Each year Mark Littlewood and his team put together two Business of Software conferences. One which is hosted in Boston, and one which is hosted in Europe.
This year the European Business of Software (BoS) conference was based in central London (Shoreditch). The conference usually lasts 2 to 3 days and it’s packed full of interesting presentations from entrepreneurs who either own their own company, or are looking to start a company.
The conference – Day one
This year’s conference began with a presentation from Alex Osterwalder – his presentation was focused on customers and the jobs they want done. We jumped straight into the conference with a group exercise. This was a brilliant way to get people communicating. He had provided us with a scenario:
“Colgate are looking to provide a tooth whitening solution”.
In pairs our task was to interview one another about the new product and write down our results. This was the eye-opener for a lot of people in the room.
The idea of the exercise was to show how to ask the right type of question when carrying out product research. The majority of attendees incorrectly focused their questioning around opinion rather than fact, for example, “Are you interested in this tooth whitening solution?”. A factual question would be “When was the last time you searched for tooth whitening?” He accompanied information with a fact: 7/10 new products fail, largely because businesses focus on getting the wrong information when carrying out product research.
Next up was Jason Eckenoth. This was a fantastic presentation on his journey from bootstrapping his company through to becoming acquired, as well as life after acquisition. Jason did a fantastic job explaining all of his thoughts and feelings along his journey and how he had to think about the staff at the company as well as himself. He went on to discuss the key stages to saying Sovereign to the company.
- Commitment to evolving leadership
- Long term product roadmap
- Some chips off the table
Jason’s talk was followed by a fantastic presentation from Peldi the CEO of Balsamiq – Everything changes with Employee 25. The presentation started with something Peldi had learnt from a Joel Spolsky article: the four pillars of organic growth. Joel’s article explains that the four pillars of organic growth are Revenue, Head Count, PR and Quality, and that they all need to grow at the same rate as one another in order for the company to be successful.
Balsamiq is now at employee 25 which has required putting a more clearly defined structure in place for the way Balsamiq organise themselves. Throughout his presentation, Peldi explained how he has formalised the way they do things, which included updating their current handbook, coming up with clear team roles within the company, and changing the way they carried out their quarterly reviews so that Peldi does not have 100 meetings a year in quarterly reviews alone.
After a quick break and some more networking we carried on with the afternoon’s sessions. First up was Kirsten Butzow with her presentation on dysfunctional teams and how the wisdom of the leaf cutter ants in the amazon rain forest could help you over come this. Kirsten explained that she was once in a dysfunctional team who hadn’t communicated correctly or worked well together which had led to a failure with a release of their software. She needed a way to bring the team back together to make sure something like this would never happen again. She referred to the information she had learnt from a David Attenborough documentary on ants in the Amazon rain forest.
To finish off day one the there was a Q&A with Jon Reynolds the CEO, Co-founder of Swift Key. Jon had discussed some of the key points in his entrepreneurial journey including some of the things he would have done differently with the benefit of hind sight. He also briefly discussed how SwiftKey had been acquired by Microsoft.
The Conference – Day two
Day two had a slight change to the schedule, and it began with a talk from Scott Eblen – the Director of product management at Twitter. Scott was discussing why and how successful product management requires a degree of lateral thinking and willingness to change or ignore conventional wisdom and instead focus on associative thinking by looking beyond your industry and by watching what’s around you. Some of his key points were that we should focus more on learning over shipping, execution over innovation, owning the story instead of the roadmap, and being data savvy over being purely data driven.
The next talk on the agenda was from Dupsy Abiola, CEO, Founder of Intern Avenue. Dupsy shared five of the rules she lives by and she discussed the stories behind them – Her five rules were:
- Fortune favours the bold
- Avoid BOZOS(Beligerence with out backup Opaque lack of transaparency Zero progression over time Ongoing energy drain Silent before and after a storm)
- Trust yourself and find your crew
- Keep dimensions
- Embrace failure as success tax
- Always aim High
After a quick break for lunch the next talk of the day was from Simon Johnson – The General Manager at Freshdesk. Simon was talking about how important and how difficult it is to establish a presence in new territories. He had gone into details of some of the issues he had to overcome and their journey of getting to their new office in Covent garden.
Next up the Lightning talks – The lightning talks have always been one of the highlights of the Business of Software Conference. They follow a simple, but challenging, format – every speaker gets 15 slides and 30 seconds per slide to talk about a subject of their choice. This year we saw talks from:
Doerte Letzmann- Doerte’s Guide to Making Your CTO Assistant’s Life a Misery
Doerte is the assistant to the CTO at Redgate Software, she was discussing the difference a CTO can have by having an assistant.
Peter Coppinger – We don’t need No Stinking Sales Team
Peter is the CEO of Teamwork. He was sharing his experience on when SaaS companies should invest in a sales team. He went on to say that in hindsight he should have invested when he had reached the $4 million mark.
Jon Torrens – Pitch like a Jedi Master
Jon is a Coach and Speaker. His lightning talk was about the importance of making sure your company has a story. Once you have your story you need to make sure that all members of the team can tell the story with enthusiasm along with the difference it makes in a pitch.
Anna-Jayne Metcalfe – Everything’s Fine
Anna-Jayne is the CEO Founder of Riverblade Software. Anna-Jaynes talk was about how to help deal with a crisis by understanding how our minds work.
To finish off the conference, Vince Darley presented his talk on how to help make complexity simple, and the importance of not taking data findings at face value. If you dive deeper into your findings you may find that the data has misled you and that actually the opposite is true!
I love this conference because you are in a room with people who are willing to share their story with you, including their mistakes. The mistakes are the parts you usually don’t get to hear from people who have successful companies.
Each time I have returned from the conference it takes a day or so to process all of the information. However, it always gives me ideas which I can take and apply into the company.