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Hustle Con 2014

Fast Company's Alice Truong will be blogging the event, which kicks off Friday at 9:10 a.m. PT.

Silicon Valley may be the heart of the bustling tech scene, but that doesn't mean everyone in the industry knows how to code.

No longer do nontechnical techies have to feel like frauds. Hustle Con is a conference specifically for founders without coding abilities. Taking place at San Francisco's Brava Theater, the sold-out event aims to help companies build their brands, make money, grow, and--yes--hustle. 

We don't expect this to be your usual tech conference. Panels include "People Buy You," "Brand Lovegasm," and "This S**t Is Hard." In lieu of technical jargon, there'll definitely be a litany of buzzwords flying back and forth (here's one for starters: "wantrepreneur").

Fast Company's Alice Truong will be blogging the event, which kicks off Friday at 9:10 a.m. PT.
  • Good morning from Hustle Con! It's a full house at the Brava Theater, and it looks like the show will be getting underway shortly. Polyvore's founder Jess Lee will be giving the first talk on growing communities.
  • Conference organizer Sam Parr takes the stage to kick off Hustle Con, calling the hustlers presenting today "shamelessly resourceful" and "scrappy as hell."




  • Polyvore CEO Jess Lee: Why Delighted Users are the Best Way to Grow

    Before Jess Lee became the CEO of Polyvore, she was first a Polyvore user. After reaching out to the startup and providing feedback, the former Google product manager joined the company as "an honorary cofounder," eventually taking the reigns in 2012.

    The social commerce company, which has 20 million users each month, is the second largest driver of social commerce on the web, following Facebook, according to Lee. "Obviously, we're small in user base," she said, comparing the company to larger sites Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter, "but we drive really high-quality traffic that leads to sales."

    Giving advice to the nontechnical founders in the audience, she talked about three principles that helped Polyvore grow its community: 
    • Live: "Community starts from within," she said. Make sure the company's employees live the brand and set the right tone.
    • Learn: Listen to and learn from community feedback.
    • Love: the community.
    "The best way to grow is to cultivate a really delighted community of users," she said. 

    In fact, Polyvore's traction even helped it land funding. "That delight where you have someone dropping your name in a positive way can lead to, in this case, millions of dollars in funding," she said. In one instance, a VC decided to hop on board without a formal pitch. The reason? He heard about Polyvore three times in a matter of days: from his assistant; from his best friend, the CEO of a fashion brand; and from an old colleague at an investment bank.

    Lee expounded on how Polyvore showed the community love. Such "hacks" involved featuring top users' profiles and doling out personalized gifts. When Polyvore had more funding and a larger marketing budget, the company decided to give presents--accompanied by handwritten notes--to users at meetups. "There's all these presents, and the thing they're most excited about is we take the time to write a handwritten note," she said. "I think it's something that's still kind of special." Sometimes, the community managers will even send notes around the office for everyone to sign. "It's just an easy thing to do."

    With challenging customers, Lee said the company sometimes sends flowers after a complaint. "When you go the extra mile, people will remember that," she said.

  • Vinyl Me Please cofounder Matt Fiedler: In a World of More, Why We Offer Less

    "Just go and build something today because you never know where it's going to take you," said Vinyl Me Please cofounder Matt Fiedler in a short talk about offering a simple service.

    The vinyl subscription service, which costs $23 a month, launched at the end of 2012 with 12 paying customers. "That might not sound like a lot, [but] we had 12 people paying us money," he said. 

    The service grew slowly, but the founders decided to "pour everything we had into this company," he said. "We decided we'd overhaul our packaging, refine our messaging.Today Vinyl Me Please has about 2,000 customers, sustaining four full-time employees.

    "We've built something that people really care about, and that's what matters to us," he said.

  • Pricenomics founder and CEO Rohin Dhar 

    There are two sides to Pricenomics: The side that crawls and sells custom data to companies for $2,000 to $10,000 a month, and the blog that draws in 2.1 million visitors a month.

    For the latter, founder and CEO Rohin Dhar said the key is great content. "We have one philosophy about marketing, PR, anything," he said, "and that is information. We're in the business of giving people information."

    Calling information a form of currency, he talked about how posts originate from the data it crawls (eg. depreciation of iPhone vs. Blackberry prices) as well as anecdotes, which he said can be just as powerful. For example, in a post about office chairs, the company decided to buy used Aeron chairs on Craigslist, eventually reselling them with some markup to the startup's Y Combinator classmates. "People actually liked that," he said. "It was stuff we knew, even though it was an anecdote about us." Dhar stressed that not all posts need to promote the business either. For Pricenomics, he said about 10% of the posts are self-serving.

