This post is about Alt Summit and I'm filing it under 'Mistakes' because I made another big one. I am not comfortable in the role of beginner and before launching my shop, I believed that with enough preparation and education, I could skip beginner status altogether.
However, I'm three months in and there is minimal traffic to the store, my Google page rank is zero, Photoshop kicks my butt no matter how many tutorials I do, and each day ends with a longer list of things I need to learn. I cannot skip to the next grade.
Enter Alt Summit, a conference for bloggers and small creative businesses who are starting out. They embrace the novice. And when I snagged a discount ticket, I jumped at the chance to attend. I'd meet other beginners and learn from the experts. But deep down, I wanted to gauge the gulf between those two -- and figure out how to build my bridge to the other side. Because did I mention how I hate being a beginner?
And there is the mistake. It only took one morning at Alt and the persuasive voice of Ira Glass for me to see it. In this clip, he talks about what he wished someone had told him when he was starting out.
The Entrepreneur Who Crashed the Party
Not only do the organizers of Alt celebrate the newbies, they provide a breeding ground for the newbies to nurture each other. One of my favorite speakers was Garrett Gee, who officially talked about how to launch a product -- in his case an app called Scan. But the unspoken message he relayed was even more compelling to me.
Because four years earlier, as a college student at Brigham Young University, Garrett Gee snuck into Alt Summit, looking for potential clients for his fledgling graphic design business. (The audience loved the photo he flashed of that day, circa 2010, Garrett the college student in the back row of the conference room, decked out in backwards baseball cap and t-shirt. Kudos to the Alt person who dug that up! For that matter, kudos to Alt for inviting this interloper back as a presenter!)
Anyway, this ballsy kid noticed an open table in the hall where sponsors set up booths, and he sat himself down and began handing out his card. Next to him twiddling his thumbs due to lack of interest in his product sat a young man named Ben Silbermann. He was pitching his prototype for a web platform called Pinterest.
Both of these men had beginnings. Messy beginnings. Scary beginnings.
Funny Ass Couple Who Should Have Their Own Show
These two, below, also, inspired me with the story of their beginning.
They are Matthew Swanson and Robbi Behr, writer and illustrator, respectively, at Bobbledy Books, their homegrown publishing house. As husband and wife, they are collaborators extraordinaire but their early days included sleeping in cars (Robbi) and being rejected by six different grad schools (Matthew). Actually seven, if you count Univ. of Minnesota which sent Matthew two rejection letters. The implied message, he joked, was this: "In case we weren't sure we didn't want you last week, we know that this week, we still don't want you."
They started out writing and illustrating odd, commercially non-viable picture books for adults. (Their words, not mine.) Like this one: Babies Ruin Everything. It resonates, doesn't it?
Instead of attempting to publish, they sold a subscription to their books within their own circle of family and friends. With cash in hand, they were able to buy materials and make only as many copies as they had already sold. They wrote, illustrated, printed, bound, shipped books several times a year. And each year, more and more people subscribed.
Their unconventional business model meant an absence of debt. Which equates to artistic freedom. Did you hear that people? There is always a way.
Matthew and Robbi believe in collaboration, have studied it at great length, and gave a brilliant Ted Talk on the subject which you can watch here.
And they mentioned Laura Ingalls Wilder when they talked about sacrifice and doggedness. (I'm obsessed with Laura Ingalls Wilder. Read more here.) They taught me a lot and my admiration is verging on inappropriate.
So, to sum up, I left Salt Lake City with a healthy acceptance of my novice standing. I will attend again and next year, I will be more honest about who I am and what I need. One of my favorite quotes of the weekend was this one: