Still Weird, Still Awesome Austin

2015 marked my 4th year not-in-a-row at South by Southwest. My observations from last year still largely hold true, though this year some of the crowds seem to have staved off (Mykel, my Austinite buddy, speculated that some of this may be from key sponsorship changes this year – from Chevrolet to Mazda and from Frito-Lay to…McDonalds…) and I’m not going to disagree: I sure didn’t head over to the Golden Arches area. That said, there is such a plethora of rich, meaningful content and amazing people all in one spot, it still deserves a go.

First up was my panel,Demystifying the Startup Accelerator Journey.” It was moderated by Luke Deering who recently coauthored “Accelerate” which featured the entrepreneurs’ perspective on evaluating accelerator programs (I’m also quoted in it but it’s still a super useful book). Joining us were Patrick Riley, Executive Director of the Global Accelerator Network and Ev Kontsevoy, founder of Y Combinator company Mailgun (acquired by Rackspace).

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Some of our key discussion points:

  • Entrepreneurs should determine what they need from a program and apply to the ones that fit.
  • Start-ups should not wait until they have ‘traction’ or get to the ‘next milestone’ to apply: once they figure out the solution to their problem, they should go for it. Ev regretted not applying to YC earlier – he felt his team spent lots of time coding before addressing some of the business elements that YC helped them with.
  • There is a trend towards ‘verticalization’ among the accelerator world. Examples include the white-labeled corporate accelerators run by TechStars at Nike, Disney, Qualcomm and more. This will lead to greater differentiation of accelerator offerings vs. a generic, sector-agnostic template that only a few top ones can sustain.
  • Entrepreneurs should do their due diligence around what kinds of deals and exits specific accelerators have brokered.

Special thanks also to Matt Cartagena, Luke’s co-author, for the panelist wrangling.

Go Card! When we were done, I had the enormous pleasure of reconnecting with my Stanford classmate Chris and his awesome wife Suzanne. It’s been nearly two decades since I saw Chris when I did some work for him while he was at Trilogy (the memories of which seem to have stuck with me more than him ;). In addition to talking about college and Austin, we talked shop: Chris and our other classmate Steve head up a “venture studio” in Austin that helps lots of start-ups get going, and Suzanne has led various innovation efforts in her health care career. So continuing the accelerator talk made lots of sense. And the lamb shank at laV was pretty tasty.

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Always Be Pitching. The next day it was back to the Hilton to check out Brian Zisk‘s Elevator Pitch session. Given the pitchers were talking apps and startups, it was a pleasant surprise when Brian – a long-time Mozilla and open source supporter (check out Xiph) – called me up to share about the pilot program I’m currently working on, the MDN Fellowship. That was fun.

My honey does it again. For the third year in a row, the hubs organized the wildly-popular “The Seven Hottest Topics in Music Tech” panel. The room was packed and they had to turn peeps away. While the panelists tried to start with a conversational tack it became clear quickly that the audience wanted to cut right to the chase; they quickly course-corrected got to the 7 topics.

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Gimme food, gimme love. While SxSW is amazing, for me the crux of Austin is two-fold: the food and the people. Luckily I had ample opportunity to enjoy high quality in both these areas. Certainly with the Porches (see above), and also with Alice and our two Bay Area-turned-Austinite friends, Dana & Luke, who invited us to brunch at Jack Allen’s Kitchen which lived up to its Texas heritage with a buffet line rivalling those at the DMV. I captured Luke’s plate for posterity:

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Moar BBQ was to be had with my coworker Janet and her fantastic partner Jason, who escorted us far away from the SxSW crowds to get the real deal at County Line. The bread alone was Texas-sized.

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Finally but hardly least significant was my time spent with the Mitchell Fam. I’ve already mentioned Mykel, who married my college bud Sheeri and they’ve since produced four children (known as the Muppets) and have hosted me numerous times over the years, whether in SoCal or Austin, where they’ve now resided for nearly 8 years. When I go to Austin, getting on a SxSW panel is the icing; the Mitchells are the cake.  Thank you, family!

MeGowallaTeeAUSSt. Paddy’s Day + South By = Gowalla Green Tee

What is all the fuss?

It’s hard not to love Gilda Radner or SNL. And I’ll go one step further: for me, it’s impossible not to love Emily Litella. She never understood why people made such a fuss over things.

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In 2015, I think Emily would be asking what all the fuss is about remote working (or maybe she’d ask what the fuss is about demote twerking…hint: you need to watch those episodes to understand).

Distributed teams really got their legs with the advent of open source projects and are becoming increasingly mainstream…but are not without their drama. My short presentation at yesterday’s always-awesome Forward 2 conference dispels some common fears and myths about remote work, and provides some tips on making distributed teams awesome. Enjoy!

What is Developer Evangelism?

