Who’s The Best Burning Man Talker?

In 2011, BMOrg announced their change to a non-profit on a mission to save the world. Since then, we sure have seen a lot of panel discussions and jetsetting from Larry & Co. I guess what they’re doing must be working, since they claim 160,000 people wanted to go to Burning Man this year. The well-crafted pop culture campaign mixing print media, references in The Simpsons and other mainstream shows, celebrity endorsements from P.Diddy and politicians and Generals, has all combined to make it harder than it’s ever been before for Burners to go to Black Rock City. We’re hearing reports that many camps have been absolutely decimated this year by the Hellish ticket situation, even if they were on the list. And it can only get worse, not better.

Not to worry, we’re told: “just be After-Burners now“. A bit too old, a bit too jaded, don’t really care if you can’t afford a ticket any more, just look back fondly on your time there – and make way for the starry-eyed virgins and cashed-up yuppies to arrive. The borg wants new minds to mold.

Clearly, there’s no need for any more promotion. So, junkets. Panel discussions. Is it promoting regionals? Is it asking for donations?

The mission of The Burning Man Project (from Guidestar):

Burning Man Project provides the infrastructural tools, educational programs, art programs and other frameworks that allow people around the world to apply the 10 principles of Burning Man in many communities and fields of human endeavor.

And, buried within their new web site (to find it I clicked Menu, The Culture, Philosophical Center, About Us – a faster way would be Menu, The Network, About Us):

Mission

The mission of the Burning Man organization is to facilitate and extend the culture that has issued from the Burning Man event into the larger world. This culture forms an integrated pattern of values, experience, and behavior: a coherent and widely applicable way of life.

Vision

The Burning Man organization will bring experiences to people in grand, awe-inspiring and joyful ways that lift the human spirit, address social problems and inspire a sense of culture, community and personal engagement.

So, is that working? Are We The Burners, through this our community vehicle, bringing experiences to people, and inspiring awe? Are the ambassadors representing us and our values, or speaking for themselves?

See for yourself and please let us know in the comments.

Who gave the best talk? Who best represents Burner values to the world? We report, you decide…

Harley Dubois at The Feast, 2014

Crimson Rose, 2009

Crimson Rose, Panel Discussion, 2014

Will Roger, 2014

http://guides.library.unr.edu/burningman/BurningMan/WillRoger

Bear Kittay TEDxTokyo (and Robot), 2014

Bear Kittay TEDxBlack Rock City – 2014?

Bear Kittay TEDxOaxacaca, 2013

Bear Kittay TEDxStockholm, 2015

Larry Harvey, TEDxBlack Rock City, 2011

Larry Harvey, Charlie Rose 2014

Larry Harvey, Le Web London 2013

Larry Harvey, John Perry Barlow, Le Web London 2013

Marian Goodell, TEDxBay Area 2014

Marian Goodell, TEDxTokyo, 2014

Chip Conley and Marian Goodell at the Commonwealth Club, 2014:

Larry Harvey, Marian Goodell, Jenn Sander, Kelly Anders in Paris, 2013:

Danger Ranger, San Mateo 2014

Burner Julia Wolfe, age 9

What do you think, Burners? Should we donate so there can be even more promotion of Burning Man, so it gets even harder to get tickets?

Who is representing Burner values to the world the best?

Charity Versus Tax-Free

image: Bearman/Flickr (Creative Commons)

image: Bearman/Flickr (Creative Commons)

In the comments to our BMOrg Hath Spoken article, Burner Cooter raised an interesting point.

This is a slight tangent but the deal with the non profit status is really starting to irritate me as it seems to get inserted every time the ethics of the Borg comes into question. Being a nonprofit organization in no way makes any implications on the honesty or ethics of the company. All it means is the profits get reinvested in the company since there are no share holders. 99% of the time this mean profits get spent on the salaries and benefits of top executives. Some of the most unapologetically corrupt companies in the world are non profits. Think FIFA or the NFL. But every time the topic of ethics comes up it is subtly pointed out that the Borg is a non profit. It doesn’t mean anything.

Sorry to irritate you, Cooter. While your general point is technically correct, and “non-profit” can simply mean “tax dodge” rather than “charity”, for the specifics of the Burning Man Project we need to look at 2 things:

1. The ByLaws of the Burning Man Project

2. The Statements of the Founders about the transition to a non-profit.

The NFL, chaired by Roger Goodell (Marian’s cousin?) is an unincorporated 501(c)6 tax-exempt trade association, based in Washington, D.C. Its tax-free status is quite controversial. FIFA is incorporated in Switzerland. The Burning Man Project is a 501(c)3 California Public Benefit corporation. According to the IRS:

Organizations described in section 501(c)(3) are commonly referred to as charitable organizations… 

The organization must not be organized or operated for the benefit of private interests, and no part of a section 501(c)(3) organization’s net earnings may inure to the benefit of any private shareholder or individual.

1. From the ByLaws of the Burning Man Project

Article 1: “The principled means that serve our mission shall always be inherent in our goals and projects”

bylaws article 1

 

 

Article 5: “charitable purposes” gets mentioned twice.

bylaws article 5

 

6:00 & Ring Road “The Directors may not engage in or approve any activity that is inconsistent with the Ten Principles”

bylaws article 6

 

6:00 to 9:00 & Ring Road: Duty of the Directors

“Directors shall conduct themselves ethically”

 

bylaws article 6 09

8:30 & Decommodification : Philosophy Committee

“must operate in order to remain true to the Ten Principles…shall become binding on the operations of Burning Man Project”.

bylaws 830d 03

 

Their latest blog post tries to claim that the “Burning Man event” is different from the “Burning Man Project”, but if the “Burning Man Project” did wholly acquire “Black Rock City LLC” as they claimed at the start of 2014, this cannot be true and the event must be part of “the operations of Burning Man Project”.

