Rdio’s Marc Ruxin and Mattermark’s Andy Sparks join our crazy Pandoland lineup

Like one of Mike Maples’ beloved atomic “thunder lizards,” the lineup for Pandoland, our big annual conference in Nashville this June, just keeps growing.

The latest update: Rdio’s Marc Ruxin will join Redef’s Jason Hirschhorn on stage to discuss all things digital entertainment.

It’s hard to imagine a better combo on the topic. Ruxin is the COO of Rdio and has serious chops in digital entertainment since the earliest days. Before funding TastemakerX– which Rdio acquired last year– he lead all media innovation for Universal McCann, pairing massive brands with new innovative campaigns. (And, despite what you may have heard, Pandoland is the only Nashville conference at which Ruxin is appearing.)

Hirschhorn was the youngest senior executive of MTV, was a former co-president of MySpace, and is on the board of MGM. He was the president of Sling Media– one of the early devices that promised to change how we watch television, later sold to EchoStar. And his current venture, MediaRedefined, is required reading for anyone in fashion, sports, or tech.

Between them, Ruxin and Hirschhorn must have seen nearly every movie and TV show ever made and listened to every music track ever produced. They are two of my favorite entrepreneurs to hang out with, and they both attended Southland last year. I’m thrilled they loved the programming and the city enough to return.

Our second latest addition to the schedule is Mattermark COO and co-founder Andy Sparks.  Mattermark has become one of a handful of go-tos on what’s really going on in the startup space. If you’ve ever been to one of Mary Meeker’s famous keynotes you know the data-bomb of information that she lays on you, that forever changes the way you think about the future of business. Sparks is going to do something similar at Pandoland but all about startups.

Ruxin and Sparks are just the latest additions to a crazy 30+ person, all-star lineup that includes Birchbox’s Katia Beauchamp, Pulitzer Prize Winner and filmmaker Jose Antonio Vargas, Huffington Post co-founder and Buzzfeed chairman Ken Lerer, musician and entrepreneur Ryan Leslie, and Soul Cycle founders Elizabeth Cutler and Julie Rice.

Last week I shared some thoughts on what makes Pandoland different than every other conference. To see for yourself, though, you’ll need to join us in Nashville, June 15th-17th.  Grab your early bird ticket while you still can, right here.

Fair warning: Pandoland is not that kind of conference

Most people take for granted that the 21st century Western world believes women should have a voice. And yet, as America starts to become a place where white, straight men are a minority a small but significant group of those men are doing everything they can to smack women back down. You know some of the men I’m talking about: Brogrammers in Silicon Valley, those who send death threats to female games journalists in the name of “ethics”, anyone who would try to shame a college rape victim.

One of the highest profile positive symbols of the new generation of empowered women is Lena Dunham. I am avowedly not a fan of the TV show Girls, which I thought meant I wasnt a fan of its creator. But my respect for Dunham just keeps growing with every interview with her Ive read.

Last month, in the airport on the way to Nashville, I picked up a copy of Elle magazine which had Dunham on the cover. It caught my eye mostly for the cover line quote: I came into this job being myself. So Im free. Can you imagine if every professional woman could say that?

To some, Dunham is a symbol of women in Hollywood. To others, shes the voice of a disaffected generation. To me, she resonates because shes a woman boss in a mans world who refuses to let that world change her and will only lend it her talents on her own terms by being her. I once heard someone say that as a woman you are always too much of something for somebody. Thats certainly been the case for me as far back as I can remember. But Ive never seen anyone quite own her too much as much as Dunham. Hell, shes way too much for me in Girls. But thats precisely where her talent and success lies. Can you imagine her work if she tried not to be quite so much? Itd be nothing.

Its recently occurred to me that the reason the world seems so shocked when it meets an outspoken woman who is also successful is because so much of the world spends so much energy trying to destroy that. I don’t just mean the outright hostiles, and trolls, and Internet commenters. As bad, if not worse, are the supporters who want to “help” women assimilate into a mans world.

I recently had two conversations with very well meaning friends who were at once congratulating me on Pandos fearless voice and at the same time offering me advice to make our brand and my own brand more palatable to other people who didnt want something quite so fearless and outspoken. The comments werent outright rude certainly not compared to those Twitter trolls. But they were suggesting that it’d be nice if, once in a while, I wasn’t quite so outspoken. If I only picked the fights convenient for them. If I came with an “off” switch. Likewise Im sure there are people who say to Dunham, Love your work on Girls, Im a huge fan. But could you possibly not be quite so naked on the show all the time? Thats not really how having a voice works.

