At the beginning of May, I attended the Create & Cultivate conference in downtown LA. If you follow me over on Instagram, you already know that I spent all day gushing over the impeccable decor, pop-up shops and endless snacks. And then, of course, there were the crowds of creative women in attendance (500, to be exact), and the inspiring speakers that came to drop knowledge bomb after knowledge bomb. Honestly, for this introvert, it was overwhelming – in both incredibly positive and slightly negative ways.
To provide some context, this was my first big conference experience. Well, that's not entirely true. I used to help my dad at technology conferences in high school, where we sold large-format printers and scanners next to booths from companies like Hewlett-Packard and Dell. Just replace the dull, traffic-friendly gray carpets, free pens and middle-aged men in slacks with fashion bloggers in stilettos, potted succulents, climbing ivy, pink stages, and free pressed juices. Slightly different scene.
Based on what I had heard about C&C, and these blogger conferences in general, I went in expecting to make dozens of connections, handing out business cards like candy from the moment the conference started at 9 a.m., all the way 'til the end which was around 10 p.m. Not quite the case.
I knew being alone would be a challenge for me, as I tend to have 150% more confidence with a friend at my side, but was surprised at just how intimidated I was. I don't know how everyone else felt, but it seemed to me that many of the attendees had cliqued off by the end of breakfast, and walking up to a tight circle of impeccably dressed and made-up women to start a conversation is not exactly my forte. After all, I once left my makeup bag packed from a trip for a full month. Plus, what social graces I did muster up were utterly exhausted by 4 p.m.
But, the important thing, as I kept reminding myself, was to learn from and be inspired by the speakers. And walk away inspired I did, armed with an Erin Condren notebook full of scribbles on startups, digital marketing and empowerment from successful men and women like Emily Henderson, Joy Cho, Jessica Alba, and so many more.
I also returned to my friend's Santa Monica apartment that night with bags jammed full of snacks and goodies from the pop-up shops and sponsors, which we poured on the floor and sorted through like it was a stocking on Christmas morning (I am in my twenties and cannot pass up anything free.)
All in all, I would certainly attend again, but would bring a friend and go out of my way to save a seat for any introverted loners in attendance. 'Cause we've all been there. Right...?
Anyway, let's dive into the juicy stuff – what did I hastily scribble down in my free notebook? There are some real gems below. I clearly took selective notes, as some sessions are missing entirely (my b), but what I did jot down was pretty much gold. I even included a few quotes for your learning pleasure!
I was on Track One, which included the following sessions:
- She Means Business: The Balancing Act of Mother and Mogul
- #WEDDING : Capitalizing on the Business of Bridal
- STARTUP 101: Breaking Down Raising Money, Scaling, & Making Your Mark
- Design & Digital: A Match Made in Dot Com Heaven
- Keynote: Jessica Alba of The Honest Company (interviewed by Katherine Power and Hillary Kerr of Who What Wear)
- Keynote: Rachel Zoe (interviewed by Jennifer Meyer)
- Keynote: Chelsea Handler (interviewed by a woman whose name I forgot. Kim K's childhood BFF is all I remember. Oops!)
StartUp 101: Breaking Down Raising Money, Scaling, & Making Your Mark
In their words:
- "Connection is everything, and it has to be authentic." Ariel Kaye, Parachute
- "With hires you don't always need people to reinvent the wheel. You want people who've watched boats burned." Ariel Kaye, Parachute
- "Coffee is infinitely sharable, and the trending coffee shop phase took off at the same time as Instagram. But we had a strong social media strategy from day one. The same way we treated developing our menu and customer service strategy we had a focus on social media that we stuck to. When not that many people were following or engaging with us, we didn't get upset or change it all up. We stuck to the plan." Josh Zad, Alfred
- Approaching investors:
- Create an evolving "vision book" or visual timeline. Include your story, goal numbers, and pictures that show what you're working toward.
- When approaching accelerators, think: why is this a big idea? How can it scale?