    Some common themes of Pricenomics posts: 
    • something is bullshit (the company self-published a wildly popular book Everything Is Bullshit)
    • something is surprising
    • the economics of [topic]
    • a chart that makes an interesting story
    Dhar considered social media a leveling field in content. "If you make something as good as The New York Times, people don't care if it's on your blog or The New York Times. They're just sharing it on Facebook or Twitter," he said. And, once a story is picked up by a blog like TechCrunch or VentureBeat, it's likely to continue gaining traction--ah, the echo chamber of tech media.
  • And it's time for a short break. I'm somewhat surprised (and disappointed) by the lack of buzzwords. Maybe "wantreprenuer" will make its way to the stage later. 

    When we're back, brace yourself for Chubbies Shorts founder Tom Montgomery's talk titled "Brand Lovegasm."
  • Even though Hustle Con bills itself as a tech conference for nontechies, there are obvious parallels with your typical tech conference. Case in point: the huge line for the men's room.




  • Check out the legs on stage. Chubbies shorts cofounders Preston Rutherford, left, and Tom Montgomery are giving a talk called Brand Lovegasm.

    Turns out there's a big demand from men for short shorts. The four cofounders of Chubbies Shorts (and Stanford buddies) began selling wacky shorts in person, from their backpacks, off their bodies. Eventually, they turned their attention online and launched chubbieshorts.com in 2011. (They still do keep backpacks stuffed with Chubbies, which they'll sell on the spot when walking around.)

    The company, which has a fanatical male following, has built up 860,000 fans on Facebook, 95,000 followers on Twitter, and 81,000 followers on Instagram. Users submit about 1,000 photos each week. But don't call them a fashion brand: "We don't consider ourself a fashion company. We're a beer brand that happens to sell shorts," joked cofounder Tom Montgomery.

    How did they get there? Here are their five takeaways:
    1. Create a great product
    2. Relentless focus on content
    3. Integrate your community
    4. Support your customers
    5. Be authentic
    Content extends beyond blog posts. The company puts in a lot of effort to give off a fun, chill vibe (very chillsitch) in its confirmation emails, Facbeook posts, and other moments. "Content doesn't have to be copy, video," Montgomery said. "It can be shareable experiences." He elaborated by talking about how the company sent out Big League Chew bubble gum with orders on a random day, and that got the community talking about Chubbies Shorts on social media. "Guys aren't often talking about that new fashion item they just purchased," he said. "They'd much rather talk about a funny video or a funny piece of content." (For those familiar with the brand, they know the company has its bases covered with funny videos.)

    The community is also helping shape Chubbies' content strategy. "Our customers are our best photographers. Our customers are our best content producers," Montgomery said. "We really like to highlight that."

    When it comes to customer support, Chubbies focuses on keeping everything in house, and the founders partake sometimes. Customer service moments also provides some shareable moments. In one instance, a customer wrote about his shorts being stolen at the gym. Not only did Chubbies replace them, but the company also booked him for self-defense classes.

    For Chubbies, authenticity means not trying to sell. "We don't ever sell. Selling feels bad," Montgomery said. "We give customers the opportunity to buy and the inspiration to buy. We use the content to provide that drive as opposed to creating an artificial experience."

  • Neville Medhora begins his talk--A Small Formula that Will Make You, and Everyone in Your Company, Write Better--by leading the audience into singing We Will Rock You. 

    Neville Medhora, the self-proclaimed King of Kopywriting, began his career as a copywriter when he founded a rave company, luring people in with his newsletters. 

    As a copywriting consultant, Medhora said many companies are terrible at copywriting, but a simple formula can fix this: AIDA.

    • Attention: grab their attention
    • Interest: interest them with interesting facts, uses, stats
    • Desire: make them come to the conclusion "I want this!"
    • Action: tell them exactly how to buy, and what will happen next
    "This always works," he said. "It's unbelievable how this works."

