Like many people, I attended the main event of Brooklyn Beta this year with very little in the way of expectations. Not in the sense of expecting a letdown, but more in the sense of not knowing what would be happening, or who would be speaking. Chris and Cameron, the two responsible for starting and hosting the event, are intentionally hush-hush about the specifics of the schedule. For a first-timer this was new, and very atypical of the standard conference. Be here and be present, the vague schedule said. We're here first and foremost to be among each other, and to talk.
It was wonderful. Even I, an introvert who at times masquerades as the opposite, pulled myself out of my shell by the reins and spent the day chatting with new acquaintances, introducing myself to those sitting next to me, laughing with strangers.
On top of this, the speakers, a mystery to all of the attendees until the moment they took the stage, were phenomenal. And while Brooklyn Beta claimed no overarching theme, I subconsciously sought one as the day progressed, and found that I didn't need to dig too deep to come up with one, or at least one that made sense to me.
Work on hard things, and work on things you love.
Tim O'Reilly led off the day, and used this phrase in his talk:
“Create more value than you capture.”
Paired with a few other key points of his talk, I felt like he truly set the tone for the day. He pointed out how easy it is to get sucked into working on easy, trivial problems. It's easy to work for a company whose sole focus is capturing value in the form of page clicks or ad views. It's easy to work on products that satisfy spontaneous urges like playing games, or watching five-second videos. Evan Williams, as I mentioned previously, would call this kind of work “snack food”.
Instead: focus your energy and passion on realizing a vision for something that selflessly creates value, without aiming to get something (ahem, dollars) back in return. Innovation, Tim reminded us, nearly always begins with love and fun. Love for an idea, and the incredibly rewarding, fun experience of making it happen.
Later in the day it was Joe Gebbia, a co-founder of Airbnb, who had us write down an idea, the idea, our dream, and several action items that could feasibly be completed by the following Monday to set ourselves on a path to realizing that dream. It doesn't matter how hard a problem is... if the passion exists, it's small steps that will set into motion a plan to solve that problem. A fine tie-in to Tim O'Reilly's talk earlier in the day.
Also speaking was Katherine Pope, founder of Defy Ventures. Katherine runs a program to reform, educate and mentor convicted criminals, many of whom have served decades of prison time on serious charges, to become successful entrepeneurs and business owners. Her statistics on Defy, as well as her previous venture, Prison Entrepeneurship Program, are inspiring: 98% employment, $13 million in income, 60+ startups founded, and remarkably low percentages of recidivism.
I wrote something else down in my notebook: “Solve problems that enable opportunities that weren't previously possible”. This is not an easy thing to do! It's hard, and it's work. You can't do it alone, and you'll need to find others who see your vision and share your passion. “Dreams are hard, and much too much work for just one person alone.”, Frank Chimero recently said in his XOXO recap. When you push for those dreams, the notion of DIY becomes DIT... do it together.
And that's the whole goddamn point.