Startup Grind APAC conference 2019.

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16th December, 2019

Startup Grind APAC 2019: 5 lessons about expansion, customer engagement and founder wellbeing

Last week, hundreds of startup enthusiasts attended Startup Grind APAC, a conference that treated attendees to series of presentations that gave them valuable takeaways for their own businesses. In case you missed it, here are five highlights from the blockbuster event.

Startup Grind, the world’s largest independent startup community with over two million entrepreneurs worldwide, held its second APAC conference in Melbourne this week, and it was every bit as entertaining as it was insightful.

Over the course of two-day mega event, hundreds of innovators, aspiring founders and creatives had the opportunity to network with likeminded individuals, learn about some of the world’s most successful and exciting businesses, and hear from some of the biggest movers and shakers of the global startup ecosystem.

The conference, which was nothing short of an invigorating innovation marathon, hosted a handful of insightful presentations which were run by experienced ecosystem leaders, as well as several raw, open and candid fireside chats with startup founders and investors.

While it would be impossible to list all of the conference’s highlights and adequately summarise some of the gems that were shared throughout the 48 hour startup extravaganza, there were a number of highlights and lessons that really hit home for many of the attendees.

So, just in case you missed it, or if you were there but want to reminisce about the great event that Startup Grind APAC 2019 was, here are five of those highlights with their respective takeaways.


1. Checking your AI’s bias


The first presentation of the conference was run by Emily Rich, managing director of Startups and Scaleups at Microsoft, and it was all about diversity in Artificial Intelligence (AI).

AI and machine learning are the buzz words of the startup ecosystem at the moment. For years, startups have been gathering datasets in every industry and analysing those datasets closely. Now, we’ve entered a phase were many startups are cashed up with data and are now using algorithms to predict trends and behaviours based on their extensive access to this data.

READ: How AI will shape the world in 2020 and beyond

During Rich’s presentation, she highlighted that diversity in data is one of the most important things to consider when developing predictive analytics and AI algorithms.

Rich explained that lack of diversity in data can have “catastrophic outcomes” and brought an example from the concept of facial recognition technology and how due to a lack of diversity, it initially struggled to recognise the faces of people with darker skin tones.

Seeing as many of the world’s traditional industries are turning to automation and AI, Rich encouraged startup founders to get on the front foot with their data’s diversity, and suggested that they put more of a focus on the quality of the data they gather rather than the quantity and dedicate resources to audit their datasets to ensure that they are truly diverse.

Rich’s final point was that ultimately, it is humans who are gathering these datasets, which means that fighting implicit bias is the key to creating a diversity inclusive automated future.


2. Managing the ‘pyramid’ of customer experience


One of the central themes that was spoken about across both days of the conference was business expansion and transitioning from startup to scaleup.

The global startup ecosystem is not as young as it used to be, and many of the innovative businesses that used to be called startups are now expanding into larger businesses – and Shira Levine from Franchismo took to the main stage to explain the significant role that customer engagement plays when expanding a business.

As part of her presentation on day one of the event, Levine explained that in today’s competitive climate, one percent of customers provide 99 percent of the business’ value – and how effort needs to be placed into engaging the remaining 99 percent of customers.

To further illustrate this idea, Levine compared the customer engagement process to a pyramid (or in her words, a ‘Shiramyd’), and talked the audience through the concept of managing the very tip of a customer pyramid (meaning, the top one percent), and finding ways to engage with the remaining customers who are positioned lower in the pyramid.

“Create an emotional relationship with your customers, and they’ll be engaged enough to rise to the top of your pyramid,” she said.


3. Leveraging communication channels properly


Continuing along with the theme of customer experience, Brendan Yell from Twilio kicked off day two of the conference with a very informative workshop about how startups and scaleups should approach retaining their existing customers and capitalising on existing pipelines.

A highlight of Yell’s presentation was his honest take on the different circumstances where different communication channels should be used.

Yell explained that while many companies chose to send text messages to market their products, there are very select circumstances where using such a channel is going to be effective.

“Text messages are very personal and should only be used for marketing strategies that benefit the customer from a monetary or convenience perspective,” Yell explained.

Yell believed that if businesses use the different communication channels properly, instead of constantly growing the sales funnel with new prospects (which is quite an expensive and onerous process), they will be able to engage the people who have already entered the pipeline and are just looking for some personalisation.


4. The importance of focus


Toward the back end of day one, the event attendees heard Patrick Lee from movie review darling Rotten Tomatoes talk about founder wellbeing and the importance of staying focused on one core offering.

Lee explained that a common mistake that startup founders tend to make is “believing that they can do anything” which causes them to “try and do everything”.

“Focus means answering one question about your product. Do people want this?” Lee said during his presentation.

Another important part of focus that Lee explained was that it means stripping away all the fluff and being the very best at one thing – bringing the classic Yahoo example, where even though Yahoo was first on the web search portal scene, they became distracted with too many service offerings. This allowed for Google to sweep in and become the best search portal, leaving Yahoo in their dust.

Lee concluded that a lack of focus is also the cause of a lot of the stress and anxiety that founders experience, and if an entrepreneur wants to go the distance, the only way to do so is by staying focused on what is key to making their business succeed.


5. Putting the happiness of your team before your customer


A big part of scaling a business is hiring new employees, and in his fireside chat with Elicia McDonald from AirTree ventures, Dr Ben Hurst from HotDoc talked about his views on how to treat the team when going through a phase of expansion.

One of the key messages that Hurst gave over to the audience was that keeping your employees happy and fulfilled was far more important than pleasing your customers.

“If you don’t think about your people first and foremost, your company is in trouble,” he said.

According to Hurst, having employees on board who aren’t happy automatically leads to unhappy customers and eventually – unhappy shareholders.

Hurst shared that in his own experience, it’s great to be customer obsessed, but the love needs to go to the staff.

READ: Offering your employees the right types of benefits

All told, Startup Grind APAC 2019 shared a story of healthy startup expansion. Join in next year to attend an event that celebrates the creation of sustainable businesses planning a future of diversity, focus, and meaningful relationships with their staff and customers.

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