- On outsourcing/hiring:
- Women have guilt over delegating – let other people do what they do best.
- Invest in a sales team!
- Your first hire should be able to jump in and do everything. He or she should be passionate and enthusiastic, should want to be part of something.
- Be transparent.
- Provide a service, don't just sell. But the fundamental service/product isn't the key – it's the brand, process, service, community that differentiates your company.
- For Alfred, it's the design and infinitely shareable product.
- For SoulCycle, it's the community and customer service.
- For Parachute, it's the enhanced lifestyle that created loyalty around a commodity item.
- In year one:
- Educate customers on value (why should they pay for something they can get for free?)
- Figure out operations and moving parts (create a sophisticated back-end)
- Listen to your customers
- Take organic buzz and scale it
- Promote earned media on paid channels (higher price point)
- Use paid acquisition for lower-priced products
- Influencer marketing is essential for products that rely on separate items to be complete (like frames)
- Deep-seeded relationships = authentic sponsored content
- Be part of the industry conversation
Break Out session: CoolHaus
- Every product has to have a story behind it.
- People don't buy for taste - it's too competitive.
- When starting out, invest in things that have an immediate return.
Break Out session: Erin Condren
In her words:
- Brick walls are there to prove how much you really want it.
- Don't sweat the small stuff.
- Carefully consider using your own name - it will become a distinct character of its own.
- Listen to people!
- High road, long view
Design & Digital: A Match Made in Dot Com Heaven
- Flywheel (SMM)
- Quickbooks (Acct.)
- Harvest (Time)
- Email marketing:
- Targeted/personalized email can be the biggest source of revenue.
- Don't send email on Mondays
- Send sparingly
- Collaboration requests:
- Super short text, be direct
- Embed 1-3 images
- Put link in body of email
- Get to the bottom line - how does it benefit them?
keynote: The Honest Company, Jessica Alba
In her words:
- "There were people who didn't take me seriously-- pretty much everybody. One investor really didn't value me, the way I deserved to me valued. I could have gone with him and given up a huge chunk of the company. But because I really felt like I deserved more than that-- and I don't even know what it was or why I was so stubborn and resistant to that money, access, and distribution, it just didn't sit right. When I started a company I undervalued how important it is to trust your gut. They can't teach you that in business school. You have intuition and you have to listen to it."
- "I was super insecure about not having a college degree or a conventional education. And I really thought I wasn't smart or didn't deserve to have a seat at the table. I felt like a fraud in business settings. It took me getting over that for the company to get on its feet. It doesn't matter if you don't have a degree or expertise. Surround yourself with people who have done it before and support your weaknesses with their strengths."
- Be a company that gives back
- Have transparency in the DNA of what the company stands for
- Beautiful design and high-performance products matter
- Make sure the mission comes from a good and real place
keynote: Rachel Zoe
In her words:
- "Don’t micro-manage people. I think if you hire talented people, you have to let them be. Let them govern their time."
- "The mantra of my brand has always been: Provide aspiration and inspiration, and always be accessible. Never be intimidating. When someone shows a 20,000 dollar coat on a runway, I'm not ever saying that's what everyone needs to wear in order to look good."
- "We are so synergistic throughout the company. Everyone talks, and one part of the brand could not exist without the other."
- Passion is the key. You have to love what you're doing to be really good at it.
- Let big life changes, like motherhood, change the way you do everything else. Be flexible.
keynote: Chelsea Handler
In her words:
- "The key ingredient for a woman is to act like you belong there and believe that you belong there."
- "I’m scared right now. I could fail on a global level. But I don’t think I will, because I embrace my fear. I’m not fearless. I live in fear. I just want it to go away, so I’m constantly trying to swim toward something, with floaties on."
"I don't wanna go to Russia, but I'm interested in going, because I don't wanna go."
- Don't filter yourself. Exploit the best parts of you.
- This isn't high school anymore - "coolness" doesn't matter. Impact does.
- Just be the most honest version of yourself you can.