in Travel/Experience

Everything I Learned from SXSW 2015

Just got back from my all-time favorite event, South by Southwest Interactive. Similar to my 2014 roundup, here’s an attempt to categorize and share all the best stuff I took in:

Biz Stone on Creativity

  •  “If you find yourself laughing in the office while making something, you’re doing something right”
  • We give VC money to philanthropies and write it off as a marketing expense. The future of marketing is charity, if you do it right.

Jack Welch and Gary Vaynerchuk on Being CEOs

  • Work life balance laws are messed up -You can’t impose work-life balance without individual context
  • Does your boss get empowered when you do well? The best bosses have generosity baked into their personality.
  • Jack admits he was a cowardly entrepreneur within GE because he didn’t have to hustle to get paid. He envies the bootstrappers.
  • Fire the bums you hire as fast as possible. Swallow you mistake and get rid of them
  • Self-actualize yourself so you don’t have to actualize your kids
  • Beat your last week, not the competition
  • Self awareness and empathy are the most important traits towards success

Conversation with the Yik Yak Founders

  • Idea for Yik Yak came from Twitter – they wanted to make it without usernames, so that you could be successful as a new user without massive existing followings
  • Gained traction at first through email marketing – they looked up the emails of officers in clubs and campus organizations and manually blasted out emails to them asking to use Yik Yak. Also played off of rivalries “Everyone across town is using it, why aren’t you?”
  • When it hit high schoolers they started bullying each other – so they geofenced every high school in America and made Yik Yak inaccessible(!)
  • Started in Atlanta and spread across US from there, hit Silicon Valley last. Thinks that helped because Stanford kids are tired of new apps
  • Notes that campus news spreads faster on Yik Yak then the campus alert system. EX: school shooting reported nine minutes earlier than official alert
  • Biggest learning: Ship it fast, ship it simple, do it now

Everything Eric Ries has Learned since 2011

  • Lean teachings work for big companies, but it’s difficult, because in most places if you innovate you’ll get fired
  • Tells entrepreneurs: If you hate big companies why are you trying to make one?
  • Company departments may be agile internally but when work gets passed to new department it becomes bureaucratic 
  • Say what you will about the VCs on Sand Hill Road, but they never ask for their money back. If you ask for more, you better have some validated learnings to show from the last round.
  • Book: Stake in The Outcome: Building a Culture of Ownership
  • Internally, Toyota doesn’t refer to its car models as ‘Camry’, they literally call it ‘So and so-san’s car’. This convery massive ownership and spurs leaders to work harder 
  • A productive failure is one that lets you do something you couldn’t do before
  • When enough people ask you the same questions and you start knowing the answers, its time to write a new book
  • Fundamental attribution error – people are a product of the system around them. If systems give rise to errors, shame on you for not surrounding yourself with good systems
  • Entrepreneurs only really quit when they run out of money
  • Instead of  deadlines, look at the past and say “What evidence is there that our strategy is taking us closer to our vision?”
  • Three engines of growth: viral, sticky, and paid

Secrets of Fundraising with VCs

  • Don’t let VCs dictate the timing of investment, they can afford to wait way longer than you can
  • A soft 2 to 4 week deadline is best
  • VCs look for founders who are forces of nature, have a headstart, a good team, and network effects. A product, a vision, and a great market.
  • Don’t start asking with a specific number.  Let the market speak first about the price it thinks.
  • One word that describes VC operations: pattern-recognition

Assorted other takeaways:

  • Austin is experiencing a rise in housing prices due to a tech boom – in response, the local government rewrote the zoning laws  to make mixed use high density housing easier to develop. Good on them, SF could take a cue from this.
  • Buy like crazy in down markets, when the market is up everyone wins except the last buyer, and nobody knows who that will be
  • Startup:  – shows you IRL locations from books
  • Techstars loves to tell the story of Sendgrid – they did ten failed startups before settling on email, because they noticed that every other startup they did had trouble with doing email
  • Book: Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer and Venture Capitalist by Brad Feld
  • Astro Teller of GoogleX – If you aren’t failing, you could be learning faster. They’re kind of sad when prototypes don’t fail because then they weren’t bold enough.
  • Website: is a real thing – send a large 28″ cardboard penis to whoever you want
  • Espree Devora, ‘the girl who gets it done’ – LA based hustler who backpacked through Europe interviewing startups, founder of WeareLAtech podcast
  • Paul Foley – founder of Augur and impressively networked hustler (with a suspiciously glowing Wikipedia page, hahaha) who became an entrepreneur after his dream job at Deloitte ended up being terrible.
  • Two awesome local multiplayer games: Push Me Pull You, with two teams of two working to corral a ball using bizarre sports-monsters, and SpeedRunners, a 4 player sidescrolling platformer that has you racing to throw your opponents behind you towards the deadly edge of screen

All in all it was a great Southby, although I do think the speakers weren’t quite as impressive as last year. The best Southby attendee continues to be one without a badge – the main value here is in the many intelligent, un-orthodoxically accomplished people who attend the conference, and the best places to speak to them are anywhere but the badge-locked rooms.

Hang out outside, sneak into the meetups, do anything but sit at a talk live tweeting it from your smartphone and you’ll get great mileage. It has definitely become one of those events that’s too big for it’s own good, though – there are other conferences better suited to meet-ups and specific niches than the ‘one size fits all techie’ brand of SXSW.