Black Rock City, LLC, which operates the annual event in Nevada called “Burning Man”, became a fully owned subsidiary of the Burning Man Project as of January 1, 2014:

On December 27, 2013, the Burning Man Project Board of Directors voted to make Black Rock City LLC a subsidiary and is now the sole shareholder of the LLC, which will continue to manage the event in the desert. The transition became official January 1, 2014.

Of course, they may have pulled “the old bait and switch”, and told us that they had sold “the” LLC to BMP, but actually sold Black Rock City, LLC to someone else. There are a lot of LLCs floating around within this this corporate conglomerate, as well as many registered non-profits. But I’m more inclined to take their statement at face value, which means the Burning Man event is a solely owned subsidiary of the Burning Man Project.

image: Dru/Flickr (Creative Commons)

image: Dru/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Other interesting clauses in the Bylaws refer to “non-voting observers” (Article 3, 6:30 & Inclusion), the right of the Founders to license the trademarks back to the group (Article 5, 1:00 & Center Camp), “a proposed transaction” (Article 5, 4:00 and Center camp), all kinds of allowable Real Estate transactions (Article 4, 10:00 & Center Camp) , Directors making money from the business via consulting, sale of goods and rent “at or below fair market value” (Article 5, 6:00 & Center Camp).

Despite Larry Harvey’s claims that the “10 Principles are just an ethos, not the 10 Commandments”, a Director can be removed “for cause” for failing to cure a breach of any one of the 10 Principles (article 6, page 12).

You read the Bylaws here.

2. Statements of the Founders

We’ve been trying to give them the benefit of the doubt that this is more than just a tax dodge, because that’s how they sold it to us since the idea was introduced in 2011, and that’s how it was promoted in the movie produced by former Burning Man Director Chris Weitz, “Spark: A Burning Man Story”.

 

The Burning Man Project’s Mission and Vision certainly sound very altruistic:

Mission

The mission of the Burning Man Project is to facilitate and extend the culture that has issued from the Burning Man event into a larger world. This culture forms an integrated pattern of values, experience, and behavior: a coherent and widely applicable way of life. The survival and elaboration of this culture depend upon a cultivated capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations.

Vision

The Burning Man Project will bring experiences to people in grand, awe-inspiring and joyful ways that lift the human spirit, address social problems and inspire a sense of culture, community and cultural engagement.

When they announced that their transition had been “fully completed”, they said:

The Burning Man Project is a public benefit organization, and our intention is to build the network of connectivity through relationships with individuals, organizations and government entities. We have great ambitions for what we sometimes refer to at HQ as a “100 year plan.” We’re a little over a quarter century into that plan… and our best days are still ahead.

We are restructuring some of our operations to strengthen our capacity to deliver on our ever-growing potential as a force for creativity and good in the world

Marian Goodell, Huffington Post March 4 2014:

“In our more exciting moments, any one of us who has been to Burning Man thinks it can change the world,” she added. “It brings people hope, and it makes people less afraid of others. It transcends religion and politics. It’s worth it to expose others to what we’ve learned from this cultural experience.”

Larry Harvey, New York Times August 28, 2011:

“We’re going to treat Burning Man like what it always should have been: not as a commodity, but as a gift

Larry Harvey, Burning Blog:

Our mission has always been to serve the community, and a non-profit public benefit corporation is the most socially responsible option to ensure and protect the future of Burning Man

Scribe in SFBG, discussing “Spark: A Burning Man story”

More cynical burner veterans may have a few eye-rolling moments with this film and the portrayals of its selfless leadership. While the discussions of the ticket fiasco raised challenging issues within the LLC, its critics came off as angry and unreasonable, as if the new ticket lottery had nothing to do with the temporary, artificial ticket scarcity (which was alleviated by summer’s end and didn’t occur this year under a new and improved distribution system).

And when the film ends by claiming “the organization is transitioning into a nonprofit to ‘gift’ the event back to the community,” it seems to drift from overly sympathetic into downright deceptive, leaving viewers with the impression that the six board members are selflessly relinquishing the tight control they exercise over the event and the culture it has spawned.

Yet our interview with the LLC leadership shows that just isn’t true. If anything, the public portrayals that founder Larry Harvey made two years ago about how this transition would go have been quietly modified to leave these six people in control of Burning Man for the foreseeable future.

Larry Harvey, the New Yorker:

Burning Man is guided by what initiates call the Ten Principles: Radical Inclusion, Gifting, Decommodification, Radical Self-Reliance, Radical Self-Expression, Communal Effort, Civic Responsibility, Leaving No Trace, Participation, and Immediacy. These ideas, Harvey suggested, might one day form the basis of a new world order

Here’s the official launch of the Burning Man Project on August 5, 2011. I was in the crowd that day, before I started this blog. I believed them to be genuine in what they said: “we want to help change lives”. Larry starts at about 10:00.

 

Social Alchemist Seeks Sherpa for Startup Shenanigans

This year, just before Burning Man, the New York Times published an expose on rich people trying to one-up each other at Burning Man with luxury camps and paid employees. They featured an interview with an insider, Tyler Hansen, who worked for a large luxury camp as a sherpa. Not a Big S Sherpa, one of the noble mountain people of Nepal; a small s sherpa, someone employed as a guide. Before this high-profile NYT article, I had never before heard the word sherpa in conjunction with Burning Man. Now it seems every Commodification Camp has a team of sherpas. How did this word enter Burning Man’s lexicon?

