Las Vegas Pioneers: Past, Present and Future

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I’ve maintained a close relationship with Las Vegas since marrying my college sweetheart 15 years ago at the Las Vegas Country Club. We lived in Las Vegas for two years early on but have since kept an arms distance while building a career and enjoying the culture of New York and Los Angeles. My wife Laura has deep roots in Vegas as her maternal grandparents moved to the city in the 30′s when the population was roughly 8,000. Like any other new city, Las Vegas was ripe for entrepreneurs who had the vision to map out the future of the community and her grandparents were “all-in”.

This post started as a follow-up to our visit of the Downtown Project, but the more I thought of the future of downtown Las Vegas, the more I thought of Laura’s family and how they were part of something exciting as exciting as creating the city of Las Vegas from the ground up.

Las Vegas Pioneers
Maxwell Kelch
Maxwell Kelch, Laura’s grandfather, was a man of many interests who worked as a recording engineer for the likes of Bing Crosby but also wrote a book about celestial navigation. After moving to Las Vegas, Maxwell served as an early president of the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce and with his wife Laura Belle they started Las Vegas’ first radio station called KENO. While president of the Chamber of Commerce, Maxwell started a campaign called “Live Wire” which was the first organized effort to market Las Vegas as a product and transform Las Vegas into a global destination. Maxwell was also the voice of Vegas Vic,  the neon cowboy waving his hat outside the Pioneer Club on Fremont Street who used to say “Howdy Podner” to passerbys. Maxwell never invested in gaming or liquor as a way to build the city, much like his successors who are currently reshaping downtown.

Laura Belle KelchLaura Belle Kelch also left her mark on the city of Las Vegas as the founder of the chapter of Las Vegas Boy Scouts and charter member of the Las Vegas Art League which is now the Las Vegas Art Museum and one of the first female members of the Rotary Club. After launching their radio station, Laura Belle hosted a show called “Listen Ladies” that shared tips on gardening and homemaking as support to the war efforts from home. Laura Belle and her daughter Marilyn (Laura’s mom) recall riding their horses around the city and even tying them up on Fremont street as they went shopping. Marilyn has made horses a lifelong passion as she moved from a prominent career in Nevada politics to the proprieter and “Boss Lady” of Sandy Valley Ranch.

Laura’s paternal grandparents also arrived to Las Vegas in the 30′s and her grandfather Vivian Gubler served as district attorney and represented the Atomic Energy Commission and various other Nevada corporations. Laura’s father John Gubler continued the family tradition of practicing law and up until last year had been doing so in a building at the corner of Bridger and 1st St. for almost 38 years. Vivian’s wife Rita Gubler (Laura’s grandmother) founded the Junior League of Las Vegas and also found time to open the first second-hand store in Las Vegas called “The Thrift Shop” while raising four boys.

From Enigma Cafe to The Beat
Since I’ve known downtown Las Vegas, it was always a wasteland to me. The area known as the “naked city” has Thai BBQ, but in the 90′s there was a gem of a spot that served as a cultural conclave for artists, poets, musicians and other creative thinkers who were turned off and away by the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas. Enigma Cafe was founded in 1993 by Julie Brewer who was an original believer in downtown Las Vegas and helped start the First Friday Arts Festival. In 1996 she sold Enigma to Lenadams Dorris who was also interested in fostering a community by offering Enigma Cafe as a safe and encouraging place for the Las Vegas community to feel at home.

Entering Enigma Cafe felt like walking into someone’s home as you were instantly surrounded by manicured foliage and artistic outdoor furniture. Vines climbed walls and trellis’ throughout the cafe and a shaded patio offered respite from the intense Vegas heat. I’ve come to learn that Lenadams worked in a plant nursery for many years so the greenery all made sense. Laura and my brother absolutely loved Cafe Enigma and to them Las Vegas hasn’t been the same since Enigma closed a few years back, but as Las Vegas grows, so does a need for great coffee and conversation.

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Enter The Beat coffeehouse which is leading the way for independent coffeehouses in the valley but more importantly is carrying on the tradition as Enigma Cafe did as a meeting place for creative types who aspire for more than Las Vegas has to offer. Lenadams Dorris and the late Julie Brewer may have been 20 years too early but their legacy lives on as First Friday and Downtown Las Vegas enter a new era.

