Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Entrepreneurial Bedside Manner or Why Scott Kirsner's Conferences are so Damned Good!

Well, I can answer the second part first -- that is, why Scott's conferences are so good. It was great to attend Momentum Summit today and see Scott who's a total mensch, good guy, SMART dude if you don't know him. His conferences are great because he's an entrepreneurial scientist who loves to put the best specimens under his microscope and study them painstakingly for his own edification. That is, you always get the feeling that he creates conferences which are PERSONAL, because he's fascinated in the topic and he feels a pressing need to round up the best people and learn from them.

The audience? They just happen to be lucky bystanders and I love the feeling that we're watching Scott's own personal journey of self-enlightenment, as if he were programming his own 24-hour Entrepreneurial Discovery Channel and we're all along for a fascinating ride. I've seen a few other people run conferences in this way -- Esther Dyson, Bob Metcalfe, Richard Saul Wurman, John Battell, Dave Winer and I'd add Jeff Pulver to the list (although I still haven't had a chance to attend one, but I'm eager to do so.) They are great thinkers, hungry to learn more and you can come along for the ride.

So Scott rounded up some terrific people to figure out how entrepreneurial leaders lead. I'm calling it "The Entrepreneurial Bedside Manner" An idea that occurred to me listening to all the great speakers today. When I say "bedside manner" I guess I mean, what is it that makes an entrepreneurial leader someone you would trust completely? There are many leadership qualities and we saw them on parade today. Each leader had a different take on it.

It's clear Gail Goodman at Constant Contact really knows how to listen to customers and act on that inside knowledge. She also radiates a feeling of knowing what matters and what doesn't. Key attributes for any entrepreneur.

Tom Leighton's terrific storytelling about the beginning of Akamai was all about a bunch of passionate brilliant guys pursuing an idea they loved, wanted to prove it and then they jumped right in, passionately doing just about everything WRONG, but succeeding like gangbusters. But what did they get totally right? The passion part. Their passion seemed to attract all the right people to help them test their beloved idea. And being brilliant MIT mathematicians (sounds a lot like "magicians" doesn't it?) certainly served them as well.

I love VistaPrint, so I have to admit my bias, but I actually have never met anyone from the company -- just been a very happy customer of theirs in many start-ups I've worked for. Trynka Shineman from VistaPrint knows her market, knows her customers, knows how to make them happy. Add to that solid knowledge her openness about learning about their businesses -- even the business of a very small company in the middle of East Nowhere. She honors and respects all of her "long tail" clients in a refreshing way.

When Ben Fischman of Rue La La took the floor, you got a nice big dose of CONFIDENCE. I mean, do you really want to follow a leader who's kind of uncertain and iffy about what he's doing?! I don't think so.

And with TripAdvisor's Steven Kaufer, you got that same feeling of confidence, spiced up with some wry humor, skepticism and down-to-earth "Just Do It" attitude.

And then there was ZipCar's CEO Scott Griffith, being interviewed by Laura Fitton of OneForty -- Scott, I had never met and Laura, I've known a while and think is swell. But this notion of the Entrepreneurial Bedside Manner was really born out of their conversation. Anyone who was in the room knows what I mean. They were discussing "leadership" but the media sure as heck was the message.

Scott Griffith exudes a calming, solid, trusting, wise and measured quality any leader should strive for. He gives off that excellent reassuring sense that he can make the easy decisions and the hard ones. He will be wise and methodical when necessary and fast and opportunistic when required. He makes you feel like you'd trust him to perform brain surgery on your own noggin and not even sign the release forms before he gave you the anesthesia. More than anything, he makes you know he REALLY CARES about ZipCar and getting it right. He cares so much, he makes YOU care. That's a leader. That's the brilliant bedside manner any entrepreneur should embrace.