Review of the 99U pop-up school in NYC


When you attend a conference in NYC, the hustle factor comes into play because you’re navigating the busiest streets in America, avoiding making eye contact with individuals looking to make a quick buck, and you’re experiencing choice overload. Once you finally arrive at the conference, the hustle factor should be hitting overdrive. As you try to absorb everything you can, you’re hustling to stock your pockets and any and all bags you brought with every free item you can grab (books, business cards, white papers, vendor swag, fake tattoos, the sky is really the limit here)!

If conference swag is disclosed up front, I am more inclined to attend the event! 99U knew how to market their upcoming pop-up school to me with a low price point (one-day price $99), and the opportunity to receive a free book (first 100 attendees)! The gravy factor was that Simon Sinek, the man behind “why,” would be a speaker during day one.

As a creative professional, 99U is the mecca for creative inspiration. It helps that they have relationships with a laundry list of industry thought leaders that contribute to 99U branded content.


99U | “Insights on making ideas happen” is the brainchild of Scott Belsky, founder of the online portfolio platform Behance. In 2010, Fast Company deemed him “100 Most Creative People in Business.” 99U is an educational extension of Behance. (In 2012, Behance became a member of the Adobe family). Content produced by 99U includes a daily web magazine, an annual conference, four inspirational books, and now pop-up schools.

99U’s first ever pop-up school was a three-day event (Sept 18-20th), held in Lower Manhattan at 82 Mercer Street. The workshops were based around three distinct curriculums (Career Development, Entrepreneurship, and Brand & Digital Strategy).


The conference was equally split between the lecture hall and what was referred to as the “playground session.” During breaks, the playground was where attendees participated in round table discussions, had their portfolios reviewed, learned about the latest products from Adobe, took Meyers-Briggs personality tests, interacted with speakers at the Teachers’ Lounge, perused books at the pop-up bookstore and branded themselves with tattoos from Tattly.


My 99U tattoo from Tattly


Pantone Booth

I attended day one, “Career Development,” and featured speakers included Scott Belsky, Heidi Grant Halvorson, James Victore, Ben Barry, and Simon Sinek. The backgrounds of the speakers were diverse enough spanning the following discipline sets, creative, entrepreneurship, social psychology, and ethnography.


Jocelyn K. Glei, Editor-in-Chief of 99U, opened the conference by stating, “True learning is funcomfortable… Changing habits is scary, but it’s almost always worth it.” Her laid back introduction helped set the tone that the conference was all about “demystifying the creative process.”

Unlike other conferences where the dialogue is generally one way, from speaker to the audience, this conference pushed attendees to step into the “funcomfortable” spotlight by trying out a mock interview, or by participating in a round table discussion.

Scott Belsky was the first speaker at the pop-up school and he gave an insightful speech around developing a competitive advantage. He postulated that in order to develop your advantage you have ask yourselves these two questions. First question, “What do you want to be best at?” Second question, “What are you willing to be bad at?” Belsky asked attendees to put pen to paper to think about what are the distinguishing features/attributes about you, your product, or your service. Attendees, who participated illustrated their findings as a straight line and then were asked to draw a second line indicating the marketplace.

The point of his framework was to see if your straight line matched to the marketplace line. If so he stated, “you have not found your competitive advantage.”

The second speaker was Heidi Grant Halvorson, Associate Director | Columbia University Motivation Science Center, who highlighted the difference between having “the be good mindset” vs. “the get better mindset.” She told attendees the danger of “the be good mindset” is that “when things go wrong, we doubt our abilities.” However, “when things go wrong, people with a Get Better mindset are more likely to action to solve the problem.” “The Getter Better Mindset,” as summarized by Halvorson: “It’s not about proving but improving. Don’t demonstrate skills develop them instead. Don’t think of yourself as competition with others. Compare yourself to past self, not others.”

Thanks to a segway between speakers,  a trailer introduced a new book 99U produced titled “Maximize Your Potential: Grow Your Expertise, Take Bold Risks & Build and Incredible Career.”


As one of the first 100 attendees to arrive, I hustled my way to an advanced copy of the book that features the insight of twenty contributors, including notable names like Cal Newport, Heidi Grant Halvorson, and Scott Belsky.

As the lecture series continued, a panel of three speakers Jocelyn K. Glei, James Victore, and Ben Barry discussed the trials and tribulations of the creative process. Barry specifically highlighted how he built The Facebook Analog Research Laboratory.

The final lecture series of the day was titled “Master Class” and Simon Sinek was so inspiring that I am going to devote an entire post around the leadership and innovation insights he presented.

As a sneak peak, I did get to meet Simon during the Playground Session! He posed for a photo with me, and signed a copy of “Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action.” Simon was very approachable, authentic and grateful to be at the event. He signed the introduction page of my book with the inspirational quote, “May all your days be used to inspire others!!”

All of the lectures were recorded, and hopefully will be posted to the video section of 99U. In the meantime, take a look at their library of archived videos.

If you haven’t already, connect with 99U on social media.



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