The conference is a haven for aspiration at all ages. Paul Tecker, 51, who founded H2OPS Hop Water, a sparkling water infused with hops, says he came because he wants to be part of a winning community. “If you’re going to be a winner,” he says, “you have to look for those communities, and you need to realize it’s not just you that’s struggling.”
The energy is jarringly friendly for a tech conference, possibly because the How I Built This audience skews slightly female, with an average age of 28. In a Summit bathroom, one woman turns to another and says, “This is weird, but I just wanted to tell you, your hair looks great.” The second woman responds that she was just about to say the same thing.
Several of Mr. Raz’s fans tell me they consider the show basically an M.B.A. course. His founder interviews function as case studies. Listeners get inspired. Many say the show makes them feel less lonely. Others say they cue up an episode when their business is a mess and they need a kick of enthusiasm. “Whenever I’m having one of those days, when I think I’m going to quit, I listen to one,” says Jenny Brien, 35, the founder of Snohomish Pie Company in Seattle. Sometimes she listens to the same episode over and over again.
Backstage, Jenn Hyman, the co-founder of Rent the Runway, is in the greenroom. I am not prepared for her intensity.
“I won’t hire someone at Rent the Runway unless they’ve listened to my How I Built This interview,” Ms. Hyman says. “You can’t listen to that podcast without understanding who I am as a person and a leader. It gets to the core of me. There’s nothing more authentic to me as a person than that interview.”
‘I’m Not Some Rah-Rah, “Go, Capitalism!” Person’
Across the street from Mr. Raz’s event, his wife, a consultant named Hannah Raz, is catching up with their friends Stewart Butterfield, the founder of Slack, and Jen Rubio, who co-founded the smart-luggage start-up Away.
Ms. Raz is not quite sure how to describe Mr. Raz’s hobbies without making him sound “like such an NPR dad.” Truly, it is difficult. “He loves to cook,” she says. “He made his own almond milk, but moved on because of water issues, so now he makes cashew milk.”