese skiing sun valley resort

Be sure to check out my upcoming blog posts on Sun Valley over on We Blog the World where I’ll be covering two properties, a spa, two restaurants, the mountain and the culture.

While we’re getting personal, it’s time to meet some fellow DENTERS…

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Did I mention how much fun we had?

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Nerd Bird Flight (1)

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We even hung upside down somewhere along the way. Well, a few of us did anyway!

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And as always, Robert Scoble and Shel Israel signed books.

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Of course, Robert reinforced that geeky and ever so adorable brand of his….oooops, that’s his finger. Or is it actually the brand, or is it his….you get the idea.

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Below are chief DENTERS Jason Preston and Steve Broback who deserve an applause for bringing passionate inventors and thinkers to the American wild west for a whole lotta reflection, learning and fun!

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Be sure to check out some posts I did of Sun Valley and the surrounding area as well. Check out Sun Valley for Spring skiing, my write up on Globus and other great Sun Valley restaurants (also see our write up on GlobusSun Valley restaurants and great picks for foodies), my visit to Zenergy and soaking in Sun Valley Lodge‘s massive hot soaking pool.