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[Photo: Reinhard Hunger for Fast Company]

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.
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