“Developers hate being marketed or sold to” per the muse of common knowledge. It’s not surprising, then, that those charged with doing just that have a job title that explicitly omits any mention of this kind of activity. Oddly, stirring up images of religious zealotry was more palatable for those in the tech world when Apple Computer kicked off the idea of technical ‘evangelism’ in the last century.

Of course, things have changed since the Mac SE. ‘Developers as customers’ is becoming increasingly mainstream, no longer confined to the stodgy enterprise with long sales cycles and formal necktie cultures. D2D has gone indie along with the web and mobile devs it targets.

I’ve had the fortunate opportunity to attend a few events at the developer-centric accelerator (or more precisely, “community for developer-focused entrepreneurs”) HeavyBit this year thanks to my brilliant developer marketer content strategist journalist friend Dana (us biz people deal with job title complexities as well). Today they helped produce DevGuild, an unconference dedicated to unpacking what in the heck this “developer evangelism” thing really is.

So what happened? First, the introductory talks:

  • Josh Dzielak of HeavyBit alumni team Keen.io kicked the day kicked off, challenging attendees to remember that as important software is, the people behind it are what makes it live (exact quote: “software may be eating the world, but community is feeding it”).
  • Github’s KC Shearon shared more of her signature awesome slides to parse out the reasons the term ‘evangelism’ is so problematic for her; specifically, she believes the term implies religious zealotry, emotionalism, and manipulation (see first paragraph above ^^). Interestingly some discussions later in the day talked about how evangelism is often most credible when the evangelist simply “tells their story” with the technology. That sounds like “evangelical witnessing” to me, of course absent any call to action (buy this product, or come to the front of the church).
  • Returning to the people-trump-software theme, Heroku’s Leigh Honeywell talked about how dev communities organize and intentionally choose to dis-organize with poor results. The message to people in the developer world is to be intentional about the environments they create (she assigned us some required reading).
  • Expanding on community was Electric Imp‘s Matt Haines, reminding us that it’s not the “things” we build (particularly relevant reminder for an IoT company), but rather the people we empower, that matters.
  • As a metrics geek, I particularly enjoyed another Keen.io-er, Tim Falls, who admonished us to not go nuts on the numbers. Basically just because you can (measure something) doesn’t mean you should (measure whatever you can measure). Tim also quoted some people you just can’t question, like Albert Einstein (“Many of the things you can count, don’t count. Many of the things you can’t count, really do count”) and Oscar Wilde (“People know the price of everything and the value of nothing”). But my favorite quote from him was his own, captured by Mashery’s Sarah Jane Morris: “You can’t track a handshake to a hug to a $500 subscription two weeks later.” Yes yes yes.
  • Finishing the theme of the “nots” of Developer Evangelism was a summary of “The 7 Deadly Sins of Evangelism” outlined by Salesforce’s James Ward (big thanks to Laurel Kline for the tweet summary:
    1. Not fully knowing your product
    2. Not creating a feedback loop between your audiences and your product teams
    3. Too much coffee (I totally don’t understand this one but apparently it can make you a jittery presenter ;) )
    4. Not practicing enough (you must know your code inside and out before demoing it)
    5. Not allowing your audience to help you answer objections
    6. Not venturing out of your comfortable social circle
    7. Not being a good host aka BUY THE BEER

    Next we shifted into our Unconference segment. Here are some of my takeaways from both the two breakout sessions I attended (metrics + using “non-marketing speak”) as well as the whole day:

  • Always put the developer first. Otherwise you look like a corporate hack (which may be what you are, but you won’t be effective ;)
  • It’s not sales engineering. Evangelism is really advocacy – advocating for the needs of the developer over the needs of the company.
  • Examples of good metrics include the trust level among developers with the resources and talks you give; the level, quantity and quality of your engagement with them; and (if possible) nirvana metric would be “DLTV“.
  • Your org structure matters. Who you report to often defines how you are measured (and thus, what you do and how you do it). If your manager doesn’t support the two immediately-above points, you should consider proposing a totally different measure of success, a reorg, or look for a new org.
  • At Mozilla, we think of much of our work (and certainly our evangelism work) in terms of “quality relationships.” This definitely syncs up with the thinking at DevGuild. And we can always do better. Thankfully as social media becomes woven into the fabric of all kinds of corporate outreach, the job of evangelizing in ways outlined above grows easier, as evangelists become less broadcast mouthpieces or talking heads, and emerge instead as accessible individuals who struggle themselves with the tech and engage in conversations rather than marketingspeak.

    I like how my colleague and now-Microsoftie Christian Heilmann expresses this:

    In German, there is a distinction: “Werbung” could mean advertising, but also trying to get someone on your side. “Reklame” means pure advertising. We should do more Werbung and less Reklame.

    Thanks to HeavyBit for putting on a great event. If you want to see others’ Tweets, check out the Eventify tweet summary (great tool, not because I’m listed as top contributor ;).