Esther Kang

Revamped South Bay business conference offers modern lessons for success

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The first time SpaceX launched Falcon 1 into space in 2006, the liquid-fueled rocket failed in less than a minute due to a fuel leak. It took two more trials and errors before Falcon 1 successfully reached orbit on Sep. 28, 2008, becoming the first privately developed rocket to do so.

An attendee poses a question to keynote speaker Gwynne Shotwell, president and COO of SpaceX, during the South Bay Business Leaders Conference at the Manhattan Beach Marriott. Photo by JP Cordero

An attendee poses a question to keynote speaker Gwynne Shotwell, president and COO of SpaceX, during the South Bay Business Leaders Conference at the Manhattan Beach Marriott. Photo by JP Cordero

“Failure is, by far, the best lesson,” SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell told a crowd of 300 at the Manhattan Beach Marriott Friday morning.

Shotwell, who helms the Hawthorne-based aerospace giant with CEO and founder Elon Musk, was the keynote speaker at the first annual South Bay Business Leaders Summit, organized by the Manhattan Beach Chamber of Commerce. After 15 years as the Women in Business conference, the reinvention marks the beginning of an all-inclusive event for business leaders across the South Bay.

Debbie Goldberg, Fresh Brothers Pizza co-founder and this year’s committee chair, explained that while she appreciated the former women’s conference, she believed it was time to organize a summit that reflected the diversity of the local business community.

“I hope this conference is the beginning of a legacy,” Goldberg said.

Themed “Riding the Wave to Success,” the conference also enlisted as guest speakers Jaime Gutfreund, chief strategy officer for The Intelligence Group of the Creative Artists Agency and Bob Schwartz, an eCommerce pioneer who heads 47 B Street, a company-building firm. Kristin Cruz, a morning host on KOST 103.5 FM, hosted the event.

Breakout sessions included panels on how companies can wield the influence of social media to drive business; advertising in the beach cities; the tools to start a viable business, and how to thrive in the marketplace as a startup.

For the first time this year, the conference featured a Pitch Tank session where seven local entrepreneurs pitched their business concepts to a panel of venture capitalists and investment bankers for feedback.

Courtney Reum, founder of VeeV Spirits, presents his business concept before a panel of venture capitalists and investment bankers during the Pitch Tank session. Photo by JP Cordero

Courtney Reum, founder of VeeV Spirits, presents his business concept before a panel of venture capitalists and investment bankers during the Pitch Tank session. Photo by JP Cordero

Shotwell, whose speech followed a welcome remark from Manhattan Beach Mayor Amy Howorth, shared SpaceX’s story of startup to success: in 12 years, the company has grown to a staff of 3,500 with some $5 billion in contracts. Its biggest client is NASA. Since the successful launch of Falcon 1, SpaceX has marked many more milestones, including the successful launch of its Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station for NASA.

Today, SpaceX is in the midst of 45 different missions with a launch into space every month.

She believes among the keys to success is maintaining a culture of “flat hierarchy” — no matter who pitches the idea, be it an intern or Elon Musk himself, the best idea “always wins.”

During lunch, Gutfreund of CAA highlighted an ongoing “climate change in the business world”—a shift in buying power from older generations to the surging generation of millennials, some 80 to 90 million strong today. With a new transparency made available through social media and online reviews, many consumers today make decisions based on their friends’ opinions, she explained.

“They don’t want to be managed, but coached,” she said.

And with the growing popularity of crowd-funding product and bsuiness ideas, people are no longer passive consumers but participatory investors, she explained.

SKECHERS president Michael Greenberg and Friendship Circle executive director Yossi Marozov accept the Heart and Soul Award for selfless service. Photo by JP Cordero

SKECHERS president Michael Greenberg and Friendship Circle executive director Yossi Marozov accept the Heart and Soul Award for selfless service. Photo by JP Cordero

Generation Z, between ages 12 and 17, pose yet another novel challenge for businesses: about half use the web via mobile only.

“Know your consumers,” she urged. You may not like them, she explained, but you must speak their language and understand their world to market successfully.

Closing out the conference was Bob Schwartz, former president of Magento, an e-commerce software and platform recently sold to eBay. He shared his years of experience at the intersection of retail and technology, or e-commerce, which he defined as “technology-enabled retail.” Building great retail companies today not only require an online presence but an overarching “brand soul,” he explained.

“The brand is the amusement park; the product is the souvenir,” he said, citing friend and Joe Boxer founder Nick Graham.

He said more consumers today feel personally tied to a brand not solely for its products but its social and ethical resonance. Technology, he said, is the weapon, not the answer.

 

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