Get out, go meet people

David Siegel, CEO of Meetup, presented the ASCENT keynote address around the theme that people are feeling increasingly isolated and lonely and how meeting in person can change everything. That is, so long as we put away our phones to eliminate distractions in our social engagements. The Meetup platform straddles professional and personal lives and now reaches an astounding 44M members with 330K groups, 84K events hosted each week in every country around the world – with the exceptions of Iraq and North Korea.

Siegel encouraged founders to talk to at least 50 people before they selected their co-founders and to apply “The Rule of 5” which stipulates that entrepreneurs have at least five meetings together before they pursue a business venture together. Moreover, the emphasis was on finding complementary skill sets rather than duplicating overlapping strengths.

The multitude of Dave Letterman fans in the audience warmly embraced his Top 10 of Community Strategies list. Obligingly, the audience even performed a collective drumroll for the grand reveal.

THE TOP 10 of Community Strategies

  1. Test the viability of the product or business
  2. Find a biz partner / co-founder
  3. Drive debate & disagreement
  4. Recruiting
  5. Training
  6. Influencer marketing
  7. Drive business acquisitions & leads towards revenue growth
  8. Grow power users through word of mouth (one mouth can be worth 100-1000x)
  9. The community can be leveraged to make smart, strategic decisions
  10. Personal & professional growth are intertwined

A common theme across all successful entrepreneurs is how much reading they do. Siegel suggested reading The Hard Thing About Hard Things, Running Lean, The Lean Startup Book, How to Win Friends & Influence People among others. Naturally, he closed with the suggestion that people get out more, and join a meetup group.

The F word

An all-female panel was a refreshing part of the Day 1 agenda. Spear-headed by Amy Sorrells (Oracle Startups), featuring Jennifer Neundorfer (Jane VC), Erika Jolly Brooks (springbot) and Kris Beck (Proformex), the dynamic team covered “The F Word.” More specifically, how females, including women in tech, are securing only 2% of venture capital money. They cited the beginning of the Wave of Women as a growing number of female execs are leaving big tech and starting their own companies or venture funds, lamenting the days from 30 years ago when women needed a male relative to co-sign contracts to start a business.

Today, there are more funds and more options than ever before for pre-seed monies. Micro-funds continue to be on trend. Women are outpacing men in earning Bachelor Degrees and starting up companies faster than men. That said, diverse, mixed teams are known to perform better which should dissuade founders from forming a homogenous team. Startups don’t consider maternity and paternity policies until they’re confronted with the need to do so which highlighted the need for founders to do more. Similarly, women in their 30s and 40s are finding it challenging to secure investments with many citing the “pregnancy penalty” as the reason for being passed over. All were agreed that showcasing the long-term view gives investors the confidence they need to believe that you can operate your business at scale with good margins.

Elizabeth Cain, OpenView Venture Partners, showcased how the end-user era is here citing numerous examples, including Zoom, Slack, Dropbox, of bottom-up explosive growth driven by viral word-of-mouth influence. Cain has seen this first hand with her newest crop of graduates who all feel empowered to self-select, use and recommend software that enhances their work productivity.

Media & communications masters

Trei Brundrett of Vox Media and Kamaron Leach of Bloomberg, hosted a fireside chat focused on the growth potential of media despite the effect commoditization has had on the quality of journalism. Podcasting was highlighted as an exploding option. Brundett referenced the trend of media mergers which offers viewers greater content and advertisers more eyeballs. Vox was recognized as a unique media provider given its emphasis on developing novel technology to serve its audiences, partners and clients. At this time, they can reach 99% of all Millennials.

Martin Jones, Cox Communications, offered many tips on how to market yourself, something that most people struggle to do. With over half a million followers, Jones knows a thing or two about personal branding. More than 1,000 startups launch each day: how will you and yours stand out? Everyone is vying for attention from the same audience, investors and customers. He advocated for The Rule of One: be different. His Top 5 Tips to market yourself included: 1) define your audience; 2) define yourself; 3) define your story; 4) define yourself as a thought-leader; 5) promote yourself like a rockstar!

Financial infrastructure and internal communication

Marcus Wagner, AcctTwo, highlighted the sobering fact that less than half of all startups make it to a Series A round. In his opinion, this was largely due to the lack of a playbook and the failure to regard accounting as investment versus a cost. Playbooks should contain all the essential aspects of the business, processes, workflows, SOPs and cultural values to drive consistent effort across a company.

In a related presentation, Darren Chait, Hugo, introduced the concept that your team’s SaaS culture speaks volumes about your organization. Chait cited that the average company now uses 130 SaaS tools which makes data storage, retrieval and knowledge management particularly challenging. Departments continue to work in silos and remote work has ushered in a new era of complexity. SaaS culture affects decentralized decision making, information transparency and equity of voice. With the right SaaS culture, teams can operate at 10x. Without it, teams will struggle.

It’s what the customer wants

Christi Olson, Microsoft, presented an updated flywheel with customers as its primary axis, suggesting that this model has replaced the product funnel. Customers no longer want to search and retrieve results: they want an experience. Conversational AI is enabling customers to have new experiences by merging multi-media, platforms and data at scale.

Morgan Molnar, SurveyMonkey, emphasized the importance of an agile approach to market research. Too many entrepreneurs embark on a product development path in the absence of data. Conducting surveys is a cost-effective and rapid way to gain the insights needed to inform strategy.

Whew! That’s a lot of insights. Stay tuned for more tips and the outcome of a startup pitch contest on Day 2.