Big Omaha Day 2
Today was the second and final day of Big Omaha, a tech and entrepreneurship conference in the Heartland. Day 1 was so inspiring and informative that I wasn’t sure Day 2 could measure up. Surprisingly, it far exceeded the day before and really knocked my socks off. Here are the highlights from the awesome speakers on this final day:
Brian Wong (@brian_wong), of kiip. At 21, Wong says he’s now “old”–ah, the startup world. After being laid off from Digg, he came up with his new gaming startup. Wong’s theme for the day was “keep getting lucky.” The take-aways: Just do it–you don’t know how things will go until you start. Hang out with other doers. Remove “unlucky” from your vocabulary–even failure is a lucky learning experience. No one cares about you as much as you should care about you. No one will know how to help you unless you tell them how to help you. Give as much as you take because helping others is just the right thing to do.
Charles Best (@CharlesBest), of DonorsChoose. The Internet has removed barriers and Best’s charity site proves it, allowing donors to decide exactly where their money goes and how it is used. The take-aways: Believe in your startup more than anyone else does (Best self-funded half of the first projects on his site). Be persistent: It took three humiliating attempts, but Best got The New York Times to cover his site, which opened the floodgates to the $110 million that has since been donated through DonorsChoose. When you know peoples’ wants and needs–and your solution addresses those–you make it nearly impossible for them to say “no.” Crowdsourcing with your users will net better, cheaper results than paying someone who isn’t invested in your success.
Sarah Prevette (@SarahPrevette), editor-in-chief of BetaKit and founder of Sprouter, which she sold last fall. Preventte shared her failures and tips on how to avoid the same mistakes. The take-aways: Watch out for your ego–thinking you know it all is a sure way to run your startup into the ground. Making decisions out of panic leads to all sorts of problems. Stop chasing the next shiny thing and focus on what matters. Fall in love with the problem, not the solution. Know the math of your startup–no excuses, you must know about costs, values, cash flow. Prepare for failure because most startups fail, but “act like you are going to be the next Zuckerberg.”
Eddie Huang (@MrEddieHuang), of BaoHaus. Rocking an Adidas tracksuit, this non-tech restaurateur brought down the house with his humorous and foul-mouthed take on life and business. The take-aways: Tell your story or others will, and it may not be what you want to hear. Nothing is crazy, if it works. Be disruptive! You can use commerce to make a difference. Not only can you help with money, if you have it people will listen to what you have to say. Don’t be embarrassed about wanting money–just remember your “why” (money means more when you use some of it on something meaningful). Pissing people off is collateral damage.
Nick Sequin (@nicksequin), of Kauffman Foundation. Entrepreneur, StartupWeekend board member and Kauffman employee, Sequin is dedicated to building communities. The take-aways: Attitudes are the real communication. Entrepreneurship is about self-selection: It’s becoming too easy to start a business but the real entrepreneurs will rise to the top while the hangers-on will slink away. Motivation must be authentic–when you do things for the wrong reasons, you get found out really quickly. Don’t be afraid to call people out to protect your community.
Kevin Hale (@ilikevests), co-founder of Wufoo, which is now owned by Survey Monkey. Instead of teaching art to hippies as he had planned, Hale “fell down the rabbit hole” of entrepreneurship at SXSW ’05. He started a blog and then joined Y Combinator to launch his online forms company. The take-aways: Builing a great company is about relationships–treat new users like you want to date them and existing users like you want to marry them. Customer service should be a top priority for everyone in the company. Copy can make or break your product (I’m biased, but I think this message is über important).
Michael Karnjanaprakorn (@mikekarnj), founder of Skillshare and former employee of a handful of startups. Altough the topic of education is a deviation from the event’s other talks, the messages are easily applicable to entrepreneurs. The take-aways: Learning is about staying curious, and no one should ever stop learning. Education is most valuable when it teaches you something you can use in your real life (creativity, problem solving). Anyone can be a teacher, or a student. After you learn something, pay it forward. The best way to learn is to do. ‘F’ should be the new ‘A’ because we learn the most by failing.
Mena Trott (@dollarshort), of The Sew Weekly and founder of TypePad. Trott started her speech announcing her divorce through tears. The take-aways: While many felt Trott’s talk was a triumph of honesty, I was uncomfortable by the raw emotion and frustrated by the lack of focus and useful information.
Despite the uneven end, all told Big Omaha was two days of inspiration, networking and fun. I’m looking forward to Big Omaha 2013. But first, I need a nap.