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Producing an event in 100 days with Cara Bubes

by Chris Carver
on November 9, 2015

(8 Min Read, if you don't stare at the pictures too long)

I'm going to pose a challenge to you event peeps reading this. 

The Challenge:
I just purchased an old school ski resort in Utah and now I want to host 900 of my friends to come for 3 Days.

[YOU] Yeah - No big deal, I can make that happen.

[ME] Well, there's more...

First: The 900 people are a mix of celebrities, investors, entrepreneurs, philanthropists, artists, activists, musicians, etc. Let's just say, these are folks who don't necessarily like to rough it.

Second: I want them to camp... At the top of the mountain (which currently has no roads, no running water, no electricity). 

Third: I want 240 different musical performances, activities and speakers. I want a lake for people to swim in (there is no lake yet), I want several speakeasy's, gourmet food, a swami, etc. 

Oh yeah, one more thing: You have 100 Days before everyone gets here.

Ready. Go.

(If you're not familiar with Summit Outside: this Forbes article by @StevenBertoni is a great overview. I care more about the folks who made it happen.)

Summit Outside Night LightsPhoto Cred: @Summit

I was one of the lucky 900 to attend a few years ago. I kept asking myself how the hell did they pull this off? 

So... I thought I'd go to the source and sit down with the human excel spreadsheet herself, Cara Bubes. Cara was one of the core team members who made it all happen. So whether it was figuring out how to have 900 mattresses manufactured and shipped 30 days before the event (it wasn't exaaactly camping) or serving dinner to 900 people at a 1/4 mile long picnic table, they made it happen (as you crazy event ops people do). 

This work-horse started as an intern with Summit, joined them full time for 2 years and is now free lance. So if you want something different, unique and memorable, she's your girl. Enjoy. 

Summit Team Hard at Work
Producing an event in 100 days = a crap load of RockStar

You ready Cara?
Let's do this.

What was 10 year old Cara like?
Oh god, I was at the height of my incredibly awkward phase: retainer, glasses, my hair was always in a ponytail (as you can imagine, I was really cute). My room covered in *NSYNC and Justin Timberlake posters and I was constantly on my blue cordless phone talking to my friends.

My god I was weird.

We all are Cara... We all are :) 

Thanks for the photo Cara's mom.

If your friends were a little tipsy (2-3 pints) how would they describe you?
Open book and pretty much just say what ever is on my mind. Funny (or at least they would lie and tell me that). Really big heart. Extremely loyal. Fiery redhead personality. Weird. I talk fast.

And I have a really good singing voice...oh no wait that's what I think when I'm tipsy.

At this stage in your career, what is the best piece of advice you have received?
"It's all in the delivery." - Andrew "Goody" Goodman

And, when not at home, where do you feel most at home?
Somewhere on a dance floor, I definitely dance to the beat of my own drum and like no one at all is watching.

Photo Cred: Cara's Instagram @carabubes

Fill in the blanks:

When you hear: Fleetwood Mac's self-titled album and "Rumors" 
It immediately takes you back to: 
my past life as a gypsy/hippie in the 1970s.

Photo Cred: Cara circa 1976

What do you do when you’re stressed?
I'm a bit of a workaholic and have definitely hit rock bottom when it comes to my stress levels in the past.

For me, it's all about balance and staying healthy. I try to eat healthy, but I don't deprive myself of things I want, and it's really important for me to workout. If I know I won't have time for the gym or SoulCycle (I’m obsessed btw), I make sure I walk to and from work so that I get some activity that day. 

If you could produce any event in the world, what would it be and why?
The halftime show at the Super Bowl.

I couldn't imagine a more high pressure situation. I would absolutely love it.

How would you describe Summit Outside in 1-2 sentences?
We built a temporary mountain village that spanned over a mile on top of Powder Mountain in Eden, Utah for 1,000 of the most incredible people in the world for a 3 days of content sessions, conversation, activities, musical performances, food and surreal experiences. I was recently in Israel and realized we actually built a modern day Masada.

Photo Cred: @Summit

Favorite Summit to date:
Ugh that's so hard because I've been around Summit since the flagship event in 2010. It's been so amazing to see how they've evolved and I have such special memories from all of them. If I had to choose one I guess it would be Summit Outside.

Well, a lot of blood, sweat and tears (literally) went into building that event and I poured my heart and soul into it (the entire team did). It was also so special and unique.

Photo Cred: @Summit

Any specific rules at the Summit Events or does anything go?
There are just a few rules at Summit events, one of those is "don't fanboy the big timers", everyone at Summit is on an equal level because rightfully so, everyone is the best at what they do. You could be talking to your hero or someone you have an immense amount of respect for, but if you treat them like your equal and friend they'll do the same.

Do you have any secrets to keeping 1000+ celebrities, artists, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and CEO’s happy, entertained and in-line for 3 days straight and then wanting to come back for more?
When you take people out of their comfort zone, put them on the top of a mountain or out at sea with no cell service or without the lifestyle they're used to, you have to be prepared for anything and everything. We had 240 sessions between content, music and activities, so keeping people entertained was definitely not an issue, I think they were trying to find time to sleep. 

Photo Cred: @Summit

In terms of them wanting to come back, if you bring together incredible like minded people, create a unique experience, and blow their minds they will for sure want to come back for more.

Photo Cred: @Summit

What were your favorite installations / sessions from Summit Outside? 
Well the entire experience we created around the 1/4 mile long picnic dinner table was beyond anyone's wildest dreams. We really wanted to do a meal where everyone was together. We couldn't build a restaurant big enough to hold 1,000 people. So we had to think outside of the box. 

