Creating a conference: The launch of Epicurrence.
Staying true to the vulnerable values of Epicurrence, I wanted to tell you what it was actually like creating this experience from the ground up, from start to finish. At the time of writing this, it’s been two weeks since Epicurrence No.1 in S. Lake Tahoe has ended. To be quite honest, it still hasn’t settled in what happened. This little idea of mine actually came to life, an unimaginable journey full of moments of weakness and strength, hidden failures yet unimaginable fortunes. Two months of my life were dedicated to this experience that I call Epicurrence.
Epicurrence, coming from joining the words “epic” and “occurrence” was always intended to be different. As someone who has always been an introvert, I’ve never felt comfortable at big conferences. Plus, to me they feel more like a business retreat as opposed to a personal getaway. I wanted Epicurrence to be something more enjoyable to me. I wanted it to be an excuse to getaway.
Also, everything at traditional conferences always felt forced to me, adding to the discomfort. So, instead of always being excited, I’d work endlessly on perfecting my keynote, turning it into another big project on top of others that were already due. When I became inspired to create my own conference, I wanted to make sure it had all of the opposite ingredients. I wanted a conference you’d find in the organic aisle. It had to be something real and raw. From conception, the main speakers Marc Hemeon, Tobias Van Schnieder, Ben Cline, and Josh Hemsley, were told not to prepare anything, nothing at all. They were to have no keynotes, notes, or computers. The push back I got from some was quite surprising. Understandably, this thought of not preparing wasn’t natural. I didn’t care. Real conversations were what I was after, not lectures. I wanted no rockstars, just humans. I didn’t want the Youtube-fflick-Oakley-Digg Marc Hemeon, I wanted the Marc Hemeon, the human being with 3 kids and a wife who is just trying to survive this world. This is what I wanted for Epicurrence. It was super important to me. I did whatever it took to get this, including not using $3500 worth of brand new audio equipment and saying no the webcast.
Keeping with the raw feel, Epicurrence also needed to be an open discussion. Listening to one person talk for an hour can be tiring and since we’ve heard most of these talks over and over, they’re becoming less and less valuable for me. The model needed to be twisted. This open discussion allowed for things to get deep into topic, off topic, and super vulnerable. It literally ended up feeling like we were all just hanging out: chatting, laughing, learning, inspiring, and most importantly, relating. What more could you ask for than a relationship. These guys, on their own, came together as one. We’re family now. As cliche as that sounds, we are. We’re still having conversations and planning multiple hangouts to this day. Epicurrence No.1 technically still hasn’t ended yet. We’re all still together.
Those images above capture everything that was Epicurrence, the togetherness of Epicurrence, and the friendship, respect, and family. You can’t design for that. You just can’t expect things like that to happen. It was never about money or profit in creating this experience. It was never about business. From day one, my wife asked me why I wanted to create this, and I remember simply saying, “because I want to go snowboarding, and hang out with some friends!”
It took two months to create Epicurrence, starting just a few days before Christmas. I reached out to some friends, Marc, Ben, Tobias, Josh, and Anthony, to simply ask if they’d come talk to a small group of creatives if I got them together in Tahoe. That was it--nothing big. It was just a fun gathering of like-minded folks and a ton of snowboarding. There was no business or company--just creatives and the mountain. It all began as a group of friends communing around the dinner table together. That’s it. That’s all I wanted!
Once Epicurrence began to grow and become real, it became a very challenging time for me. It was exciting but very challenging. Money started to become involved. I started to realize I needed some serious dollars to pull this off exactly how I wanted it. It went from a few folks snowboarding to literally the best of the best creatives shredding the mountain together. My goal was now to create the ultimate event. I had to. I look up to these people and I wanted to show them how much I appreciate the things they do for us daily. I want to do things no one does. I tried to think of things that would get me stoked, and I began to build it from there. It got to a point quickly where I had to just believe or let it go. Letting go was always the easiest option. I could just walk away. However, nothing was more frustrating than money getting in the way of creating this and spending time with my friends. So ultimately, it became time to reach out to sponsors. I no longer could support this myself financially.