After Caravansiclery wrapped up, we heard from another sherpa who worked at the luxury plug-n-play camp created by mega-rich Burning Man Director Jim Tananbaum. According to documents from Megas Inc, camping spots cost $13,000 per head. According to the whistleblower, it was $17,000. What was the difference – tips? Or were some “products” provided that weren’t suitable to be listed in the contract?

This mountain looks pretty big...where's my sherpa?

This mountain of “ice cream” looks pretty big…where’s my sherpa?

The camp featured Mistresses of Merriment, some of whom claim “playmate“, “pasties”, and “no pants” in their profiles.

2014 alyssa arce caravancicle 2 caravancicle tweet

2014 bella hunter2014 bella hunter wig

2014 amber nicole

KBand published a list of people involved with Caravancicle, something we have decided not to re-post as it could be considered “doxing”, an online practice that is frowned upon. You can search out the list for yourself. We reference it because it contains a link that inspired this story – one that connects Commodification Camps, BMOrg, and Sherpas.

Burning Man’s Social Alchemist and Global Ambassador, Bear Kittay, is named in the list of Caravancicle associates. What was his role in the camp?

Despite being paid to be a Social Alchemist, Bear is not permitted by his employer to make an on the record statement to social media. He camped at First Camp, and doesn’t know why he is named in the Caravancicle list.

A silent ambassador? Sounds more like a secret agent to me. Why does BMOrg need secret agents to spread its culture, if it’s all for charity?

Bear’s mentor is a Silicon Valley venture capitalist whom he brought out to the Playa to do deals. Shervin Pishevar,  formerly of Menlo Ventures, has now branched out on his own with a new $154 million startup. Its name? Drumroll please…

Sherpa Ventures. @Sherpa.

 

Is this merely yet another ironic coincidence, like BMOrg Directors selling luxury elite camps on K Street while brochures for the same type of amenity-laden retreat are being handed out in the Souk? How many more coincidences do there need to be, before all these connections seem like more than just random chance?


 

Here’s some of the back story. Who is Bear Kittay?

From About.Me:

Bear Kittay is a social alchemist who exists to activate human potential. As Burning Man’s Global Ambassador, Bear initiates global experiences with cultural pioneers from the realms of entrepreneurship, government, science, and art to accelerate innovation and cultural transformation. As an entrepreneur, he’s founded, discovered and currently advises several venture-backed Silicon Valley technology companies, including Shaker, Organizer, and Sponsorfied. He’s raised more than $20M in early stage venture funding from top tier firms including Founders Fund and Menlo Ventures. A singer and multi-instrumentalist, Bear’s secret sauce is his music. He’s studied and performed music in venues throughout the world and founded Music for Democracy, a PAC organizing musicians for progressive causes

From The Burning Man Project:

Bear Kittay serves as Social Alchemist and Ambassador for Burning Man Project, visiting burners around the world, capturing their stories and sharing information from other groups  creating positive change around the world. So far Bear has attended AfrikaBurn in South Africa, KiwiBurn in New Zealand, Nowhere in Spain, and visited burners in Australia, Maui and London. He has represented the Project at the SXSW premiere of Spark, at a festival on human rights in Croatia and at a social innovation festival in Oaxaca, Mexico. He’s just recently returned from a whirlwind trip that included KoreaBurn, Burning Japan and Burning Seed in Australia.

He was also sent this year to Midburn, a Burning Man event which humbly aims to bring peace to the Middle East.

In 2010 I brought two of my best friends to Burning Man for the first time, after trying for about a decade to convince them to go. They absolutely loved it, we camped with Villains and Vixens and Overkill. Bear was not so close a friend, but I had previously entertained him in my home in Australia and suggested he should go to Burning Man and experience for himself magic happening in real time. 2009 was his first burn. In 2010, he came to visit our camp in some sort of wetsuit with his dick hanging out of a flap in the front. Wetsuit cocking, a new one to me. Millenial innovation, no doubt. Luckily he brought a beautiful woman with him. She was immediately whisked into the fanciest RV on the Playa, while Bear remained with us drinking at our camp’s fully stocked bar. And yes, we too had top shelf vodka – $29 for a bottle of Grey Goose at Safeway, fancy. Show up, and we pour you a drink. Doesn’t get much more Radically Inclusive than that – although, if you want to use the bathroom in my RV, you’re gonna need a wristband.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Bear and Dr Molly – not a couple! Photo by Snorky

In 2011, Bear created a Burning Man camp called Kundavi. It was tied to a real estate venture in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. I joined them and pitched in where I could, mainly contributing the sound system. This was the first year I’d brought my own RV, an old one I found for a steal off eBay, an economical alternative to the nicer vehicles I’d rented previously. Bear brought out his parents for their first Burn. Dr David Kittay, a lecturer on religion and technology at Columbia University, later would host the infamous “The Founders Speak” panel discussion in New York with Larry Harvey, John Perry Barlow, and Peter Hirshberg, the recordings of which mysteriously went missing despite BMOrg’s promise to share them with Burners.

Bear brought some friends to Camp Kundavi that he wanted to get together for business reasons. Earlier in the year, Bear had asked Shervin, his mentor, what he should do with his life. Shervin had said “go and travel the world, and if you find any interesting startups, bring them to me”. In Barcelona (or was it Tel Aviv?), Kittay randomly met some young Israeli entrepreneurs with a social media startup called Shaker.

Shervin was the guy who did the Uber deal for Menlo Ventures, which turned out to be such a stellar success that he can probably trade off that one deal for the rest of his life. He brought celebrities like Ed Norton and Burner Will Smith in as investors in their Series B round.

