Almost eEverything I have ever wished for, has come to me in a platter, presented neatly with sides (New York is the part of sides here :)). Never at that same moment but at the time when I have completely forgotten ever wishing for it and least expecting it to happen.
I always like to start with a bit of history. Connecting dots between the various chapters of my life as they have unfolded and formed neat patterns without me realising it.
April, 2015: I was working in the marketing department of Visual Website Optimizer. As part of my job role, I had subscribed to tens of newsletters from all sorts of conversion optimization blogs, gurus, and courses. One fine day when I was skimming through my inbox, I found an email with a subject line, “Win a pass to email marketing conference in Vegas”. I hadn’t still opened the email when I had fantasized myself standing in Vegas. I was sure I was going to win this competition. I had checked how was the weather going to be in Vegas when I land there, which clothes would I be carrying, where all would I go shopping, what all restaurants and cafes I had to check out and even my Facebook statuses. This particular conference was supposed to happen in a resort called Aria in Vegas. I looked through the pictures on the web and visualized myself standing at the terrace pool and lounge of Aria.
I had thoroughly prepared for a trip that didn’t happen. Then.
Fast forward one year and few days from all of this, I was standing at the terrace pool and lounge of Aria. This was 17th of May, 2016.
12,000 kms away from home, on a solo trip, this was a big deal for me!
Now coming to the recent history, in April 2016, while we were deciding to attend couple of conferences and showcase PushCrew, I got the opportunity to represent PushCrew at Conversion Conversion, Vegas.
I got a one line email that said, “Taruna - you should consider attending.” At times like this, I want to hit the pause button on my imaginary remote control and shout out, “One moment please; I need a dance break!”
The conference in Las Vegas was for 3 days, bang in the middle of the week (Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday). I decided to extend my trip to add the two weekends, and do a personal trip to New York.
From the date I got a confirmation that I was attending a work conference in Vegas to me landing back in India, every single day could feature as an important one in my biography. I spent 3, quite literal, sleepless nights before my US VISA was approved. My family must have heard me saying, “What if they reject my VISA application?” at least a gazillion times in those 3 days. Between the dates I got my VISA and my flight date, I read up hundreds of articles on “What if I lose my passport with a US VISA 10 days before my trip to US?” Big deal. Big deal.
A lot of work, added to it this freak behavior of mine, I don’t remember sleeping properly a single night for weeks before my trip. Finally when I boarded the plane, I slept in a jiffy. All the music, and the books (over-packed) for this time were also sleeping along. After 14 hours of some wonderful sleep, I landed in New York.
Normal people in a new country look for a cab, hand over the address, sit back, relax, and reach their destination. I was advised against it. I was told to change 3 different trains with 60kgs of myself and 20kgs of my luggage, go up and down a flight of stairs (New York subways don’t have escalators), and ask around for each next step. I didn’t have a phone, I didn’t have internet.
Not very surprisingly, I was lost (Instead of reaching 8th street NY, my destination, I reached 8th avenue) and found my way back too. After much struggle and lot of walking (by my Indian walking standards), I reached my destination at Mark Street. For the next 7 days of my stay at NY, I had my colleague’s apartment to myself and I viewed and savored New York like a localite. I would wake up, get dressed, lock my temporary residence, throw the keys in my hand bag and start walking. Randomly. While randomly walking like this, I saw everything that form part of all the must-see lists in New York. Times Square, Wall Street, Trump Towers, Central Park, Rockefeller Building, Empire State Building, 9/11 Memorial & Museum, World Trade Centre, Brooklyn Bridge, 6D movies, Madam Tussauds, so much art on streets, great breakfast places, supermarkets that sold a hundred different varieties of bread, Statue of Liberty -- I saw it all. Discovering them randomly while I would go on my 20km long walks each day in a randomly chosen direction. Yelp, TripAdvisor, and Google Maps, became my faithful companions.
On the day I had to board my flight to Las Vegas, I went through the same routine - getting lost, changing 3 trains, 60kgs of myself and some kgs of my luggage. No cab again. New Yorkers don’t do cabs. They walk. They take subways. (But they don’t get lost.)