After ticket sales, I had around $40,000. That’s a lot of money, and I could have stopped there since the housing was only upwards of $25,000. Pocketing $15k sounded pretty nice for all the hard work so far. However that’s not what this was about. It was about trying to create the ultimate experience. I wanted to provide everything. I needed Lift tickets which were around $7,000, the chef, rental gear, jackets, and welcome packs. Fairends custom hat experience, etc. reached another $25,000. I envisioned free massages. I needed to hire a photographer and a photobooth to capture it all. Every detail mattered whether big or small, from providing snowboarding and skiing lessons to making sure everyone was drinking great coffee, like Ritual. All the food was organic and freshly made. We even had fresh sushi made to order. The same attention I put into my designs, I was putting into this experience. These were the best of the best creatives coming to the conference. They deserve the best experience for their time away. This needed to feel like a fun vacation for them, not a business retreat. When all was said and done, it cost upwards of $75,000 to host Epicurrence No.1.
Sponsors and partnerships made this possible for us. The Grid, InVision, Airbnb, Munchery, Zeel, and Western Digital especially but also Heavenly Ski Resort, GoPro, Nixon, Boosted Boards, Spy, Patagonia, Topo Designs, Threadless, Poler, and The Great Discontent. Trying to sell the idea to these guys actually wasn’t that hard. Most got it right away. Telling the story and the vision of Epicurrence was fun for me. Each sponsor was incredibly helpful to the event. Best of all, not only did the sponsors attend Epicurrence, but they 100% became part of this family, as well. We snowboarded together, ate together, and lived together for 4 days. The bonds these people now have with these brands go farther than any ad placement or banner in a conference hall. We experienced life together.
Hosting Epicurrence was a very challenging time for me and my family. I’ve never hosted anything. I’m not an event coordinator. Crazily enough, I never used a calendar after choosing the initial dates. The only items I used to event plan were three apps on my iPhone: Mail, Google Docs, and Google Sheets. I also did this while working a full-time job at Luxe Valet as their Creative Director, freelancing and advising Bloomthat, developing a side project, being a father to an 18 month old daughter, being a husband to an amazing pregnant wife, and moving into a new home in San Francisco. The last couple months were hectic to say the least. But this one picture below sums up the worth of this for me in the most humbling way:
We live in a world today, especially here in the Bay Area, where it’s all about profit and next quarter’s revenue. Making money is not my agenda. I’ve got other projects for that. When my career is over and I’m all washed up, I don’t want to be thinking about how much money I made. I’d rather be thinking of the great experiences and relationships I’ve gained, the places I’ve seen, the people’s lives that were hopefully touched for the better, or my life being better by the people that reached out to me.
These experiences are worth far more to me than any number, any keynote presentation, any start-up or pixel. What I learned and gained out of Epicurrence No.1 can’t be bought. I learned anyone can do it. You can do it. I can do it. Dreams are real. I learned that the most important factor in building something is just doing it. All you have to do, is do it. I also got reminded that relationships, even when online, are in fact real. I’ve never met half of the people that came to Tahoe, but I knew most of them online. Whether through Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, somehow we’ve connected. Epicurrence was a great reminder that someone, a real actual human being, that’s possibly going through the same things you are day to day, lives behind that avatar.
When all said and done, Epicurrence No.1 was a huge honor to claim. Quite humbling actually that these amazing people believed in a silly idea I had. However honestly, I can’t take any credit for its “success” if you call it that. That credit does not go to me. I barely deserved to be in the same room as these people. The credit goes to the people who attended, their characters, support, and their love and gratitude. Every single person came together in the four days we were in Tahoe, and every single person helped in their own way. Most people just helped, even without asking. They just did things. These moments were among the most touching to me. The power of togetherness that came from the people there was amazing.
One person in particular stepped up in an epic way and should be recognized, Rigel St. Pierre. What most of you don’t know is that my wife and I suddenly had to move into a new home right before Epicurrence started. I was packing boxes, throwing out my back, losing sleep, getting sick, and losing my voice — the stress was loading up. When I was packing the Topo bags at the Epic House in Tahoe that first day, the exhaustion finally took it’s hold on me and I nearly passed out several times. Rigel noticed. The amazing human he is, stepped right in and owned MC’ing Epicurrence. It wasn’t planned. I didn’t ask. He did it. That’s who he is. He helped make this a success, and to be honest, I don’t think anyone could have done a more epic job than he did. You see, I could take credit for hosting and bringing everyone together, but it’s everyone…literally everyone else, that made Epicurrence a success. So for this crew and their compassion, I’m forever grateful.
Well, that’s a bit into my story of Epicurrence No.1. And now, I’m beyond stoked to announce Epicurrence No.2 is coming to North Shore, Oahu this late summer/fall and I’m taking invite requests starting now. Come surf, swim with sharks, soak up some sun, experience Aloha, and have incredible conversations with us. Request an invite today. Mahalo!
