It’s not too often that a company gets to fully immerse itself in the culture of its audience. Engaging people through social media is one option, but that doesn’t have the same impression as meeting face-to-face. Travelling to conferences is another possibility, though that restricts a brand to standing behind a booth and having the same conversation over and over (“so, what does Hover do?”).
The 2014 XOXO Festival, hosted by Andy Baio and Andy McMillan in Portland for its third year now, was a gathering of independent artists & makers that use technology in meaningful ways. When Hover was asked to be involved with this year’s XOXO, it was clear from the start that this was not your typical conference.
Being a Patron at XOXO
To be a patron at XOXO, you need to take everything you know about being an event sponsor and throw it right out the window. There’s no booth. No swag. No signage of our brand anywhere. So what were we expected to do? Attend!
One thing that we were allowed to do was host an event during the Social portion of XOXO on Friday afternoon, which we chose to do at Ground Kontrol arcade. We set all of the classic arcade games to free play and provided an open bar, and the venue quickly reached capacity (who knew that creative Internet & tech enthusiasts would like video games??). Even still, there were no indicators that this event was thrown by Hover, besides a brief mention in the guide. Many people that we spoke to at the arcade didn’t even know that we had sponsored it.
By not allowing patrons to plaster the event with their logos or hand out t-shirts, the Hover team was able to focus on the actual event and the people there. As a result we had many great conversations, met a ton of remarkable people and even made new friends. This could not have been done if our main goal was to hand out stickers with discount codes.
At Hover we always talk about making our service as simple and hassle-free as possible so that the makers out there can spend more time focus on creating their great work. There is a whole world of difference between having this idea in our heads vs. meeting these people first-hand. Hearing them talk about their work and the struggles to get there all while enjoying a beer together is a truly eye-opening experience. Getting to know the people behind usernames reminded us why we do what we do and why it’s so important to help all of the makers out there reach their goals in whatever way we’re able to. You can’t think of what the CPM value of an event like this will be; think of it more as an inspirational check-up for your team.
The Event Itself
From the moment you grab your XOXO badge, you are instantly immersed in a world that screams creativity. You begin your day with a coffee from an independent roaster at a bar constructed just for this event (and drink it at a table built for the event as well). If you’re hungry, there are food trucks that have amazing meals from local chefs that cram an entire kitchen into a mobile workspace (essentially the indie version of restaurant ownership).
Once you’re ready to enter the conference, you walk into an abandoned foundry-turned-event space called The Redd. Besides a mural on the outside of the building, chairs & a stage, the Andys didn’t do much else to update the building. All graffiti, holes & warped wood are left just as they were days before. By mid-afternoon, the sun and body heat made the space a makeshift sauna, but that was just what came with the building. Much like the attendees and their projects, we were all claiming the space as our own.
Then there were the speakers. Each talk was from someone working tirelessly in order to create something that they’re proud of. Some are huge successes, others are struggling to pay rent. What united them all was the drive to work on whatever they are most passionate about no matter what. No working some mindless 9-5 job, and certainly no compromising their integrity.
It was all of the Hover team’s first time in Portland, but it became clear fairly early on that a festival celebrating creativity could only be held there. There is so much charm and quirkiness to Portland that it’s very difficult to capture in writing.
There was an empty lot near The Redd where a bunch of goats live. During one of the talks a trumpet could be heard playing outside; turned out it was a homeless man playing in order for his friend to have something to dance to. There was an urban golf game being played on a nearby street. But the highlight was definitely at 10 pm when there was a 12 stationary bike-powered bus blasting gangster rap that was giving 2 old ladies a lift to a dive bar. If you’re wondering why there’s no picture of this, it’s because we were rendered dumbstruck and couldn’t process the seemingly impossible task of taking a picture. You really can’t make this stuff up.
The days were jam-packed, but XOXO fortunately provided many opportunities to explore other sights and sounds of Portland. In addition to the conference, the night opened up to film/animation, stories, an indie arcade, tabletop games and music. Naturally, all of these consisted of indie makers that fit the event’s theme. All of these were held in storied buildings that helped add to Portland’s mystique. There definitely wasn’t anything held inside of a standard Holiday Inn conference centre.
If you’re thinking of heading to next year’s XOXO then I have some bad news: you might be out of luck. Much like the contents of the event, XOXO is itself an experiment. At the opening and closing of the festival, the Andys warn that this year might be the last one. It’s clear that the two put everything they have into this event and make it a unique experience, which is exemplified by how much it has evolved over time.
If there is another XOXO and you’re asked to be a patron, I’d strongly urge you to do so. If your company truly values the independent makers out there, then XOXO is where you need to be. Meeting people that put everything on the line to follow their passions is a truly humbling experience.
The Andys have also done an excellent job creating an environment that makes everyone feel safe and welcome. This year they implemented a strong code of conduct, and even kicked a few festival-goers out after offensive behaviour. There were also volunteers on-hand to talk to in case you needed emotional support of any kind. Besides a few isolated incidents, though, their goal was successfully reached. Everyone there wanted to meet, hug and talk to everyone. If there’s an XOXO 2015, then we’d be thrilled to see everyone there; either way, we look forward to keeping in touch!
To conclude this post, here’s a tweet from Andy Baio that perfectly sums up the lasting impact that XOXO can have on attendees:
Hearing stories of friends giving notice at their day jobs after attending #xoxofest. New XOXO motto: “DON’T BLAME US”
— Andy Baio (@waxpancake) September 17, 2014