Having attended The Founder Conference in 2010 with a great lineup of speakers, great venue (Microsoft Campus in Mountain View), and good networking opportunities I was looking forward to this year’s event. Unfortunately not all went well this time around, but there were some positive things. The conference was held on 05/03/11 at the Mountain View Center for Performing Arts.
Here’s a quick recap for those who weren’t there.
Guy Kawasaki was the first speaker and focused on his new book, Enchantment. Guy is a really great speaker, but for someone that is supposedly in tune with the startup world I felt his standard powerpoint deck about his book could have been tweaked a bit to better relate to the audience (i.e. startup founders). Using examples like Ford, Apple and other big names work well for a mass audience that his book is trying to reach but how about bringing it closer to home and using some startups as part of the Enchantment story? Guy has delivered this same talk many times, so you can watch it online and judge for yourself.
Second up was Naval Ravikant, talking about The Rise of the Angels. Naval’s presentation was basically a repeat of a previous talk he gave at the Hackers&Founders meetup a few months ago. You can watch that presentation and judge for yourself. 90% of people I met said they had attended the meetup and so there was nothing new this time around, but others that had seen it for the first time enjoyed, especially knowing how AngelList is becoming a successful venue for raising capital.
Then there was a panel discussion with Loic Le Meur and Robert Scoble on “Building Traction with Social Media”, that had a few interesting insights, such as:
- Think big. According to Scoble, some founders think only about reaching the local or national market and forget to go abroad, world-wide. That’s where European founders suffer, because they tend to create solutions for their specific countries instead of the whole continent or world.
- The best way to make your idea/product viral is to tell a good story. Make it easy for people to spread the story.
- The key metric to show investors is “how many people are actually using your product”.
The discussion also touched upon how to get press, how to recover from bad PR, and a few other topics. I expected more action items related to social media in particular based on the topic of the panel, but it was entertaining to listen them share their stories.
I liked the afternoon presentations better. Phil Libin, CEO of Evernote, had a great presentation where he shared all metrics he uses to track customer acquisition and customer engagement. For example:
- Evernote has 9M registered users to date
- 28K new registrations daily
- 3.2M active users in any given 30 day period
- Users that sign up for the free account and stay with them for 1 year have a 8% conversion rate (end up paying for the premium account), while users that have been using for 36 months convert at a 23% rate.
- 38% of their active users come from the US, but Japan is the second highest market with 28% of active users.
I also credit Phil for the best quote of the day, saying:
Phil Libin’s Law: The number of things that will go wrong multiplies over time
That’s what every entrepreneur should have in mind, according to Phil who says you have to multiply Moore’s Law by Murphy’s Law and be prepared for bumps along the road.
Another panel came on, but this time it focused on founder stories of how they launched their companies. The questions were mostly about their experiences with the incubator programs they participated in, the conferences they used to launch, and lessons they learned from their experiences. Participated Jared Hansen, of Breezy, Aviv Grill, of Misomedia, and Olivier Desmoulin, of Supermarmite.
After that, twelve companies had the chance to deliver 1 minute pitches and to be critiqued by Brian Wong, in what was a really funny and engaging discussion. Most pitches sucked, which always makes me wonder why founders don’t come prepared for events like this, but I guess this can be a separate post. Companies pitching were (hyperlinks for those who seem to have a site):
Note: let me know if I missed any company and if there are sites for the ones I didn’t link to.
The next session was an interesting presentation by Tim Young, founder of SocialCast and About.me, talking about his now famous Magic of 5 Slides that ended being picked up by TechCrunch and generated 10,000 emails within 1 hour hitting his inbox, including some angry VCs for him disclosing his ideas on how to build a killer pitch deck.
A few key points he raised during this presentation are worth repeating:
- Think about the traditional deck versus telling a story. Tell a story, don’t give a presentation.
- It’s not a pitch, is a religious conversion. Make people believe in your vision.
- Don’t confuse idea with product or company. VCs fund companies.
- Use only 30% to 40% of your alloted time to present your story.
Next up was Tommy McClung, talking about how he started CarWoo as the 2008 recession began hitting car makers and dealerships nationwide. Great story of how you can succeed and the importance of timing.
The final session was a pitch feedback panel with Rebecca Lynn, Jeff Clavier, George Zachary, and Tim Young. Some companies (don’t remember how many) had 4 minutes each to do a pitch (with slides) which were then picked apart, I mean, critiqued by the panel. Although I didn’t jot down their company names they were part of the original group of 12 that had presented earlier in the day. The best of any live pitch session like this, is to hear the feedback of the panel, and learn from the presenter’s mistakes how to better prepare for when is your turn on the spotlight.
Comparing to last year’s event, The Founder Conference 2011 was very weak. Some sessions were good but overall I was expecting much higher quality, especially not being the first time of this event or the organizers. Here are a few things that I hope they read and take as constructive feedback:
- Venue was horrible. Parking, for instance, was terrible and the staff wasn’t helpful in telling us where to find parking. And there was no Wi-Fi.
- No Wi-fi. Come on guys, a startup conference without Wi-Fi? And don’t blame Gooogle.
- No food. I’m not talking about lunch, but at least some cookies or something during break is not much to ask.
- No questions during sessions. This was perhaps my biggest issue, you listen to great people talk and can’t ask them questions?! Wow.
- Panels too weak. I was hoping for more insightful questions asked to the panels. Next time, I suggest opening up for attendees to ask questions so it’s more interactive.
- A/V sucked. There were many problems with sound, microphones, and slides. Some testing beforehand is in order.
On a scale from 1 (horrible) to 10 (outstanding) I would give the conference a 6. There were some good speakers and the networking, which is one of the most important aspects of the event, was good (I met several great people). The lesson is to learn from the mistakes and put on a better show next time.