Archive for the ‘events’ tag
Jason Cohen has a great post on unfair advantages. One of Cohen’s differentiators — personal authority — is the most useful to first- and second-time entrepreneurs.
So the question arises: how do you build strong and scalable personal authority?
I’ve heard blogging come up often, but I don’t think this is the way to go for most people. Blogging is hard. Rather, building personal authority through blogging is hard, and at the very least it’s total feast-or-famine. Unless your blog heavily incorporates a recognizable brand — like Chris Dixon or Fred Wilson — most people will probably lump your content into the “read it somewhere” bucket and forget that you had any association with it.
Events are different — when you run an event, you’re in front of the crowd. You get to send out regular emails to a large group of people, and the inbox is vastly more powerful than a RSS feed (this is also why I’ve moved some of my content over to letter.ly). In short, events are typically a much better tactic to gain the kind of personal authority that Cohen praises.
Starting an event series is daunting, but it’s actually quite a bit easier than it seems. I get asked about events a lot, so I’ve sketched out a basic strategy to building personal authority through an event series. I try not to be too servicey here, but I think this strategy is too important not to be spelled out:
1) Pick a topic. It should be big enough to potential draw a crowd of hundreds but not so big that you’ll lose focus (and high-quality people). And it goes without saying that this should be something in which you’d like to gain thought leadership. Competition and geography is also important — there probably isn’t room for another general “tech” event in New York right now, so most new events focus on specific verticals, processes or technologies. Over the past two years, I’ve helped create recurring events around gaming, marketplaces, and failed entrepreneurs, all of which fit in the sweet spot.
2) Build your promotional tools. Create a group page on Meetup.com, setting everything to “public” right off the bat. Meetup will actually promote your first event to its membership, which can be significant if you don’t already have a big email list. Create social media pages and an online landing page if you have the technical skills.
3) Find content. This usually means (a) a keynote or (b) some panelists for your first event. Pick the biggest names you can reasonably get in the room. Don’t get too cute or tricky — people are attracted to speakers they recognize and trust.
4) Find 2-3 solid venues. Good places to look include law firms (they love the attention of hosting tech events for free), bars with A/V and desperate restaurants. If you have great relationships with people at each of these types of places — which isn’t that hard to do — you will instantly be one of the most popular people in the small community of tech events organizers.
5) Make sure you have great attendees. Personally email people with leadership roles and deep rolodexes in your topic area. You need these people to show up, and you need to work to get them there. If you don’t, your event will easily become a mixed bag of job seekers, service providers and wannabes. Don’t let it.
6) Play up your social benefit to maintain great content. Because you are providing education to the community and helping entrepreneurs, people will want to help you. You’ll be able to land meetings with awesome people because you are running a community event, and they’ll often be honored to speak. Keep a steady stream (at least one per month) of events happening. I’m pretty agnostic on the “charging” topic, although I usually encourage people to keep their events free if they can. It’ll just make your life easier since attendees are less likely to get upset about all the little things that invariably go wrong at live events — and keep in mind that your goal is to build personal authority, not start a niche events business.
7) Leverage your membership to run events for you. By now, there will be many people approaching you for access to your membership. Your job now shifts from promotion to curation. Learn to distinguish between the self-promoters and the innovators. Pick people who will run awesome events and enable them with venues and promotion. Retain control of the branding and means of promotion (e.g., send the emails yourself, don’t sell your list) and dole out spotlight as you see fit.
The last point is especially critical — events die when organizers feel the need to exert too much control and burn themselves out. If you’re running an event series that regularly gets >50 people per event, it’s very likely that you have smart, well-connected people in the audience that would love to share the stage in exchange for doing almost all of the work.
Unqualified lessons are hard to wring from startups. It’s difficult to really understand something without doing it, and no two people who do it have identical experiences. That said, I’ve seen two schools of thought on how to learn from others’ startup experiences:
1) It’s best to learn from success. Stories of failures have no prescriptive advice on how to accomplish something. Stories of success, on the other hand, offer models to copy.
2) It’s best to learn from failure. Success is fairly random, whereas failure usually happens for distinct reasons.
First, anyone thinking of starting a company should take lessons from wherever they’re available — successes, failures or those yet to be determined. But given a choice, the best lessons come from failure.
I’ve stopped thinking of a startup as a discrete success or failure. Rather, a company is a series of small (or big) successes and failures, one side of which eventually overwhelms the other. Some failures are singular and crushing — taking on a bad co-founder, for instance. Others are subtle and can sit under the radar for years, even in companies that are otherwise successful. Poor initial equity distribution or choice of corporate structure, for instance.
