SXSW Thought Leaders on Failing Better & Finding Your Way
Entrepreneur was on the ground for SXSW. Check back this week as we recap the festival, giving context to the best insights and trends from thought leaders and innovators.
Part of SXSW's power comes from tapping the collective expertise of experts from all industries. Even if you made it to this year’s festival, no one can make it to every panel. Which is why our reporting team has assembled this helpful roundup of our favorite insights from founders and thought leaders, sharing how to test, validate and find your unique path to success.
To innovate fast, fail fast
“Failures are only expensive if you do them at the end,” Google X director and “Captain of Moonshots” Astro Teller told the audience in his keynote presentation. His point: fail as quickly as you can. When building a product or idea, fight the inclination to get precious about the concept, and launch it as early as possible. “The longer you work on something, the more you don’t really want to know what the world is going to tell you,” he said, but you need that feedback. “You are never going to get the right answer sitting in a conference room.” Learning that a product doesn’t connect when it is almost complete, after dollars and hours of time have been poured into it, is infinitely more crushing than learning the same thing earlier in the process. At Google X, Teller pushes his teams to launch their projects before they are ready to do so – he encourages, almost sets them up for failure, because failure is the best teacher.
Be ready when it matters
At her SXSW panel, Linda Avey shared a tangible, practical tip that works for securing funding or getting prepared for any big moment. This co-founder of genetic testing startup 23andMe and Curious Inc., says when scheduling meetings with investors, pitch those who are the least likely to invest first, and those who are the most likely last. This way, kinks can be worked out and questions and concerns raised early, when the stakes are low. Entrepreneurs who go to an investor who is very likely to put money into their startup right off the bat run the risk of blowing a major opportunity with a silly, avoidable mistakes.
Related: At SXSW: How Biotech Can Overcome Obstacles
Test for authenticity
Those looking be more ‘authentic’ should listen to Evan Burfield. The co-founder of Washington, D.C.-based business incubator 1776 has a simple trick for cutting through to what matters and past the marketing-mumbo jumbo. He suggests that companies think hard about the message they think they’re putting out into the world and check that against what outsiders actually experience. For instance, a food company promoting ethical sourcing might need to rebuild its supply chain. Regardless, the check by realigning your organization, step away from buzzwords and sloganeering, building trust in the process.
Be offensive with your time
When it comes to time, Mike Kafka, a pro-footballer-turned-founder, takes the offensive. He blocks his time, waking early to train, freeing him to work on his business RooOutdoor by noon each day. He also themes his weeks by the goals that he wants to accomplish, ensuring that he can focus on what’s a priority. This strategy helps him guard against failure, take control of his time and get done what needs to get done.
Reset to simplify
Hit Classpass was once the struggling Classivity, an OpenTable-type platform formed as a database to book fitness classes. On a lark, the company offered a one-price, one-month pass that allowed users to buy ten classes from ten studios. Almost instantly, customers wanted to buy and re-buy the pass. Says founder Payal Kadakia, the move freed customers from deciding how many classes to buy or what to spend. Later, an unlimited pass made things even easier, sidestepping the calculations that some customers might make to justify whether they are getting value from the pass. Says Kadakia, “We needed to create something that was friction-free.”
Talk clearly and with purpose
From the trade show floor to the Accelerator competition to the entrepreneurs offering desperate pitches at parties, SXSW was plagued by an issue that's present every single year: the smartest people in the world often don't know how to sell their company or their product. If you're going to corner random strangers to tell them about your exciting new venture, you must keep it simple. As hSoftTech VC partner Charles Hudson, a judge at this year’s Accelerator competition explained, “I can’t tell you how many times I hear a pitch that is so complex that I have to tell them to say it like they’re talking to their 80-year like you're explaining it to your 80-year-old mom.”
Related: SXSW: Accelerator Judges Reveal Must-Follow Pitch Tips