In September 2013, I was fortunate enough to attend XOXO: an experimental art and technology conference.
There’s a contagious energy about XOXO that’s hard to explain. People of the internet collectively descend on Portland for 3 days of inspirational talks, events and fun. Pitches for new startups and talk VC money is frowned upon. It’s heartfelt, genuine and devoid of cynicism. The entire conference felt like a warm hug over and over again. And if you know any Hrachs, we like to hug. (Sorry about that.)
Andy Baio and Andy McMillan are making the world a better place by inspiring people to build products independently. And ‘products’ is probably too narrow of a description. Things? Wonderful and beautiful things? Just build something. Just be happy building something. Do it independently and control it. Be your own publisher, gatekeeper, and boss. That’s what they want for you. That’s what they want to see the world filled with. That’s how the world will be a better place.
And so they produced XOXO, which is in its second year and I was lucky enough to attend.
While many things make XOXO wonderful, the level of polish and attention to the entire experience stood out the most. It was Apple quality in terms of a conference. From the laser etched wood badges, to hand picked food trucks, to the quality of events and speakers; it all conveyed one thing: they deeply care. This is service design at its best. If only everyone cared this much about anything.
And the events. The events! They fit in so many amazing things that I felt like I had been there a week after the first day.
We visited Panic’s office, which I’ve always wanted to see since first reading about the founder’s room. We had drinks on the roof top of Wieden + Kennedy, and while I’m happily out of the marketing/advertising world, I very much enjoyed seeing their incredible office (Don’t be late for your meeting in the nest). We hung out at an arcade that had all of my favorite nostalgic 90’s-era arcade games (old school Street Fighter battles ftw). There was an intimate concert with Jim Guthrie, Jonathan Coulton, Jack Conte and Anamanaguchi. We screened independent films and played table top games. We collectively played beautiful, unreleased pixel art video games from independent publishers. We had more fun than we ever expected to.
The line up of speakers were equally impressive but three especially stood out:
- Vi Hart stole the show with an energetic, spontaneous, and downright hilarious talk on finding the way that fits you best to self-promote your work. She’s also an amazing musician.
- Marco Arment spoke to his experiences and fears running a one person app company. He also announced his new podcast app: Overcast. I’m a big fan of Instapper and I’m excited to see this.
- Cabel Sasser gave an incredibly sincere, emotional, and funny talk on how he overcomes his own self-doubt. It’s moving when someone as accomplished as Cable allows themselves to become that vulnerable in front of 200 strangers. He had the most genuine moments of the conference and made everyone feel just a little more human.
I hope they do post videos of all the speakers. There was too much good stuff to not share with the world.
Finally, there’s Portland. It was my first time visiting and it’s my new favorite town. It’s friendly and approachable, but has the excitement and feel of a much bigger city such as San Francisco. Life revolves around good food, coffee and beer while Portalandia stereotypes are embraced. XOXO would not be as successful in another city. I know I’ll be back soon.
Hopefully, it will be at XOXO 2014.
Here’s the rest of my XOXO photos.