Fast companies

One of the best panels I attended at SXSW was The Art of Speed, a discussion about how to create cult followings and hugely popular companies. Moderated by Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek, and including Evan Williams of Twitter, it was an interesting discussion about living and working in current fast-as-you-can environment. The room was packed, discussion was lively and audience members formed a long queue at the mike during Q&A. Some interesting points were made regarding entrepreneurship and I hope at least part of the packed room was innovators looking to make their mark, as the advice was strong. Some highlights:

–Twitter’s Williams advised startups to follow the market that is responding to their product: “see where your technology is working and follow it there.” It’s straightforward but not practiced enough among companies today. Too often, execs get roadblocked by markets that aren’t listening, trying multiple angles and approaches to no avail. This isn’t to say that startups shouldn’t identify target markets in business planning; just that a certain amount of agility will serve tech companies well, especially in the realm of Internet technologies.

–Ferriss addressed the importance of, and differences between, traffic leaders and thought leaders when it comes to company/technology evangelizing. Though the traffic leader is an easy lure, their mailbox is crammed and therefore harder to attract. Ferriss advises approaching thought leaders first, as the traffic leaders read their blogs and will usually follow. This is especially intriguing to me, as it goes against innate PR behavior. To small startups short on cash, reaching out personally to thought leaders rather than paying agency costs to attract the big press… definitely worth considering.

Mike Cassidy, founder and CEO of Xfire: put your product in front of someone who’s never used it before and ask them to talk out loud as they use it. Another simple but great idea. And another concept that can get lost in the noise of building a company. Too often, valuable user input lies fallow as companies get caught up in other planning/building aspects. Don’t forget the user and, as I’ve said many times, don’t forget the mass-market user. If they say a certain feature doesn’t sit with them, don’t write them off as ignorant about tech. Listen, absorb, and use it.

With all the panel options to choose from, it was good to get so much interesting fodder in one session. I have much more to share from SXSW, including my thoughts on the Sarah Lacy/Mark Zuckerberg kerfuffle (I can’t resist.) Stay tuned all this week for more…

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