Tony Hsieh, Zappos and Downtown Las Vegas
Many of us have read Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos. If you haven’t I strongly recommend it as a story of a driven man, a startup and the path to startup success. Tony continues to walk the talk as he has done so many years with Zappos and instead of just taking the Amazon money and running, he continues to innovate at Zappos and as part of their expansion they will be moving into the vacate city hall building in downtown Las Vegas.

Realizing that they were outgrowing their corporate headquarters in Henderson, NV, Tony and his team checked out various corporate campus like environments such as Google, Nike and others. These mini-cities had everything that employees needed to sustain their focus and drive but he noticed they were cut-off and operated like fiefdoms. This did not fit with the Zappos culture. “Culture” is a word you hear Zappos employees speak of A LOT and it’s a driving force to what motivates them and has helped build such a rabid fanbase.

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The vacate Las Vegas city hall building was up for sale and was going cheap. It’s a unique looking building and cited as 1960′s modern architecture although it was built in 1973. It will provide more than enough space for the 1,200 and counting employees but Tony realized it’s location was lacking. In fact downtown Las Vegas was lacking almost everything that most people would need if they were going to live nearby and people living at a ratio of 100 per acre is the ideal ratio that Tony feels is necessary for the types of serendipitous “collisions” that Tony and Zappos thrive on.

This New York Times article goes into much greater detail on the Downtown Project including the $350 million fund that Tony and a few other investors have pooled to provide downtown Las Vegas with everything a true community needs including, arts, education, entertainment and work. A first step that connects the past with the present was purchasing First Friday which provides a great foundation and legitimacy from which to continue to launch more art and music such as the Life is Beautiful Festival.

The Ogden and Fremont East
We’ve been following the progress of downtown Las Vegas from afar but it wasn’t until our friend Laura Herbert (who works with the Downtown Project), who is one of the most creative, intelligent and inspiring people we know, suggested we take an official visit to see what the buzz was all about. Laura described downtown Las Vegas as a Disneyland for hard-working entrepreneurs and we were flattered that she thought to recommend us to her colleagues.

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Our visits to Las Vegas always revolve around staying at one of the parents houses which is great but we’d never done a proper Las Vegas vacation together so we were excited about the prospect of staying in a high rise downtown and being within walking distance of everything we’d want to check out for a couple days.

During our time in New York we lived in a couple different high-rise doorman buildings, so the Ogden brought back memories of taking the dog up and down for walks and being in close proximity to our neighbors. But unlike New York where people typically keep to themselves, every person we saw in the elevator gave us a nice hello and reached out to play with our dog or make faces at our baby. Not everyone who lives in the Ogden is involved with the Downtown Project and it was a great barometer to the attitudes of locals in that building and we left with a positive vibe.

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Our room had a great balcony that faced South so we had a full and magnificent view of the strip, but the drawback facing that direction was Fremont street. We could hear the concerts from Beauty Bar and the Fremont Street experience and although it eventually faded into background noise we were there on the night of the Vegas Streats festival but fortunately we had ear plugs and our son is a sound sleeper.

Before and during our visit we chatted with Trish Buck who runs the family programs as part of the Downtown Project. She and her husband Patrick, live in the Ogden with their two kids who are growing up with the El Cortez just outside their window (does it get anymore Vegas than that?). Trish was hosting family game night while we visited and it was just a couple blocks from the Ogden. They had a ton of Imagination Playground equipment setup which we’ve always loved for open-ended play and our son Hunter was in heaven. In addition they had table games for the older kids and a social paintbrush station was setup. Trish was an extremely gracious host and the perfect person to introduce the Downtown Project to families.

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Our official tour of Downtown Las Vegas began with Krissee who greeted us with a big smile and had the same infectious energy that everyone we had met who was involved in DTLV project had. She started with a tour of Tony Hsieh’s apartment which has become the unofficial headquarters of Downtown Project.

The blueprints for buildings, container parks and schools were pinned to the walls and a message board with hundreds of Post-Its contained wishes from residents who were asked what they’d like to see come to fruition downtown. It wasn’t all work as evident of the well-stocked bar, black light room and jungle room that we could only imagine lends itself to some amazing parties.

