The Nantucket Conference

by Holland-Mark | June 12, 2011

Reflecting on my experience of the last few days, spent on Nantucket at the (aptly named) Nantucket Conference.  It’s an annual invite-only event that “brings together a small group of creative and forward-thinking entrepreneurs, investors, technologists, and executives.” Suffice to say you couldn’t swing a dead cat at the Nantucket Yacht Club from Thursday through Saturday without hitting someone who believed they had changed, were changing, or would change the world as we know it. And more than a few of them were, are, or would be right (see here for a complete Twitter List of attendees.)

I learned a lot at the event, and many of the nuggets from it were captured in the steady tweetstream to the #ack2011 hashtag. A few highlights for me:

  • “A billion dollar valuation is not cool. You know what’s cool? A billion dollars in revenue.”
  • “It’s easy to start a company. It’s hard to build a business.”
  • “Be passionate. But not religious.”
  • “There’s more innovation happening at big companies than at small companies. They’re just bad at bringing it to market.”
  • “IPO investment bankers are all pretty much all alike. Pick the one you like the best personally, because you’re going to be spending a lot of time with him.”
  • “Don’t stare at the other guy. Stare at the problem. Or the customer.”
  • “There is no such thing as permanent human disability. Only limitations of the technology to overcome it.”
  • “Don’t make the first thing when you start a company raising money, find a way to make progress every day.”

On and on and on. And the offline conversations were sometimes even more engaging and valuable than what was happening onstage.

What I found really exciting, though, was the sense that the walls were coming down in Boston.

I had lunch on Friday at a table of people that wouldn’t have come together 10 years ago, let alone 20. Established power-brokers and up-and-comers. The accomplished, and the accomplishing. Guys known by name at the front desk of the White Elephant, and others who pocketed dinner rolls because they’re still not taking cash out of their businesses.

The club of people who make stuff happen in this town was closed and not accepting applications for a long time. The people in it did well, in politics and in business, and did good for the city when it served their interests. Things were “fine.”

But the 9 zillionth time we asked what Silicon Valley got right and 128 got wrong, the idea occurred to somebody that the two most important factors of production – capital and talent – might do better if they got to know each other on a first-name basis.

There seems to be a considered effort underway right now to break down the barriers to innovation and commerce. I feel it from the NEVCA, in initiatives like CriticalMass. It’s behind the Globe’s protection of the Boston World Partnership. Even Mullen’s advocacy for The Next Great Generation blog feels, in a way, like the guys who made it helping the guys still trying to do so… not out of charity, but out of the sense that we’re all in this together now.

We all know Ideas and Passion eventually need Power and Money to sustain themselves. Lately we seem more attuned to the fact that the reverse is also true.

Another conference nugget:

  • “Make the pie big enough, and everyone will be happy.”


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