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Thoughts from the 2023 Inc. 5000 Conference

2023 Inc. 5000 Was An Amazing Event!

So, I’m just getting settled in coming back from the #Inc5000 Conference in San Antonio, TX last week and really wanted to share my thoughts on this amazing event. 

First, here is the backdrop; I had been on the road in Colorado for an entire week prior to my arrival. For anyone who knows the Colorado Springs area, you know that the elevation is about 6,500 ft. Being a “sea-level” Jersey guy, that can have an impact!  As I arrived, I was a bit tired and road weary, and was not sure how much energy I was going to really have for the event.

So, How Did It Go?

That whole persona went out the window immediately upon arrival, when I had the pleasure to meet Ramesh Ramchandani, CEO and Founder of Topcone, a provider of custom IT solutions, almost as I walked through the door!

The entire Inc. staff on site was jovial, gregarious, and welcoming – as always.  That feeling was pervasive across all attendees as well. I show up at a fair number of tradeshows and events, and the Inc. 5000 Conference does stand out among all others in this respect. We all know how it feels walking into a conference excited, only to see distinct groups of folks already huddled together and well engaged in conversations that seem to last for days. Then you spend half the time thinking about how to break into these mini-huddles without being annoying or coming of as, dare I say, desperate and obnoxious.  Not the case at this conference! Everyone was smiling, extending their hand, and ultimately parting with hugs by the end of the event.

Then comes the extraordinary agenda of activities. Beginning with the A.I. Bootcamp presented by Rex Briggs and his brilliant son Caleb, these events were naturally immersive and very engaging. In other words, they pulled me in. Being the owner of a digital marketing agency, I was compelled to ask the question that is currently top of mind for many advertisers who heavily leverage Google search – most notably for search engine optimization; is Google at this point checking and then penalizing marketers for leveraging content that is largely generated using A.I.? How often do you have the opportunity to ask that question of true pioneers of the A.I. space? Not only that, thanks to Principal – the next day I had the unique opportunity to have lunch with them and to continue the conversation – one that I do believe we will continue to have!  And by the way, this blog is being ‘hand-written’ using Microsoft Word – that is, not A.I.!

What Is It, And How Was It Different? 

At its core, the conference is a place where a large audience gathers to celebrate success, share ideas, expand their networks, and much more.  Alongside of this is the aspect of glamour, stage lights, and gala events. However, this year – as evidenced by some of the presentations, there was a very necessary earnestness towards the serious challenges that individuals are facing on a daily basis throughout the world-at-large and across all segments of business. The presentation on long-term well-being by Deepak Chopra and Inc. Editor-In-Chief Scott Omelianuk, is but one example – where among many other important aspects of well-being, they discussed different practices such as meditation. This compelled me to make my way to the microphone and ask Deepak a question that I know – given my experience with the Science of Spirituality Center, would reveal more about his mindset than perhaps a thousand words; that is, what is your mantra? His answer: “I Am”. 

It is very encouraging to see traditionally Eastern wellness practices gaining more traction in Western culture. I think that the candor with which leading and enlightened entities, such as Inc. Magazine, are approaching these very real human considerations will predict, and potentially even have a profound impact upon, individual well-being. If business as well as world leaders are mindful of and perhaps even practicing these principles of self-honesty and humility, perhaps there is real hope that we as a world community can experience a transformational shift towards a more positive cumulative mindset. This leads to the concept of ‘unity in diversity’ – or what Carl Jung called ‘synchronicity’.  Along those lines, later in the day we got to hear from Phil Mickelson, PGA Golf Pro and Entrepreneur. One of the things he highlighted was that we cannot be afraid to ask for help.  Afterwards, I had the pleasure of spending a few moments with him and his lovely wife Amy. And by the way, it was also very cool seeing Scott out walking the floor and spending time with the various attendees.

I can say unequivocally that I have never been to a conference that was this deep, and personal. Regardless of who you are, or where you are, I think it is safe to say that some aspect of the conference would meet you right ‘there‘ – which is to say, challenge you to experience a truly emotive connection. It is relative to the individual; touching the tusk of an elephant will be a different experience than touching its tail. Where are you in your journey?

And There’s More?

Yes! Another great example of vulnerability and perseverance was brought to the main stage when Ali Webb talked about the real-life challenges underlying one of the most otherwise exciting times of her life – and how those circumstances really did make everything else seem somewhat irrelevant; imagine the experience of selling your company for over $200mm feeling like an arduous task, rather than an exhilarating success.  And yes, when your child is in peril, all else moves to the ‘back page’ of your life’s newspaper.  I have experienced this myself, first hand. To hear Ali share about it on a stage in front of over 2,000 other attendees, and who knows how many more on simulcast – caused me to experience a deep sense of gratitude; not about her misfortune, but because of her courage. I am not criticizing anyone and each person will handle these very intimate circumstances in their own ways. But hiding one’s personal tribulations from the rest of the world can lead one to feel almost like they are leading a double-life. Ali had gone very far down the scale, and her willingness to share about it so openly undoubtedly benefitted and will continue to benefit others.  And one of those others was me. And thank you Inc. Magazine for making her available to sign her new book for me, and to provide me the opportunity to briefly share with her one on one about my own experience.  Sometimes, you just have to let go and understand that even if things are not okay, they are still okay.

In Closing

From there, many similarly fulfilling events followed. The intangibles lie in the personal conversations that were had throughout the duration of the conference. Here, information is exchanged in informal ways, and in various settings. My best advice to anyone considering attending in the future is – do not be afraid to extend your hand, to step up to the microphone, or to join in on a conversation among a group of people you do not know.  People will be approaching you everywhere, from the restroom (not to sound weird, but it happened) to the restaurant.

The marketplace floor was just plain fun.  This year, you could walk the red carpet and participate in a 90-second pitch interview courtesy of the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, or check out the various booths of some major sponsors including Capital One – who also offered the opportunity of a ‘Your Next Move’ video production! It was a hub of activity, filled with smiling faces and brilliant entrepreneurs.

I’d like to give a shout out to the following wonderful people whom I met at the conference, in no particular order:

Scott OmelianukInc. Editor-In-Chief

Ramesh Ramchandani Topcone

Leon WilliamsoniHeartMedia

Heide OlsonAccountinuity

David Pexton – Commercial Photography

Temara PaytonIndiana Economic Development Corporation

Rex Briggs – Author, Consultant, Speaker

Pauline Nganga – Marketing Director and Entrepreneur

Brent StraitliffWestward 360

Mustafa KhanIMCS Group

Laurence MarxEmphasis HR

Kurt SchmitkeEmphasis HR

Jamie HurleyLobeline Communications

Solange SinclairLobeline Communications

Jeff Poirier – Quincy Memorials

Chris BrownRescon Basement Solutions

Dan GramannCultivate Advisors

Justin Schneir – Tractor Beverage

Michael White – Cloud Mellow

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