That said, most companies aren’t killed by one overwhelmingly bad decision. They’re killed by dozens of bad decisions that pile up and stick the company in an unrecoverable morass. These small, could’ve-gone-better decisions offer the best startup learnings, are the exact lessons covered up by success.
Take one of the greatest entrepreneurial success stories of our generation — Facebook. Clearly, Facebook did some things right. But they also did a whole lot of things wrong, and it’s hard for anyone to determine how much more Facebook could’ve screwed up before they would have doomed their chances to win the social networking wars. It’s entirely reasonable that they could’ve blown any number of decisions and still come out on top.
On the flip side, copying success is tricky. Let’s look at Facebook again. The most difficult thing about copying Facebook’s success (or any company’s success) is not deriving the factors that led to their success, but figuring out the level on which they should be copied. For instance:
Level 1: Facebook was successful, so I should copy what they created: a new social network. Good luck with that one.
Level 2: Facebook was successful, so I should copy their operational or strategic decisions for my own idea. As I pointed out above, it’s not obvious that Facebook made great operational or strategic decisions.
Level 3: Facebook was successful, so I should copy their methodology of thinking about ideas or products. This sounds high-level enough, but how does one execute on it? Does anyone know what goes on inside Zuckerberg’s brain? More practically, are those thoughts relevant to your product as opposed to a walled garden social network?
On the theme of translating theory into practice, I helped create Founders at FAIL, a forum for entrepreneurs to talk about their failures. Think Founders at Work, but all the stories have unhappy endings. I’ll be speaking there (along with GoCrossCampus founder Matthew Brimer) on August 18th.
I write a lot about where the gaming industry is headed — specifically as it relates to building game mechanics into non-game apps. Past posts have talked about serious problems in the current thinking about “gameification” and the next game mechanics to be implemented across the internet.
Next week, some of these thoughts will be brought into event format. The New York Gaming Meetup is partnering with the Y+30 to host a panel event on the Future of Gaming at 92YTribeca in New York City. Specifically, we’ll be looking at what gaming will look like in thirty years. If you’re interested, RSVP here. Panelists include Ben Feder (CEO, Take Two Interactive), Stephen Totilo (Editor, Kotaku), and Eric Zimmerman (CEO, GameLab). I’ll be moderating (read: desperately attempting to keep mental pace with the panelists).
It should be a fascinating event. Sam Lessin’s Y+30 always brings a unique outlook to these things by stretching the scope our projection to thirty years. In the words of Bill Gates:
We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten.
The Y+30 tends to be conscious of this quirk of the human mind — and accounts for it. It’s hard to project out thirty years without getting into the realms of sociology, psychology and philosophy (often in that order), so you have to be prepared for a wide-ranging discussion.
While I’ll save the best parts for those of you who attend the event, here are some topics I hope we’ll cover:
– The future of the console. Will independent gaming consoles (or their analogue) exist in thirty years? Are full-body inputs the way of the future?
– Relatedly, what platforms will be most important to the gaming industry in thirty years? Will mobile gaming dominate?
– What features will be most important to gamers in thirty years? What trends will we want to read about?
– Games and Society. Will the prevalence of online games for younger and younger children change the way those children interact with games (and the web, and society) as teenagers and adults?
– The expansion of game mechanisms to non-gaming apps. How far is it going? Are we going to live in the world of Jesse Schell’s vision?
– Will people develop an immunity to traditional game mechanics? If so, how will this impact other aspects of life?
I’m sure plenty more will come up. Hope you can join us.
If you haven’t read Paul Carr’s piece on his experience at New York Internet Week, go read it now. If don’t have time, I’ll summarize. Paul’s interaction with New York went something like this:
1. Media tool gets invited to New York by other media tools
2. Media tool goes to an internet week party populated by “identically unique hipsters”
3. Media tool only sees other media tools
4. Media tool goes back to the ‘burbs and writes shit about New York
Well. He argues that good content is dead, so at least he’s eating his own dog food. But he does get some things right. Old media is dying, and lots of people don’t understand how it’s dying. Many of those people hold on to false hopes that the bright shiny piece of technology of the day (social media, the iPad, Web 3.0) will save their shitty business models. Many of those people are in New York. He’s totally right on there.
But he’s the equivalent of a European tourist who visits Disneyland and thinks it is an accurate representation of America. He goes to an Internet Week party and thinks he gets it. Well, people who are actually creating interesting tech companies in New York don’t go to those hipster-filled digital / new media parties because they are clogged with PR reps, “content creators”, glassy-eyed social media strategists and starfuckers. Or they aren’t even aware of these panels and parties — as I’ve written before, the New York tech scene is huge yet strangely siloed, with founders aligning with particular industries rather than the broader “tech community”.
