Yesterday, I hosted a roundtable at WSJD Live down in Laguna Beach and wanted to share a few thoughts, ideas, and impressions on the conference.
Let me start with this: I generally hate conferences.
To me, conferences feel like a necessary evil. And though they often lead to good connections, the thought of being away from the trenches, from “real work” with the team back at the office, doesn’t sit well with me. Particularly when hobnobbing in a 5 star hotel with the tech elite. It feels like a scene out of HBO's Silicon Valley — too cliched to put into words. Case in point, I overheard “the market has proven that B2B SaaS marketing with a consumer bent has yielded less ROI than…blah blah blah.” What?! It’s everywhere.
That said, I absolutely loved WSJD Live yesterday. I caught the 7am flight out of SF and the 2:50 flight back, so I didn’t get the opportunity to spend a ton of time there, but even the few hours I spent blew me away.
First of all, it was great to walk in and hear Bill Gurley talking about the need to build real businesses and not just the kind that spend $1 to buy $.85 of customers. Sure, it’s a little like listening to the first guy in the Gold Rush telling latecomers that they’re fools after he’s made his riches, but it was refreshing nonetheless to hear some common sense. One of my favorite lines was “we haven’t made a drone investment, so I can actually answer that question honestly” or something similar. Hysterical. The CEO of Sony talked openly and honestly about everything going on at Sony and how they see the future, super refreshing.
Tony Hseih came in and talked about how Zappos is getting rid of managers and breaking the organization into self managing groups or pods…some of the craziest and hardest to follow stuff I’ve ever heard. It reminded me of that scene from Monty Python’s Holy Grail. Dennis describes to King Arthur how they are self governed (Dennis: “We're an anarcho-syndicalist commune, we take it in turns to act as a sort of executive officer for the week.” Arthur: “Yes.” Dennis: "But all the decision of that officer… Arthur: "Yes, I see.” Dennis:...must be approved at a bi-weekly meeting by a simple majority in the case of purely internal affairs…” Arthur: “Be quiet!")
Second, it was great to have lunch with a ton of smart people. I was lucky enough to be seated next to Jim Murray of PJT Partners and Lynn Vojvodich, CMO at Salesforce. I could have talked with them all day. From what they’re seeing in the M&A world, to how to market a product to both SMB and enterprises simultaneously, to the need to focus on your core markets and not chase every possible Mega Deal - just great conversation.
After lunch I was able to say hello to Marc Benioff (shameless name dropping here), as I knew him in the late 1990’s when I was working at startup VC fund Telesoft Partners and he was one of our first investors (we killed it…280% IRR, but then again, it was 1999, everybody was killing it).
Lastly I was lucky enough to run into Bill Maris of Google Ventures as I was waiting for my ride out. Bill backed us early on when we launched as Firespotter Labs with some vague ideas of what we wanted to do, so I always love seeing Bill.
I had to bolt back to the airport to catch my flight home as internal meetings in the afternoon called (Product Priorities Meeting, Sales & Marketing Leadership Meeting, and a 1:1 with our Sales Manager). I wouldn’t miss those for the world. All in all, a whirlwind but amazing day in the life of the tech scene. This will definitely be one of the conferences I’ll look forward to spending more time at next year.