Home » Uncategorized » Business of Software 2009: Session Lessons Day 1

Normally when I blog about conferences I try to cover something about each session I attended on a certain day. The conference is single-threaded meaning you did not choose a session. You go to all of them with all the other delegates. There were some awesome sessions and some sessions that were the suxor, just like most conferences. For me though, I find if I get one thing out of any one session I am ahead of the game and it is time invested well.

At the beginning of the conference I decided to close the lid on my laptop and just listen. I have been to so many conferences over the years where people have laptops open and are multi-tasking. They are listening to the discussion while they surf the Web or play solitaire or mind-sweeper, or not (just playing games). I have been guilty of multi-tasking myself, but inevitably I am not giving 100% of my attention to the person who prepared to share with me something important. At BoS2009 I wanted to see if I could dedicate my full attention to the topic at hand. In between the first two sessions I caught up on Twitter and realized there was this whole back channel of information flowing about the session. So I followed and even contributed on Twitter the rest of the way. And during the sessions I did not like I handled things like email and surfed the Web.

Here are some lessons I want to share from each of the sessions and my ratings out of maximum of five stars:

Succeeding in Turbulent Times: Geoffery A. Moore
You probably have heard of the English translation of an old Chinese Proverb/Curse: “May you live in interesting times”. That is sort of what is going on these days with “unprecedented”, “never seen in our life-times”, economic turbulence. No matter your thinking on how it all started and what group of individuals started the rapid decline of the economy, everyone on the planet has to adjust their personal life to accommodate the changes. As for computers and computer services, the global competition is driving the market towards commoditization. So businesses have to focus on productivity and innovation. His session drove home the difference between core and content. Core is doing what your competitors refuse or cannot do.
(four stars)

Trends to Bet On – Paul Graham
This session was “to be announced” up to the last minute. This is one of my personal pet peeves about the conference from an organizer perspective. How the heck can someone not know what a topic is two weeks before the conference? From a speaker perspective, how the heck can one develop and perfect a conference session with only two weeks preparation, and do their regular job. Answer in this case is simple: you don’t really prepare. You just slap together 21 “trends to bet on”, put them out there with no real evidence on why they are worth betting on. This session stunk with the smell of spending the time on the flight to San Francisco putting together the list. That said, I still took away a reminder of something important. Super good customer service – because it is easy for customers to switch in today’s marketplace. Also care about what you create. Apple cares about the iPhone like Google cares about search, and that is why they both rock at what they do.
(two stars)

10 things I wish I’d known about VC when I was an entrepreneur – Heidi Roizen
Right now if someone asked me if I would ever be involved with a Venture Capitalist I would have to say, no way. I don’t currently have a vision to build a start-up with the sole purpose of selling it when it hits monetization stride. Yet Heidi sucked me in with the various stories to back up the 10 things that she wished she knew. Great insight into the mind of a VC and how they think compared to how someone like me thinks about the business. One thing she pointed out is how important trust is between you and whoever you are doing business with. Customers, stockholders, partners, employees, investors, etc. This is not a revelation for me, it is an affirmation of something that is critically important to me. One other thing that is important to a business owner is to get an outside perspective of your company. I have done this every year with Geek Gatherings through the Southwest Fox Conference evals, but it is something I have not done regularly with White Light Computing and our customers. Definitely added to the to-do list.
(five stars)

Ideas for Building Better Software Business – Dharmesh Shah
This was another “to be announced” session I did not have much hope for when planning the trip to SF. At breakfast I heard someone talking about how much they looked forward to hearing what Dharmesh had to say. Then he starts out his session proclaiming his hope to do a better job this year. This gave me a complete disconnect feeling. The fact is, this was the second best session of the conference for me. Dharmesh explained how one of the goals for each business is to improve the odds of success and survival. I know, duh. But the fact remains most businesses get entrenched in the day-to-day operations and forget to plan the things needed for success long term. He discussed how important search engine optimization (SEO) is to a business. Finally, he mentioned how blogging is one of the keys to building a business. This is something I have spoken about at several conferences, the latest during an open spaces session at CodeStock 2009 centered on developers marketing themselves. I do not have solid numbers to back this up as the sole reason, but since I have started blogging my business has grown considerably. This is the first time I have heard someone else discuss the importance of blogging with respect to building/growing your business. I also like his proclamations: “be a superhero” and “have fun!” (both are beliefs I feel strongly about)
(five stars)

I skipped the breakout sessions and from talking with others, it was a good decision on my part. While I am sure they worked for others, they did not fit my needs. It was modeled a bit on open spaces with respect to you picking the topic and having an open discussion. The part it broke down on is the organizers limited it to smaller groups. So depending on the topic and the group you might have won, or lost. I took the time to catch up on some work.

Social Media: the good, the bad and the ugly – Matt Clayton
According to Matt we have 5 seconds to engage someone online. Wow, have we become a society of attention deficit disorder people? His session really centered making your Web site all about the social aspects, and getting your product to go viral. Interesting perspective. What I took out of this is to build community around your services or product. This I am quite aware of because of the long term success of the Visual FoxPro Community and how Microsoft and other companies have tried to duplicate it. What Microsoft never got with respect to this is that the community has to develop on its own. It is not something that can be forced. What we as business people can do however is provide the mechanisms to help the community thrive. From my perspective, this is what Twitter is doing, this is what StackOverflow.com is doing, and this is what FaceBook is doing. Providing the tools for communities to start and grow. Matt discussed the winning tactics and the dark side of the business. I got a lot of ideas out of this session with respect to changes I want to make to the White Light Computing Web site, which desperately needs a complete overhaul.
(five stars)

Pecha Kucha

“Keeping it brief – a prese
ntation of 20 slides with 20 seconds each. That’s 6 minutes 40 seconds, done”

What this boils down to is rapid fire topics with the goal of taking you from nothing to something, gaining your attention, and teaching you something useful in a short amount of time. Cut out the bloat and aim to deliver just the important content. I found some very entertaining. I found some interesting. A couple of them failed. All of them seemed well rehearsed and many of the speakers seemed nervous. Each of the presenters got a free pass to the conference, which in itself is a win. The audience votes on the best presentation and the winner gets a Kindle. The negative side of this is I cannot recall which presenter did what. All I know is the winner had a good blend of humor and content and did do the best of the bunch.

10 Rules for Successful Products – Don Norman
Don methodically discussed 10 rules needed to have a successful product. The key with this session is he also backed each rule with a story or example so you could validate if the rule applies to your business. For me the rule: “It is all about the experience” really hit home.
(four stars)

Conference Party
Monday was a long day. After the sessions ended we attended the conference party at the ThirstyBear Brewing Company. I was able to talk with Joel Splosky about StackOverflow, the BoS conference, and how he roomed with Chris Capossela when Chris was on the Fox Team. Later I barely lost to Dale Zimmer at Foosball, kicked his butt at car racing (video style instead of go-carting), got my butt kicked at darts by Dale, later beat Dave Bernard who beat Dale at darts (making me the overall champ {gd&r;}). It was a fun way to end the first day.


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