Photo Cred: @Summit

We also wanted the entire setup to be a surprise and wanted everyone to arrive at the same time. So we put it a mile away, around the mountain. We had to come up with a creative way to get everyone to walk the mile together. Definitely noooot easy.

Jon Batiste & Stay Human lead a mile long marching band from the main camping area. These guys are so incredibly talented and to do what they did for 30 minutes leading 1,000 people, while singing and playing instruments at 9,000 feet above sea level is no joke. 

Photo Cred: @Summit

And when we came around the corner, everyone's jaw dropped. When they saw what we had set up, everyone kept walking to fill the entire table. For me that was an extremely special and magical moment.

Photo Cred: @Summit

There were so many other hidden gems all over the mountain: speakeasy kegs in the forest, suspended trampoline tents, teepees, food trucks, s'mores in the trees, and so much more. We wanted to create an element of surprise and delight, where you would just stumble upon something that wasn't even on the event map.

What were the 3 biggest operational challenges to hosting Summit Outside?
Literally the entire event was a challenge. But...

First: Planning the entire event in 100 days was definitely a challenge. I mean it is actually kind of insane that we were able to pull it off. However, I don't think there’s a more capable or better team than the one we had assembled for this event. I guess when you don't sleep for 3 months, you can make anything happen.

Photo Cred: @Summit

Second: Building a temporary village on a mountain. There was no infrastructure on the mountain, we had to build roads, bring in water, power, luxury bathroom trailers, we built 542 tents (fully outfitted like a hotel room), built 6 restaurants, main stage and everything else you could possibly think of. The entire team banded together to make the entire event possible but, when I think about what Perry DeCoveny, Adam Dexter, Griffin Loop and Brett Bold (mad props to these guys) did to map and actually build the event, my mind is still blown.

Photo Cred: @Summit

BTW - You could and should interview each and everyone of the Summit Team. Even though I am biased, they are all so damn talented. They have the most incredible humans alive running content, music, entertainment, recreation, production and so much more. 

I cannot wait to interview a few of them. Especially about this next event. 
I'm super excited to be plugging back in with the Summit team for Summit At Sea 2015. It's been great getting to see how the team has grown and evolved, but coming back it's like a family reunion. Looking forward to hitting the open seas with the crew in just a few days! If you want to follow along on our adventure check out #summitatsea.

For those of you who are not familiar with Summit at Sea. It's basically everything Cara talked about, but on the water.

Their tag line:
"You can't discover new lands, until you have the courage to lose sight of the shore". Now that's a tweet if I've ever seen one.

What 2-3 moments stick out as your favorite from all of the events you have worked?  

Summit DC10: it was definitely just feeling truly inspired for the first time in my life. At that time I was still in college, so it was the largest production I had ever seen and I had no idea that there were that many incredible people in the world.

I AM THAT GIRL Retreat: Seeing the smiles on the girl's faces when they arrived at the event, brought tears to my eyes. One of the girls had never flown on a plane before and getting to contribute to that experience was so special.

Photo Cred: @iamthatgirl

And third is all of the musical performances I've gotten to witness at the events and festivals I've done. I love nothing more than live music, so I feel extremely lucky (and spoiled) to get to see and interact with so many talented artists.

Photo Cred: @frendlygathering

With so many moving parts, what 2-3 tricks do you have to keep things on schedule?
I have self diagnosed OCD (obsessive coordinating disorder) I have calendars, spreadsheets and folders for everything. For the week leading up to any event, every detail goes into the run of show (it's basically my bible). 

You've worked on a pretty diverse range of events, how do you tailor the events towards the different markets you're targeting?
I love to imagine the experience from the attendee or guests experience.

For example, for the Frendly Gathering, we were trying to create a modern day Woodstock with the positive vibes and incredible music. So getting to spend a month in Vermont and watching documentaries like "Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace & Love" definitely helped put me in the spirit of the festival and come up with creative ideas.

Photo Cred: @frendlygathering

For I AM THAT GIRL, I basically asked myself what kind of things I wished I was able to experience when I was in high school and college and what would I have thought was cool. 

Photo Cred: @iamthatgirl

Who should I interview next? 
Beyoncè's tour manager or production director because: #careergoals and also #lifegoals.

Riiiiiight. Siri: Get me Beyonce's tour manager.
Hah - You asked. Rule #3: Never take no for an answer.

In my years of building teams, there are a few critical traits I look for in each team-member.

First: A Constant Problem Solver
Second: A Ferocious learner
Third: A Selfless Worker

Cara possesses all of those and more. She's one of those you build a team around. But what stood out for me most, is that when she locks into a vision, there is no stopping her. She just does not take no for an answer. I wouldn't at all be surprised if she's not running a Super Bowl Halftime show or a Beyonce tour in a few years.

Latane "Big Bird" Meade - President, The Wipeout Run; Co-Founder, The Electric Run & one of the smartest marketers around.

Photo Cred: Big Bird's Facebook. I wonder where he got his nickname?

Lauren Letta - Chief of Staff, Charity Water & Event Director: Charity Ball
Klaas Rohde - Owner, Fjuze (Netherlands)
Leslie Hitchcock - Event Director, TechCrunch Disrupt
Tina Wilmott - Founder, Endurance SportsWire & Outdoor SportsWire
Cheryl Cecchetto - Event Director, Academy Awards
Christine Bowen - Programming Director, RunningUSA
Victoria Murray-Orr - Challenge Family (44 Triathlons in 24 Countries)
Zack Sugarman - Head of Social, Wasserman Media Group
Tim Hutchings - Co-Founder, Brighton Marathon
Jason White - VP Marketing, Beats By Dre
Rachel Paulson - Events Director - San Diego Zoo
Sarah Pearce - Managing Director, Sundance Institute & Sundance Film Festival
...and more!

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