Bear saw an opportunity – here was a deal he could broker for Shervin, and maybe get a piece for himself. And it could all go down at Burning Man.

shervin uberShervin showed up fresh from Las Vegas. It was his first trip to the Playa, and not his natural environment, but he was an “out there” VC, prepared to do whatever it took to close on the next big deal. He would shave Uber into his hair if that was what it took. Before hopping on his Black Jet he had spent 3 hours in the hairdresser, getting his jet-black locks turned into a rainbow mohawk.

Shervin was frustrated because he was in the closing stages of an $800 million deal, and his Blackberry reception was patchy. I lent him my satellite phone but it wasn’t enough, he needed to get back to Vegas to close this deal. Time was limited. Bear seized his opportunity to bring his mentor and his protegés together.

Here’s SF Gate examining Burning Man’s new role as a deal destination for the captains of tech:

Burning Man founders are happy about the changes – even courting them. Those captains of tech also fund the enormous temporary art installations in the city center and support the Burning Man nonprofit efforts.

“What we’re seeing are many more of the Fortune 500 leadership, entrepreneurs and small startups bringing their whole team,” said Marian Goodell, Burning Man director of business and communications.

Like a corporate retreat?

A little bit like a corporate retreat. The event is a crucible, a pressure cooker and, by design, a place to think of new ideas or make new connections.”

She said that, contrary to what people may think, she is not particularly liberal and, as a sign of her conservative cred, added that “my sister’s godfather is Antonin Scalia,” the staunchly conservative Supreme Court justice. “Burning Man on the outside has very liberal and socially strong principles, but I’ve been running it with very fiscally conservative policies.

These new burners, she said, are to be celebrated.

“If you’re in the longtime Burning Man community, maybe it’s easy to frown on certain types of people coming. But the more we have a variety of influencers – folks from London and New York – the better off we will be and the better off the Burning Man Project.”

shaker 2011 disruptWhen Bear Kittay, 26, who runs a camp with an innovation theme, met five Israeli entrepreneurs in Barcelona, he told them to come to the desert. On the spur of the moment, the young men, founders of a virtual reality startup, took time off work and joined him.

On the playa, Kittay introduced them to Shervin Pishevar, managing partner of the venture capital firm Menlo Ventures. And there, coated in desert dust, Pishevar agreed to lead the first round of funding – $15 million.

That company, Shaker, won the prestigious TechCrunch Disrupt conference award for best new startup in 2011.

“It’s a big testament to Burning Man,” Goodell said

Typical BMOrg, claiming credit for any thing any Burners do any where. We’ve gone from “commerce is banned at Burning Man” to “we never said we were against commerce” to “if commerce happens that’s a big testament to Burning Man”.

The Burning Man component of the Shaker deal was no more than 5 minutes of conversation. Here’s how it really happened.

Bear brought Shervin and the Shaker team together, in the shade provided by my RV. Perhaps it was a coincidence that the meeting went down right outside the window of the main early-stage tech investor in the camp, or perhaps this was all part of some master plan. Later, off Playa, I did offer to make a token investment into Shaker but by this stage I was small fry, they were on to bigger and better things after winning Tech Crunch Disrupt and a $15 million round led by Menlo Ventures. Like most of these Millenial-led tech companies that boast how they don’t need anyone’s advice or money, they haven’t amounted to much. They did a partnership deal with Live Nation, whose biggest shareholder owns QVC (Home Shopping Network), home of Burning Man Director Matt Goldberg. Last I heard Shaker had “pivoted”, and is now an online gaming play.

Shervin didn’t actually do the Shaker deal in Black Rock City, but he made plans to meet with the guys in San Francisco the next week. Tech Crunch Disrupt, which was featured in Mike Judge’s hilarious Silicon Valley show, occurs the week after Burning Man. As arranged on the Playa, Shervin met the guys in the morning before the competition and at the end of the meeting they shook hands on a deal. Later, when they presented and won, Tech Crunch founder Michael Arrington said he wanted to invest also.

Here’s Shervin describing how it all came about to Uncrunched:

here’s the crazy story of how I met them. I was working on scouting a Jedi Council retreat in Cabo. I met these amazing guys from Mexico at Summit Series who are were working on an entrepreneurs resort. I began mentoring one of them, Bear. He wanted to learn how to become an investor and VC in the future. My advice was to go forth and travel around the world scouting for amazing startups and bring it back. I didn’t expect to hear from him for months. Instead, a mere 3 weeks later he had traveled to Egypt and Israel, and I flew into Burning Man. He said, “Shervin, I listened to you! Thank you! And I found this amazing startup, Shaker. And they are flying into the Playa tonight and they are competing in Techcrunch Disrupt!” That night I met them and was very impressed with them and their vision. But with no connection I had to wait until the following Tuesday to get the demo at a Samovar in San Francisco. Within a minute, I knew what I saw was the future. I had been looking for this for years. Their product execution was nearly flawless. A very hard feat to accomplish given the vision. The next day I brought them in to meet the rest of the Menlo partners. They agreed and we were off! Meanwhile, while we tried to come to an agreement on an investment, Shaker won Disrupt! I actually got the term sheet done and signed from the streets of Haiti the following weekend while I was volunteering in Haiti for jp/hro! Hopefully, there will be karma in that and all of the serendipity that brought us together.

Pre-planned serendipity and engineered karma: is this Social Alchemy in action?

This year, Shervin has launched his new venture, called Sherpa Ventures. From Business Week:

Here’s what happens when you set out to profile Silicon Valley venture capitalist Shervin Pishevar.

On Monday, July 7, Scooter Braun, Justin Bieber’s manager, calls at Pishevar’s request to attest that the Iranian-born entrepreneur has brought him several high-profile investment opportunities and had a hand in introducing him to his future wife. On Tuesday, DreamWorks Animation Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Katzenberg rings to praise Pishevar as “a great networker” and says, “There is nobody more loyal.”


