Today was all about culture for me.  Simeon and I attended a panel which our host, Natalie Cofield (@ncofield) of the Capital City African American Chamber of Commerce (CCAACC) was speaking on: The Importance of Diversity in Austin’s Tech Community.  The panelists and moderator talked about Austin as an interesting space for technology, the Silicon Hills that is growing fast, but there is a clear need to attract more minority residents (only 8% of Austinites are African American) and nurture technical skills and the spirit of tech entrepreneurship among them.

Of course, to any Kenyan in the audience, the solution was simple: you need an iHub in Austin for the minority community! The CCAACC is already on their way and about to launch their own incubation space to do just that.

After that panel, we headed over to the CCAACC offices where this incubation space will be hosted.  So far, SXSW has been interesting, cool and inspiring.  But the atmosphere at CCAACC was completely different.  @djhellayella was spinning some amazing hip-hop and old school tracks, there was a huge soul food barbeque buffet with BBQ sauce by the gallon and although there were dynamic and accomplished big and small businesses showcasing the amazing work they were doing in the tech scene, somehow, the event had a warm, fun and family-oriented vibe to it.  Natalie was giving out more hugs than handshakes.  Suddenly, everything else I had experienced so far at SXSW felt a little cold and clinical by comparison.

As I left what felt like a techie block party, I began to wonder what it would be like to work at the CCAACC and what I could do to make eLimu a “fun” place to work and realise big dreams at the same time.

I headed over to a panel at the Hilton dubbed BABY GOT (FEED)BACK: Measuring up with Hubspot, Sharethrough + Hotel Tonight.  The panel was moderated by Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup.  I thought Eric would be the star of the show, but instead there were 4 startup founders who gave 10-minute presentations that summed up how they did it and what they learnt.

The most powerful presentation for me was by Dharmesh Shah, founder of Hubspot.  He spoke about the importance of culture in an organization and raised some points I never considered:

  • PRODUCT is to MARKETING like CULTURE is to RECRUITING
  • Culture is not having beer and a ping-pong table
  • Culture won’t “just happen,” you have to create it
  • Create a culture you want, not the one you think you should have
  • Cultural debt will be more expensive than technological debt

6 important questions to help you define the culture of your organization:

  1. What are we doing?
  2. Why are we doing it?
  3. What do we believe?
  4. Who do we want joining us?
  5. How do we get them?
  6. What does success look like?

I am certain that the people who have interacted with the CCAACC get a sense of the culture they are promoting: one of support, warmth, fun and neighborly love.

Culture is what I feel has been missing at eLimu.  I had assumed everyone who came on board as an employee, volunteer, intern, partner or customer spent 5 minutes with me and realized how and why we do what we do.  Not true.  And most of the struggles I have had recently might boil down to not having defined and communicated it clearly.

I ended the day at another organization that has definitely nailed it’s culture: The Salt Lick in Driftwood.  This BBQ joint is the biggest restaurant I’ve ever been to and has a beautiful story behind it that they are keen to share with their team and customers.  Diners are even free to bring their own drinks to the restaurant with no corkage charge!  The most popular item on the menu is the “Family Style:” all you can eat beef brisket, sausage, pork ribs, potato salad, cole slaw and beans.  The staff all shared a culture of enjoying what they do and making their patrons feel at home.

As we waited for our food, our waitress brought over 10 glasses of water and our cutlery.  She dropped them at one end of the table and asked us to “please pass these down, family style.” She had clearly internalized the culture of The Salt Lick and that’s why we all had a fun night; beyond the delicious food, the culture of The Salt Lick created an atmosphere that is fun, laid back and “Family Style.”

South By South West – Day 2

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