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Krissee then walked us over to the Emergency Arts building that I mentioned before has become a cultural hub for the Downtown Project and in addition to housing The Beat coffeehouse there are at least 35 art galleries located on the first and second floor. We peeked into USR/LIB which is the co-working tech space located on the second floor and where many of the numerous tech meetups take place.

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Our son facilitated a chance encounter with the owner of the gallery TastySpace, Dana Satterwhite and his wife Kristen. Two artistic professionals who are part of the driving force behind the success of downtown Las Vegas. We loved that they were not connected to Downtown Project but as artists and musicians they were benefitting from the direction the city was going.

While walking around downtown we had a longtime local friend spot us and we were happy to have such a chance encounter and know this would never happen if we lived in Summerlin and were walking around Boca Park.

Our final stop was the hackerspace, Syn Shop. Although they just recently opened their doors they had quite the hardware setup with a Replicator 2 Makerbot, laser cutter, industrial size ShopBot and plenty of power tools. We had an informal chat with their board of directors who had recently wrapped a Mini-Maker Faire and had big plans for this space.

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The one spot we didn’t get to was Stitch Factory which is a co-working space for designers to workout the patterns of their dreams and collaborate and learn more about the fashion industry. Hello Wifebeader!

I’m kind of a nerd/meathead but I trust the creative barometer of my wife Laura Dahl and her brother Matthew Gray Gubler, two formative and driven Las Vegas natives who made their mark elsewhere but are now invigorated by everything that is happening downtown.

Regardless of our involvement with Downtown Project, we are both excited about the possibilities set forth and at the very least they will have created an urban core of art, culture and business where none existed and at the most, downtown will continue to influence thousands of residents and non-residents to re-examine what they think Las Vegas is and possibly consider investing their time and money into the city that they now feel can support their creative ventures.

Our hope is that Downtown Project continues to focus on building an amazing community but also recognizing and enfolding the people of the community that already exists, which is the foundation that Las Vegas was built on.

Storytelling is the Key to Content Marketing

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I abhor any term with the word “marketing” in it. Content Marketing is no exception.

It’s so vague and leads to the thinking that by building content is simply an extension of marketing which leads you down a dark and dirty path. When you start writing for the sake of marketing, SEO and to build traffic, your prose suffers. Instead, think of telling your story. Focus on what makes you or your brand awesome. Forget selling anything or pitching a message. The main message is all about who you are which is enough.

We’ve all got a much better nose for bullshit so be real. Tell your story and if you’ve got to close with an important message than simply put it out there. Don’t try to squeeze it in on the sly.

Your audience wants to connect with you, not your product or service. This is especially true for small businesses who can really tout ownership, history and location. It’s likely a customer will walk into the store and talk to the real owner who has a real story to tell about how and why he started the business (to help people) and why he feels his business is better than the competition. These are things I want to know from the people who are selling me something. I’ve already done my research and I’m ready to buy but who am I buying from?

Tell your story and the rest will follow.

Vegas Tech Map

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Our recent trips to Las Vegas and interactions with Downtown Project, spurred us to contribute to the community even though we don’t live there.

Our friend Tara made this map of the LA Tech Startup scene called Represent.LA and they shared the code on github so we sourced it and applied it to a map that we’ve localized to Las Vegas and called it Vegas Tech Map.

VegasTechMap

We’ve already got 43 submissions and hopefully it will continue to grow and become a source of pride for the Las Vegas tech scene.

We also give props to the original Las Vegas crowdsourcing fund called, Live Wire Fund, founded by Maxwell Kelch (Laura’s grandfather).

Does My Business Need a Facebook Page?

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I recently reconnected with a great friend who has setup an amazing private medical practice in Wisconsin and all without the benefit of social media. This really proves to all the “gurus” that solid market research and business sense still trump social media outreach and Klout…but that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t at least have a presence on Facebook.

Here’s why.

1. Be Where Your Customers Are
Facebook has permeated our lives whether we like it or not. Yes some of us use it more than others but for those that do use Facebook on a regular basis we have a much larger sphere of influence than our non-Facebook using friends. This influence comes from check-ins as well as status updates. Customers that can match a status update or checkin with a business location usually do so when they want to give it props (as well as when they want to talk trash).

