2013 GROW Conference links design thinking and entrepreneurship

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Here's what I tend to say to everyone: Canadians, and more specifically people in Vancouver, have an opportunity to shout out loud about what's happening there and why people should come. If they can start working a little more closely together as opposed to individually, they'll be heard a lot more. Everyone tends to do things on their own, which is a huge surprise because that's not how the Valley works. The Valley will actually stand up and support each other, get together and help shout. Whereas I've learned that across Canada, people tend to shout individually. We can do a lot more good bragging about our successes; supporting each other’s successes; promoting each other more and having open arms when people come to town. If you open up your arms to every single person that comes to town, and you show them the best time ever… guess what's going to happen: Everyone is going to have the best experience and go home and talk about it. That's the social leverage you can have and that value that you can provide to people. If people leave there saying, "Wow! The people here are so warm and welcoming. They just wanted to take me out, they wanted to show me around and show me a good time. And you know what's really cool? Everyone gets along so well." That would be an amazing thing. I was actually told recently that somebody took notice of the fact that everyone at GROW Lab, Launch Academy and all our different groups, get along so well and that it felt like a family being around us, and what a pleasure it was for an outsider to be around that. 

Speaking of shouting out loud, I was looking at your tweets and you retweeted this from Dave McClure of 500 Startups: “It’s laughable we worship Silicon Valley as the Mecca for startups, given how functionally illiterate the valley is @ marketing” Is it true?

The people who are building the products are engineers and developers. They're amazing at building products but they're not that amazing marketing products because that's not what they do for a living and that's not their skill set. It's never been. Marketing has never been important to these people before because they were the first ones to build anything and no one could compete with them. Now technology is becoming a commodity and so when you have a commodity-based market like that, you have to be an expert in marketing and branding in order to differentiate and rise above the noise.

How does marketing and design thinking intersect?

I'm not sure if marketing is a subset of design thinking or vice versa but the process of design thinking incorporates the strategic thinking that goes into marketing. It sets it up. When you follow a design thinking process, it sets you up to strategically think through all the things you need to do in order to execute. It's not just about building a great product, it's about how you will market that great product to those customers because now you've figured out who your customers are because of the process. So now you've got a framework that allows you to have a "marketing first" attitude. A lot of designers and developers today are talking about "building mobile first," which is thinking about what type of business you're going to have or what you want to have, and where your customers live. Do they live on their phones or do they live on the web? Are they eventually going to live on the phone? If so, you should think about your product with a "mobile first" thinking. You design it to be seen on the mobile phone as opposed to just being built on the web. For instance, we built the GROW Conference site with a "mobile first" thinking so that people can experience it better on their mobiles.

What do you think Vancouver tech startups can learn from this? How can they incorporate and value marketing as an integral part of their launch plan for their new products?

That's what McClure was talking about is people need to understand and believe that marketing matters, first and foremost. If you don't actually think it matters or you see it as, "Yeah, yeah we'll build it first" that means you don't actually believe marketing matters. If you truly believe and understood marketing and branding and how it matters to your business, you're going to have a plan and you're going to think it through. I actually think that there are several very smart marketers in Canada who really do understand this better than most. Sometimes people tend to follow the Valley a little too closely and they might actually say, "You know what? You just need to put out a great product." And you do have put out a great product but the problem is when you have a bunch of great products that no one's ever heard of. And then what happens? The customers still don't know about them and god forbid, the guy with the crappy product has a great marketer. Then what's going to happen? You're customers don't know about any of them. So they're only going to buy it from the one they hear about first. So just because your thing is great doesn't mean your customers are going to find it.

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