Four reasons to attend barcamp at EntreFEST 2015

Screen Shot 2015-05-19 at 6.50.12 PMThe sessions are scheduled. The speakers are lined up. EntreFEST 2015, Iowa’s largest gathering of entrepreneurs and innovators, is happening over the next several days in Iowa City.

But there’s one event in particular where you have the opportunity to share knowledge and passion with the world. I’m happy to be hosting a miniature barcamp event from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. on Friday (RSVP here).

Barcamp events are a worldwide phenomenon, and have been in Iowa since 2008. Come present or simply take part in what will be one of EntreFEST’s most interesting, entertaining and sometimes unconventional breakout sessions. The best part – it’s crowdsourced and coordinated by YOU.

What is a barcamp? In basic terms, this is the unconference portion of the three-day event where the speaking floor is open to you. Whoever shows up helps sets the agenda. We gather in small groups and have lively and meaningful conversations.

BarCamp is an ad-hoc unconference born from the desire for people to share and learn in an open environment. It is an intense event with discussions, demos and interaction from attendees.

Anyone with something to contribute or with the desire to learn is welcome and invited to join. Source

Here are my top four reasons to participate in EntreFEST’s barcamp session:

  • A relaxed and informal environment – Barcamp is a safe place to share, get feedback and exchange meaningful dialogue. Who knows, you may also make a lasting connection. Also, it’s encouraged that you move around during sessions. No one will think less of you.
  • Your time to shine – There is no better opportunity to share your passions and knowledge with the world. Maybe there’s not a topic you’re passionate about on the EntreFEST schedule. Maybe you missed the deadline to speak. Barcamp opens the speaking floor to any and all attendees for 30 minutes.
  • Meet interesting and creative people like yourself – People who participate in barcamp events come to learn, share and are driven by a quest for knowledge and learning. In other words, they’re just like you.
  • It’s free – It’s true. You don’t even have to be an EntreFEST 2015 attendee to take part in the barcamp session.

I hope to see you Friday in Iowa City.


The Evolution of BarCamp NewsInnovation

bacamp newsinnovation 2014

The sixth BarCamp NewsInnovation event just concluded in Philadelphia. I’m sitting at a local coffee shop on a gorgeous Sunday morning to reflect and one thought keeps coming back: The NewsInnovation movement has evolved into a national journalism ecosystem and incubator for experimentation.

This year 320 people – the largest crowd yet – participated. The unconference included timely and relevant discussions and connections on:

For the the first time that I can recall, I was not the only product manager at a journalism event. People – journalists – regularly acknowledged and know the vital need to understand the audience. The Business Model Canvas was mentioned at least twice. There was actually a conversation about defining the purpose of a news organization.

Those are all signs that the BarCamp NewsInnovation movement is evolving in a positive direction. When it began I was an online editor in a newsroom who didn’t know much other than publishing. Today, I’m a product manager for a media company that can create connections between people and businesses in useful and interesting ways. In the next few weeks, I will be a co-founder of a startup company diving into mobile marketing for sports teams through recreating the nostalgia of the baseball card on a mobile app. I owe a great deal of my own evolution to the people, ideas and the like mindset behind NewsInnovation.

BarCamp NewsInnovation was introduced as a way to get people doing great things in journalism together to share, collaborate and encourage others to experiment. The unconference format was intended to get away from presentations and descriptions of best practices that are showcased at most journalism conference. It was and is lead by example, workshops that invite others to participate and ‘how can I help’ conversations.

Christopher Wink and Brian James Kirk, co-founders of, and Sean Blanda, co-founder of Technically Media, have given the BarCamp NewsInnovation movement this ongoing catalyst by hosting the event each year. It will continue to evolve, and I look forward to being a part of it.

The Cedar Rapids entrepreneurial and intrapreneurial scene is accelerating


I’m not the most qualified to write about the acceleration of the startup scene scene in Cedar Rapids, let that be clear. But dabbling on the fringe while taking an intrapreneurial approach in my day job for awhile has me excited for the growth and creativity happening here.

The acceleration was on display recently with more than 100 people playing some role in Startup Weekend Cedar Rapids. It will only gain momentum with the launch of the Iowa Startup Accelerator in August and the expansion of the Vault coworking space, both of which will call the new Geonetric building home.

It was hard not to get caught up in the emotion and excitement of Startup Weekend. It’s been more than a week now to let the high fade a bit to reflect on what’s happening here and the possibilities.

Since then, I’ve had conversations on an intrapreneurial track for EntreFest 2014 and met with startup weekend team members on Major Trading Cards. I’m currently taking in all that is SXSW Interactive, including a meetup of Iowa entrepreneurs.

Three things in particular stick out from my experiences the past two weeks that apply to both entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs that speaks to the heart of the acceleration process I mentioned earlier.

Create a culture around solving a problem – Fear is a big thing to overcome in a 130-year-old media company. I see this mentality in the small team I work with everyday and it’s one of the reasons Startup Weekend was an invaluable experience for me. Solving a problem is fun and it brings people together. The question for me to help answer is how can we spread that message by example at the enterprise level.

