A rose is a rose is a rose, unless it's an awesome rose, in which case Kevin May will inwardly sigh and perhaps outwardly groan. May is the editor of Tnooz, an online news outlet that focuses on travel technology. He has made no secret of his disdain for the adjective "awesome" when it's used to describe apps, websites, upgrades, features or other developments, incremental or quantum, in technology.
May was at the Travel Innovation Summit, a daylong feature of the PhoCusWright Conference, held last week in Hollywood, Fla. During the summit, 30 entrepreneurs had nine minutes each to explain their endeavors to an audience of travel technologists, investment bankers, suppliers, media representatives and others with an interest in the role automation plays in selling travel. (PhoCusWright, like Travel Weekly, is owned by Northstar Travel Media.)
The conference itself was highly automated, and any message tweeted that included the hashtag #phocuswright was projected on a screen behind the presenters. An hour into the summit, FlyMuch co-founder Brian Zuercher used the A-word to describe his application that enables travelers and publishers to share recommendations.
Moments later, a tweet from Sarah Kennedy Ellis, social and community product marketing manager of Sabre, appeared on the screen: "Hehe I have a feeling @kevinlukemay fell in love w/ FlyMuch as soon as they said his fav word: awesome. :)."
It should be noted that hyperbole is not uncommon at the summit. In the summit guide, one entrepreneur wrote of himself that he is "a technical visionary and the guiding force behind all innovations," without further qualification or limitation.
May responded to Ellis, tweeting, "I'm cowering with fear and dread that we will be on receiving end of a barrage of 'awesome' today. Sigh."
A feature of the summit is an "American Idol"-style "Critic's Circle," a four-person panel that offers a flash reaction to the concepts being presented. The critics referenced the awesome-bashing tweets and endorsed their sentiment, with critic Rod Cuthbert, founder of Viator, expressing a wish to also banish the adjectives "huge" and "magical." "This isn't magic," he said. "It's technology."
In addition to the Critic's Circle, a dozen judges sat silently taking notes. It would be their votes that would determine who would get recognition in the end, and among them was Gregg Brockway, an innovator with a very solid record of success: He was co-founder of Hotwire, which was sold to Expedia, and then co-founded Tripit, which was sold to Concur.
The putdown of "awesome" bugged him. "To all innovator contestants at #phocuswright," he tweeted. "Please use AWESOME more so we can see curmudgeon judges' heads explode!"
I was scheduled to interview Brockway onstage during the summit, and as we waited to go on, he said he was still bothered by the critics' remarks. Once we took our seats on stage, I gave him an opportunity to publicly let the critics know how he felt.
Rather than being offended, Brockway said, "I got chills when Brian described his product as 'awesome.'"
After the summit, Brockway told me about the importance of intense belief in one's venture and his objection to negativity in the face of enthusiasm.
"What I saw was their passion coming through, and I just want to make sure that we're encouraging that. It's such a critical part of what it takes to be successful. It's hard work to be an entrepreneur. People say no all the time.
"If we see two or three people with similar ideas, which will win?" he continued. "The better design, the better business model? I don't think so. It's the one who fights the hardest. I'm not saying you can't learn from criticism, but those who succeed don't listen to naysayers. They'll walk through walls to make an idea come to life."
Though Brockway was speaking about companies in the startup phase, it occurred to me that the same is true for more mature companies facing doubters. Travel agents have been told for more than 15 years by critics that their business model is anachronistic.
And it's undeniable that in those 15 years, other distribution models have taken market share from agents. But it's also undeniable that the agents who reinvented their businesses and survived have an awful lot in common with entrepreneurs whose belief in their own awesomeness is never in doubt.
Email Arnie Weissmann at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter.