With a crowd in excess of 10,000 from various sectors of the entrepreneurial community descending upon the Hoboken waterfront on May 18, it was eminently clear that there was no ‘Sophomore Jinx’ for Propelify, following its hugely successful 2016 debut.
Throughout the day, there was a wide range of activities, including investor-founder speed dating, a startup competition, exhibition booths along Propelify’s innovation row and drone racing. There were also tasty food trucks and multiple musical performances. The jam-packed day concluded in the early evening with fireworks along the Hudson, with the Manhattan skyline across the river providing a picturesque backdrop.
Before the temperatures soared into the 90s, and finding shady spots became increasingly difficult, the day kicked off with an upbeat welcoming speech from Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer and a rousing rendition of the national anthem by the Rockin’ Redwings, Hoboken’s high school marching band.
Following the music, Propelify founder Aaron Price gave an introduction that drummed home the festival’s mantra and #hashtag: “Idle Ideas Don’t Fly.” He also stressed that among the most important goals is to “unite the innovation community and bring likeminded people together. This event’s culture is about helping each other out!”
In case you missed all the fun and festivities that day, below is a sampling of some of the insights provided by a few of the 40-plus speakers who graced the Stage of Wisdom, at the north end of the waterfront, and the Stage of Inspiration, at the south end.
A standing-room-only crowd packed Arianna Huffington’s one-on-one chat with Laurel Touby, the managing partner of Flatiron Investors. Touby was also the founder of Mediabistro, before selling the company for $23 million to Jupitermedia in 2007.
Ms. Huffington is by all accounts a very successful entrepreneur, author and syndicated columnist, and she is best known as the cocreator and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post, which AOL scooped up for $315 million back in 2011.
Last August, she stepped down from her expanded role at The Huffington Post Media Group (which included overseeing several other AOL media properties, such as AOL Music and Engadget) and founded Thrive Global (New York), which focuses primarily on issues related to health and wellness.
Below are some of Huffington’s comments during the interview at Propelify:
- “My mom led me to believe that it was OK to fail, and she taught me this important lesson from a young age: Failure isn’t the opposite of success, it’s a steppingstone.”
- “We made it sexy to be a blogger by having many celebs write for us at HuffPost. We gave them, as well as others, a platform for saying things that are important.”
- “Thrive Global explores connections between your health and performance. It’s OK to take micro steps in the right direction. I’m a serial entrepreneur and an evangelist for changing and disrupting the way we work and live.”
As CEO of PureWow (New York), Ryan Harwood presides over a premier women’s lifestyle digital media brand. It was acquired earlier this year by VaynerMedia (New York), founded by CEO Gary Vaynerchuk, a legendary local entrepreneur and a hugely popular speaker at last year’s Propeller Fest, Propelify’s forerunner.
Harwood started work at investment banking firm Goldman Sachs, but like many successful entrepreneurs, he made a sharp career pivot that resulted in his launching a small business he was much more passionate about. Fifteen days in, he hired his first two employees, both of whom were content creators, and they were off and running. Among his more intriguing observations:
- “The content distribution model has changed … from primarily email early on, when we first launched. Seven years later it’s 360 degrees of media.”
- “Women readily share good content with multiple friends online. We learned a lot early on by hosting focus groups with our target demographic audience. This helped us create the ‘voice’ of our brand.”
- “We wrongly assumed that wine would be a popular category for us and that consumer tech would not. It turned out to be the opposite.”
- “There is often lots of pressure from VCs who invest in companies, and that often changes the brand in a bad way. The best scenario is raising capital that allows you to be autonomous and free.”
- “We are fortunate to have Gary V. behind us. He wants our business to grow, but lets our company make [its] own independent decisions.”
Some random pearls of wisdom from other speakers at Propelify – overheard on the stages:
- “IA [intelligence augmentation] is a less dystopian view of AI.”
- “I believe we are getting to a tipping point where companies will be more willing to share data with each other.”
- “It’s important to treat people well in the real world, not just to talk about doing that on the Internet.”
- “Cities are going to become even more important in the future as places where we live, work and play. Just look at real estate price trends if you don’t believe me.”
- “The best and most successful companies create an entire ecosystem so they can lock in users and sell to them over a long-time period. Apple is a prime example of this.”
- “You may not like the Kardashians, but they have influence. There is an army of young women that purchase products because they are using them.”
- “Network television is going to continue suffering as everyone continues to time shift their media viewing habits, except for a few rare exceptions like major sporting events and award shows.”
- “Retailers are fast becoming showrooms for online businesses like Amazon. Tesla is shaking up the car-buying process in a revolutionary way by having small showrooms with low operating overhead and then customizing and shipping you your car.”
About Rob Rinderman – Rob is president of SMC Consulting (New York), a strategic marketing, communications and business development advisory (www.smcconsulting.biz).