Entrepreneurship is hard, but business showed its softer side on the second day of Inc. Magazine's GrowCo conference in Las Vegas. Maybe it was residual warm vibes from the social entrepreneurship contest the previous evening. Or the presence of so many women founders and CEOs. (Half the presenters were male-female partners.) Fashion played a part, with the eclectic sartorial choices ranging from Jillian Michaels' stilettos and ankle tattoos to Uri Minkoff's form-fitting women's T-shirt (designed by his sister Rebecca Minkoff) to Chris Sacca's bright orange western wear.
Or maybe it was all the talk about connection, authenticity and engagement. Those words emerged again and again as presenters described their experiences--good and bad--with social media and brand. Here are some of their observations:
1.) Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Reddit, began the day with an uncomfortable question. DJ Khaled became a cultural icon "because he takes snaps of himself shirtless on a hammock talking to a screen. How is it possible," asked Ohanian "that this is more engaging than that precious marketing video that you spent three weeks and thousands of dollars making?" Ohanian's answer is authenticity: We are drawn to things people create not because they want to sell something but because they are human. "The reason this is so interesting is that it feels so real," said Ohanian. "You actually get an opportunity to look DJ Khaled or any person you happen to follow on Snapchat right in the face and see how they are feeling at that moment, how they are living at that moment."
2. Michelle Phan, co-founder of the online beauty community Ipsy, showed a goth-themed makeup video that could have taken a film-festival award. She revealed the secret to creating high-quality ambitious content when you don't have the resources of a professional studio. In one word: collaboration. "For creators today it is so hard to get recognized and get noticed," said Phan. "Collaboration is really key to cross-promote to other channels so they can continue growing their influence."
3. Brian Volk-Weiss, president of Comedy Dynamics, a multi-platform producer and distributor of stand-up comedy, knows how long it takes comedians to build their careers from playing dark, anonymous clubs to their own HBO specials. It requires patience, and Volk-Weiss advises the same thing for social media. "Don't be intimidated by low numbers," he said. "They will stay low for a long time. Then one day you will wake up and it's hundreds of thousands of views."
4. Jillian Michaels, co-founder of the health and fitness business Empowered Media (and onetime trainer on "Biggest Loser") had the day's darkest take on social media. She and her co-founder built a web site to show off the kind of content that is Empowered's bread and butter. They also went out on multiple social platforms, which "diluted the dot-com rather than driving traffic to it," said Michaels. "Then all of a sudden, one day Mark Zuckerberg went, 'Oh do you want to reach these millions of fans that you have accumulated? You can pay $60,000 to reach 10%.'" The company now is focused on its own podcast, app, and a revival of the web site. "When you build your business on somebody else's platform, you are essentially a hostage," said Michaels.
5. The Minkoffs use social media to forge bonds between designer and wearer, a departure from fashion's traditionally elitist stance. Rebecca Minkoff LLC, which creates accessible-luxury apparel and accessories, has flourished thanks to an intimate understanding of its customers, derived from interaction both on social media and in person. "I know exactly who she is," said Minkoff, who routinely refers to customers as "her," "she" and "my girl." "And it's because from the beginning we began to talk to her directly." When Minkoff became a regular in forums for handbag aficionados, participants "felt like, 'wow, this designer is coming out of the ivory tower,'" said Minkoff. "'She is breaking the barrier and being in touch.'"
6. Shabnam Mogharabi, CEO of the creative marketing firm Soul Pancake (founded by comic actor Rainn Wilson) advised against the single-minded pursuit of going viral. Too often, she said, brands have one big hit; then it's back to square one. A better strategy is to create lots of content "and think about what is going to tap into people's hearts and minds. You will eventually produce something that creates traction," said Mogharabi. "And when you have that viral hit people suddenly say, 'oh, that was great! What else have they made?'"
7. Chris Sacca, founder and chairman of Lowercase Capital (perhaps better known as a guest Shark) reminded the audience that social technology companies have, in some cases, made the world a better place--even for those who live far from Silicon Valley. Among his investments is Uber, "which has dramatically reduced drunk driving accidents in every city it operates," he said. "I love the role Twitter has played in the overthrows of government...how it connects people to like-minded people. I am very, very proud of the impact it has. I'm very excited to tell people that."