Russell Simmons at Internet Summit

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The Internet Summit in Raleigh was a lot to take in for a first-time tech conference-goer. 

There were more company booths than I could count, and I literally could not fit all the swag I wanted in my bag. Ranging from branded dinner mints to sunglasses and specialized fruit infusion water-bottles (thank you Oracle, here's your plug in return), every booth had its share of goodies to throw your way. Somehow, I coped with being totally overwhelmed, and ended up learning and seeing a few interesting things. 
 

1 - Raleigh is “Cool”

This one isn’t coming just from me, the closing keynote speaker Chris Brogan came to this realization as well and mentioned it on stage. It was both of our first times in the city, and we both apparently noticed the flood of man-buns, bears, flannels (both his observations), super tight cardigans, wearable tech, and even fancy craft beers with silly names like “Sweet Josie” or something of the like. It's rapidly becoming a tech hub, even according to organizations like the CED instead of just little old me. Counterculture is culture in this tech town, and its strange to see such a hip and tech-savvy population this far in the south. 
 

2 - Entrepreneurship/CEO status isn't sexy. 

I think we have a pretty clear mental picture of what being a young tech exec looks like. Young guy, casual but hip style of dress, easygoing lifestyle because his brains are paving the way to success. You make deals by day and have fun by night. You're a bit of a star. In what was probably my favorite panel from the event, three young CEOs/tech execs (including WedPics founder Justin Miller) took on the myths of tech entrepreneurship. 

Spoiler alert – life as a head honcho at a startup isn't the sexy or cool “The Social Network” experience that we might think. Allan Gannett of DC-based TrackMaven described it as “more work and less fun than people imagine”. He went on to say that “CEO is a fancy word from the person who gets shit on, both inside and out of the company”. Everything that goes wrong IS your fault, even if you're a few degrees of separation from the problem. You might not have been the one who accidentally spilled the coffee on your router, or accidentally tweeted out something crazy offensive but you hired that person, so you're still to blame. 
 

3 - Russell Simmons seriously hates factory farming. 

Seriously. He spoke for probably 30% of his stage time on the topic of factory farming. He said, and I quote, “American factory farming is poisoning our children… It's the worst karmic disaster in the universe. It's a holocaust”. I knew he was a successful entrepreneur, but I had no idea he had such incredibly strong thoughts about animal husbandry and the state of our environment. 
 

4 - Russell Simmons seriously hates factory farming, and also has a potty mouth. 

Yet another shocker from the Simmons keynote – the guy likes his four letter words. I'd say he checked off the majority of the big ones within the first 15 minutes of the presentation. I was a bit surprised, and I think some of the chuckles I heard from the crowd mean I wasn't alone in that. 
 

5 - Russell Simmons seriously hates factory farming, has a potty mouth, but is also one of the most determined people I've ever seen. 

When asked by a member of the audience “When do you know to give up”, he replied with “I don't know”. Simmons might not be an old man, but he has one of the most intense old-school attitudes about life and business. You work hard, you love your work, and you keep your nose on the grindstone until it takes off. Period. “Stay in the hustle. You can't fail if you don't quit”. Wise words. 
 
He also does yoga and meditates twice a day. Also surprising.

Russell Simmons no shoes
Entrepreneur, author, producer, actor and more Russell Simmons is interviewed by Engadget Editor Michael Gorman at the 2015 Internet Summit. An avid yogi, he sat Indian style during the interview.

5 - There were celebrities here. 

We had both Justin Bieber and the guy who was in Accepted whose name no one can remember. That was pretty cool.
 
Justin Bieber Iphone at IS15


6 - Stop marketing to everyone. 

Alright, finally some real content. Chris Brogan is a loud, brash and uncompromising guy. But—contrary to conventional logic—that's why he's so good at marketing. The main focus of his presentation was to stop marketing to everyone. Stop being PC. Stop making ads that are totally general and non-offensive and sterile. “Stop selling to everyone, start selling to the right 1000” is the way he put it, and I think there's quite a bit of truth to that. 
 

7 - Despite big names, there was love for the little guys. 

Quite a few larger tech companies made a visit to the Internet Summit, but I was happy to see there was quite a presence of emerging startups present. In fact, Wake County Economic Development organized an entire section of local Raleigh startups. These are guys just getting their feet wet, so I thought it was pretty awesome they had such a presence at such a large event. ExitEvent has already covered all of these companies so search any of these names on the site for the scoop—EmployUs, Spring Engage, PHOTO by WedPics, Stealz, Pendo, Canopy, FilterEasy, K4Connect, Photofy and Akili Software. 

 
8 – The changing face of marketing analytics is super interesting. 

The honeymoon phase of “big data” has been alive and well for years now, but it looks like it might be transitioning into a more stable thoughtful romance. The tried and true things we used to do we're now realizing can be improved on and changed. A huge impact of sales and marketing analytics is using data to create segments of customers. Is someone an expectant mother who we should send ads for diapers? Is Jeff a Miata or a Maserati guy? 

Now, instead of just accruing data on user behavior, we should put an increased focus on quantifying and analyzing product features, according to Ben Averch of The Stanley Gibbons Group in his session “Building Enabling Systems with Data”. What about the product draws consumers to it. Is it the color? Shape? Whether it has bluetooth or not? These features, yet not often organized in a way that allows for analysis, could hold a wealth of information. Sellers and marketers, pay attention to this guy. 
 

9 - Marketing. Marketing. Marketing. 

Despite being called the “Internet Summit” and being framed around all things internet, this year's summit was all about marketing. It makes sense though, given that starting any business requires some plan for monetization. I even got a chance to talk to some of the folks from WUNC about how they monetize their podcasts (I love Criminal). Thankfully, it wasn't just a lazy rehashing of ideas. One of the taglines of the conference was about the ROI of attending, and I think they succeeded in that regard. Please let me know if you disagree in the comments. 
 

10 – ROI is everything for attendees. 

“He gave out the tools he used instead of broad strokes. He gave out the tactical things—here's the list I use to help my clients. Use these clues to help your clients. He gave the action items. Actionable items. This is how you actually use this for your clients, versus the theory behind”. Attendee Hugh Garrett of Pinnacle Creative Marketing in Florence, S.C. had some great things to say about speaker Michael King“Rather than giving broad strokes, he gave practical items that can be used right away. I took a page and a half of notes on them. I took a half page on everyone else.” 

The way he summarizes this is like finding a needle in a haystack. You might come to a conference knowing a significant portion of presenters offer you nothing, but when you find a speaker like this, it more than accounts for the price tag of a ticket. 
 

Final thoughts

Everything was a buzzword and the sandwiches were dry, but the event was a fantastic learning event for me and hopefully the attendees and presenters too. I look forward to making the trip next year.