What I Gained at the GROW Conference

This past week I attended the Grow Conference in Vancouver. Grow is a conference bringing entrepreneurs, investors, media and general tech enthusiasts together focused on the ‘future of business’ described as the ‘intersection of design and entrepreneurial thinking’.

More succinctly: how do you successfully scale a great idea? With such a diverse but connected group of attendees – over 1000 – one of the common ice breaker questions for a one on one was:

“What brought you here?”

Decent question – especially for an entrepreneur like me who often fears the backlog from a day or two out of the office where I’m focused on pushing the business internally or onboarding a new customer. There were lots of easy answers to that allowed justification to head to Grow:

  • Great keynotes and presentations
  • Entrepreneurs seeking motivation for their next big idea
  • Meeting VCs from the Valley who may not typically make it up north
  • General networking

All items I had considered. Now that I’ve made it through my first ‘#growconf’ I can look back and see some of the less obvious benefits of attending, of which I thought I’d share a few:

1) Perfecting your Pitch

Grow is a great place to perfect your pitch. I’m not talking specifically about your pitch deck and/or how you speak to a VC about your billion dollar idea. It’s more so how you explain your product in ten seconds or less to a prospect. There’s lot of opportunity to work on this because the other ice breaker after someone sees your startup name on your badge is: “so what does Uberflip do?” Inside our offices it’s easy to become too comfortable with the same generic line time in and out. This is especially true for a company like us who often won’t meet our clients face to face. The reaction on another attendees face whether VC or peer is priceless in helping you reassess whether you’re doing your startup justice with that teaser. This was especially true for our CEO Yoav and me on this trip. In September we’re launching a new product called Hubs out of beta so working on this messaging is topical. Grow definitely allowed us to try on different approaches quickly going through probably 50 iterations per day.

As much as Grow is about awesome speakers and sessions the networking is just as valuable. I found myself out in the hallway for many sessions just chatting with other attendees, every time perfecting the new ‘what we do’ line. I welcome you to check our new site next month to see if Grow helped!

2) Approachable Rock Stars

Grow was a really intimate scene filled with awesome people who were all happy to take time to chat. Dealmaker Media and Debbie in particular deserve a lot of credit on this one in creating a great culture where people are really approachable. I think as entrepreneurs we often look at those ahead of us as a rock star who you need a backstage pass to get close to. Grow is either that pass or just has created the right vibe where those in attendance are all willing to chat regardless of what stage they may be at.

Given our space and focus on content marketing one of my tech rock star idols was Rand Fishkin (crazy similar name to yours truly) of Moz (aka seoMoz). What was amazing about the event was after he gave a great presentation we were able to grab some time with him and sit down to give a demo of our new product, followed by some great feedback (and a thumbs up☺). This was no different with VCs you’d often chase down through 7 degrees of Kevin Bacon or press who are just there to hang out and see what’s coming. Obviously you need to take the initiative to chat with these ‘rock stars’ during the day, out at night or heading up the escalator – but once you’ll do you’ll realize they’re pretty down to earth after all.

3) Synergy with Peers

Perhaps the most obvious benefit from an event that pulls out the best of the startup community is the able to trade challenges, ideas and stories with the other budding entrepreneurs in attendance. Likely because of the higher cost to attend Grow I felt there was a higher caliber of startup in attendance, making the time you take to chat with your peers of significant value. I had some great chats with members of Vidyard, Unbounce (thanks for the pong party), Picatic and many others. I was also able to participate in a great exclusive roundtable thanks to our past involvement with the C100. There’s a ton of value from chatting with people who are ahead or behind you to hear the challenges faced or new approaches as you build your venture.

I think what’s most interesting about Grow is that as I look back on my takeaways none of them really revolve around funding or VC traction. Sure we were pitching to VCs – planting seeds in case we choose to raise in the future – but I’m coming back with some cool ideas that came from entrepreneurs like me looking to push the envelope. Again – kudos to the Grow team for creating an experience that is brings out the best in entrepreneurial spirit – looking for to Grow ’14.