Last week, I went to the inaugural SXSW V2V Conference at The Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas as part of the mentor program. At 1500 attendees, the inspiring event made me realize that I am part of a growing movement of people carving their own paths, in their careers and their lives. The SXSW team successful brought together the creative energy of their signature events in Austin with the business partners who provide the funding to bring these creative ideas to life in the world.
Below is a wrap-up of the events I attended and the people I met along with a variety of links to additional information that will be helpful and motivating for anyone who is or wants to be part of the startup world.
Tony Hsieh Keynote: The City As a Startup
Tony is best known as the CEO of Zappos, a phenomenally success online fashion company known for incredible service and the bottom up virtuous cycle management approach that more corporations need to adopt – The company takes care of the employees; the employees will take care of the customers; the customers will take care of the shareholders; the shareholders will take care of the company. In addition to running Zappos, Tony has made a big bet with his own personal money on the city of Las Vegas. He has started his wildly ambitious, and sometimes controversial, Downtown Project. He is attempting to revive and re-invent downtown Las Vegas by investing in entrepreneurial talent. He describes it as a lifestyle of “TED meets SXSW meets Burning Man.” Tony made the case for thinking of the modern day city as we think of a startup – something to be invented and reinvented to benefit its users and iterated over time. To further illuminate the topic of the city as startup, Tony recommended two books: Triumph of the City by Edward Glaeser and Tribal Leadership by Dave Logan.
Steve Case Keynote – The Rise of the (Entrepreneurial) Rest
Co-founder of AOL, Steve Case has been at the forefront of the reinvention of our economy since the mid-80s. I was excited to hear his 30-year perspective on the business circumstances we’re currently facing. He was remarkably humble and open about his career and perspective. He gave all of support as we “swing for the fences” in order to attempt to hit homeruns in our work and in our lives. He believes in learning by doing over learning by strategizing, working together as opposed to working against one another, and companies that are built to last rather than built to flip. In a world that often feels like it’s dominated by 25 year-olds who shun the over-30 crowd, it was refreshing and invigorating to hear Steve’s investment process and his continuous enthusiasm for the maker movement.
Scott Belsky – Behance
I interviewed Scott several years ago for this column. At the time, Behance was just finding its sea legs. Now it’s part of Adobe, and Scott has continued to push his company and the creative class forward by posing provocative questions and choosing to zig while most others zag. Under the Behance umbrella, he launched 99u, a program that “delivers action-oriented education that you didn’t get in school, highlighting real-world best practices for making ideas happen.” He believes in inclusion, expanding our network to incorporate people from all walks of life, and places more emphasis on the credible mass than the critical mass.
Reach Hacking: Strategic Marketing for Startups
One a scale of 1-10 for practicality and usefulness, this marketing workshop was a 20! Margaret Francis, Israel Mirsky, Marshall Kirkpatrick, and Blake Robinson offered a crash course with dozens of useful tools and insights pooled fro their collective experiences in companies big and small. Blake posted their entire presentation online – I highly recommend viewing it and referring to it often.
Toby Daniels – Crowdcentric and Social Media Week
Along the same lines as Scott Belsky, Toby Daniels also pushes the envelope by breaking with the conventional and collective wisdom of the startup community. His presentation was loaded with resources and links. #FutureofNow is his latest venture to encourage us to connect in the moment in-person as much, if not more than, we do online. Social media has its place, and Toby argues that its purpose is to generate real-world connection. It is a means to an end, not at end in and of itself as so many people treat it now. With Nokia, he developed the Design Your Day free e-book to help people take control of their time and their work. Along these lines, he also recommends daily meditation (check out my guided meditation recording here) and regular digital detox periods.
Jenn Deering Davis – Union Metrics
As the Co-founder of a social media consulting firm that works with some of the top entertainment brands in the world, Jenn gave a session to reveal some of the best social media tactics used by the big movie studios and television networks. I had a chance to chat with Jenn and her co-founder, Hayes, at one of the SXSW V2V happy hours. They are engaging, approachable, and abundantly enthusiastic about their work. If you’re looking for a set of smart, thoughtful, and collaborative social media consultants to work with your brand, I highly recommend them!
Tim League - Alamo Drafthouse
Co-founder of Alamo Drafthouse, Tim followed Jenn and told his brutally honest story as an entrepreneur in a “dying” industry of movie theaters. He illustrated that being authentic and self-deprecating are crucial traits of successful business people. I was particularly excited to hear from him because an Alamo Drafthouse is opening in my Upper Westside neighborhood. This kind of neighborhood hangout is sorely needed. I can’t wait to get involved promoting their work.
Heather Willems - ImageThink
One of my very favorite parts of SXSW events is the complete array of visual illustrations of the speaker sessions. After years of admiring her work, I finally got to meet Heather Willems, the woman with the colorful pens behind these fantastic illustrations. Check out all of her work from SXSW V2V at https://twitter.com/ImageThink/media/grid.
UpGlobal Live Lounge
I’ve made some of my favorite connections at SXSW Lounges. They are usually sponsored by companies, offer comfy seating, and feature some of the best conversations on-stage and off. UpGlobal Live, a joint program between Venture for America and Startup Weekend, sponsored SXSW V2V’s Lounge.
I heard Kevin McGinnis, VP of Product Platforms and Services at Sprint, speak about his company’s efforts to support and foster entrepreneurship. He and journalist Jeff Slobotski of Silicon Prairie News are fantastic representatives for all of the innovative projects underway in the Midwest. I had been planning to switch from Verizon to Sprint prior to SXSW V2V. Once I heard Kevin speak, I knew that was the right choice. They are pushing the boundaries of what’s possible more than any other mobile provider out there. (More on my switch to Sprint in a later post.)
My Mentor Sessions
Finally, one of my favorite parts of the conference involved interacting with the entrepreneurs who signed up for my mentor sessions and all of the conversations that these sessions generated afterwards. Helene Kwong, Don Puryear, Don Grimes, and Mike Steely are doing great things with their companies and endeavors. I look forward to collaborating with all of them and promoting their work.
It’s safe to say that SXSW has successfully created a new offshoot of their wildly popular events in Austin. I’m already looking forward to next year’s V2V. I hope you are, too!