Highlights from Fast Company’s Innovation Uncensored Event in San Francisco

Great conferences don’t need to span two or three days. In fact, they can be done in one day as Fast Company fabulously demonstrated earlier this week.

The Innovation Uncensored Conference was an impressive feat. It featured great speakers like Scott Case of Startup America, Padmaress Warrior of Cisco and Seth Priebatsch of SCNGR, who discussed pressing topics like customer-centric development, social in the enterprise and game mechanics in business. The mix of speakers and topics was intense without being overwhelming. I was able to walk away with many great learnings.

Oh and the catering … amazing!

Here are some of the learnings I gleaned from the conference:

#1 Successful Businesses are Flexible and Persistent

Reid Hoffman of LinkedIn gave general good advice to startups. He singled out perseverance and focus as the two main objectives of any business. He emphasized the importance of listening to the “smartest people that will talk to you” and heed their advice. He also recommended getting an introduction to VCs you don’t know instead of sending them unsolicited emails (they hate it.)

Scott Case of Startup America echoed Hoffman’s sentiments with his “10 Steps Toward Success:”

  1. Ecosystem: Be part of the environment in which you partake. Give your time to fledgling startups that seek your help.
  2. Pick Your Team Carefully: Founding team members can make or break your business.
  3. Embrace the Pivot: Know how to pivot. Read Eric Reis’s book (my review.)
  4. FOCUS: You have to manage distractions, otherwise you’ll fail.
  5. Build Your Network: The smartest people in the world can’t get anything done without help. Build your support system and mingle with people that are smarter than you.
  6. FOCUS: You have to manage distractions, otherwise you’ll fail.
  7. Customer Development: Know your customers. Read Steven Blank’s book.
  8. Capital: Are you going to raise money? Self-fund? Where is your capital coming from?
  9. Get The Boring Stuff Right: Business, legal, accounting, …etc. Most founders waste their time figuring this out instead of focusing on their product.
  10. FOCUS: Do I really need to say it?
Pretty much everyone that spoke mentioned “focus.” They made a compelling case for the power of saying “NO” and how crucial that is for success. It’s only when you’re “focused” you can be flexible and have the energy to persist.

#2 Your Customers are Your No. 1 Asset

This was another common takeaway and one we take to heart at Edmunds.com.

David Cush of Virgin America stressed the paramount importance of managing customer expectations when rolling out a new system. Virgin America just recently implemented a new reservation system (still buggy as of this writing) and they have worked closely with the marketing department to manage customer expectations and reactions.

Padmaress Warrior of Cisco said the same thing. She implemented BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policy at work after her customers (i.e. Cisco engineers) continued using their “unsupported devices” (i.e. Macs.) The new policy has been great not only for her consumers but for business as well.

Customer is the No.1 asset. Also, if your employees are happy and satisfied, that normally translates to customer satisfaction as well.

#3 Focus

I know I mentioned it above, but it was such a focal (no pun intended) point at the event. Focus is success.

Gary White of Water.org and Doug Ulman of Livestrong talked about passion, social responsibility and the role of focus in their success. If you come up with ten projects, prioritize them and then cut the last two and focus all your resources on the first eight. Personally, I’d go further and say cut eight and focus on the top two, but I guess it all depends on the amount of resources you have.

Ulman mentioned that in their office they have a big paper printout that says, “There’s Customers and Then There’s Everyone Else.” Focus on Customers and the projects that directly impact them.

#4 Technology Platforms and Innovation

Nathan Hubbard of Ticketmaster and Alison Moore of HBO talked about how publishers are innovating in the world of social web and platforms. Early engagement seems to be the key here. Although the ROI from mobile platforms is still unclear, both companies realize its importance.

They both also mentioned the how the metadata of content (i.e. behind the scenes of a concert, a day in the life of the creator of a show, …etc) is a crucial way to offer consumers unique content and experiences that only these two companies could offer. This makes the platform so much more valuable.

Padmaress talked a bit about how Cisco go about creating innovation:

  1. Executives state a problem
  2. Ideas are submitted
  3. An idea is incubated
  4. Scalability is addressed
  5. Repeat
It was heartening to hear technology leaders talk about the uncertainty as well as the importance of platforms in giving the consumers what they want and enhance the image (and revenue) of a brand.

#5 Game Mechanics Apply to Business

Seth Priebatsch of SCVNGR gave a passionate talk about the Interchange Zero (moving money around should cost $0) concept and how eliminating fees associated with moving money is the way of the future. He talked about game mechanics and their role in solving that problem:

  1. Sunken Reward: Give the consumer a reward for just being there to get them engaged from the get-go.
  2. Progression Dynamic: A progress bar is a classic example of embedding a Feedback Loop into your product. This is important to get consumers to come back.
  3. Appointment Dynamic: Ask the consumer to repeat a specific action at a specific place after a specific period of time has lapsed.
These gamification techniques are increasingly becoming important to business success.

#6 Collaborative Consumption is The Future

Lauren Anderson of Collaborative Consumption talked about how consumers want to share everything. From breast pumps to beer kegs to dunk tanks. Everything.

As a result, reputation capital becomes more and more important. That’s why we see companies like Klout vying to be the authoritative source of online reputation.

#7 Retail Will Dramatically Change in 2 Years

John Donahoe of eBay talked about how retail disruption is coming. eBay sells on average 2,500 cars on mobile devices and $5 billion of its revenue is closed on mobile devices. He talked about the online-to-offline experience in the UK and how that is used to generate more offline purchasing as an example of how retailers are changing their behavior to accommodate the new consumption patterns.

we’ll see more change in the way people shop and pay in the next 3 years than we’ve seen in the last 20,” he said.

He also mentioned that the role of technology platform is to enable technology, not create it. When asked about eBay’s 5-year strategy, he said, “3-5 year strategy is laughable” pointing out that no one saw the iPhone coming and that strategies have to be able to change based on new realities on the ground.

#8 If What You Put Out There is That Good, Someone Will Find You

Franklin Leonard of Overbrook Entertainment talked about using the social web to push content out there and if you’re talented and it’s good, someone will reach out to you!

I’ve been telling my actor/director friends that the way to really make it is to manage your own brand and create your own content and put it on YouTube. Glad to hear Leonard say the same thing.

#9 Kardashiansim

Ellen McGirt of Fast Company had an epiphanic moment on stage. She asked Gary White, “How do you get people to care in an age of rampant Kardashianism?” I thought that was genius. Well, everyone at the conference did. So I decided to define the new noun:

Kardashianism: (n.) Everything that's wrong with America.

#10 The Best Way to Meet People is Over a Glass of Wine

The catering at this event was remarkable. The food was fantastic and the wine was great. The atmosphere created by Fast Company made it easy to break the ice and talk to people. It’s the best way to meet like-minded individuals and the reason why I attend conferences; You can see the videos online for free, but it’s the networking that you pay for.

I’ll be back next year for sure!

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