On Wednesday, Elon Musk, founder of electric-car company Tesla Motors is on the phone recounting how the pair traveled to Cuba last year with Sean Penn and ended up negotiating (unsuccessfully) with the Castro government for the release of an American imprisoned there. On Thursday, it’s Edward Norton, who says Pishevar advised the actor and his wife on building their charitable-giving website, CrowdRise, and later persuaded Norton to make an investment in the booming ride-sharing startup Uber. Finally, on Friday, New Jersey junior Senator Cory Booker calls to explain how Pishevar has become a crucial link between Washington and Silicon Valley—bundling donations for President Obama’s reelection campaign and spearheading an effort to create a new kind of “startup visa” for foreign entrepreneurs. “There are guys that can write big checks, and there are guys that can bring people together to write checks,” Booker says. Pishevar “inspires people to give and does it in a way that is not icky.”

shervin-pishevar-haircut-fab-summit-basecamp-via-chester-ngPishevar, in case it’s not already clear, is one of the most excessively networked guys in Silicon Valley. The former tech-entrepreneur-turned-investor has backed Uber, e-tailer Fab.com, and eyeglass purveyor Warby Parker, among other startups. Now he’s running his own venture capital firm, SherpaVentures, which has raised $154 million from a group of investors that includes Condé Nast and the private equity firm TPG Capital. In the process, he has turned himself into one of the most visible members of the California technology and media scene, frequently showing up onstage at tech conferences and backstage at Hollywood awards shows. When Obama met with a select group of technology executives last December to discuss revelations about National Security Agency surveillance, Pishevar was at the White House, standing Zelig-like next to tech luminaries, including Tim Cook and Marissa Mayer.

Pishevar, 40, embodies a new kind of venture capitalist, bringing contacts and visibility to his startups in addition to—or perhaps instead of—operational or technical know-how. A tireless self-promoter who prefers a Los Angeles-style hug over a handshake, he’s based in fashionable San Francisco instead of the stuffy suburban enclave of Menlo Park, the traditional cradle of the VC industry. He’s also known for his public displays of enthusiasm: He once shaved the initials of several of his portfolio companies into his hair.

His exuberance and ubiquity have come at a price, though. The gossip website Valleywag once referred to him as a “humble-bragging, attention-grabbing startup financier” and suggested he’s obsessed with being liked and famous. Pishevar admits that a rival investor once called him “a clown” to his face.

A new kind of venture capitalist: the Burner capitalist. Burner Shervin even purchased a trip to space with famous pal Ashton Kutcher, who is also now a big-time tech investor in AirBnB and others.

The name TPG Capital has come up in this blog before. They recently invested $300 million in AirBnB, which now advertises rooms in Burning Man camps and boasts 2 of Burning Man’s 18 Directors as its full-time employees. So they’re backing both Sherpa, and AirBnB. A very powerful behind-the-scenes player.

What does Sherpa do? They’re “vague by design“. This slide from a recent presentation gives a clue to the opportunities they see:

sherpa ventures new market

From the Wall Street Journal:

Sherpa, in many ways, is representative of a new class of boutique firms: young, city-based, and striving to differentiate themselves from earlier generations.

Located in the heart of San Francisco’s downtown — many miles from the famed Sand Hill Road where many venture firms reside — Sherpa’s office of roughly a dozen employees is filled with plush Herman Miller chairs and black-and-white murals by local artists.

…Half of the group is an investment vehicle, SherpaVentures, and the other half is SherpaFoundry, a vehicle to incubate new companies and to connect their portfolio companies with larger, often public, companies.

“We felt like there was an opportunity to create a guild-like model,” says Stanford. “It’s our name. We like to be in the background making magic happen–hauling the bags up the mountain, enabling great success, the ones behind the camera at the summit.”

The Burner Capitalists are pouring in to the Playa – which is also by design. In 2012 Bear co-founded IDEATE, “Burning Man’s tech innovation camp”. Although the camp was conceived at the last minute, and chock full of virgins, they had no problem getting prime real estate next to First Camp, and all the tickets they wanted.

Here’s some recent coverage from Recode:

In yet another “cuddle puddle” — a sort of non-sexual group snuggling that seems to be the favored daytime activity at Burning Man — entrepreneur Tim West explained to me the mission of the 200-person tech and innovation camp, Ideate. (I’m also camping here at the annual Nevada desert festival this week.)

“It’s about bringing tech people to Burning Man, and helping them understand it,” said West, who was wearing an Air Force jumpsuit and carrying a headless Barbie in his pocket. “And then bringing Burning Man back to the default world.”

Some Ideating going on at Burning Man

The special relationship between Burning Man and Silicon Valley is not an accident — it’s by design. A group of young tech entrepreneurs created Ideate three years ago, in collaboration with the Burning Man founders, to support the concept.

Its members are meant to serve as liaisons and teachers to the flood of new tech workers — and tech money — coming into the festival. In some ways, the camp was born out of an anxiety: The Burning Man founders are aging, and they needed to find a core next-generation troupe and ideas for the weeklong event’s next chapter.

What’s perhaps most interesting is that they chose a group of young people who are explicitly focused on entrepreneurship.

“The most important piece of why Silicon Valley exists in the first place is Burning Man — this is a place people go to confront problems and make solutions and prototype,” West said. “Why is innovation happening here in Silicon Valley more than anywhere else in the world? Burning Man.”

…”Ideate is where we can think of and test these ideas, and then bring them to the world. And people are ready for it.”

“Burning Man is not a sub culture anymore,” Delaune said.

“It’s the dom culture,” Hanusa added.