I’d like to end this with a few special thank you’s and credits:
- Thank you Rigel St. Pierre for stepping up and being my partner. For all the web work and everything. Haha, even though that GoPro hide-and-go-seek was a total fail, bro.
- Thank you Greg Corby, for the surf sessions, missed surf sessions, and still being a bro. Not to mention, creating the sick badges and spending lots of late nights/early mornings in the 3d printer room. You stepped up and owned that.
- Thank you Michaela Alexander + Stephen Olmstead from InVision for being the amazing people you are and helping provide so much, constantly making the event even better. InVision grabbed everyones lift tickets, brought 11lbs of Ritual Coffee, and provided awesome designed cups and thermoses for everyone. The “Hot Cocoa with InVision” night was such a memorial conversation around the campfire.
- Thank you Marc Hemeon for the stoke. As much as he might not want credit or say he’d do this for anyone (which he would), a huge thanks to him for stepping up when he saw me in need of help.
- Thank you Daniel Burka, for not only taking my spot interviewing Hemeon but straight up owning it. You’re a class act and one of the most articulate, intellegent humans I know. That night was one of the greatest conversations in history. #thenest
- Thank you to all the beginner snowboarders and skiers for not holding it against me nor the instructor for being so oddly outnumbered during the lessons on the first day.
- Thank you Phil Coffman, Matt D. Smith, and Matthew Spiel for your thoughtful articles about Epicurrence No.1. Your words mean the world to me. You guys rock.
- Thank you Rico Castillero from Studio Castillero, for owning the photography and delivering 250 images the last night of the event for everyone to take home on Western Digital 1TB My Passport Air Hard Drives. You stuck with me and powered through a tough ask. Also, thank you for letting us rock the Amigo Booth — amigobooth.com.
- Thank you Veronica Bashbush at Zeel for arranging the massages and making sure everyone experienced one. I can’t thank you enough.
- Thank you Steven Johansson at Western Digital for coming in and delivering the ultimate giveaways and providing each attendee a 1TB My Passport Air with 250 photos from Epicurrence as each attendee left.
- Thank you Ozzy Urrutia from Munchery for stocking every fridge with all the incredible food (that steak though!) and Blue Bottle New Orleans Coffee. Not to mention, the clever drinkwear.
- Thank you Charlie Waite and GoPro for the uh…GoPros!
- Thank you Joe Gebbia at Airbnb for introducing me to Katie Dill, Director of Design at Airbnb and sending her out to the event.
- Thank you Benjamin Ferencz at Fairends for coming and making us epic custom hats.
- Thank you Josh Austin for early conversations with Oakley and being an awesome bro.
- Thank you Scott Carrington at Patagonia for hooking us up with our killer jackets.
- Thank you Anthony Aguirre, for all the Nixon awesomeness and for the incredible support and motivation. Also for the Spy Goggles connection.
- Thank you Toby Grubb, for your stoke and help with Burton and Heavenly. Big ups to you, man. Looking forward to jumping out of helis one day at the summit. Toby also created some killer teaser photos for Epicurrence— checkout his Instagram.
- Thank you Leigh Taylor for all of your support with The Grid. These guys provided one of the main houses and just brought so much to make to the experience to make it all possible. Even by allowing five extra attendees to join us.
- Thank you Tyler Dorman at Creative Market for introducing me to some key players and sponsors.
- Thank you Jason Simon for your chef mastery and brilliant mind. If you’re looking for a chef for your event — he’s the guy. Email me for his contact info.
- Thank you to my wife Elisa and daughter Waimea for allowing me to spend the time away and live my dreams.
- And of course, thank you everyone who attended and helped in there own way. I’m forever grateful to you Jon Lax, Geoff Teehan, Marc Hemeon, Daniel Burka, Adam Michela, Anthony Lagoon, Meg Robichaud, Nick Ano, Phil Coffman, Anthony Harmon, Ben Johnson, Jason Wu, David Keegan, Tom Krcha, Leigh Taylor, Dan Tocchini, Charlie Waite, Greg Corby, Rigel St. Pierre, Stephen Olmsted, Michaela Alexander, Ozzy Urrutia, Josh Hemsley, Tobias Van Schneider, Ben Cline, Eric Atwell, Matt D. Smith, Matt Faulk, Erwin Hines, Balind Sieber, Toby Grubb, Kara Place, Anthony Aguirre, Michael Jackson, Matthew Spiel, Aaron Wade, Joselle Ho, Josh Austin, Bob Galimari, Jonathan Moore, Connor Mscheffrey, Connor Sears, and Tegan Mierle.