Getting WIRED: Keep Falling

WIRED It wasn’t any ordinary Tuesday. Word on the street scoped May 12th to be a scorcher – destined to hit ninety degrees in the afternoon sun. Fortunately I got to spend most of the day in an overly air conditioned conference space with hundreds of tech innovators, journalists, start up groupies, founders and other proud techstars. Yes, the 2015 WIRED Business Conference was all that – and way less nerdy than I expected. Tech is so chic these days, all the cool kids agree.

I was invited to attend on behalf of one of my favorite nonprofits, United Women in Business (UWIB), a start-up foundation in its own right dedicated to fostering education and community among female entrepreneurs and changemakers. The day’s content was truly diverse, covering everything from cannabis capitalism, gender diversity in tech, and street skateboarding as environmental hacking, to crowdfunded social architectural design, Instagram’s backstory, the future of finance, and how to go pro without losing your soul.

Watch/listen to the whole conference here but first, here are my top highlights:

  1. The head of engineering for Pinterest is a total #GirlBoss – Tracy Chou.
  2. DJ Patil (not a DJ name, it’s real) is the US Government’s Chief Data Scientist (we have one!), working on new ways to leverage data for improved healthcare and personalized medicine. One day we could be using bioinformatic data to create custom individualized treatments for conditions and injuries based on genetics.
  3. Mike Krieger, co-founder of Instagram, taught us that #DogMom was trending on Mother’s Day while #OnFleek is also on the rise. He’s all about the power of UGC – citing Instagram’s 300 million users each month who upload 70 million photos a day. He’s passionate about how a photo can start on Instagram and make it’s way to the cover of TIME. Krieger’s biggest hope is that the platform will create more empathy across the world and strengthen human connection, citing the #NepalPhotoProject as a prime example. What’s next? Private messaging will become easier to use, and a new feature will send notifications when your favorite accounts make updates to keep you in the loop.
  4. Did you know Anna Todd wrote One Direction fan fiction on Instagram while working at an Austin make-up counter? Her work has since developed into a NYT Bestselling novel after finalizing her writing on Wattpad, the YouTube of ebooks. She used Wattpad to crowdsource pieces of the plot and even her book’s cover art.
  5. Financial advising startup Wealthfront predicts that all of us will utilize an automated financial service within the next 5 years and cites 20-30 year olds as the most financially empowered generation.
  6. I met the VP of Product at Frankly – which offers What’s App-type tech for any kind of custom, branded app experience you can imagine! Check out what they did for Victoria’s Secret.
  7. Defy Ventures was the stand-out session with a surprise intro by legendary Seth Godin. Catherine and three EITs captivated the entire audience, likely enlisting a whole new cohort of volunteer coaches. Much deserved, MDC Partners presented Defy with their 2015 Humanitarian Award. Plus, I may or may not be in Coss Marte’s documentary (they have my release form).
  8. BIG – (super) cool architectural firm based out of Copenhagen presented on crowdsourced social design and groundbreaking projects they’re leading around the world. Have you heard of a court scraper? It’s a combo of a courtyard and skyscraper – currently underway on the Westside highwayin Manhattan behind Hell’s Kitchen. Get ready. What about building a 10 mile dryline (watch this, seriously), protective wall around downtown Manhattan to protect the city in the event of another hurricane?
  9. Brendan Kennedy of Privateer Holdings spoke to the continuously surprising nature of working in the retail cannabis industry (you can imagine). He says the end of prohibition is inevitable, and that there will be global cannabis brands within the next 5 years with federal prohibition ending in the US within the year. Keep an eye on Tilray, Marley Natural (yes, THAT Marley), and Leafly – all Privateer subsidiaries.
  10. Chad Dickerson, Etsy CEO, spoke to going pro without losing soul and how the company is approaching it’s 10th birthday fresh on the heels of its recent IPO. He plugged the benefits of being a B Corp, and how their team is SO Brooklyn that employees volunteer each week to bike-deliver the company’s compost out to a farm in Red Hook. Did you know Etsy sellers can opt into wholesale deals with Whole Foods and Nordstroms? Plus 86% of Etsy sellers are women – go girls! Think on this: if you come up with an original creative concept but use a 3D printer to create it, can your item still be considered hand-made?
  11. Pro-skater Rodney Mullen’s final words of wisdom sum up entrepreneurship best: “Most of what we do is fall – the best skaters are the best fallers” and “Whatever you do, don’t think about it too much.”

I schmoozed up a storm (without losing my voice, yay!) and plugged Praytell as much as humanly possible. All in all, the day was inspiring and knowledge-filled. It was amazing to rub elbows with the future of tech. It felt like being in the right place at the right time. After all, I was happily representing the future of PR.

