Friday, July 15, 2011

TieCon 2011. Day 2 - May 14th

Here is the second installment of my blog on TiECon 2011 on Day 2, May 14th.

Drew Houston:

The second day began with a conversation between Jai Rawat, Convener of TiECon 2011, and Drew Houston, CEO of Dropbox - which has grown to over 20 million users saving 1 million files every five minutes! Drew provided some interesting anecdotes and tidbits from his experiences in growing Dropbox:
  • Create a product that everyone loves to use. This will provide you a natural tail wind. "Build the right thing", he said.
  • Have good engineering under the hood to create something really useful for people. "Build things right."
  • He encouraged startups to create a short video to provide a quick elevator pitch - that is address the pain point that is being solved.
  • Don't get bogged down by big players. Every investor will ask the question, "Why can't Google put 10 engineers on the job and get this done in 3 months?" In his case Google already had a similar offering.
  • Is the end point something that really excites you? He cited his own example of creating online SAT prep classes. Even he became the King of Online SAT prep, he did not see himself getting excited about that.
  • Do fewer things really, really well. There is always the temptation to do everything for everybody. You will have customers pulling you in different directions. You should have the ability to say NO.
  • Startups usually die from self inflicted wounds.
Social Panel:

I attended the Social Panel that discussed the intersection of trends in mobile, social and local. Mike Cassidy, Business Editor of San Jose Mercury News moderated the panel. The new, emerging revolution is SoLoMo - where Social Media, Local Search and Mobile Search collide - or, as one of the panelists described, the "whereabouts and the whoabouts". The panelists were Siva Kumar of TheFind and Rob Mishev of Living Social and Vikram Sharma of ShopLocal.

Darwinism is at its peak in the consumer internet space. Since the barrier to entry is quite low, the risk is higher as is the reward. The objective is to make the store experience more engaging and to make offers interesting and exciting. It is certainly becoming more and more challenging for physical retail. Blockbuster, Borders and Circuit City are all casualties of this shifting consumer trend.

Salman Khan:

The "Breakthrough Thinkers" session on the second day was delivered by Salman Khan of the Khan Academy fame. Over 2 million students are using on a regular basis. Sal's motto was to stay focussed on what what got them to this point - the student. At the end of his talk, he was joined on stage by Raj Mathai - NBC Bay Area's News Anchor. This provided some good entertainment value - as Sal and Raj bantered about Sal's various experiences. I liked TiE's format this year of having key note speaker's joined on stage by other "celebrities". This is in contrast to last year's disastrous conversation between Gary Gauba and Reid Hoffman. It does not help the conversation if the interrogator is sycophantic about the speaker.

Marissa Mayer:

The closing keynote of the conference was provided by Google's Marissa Mayer. While what she said in her talk was "common sense", her delivery was impactful and made the audience sit up and pay attention. She spoke about 3 S's: Starting, Scaling and Structuring a business.
Starting: She asked to focus on problems that matter - having a deep, social impact. Hiring the right people is critical too. Hire folks who are smart and can get things done.
Structuring: Focus on being user-centric. User's are every one's job. Google users OKRs - Objectives, Keys, Results to measure milestones and accomplishments. They also maintain dashboards on installs, users and usage. There are two approaches to releasing product: "Castle Building" (as done by Apple) vs "Bird Walking" (Launch and Iterate).
Scaling: Data is both the back bone and the gas pedal. You need to constantly re-invent yourself. Failure is okay as long as you learn from your mistakes. She gave two examples of Madonna - who re-invented herself after a series of disastrous albums and Apple - people had given up on them after the Newton disaster.

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