Startup Grind 2019: Our Top Takeaways from Airbnb, Google, ClassPass, Backstage Capital, Stripe and more

Startup Grind 2019


This past week, Laura and I attended a conference for entrepreneurs and startups in Redwood City, California called Startup Grind. With a mission to cultivate friendships and create a space for like minded people to share in their struggles and victories in their start-up journeys, Startup Grind has evolved into a massive community all over the world.

Startup Grind Core Values:

We believe in making friends, not contacts.

We believe in giving, not taking.

We believe in helping others before helping yourself.

The structure of their conference revolves around intimate interviews, Q+As, breakout sessions, and lessons from brilliant innovators, founders, CEOs, investors, and others whose work have forever changed the landscape of their industry - think Airbnb, LinkedIn, ClassPass, Stripe and more. There were also businesses that submitted to exhibit, taking the stage to do “quickfire pitches” in front of an audience of potential investors and fellow startup cohorts.

The knowledge and lessons we gained from this event were invaluable. There was an overload of information we consumed in these two short days and we wanted to share the key lessons we learned.

"Design for Startups," Garry Tan

Co-founder + Managing Partner of Initialized Capital

4 Main Pillars of Great Design:





Tan got right to the point - the pillars of great design are simple in nature. Clearly communicate what is is your do for your customers in a sensible design.

It doesn’t matter if you have the flashiest site with the most epic design elements - if you’re not immediately answering a customers problems, they will tune you out. You have about 15 seconds to make an impression. Do not be overly complicated in this moment. Be simplistic in copy. Be certain your value proposition is loud and clear.

A tip from AirBnb co-founder, Joe Gebbia, is to test out your value prop. If you’re a new business, ask your early adopters. Ask your your friends or family that are completely outside of your industry or know nothing about what you do navigate your website. Ask them if they understand what you do and the problems you're trying to solve. If they can't pick up on it in the first minute, it's time to reevaluate.

"Learning from Failure"

Levi King, Nav CEO and Founder

This guy was hands down, one of our favorite talks. He was HILARIOUS, honest and for someone as successful as himself, refreshingly humble and human.

Nav is a free way for business owners to manage their business credit and get streamlined access to financing . Before starting Nav, King has started and sold over 5 companies and continues to be a serial entrepreneur.

Our favorite key points:

  • Complete a personal 360 review. Ask your business partner, your coworkers, your friends, your family, everyone, to review your performance in work and how that affects your personal life. King points out that though you may not like a lot of what you'll hear, this kind of evaluation forces us to see when our egos / shortcomings / bad behaviors can negatively affect the people around us and in turn the success and function of our company, cohort or family.

  • Great companies aren't fueled by bosses controlling employees - great companies are fueled by people collaborating and respecting one another. If we look at one another as simply human beings, humans that simply want to be fulfilled, grow, be loved, our management issues aren't really so large.

  • Money and success do not give you any right to be any less human - especially in how you interact with others who may be on different paths in life. Respect is key.

“How to Build a Brand Like Google”

Lorraine Twohill, CMO of Google

We were a bit starstruck when this powerhouse of a woman came on stage. Whether you’re a Google fan or not, you have to admit they kill it in the brand / ad game. Many thanks to Twohill, an incredibly intelligent and creative pioneer for all women in male dominated industries.

If you watched the SuperBowl, you saw this ad featuring Google Translate. (And maybe even shed a tear? .. No.. just us? Okay).

In regards to this ad, Twohill explained the crucial balance between emotional storytelling and product selling, a strategy Google has molded into the foundation of all their advertising. In this particular ad, Google is “selling” their translate tool, but as Twohill reiterates, that’s not the purpose of this ad. The purpose is to help the audience feel something and create an emotional connection to the brand - which in turn will likely influence them in future purchasing decisions.


It can feel tempting to constantly push your work, your products or your services on your customers. But too much and you’ll lose the relationship. What we learned from Twohill was the importance of striking a balance between these two advertising strategies and how building a strong relationship with your customers is what makes a brand so strong.

“Breaking Rules While Breaking Ground”

Arlan Hamilton, Founder of Backstage Capital

After listening to Arlan's story on Gimlet's podcast "Start Up," founder Laura has been a huge fan. Arlan's approach to VC is shaking things up in an industry that certainly needs it. She invests in founders that have typically been ignored by venture - females and people of color. To Arlan, this is a giant missed opportunity in the market. We are so inspired by her work and drive to push change and diversity.  Check out her full talk below. 

There’s so much we learned at Startup Grind and we’re excited to reflect on what strategies we can begin to implement in our own business!