SxSW: Opening Remarks

by Luke Wroblewski March 10, 2006

Jim Coudal and Jason Fried delivered the opening remarks at SxSW2006 and focused on the intersection of creative professionals and business. Jim began by noting that previous Web conferences had focused on how to build and design Web products. We were now at a point, however, where the conversation has become about running a successful Web-based business.

Jim had a few interesting observations about the position of creative talent relative to the business and operations of a company. Traditionally, organizations relied on outside creative agencies to provide “out of the box” thinking and develop new communication and product solutions. The idea was that talent outside the company would be less biased by the internal processes and structure within a company.

The adoption of sales, marketing, and distribution functions by creative groups making products twists this relationship on its head. Now the design shop is the business and potentially marred by the same business and technology constraints that it’s clients were trying to escape when they engaged the design shop’s services.

There are a few attributes of creative professionals, however, that prepare them for this transition. Most notable is the ability to be curious and learn quickly. When designers engage with clients they have to quickly learn about their client’s business, their process, and their customers. They need to become experts very quickly. This craft and enjoyment of learning (shared by curious people) is a key advantage when it comes time to start your own business because “design entrepreneurs” have to quickly learn sales, operations, distribution, and more. If you don’t like to learn and learn fast, the transition from creative talent to a business can be hard.

Jim emphasized this point by explaining one of the most important criteria for deciding to work on a project is the opportunity to learn something new. Good compensation and quality end products were important as well, but for Jim it was the “the curious (not the meek) who will inherit the earth.”

Jason Fried’s comments mostly echoed 37Signal’s Getting Real development process, which you can read about in their PDF book. As a result, I’ll just list a few points Jason made:

  • How do you create a business? Do it as a side job.
  • Don't be afraid to be obscure; you can fail quietly.
  • Underdo your competition. Deliver easier, simpler products that do a few things well. Making things easier for you makes the process of building more enjoyable.
  • Less time. The more time you have, the more time you waste on stuff that doesn't matter.
  • Less money. Don't need a lot of money upfront.
  • Spend your own money vs. other's money.
  • Less Software. Spread your less time & money on a few things. Leave stuff out instead of putting things in.
  • Embrace Constraints. Learn, Iterate, Adjust, Improve constantly.