The Peninsula Press discussed Bear’s big role in Burning Man’s future:

While transitioning the project to nonprofit status, Burning Man’s directors are exploring ways to expand its culture globally, focus more on technology and innovation, and lean heavily on the ideas of young Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. “We’re at an absolutely critical time in our change and our morphing, and we’re going to be relying on others to help us,” said Marian Goodell, one of the six project owners since 1996.

Conversations about the future have been brewing for months. Bear Kittay, a 27-year-old entrepreneur and musician, has taken the lead in organizing meetings for up-and-coming Bay Area start-up types with Larry Harvey, the founder and director of Burning Man, and Goodell. Kittay is also helping figure out how to spread the project’s 10 principles to other parts of the world.

Goodell calls Kittay their “hyper-connector.” His resume includes being the co-founder of a company called Organizer, which created a clipboard-like mobile platform for use during political campaigns, and a partner (and designated “social alchemist”) in the Avalon Hot Springs eco-resort north of Napa Valley.

Over Memorial Day weekend, Kittay organized a retreat at Avalon. He invited Harvey, Goodell and about a dozen others…

There are longstanding cultural ties between Burning Man and Silicon Valley. It is no secret that Google’s founders are avid “burners,” with entire walls at the company’s Mountain View campus covered in photos from the festival…

But the Avalon retreat initiated an active conversation between the two cultures and two generations of burners — baby boomers and millennials.

Those talks continued and led to the formation of the IDEATE innovation camp, which participated in this summer’s festival. Each camp has a different focus, such as dance, meditation and clothing swaps. IDEATE differed from typical camps, as it operated with an unprecedented mission: to be “an [ideas] incubator in the center of Burning Man,” according to Kittay.

Kittay said IDEATE brought together bright minds to figure out how to offer the tools of Burning Man culture, including collaboration, sustainability and inclusion, to start-up projects around the world.

Burning Man founders paid special attention to IDEATE, which was given a block of tickets even though the idea emerged long after tickets were sold out. Goodell placed the camp close to First Camp, where the founders make their desert home each year.

Goodell said her thought was, “We should take all this brain power around us in San Francisco—dot-com and entrepreneurs…[who] care about Burning Man, and let’s get them all together…and see whether anything could come of it.”.

The majority of the 210 people who camped at IDEATE were new to Burning Man and were young entrepreneurs from companies such as TED, a nonprofit committed to spreading worthwhile ideas; Summit, which hosts an annual four-day event for 1,000 of the world’s leading change makers; and Singularity University, which seeks to educate a new generation of leaders in technologies that will exponentially advance human capability in years to come.

So did anything come out of it? Well, Shaker got funded, IDEATE is still going and people there still have ideas, and now we have sherpas, Sherpa Ventures, Caravancicle, ironic real estate sales, real hotels, ironic AirBnB sales, real AirBnB sales, real gasoline sales, and a dedicated Burning Man staffer to manage the booming new market segment of Commodification Camps.

It seems that the starry eyed young Millenials see Burning Man as the next breeding ground for their commercially questionable deals, while the Baby Boomers who back them provide the financial clout and ostensible gravitas to underpin their shenanigans.

I believe the children are our future. Teach them well, and let them lead the way. From Peninsula Press:

The need for collaboration with the younger generation of burners was clear to Goodell, especially as Burning Man moves from being for-profit to nonprofit. The work to become a nonprofit organization by 2013 has been ongoing for two years, according to Goodell.

Serving the public good in this age of digital technology and rapid communication, she said, requires the input of the millennials, who have what Goodell called an entrepreneurial spirit and a thirst for sharing ideas. They’re also the ones who are representing more and more of the Burning Man population each year. In 2011, almost half of Burning Man participants were under 30, according to the Black Rock City Census.

Larry Harvey is in his sixties; Goodell just turned 50. She said the founders should look to hire young people, and young people should step up and “infiltrate the organization and be ready to take things over…and change the world.”

Goodell described Kittay as “not unlike Larry.” She called them both “pied pipers,” saying that, although neither is likely to be “the first one to hammer up a tent stake,” they both “can get really enthusiastic around ideas, and then people want to gather around and help.” 

Goodell issued a caveat concerning IDEATE and the millennial entrepreneurs as a group: They will be given more influence in the organization only if they do something with all their ideas. They need to maintain momentum and prove themselves as able to make it happen, rather than just talk about it, she said.

cevri kaptan 2After the desert festival, which is held from late August to early September, Kittay traveled with Harvey and Goodell to Turkey, where they considered ancient history and its ties to modern life and talked about ways to make global expansion a reality.

There is talk of bringing Burning Man ambassadors to design projects and businesses across the world; holding urban and rural retreats in addition to the existing “regional burns,” or smaller-scale festivals; creating a social network for burners; crowd-funding design endeavors and sharing technologies that will help the world utilize some of Burning Man’s principles as tools, such as “radical inclusion” and “leave no trace behind.”

…Traditionally the project has been “below the radar,” said Kittay. But now is the time that Burning Man is ready to reveal itself as more than just “electronic, dubstep, naked—whatever associations that people have had superficially with it, and move into much more the space of what it truly is at its core,” he said. That core, according to Kittay, is built around “the philosophical principles of collaboration and of incubating human culture and community and experience.”

Although the organization as a whole supports change, some staff members have been a bit hesitant to make any big leaps, including Harvey himself…As the project expands globally into “a capitalist world,” Kittay cautioned, “it could so quickly lose its essence.”

…Goodell calls this moment pivotal. “There’s before IDEATE, and there’s after IDEATE, and then there’s 2013,” she said.

