Sunday, June 28, 2020

Company is Coming!!!

Nothing strikes fear in the hearts more than hearing a Mom shout out to the rest of the family: COMPANY IS COMING!!!

My stress level goes up just hearing those words. But what happens when “the company” coming to your home is - an actual COMPANY? 

This past week, members of attended the COLLISION conference - from their homes. 

We have always enjoyed attending LIVE events. Heck, we LOVE attending live events, especially in New York. Having the Javits Center in our "Big Apple" backyard is one of our superpowers at “NYED-LA” as the world would come to us. I used to joke that I could go to Javits Center in New York City EVERY DAY, as there was ALWAYS something cool going on. I live 25 miles west of Times Square, so I can "pop in" for an event or conference in the city anytime. Yes, I am spoiled. And when we say "The City" we all know we are talking about NEW YORK CITY. You know, the center of the known universe.

I really wanted to go to Toronto for COLLISION. We were all set and ready to go. I have attended and supported COLLISION (a Web Summit event) every year since 2016. We expected 30,000+ to meet up in Toronto. 

And then comes COVID-19. Times may be uncertain, but one thing remains true. People enjoy coming together. There is a power in people coming together. No matter the time zone, humans are social creatures. 

Web Summit is a company from Dublin, Ireland that holds events online and across the world - Web Summit, Collision and RISE.

Forbes: “The best technology conference on the planet.”
The Atlantic: “Where the future goes to be born.”
New York Times: “A grand conclave of the tech industry’s high priests.”

When I learned that COLLISION was going to NOT be cancelled - but was going to become a VIRTUAL event, I was actually very worried. Since March we have witnessed so many LIVE events try to salvage their investment by converting their LIVE event into a VIRTUAL event. Most were not very good at all.

Folks, I have been in the MEETINGS & EVENTS space for many (many) years. The MEETINGS & EVENTS game is hard. It’s difficult. It’s expensive. It’s complex. Running an event (of any size) is an art form. I have seen so many try to pull off a VIRTUAL event during the pandemic, and they failed. They tried to salvage their live event, and they should have just canceled. 

Yes, I was worried that COLLISION was going to get a black eye. Who do these guys think they are? Are they so full of themselves that they can pull off a VIRTUAL event where so many others cannot? Do they think they are smarter than everyone else? 

Turns out they are smarter than everyone else. 

634 speakers. 5 channels of programming. People from 140 countries. 32,000+ attendees - FROM HOME. And I was one of them. From. My. Home.

These numbers are shocking. This event, during a quarantine, was the best event that I have attended in years. I did not say best VIRTUAL event, I said the best EVENT. Period.

Paddy Cosgrave, the founder of COLLISION and its parent Web Summit rolled the dice and they won. Big time. The future of MEETINGS & EVENTS was coming for all us, sooner or later. But the pandemic forced their hand. When any of us go to an event live, we are looking to maximize meaningful connections. How can you replace features of LIVE events, like meeting booths or round-tables or break-out sessions with software? 

There were no virtual event technologies (to date) that could properly do the job. In record time, Paddy’s team created a platform to make VIRTUAL events as good as live. In my humble opinion, this was better than a live event. Panel Discussions. Fireside Chats. Break-outs. They had it all. I was impressed, and I'm a very tough critic.

There was a feature called “Mingle” that was like speed dating for business. Every three minutes I was matched up with people (from all around the world) who were hand-picked for me. Based on my profile, I had hundreds of people join me - in my home - to exchange contact information, and chat via HD video. It turns out that three minutes is just the right amount of time to make a new friend, and connect on LinkedIn and social media.

Were there some bugs? Sure. It is not easy to host a global virtual event on a new platform that you built from scratch in record time, during a pandemic. But once you got past the minor bugs, it was flat-out AMAZING. It turns out that Paddy and his team were actually building software to network virtually at their live events for many years. Like for ten years. 

No software, no matter how powerful will fully replace true face to face contact. But during a pandemic, the platform that I just witnessed is indeed the future of the meetings & events world. I cannot see ANY events (LIVE or VIRTUAL) not being a hybrid moving forward. The most expensive part of going to conferences is not just the cost of the ticket but the cost of travel, hotels, food, etc. Even after the world returns to normal (and what is normal?) VIRTUAL EVENTS are here to stay. 

