Last Thursday, Friday and Saturday, I was at the Good Experience Live conference in New York. It was my fifth year to participate. New York was at its most beautiful with daffodils, tulips and fruit trees all blooming. I got spend time in some of my favorite neighborhoods, but this year I didn't take many pictures. I tried to soak up as much happy experience as I could because I don't think I'll be going to GEL next year.
GEL has traditionally been the place I go to relax and recharge. It occurs at the perfect time to visit New York, and sometimes it syncs with activities at my alma mater, Columbia Business School. As always, I had fun, but also, as always, I found it difficult to connect with the other people there. Although many of us attend GEL every year, I've only made a couple of friends in the five years.
Over the same five years, my plans for becoming an entrepreneur have slowly fallen apart. Although it's clear in my mind how I want to contribute, I've never been able to explain it to prospects. Plus I've never been able to find a teammate who could help me with it. Now as I'm turning to a new chapter, it seems appropriate to invest in new activities.
1. Being a loyalty expert.
Compared to other marketing professionals I know in Houston, I have more passion and understanding of customer loyalty issues, including the development of databases and the creation of newsletters. I'm not sure what I'll be doing over the next five years but I'm sure it will continue my passion for understanding and leveraging loyalty.
2. Finding a sustainable business model.
Although I'm not personally in financial distress, I am professionally bankrupt. I have no customers, but plenty of expenses. I'm walking away from many past expensive activities, such as GEL, and focusing on two business models which may prove to be sustainable (Creative Houston and Passport to Loyalty). In the meantime, if a job working in customer-focused marketing opens up, I will take it.
3. Finding my place.
I've always loved New York, but it's a city that never loves you back. Houston is a safer place to fail, but it's also challenging to be loyal to Houston. It's like trying to be supportive of someone who doesn't know what they want. In developing Creative Houston, I'm going to try over a few years to help Houston figure out where it wants to go. If we reach five years and it's no better, I will be interested in moving. Living in a supportive place is very important to me.
4. Continuing to innovate.
I'm an innovator, and I know from bitter experience that I have to act on my ideas or I will be miserable. So the Passport to Loyalty is my outlet for innovation. If it hits the wall, I'll have to try something else, but it's a pretty adaptable idea, so I think it will have legs. Christy and I are working on a little booklet, and my brother Tom is interested in adapting the contents for a mobile application.
5. Networking with my alumni
I've found some of my greatest friends among the alumni of Columbia University. However, I'm done with trying to operate it like a social network. There's no sustainability there. So I'm pushing other members to help us incorporate into a nonprofit that provides Houston-based internships to Columbia U. students from all schools. If that doesn't work out, I'll probably drop out of the group.
So how does all this relate to GEL? The great value of the conference is that it's NOT prescriptive. If you go to most business conferences, you have all these experts telling what to do. At GEL, you have people sharing what they do. They peers as well as role models. The best things that happen are the surprises. And you go away hoping to find some surprises in your own life. That's my new goal.
P.S. If you want to read a great description of what happened at GEL: try this.