I rarely fly Southwest Airlines, not because I’m not a fan, but largely because they don’t fly direct to most of the locations I travel to regularly. There are a couple of exceptions every year of course, Austin, Las Vegas and LA being on that list and more recently, Boise.
I love Idaho, a state I never expected to travel to never mind fall in love with. Truth be told, when a friend asked me to join him on a stint through the west for a few weeks roughly 15 years ago, I chose 3 states for that exploration, ones I figured would be vast but plain and boring. I couldn’t have been more wrong about all three. To say that Idaho, Montana and Wyoming did not disappoint is an understatement.
The breathtaking Idaho Sawtooth Mountain range is a sight to be seen, one which I’d argue is a transformative experience if you have an opportunity to hike or picnic on her soil.
Years later, I ended up in Idaho to see friends and then not again until last year when industry pals dragged me to a new-on-the-scene technology event in beautiful Sun Valley called DENT.
The DENT Conference (aka Dent the Future), has grown from 75 attendees in 2013, its first year, to 200 this year. While the number may seem small, just remember what SXSW and CES were like in their early days and more importantly, how special they were because of their size way back when. F.ounders in Dublin in the first two years also oozed that “small community” charm. As soon as events take off and explode in size, they lose that treasured intimacy that originally made them so special.
While the event is growing, the goal is not to become another SXSW or anything close – its goal is to stay intimate while delivering stellar content around technology innovation and business. Beyond content, networking and cultural activities are baked into the DENT schedule that spans 3 days, so attendees can have the kind of authentic and bond-building experience so lacking at other events. Nature is also at its core, since there are options to ski or hike before and after the event. On the first day, which they refer to as “Activity Day,” we headed out on a photo walk into Sun Valley’s woods, something that was as memorable this year as it was last.
Co-founders Steve Broback and Jason Preston hold DENT in of all places Sun Valley because of their passion for the area. Steve and his wife visit frequently and even have a second home there, which is an easy flight from Seattle where they hang their hat most of the time.
The other nice thing about having an event in Sun Valley is that it is more remote than places like Atlanta, Phoenix and Las Vegas where so many conferences and trade events are held – it takes more effort to get there, requiring a commitment to be present with attendees who show up. In other words, it encourages you to play “full out” and participate in a way that’s easy to avoid at larger events in more frequented cities. And, the location is prestine and beautiful.
Sun Valley is also smaller and let’s be honest – gorgeous. The views are nothing short of breathtaking, whether you’re skiing at Sun Valley Mountain or going for a hike on Bald Mountain. For those of you who have been to Sun Valley, you also know that the food and wine scene is fabulous, as is the city’s art and culture. (See the Sun Valley Lodge renovation piece, my spring skiing write-up and top Ketchum restaurants reviews from last year).
And so, that’s why I boarded a Southwest Air flight this past weekend from Oakland to Boise and then hopped the “wine bus” with 30 other geeks and entrepreneurs from Silicon Valley and Seattle, where great Cabernet was poured as we made our way through the mountains to awe-inspiring Sun Valley. Here, we geeked out, shared stories, formed new relationships and strengthened existing ones.
This year’s event boasted speakers like Craig Newmark, founder of Craig’s List, David Risher, Ron J. Williams, Sarah Milstein, Paul Shoemaker, Dan Kottke who shared early stories of his friendship with Steve Jobs as well as the books they read together, Pam Weiss, cartoonist David Horsey and others.
Buick was also on board to shuttle us around and made us feel like kings and queens as we darted around the valley from activity-to-activity. They also ran an Auto Cross event where you had three tries to improve your time racing through a course set up on the outskirts of the city. Fun was the order of the day while learning a bit about safe driving in the process. I also had no idea how great Buick’s acceleration was from park to “go.”
Above shot of hosts and founders Steve Broback and Jason Preston on the main DENT stage, courtesy of Chris Holmes
While technology and innovation may be the order of the day inside the Sun Valley Inn for two full days, rest assured there are plenty of other reasons why attending the event is more than just a little enticing. Aside from hiking, biking and skiing, there’s a massive yoga and a holistic retreat center in town (take a peak inside Zenergy to get a flavor).
The geeks who show up are not only exceptionally passionate about what they do, but have a genuine desire to see others move forward in their life and business in empowering ways. From that place and frame of mind, best practices are shared and the latest gear seems to show up.
Side events and meals are served on-site at the Sun Valley Inn, at nearby local restaurants in Ketchum and at entrepreneur’s homes in the area. Below, Chris Voss, Kris Krug, Robert Scoble and other photo geeks stand on local entrepreneur Scott Jordan’s roof, taking in the views and the energy from the DENT attendees below.
And, oh yeah, there’s a wolf walk led by Oliver Starr, a man who is more passionate about wolves than most women are about dark chocolate.
Speaking of dark chocolate, Laura Jordan cooked up a storm at her home for this year’s Denters, while we took in the views of the mountains around Ketchum.
From left to right, Skip Franklin, Renee Blodgett, Scott Jordan, Steve Broback
All above 5 shots at the ScotteVest party taken by photographer Mark Oliver (Ketchum).
Scott Jordan, who is CEO and founder of ScotteVest and Laura graciously hosted Denters on opening night and nothing was spared — from potato pierogi with sour cream, Thai corn fritters, bacon wrapped stuffed dates, french onion wontons, shrimp crostini, duck confit doughnut holes with sour cream preserves, to a full table of cookies, cakes and chocolate and caramel covered apples.
The DENT Conference is a combination of all things smart, innovative, forward thinking and relevant and its attendees are a combination of authentic, connected, sassy, leading edge and fun. I began to notice a wonderful shift from last year’s event to this year after the first day — what emerged was a formation of a dynamic community.
I for one, personally felt embraced by a savvy group of individuals who were there to give more than “get” and to learn more than network. Unlike so many tech conferences where you feel that networking and pitching are core to the vibe and their raison d’etre, DENT is focused on building a community that will last, one which wants to help others succeed along the way. This golden nugget quality combined with stellar content, speakers and a blend of right brain and left brain conversations on and off the stage, is what truly makes DENT so special.
A must event to put on your radar, DENT is held every March in Sun Valley Idaho and there are now direct flights from San Francisco or you can fly from Oakland to Boise and drive the 3-4 hours to the mountain range, which is nothing short of breathtaking.
Another great read on this event is from LA Times columnist and cartoonist David Horsey, also one of DENT’s speakers.
PHOTO CREDITS: Photo of Jason and Steve taken by Chris Holmes, photos from Scott Jordan party taken by Mark Oliver and all other photos by Renee Blodgett.