These conversations were weighing heavily on me as I boarded that flight to Nashville in late January, a planning trip for our big, exciting annual event, Pandoland. Last year’s event was a huge success, and Pandoland 2015 is already guaranteed to be even more so. Weve sold hundreds of thousands of dollars in sponsorship, have more than thirty committed speakers, and around 100 attendees have already grabbed tickets  way ahead of last year on every count. I am from Tennessee and love that I have a very real business reason to spend more time there and shine a spotlight on some of the creativity that lives outside the coasts.

And yet, its been made abundantly clear to me over the last year or so that a small, but influential group of men in the city do not want me or Pando there. One story that makes the point: As last year’s event was drawing to a close, one male attendee, apparently a Nashville local, stopped Pando reporter James Robinson to share his thoughts on the conference. Specifically, he wanted to share his opinion of me, or as he called me “That Pando lady.” “I can’t believe you let her leave the house,” said the man. James was left speechless.

Some were bold enough to tell me to my face that my personality made them uncomfortable:  I was told I have a mouth on me. I was even warned to watch myself. And, best of all, I was told that my occasional use of profanity on-stage is unbecoming for a mother (never mind that most everyone on stage at Southland swore except Al Gore and Christy Turlington, and we raised hundreds of dollars for charity through a swear jar.) The male attendees were expected to curse, but when I do it it’s just plain unladylike. Won’t somebody think of my children! 

Worse was some of the behavior from our partners in producing Southland, the local government-backed LaunchTN. As readers will know, we had all kinds of trouble with them even after breaking off the partnership, we still had to file a lawsuit to finally get them to stick to the separation contract they signed. What I havent mentioned before is how during those fights, they would ask if they could negotiate with some of the men on my board instead of me. The subtext was clear: Surely a man would be more reasonable. Less hysterical. I seemed to both be too female for them, and yet not ladylike enough a puzzling combination.

So when we split with LaunchTN, we had three choices. We could tweak Pandoland 2015 to try to please these good ol boy critics. Assimilate. In other words, produce a sort of Pandoland-lite. We could give up on my home state and move our big annual event to another city one like Chicago or Atlanta where wed arguably make more money and where wed have an easier time getting people from the coasts to attend. After all, were there because we want to be, not because Pandos business or editorial mission depends on it.

Or we could stay in Nashville a city I and the rest of the Pando team love more with every visit and own the fact that the very people who are threatened by seeing a loud, occasionally profane woman on stage are precisely the kind of people who probably shouldnt be at an event all about upending the established norms of business in the first place. We could trust theres a bigger audience in Nashville who are even more sick of the good ‘ol boys rules and bullying than we are. People who would much prefer to play host to an event where everyone is equally welcome, regardless of gender, race, connections, beliefs, or any other factor.

This is an important fight beyond this citys own battles, and even beyond the South. Nashville isnt just a booming economy that may be the country’s next $100 billion city and now makes up one third of the GDP of the entire state of Tennessee, it also happens to be an almost perfect microcosm of the rest of the changing United States. One hundred and sixty languages are spoken in Nashville public schools as the city grapples with an immigrant crush. There’s a reason President Obama picked Nashville as the background to his big speech on immigration recently.

Nashville like the country at large is grappling to understand what a world looks like in which good ol boys slowly get disenfranchised. And in the near term, its ugly. But heres the good news: Just look at the demographic shift to know they are ultimately on the losing side.

So were certainly not quitting Nashville. Instead we’re doubling down on the city. And were bringing with us one of the most diverse lineups of tech leaders that any tech conference has ever seen. Well be joined by female entrepreneurs like Birchbox’s Katia Beauchamp, StyleSeat’s Melody McClusky, Tea Collection’s Leigh Rawden, Forerunner Ventures’ Kirsten Green, and SoulCycle’s Elizabeth Cutler and Julie Rice. Well feature gay entrepreneurs like Bradford Shellhammer and black entrepreneurs like Paul Judge and Ryan Leslie. We’ll have immigrant entrepreneurs like Facebook’s Stan Chudnovsky and even an undocumented immigrant in Pulitzer winner Jose Antonio Vargas. In fact, as an outspoken, gay immigrant, Jose represents an image of Nashvilles and Americas future, perhaps more than any other speaker.

