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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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 Calendar.com - 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.
"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.
This session had a lot of very practical tips. Annie’s 5 Steps to Successfully Pitch Your Startup were:
As far as easier targets:
Tips for ingratiating yourself with the media
Well, there was really a lot more, but so much it’s hard to narrow it down. 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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