XOXO Festival Recap

1st October 2013

I missed a few sessions, but these were my XOXO Festival highlights:

Creator of Cards Against Humanity

Max, who is just a real solid guy, talked about how good projects start with shared values, which then lead to strategy, and finally tactics. It reminded me of Simon Sinek’s Ted talk, “How great leaders inspire action,” which you should watch:

He said that one of their values was that success is not a zero sum game, meaning that they don’t believe their success is offset by someone else’s failure. This is an operating principle of my life, and one of the things I look for in other people. Can you celebrate with me? Here’s a stupid hat, I’ll get you some champagne.


Erika wins for the most quintessential XOXO Festival sound bite:

“I never set out to be a full-time sex cartoonist.”


Maciej! Witty and canny, I’ve been going down an internet rabbit hole on his work. His talk was a tongue-in-cheek breakdown of life hacks by Thoreau. A few points that resonated:

Simplify – Actively fight complexity.
Life pruning. I don’t do enough of that.
Persevere – Fail slowly.
If you’re not in something for the money, it’s hard to know when you’ve succeeded.
Talk about money. – Only rich people have the luxury of not thinking about money.
Resist – The rich person is always sold to the institution that makes him or her rich. Do you draw a line, and if so where?

Soundslice and Gypsy Jazz Guitarist

I learned so much from this talk. Adrian talked about how to generate passive income by finding the overlap between a community that’s big enough or passionate enough to engage with what you’re doing, but niche enough not to attract the attention of large companies.

He echoed some of Max’s talk here by discussing what sorts of users are attracted by your measures of success.

Favorite quote, “If I’m not having fun, I get bored and sad.”

Truth, my friend.

Founder Blogger, Twitter, Medium

Ev’s talk was about convenience. He said the key to success online was identifying a human desire and using technology to remove the steps between someone and that desire. People don’t want to wait, and they don’t want to think, give them what they want with greater speed or cognitive ease and you have a win.

But then he discussed how convenience can be taken too far, using fast food as an example. We get obesity, poor conditions for animals, and so forth. He said convenience is only worthwhile if we focus on the point of saving time in the first place.

He also gave some personal backstory, saying how amazed he was as a kid that years of experience go into writing a book, and all that information can be yours in just a few hours.

I had a moment of nostalgia when he said, “There used to be people on the internet and people who weren’t, and generally the people you knew in real life weren’t.”

Oh yeah. Remember that?

Boing Boing

The entire staff of mothrafrocking Boing Boing onstage, you guys. If you’re not familiar with the site, it started as a zine in 1988 and became a site in 1995. Apparently they’ve only all been together a few times before. It was neat.

They discussed the appeal of connecting with like-minded people and how they run as a successful anarchist collective. Any one of them has the ability to reject an ad that doesn’t agree with them.

Mark said, “The only filter I have [on what to post] is whether I find something interesting. I don’t like any shoulds around something I still like to think of as a hobby.”

Ill Doctrine

J touched the Hip Hop overlap with the tech community, referencing Deejay Kool Herc as a hacker. I looked this up later, surprised I’d never heard about it before. From Hip Hop Culture Dissertation by Austin Lindsay:

“Herc hosted block parties, which attracted a sizeable crowd and, as his crowds grew larger, Herc moved the party to a larger event, ‘tapping into the city’s power supply, and thus began the storied parties in the park that have been commemorated in hip-hop lyrics ever since.'”

“Whenever I’m screaming at my laptop, I take about 12 hours to take my rage and crush it into a diamond. And then I take that rage diamond and I put it on YouTube.”

“The number one sign you’re an introvert is you think Buzzfeed should mind your business.”

There was a moment during J’s talk where I knew I was with my people. He said, “It was one of those, ‘we apologize if you were offended’ apologies.” And the crowd said, “Oooooooo.”

Rofl Con, The Awesome Foundation

“I have almost no inner turmoil.”

“For a lot of people, independence is lonely.”

“The people who succeed are those who have enough privilege to take risks.”

She touched on how privilege carries with it a responsibility to help talented people succeed in the absence of resources. You become that resource.


“I was lazy and fearful.”

Jonathan talked about not caring what other people think (Incidentally, I just read a cool piece by Tavi Gevinson on this point. And apparently, you don’t grow out of worrying about this.) How, especially as a creative type, you can get caught up in whether you’re the “right kind” of artist. “Like all creative people, I think, ‘I wonder if I’ve ever done anything that’s any good.'”

On fatherhood: “I felt like it was time to be brave, set an example, make good decisions. I did not want to be Sad Dad with unfulfilled dreams.”

“You’re doing it right.” There is no next level. You’re good where you are, being who you are.
“Fuck ’em.” You make the best thing you can make. Work with fans, bring them into your circle.

“Here’s the only metric you need to care about: Is what you’re doing making you more happy or less happy?”

Panic, Inc.

Cabel’s speech was one of the most moving of the conference. He talked about how he recently found himself feeling sad about his work, and set out to figure out what was wrong. He realized it was the result of two factors:

1. Unexpected pressure…
2. No definitive end point in sight

He started thinking about how companies end:

Selling out: You’re purchased, employed by a larger company, and now begin to spend a lot of time thinking about pizza pockets or whatnot.
Flaming out: You have some spectacular controversy and the business implodes.
Fading out: You grow increasingly disinterested and one day just stop.

His company had already rejected a couple of sale offers because as a team they wanted to see more independent voices and fewer monolithic voices. (I like that.) They were unlikely to face controversy because they’ve been working together harmoniously for years, so fade out seemed like the most likely finale. This bummed him out, to put it euphemistically.

After their product shipped, the cloud gradually lifted and he started thinking about how to keep this from happening again.

– More hands on deck to work through big projects.
– Taking care of the customers/fans, and himself.
– Focus on surrounding themselves with good people.
– Recognizing that this might be the best time in his life, and staying present for it.

Pretty good right? With Camp Mighty coming up, it helped shape my thoughts on what motivates me and why, the types of things I want to do, and how I’d like to approach them. Good stuff.

If you liked this post, you might also like:

MaxFunCon 2011, Affection Recap
Mom 2.0 Recap
Kimbra at SxSW

5 thoughts on “XOXO Festival Recap

  1. alison

    I had an awesome time at XOXO. Hopefully next year I’ll be able to buy a conference badge so I can see some of the talks too!

  2. Lianne

    Maciej is such a talented writer. I’ve been reading him for years. Way back when I found him through his girlfriend who also had an interesting blog where each day she would start her post with whatever saint’s feast day it was. She worked in a bookstore. And then they broke up, and her blog disappeared. And I always wondered what happened to her. One of the things I don’t like about the internet. Cool people just up and disappear.

    All this by way of saying – if somebody who knows can tell me that she is living happily ever after somewhere, I would be pleased. Sadly, I realize, I’ve forgotten her name and the name of her blog.

  3. Nozlee

    The things I took down are basically identical to this! It was so, so amazing hanging out with you at XOXO.

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