The private, invitation-only event was held at the Meritage Resort in Napa, California. A perfect venue for such an event IMHO. The event was organized by the Olliance Group and DLA Piper, sponsored by a number of open and not-so-open source companies, you can see a list on the main Think Tank Site. (Thanks a ton to the sponsors btw).
The three day event started with a 90 minute drive from Sunnyvale to Napa on a sunny Thursday morning (we followed this route) in the company of my Fiancee. There was no additional charge for bringing another person around so I thought putting her into the Spa was the best way of ensuring she wouldn't complain about myself working through the weekend :-)
Upon arrival the place confirmed what we had seen on the web already, it was a beautiful place surrounded by vine-yards in the middle of Napa Valley. I already had checked the list of speakers and assistants (quite astonishing, I won't be naming anybody but the list included CEOs, CIOs, CTOs, legal experts, investors and senior executives from top companies and agencies) so I was excited about the people I'd be meeting, the conversations we'd be having and the overall knowledge sharing that would be happening at the event. And I wasn't disappointed...
On the first day we listened in to what three CIOs of some very big US companies had to say about OpenSource in their environment. Interesting stuff was said and I already started learning a lot. Food was ok (was going to have much better food the day after) and we jumped directly into our first business case.
The business cases were fun and challenging at the same time. There were 8 tables with around 8-12 people on each having to work on a some sample scenarios involving mobile platforms. We got one of the toughest IMO, we had to build a mobile solution for our own company.
The group was amazing and one hour later we already had developed a full mobile multi-platform ERP ready for our global corporation. After that, a 5 minute presentation was made by someone at each table, which was quite funny. Lawsuits were thrown around, hilarious marketing speeches (SuperFluffy on steroids, lol) and a good share of know-how brought up an interesting evidence: there's little room right now for OpenSource in the mobile market.
Following this there was an insightful panel on cloud+opensource which I can't talk about, a couple of talks by some of the main sponsors (Oracle & Microsoft) which led to the interesting part of the day: the opening reception (sponsored by Geeknet, the people who run sourceforge.net among others. Having them buy me beer and wine made me forgive them a bit for the nightmares we're facing with CVS downtime lately >5 days in a row at some times).
The reception was held under a wine-yard in a cave and I was able to start meeting very interesting people. The place was a bit loud tho, the echo made having a good conversation almost impossible.
9pm was my limit tho, it had been an exhausting first day. I heard some people went on until late-late in the night, ending up in a small Deli in Napa ;-). Missed some fun there...
The second day started early in the morning with the key activities during the weekend: a business case on the State of California and their OpenSource usage policy. Half of our group was split up and we had to merge with a new group. Interesting stuff, I missed my old group but in the end I think the new group was better suited for the subject at hand, there was a very strong representation of many areas with an incredible level of expertise. I felt a bit awkward and tried to share my limited knowledge (compared to that of those people around the table) in order to get a successful business case in the end.
This business case was real competition btw, with a prize luring on the last day and the judges being no others than the State CTO and CIO, iirc.
Our group ("Table 5" from now on) performed incredibly well. I won't disclose any detail about the exact content of our case and pitch but I want to express my sincere admiration to the coordinator of the group, who wrote down the slides on a whiteboard and pitched them the day after and the co-presenter. Everybody was amazing in the group but them two had to present our stuff and put it into the right light, and they did incredibly well the third day.
Another workshop went after this one, with the same group. But after the State of CA one this was a bit "light". We handled it in about 30 minutes doing all the possible options from various angles.
After this we were done (around 1pm) and after all this hard work attendees had to make a choice:
- Run around in the sun hitting a white ball with wooden or iron sticks
- Try out the wines in one of the best wine regions of the world
I don't have to say which one I chose, right? :-P (I'm biased, I don't know how to play golf tho I'd love to learn, so my decision was a no-brainer).
The very friendly chauffeur brought us to the "Cline Cellars" where we had a good share of wine tasting. I don't want to talk bad about the wine but I must admit their miniature collection was way more interesting than the wine we were given to taste.
One hour later we were carried over to the next Winery, the "Jacuzzi Winery" (those guys actually invented the Jacuzzi itself, I was pretty amazed). The wine here was much better tho the location was a bit awkward, being a replica of the old home of the Jacuzzi Family back in Italy.
Next step: the gala dinner.
The third winery of the day proved to be the most amazing one. Artesa Vineyards & Winery. Maria (ref: Fiancee) and me decided to take our car to the place in order to be able to leave whenever we wanted, so we arrived on time (and the rest of the group about 20 minutes later). The place was breath-taking.
If you look at their site you'll have an idea about the architecture, we were in the middle of the green mountains and wineyards, catching a grasp of San Francisco on the horizon while the sun was setting... incredible.
The dinner itself was incredible (This picture resembles the most to what we had) and the wines great. So was the company on the table, I were lucky and had the chance to chat with some of the people I had met before.
The most exciting moment of the eve was when @paulsalazar brought his telescope and we were able to watch Saturn and learn a couple of things about astronomy. Cheers again Paul.
To the hotel after this, the day was over and the next day was the judgement day: the State of CA business case pitches.
I woke up a bit late on Saturday, missed 60% of the talk that was going on during the breakfast and really regret it. It was a couple of well know VC representatives talking about exit strategies involving OpenSource companies. Very enlightening.
After this, the moment of truth. I can't explain it but I was very nervous about all the pitches going on, everybody was presenting their idea very well and while I was sure we had one of the best cases, I was getting scared about all the good pitches I were seeing. Our speaker seemed to be very nervous too (more on this later) which made me think he lost confidence on what we had worked on the day before.
Presentations were rolling out one after another and our turn came. R and K did incredibly well, all my fears were gone and when I came back to the table we had another surprise: Table 5 had been the last one to expose their case, which is wonderful. We no longer had a doubt that we would win (as I write this the winners haven't been published so I might have to eat my words in a couple of days) since everything fit into the right place.
Another business case followed but IMO it wasn't as well explained as the other one. We had some discussion and finally took our hypothetical company straight into cloud business. Anyway, SweetCRM was the clear winner of the round :-)
That was it I thought, we're done. Three days of hard work, amazing talks, amazing people and I were exhausted. But one final event remained, which proved to be one of the best during the whole weekend. Guess what? More wine tasting :-)
This time the selected Winery was none other than the Andretti Winery. Do you know Mario Andretti? the guy who has won races in every important motorsports category (F1, Indy, Sportscar and NASCAR), who is a F1 champion, won the Indy-500, etc....
Well, it's his winery, and we missed him by one day (he was going to be there on Sunday). A shame.
Nonetheless, the eve was amazing. A small group of people remained (about 20) but the conversation was great, the food was great, the wine was great and so was the venue. The best way to finish off three unforgettable days in my life.
First thing I want to say is although it seems that the only thing we did there was tasting wine, nothing more distant from reality. It was hard work and it was an honor to be among some of the brightest people I've ever met in my life.
The only reason I talk longer about Wine than about what happened is because of the closed nature of the event we were requested not to disclose names (not many at least :P) or quote people.
Because of this I can't name all the interesting people I've met but if some of you read this and we've been chatting, you'll know that I'd be mentioning you at this point.
Last but not least, thanks a ton Andrew for letting me be part of this.