In late June 2018 I attended HustleCon. This is an event produced by the same folks who entertain and inform us with The Hustle newsletter (which I wrote about in my round-up of life-changing newsletters). HustleCon brought together a few thousand seasoned entrepreneurs, wannabe entrepreneurs, and other interested parties to discuss the highs and lows of starting and running a successful business. Here are a few of my thoughts on the event.
Since the event took place at the Paramount Theater here in Oakland (where I live), it was an easy trip on BART. I’d actually never been inside the Paramount before and it’s GORGEOUS (I especially loved the bamboo motif in the women’s powder room on one of the top floors). Discovering local beauty = a definite win.
• Single track
I’m a big fan of the single-track format for conferences. This way you don’t have to experience FOMO wondering if one of the other sessions is better than the one you chose to attend, and it means that you’ll have plenty to talk about with other attendees since you’ve all experienced the same content.
• Reasonable price point
There’s a slight caveat here: I bought my ticket as soon as HustleCon was announced, so the price was extremely reasonable at that moment (around $150). The prices do increase significantly as the date of the event draws closer (I think they were around $500 about a week before the event), so if you’re thinking about going to the next one, I’d suggest jumping on a ticket right away to score the best possible price.
• Some surprisingly refreshing speakers
Since I’ve been reading The Hustle‘s email newsletter for a few years now, I feel like I have a sense of their voice. It tends to skew young, male, and focused on Silicon Valley. That’s not to say that they don’t report on other things, but that encapsulates the general focus of their newsletter, and HustleCon was similar. Some of this verges into “Cons” territory (see “Lack of diversity among speakers” and “I am probably not the intended audience,”) but there were a few speakers who stood out with messaging that was unexpected and eye-opening.
One of my favorites was Blue Bottle founder James Freeman, who spoke on the importance of maintaining the integrity of his product and customer experience—even when that meant walking away from revenue. He also managed to work an existential quote by Kierkegaard into the mix and blow a kiss to his adorable daughter who cried “Papa” with delight when she saw him on stage.
Another speaker who really impressed me was Pat Brown, the founder of Impossible, the company that’s brought us the Impossible Burger. I wasn’t expecting to get schooled on environmentalism and food choices in this setting, and it was really awesome to have someone speak eloquently on the environmental impact of eating less meat and share his approach to solving this problem.
I also enjoyed Lisa Stone, Chief Strategy Officer at Ellevest, who spoke about the importance of adapting financial planning advice to women and hiring women for executive roles at companies. Since Lisa was the first speaker of the day, I got all excited thinking that there would be more messages of inclusion throughout the event, but sadly she proved to be the exception, not the rule. (Which I’ll cover a bit more in the cons section.)
• Uninspiring food/snack selection
It seems a bit silly to complain about this, but food and drinks are a big deal! Breakfast was provided, but it was (to me) an odd combination of hard boiled eggs, donuts, and yogurt. Luckily I remembered having a similar reaction to the food served at the previous Hustle event I’d attended, ConCon, so I ate breakfast at home first. During the afternoon break, the only snacks available were bags of chips, which again were not appealing to me. So my recommendation would be for a wider variety of food options and definitely more healthy choices.
• Lunch is not included
This is also a minor complaint, and not too big of a deal for me since I’d scored one of the cheaper tickets. But it seems a little crazy that people who bought those last-minute $500 tickets would also have to shell out for lunch as well. I suppose given my lack of enthusiasm for the breakfast and snack options, in the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t so bad that I was on my own for lunch.
• Lack of diversity among speakers
Okay, so this is my major complaint, and after noticing the same issue at ConCon, I’m afraid it appears to be a trend with Hustle events. Out of 14 speakers, only 3 were women. This is really unfortunate, since I think it sends the message that women either can’t be successful entrepreneurs or don’t have important stories to share. And I know that neither of those things are true. Similarly, there were very few people of color on stage, which again sends a message that I don’t think is actually true.
The lack of diversity among speakers is something that was really apparent and disappointing to me, especially in contrast to World Domination Summit, where Chris and the other event organizers do a really amazing job of trying to represent a broad range of perspectives on the main stage.
I don’t know if this was something the Hustle team was aware of and tried to correct but couldn’t, or if it was just an oversight on their part, but I really hope that at future events they’ll do a better job of having more diversity among their speakers.
• Lots of short sessions means nothing can be too in-depth
I get it—we live in a fast-paced world and most of us have the attention span of a gnat who just drank an espresso and—SQUIRREL! Wait a minute… where was I? Yeah, there are a lot of things vying for our attention and it’s wise for event organizers to take that into account. But at the same time, since almost every session—whether it was a single presenter or a discussion between Hustle CEO Sam Parr and another founder—hovered right around the 30-minute mark, there couldn’t be a ton of depth. Most presenters had to speak in broad strokes and generalities, although I thought a few of them managed to focus in on unique angles and insights.
• I am probably not the intended audience
It’s a little funny because I never used to think of myself as entrepreneurial, and yet I am now self-employed as a freelance writer, editor, and content marketer. So I suppose I am at least a little entrepreneurial! At the same time, I’m not looking to get funding or go through the typical startup lifecycle. I’m not sure if this means that there’s a mismatch between the Hustle’s intended audience and who I am, or if it’s another case of them overlooking a potential perspective to include. If they were to offer sessions on how to start out as a solopreneur or how to run a successful freelance business or side hustle, I would be all over that! But I just don’t know if that’s within their scope.
Would I go again?
Despite some of my complaints, I enjoyed getting to see the speakers and learning about some of their struggles and successes. Most of the fellow attendees I spoke with were friendly and down-to-earth, although I didn’t meet anyone I really connected with or see myself staying in touch with afterward. Because of the close proximity to where I live and the reasonable price point, I’d definitely be willing to give HustleCon another chance, but I really hope they’ll make serious strides toward a more diverse speaker lineup next time!