Inbound 2019 Recap

September 10, 2019 - 18 minutes read

This year I was fortunate to attend the annual spectacle held in Boston, known as INBOUND. It has become one of the premier global conferences focused on the constantly evolving world of marketing, technology and business. Attracting some 24,000 attendees from over 110 countries, INBOUND is a mecca for meeting and exchanging ideas with colleagues across industries and from around the globe. Although I’ve been a few times in previous years, this year had more of an impact on me.

Photo taken by Steve Garfield

Observations, Reflections and Takeaways

  1. The inclusion and embracing of diversity went far beyond the composition of the attendee base. This was the most eye-opening and refreshing, the degree to which they actively integrated diversity. Rather than sprinkle a few women and people of color here and there, INBOUND opened with three female hosts who took the stage to welcome the crowd and then to introduce the first big name keynote speaker, Elizabeth Gilbert. It also wasn’t just the speakers and hosts, the video clips shown in between sessions and used to introduce speakers were also much more representative than typical inspirational marketing videos. Point blank, it matters that we see and hear from a full spectrum of people.
  2. Another insight that came to me on my drive home the last day of the conference might also resonate with you. It has to do with mindset and areas of interest or intrigue – the tactical vs the higher level, big picture. Basically, this year at this conference, I found myself far more (exclusively) interested in hearing from the bigger name / headline speakers rather than any of the tactical-focused sessions. I haven’t worked it out thoroughly, but it feels similar to the concept of working “in” vs. “on” the business or the idea of “being” vs. “doing.” As a result, I didn’t come away with new hacks, “how-tos” or a revamped playbook on how to win business. Instead, each of these 4 keynote speakers gifted me with some pungent words that I ingested as challenges.

Elizabeth Gilbert, Follow Your Curiosity Into Creativity

“Choose the path of curiosity to overthrow the path of fear.”

New York Times and internationally acclaimed author, Elizabeth Gilbert, spent some time defining how she interprets the word creativity. She does not subscribe to the conventional understanding that being creative means you’re an artist or sculptor. Instead, she embraces and exudes the belief that in order for your life to be creative, it must become a work of art.

Her secret weapon to achieve this: being relaxed. How to achieve that?

  1. Priorities (who & what)
  2. Boundaries (actually are helpful to both sides of the boundary)
  3. Mysticism (a belief in something bigger than ourselves)

She spent time illustrating the experience and benefits of living a curiosity driven life. A particularly strong suggestion she encouraged is for us to trade the word “worry” for the word “concern.”

Brian Halligan, A New Species of Disruptor

“Dollars flow where friction is low” | “Measure loyalty not leads”

Over the past 10 years there has been much discussion and endless press about companies who are “tech disruptors,” meaning they have challenged or even upended the status quo of an industry by deliberate and strategic deployment of modern technologies. Many of these companies have become a part of our daily or weekly routines, like Lyft, Uber, Airbnb and WeWork.

Then vs. Now

Hubspot CEO and Founder, Brian Halligan’s talk suggested we have entered into a new era, or perhaps the framework of the era we have been in has pivoted. He introduced us to the concept of “Experience Disruptors.”

To anchor his premise, he sited what could be referred to as the alpha voice on business, known as the Business Roundtable. On Aug. 19, 2019 the group of 200 CEOs of major US companies representing every sector of the economy issued a statement redefining the Purpose of a Corporation.

This image is from the New York Times article
about Business Roundtable’s statement,
published on Aug. 19, 2019

One of the many distinctions he made between the two is how previously, Tech-Disruptor companies had to sell their software and products whereas now, many Experience-Disruptor companies enjoy a customer base that wants to buy. He emphasized the role of experience through what he calls, adaptations. These are philosophical and tactical evolutions that companies and organizations need to make in order to remain relevant to not only customers but also employees.

5 Adaptions (to shift from being a Tech Disruptor to an Experience Disruptor)

  1. Product-Market Fit vs. Experience-Market Fit
  2. Friction Filled vs. Flywheel
  3. Anonymous vs. Personalized
  4. Sell to Customers vs. Sell Through Customers
  5. Business Model Followers vs Business Model Busters

“How they sell is why they win.”

What was particularly effective about Brian’s presentation is how we walked us through specific examples of how select companies are winning by embracing these strategies. StitchFix, Glossier, Netflix, Atlassian, Warby Parker & Carvana to name a few.

Furthermore, he juxtaposed companies from “then” to “now.” Newer companies have challenged and oftentimes quickly exerted market dominance by focussing obsessively on creating dynamic experiences, far exceeding what was the market norm prior. See the side by side comparisons.

