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The Next Web Momentum NYC: What I learned

Chris Cundari
November 18, 2016
8 min read

The Next Web Momentum conference is a tech event held in New York City. Amazing founders are brought in to speak about their journey and the key points that allowed them to build the momentum needed to become the companies they are today. Below are my notes from most of the speakers. Though they all ran different businesses, it is easy to pick up commonalities between them.

If you have any questions about the conference or a specific talk, don’t hesitate to reach out!

Steve Huffman: Co-founder & CEO of  Reddit

“Users come for the cats and stay for the empathy.” //Steve Huffman
  • Don’t get caught up in the gravity of a situation because whenever you hit something tough, realize that in a year from now, it will be a distant memory.
  • Fundamentally, everyone has a yearning to belong and Reddit fosters true human connection and community unlike any other online platform
  • It is never acceptable to say “this is how we have always done things” because the world is constantly changing and you must learn to adapt
  • Remember the human. There is a person on the other side of the screen. They are not just another number in your KPI’s
  • At Reddit, everyone does the dishes
  • There will be nobody behind you to clean up after you so clean up after yourself. Things move too quickly not to
  • When people only present the good about themselves (referring to Facebook), you cannot ever tell what is real. Reddit stood out from the beginning because they allow their users to express all interests and emotions, not just the ones others expect them to
  • As you scale, your intuition no longer becomes an accurate representation of your user

Luis von Ahn: Co-founder & CEO of Duolingo

“The [common trait in] people that we have noticed are best at learning a language is that they have no trouble sounding stupid.” // Luis von Ahn
  • Many say that education bridges the gap of social classes. Luis disagrees. He believes that education brings a larger divide in social classes due to the cost and access of education. Coming from Guatemala, he saw this poverty and divide first hand. His goal was and is to create something within education that everyone has equal access to
  • Bill Gates learns French on the same platform (Duolingo) that kids in public school use to learn English in order to get out of poverty. That is a true equalizer
  • On Duolingo, you are always learning by doing. Never do you stop to learn theory
  • In the beginning, he and his co-founder launched what we could, since they didn’t have all of the answers. Over time, their users then helped them answer the other questions as they performed A/B tests (experiments) on them
  • For example, should you learn adjectives or nouns first? Oppose to making assumptions, they built the platform and tested all options on different users to determine which was the most optimal teaching method. Thus the platform is always learning and evolving

Cindy Gallop: Founder of MakeLoveNotPorn

“The biggest problem is the fear of what other people will think. This is the single most paralyzing dynamic in business and in life.”   // Cindy Gallop
  • When you have a world-changing startup, you have to change the world to fit it, not the other way around
  • I unearthed a huge untapped social need
  • The issue is we don’t talk about sex in the real world yet we need it as humans
  • “We are building social sex”
  • At MakeLoveNotPorn, they are capturing what happens in the real world
  • The one time sex has been accepted publicly was with Fifty Shades of Grey, and it sold over 100 million copies. We can see the demand for it but it is taboo to discuss or profit from it
  • Shared values + Shared goals = Shared profit
  • “Women challenge the status quo because we are it”
  • Understand the difference between what people say and what people actually do
  • “In order to build my own startup, I have to build a category”
  • Collaborative competition is the key to the success of sextech
  • Companies in this industry must help each other gain momentum and public approval in order to grow the category as a whole. It is too grandiose of a problem to tackle alone

Leo Widrich: Co-founder & COO of Buffer

“Effortless accountability stems from transparency.” // Leo Widrich
  • Default to transparency
  • Trust people with information and make them feel worthy to have access to it
  • People really want to work at a place that values openness of information
  • At Buffer, they made everything public, including salaries. The response was extremely positive and people respected the transparency
  • The future of work is going to be remote
  • Employing this in your company will allow people the freedom to live how they want
  • Tools they use for remote working:
  • Slack, Zoom, Trello, Dropbox
  • Build a culture-first company
  • Start with values as early as possible
  • Culture is a disinfectant. It stops you from being able to turn away from the truth. When they listed their values and mission, it became obvious who didn’t belong and it made it extremely easy to hire for fit
  • Systems that break and come back stronger are antifragile (reference to the book by Nassim Nicholas Taleb)
  • On security: Just because another day as passed without anything happening, it doesn’t mean that it will not happen
  • You must have a better security mind-set and constantly improve security
  • If hacked, communicate to the world and be transparent
  • Learn to build a company, not a product
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help and find experienced leaders. Stay humble in your quest for success

