Shifting from event planning to company launches
Posted by shannonclark on July 27, 2007
This past Wednesday the MeshWalk Palo Alto which I have been planning for a bit over a month took place. Nearly 100 people participated over the course of the day, well over a dozen investors and 75+ entrepreneurs. I was thrilled, as some of the MeshWalkers have noted, at how diverse the participation in the MeshWalk was. I have long argued both in this blog and in comments and discussions elsewhere the value of diversity – that though I am indeed a white, male American, I want to hear and meet people of many different backgrounds, with a variety of perspectives.
One other note about the MeshWalk, one of the participants noted that it was only the second event he has seen which included public transit directions in the conference materials – and the other event was a conference on green and sustainable development so it was somewhat expected there. As a rare CA resident (and rare American) who does not own a car, I too have noted this lack in the directions and descriptions most events provide.
So, though I will be planning many future MeshWalks, now my attention and focus shifts from the active planning of a large event to the launch of multiple projects (companies) this summer. It is a balancing act – I have a great deal of important work to do as my contribution to these projects – writing projects to complete, data entry, UI testing, sales and business development calls to make, important business milestones to define and track, to a degree business plans to write (more specifically not formal plans but simple yet informative spreadsheets to track the key metrics for each business – and thus our plans and timing to test, measure and prove the business models). In short plenty of work (and these being bootstrapped startups, probably really plenty of work for multiple people but work which I will have to complete for the most part myself).
But I have to balance this with the important role of getting out of the house, of talking with people of doing business development not just via email or phone calls but also be in person meetings – both one-on-one but perhaps more importantly in many cases via attending and participating in the wide range of events throughout the Bay Area (and at times conferences and events outside of the bay area). Just this evening, while getting dinner with a group of people after one such event I had a brief conversation and exchange of cards with someone working at a company that is precisely who I need to talk with to line up as a participant in the beta trials for the ad network we are building. And at the party before the dinner I spent a lot of time reconnecting with people – learning for example that one friend may soon be taking a C-level position at a large firm which may be a potential client for one of the projects I’m working, I also chatted with another friend who thought I should talk with the organizer of a conference at which I might be an appropriate speaker, etc. In short the social glue which binds business – for even at the largest of scales business is personal.
Yes, the numbers have to work and you have to deliver, but opportunities arise from this social fabric. In comparing the tech landscape of Chicago to the Bay Area, as I was doing multiple times in the past few days, I have been noting the fluidity of the business world here (in the bay area). People who work at your competitors today may be your boss tomorrow (probably at an entirely new company). It is not just that every investor knows each other (or at a minimum talks with each other) the same holds true with most positions here in the area.
It is one of the reasons I do not hold to the position of being “in stealth”. I do see the role that mode can play in group unity and in an ability to take on large targets/competitors and perhaps launch and surprise them – but one major tole it takes is to disconnect your team (and partners & investors) from the casual conversations which permeate San Francisco. Just tonight, for example, at the same table were Twitter employees and Pownce employees. Yes, they compete, but they also attend the same parties, know many of the same circle of friends, and it is not unlikely that at some future company current competitors will be working together (perhaps as investors if both firms are successful).
Tonight (Friday) is the TechCrunch Party where some 500+ people will attend, network with each other, and chat. At the last party I actually had some really interesting conversations – I hope I have many tomorrow as well. However I am also in a new mode for tonight’s event than I was previously.
For this event I have a number of specific goals – a bit of a rarity for me – so let me share them publically here (as I mentioned, I am very much about being open).
1. In the late summer/early fall we plan on conducting a trial of a new ad network. This requires building relationships with both publishers (broadly defined – in our case specifically application publishers mostly, though possibly also some “content” sites) and equally with the right matching mix of advertisers. So I am actively networking to talk with application publishers, direct advertisers, and media buying/campaign management firms.
2. The purpose of the trial – in addition to making money and providing a valuable service to all parties (including the users of the applications) – is to prove out portions of our business and help us raise the right amount of capital. So I need to be proactive in starting conversations with the right mix of investors (and also need to define the scope of funding we’ll need – as well as what in the current market we should expect & try for).
3. In addition to the ad network, we have two other projects which are getting ready to launch (or in one case open up the launch much more widely). So I need to think about how to spread the word about these projects and how to seed the initial launches – i.e. who I know who would be interested and passionate users (and thus testers – by beta we really do mean beta).
4. And again in one of these cases (possibly in both) we are investigating raising funds (probably angel scale of investment) and we will be seeking ways to prove those business models as well. For the content play – think a Zagat’s like guide by business people for business people I need to talk with the organizers of conferences and trade shows. Especially ones to be held in the Bay Area (SF or the East Bay in particular) or in Chicago.
So I have some agendas in my conversations at events these days. But as well I want to spread the word about my own events to people who might enjoy participating in them (next MeshWalk is Aug 12th in Seattle after the Gnomedex conference for example).
If you are reading this, wondering how/if you “meet” what I have outlined above, please feel free to ignore what I have written and when we meet, perhaps tonight at the party, just tell me about yourself and what you are doing – I am always happy to help if I can, if an introduction makes sense making it (whenever possible at that event). My philosophy is always to try to be helpful, to assume the best of people until proven wrong, to give. I try to be open about what I am doing – but also attentive to others and what they are doing, listening for when I get a sense of “hmm you have to…” as I talk with someone.
So a bit of a mental shift for me this weekend, but a good one.