About 300-400 entrepreneurs are gathered today at the StartUp Mixology conference organized by Tech Cocktail, a media company that encourages entrepreneurship. The event is being hosted at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre in Downtown DC. The organizers gave all the attendees a heads up not to expect wifi and to get their own wifi devices – which actually seems to work better as the audience is concentrating on the speakers. Follow the conference Twitter stream by searching for the hashtag #startupmixology or you can watch the #StartupMixology Conference live at http://live.techcocktail.com/.
The event opened with a keynote by Steve Case, Co-Founder of AOL and Chairman of Startup America. Steve was followed by two local active entrepreneurs Mike Mayernick, Co-founder of Spinnakr, and Zvi Band, Founder/Developer of Structo. In their presentation both Band and Mayernick advised entrepreneurs:
- Poll your friends and networks with your idea and get feedback
- Just build it referring to the idea (yourself, nerdy co-worker, your future co-worker or a freelancer or a firm)
- It’s an advantage to get some basic understanding of code even if you are not going to build the code yourself
- If money is the motivation for anyone you hire to build your dream – it may not be right
- Use tools like online advertising (Google Adwords), email to friends, people you meet at events to get sign-ups for you product
- Launch the product and don’t be shamed that it does not have all the features yet
- See what the users are doing and keep measuring
- Focus on increasing user adoption
These guys should know. They seem to be executing their ideas with a new product every few weeks. Check out their slide presentation here.
Leslie Bradshaw, President, COO, and Co-Founder of the talented creative agency JESS3 (who has produced some great infographics for many top companies) spoke about startups and working with designers. Leslie has been recognized by Fast Company and Washingtonian as a top entrepreneur. She very thoughtfully provided a link to her presentation:
Peter Lamotte, President of Genius Rocket, narrated their journey and the change in business model mid-way. Genius Rocket is now a company that enables a community of filmmakers, animations, and motion graphic artists create video content for agencies, start-ups, and Fortune 100 brands by enabling the exchange and curating the process instead of an earlier open crowdsourced model. Companies can ask for concepts and pay for stroyboard and actual production. Peter shared the experience of Genius Rocket in using grassroots PR and grassroots marketing to establish a foothold in the rich interactive media space. Peter said that video is going to be very prevalent and this is the second conference that I heard this being said about video, so sharpen your video taking skills.
Hooman Radfar, CEO and Co-founder of ClearSpring a McLean based company that owns the AddThis Social sharing platform, spoke about ClearSpring’s journey and took examples of the different paths that companies can take with MySpace and Facebook. His advice to entrepreneurs:
- Speed counts – from idea to execution
- Ride the wave – look beyond short term goals and look at what the universe is moving towards and how you can be the center of it
- Arm the influencers – look at people who are passionate about the same things you are and talk to them
- Bring victory home – emphasising the need to make sure even internally you tell your employees what are the victories being earned in the market place
- Build a model – think of the thesis of your idea or dream. How to get to your goal – create the hypothesis and start measuring to see how it is working. Clearspring also changed business model from focus on widgets to being a company involved in social sharing and data collection.
DC’s very own community organizer and CEO of IStrategy labs, Peter Corbett, spoke about the importance of the team. His style is to recruit good people and stay out of the way. His definition of X Factor is the time when your gut tells you in the interview you know if this is the person you want on your team. His advice is that the core team should be in one place even if you have offices in other places. He was a one man company for a long time and now spends more time outside at community events than at work. His advice was not to expect your community efforts to be linked directly to any ROI but your business will definitely benefit in ways you don’t expect. I also heard this from Tim Berry, CEO of Palo Alto Software, whom I met yesterday for lunch.
Speaking to the people I met at Startup Mixology, Cherie Lejeune Founder of Digi-boom.com had 3 takeaways from the morning session at the Tech Cocktail conference Startup Mixology from:
- Passion still rules no matter how old you are
- Organization is very important for success
- Never be shy of community building
Among other people I met at the Startup Mixology – friend Keith Casey was at the conference and told me about his company Twilio that gives businesses a phone number and then using the API’s allows to customize their solutions. I conversed with William Pugh, Professor at the Department of Computer Sciences at UMD College Park, who gave me an example of innovation at UMD CP – FindBug: an open source program which uses static analysis to look for bugs in Java code. If you remember, Sergei Brin, co-founder of Google, is a undergrad at University of Maryland with a double major in Computer Sciences and Mathematics. It was great to see other friends – Just Gutwein, entrepreneur and video story teller at Shine on Storytelling; Jill Foster of Live Your Talk and Monika Jansen of Jansen Communications.
The Startup Mixology conference is of great value to people thinking of starting a business or that already have a startup. For other folks it gives a great insight into how this decade of startups think of business and set their goals. One key element is the speed at which technology is fostering innovation.