Most business talks suck. Here are seven that have actually changed the way I work.
A lot of keynote speeches and “business talks” are bad.
They’re self-promoting, self-congratulatory and ultimately self-serving.
But when done well, talks can be incredibly valuable. They give you an insight—in just a few minutes—into years of hard work and learning that the speaker has done.
I love the efficiency of that medium, and make it a point to watch a few videos each week that I think might teach me something.
Below are some of my favorites; talks that have taught me the most about business and helped me become a better founder.
1) How Great Leaders Inspire Action (Simon Sinek)
I’ve linked to this video more than once on the blog.
In our first session with our business coach, he forced us to look at the deeper meaning of Groove, and why we’re doing what we’re doing; a question we never really have much time to think about in the trenches.
At the time, it felt like a “soft” problem. Not like a big, important business problem that had an impact on the bottom line.
But I was so, so wrong, and months of focus on our why has changed the way we do business, and the results that we’ve seen. Simon’s talk explains why it’s so important to understand your why.
2) Coding Is The Easy Part (Peldi Guilizzoni)
Peldi is the founder of Balsamiq, which I use daily, and respect tremendously as a business.
While the title of the talk might be a bit misleading, the spirit of it is really, really important: there’s a lot more to running a business than making a product.
Things that most early entrepreneurs don’t think about (from your external ecosystem to company policies on vacation, salary, internal communications and more). This stuff matters more than you might think.
And at the end of the talk, he asks the audience for help. I love the transparency, vulnerability and message of “I might be up here doing the talking, but I’d love to learn from you, too”. It’s a lesson that I try to put into practice on this blog every week.
3) The Long, Slow SaaS Ramp Of Death (Gail Goodman)
This talk by Gail Goodman (of Constant Contact) should be required watching for every SaaS team.
We all want that inflection point that’s going to turn our growth from a flat line into a hockey stick.
But the reality is that there’s no silver bullet that’s going to get you from zero to success.
It’s going to take a long, long time, lots of hard work, and doing many little things right.
Gail and her team planned for failure twice along the long, slow SaaS ramp of death, and they still managed to make it out on the other side.
It should come as no surprise that the keys to success revolved around putting their customers at the center of Constant Contact’s business. Gail explains how they did it, and how you can, too.
4) The Things I Wish I Could Have Told Young Mr. Fishkin (Rand Fishkin)
I don’t usually like the “what I would tell my younger self” content, because most of the time, it doesn’t matter: your younger self wouldn’t listen. Most of the lessons shared in that context are lessons that need to be learned the hard way; through time and mistakes.
Rand’s talk, on the other hand, is actionable for anyone, and something that I wish younger folks who applied to Groove or asked me for advice would watch.
Some of them are easy to do (spending time at one or two startups before starting out on your own), and some take more courage (like pushing your investors to be tougher on you), but all can make a huge impact.
5) Why Work Doesn’t Happen At Work (Jason Fried)
While a lot of startups rail against them, I’m not opposed to meetings.
I think that sometimes, they can get things done faster.
But I also think that meetings are far too often leaned on by people who don’t want to make a difficult decision and would rather punt it to a group. And often, these decisions aren’t even that consequential. The color of your CTA buttons shouldn’t require a meeting. Jason Fried puts the true cost of meetings into perspective brilliantly in his TEDx talk, where he points out that a one-hour meeting with eight people isn’t really a one-hour meeting at all; it’s a meeting that just consumed eight hours of productive time from your team.
Jason’s talk made me think about meetings in a new way, and influenced the way we run meetings—and how we religiously keep them short—at Groove.
6) Finding Your Way As An Entrepreneur (Drew Houston)
Drew Houston is the founder of Dropbox, another company whose insane growth is studied in business courses everywhere.
This talk is a long one, but one that I love for its richness and honesty. Like Gail Goodman, Drew makes it clear that success isn’t about a silver bullet. It’s about trying to get as many small wins as you can, every single day.
He also shares important insights on picking a co-founder; this is a video that I send to anyone who asks me for advice on the topic.
7) How To Get Your Ideas To Spread (Seth Godin)
Seth Godin needs no introduction. And as far as videos go, I think that this is his best work.
His message here—that in marketing, being very good is boring, and that you need to be unique to succeed—is something that we consider in every marketing initiative that we do.
Of course, being great is table stakes. But lots of people and businesses are great.
If you want to stand out, you need to do something different. That idea influenced our decision to transparently share our startup journey here, long before it was the cool thing to do. It made our blog unique and different, and help us to build the initiative that has today become the single biggest driver of growth for our business.
How to Apply This to Your Business
There’s a good chance that you already seen some of these videos.
But I hope that in this list, you’ve found at least one or two new sources of insights that will help you grow your business and become a better entrepreneur.
I’m curious to hear: what are your favorite talks? Let me know in the comments.