Since we announced our new annual conference Southland last October, we’ve been quietly planning.
The first batch of tickets went in less than a day, and all of the big sponsor packages are gone too. We were stunned at the reception, given we hadn’t really announced much beyond the dates and a basic concept.
For many of you, we clearly didn’t need to say more than “music, startups, whiskey, and BBQ.” (If you are one of them, skip the rest of this and go here to buy tickets now. We just opened up another batch.)
For those who need a little more inducement, we’re finally ready to start sharing some details.
Over the coming months, we’ve got a lot to tell you about from the music and food elements planned, the speakers lined up, and the details on our new and very different take on a startup competition. We’ll release a batch of tickets with each announcement, with only 600 for sale total. So if you want to join us for an epic celebration of startups, technology and southern food, music, whiskey, and culture — get one now. There’s still some early bird pricing, and they’ll only go up from here.
Today, we want to tell you about our first batch of speakers. We think the diversity says a lot about what will make Southland different from other events. We believe that the same people who want to learn about entrepreneurship, also want to discover amazing bands and eat great Southern food. Likewise, they want to hear from more than just the usual tech conference line up of talking heads.
Instead, we are bringing you a range of statesmen, big company presidents, bold investors, and the scrappy entrepreneurs who are creating the companies we think everyone will obsess about in the future. There’s more of this to come in our next speaker announcement, but here’s part one.
Al Gore: I’m incredibly excited about this one. Not only is he the former Vice President of the United States and a Tennessee native, but Gore has serious chops in the tech world. He’s on the board of Apple and a senior partner with top venture firm Kleiner Perkins.
Few ex-politicians have had such an impact post-office. Talk about scrappy: When the electorate deemed his concerns about the environment boring, he didn’t just sacrifice the issue for something sexier. He made it sexy, turning to Hollywood and adeptly used the media to promote his concerns about global warning. That yielded not only an Oscar but the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for “informing the world of the dangers posed by climate change.”
There are few speakers we could launch a conference with who could speak to the worlds of tech, politics, and entertainment with as much authority as Gore. We promise a fireside chat very unlike other interviews he’s done.
David Marcus: As I wrote last August, PayPal President David Marcus is leading one of the most interesting turn arounds of a major multi-billion Internet property. His management team is almost exclusively made up of entrepreneurs, and he’s aggressively ripping out cubicles, turning over the staff, and regularly delivering “shocks” to PayPal’s formerly bank-like culture.
My inside take on this was the most trafficked story I wrote in all of 2013. So I’m listening to the readers, and bringing the story to Southland.
Marcus is going to sit down and talk to us about what it takes to change a culture, when he knew PayPal was broken, and how he plans on keeping relevant in the surging next generation payment wars. Expect brutal honesty — something his team has become accustomed to already.
Phil Libin: So far, Evernote CEO Phil Libin is the first guest we’ve already had for PandoMonthly who we’re having again at Southland. Not only that, but Libin spoke at the TechCrunch Disrupt Bejing conference I organized just before starting Pando. No matter the forum he’s always a crowd favorite, and always one of the most requested speakers by readers and staff.
Part of that is his company: Evernote is one of those companies where if you use it, you use it daily. But part of that is Libin’s style as well.
Despite being investments from mega-firms like Sequoia Capital and his place as a member of the $1 billion-valuation club, Libin is one of the rare Valley CEOs who hasn’t changed one bit with success. He’s someone who has artfully used the tech world’s elite as personal mentors and is a generous mentor himself. And one of the most refreshing things about Libin is his audacious goal to build a company that can last for 100 years.
Tristan Walker: It’s all well and good to hear from founders who’ve “made it,” and we’ll have plenty of those on stage. But it’s also important to hear from founders who are fighting it out in the trenches right now. I could think of no better example to bring to Southland than Tristan Walker of the newly launched Walker & Company Brands.
Tristan has an enviable track record: He went to Stanford Business School, started out in tech with an internship at Twitter, and was the early Head of Business Development at Foursquare. He capped that off with a coveted entrepreneur-in-residence slot at Andreessen Horowitz, where he spent a year trying to decide what his next move would be.
We recently wrote about that next move: Walker & Company, a self-described Procter & Gamble for people of color. Walker doesn’t just tip-toe around the fact that he’s a rare African American entrepreneur who has beat the Silicon Valley in-crowd at its own game — he owns it.
“Most culture in this country is driven by Black culture, whether that’s food, music, dance, or anything else,” he told us. “And more recently Latino and Asian culture have driven global culture. Here I live in the most early adopting region in the world, and we know very little about the most early adopting culture. Therein lies the opportunity.”
Take it from this Memphis native: A lot of that culture Walker describes has come out of the South.
Building a Procter & Gamble for people of color is certainly not an idea you see in Silicon Valley everyday. The fact that he raised a cool $2.4 million from top investors, throws a wrinkle in the convenient narrative that the Valley is racist. And yet, he called his process of raising money “eye-opening.”
Walker and I had lunch recently, and as he told me the behind-the-scenes details of his journey, I knew this was an amazing fireside chat waiting to happen. When he said, “If you ever interview me, I just want a bottle of whiskey on the stage,” I knew that conversation had to happen at Southland and not in the Valley.
Oh, and if all of that isn’t impressive enough, earlier this week, Marc Andreessen Tweeted that Walker was “in (his) top ten list of heroes.”
If you don’t know who Walker is, you need to.
Andy Dunn: One of the reasons our readers are hungry to trek to Nashville for our first annual conference is the allure of the food, music, and whiskey of the south. Put another way: Brand. Brand is one of the biggest untapped assets of the South, and I can’t think of a better entrepreneur to come talk about that than Andy Dunn, co-founder and CEO of Bonobos.
Last year, he made a bold bet amid ecommerce mania to sell off most of his technology assets and double-down on selling his fashion wherever men want it: in showrooms, in Nordstrom, or online. Online isn’t the defining thing for Bonobos; it’s just another channel. It’s a strategy that everyone from Warby Parker to Honest have also embraced and may well be the counter-intuitive future to co-existing in a world with Amazon.
Thomas Laffont: When stealthy hedge fund Coatue Management opened a $300 million Silicon Valley fund last year, it was incredibly quiet about it. And yet, it’s quickly started to muscle into some very noisy deals: Including the pre-IPO mega-round for Box.com, a surprise investment in HotelTonight and most recently mega-valuation round for Snapchat.
When Coatue launched, Laffont told me the firm wouldn’t be paying crazy valuations that ignored public company realities. So, I can’t wait to hear how he thought about Snapchat, and how the first year on Sand Hill Road has been treating him.
This batch of speakers is just the beginning. We have a lot more to tell you about our startup competition and evenings of music and food that our partners at Bonnaroo and LaunchTN are helping us produce. Get a ticket while you can! And stay tuned for more details.
Huge thanks to our early sponsors and partners in helping get us to this point. We can’t wait for June.
(While the large packages are all gone, there are still limited sponsor opportunities. For details email firstname.lastname@example.org.)
[Illustration by Hallie Bateman for Pando]