Three Key Takeaways from GeekWire Summit 2019

Another fantastic GeekWire Summit just wrapped up. This year’s event drew more than 800 business and technology leaders, including many of our region’s most successful entrepreneurs, startup founders, Fortune 500 executives and venture capitalists to leaders in healthcare, biotech, education, government and civic organizations. And that’s not to mention an NBA team owner (Steve Ballmer), former White House press secretary (Jay Carney), Federal Trade Commissioner (Rohit Chopra) and even a former Seahawk (Doug Baldwin).

The agenda has been jam-packed with insightful panels, presentations and fireside chats. Recognizing that many in our New Tech Northwest community are not able to attend the GeekWire Summit, I thought I would highlight three interesting takeaways from the event.

Diversity, equity and inclusion: Shift your perspective from “managing” to “leveraging”

On stage with Ana Mari Cauce, president of the University of Washington, and Marilyn Strickland, president and CEO of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, Dreambox Learning president and CEO Jessie Woolley-Wilson touched on a topic of significant importance to New Tech Northwest: embracing diversity, equity and inclusion. In speaking about how she instills these values in her company, she noted that leaders often think about diversity as something they should try to manage.

Woolley-Wilson that getting more women and people of color in an organization are great outcomes. However, she continued, “Until you have a shift in point of view from managing diversity to leveraging diversity, you’re going to be in a deficit framework. We try to see diversity as something to leverage, something that we want to lean into. It’s an asset. If we don’t have women or people of color at the table, will we build as empathetic a product?… We feel like it’s a success requirement to have diverse voices.”

Think short-term accountability is challenging in business? Try basketball.

After more than three decades at Microsoft, including 14 years as its CEO, Steve Ballmer not only owns and serves as chairman of the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers, but he also runs a nonprofit civic data initiative called USAFacts that he started four years ago. Speaking on big picture leadership lessons that he learned from his time in the NBA, Ballmer shared advice on things we wished he had known when he was at Microsoft. Contrasting the difference between missing on earnings in a quarter and losing a game, he spoke about differences in short-term and long-term accountability in business and basketball.

“The balance of long-term strategy and product development, and how it fits with short-term accountability. You always have to have a long term plan. I actually probably got longer presentations about long-term plans from our Clipper staff than I ever did at Microsoft. Maybe too much, but 50 or 60 PowerPoints, what-if scenarios… very detailed, thoughtful planning. More so, in fact, than we do in some businesses… The flip side is there is much more short-term accountability at the same time in sports… The level of accountability is higher in sports despite the way people think about business.”

Advice for growing a unicorn: Mission, vision & values guide successful teams

A panel of three Seattle unicorn startups discussed a range of leadership topics including advice on how to define organizational values, build successful teams and grow companies rapidly. The panel featured Outreach CEO Manny Medina, Convoy CEO Dan Lewis and Auto0 CEO Eugenio Pace. And, as the panelists noted, establishing organizational values early plays a key role in this success.

At Outreach, Medina shared that “having your back is a value that allows us to go out there and be… at the edge of the company’s abilities, fail, and feel like the company has you – your team you’re your back.”  On the topic of growing quickly while keeping that startup mentality and energy alive, Lewis said, “You have to learn how to both scale – find the right people who can scale – but create an environment where you don’t lose the ability to take risks and knock down walls. Otherwise, you’ll end up stagnating.”

Attracting that talent to grow comes down to having a well-defined mission. Pace explained that it “has to be meaningful – even if it’s at a small scale – from the very beginning.” Agreeing with Pace’s observation about having a well-defined mission, Lewis added, “You have to recognize that when you’re creating a new company, it’s a journey. And the people that you want to attract are excited not just about the job that they get to do, but about the story that they get to be a part of.”

With so many amazing speakers and panelists at this year’s GeekWire Summit, I’m just scratching the surface here on insights and takeaways from this year’s event. Leave a comment below and share your highlights with the New Tech Northwest community.

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