But — in Paul’s defense — the media world has used its superior resources to more or less occupy “high profile” NYC tech. If you go to a “tech” or “internet” event in the Valley, you’ll meet tech people. If you go to a similarly branded event in NYC, you’ll meet media people. And you’ll think there’s nothing to New York tech beyond hipsters and old media dreamers*.
Want to meet New York tech? Head over to Hackers and Founders or the Y+30 or NextNY. You’ll meet awesome people there, but they won’t fly you out. If you insist on having your ticket paid for, you’ll end up in the same media bubble-world you unfortunately fell into this time around.
* Many in nyc new media are great people, and quite a few are my good friends. But they aren’t what Paul Carr is looking for at a tech event, and those are the buckets he’ll throw them in.
I don’t usually like pointing out others’ failures (I prefer to focus on my own), but one particular demo by a startup at this past Tuesday’s New York Tech Meetup is particularly instructive in How to Fail at Presenting to Hackers.
A brief guide to failure, courtesy this demo:
Expect your connections to high profile individuals will build credibility: Exceptions include Richard Stallman, Cory Doctorow and probably Steve Jobs. Don’t rattle off a list of Silicon Valley investors and expect us to be impressed. We’ll just wonder why you’re not showing us a product.
Put the conclusion before the story: It’s fine to say that you’re raking in cash or you have amazing clients, but do it after you show us the product you used to get there. Otherwise the story seems backwards and you seem full of yourself. Explain how something was built from the ground up, gained traction and eventually convinced people with money to buy your product and support you. That’s a story that resonates with hackers.
Ignore the allegiances and perspectives of the audience: This is more of a general presentation rule, but this company couldn’t have blown it worse with a hacker crowd. For instance: if your product has applicability to hiring for both Fortune 500 companies and early-stage startups, don’t show examples of how Fortune 500 companies can use it to gain leverage over potential employees. You seem to be enabling a corporate culture that your audience is rebelling against.
Send someone who isn’t a cultural fit with the audience: I’m sure your company has hackers. Even an executive CTO or VP of Engineering. Send them, not the business development executive you just recruited out of an investment bank.
Like any audience, presenting to hackers isn’t hard. But just as it wouldn’t be a good idea to wear jeans and Birkenstocks when making a presentation to the board of a Fortune 500 company, pitching a crowd of hackers requires a level of understanding and respect of the group’s culture. Anything less is simply going to waste everyone’s time.
The more time I spend working with startups, the more I find useful lessons for growing companies in random places. Take my gaming (industry) meetup, for instance. I’ve been running it for over a year, but only recently has it begun to “hockey stick”, in industry parlance.
The Opportunity: After running a gaming company in New York City for six months, I realized that there wasn’t a good place for people in the gaming industry to meet others in the gaming industry in an open, cross-pollinated environment. The International Game Developers’ Association’s New York chapter held regular events, but they were primarily focused on software developers, not the entire game creation ecosystem.
The Tactic: Create the New York Gaming Meetup, a (monthly) event where game developers can freely interact with others in the gaming industry as well as those outside the industry. Events would be regularly attended by investors, marketers, designers and others with a big role in making successful games. Meetups would be oriented around a series of demos of games built in the NYC area with networking before and after the demos.
(1) The NY gaming industry is highly fragmented with a focus on small (1-3 person) indie development shops. This isn’t Seattle or LA; there are only a handful of mid-sized gaming studios in NYC. It was critical to recognize that New York is a very different place and build a program that caters to those differences.
(2) There are few potential sponsors of such a meetup in NYC. This event would have to take root with minimal budget.
(3) Space in New York is hard to come by. The event would have to be structured and timed to let us take advantage of free space in bars and restaurants.
(4) As I’ve previously written, the New York tech landscape is very siloed, with little cross-pollination between verticals. In Silicon Valley, anyone working on a tech-enabled solution considers themselves part of the tech industry. In New York, we frame ourselves in terms of the particular vertical we are tackling — the “advertising industry”, the “gaming industry” or the “fashion industry”, for instance. This makes it difficult for events to reach across the social graph, and to this day I rarely see any Gaming Meetup regulars at other big tech events like the NY Tech Meetup or the Y+30.
Execution: For its first year, the event took place at Gallery Bar in the Lower East Side on Tuesday nights. On a scale of 1 to 10, I would give the location a 2, the venue a 7 and the cost a 10 — it was a free (but good) space with AV equipment in a out-of-the-way Manhattan neighborhood. Don’t get me wrong, I love the LES, but it’s a suboptimal place to host an after-work event.