The view from the plane when I was about to land in Vegas was breath-taking. It was the most stunning view I have ever seen. 9:30 PM at night, all I could see when I looked out from my window was lights. Lights of hundreds of different colors, forming different patterns. Not an inch of Las Vegas was not lit up. The airport itself looked like a huge, colorfully lit, casino.
I reached pretty late and my other colleagues from VWO, US who were also participating in the conference came in even late in night. I had slept in my hotel room by then. We stayed in Rio Grand Hotel and Suites. The next morning after setting up our booth and money-board (in Vegas, we had our own version of a betting game. People had to exchange their business cards for a $2 bill. Some of them got lucky and won a $50 bill. Conference attendees thoroughly enjoyed this gig of ours), we headed to the streets of Vegas. We had some nice feisty lunch and went to some really grand and expensive places. Nothing like I had ever seen in India. In the evening we attended a networking party at another resort, Aria, thrown by one of the companies who had a conference on email marketing.
I have never been able to small talk. In a group of people, I am the listener types. I can talk and feel comfortable sharing my stories only with a handful of people. But in that networking party, I decided to do what I had gone there for -- to network. I walked up to many different people shared PushCrew’s story, heard their story, exchanged cards and learnt something new and exciting. To start off a conversation, I chose topics ranging from Tinder (yes! :D), my experience in New York, of the stark cultural differences between New York and India, of my first time outside of home, and if nothing else, food! That resonated with almost every body. I soon realized that Americans loved to talk, and theatrically! I learnt how their pitch would go up and down, how they would move their hands, and how each word would be expressed with a different action. It seemed like I was part of an animated movie. So many times, I would just forget listening and be mesmerized in their expressions. (To top that, so many American men were so good-looking!) In a span of the hour and half we stayed there, I managed to talk to 7 different people. Gathering up the courage to walk to them myself. To one of the very good looking men, I even said, “I am new to all this small-talking and networking business.” “Me too!”, he replied and we ended up chatting for good 20 minutes. In my head, I was also thinking business and politely excused myself after setting up a good base for a conversation that I could take up on emails once I was back at work. All this was to prepare myself for the two days at conference.
After the networking party, I had loosened up a bit. I drummed just one fact in my head, “no one’s judging. If you screw up, nothing will change.”
Next day at conference, I talked to a lot many people who came by our booth. I also opened conversations myself with people who I saw at food and coffee tables and invited them over to our booth. When bored, I would start walking in the sponsor's area and chat up with other sponsors (while also collecting the cool swag :D). The personal biggest achievement was getting a company up and running with PushCrew after the conference had ended. Sweet ending! Here’s a video of them saying nice things about PushCrew and me saying something in my squeaky tone. I always fast-forward that bit. You should too.
During the conference, I talked to around 70 different people. To all the people I approached myself, I would always start with something completely different and then direct the conversation towards PushCrew. One leverage that PushCrew had over other sponsors was that most sponsors’ products had something to do with email marketing. In that crowd, PushCrew naturally stood out. I capitalized on that in almost every conversation I had. I also took a stroll to all other booths, heard their pitches, listened to the questions, and comments the event attendees posed to them and when these same attendees came to visit the PushCrew booth, I already had some context for the conversation.
During those 2 days at the conference, I absorbed in as much knowledge and insights as I could. Right in front of our booth was a booth of another email marketing solution. The guy from the booth would look at the name of the attendees from the pass hung around their neck, add to it some context of the workshop / session that was happening, and would seamlessly open a conversation with every other person who passed by our booths. With the same statement. Each time. It would go like, “Hey Steve, so how’s Goward’s session going on? Liking it? The guy has some great conversion optimization experience. No?” The most interesting thing was absolutely each person would stop, acknowledge the question, and begin a conversation.
The next morning, I started doing the same! :D
This was one of the many striking things I remember and learnt during those 2 days at conference.
While New York was a culture shock, a liberating experience, Vegas (unlike how it should have been) was full of learnings, insights, and helped me become a better professional. At both these places, I discovered something about me that I didn’t know I was capable of. I came back a more confident person and with a galore of stories for my near and dear ones. Those 10 days in New York were some of the best days of my life so far. I loved each moment of it and I learnt so much. Thanks to Wingify for allowing me to tick off two grand things from my bucket list: A solo trip AND A trip to New York. <3
P.S. No, I didn’t gamble in Vegas. Yes, I did go to a Strip Club.