The morning started out great with a buffet breakfast of rosemary potatoes, scrambled eggs, chicken apple sausage, thick sliced bacon, and an assortment of bagels and breakfast breads. I’m typically not a breakfast eater but I’ll never turn down something like this, and I piled my plate high and when into our private dining room.
Taking my place at the table between a poker affiliate from Ohio, and a local San Francisco search marketer, I was surprised to find that four of the eight people at my table had been here before at Elite Retreat.
Overall, I would say that the general search knowledge of people at my table was far higher than the average conference lunch table I’d sat at before, and by the end of the meal and was totally impressed with what I learned, and completely stuffed, which for me is always a good combination.
As we made our way into the room, and I headed for the usual front row / aisle spot that I try to snag, I was pretty disappointed to find out that they had laid out our name tags alphabetically, so I walked up and down the rows until I found my tag in the middle of the third or fourth row of seats. With only 32 attendees, it wasn’t a bad seat by any means, but I’m a little bit obsessive about sitting on an aisle whenever I can.
Laid out with our name tags was an impressive array of swag, starting with a leather portfolio (padfolio?). Had I not forgotten to bring digital camera on this trip you’d see a nice picture here.
Inside the portfolio was a really nice fat silver and black pen, also engraved with the elite retreat logo. Very heavy and with a spring action tip, it’s definitely a nice writing instrument, that I’ll be sure to lose quickly. Sitting right on top, and waiting for us to sign with our new pen was the nondisclosure agreement.
I sort of assumed the NDA was coming, and it basically just said “no live blogging” and “respect people’s privacy”, and show some common sense.
The next item sitting there was a video Ipod Nano, engraved on the back with “Elite Retreat 2008 – San Francisco”. Even letter, the Ipod was filled with all kinds of audio files, from Shoemoney’s Webmaster radio episodes, to Donald Trump’s, “How to think like a Billionaire”.
Our master of ceremonies, David Klein, started us off by introducing Jeremy as the first speaker. Shoe talked about his own personal history, and it was a really interesting story. He began after he wrote a guide for how to put pics on cell phone, and that turned into an online application that ended up sorting, storing, and sizing photos for putting on your cell phones, and then that ultimately turned into the NextPimp ring-tone business that helped make him famous.
He discussed the ring tone site and development history, talked a bit about AdSense, and then more about some contextual advertising and affiliate stuff, and then about his current project, fighters.com, in an upcoming one that I shouldn’t mention, that has to do with dating, but I think it’s absolutely brilliant.
Shoe is an entertaining speaker, and a smart guy, and the story he told about someone who should have been his partner was a class act, but there weren’t really a lot of details or specifics. Still, I was riveted, and I thought he gave a good talk.
The biggest takeaways for me were to be creative, incentivize users, and to try to think out of the box and far beyond typical traffic generation methods.
For example, with Auction Ads, he offered people 5 bucks to try it, and he went to websites and offered to replace their Adsense income to show his ads instead, trying to gain visibility for the brand. That high visibility is likely what enabled him to sell off Auction Ads less than four months after launch.
Neil Patel was up next and he didn’t disappoint. Due to the NDA, I can’t disclose a lot of what he said, but let me tell you that I do think this guy is brilliant. I’ve seen him speak before, and his rapid fire style is definitely appealing. If you ever get the opportunity to hear him at a session don’t skip that one.
He reinforced a lot of ideas that I had about social media networks, and he also straightened me out on some misconceptions I had. I have nearly a full page of notes, but he kept coming back to the fact that you have to tailor your content and style to each particular community you might be dealing with.
During the Q&A, he asked if anyone had any particular industries they were having trouble getting social with, so he could offer some link-bait suggestions. For each industry mentioned he came back with a really quick answer, with funny and entertaining ideas that I have no doubt will work well on these communities.
