Lessons I learned from Sir Mix-a-Lot and other digital influencers at Seattle Interactive Conference

I attended the Seattle Interactive Conference last week, which took place at the Washington State Convention Center. Imagine a conference hall filled with an elite crowd of designers, developers, digital media experts, and tech industry leaders, all in one place. The energy and inspiration was flowing!

The annual Seattle Interactive Conference is a two-day event celebrating the convergence of online technology, creativity, and emerging trends in one of the world’s most innovative cities. SIC brings together entrepreneurs, developers and online business professionals from throughout the US and beyond for a powerful combination of in-depth presentations, networking opportunities, and uniquely Seattle social events. Attendees have the rare opportunity to explore disruptive technologies and business models with visionary thinkers and peers in areas ranging from online commerce and social media to gaming, interactive advertising, entertainment, and much more.

The lineup of speakers was impressive, featuring key members of such notable companies as Starbucks, Microsoft, Moz, Marchez, Zulily, GoDaddy, Getty Images, Groupon, The Oatmeal, Intentional Futures, Glowforge, and more. Due to the concurrent scheduling of the conference, I had to make some hard choices as to which sessions to attend. Here are some takeaways from the speakers that I did see.

Secrets of storyfinding

“Storytelling” is touted as a be-all-end-all-and-cure-all. “Storytelling” can launch products, build buzz, burnish brands and save careers. But how can you possibly tell a story if you don’t even what the real story is? In his hilarious talk, Warren Etheredge, professional Storyfinder and Founder of The Warren Report, shared his unorthodox, road-tested methods for divining story from the closed-mouthed, the clueless, the powerful and the private. Opening up his speech with the quote: “There is no greater gift than helping others find and tell their stories” Warren explained that it’s important for a company to show its flaws, and to appear human to its audience. According to him, many companies shirk their true story and try to show a glossy fake story. In a perfect example, he talked about how Superman is the worst possible “hero”, because he had no flaws, and they had to invent kryptonite just to make the story interesting! Businesses, find your kryptonite, tell your true story, and speak from the heart. You will gain more respect and admiration from your customers when they can relate to you and your struggles.

Creating a unicorn: Exploring Seattle’s startup & venture trends

In this session, led by Startup Advisor Shauna Causey, Glowforge’s Dan Shapiro, and Madrona Venture Group’s Julie Sandler, we heard about Seattle’s hottest startups and startup trends. We learned that “unicorns” and mythical creatures are exactly what their name implies: myth. That being said, almost 150 companies have turned the seemingly impossible into reality, becoming one of the rare companies to reach a valuation of over $1 billion. Just how did they do it and what’s hot enough these days to warrant high valuations? While they didn’t give away any secrets, they did say that in order to be successful, you will need to be well versed in market analysis and prove how your company/product serves a need and can be distributed, not just built.

Creating fandom in the free music economy

In a fascinating discussion with artists Sir Mix-a-Lot and DJ Maseo from De La Soul we learned about how the free music economy is here to further disrupt the industry that is slowly evolving and learning how to monetize streaming with the product now being almost virtual currency. They discussed how musical artists old and new have adapted quickly to this new landscape and are crowd funding for artist independence in album projects and being able to connect personally with their fans (something that was not really possible before) in sharing the creative process and the reward is a loyal fan base. De La Soul spoke about how he gave away their entire catalog of music last Valentine’s Day along with a “Thank You” letter to fans and recently raised over $600k for their next album on Kickstarter. In a not so subtle statement, DJ Maseo said, “Kickstarter is a big middle finger to the record labels.” Disruptors at work!

Fail well: How brands succeed by failing

Wunderman Chief Creative Officer and co-author of the book Marketing Mojo, Craig Evans talked about the challenges and opportunities marketers are facing with the evolution of new media and technology. With more and more engagement through social platforms, marketing automation, and customer-led content, agencies and brands have a more intimate way to engage with audiences than ever before – and more opportunities to fail spectacularly. Evans showed some clever examples of “failing”, such as REI’s #optoutside campaign, where they will be closing their offices on Black Friday, encouraging their customers to go enjoy the outdoors instead. What would normally be considered a terrible idea (closing on the busiest shopping day of the year), ended up strengthening the relationship between their brand and their customer base. Sometimes you have to “fail” to “win”.

Kittens, explosions, lasers & goats: The formula to a (very) successful crowdfunding campaign

Mathew Inman is the author and artist behind The Oatmeal and co-creator Exploding Kittens, the most funded game on Kickstarter. Mathew’s New York Times #1 bestseller, “How to Tell If Your Cat is Plotting to Kill You”, is a perfect showcase of his signature blend of irreverent, oddball humor and illustrated antics. In his talk he discussed how he and Elan Lee’s weekend side project raised nearly $8.8 million seemingly overnight. Their creative card game, Exploding Kittens, took to Kickstarter and immediately proved to be lightning in a bottle, surpassing the initial goal of $10,000 within minutes. However, their success may not lie in the game itself, but rather their approach to their Kickstarter campaign. While many turn to crowdfunding to simply raise funds, they built a community. In this day and age it’s all about community-building!

Mashup: Solving Seattle’s homeless problem

Each night there are 500 families in our city that don’t have a place to sleep, and many of them are children. The “No Child Sleeps Outside” campaign and Mary’s Place, an agency that plays the leading role in providing shelter to homeless women and their children are working to change that. At SIC 2015, a group of organizations came together to partner on this effort. Just outside the front door of Mary’s Place, are some of the most innovative businesses on the planet today — powered by radical design thinking, innovative technologies, and disruptive business models, they have put Seattle on the forefront. The goal was to channel the talent and energy that is driving Seattle’s business success stories to help solve the social challenge of homelessness.

Teams were carefully selected with some of the brightest minds in design, technology and business in Seattle, and were invited to the Design Swarm Challenge. Their task was to come up with a creative and promising approach that will kick-start the process of addressing this desperate situation. I have to say, I shed a few tears watching the final presentations, as the community members of Mary’s Place were so excited to work on these new ideas. Don’t be afraid to contribute your big ideas to those who could really use them. Always, always give back to your community.

Wrap up and after party

What better way to wrap up a conference than to head on up to Capitol Hill for some local food and libations with none other than DJ Maseo spinning his tunes at the afer party? The vitality of this group showed itself on the dance floor – the break dancing on display was top notch. Who knew developers and designers could dance? Kudos, Seattle!

Next year’s Seattle Interactive Conference is already being planned, so get your tickets early for this one-of-a-kind event.

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