2. Search
Once Facebook decides to turn on search it will be a huge blow to Google. The social graph that Facebook has built is perfect for search and recommending or searching for dentists, auto repair shops and more will become much easier with Facebook. Google will become the old Yellow Pages as Facebook will be based on recommendations from friends.

3. Build Your Brand
If your website is basically a business brochure, Facebook can be where you let your personality shine. Photos, videos and business updates all connect with customers.

4. Make Announcements
Use Facebook to offer specials, announce changes in hours or new locations. It’s a great way to broadcast updates to your most loyal customers.

How does your business use Facebook?

San Francisco Road Trip

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How much do I love San Francisco? I’ve always enjoyed every trip to the Bay Area and now that we have so many friends living there and business reasons for visiting I just can’t get enough. LA is ok and has the amazing weather but SF has seasons and it’s always great to plug back into a “stylish” city.

We drove our vintage Mercedes-Benz up to SF and it performed admirably. We were slightly worried about how it would do on the hills but we had no problems at all.

Thanks to our friends for being gracious hosts and we know we’ll be back soon.

5 Don’ts of Blogger Outreach

You cannot pitch bloggers the same way that you pitch traditional media. The inherent personal nature of blogs means that someone who has spent their valuable time and money investing in their blog usually doesn’t just want free stuff, nor do they want to take the time to setup interviews.

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Bloggers wear many hats. We are writers, editors, publishers, designers, sales people, marketing gurus and analytics obsessed. Some bloggers fall in all of those categories, others only a few. Some blog full-time most don’t. Despite our differences we have similar motivations and pitches to bloggers require a value proposition different than what a full-time reporter or magazine editor receives. The sooner you realize this, the better your pitches will be.

There are literally hundreds of “don’ts” when it comes to blogger outreach but these stand out as the top 5.

1. Don’t Send a Press Release
The merits of a press release in general are debatable. A press release in it’s traditional form is no longer as effective as it once was when news desks would receive releases via fax/mail and if the product or pitch was relevant it might get placement. A press release today needs to be different. Don’t expect much reaction if you spam bloggers with your press release. We require a bit something more.

2. Don’t be Off Topic
I’m definitely open to non-endemic pitches as long as they are crafted in a way that makes sense to me.  But a straight pitch for something that is obviously not what I ever blog about is just wasting your time. Read the blog before you pitch. Also do a search on the blog to see if they’ve covered something similar.

3. Don’t be Generic
Put some thought into your pitch and remember everything I just said about the roles that bloggers play. Appeal to our sense of style, taste, knowledge and most importantly ego. Don’t be boring.

4. Don’t Ask If We Want to Interview
This question goes back to how beat reporters work. Your pitch is usually a cold contact (shouldn’t be) and you are asking us to read your email and then setup time in our schedule to interview someone for a story that we don’t even know if we want to write? Don’t ask bloggers to do too much. Make it easy for us.

5. Don’t Hold Back
A blogger pitch can be your first impression so don’t blow it by holding back. Include whatever relevant links are required to help us make a decision. Don’t add an attachment but instead provide a link to an online media kit with downloadable photos and information. Give us everything we need to create a narrative. We all know that storytelling is the way to build readership.

My follow up post will have the 5 Do’s of Blogger Outreach.

 

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Jim Rome and the Loaded Gun of Twitter

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I started listening to Jim Rome 15 years ago and used to watch his first TV show back when Jim Everett when crazy on him. He’s back with a new show on ESPN and it’s just as good.

I like most of Rome’s “takes” and agree with him on this one. Twitter is like a loaded gun in the hands of pro athletes. It can go off at anytime and usually with disastrous results. He loves it when guys stir up controversy or say things that their pr agencies would never approve of, which is why it’s such an amazing medium of communication.

Traditional news outlets are now quoting tweets and organizations are putting out releases via Twitter first. My beloved Arizona Wildcats announced the hiring of Rich Rodriguez via Twitter and I’m proud of our athletic director (Greg Byrne) who has shown more transparency in the search process than ever.

Bringing social media in house will save organizations thousands of dollars as long as you don’t let a 23 year old intern run it.

