Event: Vurv Revolution 2008 (annual user conference), April 6-9 at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort, Lake Buena Vista, Florida
What: Vurv Technology says it "delivers the world’s most innovative and easy-to-use technology to ensure organizations attract, manage and develop an exceptional workforce. With solutions for recruitment, onboarding, performance and compensation management, Vurv helps organizations unlock the creative energy, talent and passion of their people." Vurv is based in Jacksonville, Florida.
Conference info: For more information about Vurv, go to www.vurv.com.
Day 1—Monday, April 7, 2008
Back in Orlando, again: Just as spring returns on schedule every year, so do the many technology conferences that seem to sprout every spring here in central Florida. Vurv is one of the few that actually makes sense to hold here, since the company is located in Jacksonville, and Orlando is just down the road a bit. But, after so many conferences in Florida, I get this odd sense of deja vu, that I have been here and heard this all before—way too many times. I’m hoping that Vurv Revolution 2008 will prove that feeling to be wrong.
A few words from the chief:Vurv CEO Derek Mercer kicked off the annual conference with his opening discussion pegged on the topic "It’s All About the People." Although Mercer has kicked off Vurv Revolutions in the past, I was struck by how much of his talk was a broad, high-level focus and less specific about financials or nuts and bolts of the company. Maybe that’s because Vurv COO Amy McGeorge will be talking about financial specifics later (note from later: she didn’t.), but it was a little surprising to hear Mercer get so high level and less focused on the basics of Vurv’s business.
Perhaps this just reflects the growth and evolving maturity of Vurv as a company and business enterprise. But still, I would have loved to have heard some insight from Vurv’s top guy about the latest financials that the company released last month—record results for the fiscal year ending January 31 and the 41st consecutive quarter that the company increased revenues.
Mercer said that he has been on the road making presentations and talking to people since the beginning of the year, and his talk seemed to reflect that. It was essentially a pep talk from the top guy and very straightforward and charming, but also incredibly focused and specific. That’s OK, but I miss getting a little financial roughage with my Vurv breakfast.
Morning keynote, Day 1: Christopher Gardner, author of The Pursuit of Happyness. I’ve heard a lot of conference keynotes and after so many, very few stick out in my mind. However, very few speakers stick out or distinguish themselves with a message that both inspires and touches people the way the Chris Gardner does.
Gardner’s very personal book became the hit film The Pursuit of Happyness, starring Will Smith as Gardner in his Golden Globe- and Academy Award-nominated role. What is that experience like? As Gardner put it, "When the biggest movie star in the world does his next movie on your life, your life changes. ... They spent $70 million to re-create what I did for nothing."
His story is very personal, and quintessentially American—how Gardner persevered and overcame homelessness and living on the streets while taking care of his young son to become a successful Wall Street stockbroker. "I made up my mind at a young age that I was going to become world-class in something," he said.
But, his most important accomplishment, according to Gardner, is breaking the cycle of fathers who weren’t there for their children. Despite his struggles, Gardener was always there for his son, even as they struggled with poverty and homelessness, and he says now that "breaking that cycle is my ultimate contribution."
Gardner’s story is not typical technology conference fare, but for a company like Vurv that preaches "It’s all about the people," Gardner’s touching, inspirational message clearly drives that point home.
Afternoon keynote, Day 1: This has been a day of firsts for me from conference speakers. This is also the first time I’ve ever heard a father-daughter team give a keynote.
Meagan Johnson and Larry Johnson are authors and business types, and they spoke on "Zap the Gap—Working With Multiple Generations."Meagan Johnson bills herself as a "delightfully obnoxious" generation humorist, but both of those points are overstated. She really just gives a nice, slightly amusing talk about how everyone needs to work harder to understand the differences that we all face now that there are four generations in the workforce together.
It was a mildly interesting if predictable talk, but it really wasn’t a father-daughter presentation—more a talk by Meagan Johnson with a special guest appearance by her dad, Larry. I wanted to hear more interaction and generational give-and-take between the two of them, but he was really just a prop for Meagan Johnson to weave her presentation around. Oh well, so much for generations working together in the workplace.
The state of Vurv: Vurv CEO and founder Derek Mercer followed Guy Kawasaki and was just about the exact opposite in style and temperament. Where Kawasaki was cool, calm and introspective, Mercer was passionate, gregarious and excitable. He borrowed from author Steve Farber in describing himself as an "extreme leader," saying that "the extreme leader is a generator, a powerful force for action." And he added, "I am an enthusiastic believer in people and their capacity to do the awesome." This is not your typical CEO-speak, but then, your typical CEO doesn’t describe himself as an overgrown surfer, as Mercer does. Don’t be fooled, though; he did say he "pushes people to their capacity," looking for his staff to work from 8 to 8. That’s more typical CEO talk, of course, and his passion and drive are clearly a large part of what is behind Vurv’s 109 percent compound annual growth rate since 2002.