Yancey Strickler: Co-Founder & CEO of Kickstarter

“Fifteen years ago this business started with three guys, an idea, and thirty-five dollars.” // Yancey Strickler
  • The founders were drawn by the power of the idea since none were business guys or cared to ever be founders
  • Of the three founders, one was a graphic designer, one an artist, and Yancey was a journalist
  • To make ideas real, you have to shift out of your comfort zone
  • Kickstarter’s founders had to go from being artists to being entrepreneurs
  • “I prefer a world where you do something because you want to not because you have to make a rich person richer.” This a big part of how Kickstarter reinvented the model for financing creative projects
  • The highest success rates on Kickstarter come from industry that are community oriented (the arts)
  • “We didn’t want to be a company to extract value from the world in prioritizing profits” (on why Kickstarter became a public benefit corporation)
  • Creativity is what helps us shape the world and make sense of it

Robin Chase: Co-founder of ZipCar

“Everyday, we are creating the world we want to live in.” //Robin Chase
  • Zipcar was already an idea in Europe but they took it, rebranded it, and integrated technology
  • When you are pitching your company, the people you are pitching it to are free consultants. Write down the questions they ask as these questions will for sure repeat themselves over time if not addressed
  • MVP: First 4 months were all manual (nothing digital) but once they could and the idea was validated the focused on connecting car to server
  • Prove the demand before you build!
  • Leverage excess capacity (something that always exists that you have to pay for but you can get for free)
  • She got a parking space at MIT for free and they emailed 35,000 people about Zipcar, something she would have never had access to otherwise
  • Find this excess capacity around you!
  • Learn (and fail) continuously and don’t fall into the sunk cost fallacy – move on quickly from your mistakes
  • Trust and believe in your team’s view. You have them to complement the skills you don’t have
  • Do not drink your own Kool-Aid. Know your and the company’s weaknesses and tackle them
  • To the outside world, you are a peacock, confidant and colourful. But internally you are a blind mole rat, especially in the early days
  • The infrastructure we build over the next 4 years will determine the fate of humanity

Katia Beauchamp: Co-founder & CEO of Birchbox

“Being exceptional does not make you the exception.” // Katia Beauchamp
  • The idea stemmed from the fact that every women would love to have a beauty editor best friend
  • “Cold emailing CEO’s very quickly turned into pitch meetings and instead of making a business plan, we went right into building.”
  • They created a category that now has so many copycats
  • The industry focused on the top consumers but they focused on the average consumer
  • Birchbox delivered to the women who didn’t like the current shopping experience in beauty instead of trying to change them like all other beauty retailers
  • Birchbox was so emotional for their customers because they could finally navigate the expensive and difficult space of beauty and build the confidence to make a purchase
  • “Subscription is an appetizer and we want you to eventually buy the full product”
  • The Birchbox effect: retailers had their revenue increase substantially by offering samples with Birchbox
  • Their main competition: non-consumption
  • Birchbox was creating new demand
  • It is supposed to be hard to change an industry. The hard is unavoidable. Embrace it quickly and make it a strength
  • Resilience is a superpower, not the norm. If you get the chance to build some, jump at the opportunity

Cal Henderson: Co-founder & CTO of Slack

“At some point, Google and Facebook didn’t exist and they don’t own every category.” // Cal Henderson
  • Slack was not adopting individuals, they had the larger challenge of adopting teams
  • This made it extremely difficult to get off the ground but once people used it, they fell in love. When they moved companies, they took Slack with them and it spread from there
  • There has been a massive fragmentation in business computing (operating system) and you no longer get all services from Microsoft, Oracle, or SAP. Now you have twenty or thirty vendors each specializing in a specific part of the OS
  • “I want Slack to be the operating system for business”

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