In a tweet last week Paddy said that he is thinking of offering access to their online conference platform to 3rd parties who organize large, bespoke events. members, vendors and sponsors: are you listening? 

When I learned that COLLISION was going 100% VIRTUAL, I was skeptical. I was worried that Paddy was going to ruin his stellar reputation. I was worried that this was a bridge too far.

Thank God no one at COLLISION asked me for my opinion. 

“Fortune favors the bold, Fortune favors the brave, and Fortune favors the strong” are common translations of a Latin proverb. Courageous action is often rewarded. 

Maybe COLLISION should simply be called COURAGEOUS moving forward? Or how about a new nickname: Paddy “Courageous” Cosgrave? 

OK, I’ll stop now.

Besides, I need to get busy and follow up with a few hundred new friends who came to my home last week. Thanks to Paddy, we had…company. Yes, we had “company” to our home, during a pandemic. No masks required.

Company is Coming

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Highway to Heaven

Cal Darden was my first sale.

For those of you who know me, I was one of the first to sell "car phones" in the USA, when the NYNEX system went live in the 80's. Back in the day, making phone calls from the car was expensive. The phones themselves were expensive, but so was the cellular phone service. There was a monthly service fee, and calls were around $0.50 per minute. Ah, plus taxes and fees.

I think I had my first cellular phone in my car for around five hours, and I was looking for "excuses" to make phone calls from the car. Who could I call? I did make a few calls, to home, to friends. I was just itching to make some "real" phone calls from the car.  And there it was.....

I saw a sweet lady broken down on the side of the road. Busy highway (Rt. 80, Northwest New Jersey) there she was with her hood up and no one was stopping. I pulled up behind her car on the shoulder with my hot little sports car, top down.

Hello, looks like you can use some help.  "Can you take me to a telephone? I need to call my son. I've been here for so long, and no one will stop to help me."

Sure, hop in. OK, who would you like to call?

Oh my goodness! Is that a phone? You have a phone in your car? Oh, my, oh my...

She called her son, Cal, who lived in Budd Lake, New Jersey, just a little further west.

The first few minutes of the call (at around $0.50 per minute mind you) was Momma Darden trying to explain that she was in MY CAR, calling from MY CAR, parked behind HER CAR broken down on the highway. She said that no one was stopping to help her, but now "her Highway Angel" (Ala the TV show Highway to Heaven) showed up. My name was now officially Michael Landon. "Michael Landon saved me! I'm in Michael Landon's sports car" she said with a wink and a smile.

I stayed with Mrs. Darden until her son showed up in a pickup truck. Boy she was a chatterbox. Cal was doing yard work just minutes before, and he looked like it. The folks from AAA were on the way to tow her car, and he would now drive his Mom back to his home which was just a few miles away.

I did not even have business cards yet. But Cal had a business card. He said "Call me on Monday." Cal worked for UPS.

In 1971, Cal Darden was earning $3 an hour as a part-time package handler for UPS in Buffalo. He became SVP of the company's U.S. operation, and according to Fortune magazine, one of the most powerful Black Executives in the nation. At the time, Cal Darden ranked 8th on Fortune's list of 50 most powerful Black Executives, above former White House adviser Vernon Jordan (No. 9) and TV talk show host and businesswoman Oprah Winfrey (No. 10).

Cal Darden ran UPS entire U.S. operation, which included 320,000 employees and almost all of the company's more than $30 billion in annual revenue. He would drive from Budd Lake, New Jersey to Secaucus, New Jersey every day.

Cal needed a car phone. Ah, MANY people at UPS needed car phones. THE DRIVERS needed phones. 

I became friends with Cal. Over the years, he told me how he had worked hard since he was 15. He clerked at a neighborhood drugstore, washed cars and drove a taxi. Working was necessary in his family of seven children. His father earned about $100 per week as a core maker for American Standard (NYSE: ASD) and his mother stayed at home with the children.

Over the course of his career, Cal moved ten times. In 1995 he moved to HQ in Atlanta. He was always aware of his position as a role model for aspiring Black Executives and he volunteered his time to mentor them. He started a chapter of the Black Executive Exchange Program at UPS and he traveled around the nation to colleges and universities talking to students.