WIRED

Northside Fest Innovation 6.13

My Friday the 13th started out in Williamsburg’s McCarren Park where Northside Fest set up its home base for a week-long South By Southwest-style conference on innovation, film and music. Complete with after parties and concerts galore over the entire week, the festival is in its fourth year running much to the delight of musicians, innovators, digital media nerds, start up gurus, marketers and entrepreneurs alike.

Northside Fest SwagThis year it literally felt like the East Coast hipster cousin of Austin’s SXSW had officially landed in Williamsburg. My friends over at Small Girls PR hooked me up with a badge to attend the Innovation portion of the program, where I hung out all day Friday. The panels were creatively situated nearby one another with main attractions at the Wythe Hotel, Brooklyn Brewery, Kinfolk Studios and the trade show at McCarren Park. Lucky for all attendees Mable’s Smokehouse served up a delicious complimentary BBQ lunch midday Friday. The BBQ never tasted so good but in hindsight might have been a precarious choice for conference-goers expected to pay attention and not immediately need a power nap.

The panel “Preparing to Pivot” showcased  inspiring entrepreneurs talking about their experiences with changing directions and sometimes starting over along their start-up quests. Many spoke to the fact that failure and making mistakes are just part of the start up game. If you really believe in something and are willing to put the effort into it, you don’t ever give up. On the flip side, they also spoke to the importance of knowing when its time to give up on a particular direction and change your strategy to stay afloat. Did you know AirBnB used Craigslist at one point as an early customer acquisition strategy?

Zappos’ presentation on “Throwing Out the Organizational Chart” provided an overview of holocracy. To better foster innovation, Zappos suggests that corporations will do well to model the information-sharing and communication styles offered by cities’ infrastructure. I almost understood the idea, but must admit I might never truly get it until I experience  holacracy first-hand. Talk about new age-y organizational style. We’ll see what Zappos rolls out with results-wise this year following a more full implementation of holacracy. Perhaps their case study will prove fruitful for pushing other companies to adopt new communication mechanisms and management (or lack there of) structures. What about hashtags in employee titles (i.e. #title) to symbolize the fluid-nature of each position’s description? Sign me up.

GE

My favorite panel of the day was a fireside chat (without a fire) with TechCrunch’s Anthony Ha and GE’s Executive Director of Global Brand Marketing, Linda Boff–“GE’s Secrets Revealed: Their Top 5 Marketing Innovations.” Did you know GE was the first brand on Vine? I appreciated Linda’s candid honesty about how she likes to be promiscuous with advertising and marketing agencies in search of the best storytellers. She made a nod to agencies focused on doing what they do really well, and not getting lost in the crowd of big agencies trying to do many things just-okay.

GE’s secrets turned out to not be so secret after all, but they did provoke some great insights. Be first, be human as a brand, tell a GREAT story, be helpful, and measure success by engagement. All good tips, especially the encouragement throughout to be uniquely useful and stay true to the brand’s integrity. I’m already excited for next year–expect the tech, entrepreneurship and innovation elements to be bigger than ever and attract tech stars from all over the map!

Why All The #Hashtags?

EarringsI can’t remember the first time I used a hash tag but I think at that moment I sensed my life would never be the same. Suddenly I felt like I was speaking the language I was always meant to speak. The world finally made sense, talking back to me one abbreviated thought at a time. Immediately, I was in love.

I was super late to the Twitter party because, quite frankly, I wanted to stick with what I felt good at (who ever thought you could be “good at” social media?). When Facebook enabled hashtagging, it was game over. I was off to the races. Armed with a penchant for penning all-too-lengthy mantras, I even started taking them out of posts and using them straight up in my text messages. Friends beware: a new era is upon us.

Somethings are just better communicated in short code. Like Twitter’s 140 characters, hashtags command a certain simplicity and straightforwardness that might otherwise get lost in, I don’t know, a complete sentence or narrative. Try tagging old vintage photos of people’s families or friends as little kids with things like #newswag, #thuglife, #stuntin, #hyphy and don’t even get me started on where that could really lead. At times it can get pretty #treal.

For all you late bloomers out there, don’t fret, there is help for optimizing your hashtagging! To become more seasoned in what will most certainly continue dominating social, get out there and practice. It’s meant to be fun. Get creative and try communicating with people in new ways. That’s what this is all about. Find new things that interest you using images and posts you’ve hashtagged in the past and see what other people are tagging similarly. You might be surprised at what you find and what new connections arise. What is your mantra? What are you known for? Claim your brand.  At the end of the day, social is all about building connections between the people and ideas that inspire us. Welcome to the party.