500Startups unSEXY conference

unSEXY tech companies that… Just Make Money

The 1-day conference about unsexy tech companies that…Just Make Money was organized by 500Startups and hosted at an unsexy company, Microsoft, on August 9th in Mountain View.

I got an opportunity to attend after helping secure Coupons.com CEO Steven Boal to speak at the conference. Steven and I have a good long 8 year history going back to Australia/UK when he first invested in our company Couponstar Ltd and later acquired us to extend the International arm of Coupons, Inc.

The day kicked off with Jeff Lawson, CEO from Twilio speaking on Self-Service Models for Growth followed by Steven Boal, CEO, from Coupons on Disrupting unSEXY: The Tale of a $1 Billion Company that Changed an Industry. Concluding the morning session with Sexy time with PowerPoint: Hacking growth for SlideShare by Rashmi Sinha, CEO, Slideshare.

The jist of the morning talks was ~ sexy or not there is plenty of opportunity to disrupt an industry and make money. Believe and keep on pushing.

Morning session

Jeff Lawson, Twilio CEO

Jeff Lawson, Twilio CEO

Jeff Lawson, CEO of Twilio highlighted important points around doers and how to sell to them. Doers are power users. “Make a hero out of your doers” and they will live and breathe your passion. Empower them via your site by giving them:

  • a tour – what your product does,
  • pricing – does it solve their problem at a reasonable price and
  • how to get started – empower them to start playing around. Self service.

No shenanigans. Internet sheds light so they do not have to put up with shenanigans.
Finally invert the traditional sales model. First success, then transaction.

Steven Boal, CEO of Coupons.com (a 13-year-young company) gave everyone insights into an industry which coupons.com has disrupted. Coupons.com was built without taking any funding. Recently receiving a $200m infusion of capital valuing the company at $1B. Couponing is now becoming more digital than ever before. The old paper industry is fading into the distance and getting replaced by online channels. Coupons is at the forefront of digital couponing with its leading suite of digital channels like GroceryIQ, Coupons.com, Brandcaster (whitelabel solutions) et al. Frugal is the new black.

“If you think it is an overnight success… it is a long night” ~ Steven Boal

Steven Boal, Coupons.com CEO

Steven Boal, Coupons.com CEO

Rashmi Sinha, from Slideshare finished off the morning session with an interactive presentation describing their early days to growth to Microsoft acquisition. Rashmi’s message was Build, Solve problem/s THEN get Distribution. The slides from the presentation are located here.

Aaron Levie, CEO, Box.net did an onstage debate on How Box Arrived, Survived & Thrived in a Hype-Driven World with Dave McClure, Founding Partner of 500 Startups.

Wrapping up the morning session was a comical, slightly weird in a good way presentation by the CEO of MailChimp, Ben Chestnut. He bootstrapped the company without any funding whatsoever.

CEO of MailChimp, Ben Chestnut.

CEO of MailChimp, Ben Chestnut.

Ben’s 3 lessons to the hungry entrepreneurs in the room were:

  1. Stop obsessing about the competition or you will become and copy them.
  2. Fight really, really weird – creativity is just connecting things. You do well if you make it different but you kill it if you make it funny.
  3. Always. Be. Creating. (things) – encourage everyone to build fun projects on top of your API to show what is possible. No project should take longer than 2 weeks.
Mailchimp in SF

Mailchimp reminder in SF

Afternoon session

The afternoon session was made up of 2 Tracks in 2 different rooms. Track 1 was all about Product & Customer and Track 2 on Distribution & Marketing with speakers like Jive, Yammer, Zendesk, Uservoice, Kissmetrics, Cloudera, SurveyMonkey etc. I must admit I wanted to hear both tracks but it was hard when they ran in different rooms at the same time.

Mikkel Svane, CEO of Zendesk

Mikkel Svane, CEO of Zendesk

Zendesk have an Exclusive Offer for qualified startups to get Zendesk for FREE for 12 months! Start a trial now.

Some notable lessons:

“Use distribution hacks like Dropbox’s upgrade, refer, tweet for more space to reduce the cost of acquisition.” – Kissmetrics

“Before you do anything ask ‘Why’ NOT ‘No’.” – Yammer

“Features should announce themselves. Imagine a world without corporate training where no one has read a manual.” – Yammer

“Don’t anger a customer over pennies or they will try to destroy you.” – ZenDesk

“Do the math on how many $20 accounts you need to be a $100m business.” – UserVoice

Dave Goldberg, CEO of SurveyMonkey with Dave McClure

Dave Goldberg, CEO of SurveyMonkey with Dave McClure

The day concluded with presentations from the last 500Startups batch of startups like…

  • Happy Inspector – Fixing the way inspections are done. Led by thunder from down-under Jindou Lee,
  • Teamly – People management made easy. Led by Scott Allison.
  • Etc.

I got a chance to talk to many interesting people, learn about great products and service and make new friends. Through this experience I meet Aussie founders of ScriptRock, Happy Inspector and Flightfox whom are all working on exciting products & services. Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi Oi Oi! Good to see Aussie power in Silicon Valley making a difference.

Finally, you can view all the unSEXY presentations from 500Startup’s SlideShare channel here.

There you have it. Plenty of kick ass companies disrupting their industry. The future looks exciting!

Safe journey!
~ Ernest

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Ernest W. Semerda

CTO & Co-Founder at Medlert Inc.
Medlert CTO/Co-Founder. Founder of kickass GTD & Pomodoro app GSDfaster iOS app. Follow me on Twitter: @ernestsemerda or Google+.