So, Burning Man’s Director starts a multi-million dollar Commodification Camp, employs sherpas, who are terribly mistreated. Burning Man’s Social Alchemist brings his VC mentor to Burning Man to do deals; after doing a big deal at Burning Man, the VC starts a venture called Sherpa. The big money behind Sherpa Ventures is also the big money behind AirBnB, who launched their product into Burning Man this year and directly employ two of BMOrg’s Board of Directors. Sherpa Ventures sees hospitality entrepreneurs as the new future trend to back.

The bottom line? Plug-n-Play is here to stay. Rather than being a fringe practice at Burning Man, it seems that this is BMOrg’s grand philosophical vision for the next century of Burns. Plug-n-play is what will attract all the New York and London moneyed set, who they need for The Project. Is it their money, their minds, or their souls that Hellco BMOrg are most interested in capturing?

Sherpa Ventures, Pied Piper, Tech Crunch Disrupt, Elon Musk…Burning Man IS Silicon Valley…the coincidences continue. The invisible guiding hand of Total Randomness strikes again. Just remember, sheeple, there’s no such thing as conspiracies, they’re merely theories made up on the Internet. No-one in history has ever been part of any kind of plot. No politician has ever lied. Eat your GMO food, drink your fluoride water, and jab yourselves with all the vaccines you can get your hands on, it’s great. The government really cares, that’s why it’s called the Affordable Care Act.

C’mon Millenials! Save Burning Man from losing its essence as it expands globally into a capitalist world. It’s a do-ocracy…so just fucking do it already.

Please.

Intel Inside SiMan

Just came across this story. It’s from September 2011, so after Burning Man announced their non-profit vision, but just before I started this blog. Exhibitor Online has a piece on how Burning Man was the inspiration for an Intel corporate stand with product demos, a merger between the two cultures. The result was a huge hit, bringing nearly 40,000 new Twitter followers. They smashed their goal of glow stick wielding attendees at “The Big Reveal”, the high point of “the world’s biggest geekfest“.

SiManCompleteThey spent $50k to create SiMan (uhhhh…how is that pronounced, again?). First, from Intel’s SiMan Release:

No one would ever confuse the Intel Developer Forum with Burning Man, but the upcoming tech industry event in San Francisco will boast at least a hint of the annual counter-cultural festival in the Nevada desert.

 The completed SiMan towered over attendees at the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco.

 He’s called SiMan, short for Silicon Man, and on the second day of Intel’s big geekfest, he will stand an imposing 18 feet high inside Moscone Center West. While that height pales in comparison to the 50-foot-tall effigy that burned to the ground earlier this month to the delight of some 50,000 desert-dwelling self-stylists, some wearing nothing but a free spirit, SiMan promises to be a behemoth impressive in his own right.

Besides being regaled by a fully clothed crowd and remaining indoors, SiMan isn’t destined for a fiery end. Rather, he will be gloriously illuminated with 1,500 LED bulbs strung together with 180 feet of wiring. And his masters plan to let him live on to serve as a beacon for an embedded future.

The SiMan Masters are un-named. Was this entire affair in fact a symbolic beacon for the future of our culture, in its new *cough* “non-profit” *cough* structure?

Keep a lookout for SiMan Feather Flags on the Playa.

Re-blogged from Exhibitoronline.com. Emphasis and comments ours; interpretation of the Tin Principles, theirs.

TRAFFIC BUILDER
Exhibitor: Intel Corp.’s Intelligent Systems Group
Creative/Production: Live Marketing Inc.,
Chicago, 312-787-4800,www.livemarketing.com
Production: Taylor Inc., Brampton, ON, Canada, 800-605-6519,www.taylorinc.com
Show: Intel Developer Forum, 2011
Budget: $50,000
Goals:
 Attract 500 attendees to the booth and lure 380 attendees back for the reveal event.
 Generate thousands of impressions via social media.
Results:
 Drew more than 700 attendees to the ISG booth and attracted 400 guests to the reveal event on day two.
 Scored 43,000 Twitter impressions, 9,000 Facebook impressions, and 1,000 YouTube video views.

he merger of Burning Man and corporate America is about as likely as Lady Gaga and Warren Buffet hooking up. For while corporate America is driven by a relentless pursuit of the almighty dollar, Burning Man is based on the idea of creating a radical, spontaneous community absolutely void of commercialism.

Drawing upwards of 45,000 people to Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, the art-festival-slash-self-expression event culminates in the burning of a human effigy that towers 80 feet above the masses. The weeklong affair challenges visitors (aka burners) to contribute to the pop-up populous, be it by building the human form, sharing their creativity, and/or ensuring that the experience leaves nary a trace upon the desert after its completion. What’s more, Burning Man is based on 10 guiding principles, including complete inclusion (as there are no prerequisites for “community” membership), participation (attendees must be participants, not spectators), and “decommodification” (commercial sponsorships, transactions, and advertising are strictly prohibited). So as you can see, in the eyes of dollar-driven corporate America, Burning Man is pretty much the antichrist.

Nevertheless, Intel Corp.’s Intelligent Systems Group (ISG) made a deal with the devil at the Intel Developer Forum (IDF). Held Sept. 13 – 15, 2011, at San Francisco’s Moscone Center [note – next to BMHQ at the time – Ed.], IDF is an annual trade show and educational conference that hosts roughly 5,000 developers and programmers, i.e., the people that dream up the whiz-bang software, hardware, and applications that run on Intel architecture. Here, the ISG hoped its booth would fulfill traditional corporate goals, such as generating awareness and fostering Intel’s position as a technology and thought leader. But according to Len Klebba, who oversees event marketing for the ISG, it also wanted to nurture creativity and cultivate a sense of community between the ISG and attendees. [with glowsticks! – Ed.] And given these atypical aspirations, Burning Man and the ISG were a match made in exhibit-marketing heaven.

