The inside story of Summit’s very awkward first event

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Image Credit: Summit Group. Image well after the events described in this article.

I was 21 and had just dropped out of college after starting a business. I had returned to my parents and was living in my childhood room. I had never traveled with friends. I had never booked my own hotel room. And I had never thrown a party.

As a new entrepreneur with almost no connections or resources, I was desperately looking for a group of other entrepreneurs who could relate to me. So I cold called 20 entrepreneurs who had reluctantly agreed to come on a ski trip that I had offered to host. This is the story of that first Summit event – a small gathering that over the next decade would grow into over 250 events, with some as large as 3,000 people, and it would transform my life into the process.

But at first, all I knew was that I had to show people a good time. It was not easy.

I landed in Salt Lake City on a crisp, clear Friday afternoon in April 2008 – only two hours before my guests. I rented a Suburban and ran to a convenience store for snacks when they arrived, and proudly bought beer for the first time in my life.

Everything seemed ready when I arrived home to unpack. I now had a case of beer in the fridge and what seemed like a mountain of snacks on the table. And that been a mountain of snacks—for one person. We’ll probably have beer one night this weekend, I imagined, and everyone will have one.

As guests began to arrive, I graciously showed each new person that arrived around the rental house.

“There are no plans for this weekend,” I told guest Joel Holland as we headed into the kitchen. “The idea is that everyone knows each other. The whole weekend is one big party! I proudly opened the refrigerator door to reveal twenty-four cans of beer.

A crate of beer? For twenty people? This, Joel thought, going to be one hell of a party.

Beer having historically proven to be a wonderful social lubricant for young people in uncomfortable environments, those 24 cans disappeared almost immediately once guests found out they’d be sharing rooms with people they didn’t know.

All anyone could feel at this point was a deep sense of awkwardness.

Ricky Van Veen and Josh Abramson of CollegeHumor immediately zeroed in on all the discomfort and decided it would be fun to create more. When the group piled into a few cars and headed to the upscale restaurant my mom had scouted for dinner, Ricky and Josh were already planning a plot.

The group gathered around a long table, with me in the lead. When I got up to go to the bathroom, Ricky and Josh quickly explained their plan to everyone: They would give the butler carte blanche to place in front of me when I sat down again. They asked the rest of the group to play along.

I returned to the table and took my seat, and the butler gave an award-winning performance. “So sorry,” he said remorsefully, gently placing the note in front of me. He was so sincere it was obvious there was a problem.

“Elliott, what is it?” Josh fumbled.

“I just got the weirdest card,” I said.

“What does it say?”

Your attire does not conform to club standards, and we ask that you change immediately.
-Management

“Oh man, you gotta go change,” someone shouted.

“I don’t have any extra clothes in the car!”

“Well, where is the nearest store where you can buy some?”

“I do not know.”

“But you to have switch.”

“What’s wrong with my clothes?” »

“Look at your shirt. It’s not appropriate.

“It’s a button-down shirt. Of the same kind as you are beautiful to carry.”

“His do not the same. Look at him Color of your shirt!

This went on until every inch of my outfit was carefully dissected down to the outline of my collar. My frustration was building until everyone burst out laughing.

I closed my eyes and gave a reluctant smile. Then I started laughing with the table. At that point, all the tension that had built up since everyone’s arrival was released. Lively conversations broke out around the table and everyone began to relax into the evening and connect on a deeper level.

It was an initiation that was a better bonding experience than anything I could have planned. No one minds sharing a room with others after that. There was so much to rehash and laugh about, most of it at my expense. It was like summer camp, except there was more snow and less poison ivy.

The next day, everyone hit the slopes. Sam Altman, the future president of Y Combinator, and the founders of Vimeo and TOMS were hanging out and swapping stories about their struggles. They were learning each other’s best business practices and how they balance work and personal life. Each highlighted past failures and what could be learned from them. By the end of the weekend, everyone knew about each other’s businesses and the stories that created them. Some of the guests had even formed lifelong friendships.

But perhaps I had learned the greatest lesson of all. So many people are afraid to host an event, host a meeting, or even send an important email unless it’s perfectly crafted – like you shouldn’t put yourself forward unless everything not be perfect.

I understood then that the most important quality an event can have is space for the unexpected – space for spontaneity and chance that create sparks. It’s the difference between a very polished apple you get at the supermarket and a slightly bruised organic apple that fell from a tree. Brush it off and the roadside apple tastes infinitely better.

Just as I had relentlessly picked up the phone to call people, I had tracked and started an event that even my friends thought I was crazy trying to organize – and now I had 20 new friends who didn’t. didn’t think I was crazy at all.

In fact, they liked me.

When my guests left the mountain, they asked me if he would arrange another meeting for everyone six months later. The idea hadn’t even occurred to me; I had barely managed to get a single weekend off, and it would take her months to pay off my credit card debt. After saying goodbye to the crew, I quickly received a phone call from a Fortune reporter asking how things went. As the call ended, the reporter asked one last question.

“So, what’s your event called?” asked the reporter.

It didn’t occur to me to have a name for the ski trip. Why would I name the trip? I didn’t have a name to hang out with friends on the weekends, so how was that different?

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“You organized an event. What’s his name ?

“Right. Of course it has a name…”

“Well what is it?”

I glanced at the North Face jacket I still wore from the weekend and read the words directly on the sleeve.

“Summit Series.”

Excerpt from MAKE NO SMALL PLANS: Lessons on Thinking Big, Chasing Dreams, and Building Community by Elliott Bisnow, Brett Leve, Jeff Rosenthal, and Jeremy Schwartz. Copyright © 2022 by Elliott Bisnow, Brett Leve, Jeff Rosenthal and Jeremy Schwartz. Published by Currency, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.

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