Returning to Úll

Úll 2015

It doesn’t take much for me to experience conference burnout. That feeling where being removed from your family, work, and life can no longer be validated by the snippets of information that may make a difference along with the constant mental jockeying to hopefully make a connection to favorably impact your business or personal life. Conferences can be exhausting. Knowing where to be, trying to get to the “right” sessions and hoping you are gaining value. And no, I don’t attend conferences to party and escape as being a small business owner, funds are just too precious.

That is why I like Úll. While you can still feel isolated and alone (because really, we all do at times feel that way), the likelihood that you come away feeling connected to something or someone is much higher than any other conference you could attend. In fact, at Úll, you may leave connected to a place on top of everything else.

Part of what makes this conference for me is the physical process you go through to even attend. An all night trip followed up with a sleep induced train ride alongside other exhausted attendees, followed with a heavy burst of sleep to revive you just in time to have an awakening. And the awakening is worth it.

The amazing thing about Úll is that you will remember the in between moments and conversations more than the sessions themselves. Everything is carefully planned from the meals to the badges. It’s the details and life is about appreciating the little details. You will not feel like you are in a pitch room or surrounded with business folks with hidden agendas. Great people, wonderful hosts, at a great location.


This year the conference took place at a sophisticated and modern hotel located in Killarney, Ireland. Mountains, a lake, beautiful views, straight out of a postcard. The Europe hotel is designed with large, beautiful glass windows throughout, allowing you to feel the beauty of the outdoors even though you may be inside. An indoor spa and outdoor soaking pool was also available, providing another great opportunity for an Úll memory.

The sessions

Although Úll is a software conference, the speakers tend to speak on topics that are much more than that. This year, an overall theme of tackling discrimination was evident along with reflective thinking and how that can benefit the products you make as well as your life. Along with the speakers, there was individual breakout sessions. The breakout sessions felt better last year in comparison but the entertainment value was good. The speakers were insightful and you could tell that they were there because they wanted to be. And many of them were there with their families, which provided a whole new lens to the conference. In fact, several sessions were designed just for the kids that came, which was awesome.

Below are just a few notes I managed to write down for keeps sake.

Terry Kennelly

Every year there is a local speaker. This year it was Terry Kennelly, the son of a stringer photographer that started a letter press printing capability and later grew into one of the best resources available for stock photography. Some key thoughts that resonated are:

- Make design better.
- Turn ideas into reality.
- We need to work and have more energy than everybody else.
- Build your skills as young as you can.
- Work for nothing if you have to.
- Be true to your vision. Be a long-term player.
- If it is worth fighting for, do it.
- You are always selling. Timing is everything. Listen, then tell. Pitch your items well.
- Running your own show is not glamorous. Be like a swan. Look glamorous and beautiful on top of the water, and kick like hell underneath.
- Time is the only luxury that matters.

Anil Dash


- How do we earn other people’s time?
- Being early to a network privileges you.
- It is exciting to be part of something new.
- Features define culture.
- Most conversations take place through social channels.
- The majority of pictures in the world were taken in the last three years.
- We don’t tell enough of our failures.
- Be honest about how we solve problems.
- How do we make sure we are providing meaning?
- What emotional impact will this have?
- Amplify the stories that are important.
- There is no opting out.
- Accountability comes from us.
- All of us have an ability to make an impact.
- Who are the people you can learn from?
- Focus on valuable ways to create connections.
- Tell the stories of how things are made.

James Thomson


Some presenters and the stories they tell are so good that you can’t even take your attention away to take notes. These are the moments you can only truly gain value from being in the room with them. James reminded me that you never know who you meet that might have a great story to tell and that some of the best storytellers are the ones that lived in the trenches of making something challenging. The sincerity and honesty that James portrayed made this the most memorable talk, which is funny as it will mainly be the feeling I remember and not the words.

Barry Scott


Bringing awareness to disabilities and the value that can be gained from working with individuals that have them is important and unfortunately often overlooked. With a unique perspective, it was nice to see Barry share some important things we all should remember.

- A disability is something that stops you from being your best.
- Depression is dismantling.
- One in four suffer from mental health.
- One in ten suffer from physical health.
- What is your place in enlightening the world?
- Diverse work place = happy work place.
- Diverse work place = better products.
- We need to be multipliers and help get the word out.
- Be careful not to crush their spirit.
- Shut and listen. Learn.
- Watch the words you use.
- Set goals and define success.

Soroush Khanlou


I didn’t think I would ever hear how Kanye West relates to the software industry and more importantly how he could stand as a role model for many of us. Soroush did just that. Some lasting points that examples from Kanye’s life:

- Start small.
- Make good stuff.
- Talk about yourself.
- Do the right thing.
- Admit when you are wrong.

Jessie Char


Jessie gave a talk that really only she could have given and have it mean as much as it did. Being more accepting of women in the has been a key topic over the last couple of years and it is important that we all work on changing this industry. But more importantly, many places have adopted a way of communicating that is exclusive and damaging.

- Explain before you complain.
- People become prisoners of their own opinions
- Take a step back from your opinions.
- Develop a shared vocabulary.
- Watch out for “buzz” words.
- Cater to people but don’t bend to them.
- Avoid conclusions.
- Expertise is relative.
- Be an amateur of many things.

Des Traynor


Des ended up giving a great talk that represents how much technology and small technology companies are changing the world we live in. This is both a negative and positive thing:

- Software is eating the world away.
- Using software is the new cigarette.
- You don’t need a huge team.
- Shipping means nothing. Usage means everything.
- Revisit assumptions.
- New information changes your opinion.
- Correct the known mistakes.
- Obsess over the achievements.
- New knowledge should change you.

Georgia Dow


Georgia put on her therapist hat and gave a therapy session for us all.

- What would life look like if you were truly motivated.
- Your activities shape your brain.
- Work backwards.
- Break things down.
- Stay positive. Negative people stop themselves.
- Aim for failure. You’ll learn more from your failures.
- Enjoy the journey. Be present.
- Surround yourself with those that inspire you.
- Know yourself. What you know, you can fix.

Final Thoughts

There were a few personal moments that made this conference feel unreal. First, I got to see “my” castle. That’s right, the Ross Castle was literally located about 15 minutes away from the hotel and it was a bucket list item I had to complete once I learned that it existed.

The second experience was the moment in catching the photograph of the rainbow pictured at the beginning of this article. It was pretty rainy weather the whole time and when it broke for a minute, I grabbed my camera and ran down to the pier. It just so happened that a rain burst came through and I thought maybe my chance to get the photo I was thinking about was over. It was that instant that I looked back at the hotel and saw one of the most vivid rainbows I have ever seen. A perfect moment symbolic of what only a conference like Úll can provide.

Thanks again Úll for delivering on some great moments.