2 simple things that make a great tech event

I had a couple of people ask me recently what I thought made for a good tech event.  Having hosted and attended a few hundred events in the past couple of years, I’ve seen a lot of great events (I’ve also see a number of not so great events).  I really think that it boils down to 2 big things — Are you solving a problem that someone is facing & Are the right people coming?  If you can nail these, you’re well on the right track. 

Are you solving a problem?  Most people venture out into the community for two reasons — to learn and to network.   A great event does one OR the other really well.  To often I find myself at an event doing its best Ronco Infomercial and trying to make the event do too much.  My advice, think hard about what someone walking in the door is going to get out of the hour they’ll spend at your event, and make that hour the best of their day.  I’ll also point out, that a great event does not create other problems — particularly around scheduling or duplication of an existing event.  While I love feeling like Brody Jenner and hitting up 3 or 4 events in a night, I get concerned when there is so much overlap happening on a given day/week/month.   Before deciding to fire up a new event check out www.greenhornboston.com to see what’s already been scheduled, and ask some folks if your event is contributing to solving a problem (if not, there’s LOTS of room to innovate!!).

Are the right people there? It’s hard to have a great event without the right people in the room.  Solving a problem for someone is 90% of the way to get a great group of people in the room, but there are a few others that I’d like to call out.  Location matters!  If you event is a pain to get to or if you’re out of the hustle and bustle of where people generally are — you’ll struggle.  Do events where there is good parking, reasonable public transport and some place that is in the general ebb and flow of the community (MOST important for students — remember, they can’t get to Burlington easily!)  Timing is also really important.  Depending on who you want to attend, timing should vary.  Students won’t attend anything early in the AM and commuters won’t hit stuff that starts too late in the evening (which I think is after 6pm).   Figure out who the main audience is, and optimize a time for them.

Here’s to some GREAT events in 2011!

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What I’m wishing for and doing in 2011

I’m still in a little bit of disbelief that 2010 is nearly over.  For me, personally it has been a year filled with great memories and a sense of accomplishment.  Everyday I’m excited and thankful to be part of a great ecosystem of innovators and can close out 2010 knowing that momentum is continuing to speed-up and that our engines are firing on nearly all 8 cylinders.   It’s hard to reflect backwards, without thinking about what’s to come, and to that end I thought I’d share a few simple wishes for 2011. 

That we don’t lose the momentum.  I’m always a little bit worried that we might start to get complacent and start to flip on the cruise control.  Someone recently compared where had come from behind to be the lead horse in a race.  While I think about it more like the Monoco Grand Prix — we’re at the front of the line, but we need to keep anticipating the hairpin turns, tunnels and elevation changes.  What am I going to-do? I’m going to keep doing what I’ve been doing for the past 2 years and not take a break.  You’ll see me at just as many outings, and in as many conversations in 2011 as in 2010. 

We recognize and celebrate what we’re great at. Scott Kirsner posted a challenge to us all about celebrating what we’re good at, and to stop comparing ourselves to the “other” regions.  I can’t agree more and really believe that we need to celebrate more (not just the victories, but also the failures).  What am I going to-do? You won’t hear me making any comparisons in 2011 (if you do hear me, you have my permission to dump a Sam Adams on my head).  I’m also going to think harder about ways to celebrate and recognize all of the goodness happening. 

We continue to innovate on how we build community. The innovators dilemma!  Following along with point 1 & 2, let’s make sure that we continue to innovate and anticipate the curves in the grand prix.  It’s all to easy to rinse, wash and repeat the things we’ve been doing as it’s worked great.  I think that as an ecosystem, we need to continue to think outside of the box about how we build community.  Let’s think hard about events (GreenHorn Connect has been doing this), let’s be serious about how we engage college students and bring them into the community, let’s try new things, and most importantly — there are no sacred cows.   We should never be doing something simply because we’ve done it in the past.  What am I going to-do? Commit to evaluating everything I’m doing in the ecosystem, and reinvesting a large chunk of time and energy into thinking outside of the box about what else I can be doing.  I’m going to question duplicative events and ask this question “What problem is _________ Solving”.

All in all, I’m heading into 2011 with a ton of energy, optimism and excitement.  2010 has been a great year, but I think that 2011 is primed to be even better!

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Why I’m not upset about companies moving west

I haven’t been able to swig a Sam Adams at a gathering the past few weeks where someone wasn’t bemoaning the fact that Relay Rides was just the latest example of a company packing up the family station wagon and heading west for greener pastures (pun intended).  But I have to admit, the more I think about it — the less upset I get.  When I first started my career a wise faculty member (who would later be my boss) gave me some simple advice — “know your role”.  We all need to think harder about what our role is in the innovation ecosystem and embrace it, and maybe we come to the conclusion that Boston really is the BEST place to start your company, just not to scale it.  

When I landed in Boston, 2 years ago — the landscape was barren, and companies like Relay Rides, ThredUP, Baydin, and TaskRabbit would never have had the opportunity to move west — because they’d never would have been able get started.   We’ve created this uber rich stable of support for early stage start-ups (mostly in the past 18 months!).   WebInno, MassChallenge, DogPatch Labs, GreenHorn Connect, the CIC, DartBoston, TechStars, and MassInnovation Nights ALL had a significant hand in getting these 4 companies to the point where they could move west.  Add in the talent pipeline of students, the hundred of mentors and a Boston penchant for “getting shit done”, I think we’ve got something pretty special.

I’m not saying that we should stop trying to build billion dollar companies.  What I’m saying is let’s double down on the early stage ecosystem, let’s celebrate every company that comes to Boston and every company that makes a decision to head west, and let’s increase the overall surface area of companies that have roots to Boston, and when they’re a billion dollar company let’s welcome them back.

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