The Essential Takeaways for Every Entrepreneur at SXSW V2V

Welcome Party at SXSW V2V

Welcome Party at SXSW V2V

Thought leaders is a term used for really smart people with big ideas. On my first night at SXSW V2V at the Welcome Dinner, I shared a meal with Kevin Lavelle of Mizzen+Main who recently launched an apparel company specializing in moisture wicking dress shirts. His passion and confidence palpable, mixed with a nervous energy that allowed you to see the inner workings of his brain. His mind engaged at 100 miles per hour as he talked to you knowing that time was ticking. This was a sense I received from many of the entrepreneurs I met…time is short and valuable. Being at this conference was a necessary sacrifice from being away from the office. Smart phones were never more than a pocket’s reach away to answer any potential opportunity that pinged. Response, response, response.

To my right at the dinner table was a gentleman from New York who engaged in deep conversation with someone from San Francisco who spoke a language of technical jargon that left me offering nothing.  At the Welcome Party I ran into Hartej Singh Sawhney, Co-founder and CEO of Zuldi. Hartej astounded me with a self-assurance that made me question if I was confident enough. I have a passion and a message and a general roadmap, but Hartej made me think he was the writer of the entrepreneurial guidebook because the pathways he needed to take, though difficult was a certainty. I entered my suite at the Cosmopolitain (by far the nicest room I’ve ever stayed in) and climbed into bed wondering if I had anything to offer or if I even belonged at such a prestigious conference of great minds.

Thankfully, by the end of the week I felt validated knowing that I was indeed on the right path despite not seeking angel investors or venture capitalists to buy into my vision. Here are the valuable takeaways that  every entrepreneur could gain from during this a-ha moment-filled week of passion and inspiration. These learning lessons came from multiple seminars that I’ll list in order.

Seminar Insight: Happiness is Not a Nine Letter Word by Micah Balwin.

Micah’s presentation was different. Vulnerable. Honest. Authentic. Soul-Awakening. Micah rightly pointed out that as entrepreneurs, we are all running at 100 miles per hour. Having lost a close friend and fellow entrepreneur to suicide, he recognized the importance of taking care of self. His story was as real as anything I heard during SXSW V2V and probably the most important thing I heard. Like my fellow entrepreneurs, my brain runs at high RPM’s. There’s never enough time in the day.I love to work lots of hours because I have to get ahead in order to get to the next project and eventually to the end goal. My takeaway from Micah was to TAKE TIME FOR SELF and try to enjoy the entrepreneurial journey because it’s a long one that can take a toll.

FAVORITE QUOTE FROM THIS SEMINAR:: “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.” -Picasso

Seminar Insight: Exploring Deep Creativity and Brainstorming. Panel: Jey Van -Sharp, Adam Marelli, Jim Hopkinson, Helen Todd

This panel was fascinating as it combined the cerebral approach of business from the mind of Jim Hopkinson to the creative and effusive energy of Jey Van-Sharp to the zen-like approach of Adam Marelli. The major takeaway is simple: Remove anxiety, panic and fear to allow for creativity to come through. Boom. Simple, yet profound. Easier said than done, but necessary. As entrepreneurs, we’re at the place we are because we are dreamers driven to bring something to the world. In delivering that ‘something’ it is easy to get lost and lose focus that we are always students first. If we close off learning due to a frenetic pace then we can no longer create.


Seminar Insight: How to Not Suck as a CEO with Rachel Payne, Atul Vashistha and Lauren Fritsch.

If this were the only seminar I attended during SXSW V2V, it alone was worth the price of admission. The calming nature of Vashistha mixed with the sensibilities of Payne and passionate coaching model of Fritsch led to a seminar that flew by in length due to the interesting content. It was in this seminar where I felt validated as an entrepreneur. I AM on the right track because the points driven here highlighted my core beliefs and my approach to consulting with businesses and marketing.

Takeaway #3 – Be Authentic. The panel highlighted Plato’s Ideals for Biz. The Good, The True, The Beautiful. I translated this and other points presented as Be Real. Lauren Fritsch really stood out to me with the issue of authenticity. This was later confirmed after researching her business and blog that her success is driven by truly keeping it real. In this blog post, you will see her authenticity shine through. In a world where we all must ‘fake ’til we make it’ or act like an expert with every answer, this panel showed that it’s okay being exactly who you are.

Takeaway #4 - Why? The importance of the ‘why’ of a business was brought to the forefront with the acronym: WDYDWYD – Why do you do what you do? I have been a firm believer that in order for a company to maintain a healthy culture, everyone should understand the reason for its existence. As Simon Sinek rightly points out, there needs to be more than a what and a how for a company to thrive beyond its competition. I believe that identifying the why of a company is as important to its culture as its success.

Takeaway#5Celebrate the Successes. It was mentioned that few occupations allows one to enjoy the highest of highs and the lowest of lows within a period of ten minutes. Being an entrepreneur is HARD and tough. So celebrating mini-milestones is important to enjoy the journey.

Takeaway #6Exercise. This was a recurring theme that I heard in multiple seminars. The importance of exercise which allows for a better balance of stress and to allow the creative brain to come alive. The key word here is balance. Simple concept, often overlooked but was a common pattern expressed by the best entrepreneurs to keep creativity flowing. I noted that the exercise was less about weight loss and more about brain gain.

FAVORITE QUOTE FROM THIS SEMINAR: “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.” – Max DePress

Seminar Insight: We are a Product of Our Experiences with Brian Solis

Brian Solis is a clear thought leader confirming what we subconsciously already knew: we are a product of our experiences. This confirmation excited me because I believe good word of mouth marketing is inspired by an experience beyond a product or a service being delivered. As humans we want to feel and gain from our positive and even our negative experiences. I walked away from this inspired to teach my businesses this basic principle in an age of digital word of mouth virility.

Seminar Insight: Tony Hsieh’s Keynote

If anyone has heard me speak, you know that I am a big fan of Tony Hsieh and the Zappos model he and his team have created. My approach to marketing is based on the belief that we must deliver amazing service. However, to consistently deliver service a strong culture must be at its backbone. So, to me Tony Hsieh is the Ambassador of Quan. He GET’s it. What I love about the Zappos approach is that it simply makes sense. No fuss, no muss. Create a great culture, take care of your people, amaze your customers and allow them to be the marketing team for your business. Boom.

As a quick side note, I walked into the bathroom at the Cosmopolitan and happened to use the urinal next to Tony Hsieh. Totally creepy, but I so wanted to introduce myself and tell him what an honest fan I am. I’ve been to the  Zappos Insights three day  bootcamp, read his books and saw him give the keynote the day before. Understanding that you only have one chance at a first impression, I elected to not introduce myself. Perhaps another opportunity will come across where I can be introduced
without coming across as a total freakazoid.

To the SXSW crew that coordinated this effort: well done! Clearly, a lot of hard work went into this undertaking. My ‘Why’ of Beyond Marketing is to inspire and be inspired. I left Las Vegas inspired by all I had heard and the amazing people I met. I left with the self-belief that I am indeed on the right track with something valuable to offer my clients and the world. This realization confirms that my SXSW experience was invaluable. Thanks for reading and hope to see you in Austin!

SXSW AUSTIN 2014: I have applied to be a speaker at SXSW Austin 2014. I have elected to Think Big! In order to get to the stage, I need your help! Would you kindly vote for me and my co-presenter Becky Johns here:

About James

James La Barrie is passionate about marketing and changing a company's service culture. Originally from the Caribbean island of Antigua, James melds his approach of marketing and delivering elite service together as one. James has injected his 'service marketing' approach throughout his career to transform companies from good to great.