    He shared one other formula to grab customers' attention:

    [End result customer wants] + [specific time period] + [address objection]

    A few examples that follow this formula: 

    Wipe away your debt + before your tax return is due + so the IRS won't call

    Track where customers click + so you can create conversion + by the end of the week

    And if you can't remember AIDA, here's Medhora's mnemonic: "It's like AIDS, but AIDA. It's really, really simple."
  • And it's time for lunch! This slive (slow live) blog will resume in about an hour and a half.
  • After a particularly boozy lunch (this reporter abstained), Hustle Con is back to business. Up next: Joel Gascoigne, CEO and cofounder of Buffer.

  •  Buffer CEO and cofounder Joel Gascoigne: From Revenue on Day 3 to $3.5 Million A Year--Starting Lean and Staying Lean

    A fraud among frauds, Buffer CEO and cofounder Joel Gascoigne admits he's an odd choice of speaker for this conference. Unlike most of this audience, he's been coding since 12. 

    Gascoigne stressed the importance of starting small. The first version of Buffer--the MVP, or minimal viable product--only worked on a single Twitter account and offered no analytics. Lacking the proper infrastructure, he recalled doing everything by hand. For example, Gascoigne got PayPal emails in his personal inbox when people paid for account upgrades, but the process was done manually. "I'd email them the welcome email personally, and apologize for the delay in our systems," he said. "This worked out very well. Maybe it wasn't an ideal experience for users. What happened is I had a lot of conversations with users."

    When the company promoted its enterprise product, Buffer for Business, it leveraged Stripe for payments and Wufoo for lead generation by collecting email addresses of interested parties. Then, the company put up a Wufoo page to include pricing details, which was helpful in testing different prices. "Today Buffer for Business is one of the best things we've done in the last year. It's 27% of our business now," he said, noting it generates about $100,000 in revenue a month.

  • Art of Charm founder Jordan Harbinger: People Buy You

    Jordan Harbinger runs an academy that teaches confidence and emotional intelligence. He decided to quit his job as a Wall Street lawyer after talking to the top-paid lawyer at his firm, someone not found burning the midnight oil in the office, but rather on the golf course with clients.

    "It changed the way I looked at work forever," he said. "Your people skills will trump your technical skills."

    As a result, he decided to give up law and Wall Street to found Art of Charm. And charm, he says, is what sells.

    "Essentially what I learned through that process is people buy you. They don't buy your product or your service," he said. "Buying is an emotional process. It's not a logical one," he continued, point out the conference goer decked in a leopard skin-patterned suit.

    People make their first impressions not during their first conversation. "Your first impression is made when other people find you as a blip on their radar," he said. In short: body language.

    In order to change others' perception, he gave the following advice: "Every single day, or every single minute for the next two weeks," he said, "straighten your back up, push chest out, and put a smile on your face. Don't exaggerate, or you'll look ridiculous."

    Just by standing taller, he said it'll "change how people relate to you and change how you feel about yourself."

  • CrazyEgg and KISSmetrics founder Hiten Shah: Habits to Get Sh!t Done

    "I don't understand why people think I'm productive," said Hiten Shah, founder of CrazyEgg and KISSmetrics. "I'm actually the laziest entrepreneur you'll ever meet."

    Shah said he's often seen walking around the office, not hammering away behind a computer. How does he do it? He shares some of his tips:

    -Learn as fast as you can: Shah watches YouTube videos at twice the regular speed (check the settings) and Audible books at three times the speed. "Here's the trick: You have to get through the first 20 or 30 seconds, and then you start understand what people are saying."

    -He's constantly thinking about how valuable he is in a meeting or conversation. "I run in my head of how I can do better," he said. "It actually really bugs me."

    -Understand and get along with others. "There's a lot of things you can't change," he said. "For me, it's not about changing necessarily but understanding other people and understanding how you can get along better."

    -Write better emails. "I draft the email and I save it," he said. "I don't include anything in the to field." He returns to the email after sleeping on it, then decides either to not send it or to write a better one.

    -Ask better questions. He recommends the book A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger.

    -Find out if you an explorer or a pirate. Shah, a self-described explorer, said explorers are first movers "searching for new land, new ideas, new things" who are focused on solving problems. In contrast, pirates are market-centric people focused on the competition and solving problems quickly. "If you're running a pirate ship, you tend to have a lot of engineers, for example, that can move fast," he said. "You have to understand yourself and understand where you are on this spectrum and whether you have to move in a certain direction or not."


  • Gabe Luna-Ostaseski, CalFinder and Upshift Partners founder: Lessons Learned from Bootstrapping Sales  

    Gabe Luna-Ostaseski is an unlikely founder. The creator of CalFinder and the accelerator Upshift Partners grew up in a hippie communie with no electricity or Internet.

