Entries Tagged 'Atlanta' ↓
Mar 20th, 2010 | Atlanta, Marketing, Opinion, Personal, Social Media
I’ve been organzing meetups in the Atlanta area since January 2007. Over that time I’ve organized over 50 meetup events, they’ve typically achieved average ratings of 4.5 of 5 or better, they’ve typically had 50 or more people attend, I’ve helped at least five (5) other people launch their meetup groups, and the member list for my original meetup group has grown to having more members than all but one other business-focused meetup group in the Atlanta area. During that time I’ve learned a bit about what it takes to be a good meetup organizer.
Recently someone asked me yet again for advice on how to grow their meetup so I decided this time to blog about it. Let me give the caveat that this is what has worked for me and for my type of meetup but it might not be perfect for yours. My groups have been focused on web/startup/marketing/tech and so I don’t know what works best for a mom’s meetup, for a hiking group or a singles club. Still, people are people and I’m sure anyone organizing a meetup can find something of value here. Here they are, in no particular order (some I fail to do consistently though I know I should; sometimes life just gets in the way):
- New organizers always try "to get input from everyone." From experience I’ve found that to be a waste of time. Find two (2) other people and form a planning team. Map out 5-6 topics, possibly starting with a "101" meetup and build from there.
- Meet quarterly with your planning team to plan so you always have 3 events on the calendar, more if possible.
- Do listen to feedback, but don’t wait for feedback before moving forward. Most people just want to attend meetings, few actually are willing to contribute a significant effort on a consistent basis even if they say or think they will. If people promise to contribute expect they will not follow through until they have proven otherwise.
- As much as possible be the catalyst and facilitator, not the featured speaker at every meeting (people will get tired of you if you do.)
- Schedule 3 to 6 presenters for a monthly meetup (more than 6 works if it’s a workshop and they are there to provide expertise.) It gives multiple perspectives and it keeps you from having failed meetings from building anticipation for a meeting, having lots of people show up and then only to learn that your featured presenter’s "kid got sick" so they decided to cancel.
- Do your best to get people from outside the people who usually attend your meetings to present. There’s the old saw "Familiarity breeds Contempt" (i.e. "I don’t need to attend to hear them talk; I know them already and can talk to them whenever I want.") Bringing in outsiders also makes people aware of your group that might not normally seek it out or attend. If they have an influence base such as on Twitter they will promote your group because it promotes them.
- Only ever schedule a person to present to the group once per year. If you frequently schedule the same people to present your members will think "I’ve already seen them, I don’t need to see them again." That means be sure to get them to talk on the topic where they are the best sui have the most bang for the buck since a lot of people will jump at any chance to present and you really want to get them where they will shine.
- Post a meetup page for each meetup event that includes links about the people who will be presenting including their Twitter account and a short bio. I like to link to their LinkedIn page for consistency, and also link to their company. Be sure to include an evening agenda so people can see when it starts and when it ends. Here’s an example meetup page that has all these things.
- Set up a Twitter account and a Facebook fan page. Always tweet and post about your events in advance and to thank your presenters/participants afterwards.
- Set up a Twitter hashtag for your meetup group (i.e. @StartupAtlanta and #OnStage.) Give people a handout at each meetup with the account, the hashtag and all the presenter’s/participants Twitter accounts and ask your members to tweet about the event.
- Send out emails in advance of your meetups that are hand formatted to look different from the one’s send out automatically by meetup as people tend not to read those. Here’s an example notification email.
- Send an email out about the most recently meeting and reminding them about the next meeting and thank the people who participated/presented.
- For my groups I have focus mostly on featuring local people for our regular meetings but when nationally known people are presented I make them special events. Some organizers always try to get one national calibre "rock star" for their events, and that works for them. Pick what works for your group.
- Keep vendor influence to a minimum; keep it about the people attending.
- Run a meetup only if you really want to help people and/or build a solid community and not if you’ve just got the idea "Hey I can sell my services to this group." The latter can be a serendipitous result but it’s painfully clear to practically everyone who might attend that if your motivations are to sell them (almost) nobody will want to attend.
