As the standout features of any South by Southwest (SXSW) conference, the keynote addresses at the SXSW V2V conference that took place in Las Vegas last week were no exception. If you weren’t able to attend SXSW’s first-ever event solely focused on entrepreneurship and startups, here’s a look at what was said on stage at V2V.
Day 1: Tony Hsieh
Without Tony Hsieh, it’s arguable that the SXSW V2V conference would not exist. Or, if it did exist without Hsieh, V2V wouldn’t have taken place in Las Vegas. Known by many as the CEO of Zappos and best-selling author of Delivering Happiness, Tony Hsieh discussed the Downtown Project—a plan to revitalize downtown Las Vegas and transform it into a nurturing ecosystem for small businesses and startups.
After turning Zappos into what it is today—a brand synonymous with great customer service and an uplifting company culture—Hsieh’s next focus is on community. He is investing $350 million of his own fortune (not Zappos’) into the Downtown Project, which will provide grants for various small businesses and build family and community-oriented parks and events. The Project also focuses on educational efforts, such as an early education center or informative speaker series for startups.
It’s difficult not to feel inspired at Hsieh’s grandiose vision for a struggling community that he clearly loves. Instead of maximizing short-term ROI (return on investment), Hsieh focuses on long-term ROC (return on community) and ROL (return on luck) for the Downtown Project—a noble cause for an area that has been pretty down on its economic luck in the past 10 years.
“If we can make downtown Vegas, the place voted least likely to succeed, a place of community, of growth, of small businesses and startups, then it can be replicated in any city,” Hsieh says. “Without relying on a sports stadium or an expensive professional team, we want to be the four minute mile.”
“Research suggests it doesn’t matter what your company values are. What matters is that you have them and commit to them.”
“Chase the vision, not the money.”
“Culture is to a company, as community is to a city.”
Day 2: Steve Case
Since his days as the founder and former CEO of AOL, Steve Case has kept himself busy with a number of activities, most notably as investor and founder of venture company Revolution, chairman of the Case Foundation and being named to the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.
Case touched upon his days as an Internet pioneer, reflecting upon AOL’s company mission of easy access—“so easy your mother could do it.” (A phrase that, Case joked, “my mom always hated.”) After retiring as CEO, Case dedicated himself to helping other entrepreneurs succeed, most notably through Revolution. However, the most salient thoughts from Case’s keynote V2V session were his ideas on entrepreneurship and immigration.
Because of the current unforgiving U.S. policy regarding immigrants who desire to stay or move here to start a company, Case compared it to educating international students at the Naval Academy, refusing them U.S. visas and sending them back to their original countries to use our own naval or military tactics against us. Case spent most of his keynote rallying others to his cause, imploring them to call their representatives.
“I think some people look at immigration in the context of sort of a problem we need to solve. I view it more as an opportunity we need to seize if we’re going to remain the most entrepreneurial nation in the world. The only way we’re going to do that is we’re going to win the global battle for talent, and we can’t do that unless we have a smarter immigration policy,” Case says.
“When AOL began, the average user was only online for one hour a week. It really was about getting America online.”
“If you want to go quickly, you can go alone. But if you want to go far, you go together.”
Day 3: Lauren Bush Lauren
Without knowing much about her, some might write off social entrepreneur Lauren Bush Lauren. It’s easy to dismiss her success as being a product of a number of things beyond her control—being born into the Bush clan (as George H.W. Bush’s granddaughter and George W. Bush’s niece), marrying into the Lauren family (designer Ralph Lauren is her father-in-law) or her striking looks that’s landed her on the cover of Vogue, from her previous career as a model.
But Bush Lauren’s V2V keynote was memorable in two ways. Firstly, that every V2V attendee I spoke to afterward remarked about how surprised they were at her intelligence and hard work as an entrepreneur. Secondly, that, despite my feminist views, I found myself agreeing with them. Well shame on me for judging an admirable entrepreneur by her looks and her pedigree.
Bush Lauren, having previously worked for the World Food Program and in fashion, united her passions of humanitarian work and design to create products whose goal is to end world hunger. Her company, FEED Projects, sells FEED bags, and a large portion of each bag is donated to the United Nations World Food Programme. The enterprising Bush Lauren worked on and pitched her idea for five years before she could get her FEED bag into a store, seizing every opportunity, including elbowing her way into a dinner party with Whole Foods Market CEO John Mackey with the express intent of introducing him to an early prototype of the FEED bag.
Always on a mission of doing good, Bush Lauren even admitted to the V2V crowd that she’s turned down attractive offers or refused to partner with large retailers whose values differ greatly from FEED Project’s company values. And although FEED Project may never be as lucrative as a traditional lifestyle company, Bush Lauren is satisfied with her company’s work in promoting social entrepreneurship.
“The old-fashioned way of nonprofits asking for money to keep the lights on has to change, and nonprofits are realizing that, by finding new ways of innovation.”
“Besides fighting world hunger, our bags are meant to raise awareness, to educate, in an organic way.”
“It’s hard to call something a failure if you’ve learned so much from it.”