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Twitter & the Olympics: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

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Who are Voula Papachristou and Michel Morganella? They are infamous examples of being the first Olympic athletes who’s games ended prematurely (in Papachristou’s case before she even competed), because of ill-advised tweets that were considered racist and offensive.

They won’t be the first athletes to be disciplined because of bad behavior but since this is the Olympics which is the culmination of a lifelong dream it has a particular significance.

Social media training should be a part of every professional and amateur sports organization. But even the most training won’t prevent bigots from spewing hate and ignorance and only the smart one’s will know to keep their opinions to themselves.

Each season the NFL, NBA and MLB are increasingly dealing with this issue and for those who follow sports is something fun to follow.

Twitter was a huge story surrounding the Olympics as on the first day of competition there were more tweets than all of the previous Olympics. Will the Brazil games cover that?

5 Blog Annoyances and How to Overcome Them

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Have you ever come across a great blog and you’d like to give the blogger positive feedback or ask them a question but nowhere is their contact email available? This is the first of “5 Blog Annoyances” that I often run across. Their are many great blogs on the blogger network but the only reason I post that screenshot is that for some reason a high proportion of the blog annoyances listed below are in the blogger network. This is probably attributed to newbie bloggers who are looking for a free and easy way to start making a fortune or sharing their life with the world.

1. No Contact Email Address – It’s perfectly fine if you wish to blog anonymously and don’t expect any feedback or contact from those who find your blog. But when it’s obvious you want readers to comment or send you tips or advertise and you leave no contact information, then your blog is going nowhere fast.

2. Required Registration and no URL signature – Building a community and contact list is important for many big and small-time blogs and one of the most common ways of adding to your list is by requiring readers to register before commenting on a blog post. If it’s fast and easy than great! I’m all for it, but many times it is a slow, confusing and cumbersome process and you leave the blog before posting your comment. The other drawback is that these registration systems often times don’t allow you to enter the URL of your own blog or website which typically would highlight your name and link to your site which is great for building your own audience and simply letting other commenters know more about you.

I’ve been using a third-party commenting system on Charles & Hudson called Disqus for a couple years now and have found it much more user-friendly than the default Movable Type system. Since I’ve had success with it I’ve implemented it WordPress which you can see on Dahlight. Disqus continues to roll-out new features and stays abreast of the always moving social media landscape and I highly recommend them for your blog. Continue reading

5 Ways to Build Your Audience Using Pinterest

Pinterest is the new StumbleUpon, Digg and Reddit all rolled into one plus more. Those three referral sites are all amazing and can lead to huge leaps in website traffic but Pinterest is different for bloggers. Pinterest puts more value on taste and design than those other three sites and “Pinners” will more likely align themselves with you if they like what they see as opposed to followers on SU or Digg.

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Because Pinterest inherently builds loyalty, brands are quick to jump on board.

Pinterest is more than just creating an account and pinning all of the photos from your website with hopes that you’ll gain followers, repins and likes. With Pinterest you need to curate your profile with the proper boards and photos that have appropriate messaging for your brand but isn’t just you pushing content.

Here are some quick ways to build your audience using Pinterest.

1. Create an Account
It sounds simple but some companies have too many stakeholders and often times let a PR firm or intern that is inexperienced in the medium build a profile. Not a good choice. Top level marketing and brand people should be involved in creating a Pinterest account (or any social media profile for that matter).

2. Build Boards Around Your Brand, Not Product
Pinterest is about curation and even if you only sell one widget, you don’t want to just pin photos of that widget or similar widgets. You want to pin photos that visually represent what your company is about and what you stand for. Users also follow more brands on Pinterest than they do on Facebook or Twitter.

3. Follow Others
Follow other tastemakers on Pinterest and repin or like their work. This strategy also applies to Twitter but is even more important when looking at Pinterest. Who you follow and align yourself with is important.

4. Make Your Pins Count
Every photo you pin should be AWESOME! Don’t just pin your latest PR photoshoot but pin the BEST photos from that shoot. Also be aware of the size of your photos. Nobody wants to view pinned thumbnails.

5. Go Vertical
My final tip comes straight from Pinterest’s founder, Ben Silbermann, himself. Vertical photos get repinned much more often than horizontal.

Now start pinning!!!