Three Things You Should Learn from SXSW, Day 1

This week I attended the first ever SXSW V2V conference — a gathering of 1,500 startup entrepreneurs, innovators, and me.

Since you're too busy working on important things to hang out with me in Vegas, I've distilled a few of the key lessons worth noting.

The first session I attended was by a group of Thiel Fellows. Rich guy Peter Thiel gives free money to entrepreneurs under 20 who look smart. Mostly, it was a bunch of guys starting out who didn't have too much to say, but seemed like they will someday. However,  Zach Hamed is a senior at Harvard and ran down a long list of free and inexpensive tools you can use to launch a digital product for around $100. Pretty badass. The list is too long to post here, but send me an email and I'll send you the list.

His big lesson: You can do things for a lot cheaper than you think, especially if you're going to start something, test, learn, and improve, which is of course what you should be doing.

Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh gave the keynote for Day 1, an inspiring presentation about his efforts to revitalize Downtown Las Vegas, including a $300 million investment in real estate and entrepreneurship. He's already created one of the biggest e-commerce sites on the web, and influenced the way we do our business at Rebel, and is now tackling a much bigger challenge: how to create a real world community that increases in value as it grows. One of my favorite parts of the project is an outdoor mall made out of shipping containers, designed to be fun for kids and adults, and with both education and commerce built into the experience

For me the key takeaway was the power of what you can create if you're really focused on what's important to you. Sure, he has a lot of money, but there are a lot of people out there with a lot of money who aren't making any meaningful investments into their communities. What if the big money in Detroit was thinking this way? See his presentation here:

Tony's presentation was passionate, and the work he’s doing is amazing. The one downside was the graphics, which was sort of a common theme throughout the day. Makes me wish that SXSW had engaged Behance to design all of the presentations for the speakers.

Behance CEO Scott Belsky gave an extremely well-designed presentation about lessons he's learned from connecting a creative community.

He spoke about the concept of "credible mass" vs. critical mass. Too many marketers focus on the number of people they're reaching, without considering how much each of those people can do to help their businesses. He argued that if you can get 150 of the right people to like something, that can be more important than thousands of randoms, citing an example from 55DSL, who used Behance to crowdsource a new logo design. They got 15,000 entries, and found that each designer had spent 3-4 hours — six years worth of labor. Imagine what they could have accomplished if they had been more deliberate about how to use six years worth of people's time.

Finally, Jenn Dearing Davis of Union Metrics ran down lessons we can take from movie marketing. Here's the deck, and a few key points:

  • Let users peek behind the scenes. We tried to get a client (their agency, actually) to shoot b-roll of their TV commercial and release the storyboards and interviews with the creatives, so fans could see the process they go through in figuring out how to advertise their product.
  • Build up to an event. A lot of the speakers touched on the importance of cadence, which is essential to success in social media marketing, and all marketing, and everything else.
  • Run contests and other promotions that let people play with your content. Don't just give away iPads in exchange for entries.
  • Invest in high quality content. She referenced a couture fashion photo shoot with the cast from Hunger Games. We say that if you're only going to post pictures from your website onto your social channels, you shouldn't even bother.
  • Enlist opinions from your audience. Run polls and surveys. Make them feel heard, but also take their feedback with a grain of salt.
  • Ultimately, she says the key to success is good content shared consistently over time with lots of engagement.

    Stay tuned for more coverage from Day 2…


    Transparency Is All There Is // Random Thoughts

    Left: New way of thinking,  Right: Old way of thinking What exciting times we're living in! For those of us whose values include transparency, integrity, and natural law, it's pretty amazing to watch the chickens come home to roost (I'm really hoping I know what that phrase means). In case you've been too busy, I want to bring to your attention two unfolding stories that particularly stand out to me:

    1. The Big 3 are no longer big enough to be worthy of the title, and have been renamed the Detroit 3. They're begging for cash in Washington. While every news outlet, many consumers, and Congress have been debating whether or not to bail them out, the top execs showed up in D.C. in their private jets - three separate private jets to be exact - causing outcry from all of the above. This action obviously did not support their case that their heads are on straight, they're making sound strategic decisions and they just need some cash to tide them over.

    2. went through a round of layoffs. CEO Tony Hsieh, an avid Twitterer and (crowned by us) a Rebel, posted updates about the layoffs on his Twitter feed, and even offered up a copy of the email sent to employees on his blog. The outpouring of support from Twitter followers was pretty incredible. Many applauded his openness and commiserated with the tough times businesses are in. Others promised to actually buy more shoes on Zappos and tell their friends to do the same.

    Let's consider these two stories as a juxtaposition of old-school and new-school thinking. Both are stories about companies going through hard times. One handles it with bravado, finger pointing, and an air of desperation, the other with humility and humanity.

    What I find most interesting about the Zappos situation is not that Mr. Hsieh went public with traditionally private company matters, but that he had previously created an environment in which it made sense for him to do this now. He allowed himself the freedom to do the right thing in tough times, because he lived right when times were good.

    Conversely, the problem with Detroit is not that they showed up in Washington in private planes, it's that they were asleep at the wheel so long that they didn't realize they have no business flying private planes. Ever.

    Sidenote: New to our blog? Check out the first post here - consider it a map.