Written by Sam Zern
For two days, over 1,200 locals and out-of-towners streamed in and out of the bars and music venues along lower Broadway, connecting and experiencing all that Nashville has to offer. No, it wasn’t a sports draft or CMA Fest – at the Launch Tennessee annual 36|86 Entrepreneurship Festival, attendees focused their attention on strategies to help their businesses innovate and thrive.
With 51 opportunities on the agenda, there was something for every part of the entrepreneurial ecosystem. These are some of our favorite quotable moments:
1. “Entrepreneurs are mini risk advisors. You have to make a decision every 5 seconds.” - Alex West Steinman
A common thread throughout the advice offered at the conference was that entrepreneurs need to trust and believe in themselves in order for others – investors, customers, partners, etc. – to buy into their mission. At a panel focusing on key elements for scale, Alex West Steinman reminded entrepreneurs that their skills for risk assessment are embedded in their practice, even on a small scale. That practice will be invaluable to entrepreneurs as they push to scale their operations.
Here is some of the other advice we loved about entrepreneurship and innovation:
2. “Sometimes trying to get to the perfect thing before you test it and try it out is going to hold you back because investors get impatient. Get comfortable with knowing you won’t always know what you're doing.” - Aia Sarycheva, How to break free from imposter syndrome
3. “You’re going to learn way faster by just doing something rather than spending two years ideating and never accomplishing something.” - Zack Weiner, If at first you don’t succeed…
4. “We're betting on the entrepreneur - we want to see the energy and drive because we're betting on them.” - Tiffine Wang, An investor's perspective: founding teams, achieving scale, and knowing when it's time to wrap
5. “You're not just taking in capital, you're taking in expertise. You want to figure out, beyond this check, what am I getting out of this.” - Aia Sarycheva, The Do’s and Don’ts of Raising Capital
Capital, capital, capital. We all want and need it, but it can be hard to know where to start. At 36|86, numerous events touched on how to raise capital, insight from investors, the do’s and don’ts and other aspects of how entrepreneurs can secure the funding they need. Aia also offered the advice that entrepreneurs understand which type of capital fits their business. Ultimately, we learned that there is so much more to capital than the number.
Aia wasn’t the only speaker with invaluable investment advice:
6. “One of the reasons we don’t get creative about financing is the story is so powerful that you go out and get VC money, you light it and you sell it for 20x. That doesn’t happen for many businesses and the few unicorns broke our society. ... I think VC should be the alternate finance.” - Emily Best, Democratized investment and alternative funding
7. “There are certain types of business where they can be fantastic businesses and make founders super wealthy, but they don't fit venture capital. And sometimes those companies go for venture capital, and that can end up killing the company.” - Erik Rannala, An Investor's Perspective: Founding Teams, Achieving Scale, and Knowing When it's Time to Wrap
8. “Rising tides raise all boats? Well, some people don’t have rafts or boats. Maybe those people get washed away. Or worse… drown.” - Kwaku Osei, Capital that Matters
9. “Density is really important for founders because #1 it creates community and #2 that community represents all of the resources you have right at your fingertips.” - Karen Houghton, Founders + Funders + Communities
Community inside your company matters, but so does the community around it. An entrepreneurial ecosystem is a massive repository of energy and resources, as an event like 36|86 showed us. Entrepreneurs who are excited to engage in their ecosystems can build impactful relationships, which is exactly what we saw happening at lunches and between events at 36|86 last week.
Your ecosystem matters, and according to these speakers, Tennessee is a wonderful ecosystem for business:
10. “Nashville and Middle Tennessee are stacked with a lot of talented people. It’s an entrepreneurial culture which I think attracts other talented people.” - Seth Bernstein, New in Town: Seth Bernstein on AllianceBernstein’s Big Move
11. “For people who may wish to locate to Nashville, Chattanooga, Knoxville, the thing to know is that we’ve had good, stable leadership in this state, progressive leadership from both sides of the aisle, for a long long time.” - Bob Corker, A Conversation with Bill Haslam and Bob Corker
12. “Business translates. The same things that I think attract companies in the US to Tennessee are the things that attract people to us across the globe. You might be speaking a different language, but once you get through the translator, it's the same.” - Former Governor Bill Haslam, A Conversation with Bill Haslam and Bob Corker
13. “People connect with us when they know who we are, when they can see our key values and they resonate with them.” - Jordan Short, Casper, Lyft, and Kylie Jenner: The secret of thoughtful branding and how to make it work for you
We love this advice from Jordan because it gets to the heart of what good marketing and messaging means for a company. When your target groups don’t understand what you’re communicating to them, you aren’t going to create genuine connections around your business and brand.
For some concrete advice on building those connections, check out what other featured speakers had to say:
14. “Looking to win press? ‘There’s nothing that will get reporters’ attention faster than compelling data that tells a story.’ This will build trust and credibility.” - Lisa Roberts, How to Win Press and Influence Customers
15. “While brands used to be super protective of their brands (fonts, colors, etc) now influencers have helped brands loosen up the reigns of creative directions. And now we have the data to show the ROI from these partnerships.” - Jessica Peltz-Zatulove, 21st Century Retail
16. “Although it can be an unpopular opinion, I think heavy marketing spends are often just decoys to mask the fact you don’t have a fanatic customer experience. Have an incredible customer experience.” - Jessica Peltz-Zatulove, 21st Century Retail
17. “Just like a cocktail party, life and business reporting is so much more interesting when you've got a diversity of people and experiences.” - Maria Aspan, Rose O’Clock and AMA
If you could only take away one thing from the conference, it’s that your team matters. Nearly every speaker touched on the importance of people and collaborative relationships in workspaces and the ways in which creating a culture of caring for people first creates success.
Here’s how these entrepreneurs are thinking about curating their communities:
18. “We hire people for their input, not their output. You have to take care of your people.” - Paul Sarvadi, The Business of your Business: Key Elements Needed for Scale
19. “You can't just hire your way out of a diversity problem, you have to fix your home first.” - Yanika C. Smith-Bartley, The “I” in Team: Inclusion
20. “Through three very, very different experiences and three very different environments, I know one truth: it’s all about who you hire.” - Bill Haslam, A Conversation with Bill Haslam and Bob Corker