Before the Betrothal 

To further comprehend why the ISG’s mismatched marriage made sense, it’s important to understand a little bit more about the ISG and IDF. Simply put, the ISG sells microprocessor technology that’s embedded within devices or components to enable smart connectivity [blah blah] … “The ISG came to us and said, ‘Give us your craziest out-of-the-box ideas that will make us the talk of the show,'” Trompeter says. “We tossed out a few concepts, but before long, Burning Man trotted to the forefront.”

So how does a seemingly impossible union between Burning Man and corporate America avoid a Romeo and Juliet-style demise? “If you think about it, Burning Man is actually a perfect analogy for the ISG,” says Kristin Veach, Live Marketing’s senior vice president of marketing and business development. “Our idea was to allow attendees to embellish and assemble a Burning Man-style human form during the show and to pair this activity with product demos, giveaways, and a show-stopping reveal.

ibuiltsimanThe Burning Man concept, then, would expose attendees to Intel products, and foster creativity and a sense of community as people added their artistry to the project. And like the real Burning Man festival, the show-floor activity would culminate in a buzz-worthy event – but instead of burning the effigy, the ISG would reveal what had by then become an 18-foot-tall behemoth to the crowd. The theatrical reveal would hoist the humanoid form to a “standing” position to tower over the show floor like a pissed off Optimus Prime.

Needless to say, the ISG fell in love with the Burning Man idea, so Live Marketing forged ahead. Its first chore: Renaming the Burning Man concept. After all, this wasn’t a Burning Man event; it was an ISG event. After running into myriad copyright and corporate-communications issues, the Live Marketing and ISG team named their human effigy SiMan. The team admits the name is a little twisted, as it was concocted by reversing the “I” and “S” from ISG and giving a nod to the same letters in the ISG tagline for the show – Intelligent Connected Solutions. But despite its somewhat warped state, SiMan has a better ring than IsMan. [SiMan has a better ring? Oh dear – Ed.]

Next up was finding a company to craft SiMan’s components, including a core, a head, and various limbs, to which attendees would attach artistic embellishments. In addition, attendees would also help connect these elements (to play up the Intelligent Connected Solutions tagline) and essentially construct SiMan on site at IDF. For that, the team turned to Taylor Inc., an exhibit house based in Brampton, ON, Canada. “We started with the basic concept of a Burning Man-like structure, but with a high-tech twist,” says David Hunter, account director at Taylor. “Ultimately, we created multiple components comprising a metal frame sheathed in wood and skinned with a vinyl, multicolored computer-chip-like motif. Strings of LED lights ran throughout the elements, and tiny LED fixtures were used to create SiMan’s facial features.” [errr…and the high tech twist is? – Ed.]

With SiMan under construction, Live Marketing crafted various complementary activities and messaging. The resulting SiMan-based program – which comprised everything from the SiMan activity to partner promotions to a Will.i.am booth visit – not only exceeded the ISG’s goals; it also impressed our judges. “This idea wasn’t just cutting edge,” one judge said. “It was a unique traffic builder/integrated program hybrid that certainly must have sparked developers’ imaginations.”

[blah blah]
siman faceWith This Glow Stick, I Thee Wed  [!!! – I would’ve titled this section “it’s glowtime for SiMan” – Ed]
Day two culminated in a theatrical production the likes of which IDF had never seen: Glow Time. Modeled after Burning Man’s flaming finale when the human effigy goes down in a fiery blaze of glory, Glow Time was SiMan’s moment in the sun – although to keep the fire marshals happy, the flames were replaced by glow sticks, and SiMan wasn’t reduced to a pile of ashes.

Throughout the first two days of the show, staffers and partner exhibits promoted Glow Time. In addition to handing out glow sticks, they encouraged everyone to come back to the ISG booth at the end of day two for the big reveal and grand-prize drawings. By roughly 6 p.m., more than 400 glow-stick-wielding attendees – 100 more than the ISG’s goal – swarmed the now-darkened space (achieved by turning off several overhead light fixtures in the venue). Dramatic music played in the background while the Assembly Zone’s presenter acted as the Glow Time emcee, reinforcing ISG’s “connected,” “embedded,” “community” verbiage. 

intel mickey mouseWith a theatrical flourish, featuring special-effects fog and spotlights, the 700-pound SiMan was raised to his full height of 18 feet and lit via his internal LEDs. Awestruck by the towering creature they’d helped create, attendees pulled out their cell phones to capture the moment and share their pictures and videos with family and friends. After a few words from the emcee and a round of applause for SiMan, the fog dispersed and the lights came up. But before attendees left, the presenter plucked two cards from the Plexiglas bin for the grand-prize netbook drawings.

When attendees returned on day three, they discovered that SiMan was still fully suspended in the Assembly Zone, sans spotlights and fog. During the day, staffers and partners encouraged attendees to decorate SiArt Pieces, but instead of attaching them to a component in the zone, attendees could attach them directly to any part of SiMan (or rather those areas they could reach without a ladder). All told, the ISG estimates that more than 700 people participated in the Assembly Zone activity, adding more than 1,000 SiArt Pieces to SiMan – a number that surpassed the ISG’s goal by more than 45 percent.

…the program’s social-media efforts garnered more than 43,000 impressions on Twitter and approximately 9,000 impressions on Facebook. Additionally, its YouTube videos scored more than 1,000 views.

“From Will.i.am to Glow Time to the Assembly Zone activity, the ISG’s Burning-Man-based program was a tremendous success,” Klebba says. “SiMan truly got attendees involved in his creation, fostered developers’ creativity, and generated amazing awareness.” So it just goes to show, despite the naysayers and the cultural (or corporate) taboos, even an unlikely marriage of polar opposites can sometimes turn into a long-term love affair.