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Startup Grind Global 2020 Recap

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What I learned at "the most important event for startups, tech leaders, and big brands..."

Last week I attended Startup Grind Global 2020 in Redwood City, thanks to the kind folks at OC Startup Council. Since many in the O.C. weren’t able to attend, I thought you might enjoy a recap of the key speakers and opportunities created at this truly global event.

The Venue and Event

Wow, this was so cool and different. The event was held in a variety of locations in the main downtown of Redwood City, including tents set up in the intersections, movie theaters, and the main stage in the beautiful Fox Theater. I think the organizers did a terrific job ordering 70 degree weather and putting together a “who’s who” of the startup and tech community to educate and entertain the several thousand attendees.

Startup Grind at the Fox Theater

If I had one complaint it was that the event app’s agenda showed made up location names, rather than the real location so it took a little getting used to where I was going and running from place to place, sometimes literally.

The Attendees

Attendees at this event tended to be quite early stage startups in a pre-revenue or pre-seed state. There were a fair amount of VC and other capital sources looking for deals, but I would say it was more founders looking for money.

One of the really cool things was that there were two tents hosting promising startups that also got to pitch on the main stage (1 minute, not a lot of time … ) and so I got some nice exposure to up and comers.

Breakouts I Especially Enjoyed - Shout Outs and Snippets

I tried to go to as many sessions as I possibly could. It was hard to choose for sure. Since I had to fly up from O.C., the first session I made it to was Data-Driven Business: Curating the Customer Experience featuring Jaya Kolhatkar, Chief Data Officer at Hulu, and Heidi Zak, Co-founder and Co-CEO at ThirdLove. This panel really knew their stuff of course.

Heidi and Jaya spoke to email personalization, and really using the customer’s actions to trigger appropriate marketing actions, which we of course also espouse.

The Amazon Way

Innovating the Amazon Way starring Mackenzie Kosut Global Startup Advocate at Amazon was arguably my favorite session of Day 1. Mackenzie talked about some of the core principles followed at Amazon that can apply to your startup:

  1. Customer obsession - starting with the customer and working backwards
  2. Invent and simplify - A lot of talk about simplification and that adding is sometimes subtracting
  3. Think big - this was my favorite. More on this in “How to Avoid Common Growth Challenges” below.

There were LOTS of others, but fortunately for us, the Amazon Way is well documented. I definitely recommend checking out some articles about their philosophy.

Some of the other great sessions I took less notes on, but were not less important included:

Big Business with a Small Team: Help Your Startup go Farther with Summer Parker-Perry, Customer Advocacy Manager at Zoho and Saru Saadeh Co-founder + CEO, AdRobin

Customer Experience: Common Best Practice
Amy Pressman, Co-founder, Medallia and John Rampton, CEO at - This session had a lot of very practical advice. One of my favorites was of course: TALK TO YOUR CUSTOMERS!! Yourself! Many of you may know that is one of my pet peeves, founders who are afraid to pick up the phone and call customers. So I was glad to hear someone reinforces this.

Deeper Dive - 2 Sessions that captured pragmatic advice for startups

How to: Avoid Common Growth Challenges

Andy Johns, Partner at Unusual Ventures, and formerly of Facebook, Twitter, Quora, and Wealthfront. It was moderated by Melinda Byerley, who did an excellent job.

Top Takeaways:

"Data is a crutch for founders that are afraid" - Aka “you can’t A/B test your way to a DaVinci”

Johns actually went off on this topic in a mini-rant. His recommended reading was Steve Blank’s 4 Steps to the Epiphany, which is quite “Lean Startup”ish vs what he called the “Optimizely Era” where people rely on data rather than talking to customers (see a theme here??) His recommendations instead were the following:

Quit thinking incrementally. You can't get there by experimenting, you need to take big swings. You have 18 months to grow 2-3x before you run out of money, and little dinky “what color is the button” experiments are too slow.

Companies don't ask if the kind of growth they read about (growth hacking concepts) is for them. It's not. The businesses they write about are network effect businesses. You are not. They are exponential, you are linear.

Johns talked about WealthFront, given their lofty goals: “Are we going to have more money than JP Morgan by having a more optimized sign-up flow? Obviously not.” I thought that sort of nailed it.

Johns believed so much in this that he took away the A/B testing tools from the product people and made them go meet with customers in the wild. End result: the next billion dollar product.

Andy recommended using Google Trends to check out “growth hacking” vs “product-market fit” in Google trends. Prepare to be disappointed.

“Show me your org chart and I’ll tell you your priorities”

Really the root of this rant was not that testing was bad, it’s that not enough focus was made on making the product great for a customer.

He talked about identifying places where your leadership is changing direction unintentionally. For example: product team names. Johns believes these names indicate and subtly drive behavior. If a team name is customer retention, what part of the roadmap is dedicated to adding more value to the customer? What would happen if you swap retention metrics to satisfaction metrics? Another example of the metrics shaping product on behalf of the customer: “Steps walked” is the metric for Nyantic’s Pokemon Go. Suggested reading on this topic: the Amazon Annual Shareholder letters.

There was more, but I suggest you get it from the source. I found Andy Johns to be very motivational.

How to: Successfully Pitch to the Media and Secure Game Changing Press for your Startup

Annie Scranton from Pace PR.

This session had a lot of very practical tips. Annie’s 5 Steps to Successfully Pitch Your Startup were:

Have a great online presence: a great website and social media

  • Make all your online footprint reflect your brand, so if journalists look, they will see goodness.
  • Have a social presence and make sure it has consistent, uniform branding
  • Consistently post on all your social media channels to show you’re active. She recommends every day around 9 am

Differentiate your brand - Be able to tell your audience:

  • What does my brand represent?
  • How is it different?
  • What are you doing that the competitors are not doing?
  • how do I build relationships with my customers?

Cultivate relationships with media

  • Do your homework on the outlets to find the right fit
  • Identify the topics they cover
  • Determine what story they would be interested in
  • Be persistent yet friendly 1-2 follow ups

As far as easier targets:

  • Remember, trade pubs are dying for content
  • Local pubs may get you coverage
  • Don’t disrespect your college alumni magazine

Tips for ingratiating yourself with the media

  • Every journalist is on Twitter and linked in
  • Don't be pushy and overt
  • Flattery will get you everywhere
  • Talk about your opinions- maybe you can be a resource to this journalist


  • Be prepared with elevator pitch
  • Put yourself out there at conferences
  • Exhibit at trade shows
  • Have business cards on hand
  • Update LinkedIn regularly.

Seek outside help

  • Find firms that fit your brand
  • You may need a variety of firms
  • Figure out what you need right now because you don't have limitless $
  • Get a fresh perspective
  • Get examples of tangible results


Well, there was really a lot more, but so much it’s hard to narrow it down.Don't stay here I thought the content at this conference was really great, and that the speakers they got there were excellent. I would definitely recommend it, and would go again given the chance. Just wouldn’t stay at the “hotel” I selected again :)



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