Because of Cal, my first sale in the cellular phone business was: UPS. I was profitable from day one, and never looked back. Over the years, we would joke about how I owed his mother millions.

"If it were not for an elderly Black woman you would never have won the UPS account!"

"OMG, you guys are Black? I never noticed!"

Lessons from my father:  you make your own luck in this world.

And, Dad taught me to be color blind.

Happy Father's Day everyone.

Calvin Darden

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Teach your children well

This past week, I recorded one of our Coffee in the Clouds video podcasts with the father and son team of Lee Cockerell and Dan Cockerell. 

I met Lee a few years ago, because I listened to one of Lee's audio podcasts. That podcast led to a connection on LinkedIn, which led to phone conversation on a Sunday afternoon, which led to me buying a plane ticket to Orlando. Which then led to MANY trips to Orlando. And all of this led to the concept of which is about to be rebooted and relaunched by Lee and his team with all new amazing content. 

The "NYDLAcast" that we recorded this past week was for next Sunday: Father's Day. I don't know what compelled me, but I Googled the word: Father. 

Fathers (and mothers) are key in the development of a child’s emotional well-being. Many times children look to their fathers to lay down the rules and enforce them. Fathers provide a feeling of security, both physical and emotional. Children want to make their fathers proud, and an involved father promotes inner growth and strength. When fathers are affectionate and supportive, it greatly affects a child’s cognitive and social development. It also instills an overall sense of well-being and self confidence.

Fathers influence who we are inside, but also guide how we have relationships with people as we grow. The way a father treats his child will influence what he or she looks for in other people. Friends, lovers, and spouses will all be chosen based on how the child perceived the meaning of the relationship with his or her father. The patterns a father sets in the relationships with his children will dictate how his children relate with other people.

Young women depend on their fathers for security and emotional support. A father can show his daughter what a healthy relationship with a man should be. If a father is loving and gentle, his daughter will look for those qualities in men. If a father is strong and caring, she will relate closely to men of the same character.

Unlike girls, who model their relationships with others based on their father’s character, boys model themselves after their father’s character. Young men will seek approval from their fathers from a very young age. We grow up by imitating the behavior of others. This is how we learn to function in the world. If a father is caring and treats people with respect, young men will grow up much the same. When a father is absent, young boys look to other male figures to set the “rules” for how to behave and survive in the world. And this can be a problem.

We live in turbulent times. Today, the world is lacking in proper leadership. Across our entire world (especially here in the USA) we seem to be living without - and our youth is growing up without proper guidance, without protection, without love. Our world needs leadership - our world needs a good father.

Father. Godfather. Father Figure. The Father of our Country.
There is a reason why the word “Father” carries with it such power, such importance. Mothers and Fathers are supposed to be a team. Indeed, combined they both serve their unique purpose. “Good Parenting” is rooted in our biology, it has been studied for centuries in behavioral science. Nature vs. Nurture is another good topic to Google when you have the time.

I’ll be thinking a lot this week about my father, and my grandfather. I will reflect on how everything that I am, and everything that I will ever be, can be traced back to the body of work of these two men. Mothers and Fathers, Fathers and Mothers. Grandparents. We are what they taught us to be.

A few years ago, we had the pleasure of meeting Lee’s grandson (Dan’s son) over the course of his summer internship in New Jersey. Brevity is bliss: this is the finest young man I have met in years. Maybe, ever. Coincidence? I don’t think so. 

Yes, our world is feeling like one big mess right now. But every generation has probably said the same thing. Just like every generation has said: “Kids today!” 

In today’s world, you can learn anything you want, anytime you want. You can Google it, you can find a YouTube video, you can find a podcast or watch a TED Talk. You can take courses, get certified, you can find a mentor, a coach, a teacher. The “How To” section of our entire world is now at your fingertips. In today's world, ignorance is a choice.

I picked up many "Lee Cockerell Sayings" over the years. One of my favorites is simply this: Teach Everything You Know

Everyone: have a safe and happy Father’s Day next Sunday. And to all the Fathers and Step Fathers out there (and the amazing Mothers and Step Mothers who are doing double-duty) we got work to do. So, let’s get to work.

Fathers and Mothers have the best jobs in the world.
After all, we get to create the world we live in, right? 

Teach Your Children Well