I’m a believer.
As she stood on stage with her over emphasized “big hair,” cowboy boots and subtle hints of her authentic Southern upbringing including the prom dress she purchased from Dillards, I kept asking myself: “is this f-bomb-dropping chick the real deal?”
I first knew of (
hunted down) Sarah at TechCrunch Disrupt New York (the one at the Pier) in 2011. While researching which journalists to stalk and pitch at TC Disrupt — which I later realized isn’t the best approach, but that’s besides the point — I came across her work. Eventually I plowed back stage straight to @Arrington, 2 months later the piece I so desperately craved was eventually published.
I knew of Sarah then. But that was like 3 Tennessee High School State Football Championships ago. Since then, the gritty Southerner has taken the entrepreneurial plunge with some of premiere Silicon Valley’s investors backing her. (Read: kicking ass.)
“Charlie Brock of Launch Tennessee and the City of Nashville have practically given me the keys to kingdom regarding total control.” Sarah exclaimed.
That’s was a “No Shit” from the get go. Normally public-private partnerships are exactly, what’s the word…”cool.” Held in probably the best location possible for a tech conference in Nashville: the Marathon Motor Works. In the spirit of engineering, building, and creating, Sarah packed 40 companies trying to innovate similar to generations before.
“So Mr. Vice President, did you actually invent the internet?” jumped out of her mouth as ex-Vice President Gore sat down. Side note: I am so glad she asked that question first. And in the new found respect I have for Gore, he answered it quite convincingly. I don’t know too many other politicians who have sat on the boards of Apple and Google at the same damn time.
Southland wasn’t all sweet tea and Taylor Swift songs singing.
The first night missed the mark.
After a 3 hour drive up 75, the last interview I wanted to hear was about Obamacare and C-sections. There’s no question, Christy Turlington (her first interviewee) is making some waves post modeling career, but Friday night’s interview was poorly timed.
I don’t do puff pieces, Sarah.
Luckily on the first night, Southland had it’s greatest asset to fall back on: its nightlife. Seriously, have you ever been out to Nashville on let’s say…a Monday? It might as well be a Friday in Buckhead but with a 100x better musicians and people from all over the world.
Then she did it.
As quick as a Dolly Parton wink, the moment Sarah started the keynote with Al Gore, I realized why she was it. The one so many proven investors chose her to carry the torch of “speaking truth to the new power” (Pando’s Motto).
For 3 hours straight I was sucking on her nouns and eating every verb. Interview by interview, I became a believer of Sarah and her story telling abilities.
Was Southland the best conference I’ve ever attended? Not even close. There were logistical issues, a skeptical application process to be a featured startup, and all the sorts of shit that slips through the cracks when a conference is in it’s infancy (year 2).
Will I be back next year? You bet your ass.
The items she did get right are worth writing. Chocolate coated bacon, some of Nashville’s best BBQ, and whiskey tasting pre-noon time made it just enough fun, just enough cool, while infusing the laid-back culture of the South.
On a final note, in an era where the majority of folk with grandiose and high ambitions skip out of the South faster than a Kimbrel heater. Sarah not only came back, but she brought her influence and charm for one week to highlight Nashville and the South. For a few days, Sarah took the conversations out of San Fran and Silicon Valley and injected them into Music City.
Come back anytime.