February 12, 2014

A Few Thoughts on Alt Summit

Nearly three weeks later, I've finally had enough time to think through what I want to say about attending Alt Summit.

Lots of my friends have asked me about it since I returned (the most common question: "How do you get invited?" The answer is, "Pay $625 for a ticket.").



I don't quite know what to say - it's hard to sum up an event that massive in a sentence or two, especially to someone who isn't deeply involved in the blogging world.

I've been closely following Alt Summit for a couple of years. Last year was off the table for me, what with a five-week-old baby, but I knew I wanted to go in 2014.

Finally going was such a thrill (a very expensive thrill).


What I Loved:
  • The very best part, to be honest, was going with Merrick. It'd been way too long since I'd seen her (July of 2012!). I really had a great time spending so much time with her.
  • I'm naturally an introvert, but I told myself I was paying way too much money and had made way too much of an effort to get myself there to sit back. I consciously focused on being as outgoing and social as I could possibly be. It got easier the longer I was there and in that zone. 
  • The sponsor dinners on Wednesday night were fantastic. The four of us (Merrick, Leanne, Abby, and I) picked the Collectively dinner at Sea Salt, and I was super happy with that choice. It was a smaller event, with only about 25 people there, so you really had a chance to get to know people. I sat next to Alexa, one of the founders of Collectively, and she was absolutely delightful. We also all got a box of Bare Minerals makeup, which pretty much tripled my makeup collection (this says more about how little makeup I own than how big the box was). 
  • All the classes. I love the behind-the-scenes parts of blogging and it was so delightful to listen and learn about things I find fascinating, whether it was Pinterest or making videos or developing a brand. Serious nerd heaven for me. 
  • Meeting bloggers in real life. Everyone was just really pleasant. I was especially thrilled to get to meet Liz from Say Yes and spend about 20 minutes with her. She was LOVELY (as Erica had promised she would be). 
  • Staying in the Grand America. We went back and forth between staying at the hotel and staying with my Grannie (for the extravagant price of free), but in the end we picked to stay on-site, and I'm glad we did. It was hugely convenient to be able to run back to the room at any time (although, because the Grand America is huge, it still took about 15-20 minutes by the time you got back to the Alt festivities), and to not have to change in the public restrooms. The time spent in the lobby in the late evening was also a great, low-key time to meet other Alt attendees too. 
  • The Shark Tank viewing party with Freshly Picked. Although there had been a lot of nice events, this was the one the whole weekend that felt like a PARTY. Tons of music and dancing. I don't even like to dance in public, but . . . I totally had a blast. 

What I Didn't Love:
  • There was just not enough time with sponsors. With only thirty minutes between sessions and jammed sponsor lounges, it was hard to fit them in. Even with only about a dozen sponsors, I had a chance to talk to just half of them, and in many cases that was because I left a class early or missed the first few minutes of the class. This was frustrating. 
  • The final keynote. Ben Sieberman (the Pinterest founder) did a little Q&A with Design Mom, and although he was very delightful, it wasn't really a keynote that left me just totally jazzed. I remember watching the Twitter feeds during Jasmine Starr and Stefan Sagmeister's talks in past years and how everyone was just on fire. This keynote didn't do that for me. It was nice, and then it was time to go get dressed for the mini-parties. (Garance Doré, on the other hand, I LOVED. She kicked it off on Thursday morning, and it was just fantastic). 
  • There were design camps on both days that capped at about 35 people. I can certainly understand that they needed to be small groups, but each class was only offered once, so if you didn't skip the class beforehand to get in line, you were out of luck. It's really irritating to pay hundreds and hundreds of dollars and then not be able to go to the sessions you want to. I wish they'd been offered at least twice (the round tables were offered twice each). 
  • I feel like in years past, people have just RAVED about every detail of the conference. And while there were many lovely lovely things, I didn't feel like there was a lot that just totally blew my mind. The main exception was the Cricut sponsor lounge on Friday which was all white, with a fog machine and. . .just really impressive. I don't know how much of it is that, thanks to blogging and Pinterest, I'm kind of desensitized to over-the-top attention to detail, or if it really was just less impressive than it's been in other years. 

Other Things:
  • I feel like when people talk about Alt it's always a ridiculous amount of focus on the fashion. But really? It just didn't seem like that huge of a deal. I didn't feel like people were dressed just unbelievably. Mainly it was just a bunch of people dressed nicely, but not over the top. I packed exactly enough clothing, got dressed every morning, and then I really didn't think about it again. 
  • It's a BIG conference. This was their biggest year yet with something like 700 attendees, which meant you didn't get a chance to meet even half of the people.  
  • One thing I noticed about Alt is that it's a diverse enough crowd that there's basically no one that EVERYONE knows. I even mentioned Design Mom to someone at one point in the conference (who is one of the founders of the conference) and got a totally blank look. So, you don't really have to feel like "oh, my blog is too small. No one will know who I am." Everyone is a nobody to someone. Which I actually find very reassuring. 
  • During the mini-parties on Saturday night (which is when I wore this outfit which was almost 100% borrowed from Merrick), I FaceTimed for a few minutes with Ella before she went to bed. When I got back the next day, my mom said, "I don't think I've seen you having that much fun in YEARS." There you have it. 
For me, the real question to judge how much I liked it or not was "Will I go again next year?"

I wrestled with that a bit during the conference and immediately afterward, but now with a few weeks of distance, I'm almost certain I'll try and go again next year (assuming my mom wants to watch my children again next January. . . ). In some ways, this felt like a practice year.

Now I have a much better idea of what to expect, how to prepare, and what I want to get out of it.

I felt like it really helped me narrow in on what I want to do with my blog and what kind of things I want to be writing about and working on.

