Big Omaha Expectations


I really enjoy Big Omaha. But I am not looking forward to this year’s Big Omaha. I am being honest – not being harsh. I have been to every single one of the Big Omahas. And most have exceeded expectations. I believe objectively this one will not disappoint – but still I harbor reservations. This sentiment goes beyond Big Omaha.

Lately, I have not enjoyed going to start-up events.  I do not know if this is a personal problem or just a getting old problem. I used to relish the time with people and the opportunity to talk about the start-up ecosystem, their start-up, or innovation generally. However, as I have become more engaged and more knowledgeable – I find that I tend to want to interact with those that think like I do and appreciate my brilliance. I have an opinion and people should pay attention to me. I have become self-absorbed and frankly a bit of a prick on these topics at times.  

I want to be the loudest voice at a time when our country and our ecosystem need more listeners.  This has led my wife and to declare that we need to focus the next six weeks on: 

1.  Less cynicism

2.  Fewer judgments

3.  More positivity

Recently, Greg Popovich, Coach of the San Antonio Spurs, mentioned that there is a pall over the country since the election of Donald Trump as President. I think that the pall has been there for longer than this singular event – but Trump’s election has acted to create more loud dichotomies – people yelling on both sides.

Frankly, I rarely agree with either side and that leads me feeling alone and cynical.  This post is not a political statement about an issue.  I have many – but again, my political statements are rarely conformative.

I have been very busy with travel and work and family this year.  As most of you know, my wife and I lost a baby in late February.  The baby was born at 17 or 18 weeks.  We were deeply sad.  That event has covered the year in a pallor that is just now starting to lift, as if May’s springtime flowers could brighten our loss.  That pallor has led me to be negative, judgmental, and cynical.  I don’t like it…but that’s the truth.

Finally, when I look at the list of Big Omaha speakers, I do not see my old favorites.  Rather than being open to new ideas and new thinkers, I have a closed attitude.  I want to be heard – not to hear.  If I don’t know them, how can they be any good?  In the past, I would have been able to simply let go and trust that I was not in control.  This led to amazing opportunities to listen and understand.  I am not sure that I have that in me this year. 

In other words, this is the week that I NEED Big Omaha.  My colleague, Laura, and I were discussing Big Omaha and my expectations.  Just as the “get off my lawn” guy in so many funny jokes, I started with a “back in my day”…sort of bullshit answer.  The reality is that Big Omaha is much more about what you are willing to put into it – than what you are going to passively get out of it.  If you sit on your hands and watch the speakers, you will have a fine time.  If you work to find the cool dinners and play “Werewolf” and hang out with the speakers, and are okay with probably doing it “wrong”, then you are probably going to find it a lot more rewarding.

As I have gotten older and a little more adept at conferences and events – I have discovered that I do not put as much effort into trying out new things, doing stupid little things, or being open to people and ideas.

That is why, I NEED Big Omaha.

Big Omaha is a once a year opportunity for a start-up revival.  Get renewed. Get refreshed.  Wash your cynicism and judgment from your brain – and be ready for life.

This is a personal post because my job is personal. My life and job are tied together in a way that I love – but when one shifts my balance to negativity, cynicism, and being judgmental, it helps to be shocked out of it.  We all sometimes need an event that smacks us in the face and says – get over yourselves and be human.  Participate fully with the rest of us and be present.  Don’t worry about what you are forgetting to do or failing at – do the next right thing.

Now, finally, maybe I am ready for this year’s Big Omaha.


Tom Chapman