I Said Yes to Yes by Yes Yes

Ace Hotel Pool panorama

I just got back from a conference in Palm Springs. Not just any conference. Sure there was a hotel with a pool and a bar. But this was definitely different than any conference or unconference I had been to before. The closest thing would be XOXO last September where 400 people bought a ticket on Kickstarter without really knowing what to expect which was exciting in it’s own right.

Yes by Yes Yes (Yx or YxYY for short) was a similar scenario with 400 tickets up for grabs (for $150) which basically covered the cost of buying out the hotel for the weekend. The tickets sold out in minutes. I got on the waitlist and eventually, got my own ticket.

I’ve been thinking about writing this post since I got back and have had trouble putting into words the feelings I have for the event. It was overwhelming in the most positive way possible.

YxYY was dreamed up by the organizers (Ann Larie Valentine, Hillary Hartley,
Amy Muller, Willo O’Brien, Deb Schultz) that loved the social aspects of conferences like South By Southwest and XOXO but wondered what it would be like if everyone was in the same place and there wasn’t any formal schedule (nor plans for anything like BarCamp and other unconferences). Most of my favorite experiences and people meetings happened randomly away from the panels. But we were all in Austin for the panels. Apparently.


YxYY happened at the ACE Hotel in Palm Springs. The ACE is famous in it’s own right as being a destination hotel which I now completely understand (because it’s an amazing property). With just about everyone at YxYY staying at the ACE (or in my case, next door because it was sold out by the time I got my ticket) everyone was always in close proximity with the pool being the epicenter of the conference. I heard about YxYY from one of the organizers, Willo, whom I met at XOXO.

Ace Hotel Pool panorama

Conference-like things did happen at YxYY but they were pretty spontaneous. There actually was a few events the organizers had planned to give some context to the weekend like the welcome party on Friday night and the Prom on Saturday night. Everything else just happened.

We had an incredibly active private Facebook page where attendees (known as Yaysayers) could post their travel plans leading up to the weekend, ideas for road trips, an impromptu set of Ignite talks Friday night and anything else that they wanted to share. There was also a very slick app that pulled in all the hashtagged content everyone was creating as well as a mobile chat space for the spontaneous events to be announced. photoI stumbled upon a set of spontaneous talks at the second pool that happened midday. I ended up learning how to administer CPR from a doctor and gave my own talk about 3d printing while in my swimtrunks, in the pool.

Almost last minute, I thought it might be fun to make a little trinket for the other attendees, not unlike what I did for the Vancouver crew that went to SXSW this year. So I designed a little item without even knowing if we’d have badges or wristbands to attach them to and started printing as many as I could before I had to leave on the plane.

Thanks to the Facebook group, I was given the idea to visit Michaels and get some necklace cord and earring adapters so people could mix and match the colors and options themselves.


Freshly 3d printed #yxyy logos by @johnbiehler

I had NO IDEA they would be so popular! People were literally trying to find me all weekend to get their own (sorry if we didn’t connect!). It was a great ice breaker and a fun thing to explain how it was made. I started carrying my little ziplock bag around and would get mobbed anytime I brought them out at the pool. This lead to a minor incident where the 45C+ heat turned many of them into soft gummy bear like trinkets. Fortunately they hardened up again once I got them out of the sun. The amazingly energetic Yiying Lu, who created the posters and artwork for YxYY (and is the creator of the famous Twitter Fail Whale) wants to collaborate with me on next year’s design which will be a true honor and a lot of fun.

There was an underwater photobooth happening in the pool all weekend (photos will be posted soon) and I brought my GoPro Hero 3 along to capture a few of the photos being taken in slow motion which was fun to play with (I want to learn how to use Twixtor to make the 120fps video really shine as this was just done with iMovie):

The following photos showcase just a few of the things that were amazing at YxYY. I didn’t take a ton of photos but that’s okay as that just means I was having a good time:

Things like eating meals IN the pool, the jellyfish at the prom, the Ace itself was spectacular, everyone in the pool with prom clothes on, the underwater photobooth, all the wonderful craftbeer options on tap in the Amigo Room, arduino hackathons, the weather (I’ll never complain it was too hot, that’s what the pool was for) and especially the amazing people that attended. Every single person I interacted with was awesome and it was quite refreshing to have conversations with people that you would keep seeing throughout the weekend who were on the same relaxed vibe as you.

I think like XOXO, it will be a challenge for the organizers to recreate the magic of this event for next year when they have to deal with the issue of scaling now that the word is out. Someone on the Facebook group said that sometimes it takes a reboot or a fresh start to attain the feelings that seem to be mutually felt by everyone that attended YxYY and I agree. The not knowing what will happen can be exciting and going in with set agenda of simply being around a pool in hot weather means that everything else is just a bonus (albeit in this case one helluva bonus). I’m glad people are rethinking how to hold events that inspire and energize as that was my original purpose for attending many of these kinds of conferences. I’m really looking forward to seeing how things unfold next year.

I also want to personally thank the YxYY organizers whom I got to talk to many times during the course of the weekend in and out of the pool for having a great idea and vision for how an event like this should happen, as well as the great stuff post event, like the #YxYYfx hashtag to track the effects of the event on the attendees.

My new pal, Nate Bolt used his quadcopter to really capture the vibe of YxYY with this great video:

Seven Seconds of Summer from Nate Bolt on Vimeo.

I truly can not wait until next year.


  1. fotoeins says:

    John, that looked like a supremely cool time. :)

  2. Thank you John for a lovely write-up and all of your yes-ness and generosity & foresight in bringing home-printed swag to YxYY! Actually, the perfect 3D printed statement for 2013! Glad we got to connect over Scrabble in the pool! What will you do next year?!

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