I attended Inc’s Grow Your Company Conference (GrowCo!) this week, and going in I was super excited about the speaker line up… Eric Ries, Daymond John, Guy Kawasaki, and Bill Clinton! Here’s a talk-by-talk recap.

Opening Reception

The conference kicked off to a great start. I met a variety of business owners, across several industries and all stages of business growth. Everyone I met was excited to be there, and optimistic about the coming year.

 Monday Game Plan

This was an interesting take on a common problem with conferences… inspiration strikes during a speech or talk, but by the time you get back home and dig out from your time away, you fall back into your old routine and the idea is lost. The provided Game Plan worksheets were a great way to capture the idea, document your thought process, and assign specific, measurable steps to make it happen.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu

I think everyone was disappointed to hear that Guy Kawasaki wouldn’t be able to attend, but New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu filled in and blew everyone away. In one of the best speeches of the conference, he talked about Katrina (and 3 other hurricanes that hit over the next year), and how that “near-death experience” gave New Orleans the clarity to rebuild not as they were, but as they wanted to be.

President Bill Clinton

In a fascinating conversation with the editor of Inc, Presdent Clinton discussed a variety of topics, including small businesses’ role in the economic recovery (as detailed in his new book), a proposed method for alleviating current mortgage problems, a proposed national job training program based on the successful Georgia Works program, and his work in rebuilding Haiti’s infrastructure. Best line… “trying to bury America is like playing Whack-A-Mole”.

Alex Osterwalder

I bought Osterwalder’s Business Model Generation a few months ago, but hadn’t gotten to read it yet. After his interactive presentation, I’m bumping it to the top of my reading list. His premise is that, when discussing business models, we don’t have a common language. His book (and corresponding iPad app), provide that common language in the areas of:

  • Customer Segments
  • Customer Relationships
  • Channels
  • Value Propositions
  • Key Activities
  • Key Resources
  • Key Partners
  • Cost Structure
  • Revenue Streams

Norm Brodsky and Bo Burlingham

A few of the concurrent breakout sessions, but as an avid reader of Norm Brodsky’s monthly column and his book, I had to attend this one. It was one of the most informative (and entertaining) talks of the day, as he answered questions from the crowd. There were almost too many gems to list here…

Advice from his father on hard work: “There’s a million dollars under your shoe.”

When asked about selling or keeping a company: “Work on your life plan before your business plan.”

On hiring and training: “Skills can be taught, but attitude can not.”

When asked for advice on quitting a day job: “Even the worst business idea is better than working one day for someone else.”

Neil Blumenthal

The co-founder of Warby Parker gave a behind-the-scenes look at the business, from the initial idea, the product and website launch, and their meteoric rise. (After launch, they passed their first year sales projections in 3 days!) They credit their success to a solid idea, a great price point, and stellar customer service. Internally, they also place a high value on their employee culture, as expressed in their publicly released annual report. (As proof of how culture drives sales, the report spread virally after being made public, leading to their highest 3-day sales period.)

Eric Ries

Being in the web industry, I’ve heard much about Eric Ries and his lean Build-Measure-Learn methodology, so this was on of my most anticipated talks. He did not disappoint.

He advised entrepreneurs to “get good at the boring stuff,” like management and accounting in order to achieve success. Without those skills, it’s impossible to implement his iterative approach to business. He recommends:

1. Establish a baseline
– Build a Minimal Viable Product
– Measure how customers behave

2.Tune the engine
– Conduct experimentsto improve baseline metrics

3. Pivot or persevere
– If experiments reach diminishing returns, time to pivot.

Key takeaway? Ghostbusters is actually a movie about entrepreneurship.

Daymond John

This had to be the most high-energy talk of the conference, or at least the one with the best soundtrack. After a short intro video to set the stage, Daymond walked through his background in starting Fubu, how he marketed it, and the partnerships that led to its explosive growth. Throughout the talk, he gave his 5 tips to Shark success:

S – Set Goals
H – do your Homework
A – Amour (always do what you love)
R – Remember, you are the brand
K – Keep moving

Megan Duckett

Megan Duckett told the story of how she built her industry-leading theatrical curtain business. After starting it nearly by accident, it grew quickly. After losing her largest potential contract because she didn’t have a website (hint, hint), she embraced technology and went on to develop custom software that manages all aspects of her company.

John Besh

Unfortunately, I had to duck out halfway through this talk to catch my flight, but it started with an inspiring story of rebuilding after Katrina. Besh came back to the city to cook for stranded residents, and then rescue crews, and eventually oil and construction workers. Six years later, he runs 9 restaurants and a thriving catering business.

Were you at Growco? Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments.