Thursday, February 23, 2012

Startup Lessons from StartupRiot

This year I had the opportunity to attend the excellent StartupRiot conference in Atlanta.  It was a great one day conference that provided 30 different startups the opportunity to do a brief presentation and compete for prizes etc.  There were also two excellent keynotes and an after-party that really made the experience worthwhile.  Here is what I learned from the event.

A $100,000,000 Mistake
Noah Kagan of AppSumo gave the afternoon keynote and really did a fantastic job.   He was real, he was genuine and honestly you could tell he was having a good time (that is always a good sign in a speaker!).  His essentially enumerated a litany of mistakes he'd made in his career and how we could learn from them.  Most notably, he talked about the fact that if he'd have managed to not get fired from Facebook (he was employee #30) he would currently be getting ready for a 100M payday; yes...  that says 100M.  And yes, he did suffer some depression after this experience (wouldn't you??), but he didn't let it keep him down.  He got up, kept pushing forward, and now is running a successful business in AppSumo; and he's doing it on his terms which seems to fit Noah better than tagging along behind Zuck.

Moral of the story? Success is getting up one more time than you are knocked down.  Get up and keep going!

Take Your Shirt Off
Of the thirty (yes thirty!!) presentations by startups during the day, easily the most memorable was BodyBoss.  You could tell the guy had spent some time in the gym when he walked out on stage, but all doubt was removed about a minute into it when his shirt came off and he juxtaposed a slide of a flabby, slightly hairy, belly with his ripped six-pack and bulging biceps.  Was it a trick?  Yes. Would I have done the same thing?  Thankfully for the audience, No.  But the idea of getting out of your comfort zone and doing something did resonate with me; it seemed to work for him too... they made it into the Top 5 out of 30! I'm not sure what this will look like for you, but take some inspiration from this guy and do something BIG.  Do something SHOCKING.  And whatever you do, don't be BORING!  Oh, and as a favor to the rest of us... go ahead an leave your shirt on! 

Don't be a Jackass
I like Robert Cringely.  I read loads of his articles back when he was at PBS, so I was pleasantly surprised when he came on stage as one of the judges for StartupRiot.  He was easily the harshest of the judges which personally didn't bother me; the real world is harsh and the sooner we learn to deal with that fact the better.  Nevertheless, Mr. Cringely's treatment of Kyle Henderson from YouEye just made the former sound out of touch.  The money quote came during a disagreement in which Mr. C boasted, "I built the first usability lab at Apple & Microsoft, so I think know something about this [usability testing]".  Well congratulations!!  Everyone stop what you are doing and kneel before the sultan of UI/UX.  Listen Robert... we know you are smart guy ok?  We get that.  But that doesn't mean you know everything or that you have a monopoly on ideas related to this field.  Oh and by the way, guess who is  customer of YouEye?? Microsoft!  I love the irony here!

Sometimes I act like Robert did;  I act like I know it all and everyone that disagrees with me is an idiot. Don't act like that.  Offer feedback.  Disagree even.  Defend your position.  But don't act like the north end of a south bound mule.  Don't do that.

StartupRiot was a great experience.   Sanjay... you did a great job with the event man!  Especially your selection of keynote speakers (I didn't even have time to mention the awesome job Michelle Zatlyn did [1])  I'm sure I'll try to go next year and if you are within striking distance of ATL (or even if not!) I'd encourage you to attend.  And if you missed the event this year you can still benefit from it!  Just 1) Keep Going 2) Go BIG and 3) Don't be a buffoon!

[1] What? You still reading??  Great!  If I was taking the time to point out a lesson learned from MichelleZ's talk it would be Sacrifice. Startups take sacrifice.  She doesn't go out drinking b/c she needs to be fresh.  She doesn't go to Tahoe b/c she is busy building a startup.  She had a compelling story, but one great nugget from the talk was: Startups require sacrifice.

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