- Pay it forward, focus on what’s good for the group and the community you envision building, not what’s you are hoping to get out of organizing
- Shake up the format. Have presentations, panel discussions, roundtables, workshops, etc. The topic should make the format obvious. For workshops, recruit lots of helpers. Don’t over worry about format, try a bunch of them, communication will happen ad-hoc (suggest Twitter or make a Google group), and let the topics you pick determine the level of competency. The more detailed your topic announcement the more likely you’ll get the right people.
- Don’t be afraid to ask anybody to present. I’ve never once been turned down except for people simply not being available at the given time.
- Look for ways to hold joint meetups with other groups that have cross-over. (Beg meetup on their forums to more easily enable shared meetups.) If possible take the lead in these joint meetups and get people to RSVP at your meetup group’s page (if possible, and at least until meetup enables shared events.) If you do these frequently you’ll all get lots of benefit and you’ll grow your group.
- Charge for meetings, $5 to $10, starting with your 3rd meeting (assuming you are gaining momentum.) If you don’t charge more than half of your RSVPs will be no-shows. If you charge, only between 10-30% will be no-shows.
- Be aware that many of the people who attend your meeting early on will start attending only sporatically as their lives evolve. That’s normal and don’t take it personally.
- Don’t try to do too many different groups. Unless you are able to make a living from organizing meetups, which is a potential but a really hard way to make a living, it’s really hard to do more than one well, two at the max. I’ve made that mistake and I’ve recently pared back to two with a potential to phase out of one of them in the near future assuming I can find the right people to take over.
- Find a good place to have meetings, not a restaurant unless its set up for meetings in a special room. This is the hardest part. Look for a local coworking space like Ignition Alley. A college or university may also be very open to hosting community meetings as Georgia Tech has been for some of my meetups.
- As for location, you’ll need to decide what works here. In Atlanta you’ll find a bulk of in-town people and a bulk of "up 400" people, and then everyone else is scattered. Pick one and let someone else do the other (you can’t please everyone, so don’t try.)
- Finally, set a consistent date, time, and location. Always have it there so people can get used to it, and if at all possible, never cancel a planned meetup or many people will loose faith in your ability and stop RSVPing for your events.
Well that’s about it for today. I’m sure I missed a few of my own "best practices" and I’m sure there are a ton of other’s I have yet to uncovered but these should get you started.
If anybody has other suggestions please give your best practices in the comments. Be sure to mention your group(s) and how long you’ve been organizing, and include links to their pages on Meetup.com.
Feb 4th, 2010 | Atlanta, Opinion, Startups
Lance Weatherby of ATDC and Socialytics wrote a post today entitled Nobody Told Me where he ranted about how there are too many startup activities in Atlanta and not enough people "creating products, getting customers, and building companies." After writing a long comment which his blog wouldn’t accept for some reason I decided now would be as good a time as any to start blogging again. What follows is the comment I originally wrote for Lance’s blog:
As someone who started a monthly Atlanta Web Entrepreneurs meetup back in Jan 2007 I feel like this post paints a target on my back. Hopefully that was not your intention?
What may not be obvious is I have been agonizing over the issues you described for over two years but not sure how my efforts could evolve to help. At the end of last year I finally realized how my efforts could positively affect execution and as such I made the changes to AWE that I did, i.e. renaming AWE to Atlanta Web Marketers and also launching Startup Atlanta.
First, one thing that I obviously wasn’t able to make clear to you (and others?) was that Atlanta Web Marketers is NOT targeted at Startups and listing it in this context is doing it a disserve. AWM is targeted at small and medium sized businesses, non-profits, government agencies and replicative entrepreneurs, NOT on innovative startup entrepreneurs with a goal of helping them market their products and services better on the web. FYI, there is a huge demonstrated need for people who are effectively operating their organizations to learn how to better market on the web and that’s the market need that AWM is targeting. AWM meetings is all about execution those people in those organizations, and by focusing on that target market it becomes a business itself and running the events are execution. So please take AWM off your list of Atlanta Startup events, as it’s not.
