My take on the StartUp Product Summit

startup-logoYesterday was the first “StartUp Product Summit,” co-produced by Cindy F. Solomon and Nadia Eghbal, and I felt it was an unqualified success.  The energy in the room was palpable, and the team designed the day to be not only informative, but also very interactive.  The crowd was welcoming; it small enough to have the opportunity to connect with lots of people, yet large enough to bring people with various backgrounds and perspectives.   The line-up of speakers was excellent, and the pace quick, so hearing from 15 domain experts in a single day wasn’t too overwhelming.  The day’s talks were broken into three major categories, ‘Design Thinking and Rapid Prototyping,’ Roadmapping and Execution,’ and ‘Marketing and Getting Traction.’  I enjoyed speakers in all categories, but this list of 5 were my favorites (listed in the order they appeared):

Design Thinking and Rapid Prototyping

Jonathan Smiley, Partner and Design Lead, Zurb – I’m a bit biased on this pick, because I’ve had the opportunity to work with Jonathan before, so I can vouch for his and Zurb’s approach, the quality of their work, and their effectiveness.  As the first of a number of speakers to reference Star Wars, he kicked the day off on a good note discussing the importance of ideation and iteration.  He implored us all to ‘make 10 more sketches,’ and ‘get feedback on one more iteration.’  Simple advice, and considering Zurb’s success, I think they know what they’re talking about.

Evan Hamilton, Head of Community, UserVoice – Evan’s presentation was about combining data and story to arrive at the real kernels of wisdom that can be gained by considering them both together.  It sounds obvious on the surface, but he gave some great examples about data interpreted in a vacuum often points us in a direction – just not always the right direction.  Dig into the story underneath – the ‘why’ behind the data, and you may find that the ideal solution is something else entirely when compared to your first intuition.  Combine his content and message with the humor in his delivery, and you have a big winner.  I thoroughly enjoyed his presentation.

Roadmapping and Execution

Joe Stump, co-Founder, Sprintly – Joe tackled improving products through great communication, and emphasized how important it is to shift to asynchronous communication (his target is 100%), minimizing time lost in interruptions and meetings.  He proclaimed his love for failing, and failing quickly, a mantra that is often given lip-service, but in my experience, not supported enough in the real world.  Joe was convincing, though, as he was when he discussed how important it is to ‘check your ego,’ when building products.

Nick Muldoon, Agile Program Manager, Twitter – Nick’s discussion of dog-fooding, constantly deploying your latest unreleased code into an environment as close to your production environment as possible, then forcing your internal team to ONLY use the dog-fooded app was great, too.  While he acknowledged that this may be more possible in the case of Twitter, where every employee likely uses the product at hand, I still walked away with some ideas about how this could be really beneficial even when your product isn’t something the whole team uses multiple times a day.

Marketing and Getting Traction

Mariya Yao, Founder and Product Strategist, Xanadu Mobile – Mariya’s presentation was absolutely fantastic.  Every bit of content in her deck was illustrative and supportive of her message, and she painted a cohesive picture using some clear examples of the difference between attempting to solve a problem vs. a nuisance, and what it takes to succeed in either case.  Her analysis of usage and growth statistics of major mobile app categories gave a clear picture of what that ecosystem looks like, and her presentation was a real hit.

The rest of the speakers also had tons to offer, so I don’t mean to minimize the contribution they made to the event.  They represent great thinking, are working on some very exciting projects, and I am grateful to each of them, as well as the event organizers for being part of such a great event.  I will definitely be back next time.  Thanks, everyone!

A couple of side notes:

The most oft-mentioned prototyping tool was Balsamiq Mockups – go Balsamiq!

While each of the speakers clearly had a product or service to represent, they did so largely without seeming as though they were just there to plug their products.

Many of the speakers really built upon what other speakers had discussed before them, which added a nice sense of continuity throughout the day – kudos to Nadia, who were told curated the speaking engagements, for putting together a schedule that really made sense.

If you get a chance to meet or hear from any of the speakers that were in this event, take it!

UPDATE:  Here’s a link to the slides from the event.


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