Adelaide’s inaugural SouthStart Conference was held on Friday 4 October. It showed all of those who attended — me included — why right now is an exciting time to be in startup mode, and in business for yourself.
I didn’t need to rush. But I did. I rushed around in the morning freaking out that I wasn’t going to be at SouthStart on time. I had decided to save my pennies and catch the train, so that meant getting to the station in time for the second train of the day.
Making a decision to leave all of my technology at home, smartphone excluded, I grabbed an absurd number of business cards, a notebook, two pens, a diary, and my ticket, and raced out of the house. Once I got on the train, I lamented the size of my bag — and the fact that I had neither music or a book.
In my rush, I had neglected my morning yoga. So, instead, I sat in a little pool of excitement on the train and used the time to create a focus for the day. That focus was to stay attentive, take good notes, and meet people. My week’s networking target had been met by Wednesday morning (target = meet 4 new people), but I need a growing network, not a stagnating one. So: the more the better.
I’d intended to Live Tweet the entire event, from my front door. Unfortunately, I hadn’t charged my phone enough, so I assumed that I wouldn’t be able to tweet the entire day. I turned everything off: vibration, sound, brightness, animation, etc, to try and preserve the battery.
When I got to SouthStart Conference at 7:45 am, I was more than a bit surprised to see that the team was still organising lanyards. ‘Hell,’ I thought. ‘If I’d known they hadn’t got to this point last night, I would’ve volunteered’. The fact I went to Totally Blew It the night before was of no consideration.
Visible hashtags are so important. I had spent the night before, at Totally Blew It using the wrong hashtag. Instead of using #startupAUS, I was using the name of the event. At SouthStart Conference, everywhere you looked, the hashtag #southstart was visible. It was on banners, and on shirts, and on projections. It made it so easy to tweet the event, that I just dived in.
I wasn’t refreshing my feed at all regularly, however, due to my battery situation. If I had, I would have seen this:
I was so surprised when I won lunch. Not only had I won my ticket price back at Totally Blew It, I didn’t have to spend a cent during the event because I won a fantastic lunch. I had chivita from the La Cantina Co food truck. It was outstanding. And they were so sweet; they called me Seniorita Brutal. This because I was so into the session at the time, that my Twitter username was on the list.
Knowing social media profiles is helpful. Unlike many other people who Live Tweet an event, I stay away from names (often because I don’t hear them properly or fail to pay attention). I try to make my commentary contextual, when I provide it. I figure there’s little point telling people that so-and-so is on the stage now; this is of particular import when I don’t follow them. I would rather give people links to their profiles, so they can follow if they choose. I managed to name people maybe twice during a whole day.
I live tweet the value in the presentation. So what do I do? Provide actual content. If you are not at SouthStart Conference, and you are following #southstart, chances are you are doing it less to see what is happening, and more for the value you get out of it.
It’s for you, but it’s also for me. I love to give my followers, and other hashtag followers, the value they’re after. But at the same time, if I Live Tweet an event, it means that I have a ready source of notes to go back to later on.
It never stops me from writing my own notes, however. And it’s from those notes that you can expect to see a round of blogs in the coming fortnight. I do that because I’ve had those awful moments where I can’t find the detail in my past feed — and that’s just frustrating.
SouthStart is invaluable for anyone in business. Sure the target audience is startups in a tech space. But as someone who is currently running a service business, I learned how alternative business models are really just different ways of thinking about current business models.
Where traditional businesses are buckling under all these things they need to do, startups get right to the point. Their familiarity with ideas means they are fluid and flexible. They don’t get bogged down in unimportant things, like Google rankings. They focus on fixing problems, and they are really clear about what they are going to do.
Seeing the Baby Bargains and AgentAnywhere pitches was invaluable. They had vision, clarity, data, validation, and end-to-end story. How many people in traditional models can give you all of that?
Being in a startup makes you focus on the important things. And being in a startup means that you have access to a whole lot of excited entrepreneurs — successful and otherwise — who want the community as a whole to be successful. The collaboration is what makes it exciting. They love hearing your ideas, they share their knowledge and tips.
And usually, they don’t work 9 — 5. The goal is not to be employed. The goal is to live a great life, and provide value for other people.
What I learned at SouthStart Conference 2013
There is so much that I learned. Here’s a bit of a list. Full blogs will be posted about each session in the coming days.
- Networking is daunting in a big crowd; but making it easier is to ask someone, ‘What’s your story?’ It evokes a different response than does the inane ‘what do you do?’ that everybody else is asking.
- My visual branding preceded me, and standing up to speak at Totally Blew It the night before was the best thing I could have done. I heard mention of Leila Henderson (@Newsmaker) from a panel, and told myself ‘I need to meet her’. I even tweeted it! But it turned out she already knew who I was… because of the session the night prior.
- When you pitch, you need to be 100% clear about everything: you can’t think it, you have to have data to back you up. Make your argument about the need for your product — and its ability to fulfil it — irrefutable.
- Big networking events and conferences are invaluable for refining your elevator pitch. And yes, your elevator pitch is vital.
- Fake it til you make it: people notice confidence. If you don’t feel it, pretend you do.
- Talk to the people around you, and really listen to them. Take their cards, and email them later
- People in startup-mode — or nearly there — are all inspiring people. I have not met one person that has not inspired me in some way.
Learnings from the sessions:
- Nothing is impossible. Improbable, or highly improbable, but not impossible.
- Acceptance of failure is important, so fail fast and try again.
- Start in a service-based business because it will teach you where the pain points and problems are
- Getting big is about focusing on a micro level. Solve one specific problem. If possible, make it a problem that a lot of people have.
- You are not your business
- Small business thinks and stays small. Growth business thinks and aims big.
- Validate, validate, validate. Test, test, test.
- Test early, test often.
- Talk to everybody about what you’re doing.
- Get clear: clarity of vision, precise (mathematical) goals.
- Write and review your goals. Carry them on you always
- A good investor is a good leader, and investing is about good leadership.
- Lead investing is hard work because of the due diligence involved; coming afterwards is easy
- The funding market is global, not local
- Change your attitude, change your life.
There is a lot more. For all of the commentary from the live tweeting, go and read my feed and tweets at Storify
Edit, December 2013: I had embedded the Storify feed here but it stopped working for some reason. Please go here to see it instead. Sorry for the inconvenience!
Appreciation and thanks go out to all of the following:
The organisers of the SouthStart Conference for such a wonderful day; all of the speakers for keeping every presentation unique, individual, and different; the panels, for being focused and insightful; the guys who pitched, for doing an amazing job; Spearmint Digital for great company; the Majoran Distillery and its ‘tenants’ for making me feel welcome.