Next, Ignition Alley events are for the most part not startup-specific events either. Some are but most of them are targeting the same market as AWM events. It’s as unfair to list Ignition Alley events as being part of the glut of startup events as it it is to blame people who live and work intown as being part of the metro Atlanta’s rush hour traffic problem.
Continuing, there is Startup Atlanta and it is NOT an event; it is a (soon-to-be) non-profit who mission is to study the ecosystem, identify how to grow it and as much as possible be a catalyst help others execute on on advancing the ecosystem. Yes Startup Atlanta will run the #OnStage event monthly (which I think you misnamed as "OnStartup" in your post), it will run roundtables, it will run task force meetings, and it will probably run other events. However, unlike the former Atlanta Web Entrepreneurs events all of Startup Atlanta’s activities will be measured by how well the activities focus startup entrepreneurs on executing and/or growing the ecosystem support needed by startup entrepreneurs to execute and not providing new ways to waste time.
Specifically let’s look at #OnStage. It’s modeled after the NY Tech meetups that according to those I’ve spoken with in New York has been very effective in driving startup execution in the New York area. It’s an event that can give some local entrepreneurs exposure for their startup rather than how most have toiled in obscurity. As a requirement for presenting at #OnStage startup entrepreneurs must demo their offerings somehow (NO powerpoint) so all those who haven’t executed well enough to have something to show won’t qualify. In addition #OnStage allows the audience 10 minutes of rude Q&A forcing presenting entrepreneurs to be well prepared with a viable business model or to come across looking rather foolish to the community. Finally #OnStage rewards startup entrepreneurs who are doing the best job of executing by selecting winners and getting those winners more exposure which hopefully will mean more customers, partners and/or investors.
Beyond that, Startup Atlanta will only be promoting events that have as a goal to either advance the ecosystem or help startups execute better, and we’ll be focusing on metrics as much as possible.
And while Ben Sabrin and those like him may know all they need to execute well without outside help not everyone who could otherwise execute successfully knows everything they need to succeed. And that’s where targeted, smaller events come in including some we plan for Startup Atlanta. I’ve also noticed that ATDC has a plethora of such events which you didn’t mention including "Circles", "Brown Bags", "Open Coffees", and more. While they too add to the glut of events I actually expect they are of the type that will help startups execute better (well, maybe the first two named and possibly others; though not sure about Open Coffees.)
But while I think while your criticism would have been very well placed about this time last year today it’s a little late because we as an ecosystem have evolved. For example, I understand that StartupChicks is doing some really fabulous events focused on execution for their constituents (but as I lack the requried chromosomes I can’t give a firsthand testamonial.) Capital Lounge has renamed to StartupLounge Atlanta to refocus, according to my memory of my discussion with Scott Burkett, on execution rather than on raising capital. And Startup Gauntlet is focused on perfecting a pitch; again, execution and not something you can repeatedly attend. StartupRiot is as I understand it in large part focused on both getting local attention for startups and gaining attention from investors outside of Atlanta who actually write checks, and that is something many local startups badly need to execute as well. I believe most of these evolved because their organizers identified a need to focus more on results and execution.
And some of the other events you mentioned are industry or technology specific too, not startup-specific. So you do Mobile Monday, AWsome Atlanta, SoCon, and ProductCamp all a disserve by listing them here. (As an aside, you didn’t mention ATLRUG; it’s inline with AWsome so why not? As for ATDC/TAG Entrepreneurs and Venture Pipeline I don’t have enough experience with them to comment.)
So Lance please do get to know the value each event and it’s associated organization has to local startup execution and learn which events are startup-related and which are not. Casting doubt on the value certain activities bring may end up harming the creation of products, the gaining of customers and the building of companies more than it helps.
