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10 Lessons for Small Businesses from the 99U Conference

As you might have seen on our social media accounts, we took our first official "business" trip this past weekend to New York City, and oh my gosh, it was amazing! Aside from seeing the energizing city and being in tourist mode, we were most excited to volunteer at the 99U Conference.

The 99U Conference is about building a career in creativity and is a "one-of-a-kind live experience that inspires creative professionals to bring their ideas to life and shape the future of the industry." With speakers from companies like Air B&B, Instagram, Pentagram & more, we were so honored to be chosen as volunteers for such an inspiring event.


So - here's what we're bringing to you: 10 lessons we learned at the 99U conference that you can apply to your small business today!

1. Choose your clients intentionally.

Irene Au, Design Partner at Khosla Ventures, spoke eloquently on the importance of choosing your clients with intention and to be on constant lookout for their needs so you can recognize them before they do. She also discussed the benefits of keeping your mind open to opportunities because you literally never know where you might find them!

2. Use critique to your advantage.

This tip came from Natasha Jen, partner at Pentagram, whose client list includes Harvard and Chanel. She stressed the importance of using critique to push yourself to the next level. Take in all of the criticism that you can (without taking it personally) and use it to make yourself better and improve your product or service to ultimately grow your business.

3. Generate an emotional connection.

Ian Spalter, head designer for Instagram, advised listeners to ensure your brand generates an emotional connection for your customers. In order to differentiate yourself, your brand needs personality. Personality is what makes you unique and brand personality will make your brand unforgettable.

4. Not all paths are straight and not all meanings are apparent.

Farai Chideya, author of The Episodic Career, a popular novel where she considers how we can all navigate our work lives in "the age of disruption" reminded us to look at the bigger picture and think outside of the box when it comes to problem solving and life/business navigating.

5. Never opt for a solution that's more creative but less effective.

These important words came from Steve Belsky, the entrepreneur behind Behance and 99U who has helped millions of creatives and business leaders make their ideas happen. Basically, if it isn't broken, don't fix it. Always opt for the most effective way to run your business and reach your customers.

6. We lose if we remove friction from experience.

Steve Selzer of Airbnb spoke of the importance of (some) friction in processes. If we make things too easy and too convenient for our clients, we might unintentionally allow our clients (and ourselves) to miss out on the opportunity for personal growth and discovery.

“What do we lose when we remove friction? When we remove all friction, we remove opportunities for serendipity, confrontation, and personal growth” - Steve Selzer.

7. A person's success in life can often be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have.

This life/business lesson came from author Tim Ferriss and although not always easy to do, asking questions others may be afraid to ask, and frankly, putting yourself "out there" as often as possible, can only aid you in developing as a person and business owner.

8. Courage matters more than confidence.

Debbie Millman, host of the popular podcast "Design Matters" inspired us to take risks and have the courage to believe in ourselves and our businesses. She reminded us to use failures as stepping stones to success and to have the courage to try again in the event you veer off your original path.

9. The only unit of time that matters is heartbeats.

These touching and inspiring words are from Paul Ford, founder of Postlight. What we took from Paul's speech was this: don't wait for the right time. Start now, start before you're ready, just simply start. If you have a brilliant idea, a business you want to start, a service to offer, GO DO IT. You only have one life to live. Make it meaningful, and make it count.

10. Stay inspired and never give up on your dreams.

New York City itself reminded us of this. it's not often we find ourselves sleeping only 4 hours a night yet somehow waking up with so much energy and intention. There's something about the city and its people that makes you so bright-eyed and feel hopeful and inspired.

Feeling "stuck" in your business or life? We highly recommend and encourage you to seek inspiration in new and different places, get out of your comfort zone, shake things up and connect with other people in your industry. You can either keep thinking about "one day" or make this day one of your journey.

Thank you to Adobe, Behance and 99U for an incredible experience! We're already excited for next year! ​​

Happy Dream Chasing,

Becca + Jenna


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