GROWCO 2016: A Recap from the Field

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By Taylor Collison, EO’s Marketing Manager

Author’s note: EO has a partnership with Inc. Magazine, and we were fortunate to have attended the GROWCO event in Las Vegas this year. The conference was designed to provide a variety of takeaways for entrepreneurs at all levels. All opinions in this article are my own and do not necessarily represent those of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization; this article has not been edited by Inc.com.

Inc. Magazine has a reputation for being able to put together a program that will impact and impress any entrepreneur; this year’s GROWCO was no different. All of the speakers had their own, unique stories to tell, colored with valuable insights on how to grow a business from the ground up.

Over the course of three days, the audience was engaged during every presentation, and a powerful lineup of speakers and breakouts allowed for learning in each and every session. The most poignant theme I noticed during many of these presentations centered on authenticity and its importance in the entrepreneurial journey. Here are five speakers’ personal views on building an authentic company.

Blake Mycoskie, Founder and Chief Shoe Giver of TOMS Shoes

Whether you’re building a brand, pitching your business, or just developing a relationship with an individual customer, be authentic. This tidbit came up during the Mycoskie’s keynote speech. The concept behind TOMS  was born from a trip he made to Argentina. He participated in a shoe drive, and it was at that point he saw a need for a unique business model. Yet the plan was never to create company that has grown to where it is today.

TOMS, the “One for One Company,” has a mission and vision to give away a pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair sold and currently does so in 70 countries. It’s this very mission to which Mycoskie stays true. Blake shared how being authentic has been the key to gaining support from his loyal customers, many of whom have become brand advocates because of their alignment with this mission.

Alexis Ohanian, Co-founder of Reddit

Mycoskie definitely wasn’t the only one to emphasize the importance of authenticity – the theme was just taking off. As Ohanian spoke, he referenced the “Age of Authenticity” and implied that if you can embrace this, you will find your success – something Reddit has done well. His journey at the helm of Reddit, an online community that also serves as a news website, has taught Alexis the value of remaining true to his vision.

As he says, first versions of your company or idea do not have to be perfect – they just have to solve a problem. Of course, Reddit has gone through many changes over time, but it’s their commitment to the vision of the company that has strengthened their relationship with their users. The site now stands at over 500 million monthly users, giving credence to another point he emphasized: authenticity scales.

Jillian Michaels and Giancarlo Cherisch, Co-founders of Empowered Media

These two co-founders participated in a very practical discussion for the benefit of many GROWCO attendees. Countless businesses are being built through the use of other platforms, such as YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, etc. I personally thought of several businesses I know who have created value solely through existing online channels. However, Michaels and Cherisch argued that business owners shouldn’t rely solely on those resources, which caught me somewhat off-guard. Michaels explained it’s good to use those sites to build a following and an audience, as long as it points back to a platform you can control (ideally your website). In essence, you are a “hostage” to these other platforms if you only host your content there. She went on to say that “authenticity and results are what matter”; a platform that you control is as authentic as it gets, and Michaels believes that is what’s important as you’re growing.

Rebecca and Uri Minkoff, Co-founders of Rebecca Minkoff LLC

These siblings have built a successful fashion brand together and took the stage to discuss the strategies they’ve implemented to improve sales through the use of technology. For example, they’ve taken the best aspects of e-commerce and combined it with retail stores to create a one-of-a-kind experience when you shop. Certain stores will allow shoppers to request different clothing sizes from the dressing room, adjust lighting to simulate how things look in different environments and even pay.

After demonstrating this experience via video, Rebecca said, “When you do something different, it works.” This was yet another example of an entrepreneur taking an authentic approach to their business and seeing a return. It wasn’t just the technology either. Rebecca and Uri each elaborated on their engagement with customers and how valuable it is to create an open dialogue with them. Being the first of their kind to do so in fashion, this paints them as a genuine brand that customers can truly connect with.

Rainn Wilson and Shabnam Mogharabi

When the co-founders of SoulPancake began their interview with one of Inc.’s Executive Editors in a session appropriately named “Why It’s Important to Make Stuff that Matters,” the two highlighted how storytelling has impacted their media and production company. As Wilson noted, “You don’t need to have a social mission in order to have a good story to tell.”

This was particularly interesting to me as he then expanded on the idea by saying, “If you tap into the authentic way of telling the story, people will respond.” SoulPancake has been able to do this since its inception, and they’ve been able to capture a devoted audience and remain true to them. They do so by working as closely as they can with their clients on what they want produced and how they want the story to be told.

Overall, it’s clear that Inc. events such as GROWCO, or the iConic series, provide immense value to entrepreneurs in attendance. The keynotes were engaging and inspiring, while the breakouts I attended offered applicable tips and best practices on a variety of areas. It’s amazing how much the program was able to cover in just three short days.

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