    "The entrepreneurs I knew on the hippie commune were farmers," he said. "I started a tech company without an email address or computer."

    He added: "If I can do it, anybody can."

    Luna-Ostaseski, a former deli sandwich maker and house painter, boiled down his success to three tenets:
    • Do more with less
    • Make the system the hero
    • Let data drive decisions
    When he was scaling CalFinder, he wanted to ramp up sales, but didn't want to triple the sales staff. Instead, what he decided to do was analyze his customer list to find the most--and least--valuable customers for targeted marketing. "What makes those people the top 10 or bottom 10? Don't just use the spray-and-pray approach," he said.

    To illustrate making a system the hero, Luna-Ostaseski pointed to Uber and Lyft. He stressed "building the system around what's working," and to iterate by writing a better playbook, to document everything the company does twice, and to iterate weekly.

    And lastly, data is king. When he realized the six salespeople were driving sales, he laid off the rest of the staff and analyzed what those who remained did well. "I learned to always let data drive decisions," he said. "Our question always is: What does the data say? Not: What do you think or what is your opinion on it?"

  • Cofounder of import.io Andrew Fogg: 10,000 Leads in 10 Minutes

    In a short talk about lead generation, Andrew Fogg, cofounder of import.io discussed how companies can use the service to turn websites into data--no code necessary. The tool is "super awesome for developers who used to have to write custom code, web scrapers, etc. to get web data," he said. With import.io, companies can use this data, generate personalized messages using a template, and track the success of lead generation. 

  • Lumoid founder Aarthi Ramamurthy: Why Ohio Matters--This And Other Crazy Things I Learned While Building Lumoid

    Marketing budgets don't need to be big to have a big impact.

    To get gadget-rental service Lumoid off the ground, Aarthi Ramamurthy employed a number of scrappy techniques, such as pass out cards promoting the company while she went on runs. After doing this enough, she eventually got stopped on her runs by people who checked out the service. In addition to leading photo walks and workshops, Ramamurthy also targeted nearby community colleges, providing photo equipment that students can check out. To raise awareness among these students, the gear was branded with Lumoid swag, such as camera straps.

    The company also paid special attention to its packaging. "Every time we sent out a box, we made sure they had a really good packaging experience," she said. Lumoid saw this point as an opportunity to gain additional customers and included a discount card for customer referrals. "That worked really well because the card was beautiful," she said.

    Echoing similar sentiments of previous speakers, she stressed keeping customers satisfied. "If you have happy customers, they'll do free marketing for you," she said.

    It's also important to understand who the target audience is. Ramamurthy thought Lumoid was a service primarily for early adopters and technophiles, but data analysis revealed it was middle America driving the company. "They might not be the people you think they are," she said, but understanding this helped drive better business decisions, such as improving logistics to fulfill orders quickly to flyover states.

  • So we're approaching the last part of Hustle Con, with three sessions remaining:

    A Hustler's Guide to Building a Billion Dollar Category
    Mark Organ, founder of Eloqua and Influitive

    How, Why and When to Automate In Your Startup
    Jack Smith, founder of Vungle and Shyp

    This Shit is Hard
    Rick Marini, founder and CEO of BranchOut

    After enough liveblogging, my card reader has finally given out, so I'll update these last posts with photos later tonight.
  • You've got enough cash in the bank to last three weeks. Employees are tired--many of them haven't been paid in months. A competitor, meanwhile, issues a press release about a new $50 million round, gloating about winning a customer in your backyard. What do you do?

    It's time to hustle.

    That was the situation for Mark Organ, founder of marketing software companies Eloqua, which went public and was later acquired by Oracle for $871 million, and Influitive. "I'm a career hustler. I'm proud of it," he said.

    After seeing that press release, he decided it was time for Eloqua to poach the competitor's clients. "Turns out she [the client mentioned in press release] wasn't as happy with [the competitor]," he said. Four days before cash was projected to run out, the client wrote a check, giving Eloqua a few more months of life. In a demo for another potential client, the company, somewhat impressed, shot back with a list of requests for Eloqua. Organ promised to deliver on that list by Monday, a move that won the client over. "That's what saved our company again for another three months," he said.

    Eventually, the competitor that raised $50 million went out of business, and Eloqua capitalized by gaining all of its clients.

    "The job of a hustler is to attract resources," Organ said. "If you don't look like George Clooney like me, you really have to work on your personality."

