Blame it on Leo

Leo Burnett Picture
Photo credit: Wikipedia, Creative Commons License

Special thanks to Doug Crets who provided a lot of guidance and feedback on this post.

The old folks do the new things so much better.

I’ve been thinking about how there are some fundamentals to good business and good business development, no matter the epoch we are in, including this one. Tech entrepreneurs of today are hyper focused on customer development and building a product that people can use. For Leo Burnett, the founder of global advertising giant Leo Burnett, this made perfect sense.

Incidentally, Leo Burnett had some people at the Big Omaha Conference back in May and I had an opportunity to spend some time with them.

Why? Leo Burnett is one of the original big advertising firms – at one time, and maybe still is the tenth largest in the world — and it was, like its competitor Ogilvy, notorious for the copy-heavy ads that are more like novels now than the flash bang image-led advertising of today. They are responsible for the Marlboro Man and Quaker Oats. What would they be doing at a tech conference like Big Omaha? Or better, why WOULDN’T they be at a conference like Big Omaha.

First context:  Big Omaha, put together, in part, by Silicon Prairie News provides intimate access to a world class selection of speakers and entrepreneurs.  It attracts an audience of diverse attendees that one doesn’t always encounter at the typical tech meet up or demo day.

Leo Burnett is the largest advertising agency that is NOT headquartered in New York City. It is the Midwest’s favorite son.

As an advertising agency that operates in nearly 100 markets, Leo Burnett believes there’s plenty to learn from the entrepreneurial thinking at Big Omaha—and there are more than few things entrepreneurs can learn from Leo Burnett’s seminal founder, Leo Burnett himself.

From discovering marketplace opportunities and potential partners to how to best incorporate tech-savvy talent into organization, the start-up spirit is essential to Leo Burnett’s mission of being a forward-thinking communications company and these background videos give additional insight into what makes Big Omaha such a great event.

If you are going to be building a startup these days, you have to be a communications company, too.

This is true for three reasons:

  1. Your communications discover your market
  2. Your communications allows you to use the lean startup approach – gather a bunch of people around your content and give them what they want, and they will give you feedback and their loyalty
  3. This is the internet. The medium is the message. When you build a product on the internet, you are building the basis of communications about the product, and communicating it at the same time.

In essence, if you want to build great code and a great product, you have to have someone on your team that can communicate. I would be willing to be that Leo Burnett also had people there to meet the new great communicators. There are so many great ideas wrapped up in design and packaging of great new entrepreneurial startups.

See some behind the scenes thoughts from Microsoft, Leo Burnett and speakers in a conversation about the next-generation ideas, platforms and developments that will change the behavior of people – and the world – in the years ahead. Some of the companies that have been at SPN events like Big Omaha and ThincIowa like Pinterest, Zaarly, Dwolla and SkyVu are testament to this.

In addition to some of the Big Omaha speakers you can hear from Chris Bernard, Microsoft, Carey Isom, Garrett Ryan and Mark Renshaw from Leo Burnett.

Chris Bernard

Carey Isom

Mark Renshaw

Speakers profiled include:

Sahil Lavingia is the designer, founder and CEO of Gumroad. Previously, he was on the founding team of Pinterest before he left to build a number of other projects, including the iPhone app and the file sharing site Crate. Most recently, he started Gumroad with a focus of democratizing the ability to sell stuff online – easily, simply and beautifully. Gumroad assembled an A-List of investors for its latest round of funding, including Chris Sacca, Max Levchin and Seth Goldstein of (also a Big Omaha 2012 speaker).

Yael Cohen is the founder and president of F Cancer, a movement determined to make a real impact within the cancer space. Yael created an organization that activates Generation Y to engage with their parents about early detection, and teaches supporters how to look for cancer instead of just find it. Over the last 2 years, Yael has grown F Cancer into an inspirational and influential player in the charity space. She has attracted a host of A-list celebrities that are lined up to participate in the movement and use their influence to help garner support from the public. F Cancer’s message has also begun to get the attention of some very noteworthy groups; Yael was honoured to be invited the White House and UN to talk about the charity’s unconventional methods and success.

Seth Goldstein is a serial entrepreneur and angel investor. Currently he serves as the Chairman of, the social music service that was named top music startup of 2011 by Billboard Magazine. Seth joined Fred Wilson as Entrepreneur in Residence at Flatiron Partners where he built a practice in “pervasive computing” in 1999. In 2007, Seth helped create Pier 38, a vibrant startup community which gave birth to a number of successful startups including Instagram, Social Gold (Amazon), and CoTweet (Exact Target). He also started,  the first company to make advertising social, which was acquired in 2011 by LivingSocial. In 2011, Seth was invited by the US State Department to be part of the GEP Program to help foster Entrepreneurship in Egypt.

Charles Best is an entrepreneur and founder of, a nonprofit organization which provides a simple, personal, and accountable way for people to address educational inequity. At, public school teachers post classroom project requests, and donors can pick the projects they want to support. Every donor then gets photographs and thank- you letters from the classroom he or she chose to help. Recognition of includes the Nonprofit Innovation Award, selection by Ashoka, and election by the TechCrunch community as the website “most likely to make the world a better place.” Fortune Magazine has twice featured Charles in the “40 under 40” list of “business’s hottest rising stars.”

Ted Rheingold is an accidental entrepreneur, start-up investor and advisor. He is currently VP of Social at SAY Media after their acquisition of Dogster, Inc., a business which he founded in 2004. Ted broke into tech in 1996 knowing roughly half of HTML 2 after a year in Bangladesh and an expectation of never working in the for-profit sector. Ted’s goal, from his degree in International Relations, is to help people optimize their lives through cooperation, consensus and sociality.

Ben Lerer is the co-founder and CEO of Thrillist Media Group, a digital media company converging leading men’s lifestyle brand; members-only shopping club; and local experiences platform Thrillist Rewards. The three brands collectively reach over 4 million daily subscriptions, targeting a young, urban male demographic locally and nationally, online and offline, through content and commerce.

If you didn’t get a chance to attend Big Omaha, you can see all the speakers at Silicon Prairie News courtesy of Microsoft and finally, you can hear about Big Omaha from one of the founders, Jeff Slobotski.

One response


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

%d bloggers like this: