On the ride down to a morning flight out of SFO. It looked like there was a crack in the edge of the sky. The sunrise was just pulling itself through in between the low-lying clouds and the East Bay hills, looking a bit like lava in the distance. These car window snapshots are just a smidgen of how unearthly it actually looked in real life.
Last June, my friend Walter Chen, CEO/co-founder of iDoneThis, invited me to visit him in Las Vegas. Walter had just taken an investment from Vegas Tech Fund and thought it’d be interesting for me to come speak to their portfolio companies.
I’m deeply interested in the work being done to revitalize local economies and communities across the country—it’s some of the hardest, but most important work one could be doing—so I was definitely up for a visit.
But despite all that, I wasn’t particularly excited about the idea of doing a solo talk. It seemed like we could do something that would be more worthwhile for the portfolio companies.
So, I proposed the idea of reviving an event called The Product Sessions and bringing it to Vegas.
The Product Sessions are a one-day event where startups get quality one-on-one feedback from product & design advisors who themselves have been in the trenches. I used to run these for both the Union Square Ventures portfolio companies and other NYC startups, and part of me was also curious if the format could work elsewhere.
Walter immediately loved the idea and then went to work to make it happen, getting everyone involved in the process. To cover the cost of the event, the participating companies all pitched in with Vegas Tech Fund providing matching funds. Laura Berk and Andy White from VTF brought in The Downtown Project to house the advisors and Work in Progress to host the event.
For the companies, they valued the opportunity to engage with people from outside their local community. For the advisors, it was both an intellectual vacation and an opportunity to see first-hand the revitalization of the downtown area. For me, it was all of the above plus the fun in getting the band back together.
Given all that, it’s no surprise that we all wanted to do it again.
So, I took that as a cue to officially revive The Product Sessions in 2014, not as an event local to New York, but as a traveling series that visits emerging startup communities across the country, featuring a rotating group of product/design experts who I know and trust.
This past weekend, we kicked off the season by returning to downtown Las Vegas, thanks in large part to our hosts Sara Vainer of Work in Progress and Laura Berk and Shilpi Kumar of Vegas Tech Fund.
If you’d like to sponsor an event (perhaps for a group of non-profits that are building digital products or a community of bootstrapped tech startups), I’d also love to talk. I believe that technology can and should be used for more than just high-growth tech startups and that the need for quality critique and feedback is just as (if not more) important there, too. If you believe in that, too, let’s work together.
I’m also planning to open source the event altogether so that people can run their own Product Sessions locally. You can follow (and eventually fork) the GitHub repo here.
Just as it’s a myth that you need to be living in large technology hubs in order to create impactful work, it’s a myth that great works spring fully-formed from the minds of brilliant anointed geniuses.
I would espouse that the value of critical feedback is overlooked, and further, that it is through the repeated and deliberate practice of receiving and navigating feedback from our teammates, advisors, and the market itself, that we develop the intuition that enables us to make our own decisions.
This is a surprisingly difficult thing to do, especially in a world of amplified, dogmatic rhetoric.