Initial Results: The Gaming Meetup got a decent but not overwhelming response. We had a fairly predictable number of attendees — 55 to 75 per meetup — over our first ten months. The event wasn’t really gaining traction, but it was establishing a good core of game developers and people who loved what we created. The content (demos from local game developers and entrepreneurs) was hit or miss. There weren’t enough games being developed in New York City for us to be truly selective, and for every awesomely cool and instructive game that took the stage we had one guy just trying to sell something to the audience.
Iteration: A few months after starting the meetup, I started iterating on the model. Here are some things we tried and the results we got. Since metrics are important, changes were evaluated on (a) the number of attendees we got, (b) how long those attendees stayed and (c) how people reviewed the event.
Moving it later: Most people would show up at 7:30 anyway, so our 6:30 start time didn’t make any sense — especially since attendees had to travel to the Lower East Side. Good change, kept it.
Focusing on networking rather than demos: The demos started to get stale after a while, so I created one networking-only meetup to see how people would react. Bad idea; many people will only travel for content.
Fewer Demos: This was partially out of necessity, but ultimately it proved to be a good call. Six demos is simply too many. Four is much better.
Themed Meetups: We ran our first themed meetup (on Mobile Gaming) in March, and it was a tipping point of sorts. As it turns out, there is a certain “optimal specificity” in this kind of stuff — make it too general (“Game Demos”) and people aren’t sure what they’ll get. Make it too specific (“Android Development Best Practices”) and most people won’t care. Something in the middle (“Social Games”, “Mobile Gaming”, “Innovation in Consoles”) is ideal.
Higher-profile speakers: Last month, Kenny Rosenblatt (CEO, Arkadium) came and spoke on the topic of social games, and our meetup got 2x the number of people we’ve ever gotten. I’m a bit surprised that I hadn’t gone the high-profile-keynote-speaker route before. I’m certainly capable of sourcing them, and they give me far fewer logistical headaches than half a dozen demoers (one of which will inevitably bring a mac without the right VGA adapter).
The Hockey Stick: As you can see from my chart of RSVPs, I’ve started to figure this thing out. Popularity, of course, is self-reinforcing — now that we’re getting real traction, we’ve landed a great venue at AOL Ventures in the Union Square neighborhood. And our May meetup already has 90+ RSVPs, which is well beyond what any previous NY Gaming Meetup has gotten by this point. Most excitingly, we’re lining up partnerships with other Meetup groups for this summer — for example, we’re getting together with the Y+30 to host a panel on the future of gaming.
I hosted a party with Superconductor’s Matt Brimer a couple weeks back. Since I’m more or less incapable of throwing a party these days that doesn’t turn into a NYC tech mixer, we decided to embrace it and craft an appropriate drink menu.
I wish I could take credit for more of this, but it’s primarily the work of Brimer and HomeField‘s Reece Pacheco.
They tried to capture the spirit / theme of each startup in the drink. Or something like that.
The Bit.ly: Tequila shot
The Boxee: Vodka, triple sec, lime, shaken, serve on rocks in tumbler
The Drop.io: Beer + Shot of Bourbon, Vodka or Tequila
The Etsy: Vodka, muddled lemon, sugar, ginger ale
The Foursquare: Vodka, sour (shaken), garnish w/cherry + orange
The GoodCrush: Vodka, triple sec, lime juice, cranberry, shake on ice and strain into martini glass.
The Hot Potato: Jager-Bomb
The Hunch: Gin and tonic
The Kickstarter: Muddled bitters, sugar, orange, cherry, add rocks, bourbon.
The OMGPOP: Lemonade, Gin, Peach Schnapps, sour mix. shake. Highball or glass on the rocks.
The Parse.ly: Muddled mint + sugar, bourbon, sour. Tumbler glass on rocks.
The Postling: Bourbon, Ginger Ale, highball or tumbler on the rocks.
The ScoopSt: Vodka, Gin, Rum, Tequila, Triple Sec, Sour Mix, Jagermeister
The SpeakerText: Tequila, mixers
The Tumblr: Vodka Cranberry with a lime.
The Yipit: PBR
We’ve decided to open up Tipping Point Partners for office hours for any entrepreneurs / friends / ninjas who would like to come in and chat. Our conversation doesn’t have to be about companies, startups or tech. It can really be about whatever you feel like bringing up. Naturally, there will be beer.
Here’s the deets:
Beer and Office Hours with Tipping Point Partners
86 Chambers Street Suite 701
Every Thursday, 5:30 – 7 pm
See you there?