Napa Valley, California•
What was also remarkable about the gathering of these pioneers is that it morphed from a conference into an affinity group of like-minded people in a period of 72 hours into the EXP Circle.
EXP is a community for the pioneers of the experience economy founder by our own founder and CEO at Happily, Sarah Shewey. The guest list included the founders of Burning Man, Woodstock, SXSW, and the experiential masterminds behind TED, NASA, and the world’s biggest technology and retail brands - both established and emerging.
In June 2018, EXP hosted their first two-day retreat for a curated list of 60 experience pioneers. The professional retreat was set at the Indian Springs Resort and Spa, a historic and iconic resort in Napa Valley, CA.
The EXP Retreat 2018 boasted a program filled with engaging content, workshop sessions, surprising experiences, and unscripted spaces for attendees to connect. EXP partnered with Happily for a full service production of the retreat, activating our Experiential and Strategic Teams.
The Desolation Center outdoor screening was really special. Enjoyed the film and learning what kicked off festival culture.
Attendees of the EXP Retreat were by invitation only. The list was carefully curated and built to ensure that the retreat had a perfect mix of professional roles and expertise. This way each attendee would benefit from shared knowledge, complimentary points of view, and personalized networking opportunities. The result was about 50% of the group being CEO/Founders, 25% artists (analog, digital, and VR/AR/XR), and 25% heads of marketing for iconic cultural brands.
Happily activated its professional network to reach out to potential participants and spark interest. It was through this network activation that Happily was able to grab the attention of Hugh Forrest, Chief Programming Officer of SXSW, and Michael Lang, the founder of Woodstock. A one-on-one meeting with each attendee prior to the retreat allowed a deeper profile of each participant and tailored experiences for their personality, interests and professional ambitions.
Attendees began to arrive at the property in the afternoon before the official start of the retreat, and registered at the gorgeous Merchant House at the Indian Springs Resort and Spa.
In the rooms, fridges were stocked with beverages from Nomadica, Health-Ade, Som, and Rebbl. Gifts from Knock Knock, The Meritage, and Endorfin were also waiting for attendees to enjoy as they began to organically meet other arriving guests. As an extra touch for some particularly special attendees, lush floral centerpieces were delivered to their rooms with handwritten cards.
A welcome celebration was held by the resort pool for our retreat guests, with the area roped off for a private event. It was a sizzling 95 degree evening, and so a few attendees slipped right into the refreshing pool. Oysters were shucked live for our guests by Oysters XO, a gourmet mobile oyster caterer, and the buzz of conversations and collective merriment spread in the summer air.
To officially start the program and the day, attendees were set up on a 1:1 (aka, a professional blind date). The interviews that were undertaken for each attendee prior to the retreat, were used to pair each person with someone that we felt they could connect with and would enjoy getting to know a little better, both professionally and personally. A playful highlight of the morning was Selffee’s edible photo booth, which allowed guests to print their photo onto an iced latte or onto a cookie.
Two 90 minute workshop sessions were held throughout the day (10am and 3pm) with partners and attendees leading conversations to share the best practices in forming a team, a community, a strategy for ROI, a budget, and more. The sessions were set with the intention that by learning more about how others do their work, we could learn more about our own systems.
The presentations included:
A plant-based and sustainable food program was an important element to include for this retreat. By choosing a plant-based menu and reducing the meat consumption, more than 300,000 gallons of water was able to be saved.
For lunch a range of interactive food demos were held for our guests, focused around entertaining and engaging vegetarian and vegan culinary experiences. A food scientist from Impossible Foods broke down the magic behind how their veggie burgers taste like a beef one. Chef Miyoko Schinner of Miyoko's Kitchen hosted a vegan cheese making workshop with a delicious fondue. Health-Ade also gave a hands-on demonstration to make kombucha at home, as well as some special gifts for everyone. Although more than half the attendees stated that their usual daily diet included meat, all of the vegan food options scored above an 85% in a post-event survey.
After the second workshop and a full day of learning, some music and local Napa Valley wines was the ideal way to transition into a light-hearted environment for organic conversations. Presence curated live performances by Julian Roy and Busy Bisi, two singer-songwriters from the Bay Area and once again Oysters XO shucked for our guests. In fact, Oysters XO was the highest rated food partner with an impressive 97% satisfaction score.
The day concluded at the Sterling Vineyards with a documentary screening of the origin story of the desert music festivals, the Desolation Center. In the 80s a young LA punk community organizer named Stuart Swezey held a concert in the middle of the Mojave Desert. This event would ultimately inspire the founders of Burning Man, Lollapalooza, and Coachella one day to start their own music festivals in the desert.
Stuart Swezey, who is also the filmmaker and the founder of the Desolation Center, joined to introduce the film, along with Burning Man co-founder John Law. It was a gorgeous movie night under the stars on couches provided by Cort and tents from Camp'd Out.
An elaborate breakfast experience was orchestrated for attendees at an enchanting historic castle, Castello di Amorosa, just a short drive from the home property. As they entered the peaceful underground cellar space of the castle, they were stunned by the lush venue design by Next Art, the extravagant breakfast menu by three star Michelin Chef Shawn Gawle, the beautiful place settings by Hensley, as well as the breakfast mocktails by Seedlip.
Some highlights of the breakfast program were:
To counteract the darkness and stillness of the castle cellar, attendees were guided to the Bothe-Napa Valley State Park, to stroll through redwoods in the fresh air with time to chat about the morning experience. Lunch was hosted at the beautiful Hans Fahden Vineyard, and Rifko of Oysters XO, returned to teach guests how to shuck their own oysters.
A ‘Show and Tell Me What to Do’ session was a way to provide support to attendees. Expert coaches, Sara Carbone and Jamie Nami Kim, joined to give onsite personalized executive coaching. It acted as a way for attendees to source wisdom from the crowds, serving as a fresh flip on the one-to-many format of talks. The survey results back on the ‘Show and Tell Me What to Do’ were mixed based on personal preferences, with a ‘love it’ or ‘hate it’ outcome. In hindsight, this program would have served best as an optional element.
On the last night of the EXP retreat, a fun and playful celebration was the ideal way to farewell new friends and to reflect on the whole experience. DJ Just Me (Radha from Daybreaker) set the mood with all the right music, and Christine Marie brought the joy and the mystery with her 3D shadow dance party. Guests were awed by a special pop-up art installation from Dan Goods and David Delgado of The Studio at NASA/JPL, cloud chambers described as "a small magic box that allows you to see particles that have traveled to Earth from exploded stars".
The hike was a much needed moment to slow down and connect with people. It was the day’s highlight for me as I got to have some deep conversations at a relaxed pace.
The EXP 2018 community retreat was a wonderful and wild success among all the guests and partners! 95% said they were extremely likely to include things they learned into their own programs.
All the photos used in this case study were taken by Marla Aufmuth.