MicroConf 2011: 3 Surprises and Learnings from Best, Conference, Ever.

24 Jun 2011

“$0 – $1.5 million in 11 months (while working a 9-5)”

“How I Tripled Revenue with No New Traffic or Features”

“What Interviewing Hundreds of Founders Has Taught Me”

A few weeks ago, I was in Las Vegas for what was the best conference I had ever been to.  MicroConf 2011, “The Conference for Self-Funded Startups”, centered on the philosophy of getting to success quickly and independently on software-based startups.  This is different to the typical software startup route for a variety of reasons, and here are some quick comparisons:

I’m not going to go deep into explaining the differences in depth (probably another post – there’s certainly more nuances as well, like the cost/speed of failure in either case), but I’ll be happy to answer any questions.  In the meantime, to the surprises!

Surprise #1: Paradigm-Shifting Learnings

I expected to learn a few things from the conference, but not quite as many nor actionable items picked up along the way:

#1) Validating the Lean Startup, Self-Funded Routes

Like many entrepreneurs in the space, I’ve often read about lean startups, self-funded entrepreneurs, but I’ve never actually met them individually.  Here, there were plenty of examples (including attendees) who openly discussed their strategies, successes, even failures.

It all made the concepts and possibilities, particularly those from generating a successful financial position, seem so much more real/doable.

#2) Preach Benefits, Not Features

It’s now burned into my head.  It’s such a common thing for people to focus on features, not benefits.  The impact is difficult to assess, but watching Ramit Sethi‘s teardown of attendees’ sites and his mindset behind this made it difficult for me not to become a convert.

#3) Marketing Trumps Everything (Being a Good Developer is Not Enough)

This is somewhat related to #1 (validating the concepts), but this went further because Rob Walling (@robwalling) discussed his journey (and now preference) to buying for-sale products over developing his own – and the resulting success from this approach.  This comes from a developer who enjoys developing, but has found it more efficient to spend time marketing and tweaking, instead of building products.

#4) Success isn’t a formula, or at least one that succeeds every time

Too often, we hear about the “overnight” success stories, rarely hearing about the difficulties such startups have in any detail, and even less common about failed approaches and why.  Many of the presenters had no qualms doing so, often encouraging attendees to regard failures as learning experiments.

#5) Revenue is dominated by customers on the most expensive plan when they spend other people’s money.

Sales for Patrick's Bingo Card Creator: updated here (thanks @benzittlau)

Patrick McKenzie’s story and personality taught me a great many things, and this one tidbit was particularly intriguing to me.  It’s something that made sense to me, but I’ve never heard anyone actually back it up with data.

#6) While it’s great to hear about “go big or go home”, it’s often that “Small often gets you big”

I’m always a proponent of dreaming (really, really) big, and while you’ve probably often heard that small and focused can get you somewhere to become more successful, it’s the discussion of this pattern from Andrew Warner’s session (one of many good tips from the hundreds of interviews he’s done with entrepreneurs) that made me double back.

#7) Early Access > Beta

Hiten Shah talked about various intriguing things, but this nugget, backed by his research and experiences, will likely result in my next projects being “early access” vs “beta” ones.

Surprise 2: (Un)Common Tips/Themes

While there are certainly common themes with the conference – particularly with goals of succeeding financially or with customer acquisition - not everybody advocated the same advice, probably because of the broad mix of speakers and resulting themes.  For instance, there were broad, honest discussions on:

- The value of A/B Testing… but also the limited value on “obsessed” testing especially when traffic volume is low, especially with actionable things startups could do.

- Getting those initial clients is absolutely key, important, and people don’t do it enough.. but the more people know you, the more difficult it will be to experiment (especially when everything is expected of you).

- People care a *lot* about their problems and the product you make… but often, people care a lot less about the product than you think, given the day-to-day impact your product probably has on their lives.  Also, if your product is bad (concerns over releasing early), no one will care.

Before I finish, I need to note that none of the “but”s above is an excuse for not trying/analyzing the proposed advice.  All it shows is that success can be achieved differently, and that there are more layers behind each approach than one would typically see.

Surprise #3: The Speakers, Conversations, and Attendees

The diversity of perspectives among the various speakers really led to different, valuable insights.  I think the organizers deserve a lot of credit.  Here were some general themes I noted about the sessions:

1) Stories and suggestions from consultants/part-time hobbyists turned full-time founders of successful lean startups
2) Tips and experiences from successful, funded startups
3) Success from other niches, sometimes content (not product) focused startups
4) Tips on self-improvement that make a real, positive impact

I would’ve attended on the learnings from #1, but the mix really made things fresh, and it meant that the speakers themselves turned into interested attendees whenever someone else spoke.  It was really refreshing to see that: often, speakers would run off somewhere else in the midst of conferences.

Conversations and Attendees

At the end of the day (or even the day before), attendees and speakers could be seen chatting the night away.  The attendee mix was varied as well: from aspiring to practicing entrepreneurs, I met people who were involved with their local tech communities and ones who were familiar with the angel, vc crowd.  There’s too much to discuss about here on this (probably a separate post), but all in all, a wonderful time was spent learning and chatting with the various attendees.

1 Response to MicroConf 2011: 3 Surprises and Learnings from Best, Conference, Ever.

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MicroConf: Things That Rocked and Things That Could Have Been Better | Software by Rob

June 27th, 2011 at 3:52 am

[...] MicroConf 2011: 3 Surprises and Learnings from Best, Conference, Ever. [...]

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Tech Entrepreneur, MBTI INFJ, random idea generator in the evenings. Been in the military, developed financial risk rating software, and worked in Waterloo, Singapore, Boston.

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