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Self-Awareness is Key: 2015 99U Conference Recap 3

Self-Awareness is Key: 2015 99U Conference Recap 3
Published May 8, 2015 by Tanner Christensen
Even if you missed the 99u Conference this year, there's no reason to fret. We’re covering some of the highlights from the two-day event right here. In this installment we look at some of the most vital lessons learned from startup veterans in social media, engineering, and broadcasting.

Whether you’re starting a business, leading a startup, or working as your own boss, there’s a lot resting on your shoulders. Not only are you focusing on numbers, profits, and results, but it’s your job to open the door of opportunity for others and to give back. In this session Anil Dash, Kimberly Bryant, and Alex Blumberg explain how the best ways to create opportunities are by sharing your story, recognizing and combating biases, and practicing true self-awareness.

Anil Dash. Photo by Mackler Studios.
Anil Dash. Photo by Mackler Studios.

Anil Dash

Co-Founder and CEO at ThinkUp

Anil Dash, co-founder of ThinkUp, explained how even the smallest details of our work shape not only our businesses, but the culture around us. This presents us with a unique opportunity, as he said, “When we say 'somebody ought to do something,' here’s a chance for us to show our values.” To share our values, we should focus on doing three things:

  • Tell your personal story. “Someone opened the door for you, they replied to your email, had coffee with you, interviewed you...that’s something that changed the direction of your career,” said Dash. Sharing your story is not only a way to say “thank you” to the people that helped you along the way, it’s a way to inspire and give hope to those who are now where you were before you received the opportunity.
  • Share your values the same way you would announce a bug fix. “We have liner notes [for albums], we have movie credits...there’s nothing like that for apps. You don’t know if it’s two kids in a garage or a big company,” Dash said. The problem this creates is it ends up covering who has the opportunity to contribute and who is being overlooked. Dash prompts each of us to treat the teams and human elements behind our work like any other update or announcement we might release. “What if Apple wrote about their HR process?”
  • Open the doors for the next generation. “This is our obligation,” Dash says. We need to be willing to open the door for social mobility rather than just career mobility. “We are so fortunate. [Our work is] satisfying, it’s challenging, we owe it to give that opportunity to other people...When we [as a society] ask, who opened the door for the next generation? The answer better be you and me.” 

The 99U Conference — 2015
Kimberly Bryant. Photo by Mackler Studios.

Kimberly Bryant

Founder and Executive Director at Black Girls Code

As the founder of Black Girls Code, Bryant shared a story of a time she was surprised by her own biases while dropping her daughter off at a male-dominated engineering club and expressing worry about whether she'd be accepted. “We all experience bias. That [situation] drove me to look at how that bias impacts how we work in the world,” Bryant said. If we’re to do our best work we must recognize and combat our biases:

  • Acknowledge your biases. “It takes a bit of bravery to admit as humans, even with the best intentions, we are undeniably—but not irreparably—flawed,” Bryant stated. “Bias creeps up on us when we least expect it. Our brains tend to pull from experiences we’ve had in order to see things in ways they may not actually be in reality.” This restricts our ability to do work that is unique and valuable. “The first step is to acknowledge it,” Bryant advised.
  • Work to change those biases. “There’s research that shows our biases can be broken...but it takes a leap from moving from sympathy to empathy.” Empathizing, by imagining yourself in the other person’s shoes or by imagining them in your shoes, is a positive way to see where biases are restricting your ideas. Bryant explained, “We must stop looking at others outside of ourselves as people who need to change. Diversity and inclusion belongs to all of us.”

Alex Blumberg. Photo by Mackler Studios.
Alex Blumberg. Photo by Mackler Studios.

Alex Blumberg

Founder and CEO of Gimlet Media

Making the sudden transition from public radio producer and reporter to founder of Gimlet Media has taught Alex Blumberg a thing or two about creating a successful startup. In this presentation, Blumberg highlighted some of the most influential things he’s learned making the lead to become an entrepreneur:

  • When you lead, every message counts. While creating Gimlet Media, Blumberg began recording his story of founding a company for the podcast StartUp. In the process, he realized the importance of choosing words carefully as a leader when what he thought he said to an employee wasn't what he actually said. What was an innocuous remark to him actually caused a great deal of stress for his team. The employee was later able to replay the audio and demonstrate what had happened. Host Scott Belsky summed up Blumberg’s point elegantly by saying, “When you’re leading and everyone is listening to you, you need to hear yourself.”
  • Share your story liberally, even the uncomfortable parts. Blumberg shared the story of how his hit podcast StartUp got started: “[I thought] this is a real interesting world nobody [was] doing,” Blumberg explained, “What I realized in putting this out there was that people could relate...deep inside every person has gone through these things.” Humorously he concluded the story by adding, “Even telling your story about your own futility in fundraising makes people want to invest in your company.”

We'll be publishing more insights from #99conf over the coming days. Stay tuned!

More 2015 Conference Recaps:

Part One: How to Fuel Collaboration & Innovation
Part Two: Rewiring Your Mindset & Avoiding Burnout
Part Three: Self-Awareness is Key

Part Four: How to Build a Business

Part Five: Tap Into Your Creative Genius
Part Six: How to Change the World

More about Tanner Christensen

Tanner is a digital producer who makes things to help creatives do more of what they love. Follow him on Twitter or learn more on his personal site:

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