Terry “Starbucker” St Marie is just about to start SOBCon NW in what is their 5th year. He was very good to take some time out of his very busy schedule to answer my questions about his background, how SOBCon was born plus his plans for the near future with co-founder Liz Strauss.
You are the Co-Founder of SOBCon. Please tell me the idea behind this conference and how you went about setting it up.
Hi Sian! Happy to visit with you today. SOBCon was “born” on Liz Strauss’ blog back in 2006, when a group of us suggested during one of her “Open Comment Nights” that we “meet up” in Chicago. Liz was reluctant at first but later relented, on the condition that we create a meaningful event around the gathering. It was called “SOBCon” because of the “SOB” badges that Liz would award to her followers, which stood for “Successful and Outstanding Blog”. The first SOBCon was held in Chicago in May 2007, and today, the “B” now stands for Business as we have evolved as a two-day “Think Tank” for small businesses, entrepreneurs, and startups. Currently we have two SOBCon events per year, one in Chicago, and the other in Portland, Oregon.
SOBCon has grown very successful and is well talked about. Do you have any good news stories you can share from people attending the conference?
Wow Sian, there are so many that have come from these events – I’d say my favorite one so far would be in 2011 in Chicago, where we presented a car – yes, a car – to homeless advocate Mark Horvath of Invisible People during the event. Liz and GM, one of our core sponsors that year, worked really hard to keep this a big secret. In fact, Mark didn’t even know he was getting a car until the very second we all (the entire group of attendees, 150 of them) walked outside and handed him the keys right in front of the vehicle. GM gave him the use of the car for a year, plus we worked with other sponsors to get him free gas and food items as well. It was a magical moment, to be able to help someone like that who is doing SO much to cast a light on those ‘Invisible people’, the homeless. You can read more about what happened that day here.
You have 30 years of business experience – tell me how you started and any important lessons you have learnt on the way?
I started my career back in 1982 as a Certified Public Accountant, and I’m grateful that I started that way because it really taught me a lot about businesses, because I had a wide variety of clients that were of all sizes and types. Some were manufacturers, some were service organizations, some were banks, and some were non-profit. I was able to leverage this early experience, as well as the financial acumen I picked up, in SO many ways as I progressed in my career to executive operations positions in the cable television industry.
Who would be your business role model and why?
I had three business role models, actually – my first boss, Jack Kent Cooke, who picked me at a very young age to be a VP of Operations of a cable TV company; my next boss, Bill Bresnan, who was one of the best mentors and human beings a person could ever work for, and a legend in the cable TV business; and finally, my father, who taught me early on the value of hard work, and love of family.
What advice would you give to a business just starting up?
Know your product, know your market, build a sturdy team around you, find a set of mentors to advise you, and believe in yourself!
You are collaborating with your SOBCon partner, Liz Strauss on another venture, “Inside-Out Thinking” – please tell me about this?
Thanks for asking Sian, Inside-Out Thinking is really the over-arching vision of what the two of us want to accomplish as a business, which encompasses the SOBCon brand. We want to bring our business philosophies, deep experience, and operational know-how to a broader audience, through innovative products (like a customer retention and feedback service that we recently launched), impactful consulting and coaching, the SOBCon events, and lastly, our newest venture, “IOtv”, where we are using the power of video to try to “get inside the heads of those who are thinking outside the box”. Taken all together, we’re really excited about the future of our business partnership!
Thank you again for the opportunity to chat, and all the best to you and your readers!
A huge thank you to Terry and good luck in the latest SOBCon event and your new venture too. If you have been involved in a SOBCon event I’d love to hear about it below.