Experiment fast and cheap – The digital world gives us access to real-time data and feedback. What more do you want? There is no more waiting six to nine months to launch something and hoping it’s perfect. Think Launch. Test. Iterate.

Celebrate success and failures – It’s that Midwest humble mentality that bites us sometimes. The more we talk about the good things (and the bad) that are happening in the startup and intrapreneurial community in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City the more it will spread and create the kind of high I came away with from Startup Weekend.

More of my thoughts on Startup Weekend Cedar Rapids

Best quotes I’ve heard at #SXSW


This is a roundup of the best comments I heard while at SXSW Interactive so far. I attended sessions and met people related to ecommerce, mobile, digital marketing, company culture and media.

“Over and over no one spends money on basic customer research. We are guessing. And I think we our terrified of what they’ll say. Start talking to your customers. We have to find out what their real needs are.”

– Kristina Halvorson, telling marketers to “Fix your shit.

“A brand is no longer what we tell the consumer it is – it is what consumers tell each other it is.”

– Scott Cook, co-founder of Intuit on Create Awesome: Empower Teams to Change the World

“Old habits and outdated expectations are holding us back. We shouldn’t be limited by physical shapes. It’s not our screen size that needs to expand. It’s our mind to adapt to new models. This is possible today.”

– Sung Kim, The Next Mobile Experience

“Trust behaviors, not surveys. We’ve lost a lot of money on surveys. Run an experiment fast and cheap.”

– Scott Cook

“The customer lifecycle is replacing the funnel.”

– Andrew Hanelly, Staying Ahead of the Consumption Behavior Curve

“Every company is a technology company now.”

– Steve Case, in his Q&A session titled The Rest is Rising: Entrepreneurship in America.

“It’s magical.”

Gina Bianchini, on what happens when enterprise organization open up to work with startups

“I don’t think anyone in high school seems presidential.”

– Steve Case, on attending \high school with President Barack Obama. Case a senior, Obama a freshman.

“How much does a hipster weigh? An instagram.”

– Joke from random dude

Random musings on product development from my first SXSW Interactive experience

sxsw_jason_1I am one of the thousands of people in Austin this week for SXSW Interactive thanks to Fusionfarm sending me down to take in the expertise, networking opportunity, beer and food.

For background, my approach to SXSW is to focus on ecommerce and marketplace strategy, development and implementation. Fusionfarm is an integrated marketing agency. I work with clients who want digital marketing services, as well as focus on marketplace and ecommerce new product development.

I’ve met a number of great people so far. The real examples people use in the sessions have been inspiring. Here are a few random thoughts that have stuck out so far:


Norman Winarsky, the vice president of Ventures at SRI International – the nonprofit institute behind such things as SIRI –  gave three simple considerations that drive new product development:

  • A real market pain
  • A great team to work on the solution
  • A differentiated value proposition

An interesting fact Winarsky shared was that SIRI came about while trying to solve this problem: How do you access web services without clicking? Twenty percent of potential customers are lost with every click.

To paraphrase: “The key is to overcome the thought that it starts with a technology. First, ask yourself if you have the means to solve the problem. Are you willing to invest money and, more importantly, your heart?”

In another session, Ram Menon, who’s Responsible for TIBCO’s Social Computing Division, said if you want technology to be adopted for a product or service in this environment is must contain these three things:

  • It must be mobile
  • It must be easy to use
  • It must be beautiful


I live and work in Iowa where adoption of product and services that utilizes digital technology can be a challenge. A theme I’ve encountered a few times is that if you swing for the fences with a new technology venture it will be very difficult to succeed. Instead focus on a minimum viable product to prove the service in a limited fashion.

There are two reason for this:

  • If you have a small team trying to go after a large market opportunity it will likely suck the life out of you
  • It’s easier to find and utilize the early adopters and treat them like gold

“Find a few key people with vast networks who see great value in what you are offering. Your best customers are your best marketers.”

More on my SXSW experience will be coming soon.


On digital product management

Product management for the web as explained brilliantly by Kristofer Layton:

“For the web, product management bridges the gap between leadership and customers on one side, and the user experience, content strategy, design, and development team on the other. Product managers develop and maintain close relationships with customers and colleagues that help them identify and plan for new product or product enhancement opportunities. Product managers express these opportunities as user stories and present them to the UX, writing, design, and development members of the team, who then identify and produce solutions to address the user stories.”

On reaching critical mass

Great quote from Dalton Caldwell.

Social networking tech press reminds me of The Three Stooges. Pretty much every day we get to read about Moe, Larry, & Curly poking and slapping each other with growth & engagement metrics. It’s entertaining, but the entire discourse is centered on who among them can build the most profitable-seeming vanity metrics from the perspective of Wall Street and advertisers.

Critical mass vs network effects

Media companies would benefit from more product development

This morning, I read Alan Mutter’s post on “A digital publishing model that works” and what stood out above all is the need for more solid product development at media companies.

Mutter thoughtfully analyzes the revenue and audience development success of LinkedIn via a digital publishing strategy compared with newspaper job classified verticals.

