Notes from XOXO Festival: Be Brave Misfits

[Note: Not a direct quote, but my rough translation of what was just said during a XOXO Festival talk by the talented Emily Winfield Martin (@MsEmilyApple, Emily recounted her journey from setting up an Etsy Account to becoming a big-time children’s book author, illustrator published by Random House.]

“When I was studying art as a graduate student, I thought i’d work in a coffee shop (however, we) live in a time when any misfit can make a place for themselves. The alchemy that make you imagination real is an audience…be brave misfits. make your imaginary thing real.”

[I’ll post photos later.]

XOXO Festival: Product design in the age of Kickstarter (Notes)

[Rough cut notes of a presentation by the creative producers of cool stuff, Dan Provost & Tom Gerhardt of Studio Neat. These are un-editied notes. I’ll add photos, links later.]

If you have a problem, someone else probably has the same one.

Keep it simple: Keeping it small gives us agility. We have so little resource, we have to stay focused. So we say “no” a lot. We can obsess over tiny details

Sell your stuff for money: You need at least 1,000 true fans (see: Kevin Kelly’s seminal post, “1,000 True Fans.”),

You can’t please everyone: They can’t design for all iPhones, so decided to create products for the latest. Build constraints into your work flow.

Learn by doing:  Stanley Kubrick said, “Perhaps it sounds ridiculous, but the best thing that young filmmakers should do is to get hold of a camera and some film and make a movie of any kind at all.”

Atoms are the new bits: Enabling technology like 3D printing and prototyping were vital in creating cosmonaut.

Keep the core in-house and outsource the rest. Know what is integral to the project. Learn what to outsource. The inclination is to do it yourself, but everything else cuts into what you like to do best. (ie., bookkeeping) Time is finite: plan it.

Make it in America. “We thought we’d have to get stuff in China. But we discovered that our capacity of product is better produced in US.” (Also able to visit and have closer relationship to manfacturer.)

Patents are overrated (for us). (However, “we’re not lawyers”). Patents are bets big companies can make, but not for a small business like us. Expense to obtain and soul-sucking to defend. (Showed a Korean knock-off). We can’t spend our time worrying about this.

Retail is not necessary. “Online sales are fine for us.” They sell things on and their website. “Our reach is global. We have sold to 129 companies.” Contrast to: Typically, you strike up a deal w/ a distributor. The problem is in the margins. The distributor takes 50%. “Just didn’t make sense to us that the store would make more than the manufacturer. “It makes sense to us (to source all in America),” but maybe not with harder to produce or ship products.

Tell a story: Sow how the sausage gets made. We showed photos of us doing prototypes. Visits with the manufacture. (Used Instapaper and Marc Arment as an example of personified products. By offering so much transparency, people feel connected to a human.)

Respect your customers. Don’t be a pain. Don’t be annoying. For example, all our prices are round numbers. Default email for opt-in. Tiny stuff shows you are on their side. Behave like the company you’d like to deal with.

Under promise, over deliver: 75% of Kickstarter projects don’t deliver on time. We were one of those. We decided them that deadlines are not a feature. Best to avoid timelines that are extremely

The Gruber effect: John Gruber (Daring Fireball) is like the Oprah Winfrey of Apple-related stuff. He has great taste and people respect his opinion. Whatever your thing is, there’s a maven out there who can make all the difference

Passion: Should be the main motivator. Make something great. That should be you motivation. Why? If it becomes successful, you’re going to have to work on it all the time.

Greetings from the XOXO Festival

Today and tomorrow I’m in Portland, Oregon, for the innaugural XOXO Festival. According to the website, “XOXO is an arts and technology festival celebrating disruptive creativity….We’re bringing independent artists who use the internet to make a living doing what they love together with the technologists building the tools that make it possible.”

While those words are inspiring, I doubt I’d be here if that’s all I knew about the four-day event (although I’m here for just two days).

So why am I here?

That has an easy answer: Andy Baio.

Andy conceived the event and organized it with Andy McMillan, creator of Build Conference, an annual event in Belfast, Northern Ireland, that is similar (but different) to XOXO.

I know Andy primarily through his link blog, a steady stream of links to things I initially think may be “cute” or “clever.” And then, months later, it hits me they were precursors of something disruptive or mind-blowing.

Andy lives in the future (and helps create it) — but it’s a future where creating new technology and starting a business or expressing ones creativity don’t begin with trying to learn how to raise angel financing or appeal to venture capitalists or get on TechCrunch or is obsessed with trying to package the “top ten ways to do anything.”

It’s a future where creative talent and personal expression connect, unfiltered, with those who are moved by the talent and expression. It’s a future where do-it-yourself is called “making” — and is worthy of celebration even if there will never be an IPO. (Although there may be some acqhiring.)

XOXO is a celebration of idea entrepreneurs who, only later, discover they are business entrepreneurs.

So, I’m here because on the day Andy announced via Kickstarter (which is on a platform he helped build) he was putting on a conference, and that it would be limited to the first 400 or so people who paid $400 to register (and others who volunteered to help), I didn’t hesitate. (I also am lucky that I have enough frequent flyer points, I’m good to go anywhere Southwest can take me.)

So I’m here because of Andy, and he’s put together the kind of event I hoped it would be:

Today (Saturday), the topic of the conference is: “Creative people of all kinds — musicians, filmmakers, illustrators, game designers — who creatively used the Internet to find their audience, build a community, and make a living doing what they love.”

And tomorrow, it’s “creative technologists who’re creating the platforms being used to rewrite entire industries, from filmmaking and music to publishing and fine art.”

And in a few months or years, who knows?