As an official veteran of the Inc. 500 experience (having attended two of the last 25 Inc. 500 conferences and awards ceremonies in hilly San Francisco, CA, and in haunted Savannah, GA), I can say with authority that the event is a source of inspiration, networking connections with other smart and successful entrepreneurs, livened philosophical and pragmatic discussions, valuable advice and insight, fun gifts from the event sponsors, and the ever-present dessert-like snack. On Saturday alone I ate a raisin bran muffin, a buttery scone covered in powder sugar, a dense walnut-topped brownie, a large individual cheesecake torte, and a custard-filled cup fashioned out of chocolate.
That same morning, Yvon Chouinard, Patagonia's founder and the Inc. 500 opening keynote speaker, broke his audience in the Grand Ballroom into stitches as he explained why, "leading an examined life in business is a pain in the ass." One of his shocking points about how Patagonia, an Inc. 500 alumnus, differentiates its products from others in the outdoor apparel industry by their exclusive use of 100% organic cotton elicited gasps. Industrial cotton, he said, is one of the most harmful raw materials because of the common use of pesticides known as Agent Orange, and fields of cotton he has visited could only be described as total death zones. He talked at length about business's responsibility to be aware of its affect on the planet and shared the Patagonia mission statement to "build the best product, do no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis."
Chouinard also mentioned that, although he receives multiple offers on a daily basis, Patagonia is not for sale. His book, "Let My People Go Surfing," is a kind of living will and testament to his wishes for the running of his company when he is no longer at full capacity. Employees get their work done, but not according to a strict schedule. If the tide comes in, they can grab their boards and come back to their desks later. He was very adamant about maintaining slow growth at this point in Patagonia's lifecycle and said he had as much money as he'd ever want or need. A lot of companies let their rocketing growth shoot right out of their own control, but it was still interesting to me to hear a CEO admit to reaching his financial goals.
During the speech, I had the pleasure of sitting with a young couple from Nappanee Window who graced the 2005 Inc. 500 list at No. 299 and enjoyed the conference in Savannah so much that they decided to join us again to celebrate the 2006 honorees. One of my favorite parts of attending the annual conference are these friendly encounters and conversations. I'd also like to give a shout out to the rad dudes from No. 85 Booyah and No. 147 AET Solutions.
Later in the afternoon (pastry in hand, I'm sure), I hurried into the Web 2.0 breakout session to hear what Bobs Cringely and Scoble, Michael Pond, and our very own Ed Sussman had to say about the incredibly evolving online landscape. They dropped a lot of app names, like Wet Paint, Kismet, iTrack, and preached on the amazing powers of BlendTec. The walk-away message, though, is that the real 2.0 is about the evolution of your business model, and like any new shiny toy (if you choose to enrich your website with a blog), this one requires constant maintenance.