He gave some specific examples of successful campaigns, and gave some very clear steps on how to work some of the individual networks, from Digg to Yahoo Answers, and his talk was well worth the cost of admission…
Lunch was great, with an assortment of sandwiches and salads, and everyone ate quickly in order to get back in and hear the next speaker during our “working lunch break”. I sat next to Brian Clark from Copyblogger, who is speaking today. He told me a little bit about his membership site, Teaching sells, but mostly I tried to eavesdrop on his conversations with Aaron Wall and Matt Mullenweg, which was an easy because it was really loud in there.
Next, Matt Mullenweg the fouder of worlds best SEO machine (WordPress) gave an interesting history about how he started, why he started, and some general philosophy about the open source community. WordPress is even bigger than I thought, with 2.8 million users, 15 to 20,000 downloads daily, and over 600 million page views on WordPress.com blogs last month. Absolutely astounding.
His company has 24 people all of whom work from their own home office, so they are truly a virtual company. He discussed his plans for the future including Word press becoming even more of a content management system and some additional new features coming out any time now, but he specifically asked us to keep them quiet for now.
My favorite quote from his session was related to adding certain features into the back end and how difficult it is to keep clean and easy to use, because “everyone wants their 15 pixels of fame”
Andy Liu from Buddy TV was next, and his discussion had to do with raising venture capital. the detailed information on exactly how to do it was phenomenal, with great tips and lots of bullet points to pay attention to.
I have no doubt that the notes I took could come in very handy someday, but it’s just not applicable to what I’m doing these days, and I probably could’ve done without that session. Still, it was amazing information to have presented so concise and I appreciated his tips.
For the last session of the day they ask for URLs to put websites up on the screen and talk about ways of improving conversions and engaging visitors. I learned a little bit, and as various attendees spoke, it was interesting to hear all of their opinions too, and see all of the different businesses they were involved with.
When one of the attendees brought up their website, the guy next to me said “That sounds familiar, I think I pitched him a couple of years ago”. Within just a few seconds, he brought up an e-mail that he’d sent this same guy in 2006, with some specific details and recommendations about how he would improve their site. The funny thing was many of the changes and recommendations still had not been made, and the panelists touched on nearly every one.
The other thing I learned from this site review session, was that the SEM Hot Seat events that we put on here in Portland are truly world-class.
Immediately following the close of sessions at 5pm, they opened up the hospitality suite where they were offering free snacks and alcohol for the next 3 1/2 hours before the limousines were scheduled to arrive to take us to dinner.
As appealing as the thought of shmoozing and drinking was, I had made a point of not answering any of my e-mails all day and had a few things I needed to attend to. I walked the two short blocks back to my hotel and proceeded to plow through all of my necessary responses while my battery drained away.
When I went to my backpack to get my power cord for my laptop, I discovered that I had apparently forgotten it in the conference room. Panic set in, because my battery was already dead and being in early-morning riser, I find myself with nothing to do and very far behind if I didn’t find some juice, so I walked back to the conference hotel.
Of course when I got up to the room my power adapter was nowhere to be found, even though I knew exactly where I had left it after unplugging it from the power strip. Remembering that there was a computer store across the street, I went over there and was able to buy a $60 universal adapter to get some power.
I went back to my room, changed for dinner, and walked back over to the cocktail party to network with the other attendees.
Two big Hummer limousines arrived to take all 40 of us to a great restaurant, we had our choice of Chilean sea bass, or filet mignon. It was a nice restaurant with impeccable service, and the obligatory tiny portions in the center of the plate. I love gourmet food as much as the next guy, but why do the portions have to be so friggin’ small?
At dinner I sat next to Aaron Wall and his new wife Giovanna, who has an amazing knowledge of the industry. Just like the rest of us here, she has a true passion for what she does, and is incredibly knowledgeable. I’m sure she’s involved in all kinds of projects with Aaron, and besides the romantic aspect, marrying her seems to have been a wise business decision
Aaron’s presentation is this morning, and he said he still had to put a lot of finishing touches on his PowerPoint so he wanted to go work on it after dinner. However, he says he hates working without a mouse and had forgotten to bring one, so the three of us walked to my hotel and I loaned him mine for the night.
So far the Elite Retreat has been great, but as I suspected, the true value in attending has been networking with new people and forging relationships that could go on for years.