How a Moomin Changed My Life #SSJ18

What do vikings, mooomins, sailboats, Prince, Artificial Intelligence, and the 5th element have in common?

SEMrush Summer Jam 2018

 

Photo Credit to Aleksandra Panyukhina

It was a week filled with endless fun, surprises, and inspiration, and truly, I think a lesson could be found by any company out there wishing to truly build a customer-centric model.

What is SEMrush Summer Jam?

SEMrush invited 50 of their largest clients from 22 countries and hosted them at a hotel in Helsinksi.  The agenda included a cruise on a large sailboat, sessions where SEMrush got to ask their clients about their workflows and ways of improving the tool, team building games, and a surprise chat by Entrepreneur and Visionary Avinash Kaushik.

The goal was to celebrate their customers, but also to hold focus groups and interviews about how SEMrush could be better serve them.

What happens when you put 50-60 (including the SEMrush team) very smart people in a room and get them to interact? Absolute. Epic. Magic.

The Agenda

The first evening that everyone arrived, they were personally greeted by SEMrush team members, and then escorted up for drinks at the skybar.  After everyone arrived, a cruise on a large sailboat was next, with food and drinks.

The 2nd day was work-centric.  We hosted workshops about the different SEMrush tools, and got feedback and ideas from the guests.  The day ended with dinner at a small island, where we saw some of the guests play drums, sing, and jump on tables to dance.  A table with Viking memorabilia gave us tons and tons of opportunities for fun and crazy pictures.

The 3rd day, SEMrush surprised the guests by inviting a visionary and industry leader, Avinash Kaushik.  Avinash talked about the intersection of Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and Digital Marketing.  He completely reframed our jobs and gave us insights into what these technological advances will bring.  Next, we had a session of team games and team building activities #teambluerules!

The Difference

So many of the events and conferences I’ve been to over the years are so process-oriented.  The focus is on getting through the agenda.  There is little emphasis on giving people the opportunity to build relationships.  You go to the conference, listen to a few sessions, have a few drinks at a networking dinner, and then go home.  Maybe you had a couple of good takeaways, but generally, your life wasn’t rocked.

At SEMrush Summer Jam, there was definitely an agenda – in fact, every moment had been carefully planned, to the last detail.  But the agenda was so well rounded between fun activities, games, and work, that everyone had a blast.  If you don’t believe me, search for #ssjam18 on Facebook.

When I started my career, I had the opportunity to go to many of the conferences when they were small.  In fact, did you know that the very first Pubcon was at a pub in the UK? NFFC, a long-time UK SEO, posted in a forum, “Who would like to join me for drinks next month in the UK”?  Over 100 of us showed up at that pub, stayed for a few days, and kept coming back every year.  Those first early Pubcons all had one thing in common: the focus was on networking and having fun.

Forging Connections

My entire career has been deeply shaped by those early events.   In fact many of the people I am working with today are those same people that I met almost 2 decades ago.  It’s those deep bonds that were forged over SEO and Beer that have lasted a lifetime.

And this is what SEMrush was able to do at Helsinki last week.  By going beyond the agenda, it gave every attendee the opportunity to connect, to forge bonds, to play together, sing together, and ultimately, to become friends.

Deep human connections are irreplaceable.  There is no Snapchat, no Whatsapp, no Telegram that can replace those moments when you get to talk, drink, and have fun together.  I’ve known people for years online, but our connections only go so far until we have an opportunity to spend time in person.

Being in the Moment

I also learned about presence this week.  It all started with Simon, our speaking coach, who spent an entire day 100% present and focused on us and in helping us learn to be better public speakers.  He never once checked his phone, or his email.  His entire energy revolved around helping us.

Throughout the week in Helsinki, I put my phone and computer away so I could focus on the events, and what I found when I put the phone away was a present full of amazing people just waiting to be discovered.

So my takeaways from this week:

  1. Put PEOPLE before agendas, phones, and other objectives.
  2. Build events that have both FUN experiences – like a dinner on a boat to a remote island – as well as work.  People work better when it’s balanced by fun.
  3. Make time to network, and put away your phones when you do.  You deserve to experience others by giving them your full attention.
  4. SEMrush is breaking boundaries and limits in everything they do.

So how did a Moomin change my life? 

In those blue gift bags in the photo above, there was a toy Moomin, gifted to every attendee at the event.  And this Moomin has now become a symbol for all of us who had this epic experience.  Moomin will be a constant reminder of the magic that can happens when companies become you-centric, and what strong connections are forged when you put away fear and take that wild leap into deep human connections.

I’ll leave you with some photos


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