SXSW Podcast: Running Your New Media Business

One of the panels I missed at SXSWi06 was Running Your New Media Business. I’m in niche-defining mode again, so I listened to the podcast with some interest. There are two questions primarily on my mind:

  • What is my business? My criteria are that it’s a clear value, easily understood, is something I like, and is uniquely me.
  • Do I want to remain a soloist, be part of a network, or take a leadership role?

The Panelists:

  • Jennifer Robbins, Littlechair Inc — design practice of 1 person, using a few freelancers.
  • Erika Hall, partner at MuleDesign — representative of the decision to have a company with employees.
  • Evan Williams, CEO of ODEO — starting another company, taking the VC / grow fast approach
  • Jeff Robbins, Lullabot — just started a company, taking the informal “let’s get a bunch of cool people together” approach
  • Moderator: Bryan Mason, COO, Adaptive Path.

Here are some of the things that stood out to me as I listened

A reason to stay small: Jennifer Robbins didn’t want to manage people, nor did she want to have people dependent on a payroll. The business has gone up and down, through lean times, credit card times, etc…she’d hate to drag someone through that. There’s also the question of manueverability.

A reason to have employees: Erika of MuleDesign said they work with people first before bringing them onboard. It’s very important to work with people you like, because the work is intense, and you need people you can really rely on. They need to work well in a team and communicate really well when things get “tricky”. To keep those people, the comapny needs to have them make a commitment…it was very important for them to have that relationship.

Good lawyers are worth paying for.

Lay down all expectations up front. This was echoed by virtually all the panelists. In business, in terms, in dealing with employees. Assumptions, especially, can be deadly. You may not even realize you have them, because as Erika pointed out, you’re often dealing with your peers and you expect them to have similar values. Buzzzz! Maybe they don’t!

Communication Tax. With more people, the amount of effort it takes to get everyone coordinated and clear increases rapidly. Communication, even if it’s virtual, needs to be constant and continuous. You’ve also got to have those hard conversations.

Self-Lawyering. You don’t always need lawyers to move forward. Writing something down with a clear vision and having everyone sign it is enough of a binding force to get commitment.

Geez, my notes go on-and-on, so I’m just going to stop here. There are many great tidbits in the podcast if you’re interested in these types of issues. Even if you’re not a business owner, the perspective is worth understanding because it deals with common-sense issues of communication, relationships, and cooperation.