I'm also pretty interested in going to one of their (smaller) one-day conferences, either in New York or San Francisco, depending on where we are this summer.

And if you have questions about Alt (like "um, why did you possibly think I'd care about any of this?"), I'd be happy to try and answer.


22 comments:

  1. Appreciate your thoughts. I love blogging, but I do it entirely for myself, for fun, and (during my time at the PD especially) to keep myself writing between freelance projects. I'd like to do more of it, but I'm not exactly sure what. I don't really see myself as a professional blogger, but I admire a lot of writers I know who have turned it into a significant part of their writing lives. So I'm grateful for these kinds of insights and thoughts on events, etc. from other writers.

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  2. This was the most honest and enlightening post on what Alt is really like that I've read from anyone. I feel like most people say, "There's just so much!" without trying to tease out the experience at all. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. I totally agree with Heather. I appreciate the straight talk instead of just an over-enthusiastic "it was amazing!!" With little to no details. Appreciated hearing both the pros and cons. And you looked fabulous. :)

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  3. Fascinating. I've wondered what Alt was really like after following along with several people there, and yours is probably the most honest take on it so far (so, the one I've really been anticipating.) Thanks for a great recap! I'm more of a closet introvert (is that a thing?) so I'm not sure how I'd handle that crowd either. Also, hooray for sister time! Whenever you or Merrick posted pictures together it made me smile and feel so happy for you. I'm far away from all my sisters and it's no fun.

    By the way... you look stunning in these pictures. What are sisters for if not to share clothes? =)

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  4. I have so many questions, crafting email.

    xox

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  5. So it didn't feel like a big high school popularity contest? Because that is how I've been imagining it...

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    1. It really didn't at all (and I wondered the same thing). I only met ONE person who was really braggy about their stats and money-making and they stuck out like a sore thumb to me because NO one else was like that.

      Every single blogger I met was down-to-earth and really pleasant and easy to talk to. I really felt like people were there to have a great experience and enjoy themselves, so people were happy and in good moods the whole weekend.

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  6. PS LOVE that skirt...i would wear that thing at least once a week.

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  7. Glad to hear it was a wonderful experience! You look great, love the full skirt!

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  8. So pleased to hear that it wasn't the case. I had my suspicions. Ultimately, ALT is probably something I won't do, but I'm glad you had fun. Next time you're there say "hi" to Kara from Red Stamp. She's local and the nicest person you will ever meet, and that's saying something because we're Minnesotans and therefore have a corner on niceness ;)

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  9. Thank you Janssen for your honest review on the conference! I always wondered what it would be like going to one of those. I'm sure there's a lot to learn but I cringe at the thought of having to mingle with other bloggers and "network" and "sell myself" to sponsors, you know? And what if no one wants to hang out with me or talk to me? Yeah, I'm pretty sure it would just be money spent on me blending into the background. Glad you at least got some good things out of the conference!

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  10. I'm so glad to hear about it! I've been wondering when you would post. I read Design Mom, so I always think it all looks like so much fun, though I really have no reason to ever attend since...well...I kind of don't blog (especially now!) I had not idea it was that expensive!

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  11. This was such a perfect review, and so similar to how I felt. I mean, who decided that 25 minutes was enough time for 700 people to meet sponsors??

    Also, I'm so so glad we went together. That was one of my favorite weekends ever. Love you!

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  12. I really appreciated this recap and your honest take-a-aways. I still want to go next year, but it's nice to hear a more balanced view than just "Alt is awesome!" all the time. I'm glad it was still inspiring and fulfilling for you!

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  13. Love your recap here! Such a good idea to list the positives and the negatives. I agree that there simply was not enough time to squeeze in talking to sponsors, so I let this go on the back burner. I'm still small, so not quite there yet. I learned tons, and have a lot of ideas for moving forward, so overall I felt the experience was a success. Thanks for linking up! :)

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  14. I think it would be so fun, but especially since I don't try to (and, um, don't) make money from my blog, it's hard to justify. So nice to hear a little of both sides, as well!

    Also, so funny that most of your outfit is borrowed from Merrick. When I first opened the post, I did a double take and was like, wait, is that Merrick? I don't think you guys look too terribly alike, but in that first picture, you do. Plus, the outfit just seems quintessentially Merrick (although you look gorg in it, as well!).

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    1. Also, did I just write an entire paragraph about how you look like your sister? I am...revolutionary.

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  15. loved reading through this … and meeting you at alt :)

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  16. Thanks for posting about Alt! I read a lot of bloggers who attend, so I've thought of going in the past. I think what I'd love even more than going to Alt Summit (at this point in my blogging) is to just talk one-on-one with a blogger that has a few more things figured out than I do. You know? Someone in the zone of proximal development, who could be a mentor of sorts, for a moment. (I would prrrrobably love to pick YOUR brain, in fact). The other thing is, there are lots of blogging things I know about that I would be doing if I wanted to "take it to the next level" so to speak, that I'm frankly not doing right now. And I'm kind of OK with that. But kind of not. So, you know. Thanks for writing about Alt! :D

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  17. Hi Janssen! Loved your insights into what worked and didn't work. I really wish our paths would have crossed in person, but I'm glad we've met virtually. I don't know if it's because this was my second Alt, but I did think it was less impressive than last year. (That could have been because as a fellow introvert my senses were totally overloaded.) I do think the format requires you to choose between attending sessions and connecting with sponsors. I felt that was true last year as well. Unless they change the format of Alt SF, you'll have even less dedicated time to meet with sponsors. I consciously chose to miss portions of sessions there to talk with sponsors. If you come out for Alt SF, I hope our paths can cross in person.

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  18. What a great post! I really loved this. This is my first time going to Alt (I've done the Alt for Everyone a few times) and I'm really excited.

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