Darmesh Shah, Facing Fears: Growing Better by Growing Bolder

“Seemingly overwhelming fears can be managed by taking small steps.” Fix one point of friction. Repeat. Repeat.

Darmesh Shah, CTO and Founder of HubSpot, shared insights and lessons learned while building HubSpot since 2006. He used the lens of fear to do so, specifically contrasting what most companies fear versus what they should fear.

  • Unwavering Commitment vs. Uninspired Compromises. “A hesitation to commit often stems from wanting to hedge your bets.” The example he cited is how early on, the HubSpot team had difficulty choosing their customer, who their target market would be. As a result, they prolonged the decision, which is what he views as an example of an uninspired compromise.
  • Being different is not just OK, it’s better.” This one was fascinating. The example he used was YouTube. When they first rolled out mobile video upload, they noticed that about 10% of the videos being uploaded were upside down. After allocating resources to figure out why, they learned it’s because 10% of the population is left-handed, therefore they hold their phones and record video differently than the majority right-handed!
  • Change & CultureMany people and companies have a fear of change but they should fear stagnation. A resource he shared to learn how to communicate your culture, is
  • Your people (employees) are customers too. The product they adopt is your culture.” Often overlooked or underestimated is the true value of your people or employees (again this relates back to the Business Roundtable 8/19/19 statement).
  • The future of work = flexibility. (Geographic, schedule & method flexibility.) The best time to build with diversity, is t=0 (aka during the startup phase or…now if that ship has already sailed). Hubspot has been deliberately working to adapt to this new workforce landscape and is proud to now have over 200 remote employees. As a reference point, he also shared that the #2 search term on the careers page of their website is that, remote work.
  • Disappointing a Few vs. Not Delighting the Many. To make this point, he referred to Steve Jobs going back to Apple in 1997 as iCEO, at a time when they were borderline bankrupt. They had literally hundreds of products, arguable trying to appeal to or appease anyone and everyone in the marketplace. The first thing Steve Jobs did was to slash their product offerings by 70% and well, the rest is history. Too much choice creates friction.
  • Being Inferior vs. Being Untrustworthy. This is a common hiding place for many small businesses. It’s often more comfortable to take the easier path and fixate on a short term goal, like quarterly revenue. Doing so helps to temporarily ease the pang of fear of being inferior, but does not make strides towards building trust with customers.

Chip & Joanna Gaines, Behind the Scenes of Building an Empire

How Chip and Joanna Got Their Start

They talked about the benefits of their differing backgrounds & approaches to business and how they were able to navigate that chasm to find a formula that has resulted in their gargantuan success. Joanna spent years dreaming up ideas for businesses and writing about them in her notebook and when Chip got his hands on it, he enthusiastically and emphatically urged Joanna to take action on one of her ideas.

The Perfect Balance

Joanna intimately shared about her personal journey of contending with the very familiar to most of us (women), the fantasy of achieving the perfect work-life-family balance. Upon realizing it to be unattainable, she shifted her focus instead to the most important currency of all: time.

In Their Wildest Dreams

They never foresaw they could possibly enjoy the level of the success that they have. And they are still growing. One of the challenges they’ve had to learn how to navigate over the years is how to decide what to take on and what not to. The way they make decisions about what to tackle and what to say no to is by evaluating time. Meaning, the timing with respect to other projects they’re working on, and how it’ll impact their family life.

Bullseye: Right Between the Eyes #1

On the topic of challenges endured along the way, Joanna was incredibly forthcoming when she shared her greatest personal hurdle early on was believing her value and worth. I found myself fully shaking my head, along with all the women in eye shot. This is something many of us know the feeling of. What was particularly resonant about her story is that she said she still has to tend to it sometimes these days! That is not a dragon that can be slayed and goes away forever, it can and likely will continue to rear its head on occasion.

Bullseye: Right Between the Eyes #2

Saving the absolute best takeaway for last. Joanna brought us back in time to when she was finishing college and the years that followed. Looking back now, she is pained by the realization that she spent years waiting for her “calling.” She continued to live out dreams in her notebook, figuring that one of these days her purpose and passion will fall out of the sky and land in her lap.

Wisdom she shared: stop waiting and start moving. She said it was only after she got into motion with the first couple house flips that they did, that she realized her passion and it has blossomed into a much larger purpose for her.



*My apologies for the grainy and sometimes blurriness of these photos. Originally I was not planning to share or use them but when reviewing my notes, a few slides from Darmesh Shah’s presentation stood out to me, so I decided to include them and some other photos.