    He also advised entrepreneurs to continue learning, "improving your education and your training and your knowledge so you're not a victim of the situation you're in."

    That is also a good trait to find in employees. Organ said his head of marketing and business development never had responsibilities running departments before, though they knew various parts of the job. "They're excited to come in everyday because they're learning and growing," he said. To them "learning and growth is worth more to them than a huge paycheck," he continued, noting some of these employees take pay cuts up to 75% for the opportunity.


  • Vuggle and Shyp founder Jack Smith: How, Why And When To Automate In Your Startup 

    "Hustling is not a word I heard of before I came to America" said Jack Smith, the English founder of Vungle and Shyp. But he said it perfectly embodies the philosophies of those startups.

    Talking about bottlenecks and process optimization, he gives an example of hiring for an office manager. Most startups will go the Craigslist route, with the postings listing similar attributes, such as good personality, good communication skills, ability to follow instructions. That, however, leads to a flood of inquiries--a headache for startups.

    To avoid this, Smith used a Wufoo form, Zapier's automation service, and a Twilio phone number to automate the process. Anyone who applied for the office manager role got an automated text message from the Twilio number, personalized with the candidate's name. The message asked the candidates to follow a link, which featured a video of Smith asking them to record a short video of their own. The point of this process was to filter out people who couldn't follow instructions "Can they fill out a basic form with their actual phone number? Can they record a video? In the end, we were only judging people who could follow basic instructions," Smith said.


  • Hustle Con organizer Sam Parr, left, in a fireside conversation with Tickle and BranchOut cofounder Rick Marini: This Shit is Hard

    And we've reached our last talk of the day, a fireside (This Shit is Hard) 
    with Rick Marini, founder of Tickle, Superfan, and BranchOut, and Hustle Con organizer Sam Parr.

    Marini founded personality and IQ test platform Tickle, which was acquired by Monster Worldwide for $100 million in 2004. He and cofounder James Currier were intent on selling Tickle for $100 million--nothing less--which came in 2004 with suiter No. 7, Monster Worldwide.

    But Tickle faced its trials and tribulations. The company weathered the first dot-com boom, moving out to Silicon Valley in 2000 after raising a round. "The first two years were really, really hard out here." By 2001, Tickle was in a situation where it only had three months of money, but reached profitability the next year. Marini said he and Currier simply refused to fail. "We've never lost in our lives."

    By 2004, Tickle was projected to hit $25 million in revenue. Monster's initial acquisition offer was for $80 million, but Marini and Currier--with their best poker faces--countered with $120 million, before the two parties split the difference.

    Though Marini had a number in mind all along, he said "there's no shame in selling for $10, $20, $30 million, and that's a big hit. ... For most entrepreneurs, those billion-dollar exits are never going to come."

    He attributed his success to three points:
    • "I tried to work harder than everyone around me."
    • "I tried to say yes a lot. If someone gives you the opportunity to do something, say yes."
    • "Having a good attitude goes a long way," especially early on in one's career because mentors want to nurture the talent of smart, young people.
  • What a marathon of hustling.

    When I first registered for this conference, I pitched a drinking game for all the wacky buzzwords that would be thrown around. Though Hustle Con came prepared with beer and wine (the imbibing started at 10 a.m.), my drinking game would've been very anticlimactic. In fact, I didn't hear "wantreprenuer" once--and that was the very word that drew me here in the first place.

    Having sat through all the 15 talks today, I decided to sum up some common themes and advice:
    • Always, start with a great product.
    • Never forget about the customer (free marketing).
    • Marketing doesn't have to cost a fortune to be effective.
    • When writing newsletters, don't forget: AIDA.
    • Automate what you can, and leverage existing tools, to save time and resources.
    • Don't just consult people's opinions when making decisions. Let the data talk too.
    • Get along with people.
    • Stand tall, and it'll change how others perceive you--and how you feel about yourself as well.
    • Always keep learning. And do it quickly.
    • You can grow up on a hippie commune with no electricity and still found a successful startup.
    • Be authentic.
    • Say yes.
    Thanks, as always, for tuning into this slive blog. I've been waiting all day to type this, so I'll end with the wise words of Rick Ross: Everyday I'm hustlin'.
  • Here are the slides from @andrewfogg's @hustlecon presentation "10,000 leads in 10 minutes" Chek 'em out: slidesha.re/1rQnOCX
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[Photo: Flickr user Nan Palmero]