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INBOUND18: 4 Inspired Moments that Founder-Led Brands Will Love

From hilarity to empowerment, community to commerce, the event boasted the kind of smarts that got us thinking: independence is how we grow better.


Last week, I sent my newborn twins to school for the first time (okay, fine, they're four, but they were just born), watched my almost-9 year old head out sans parents (with his pal down the street, whose mum and littler kid were walking in stealth distance behind them), and sent myself to INBOUND18, the inbound marketing event held annually in Boston, hosted by the crew from Hubspot

I've wanted to go to this conference for years. With keynotes from the likes of Michelle Obama (wha!), Anna Kendrick (hell yes!), Serena Williams (seriously?), and Alec Baldwin (already laughing), this felt like my kind of jam. After a quick flight, we landed and hit the ground running. Passes in hand and newbie stickers as the décor, we watched an incredibly visually cool intro called WE ARE HERE (whatever creative agency did this: props to you) then we kicked this baby off with Deepak Chopra.




I'm not gonna lie. I kind of thought this would be the one that kind of blew my mind... yet, to put it delicately, it did not. I mean, I don't even want to get into the strange details involving stool samples and affiliate links, but this one gave me event-organizer frustration. Moving on.

When people learn together, they become better leaders together.
-Julie Rice, SoulCycle

Post-guided meditation (okay, that part was pretty cool - picture a hear-a-pin-drop silent room of 20K+ peeps), we checked out the vendor area to get an eye on the latest tips and tricks, played in the photo booth (we are way too old for this, but appropriately embarrassed ourselves), and tailed the waiter with the macarons on his cart (I kid you not, he stopped just so we could get a head start on the rest of the attendees).

The balance of the event did blow my mind. Top faves, you ask?

There was Shonda Rhimes, creator of Grey's Anatony and Scandal and the badassery that is Shondaland, talking about how there's no point in being a woman in power if you're not helping other women be in power. She also talked about how much diets are just straight up not fun, no matter how much anyone convinces you that they will be. We feel you.)

There was Dharmesh Shah, co-founder of Hubspot and neverending stream of amazing nerd jokes, talking about how, upon being given the task of figuring out "this culture thing" in the late aughts, sent a note to his partner Brian Halligan, indicating that perhaps in future this task should be given to "someone that actually likes human." (Close second: when he said his study which had started on himself was immediately representative of the population upon including his wife in it, "because she's normal.")

Separately, Dharmesh was the lucky one to unlaunch their Grow Better positioning, which hit my heart in all the right places. (This isn't about growth for the sake of growth.)

There was Julie Rice, co-founder of SoulCycle and Chief Brand Officer at WeWork and self-proclaimed Mayor of the Upper West Side, talking about how much she valued training and learning in her early days, standing behind the belief that when people learn together, they become better leaders together. (Single tear.)


And there was Tobi Lütke (or Tobias Lütke as I insist on referring to him - I hate over-nicknamers, based on a lifetime of not consenting to being called Jackie) of Shopify. Tobi (okay, fine, we're going there) basically made the conference for me. 

Leading with two key philosophies - (1) commerce is an expression of democracy, and (2) we want a world with a bajillion entrepreneurs, not 5 mega-corps (okay, I'm paraphrasing, but this was the gist of it) - Tobi talked about how his goal with Shopify was to give as many people as possible the opportunity to have that small sense of power that comes from becoming an entrepreneur. (Shopify versus lattes: see above.) He talked about the lack of access to capital for the average entrepreneur - how banks need to do more, how Shopify itself is trying its hand at being a funder of entrepreneurs

As a secret economist (I know - I can't believe it most of the time either), I've always bought into the idea that every dollar we spend constitutes a vote. I spend my $20 on Amazon: I've voted for Jeff Bezos (and all that comes with that). I spend it at the bookstore down the street (shoutout to Queen Books), I'm voting for the independent.

But it's not the online-versus-real-life that is the point for me - indeed, quite the opposite, I'm a huge digital girl and love seeing entrepreneurs powered up with digital prowess through stuff like our coaching for entrepreneurs. Rather, it's the independent-versus-behemoth thing that I'm all about. I want the independents to win - and I know that they need all of us to even start making a dent. And it's not just some childish thing about the little guys. In independence comes a longer-term focus - which leads to better outcomes in the economic, employee, environmental, and social realms.

Short sighted, P&L-only-thinking just isn't the playground of the independent.

Independence is how we... grow better.

(See how it came full circle there?)

Whether it's a vote to have walkable access to your own little curated library, a vote to place economic value on creative work, a vote for local food and culture, a vote for someone who builds products that are made to last, a vote for sustainable materials, or even just a vote for someone whose "purpose" isn't concocted by a multinational brand agency, but by a real life founder who means what she says?

I'll cast that vote every day.

Image props: Photo by Nathaniel Schuman on Unsplash.

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