When we talk about diversity, we also mean diversity in terms of political beliefs. One of our other speakers is Ken Lerer, a man who co-created the Huffington Post as a platform to help undermine the NRA. And we mean diversity in terms of experience and path to becoming successful. It’s high time the industry stopped fetishizing 22-year old Y-Combinator grads and recognized that entrepreneurs come in all ages, and from all backgrounds, and build all types of companies. Instead, we’ll feature guests who’ve raised plenty of cash and high prices in the Valley but have gotten there a different way. Like Blue Bottle’s James Freeman a middle-aged dad who has obsessed about coffee nearly his entire life.

All of these speakers are taking time from their overcrammed schedules building and investing in some of the worlds most valuable companies because they believe in this mission as much as we do. Because this message matters.

What makes Pandoland different from any other tech conference held in the US this year? I get that question a lot. The answer is this. 

To the good ol boys in Nashville: If last years event made you mildly uncomfortable, watching a woman on stage using unladylike language then this years event will make you lose your fucking shit. As part of our commitment to reflect the growing diversity of tech entrepreneurship, were bringing together everything that terrifies you under one room. And well have a three-day intelligent debate about all of it, as we enjoy great the music, food, and whiskey that will flow throughout Pandoland. I totally understand if youd prefer to skip it.

Were gambling that there are more people in non-coastal America who embrace diversity in tech and entrepreneurship than reject it. A much greater risk would be for us to try to pretend to be something were not, or to not celebrate why we think entrepreneurship is just so powerful: Because no one gets to tell you that their way is the only way. My guarantee to attendees this year: If you are building something or want to build something, youll find someone you can relate to on our stage at Pandoland, someone who inspires you.

Weve confirmed more than thirty speakers for Pandoland 2015, and were nowhere near done yet. Tickets are selling fast but you can still get yours if you move fast. I really hope youll join us in Nashville in June, no matter who you are, where you come from, or where youre heading.

SoulCycle and Blue Bottle founders join the insane Pandoland lineup

Some of the coolest stories in entrepreneurship right now, dont involve bits  sites like Facebook or LinkedIn  but rather a new wave of companies leveraging the startup ecosystem, tools, and mindset to remake the world of atoms.

Im thrilled to say two of the best, and most fascinating, examples of this trend are coming to Pandoland our big annual event in Nashville this June. And, by coincidence, they also happen to be two young brands that I rely on to help me cope with my own entrepreneurial journey.

Weve just confirmed that SoulCycles founders Julie Rice and Elizabeth Cutler, and Blue Bottle founder James Freeman and investor Tony Conrad, will be joining our near 30-person-strong, insane line up of speakers.  (Get your early bird tickets here before the price ticks up again)

SoulCycle has become an addiction for celebrities, founders, housewives, and seemingly just about everyone else in a dozen or so major cities across the US. And dont think this is a women-only trend: I was first turned onto it by Rebel Mouses Paul Berry. Twitters Dick Costolo is such an enthusiast he brought a SoulCycle pop up to CES this year. On the surface, its just spinning classes. But Rice and Cutler have been masters of the details, crafting a 45 minute experience thats somewhere between an expensive exercise class, cheap therapy, and a cult.

Its success has spawned legions of copycats. Big questions remain over whether SoulCycle is a fad, how many cities can stomach the $30 per class fee, and how the brand can grow from here. (Rice and Cutler are also doing a PandoMonthly in New York next month, where we will focus more on their personal journey.)

Just like SoulCycle seems to be just another spinning class, Blue Bottle seems, on the face of it, like just another retail coffee chain. But James Freeman has always had a bigger vision, hoping to out-Starbucks Starbucks by  not being much like Starbucks. VCs believed him enough to bet $20 million on the company. Tony Conrad of True Ventures who will join Freeman on stage is such a fan he makes sure to hold a cup of Blue Bottle on stage and in nearly every photo opp.

There are a new wave of roasters getting big cash these days, whether its Stumptons partial private equity buyout or Sightglasss backing from Jack Dorsey. But Blue Bottle has bet it can go big in a way the others havent with the recent round, and its doing so on quality, sure, but also on brand, experience, and product extension that makes those CDs in Starbucks look like a core part of a coffee business. Like, ahem, a painstakingly conceived coloring book about coffee or $150 pajamas. No T-shirts and mugs though.

