A group of entrepreneurs share their insights from SXSW.
We're in Austin this week attending the South by Southwest Interactive conference, an annual gathering of who's who and what's what in the technology, start-up, and business-building space. I (Karl) attended the conference with seven other entrepreneurs, all of whom are in the process of building businesses. Many of their businesses touch technology, interactive marketing, or depend on venture funding, so the conference and the attendees were very relevant. But, I wanted to know, how does SXSW help you build your business?
The conference is vast. In fact, it's more like eight or 10 conferences in one, with dozens of sessions going on at once and parties focused on specific interest groups. Here are the takeaways from our group:
1. Develop relationships with your customer first and focus on the technology second. Too many companies do this backwards.
2. When building a business, don't focus on what you know, focus on what you don't know: your customers. You want to build a business focused on their needs, not yours.
3. It's better to have 10 customers who love your product than 100 who like it. Optimize your business toward your most valuable customers.
4. Figure out where the puck is going, not where it is. Market to who your customers will be a year from now rather than who they are today.
5. Know your currency. What is the customer looking for more of and what are they willing to pay for? The team from Dropbox found that space was their currency. They learned that customers were using Dropbox for photos, which caused them to gravitate toward mobile. This drove their business in a new direction.
6. Defining your market is more about defining your customer than your demographic. Just because you have two customers who are white women in their 40s doesn't mean that those two women have the same customer needs.
7. Live your business and put yourself in your customer's shoes. The founder of Airbnb does not have a home. He lives in the rental houses his site provides to customers.
8. Rather than think about social sharing among your customers, make it easier for customers to use what they are already using. Customer delight will lead to social sharing.
Perhaps the most interesting comment I heard was from Alex Campbell, founder and chief innovation officer at Vibes, a mobile marketing company. "SXSW is no longer about technology," said Campbell, who has been to several SXSW conferences. "SXSW is about SXSW. It has become more about the experience than the technology world around it."
My question is, if people come to SXSW to learn about SXSW rather than the real world, will SXSW one day become irrelevant?
KARL STARK AND BILL STEWART are managing directors and co-founders of Avondale, a strategic advisory firm focused on growing companies. Avondale, based in Chicago, is a high-growth company itself and is a two-time Inc. 500 honoree. @karlstark