“While newspapers stuck with the classic model of putting job ads in front of thousands of people in hopes of matching employers with job seekers, LinkedIn leverages the full power of digital publishing to identify ideal candidates for employers – even when they’re not looking for jobs,” Mutter writes.

It’s no secret that the media industry has a tradition of slow and often closed-off reactions to market changes around once monopolized revenue streams. I happen to work in a market with a strong jobs vertical, which is atypical of many media organizations. It won’t be long before market winds create enough inertia to move audience and revenue elsewhere, I fear. Marketplace, autos and real-estate dollars were lost in the past decade by shifting from mass market penetration to innovative, audience driven solutions with targeted advertising and content models. Media companies were slow or didn’t react at all. And the obituary revenue model shift is likely happening now or coming soon, along with others.

So, what can be done? Well, I argue media companies need to invest in product development, and ideally people with a background in ecommerce and digital publishing.

There are many reasons why I feel this way. Here are three:

To balance audience-driven solutions with customer-driven solutions – It’s a balancing act that media companies have a hard tradition to overcome. In the past, advertisers drove many product decisions. Now, if the product or service is not solving a problem for the audience or creating remarkable experiences the revenue and the users won’t be there. This means actually talking and listening to users and customers before a product is put in the market.

To analyze and react to the vast amount of available data – Product developers love to react to data. Data helps create meaningful solutions. Takes the jobs vertical, for example. If there are 50 job listings for nurses in your market and those are being viewed 40 times more than any other posting a product developer can create targeted revenue solutions for customers that meet audience demands in a matter of hours, and that is just one example. I bet most media organizations aren’t looking and reacting to that type of data daily, weekly or monthly. The problem is our competitors are.

To experiment – Product managers are doers. A great quality in this makers society. Often media companies hire outside consultants with the allure of doing innovative things. Consultants are smart, and I have some as good friends. But in my experience consultants get paid by the hour, which makes them ideal talkers. They give good advice and sound direction but too many of them won’t get into the dirty details. Product developers do.

As I mentioned, those are just three arguments on why media should invest more fully in product development. Do you have examples of successful product development at a media company? Please share.

Note – I am a product manager for an agency within a media company, so I may appear quite bias. In fairness, I have worked for media companies my entire career as a reporter and online editor in a newsroom, and now as a product manager on the product, sales and marketing side working with internal and external clients.



A lesson in lean startup mentality from government

If the Lean Startup methodology can be, in its own form, put to use for domestic public policy than it can work for any industry, company or product. And you don’t have to spend half a million dollars.

The paper below – Test, Learn, Adapt – comes from a branch of the UK government who’s goal is to make government work better. It is a remarkable blueprint easily adaptable for any organization. A few highlights:

The reason – Create Value

“It is especially important in times of shrinking public sector budgets to be confident that public money is spent on policies shown to deliver value for money.”

The process – Listen

“The practical expression of this thinking includes the drive for greater devolution of policy-making, and the harnessing of markets to deliver goods and services. Encouraging variation needs to be matched by mechanisms that identify and nurture successful innovations. This includes sharpening transparency and feedback loops in consumer markets and public services, noting that these lead to the selective expansion of better provision and often the growth of smaller, independent provision.”

The loop – Measure faster

“Continual improvement, in this sense, is the final, but arguably most important, aspect of the ʻtest, learn, adaptʼ methodology as it assumes that we never know as much as we could do about any given area of policy.”

Test Learn Adapt

Media company profitability in 2013

Much of the conversation in media companies still hangs on how the organization defines what it means to be digital first. Often, it seems, the conversation keeps going, but no meaningful action occurs at any level despite agreeing that transformation must happen.

As the first quarter winds down and organizations have already adapted for sustainability in 2012, the focus at all levels of the business must now turn to profitability and survivability in 2013 based on the known economic uncertainties.

Rather than debate the meaning of digital first and why we’re still asking that question today, what will organizations – especially media – do in the next nine months so more doors aren’t closed come 2013?

Here is my two-step approach:

The business becomes the ecosystem

Collaboration, experimentation and driving shared value will spur revenue  growth. I use Dion Hinchcliffe to further my point when he says, “the value is in sustaining dynamic relationships and not fixed transactions.

I think most understand the fixed way of running the business of a newspaper, TV station, a startup or whatever doesn’t apply any longer and certainly won’t in the near future. The company must be smartly connected to customers, users, partners and its employees via digital ecosystems to create networked impact.

“Being able to elicit the network (Internet, community, shared data, whatever) to maximum effect to fuel and grow your ecosystem is thus the core competency of the digital era,” Hinchcliffe says.

Shift resources to meet the new digital strategy

Defining a digital strategy seems to be a daunting task. General guidance around the business objectives of an organization with a keen sense of audience metrics may be enough.

Using Hinchcliffe again to spur conversation, he offers a 34-point list of elements to organize the digital strategy around. It includes some of the initiatives already underway including e-commerce, mobile operations, video and content management.

Ultimately, it will be up to each individual organization to determine the viability of each of those elements. But, if nothing else, start with some and shift resources now to build a more sustainable digital businesses before the window of opportunity closes.