To be sure, theres a fair bit of obsession about the coffee itself. As Michael Copeland wrote in Fortune:

It’s coffee that is obsessively sourced, with provenance so detailed that buyers like Freeman can not only tell you the names of some of the people who pick it but describe the shade trees under which it grows. It’s coffee that is painstakingly roasted to bring out aromas and flavors described by terms like pea shoot, dried banana, and hay. And because the precious organic beans deserve no less, the coffee is brewed in elaborate glass contraptions imported from Japan, or slowly hand-poured into individual drip filters, using kettles with spouts as slim and graceful as a swan’s neck. For an extra 50¢ or a dollar per cup, and an extra five or 10 minutes in line, Blue Bottle elevates your coffee experience well above anything you’ve had before, or even what you thought was possible.

Call them the Walt Disney of spinning and the Steve Jobs of coffee. They are not only the twin fuels that keep many an entrepreneur in New York and San Francisco moving, but amazing entrepreneur stories in their own right. No matter what you are building, you will be able to learn from these masters who obsesses over every detail to remake things we already took for granted. Most important, they dont fit the normal 20-something YC kid mold.

Get your tickets now. Many more announcements coming soon. You do not want to miss this event.

Confirmed speakers (so far!) for Pandoland 2015. It’s going to be ridiculous

I couldn’t be more excited at how this year’s Pandoland conference is shaping up.

We just put more tickets on sale, at the early bird price of $699 for the full three day event, June 15th-17th 2015. The venue is the same as last year: Marathon Music Works in Nashville, Tennessee. (And, yes, that photo above really is of the audience from last year’s event, taken during one of the nighttime music sessions.)

Paul and I are going to Nashville next week to meet with different startups and fixtures on the startup scene and to continue putting together all the logistics of a great show. Meantime, I’ve spent much of January working on the on-stage programming.

Today I’m thrilled to be able to announce more than a dozen new speakers.

We want to bring an insane amount of entrepreneurial talent and investor funds to Nashville this year. So far we have more than two dozen big names committed — with many, many more on the verge of committing. Most exciting to me is that we have several returning speakers, mentors and judges from last year. It’s easy to rope someone into a new event once, but building a destination tech conference that people will travel to attend and speak at two years in a row is no easy feat. We’re incredibly grateful — and humbled — by all the enthusiasm.

In putting together this lineup it was important to me that it reflect the incredible diversity that’s starting to emerge in startup hubs like San Francisco, New York, and LA — and that we’d like to see more of. I don’t just mean diversity in terms of race, gender, or any of the usual areas where tech conferences often struggle — but also diversity of experience, type of startup, and path to success. One thing that unites everyone who comes to Pandoland, either as speakers or attendees, is a passion for entrepreneurship and a desire to inspire the next generation.

With so many speakers being announced at all at once, I’ll have to save the lengthier bios for a later post, but everyone on this list is someone for whom I have huge admiration. Any one of them alone is worth making the trip to Nashville in June. But at Pandoland you’ll get to see them all, and many more.

Here is the latest confirmed line-up…

Jose Antonio Vargas, Journalist and Filmmaker

Katia Beauchamp, Co-founder of Birchbox

Stan Chudnovsky, Facebook, PayPal

Bryan Goldberg, Founder of Bustle, Co-founder of Bleacher Report

Kirsten Green, Founder of Forerunner Ventures

Jason Hirschhorn, Founder of MediaRedef

Logan LaHive, Founder of Belly

Ken Lerer, Chairman of BuzzFeed and partner of Lerer Hippeau Ventures*

Ben Lerer, founder of Thrillist and partner of Lerer Hippeau Ventures*

Ryan Leslie, Musician and entrepreneur

Mike Maples, Managing partner of Floodgate

Melody McCloskey, Co-founder of StyleSeat

Leigh Rawdon, Co-founder of Tea Collection

Bill Ready, CEO of Braintree

Bijan Sabet, General Partner at Spark Capital

Bradford Shellhammer, Founder of Bezar, Co-founder of Fab.com

Joel Spolsky, CEO Stack Overflow

And returning judges Dr. Paul Judge and Tige Savage of Revolution

Amazingly, there’s still much more to come. The super-early bird tickets are sold out, but you can get in on the new batch of discounted tickets here.