Executive Director; Startup Atlanta
Organizer; Atlanta Web Marketers
Partner; Ignition Alley Atlanta Coworking
P.S. Personally speaking, I spent 2007 through 2009 getting to know people in the Atlanta startup community and to build relationships both as an event host and by attending as many related events as I could. I had never done this locally during my prior two decades and my ability to grow my business beyond $12 million annually greatly suffered because of it (and I expect others who rarely or don’t create relationships in the community suffer an inability to execute as well.) But my New Years resolution for 2010 is to focus my event hosting and attendance on only those events that will help achieve the execution goals I’ve set for Startup Atlanta, for AWM, and for myself. To your point Lance, I’d recommend startup entrepreneurs do the same.
Sep 20th, 2008 | Atlanta, Marketing, Web
Last month on the 21st we had a blowout meeting about Twitter for the Atlanta Web Entrepreneurs meetup group I organize; over 100 people attended!
We started out with an Intro to Twitter which I prepared and delivered. It reminded me of delivering training long ago during my DSW Group, Financial Dynamics, and Expert Education days.
Normally we find others to give all the presentations but given how confused some people where at our Facebook meeting when we started with the assumption they knew about it, I decided it was best for me the Twitter newbie to give the other newbies the introduction and then let the "rock stars" in our lineup really get into the meat of things.
We then launched into a video conference with both Wayne Sutton (@waynesutton on Twitter) and the Triangle Tweetup (@triangletweetup on Twitter) as well as Robert Scoble a.k.a. "Scobelizer" (@Scobelizer on Twitter). Loren Norman (@lorennorman on Twitter) of Snowcap Labs did the honors of organizing the video conference and for that we were very grateful. Knowing what a web celeb that Robert is and the subsequent constant demand on his time, we scheduled Robert to speak for only 5-10 minute but instead he spent over 30 minutes answering audience questions. Kudos!
After the video conference we have the took a break and then moved into a Q&A session with Sanjay Parekh (@sanjay on Twitter), Tessa Horehled (@tessa on Twitter), and Paul Stamatiou (@stammy on Twitter) each gave us their perspectives on why Twitter is so invaluable.
As many people said after the event this was one of their very favorite AWE events yet, and I certainly agree; it was right up there. Thanks to all involved including Wayne and the Triangle Tweetup, Robert, Loren, Sanjay, Tessa, and Paul for making this such a great event.
It really is great to have such nice people who are willing to help their peers all here in our hometown of Atlanta GA.
Visit Flickr to see all photos I took for this event.
P.S. Oh, and I almost forgot! Atlanta Web Entrepreneurs is @atlantaweb on Twitter, and I’m @MikeSchinkel on Twitter. See ya in the Twittersphere!
Aug 15th, 2008 | Atlanta, Marketing, Software, Technology, Web
Just an announcement that we are going to be discussing Why you MUST have a Twitter Strategy at Atlanta Web Entrepreneurs on August 21, 2008.
I’m going to present a short intro/overview to Twitter and then, god willing and the creek don’t rise, we plan to have two (2) video conferences, one from Triangle Tweetup and the other from a soon-to-be-announced Industry luminary with over 25,000 Twitter followers!
After the 8pm break we’ll have a roundtable-less discussion and Q&A led by our featured participants:
Anyone that wants to attend should first be sure to have a Twitter account and to follow atlantaweb. We’ll use that list as a roll call for the meeting and we’ll announce our special guest on the atlantaweb Twitter account by 6pm Wednsday August 20th.
For more details and to RSVP see go here.
Aug 1st, 2008 | Atlanta
Recently on Twitter I’ve had several people ask where they could find another good place for free WiFi in Atlanta. Each time I answered so I decided to maintain a page on my site with a list of the Atlanta WiFi Hot Spots I go to frequently or at least know about.
Jul 17th, 2008 | Atlanta, Marketing, Web
This month at the Atlanta Web Entrepreneurs meetup group I organize we hosted two sharp email marketing professionals: Sandi Karchmer Solow of I Send Your Email and Ben Chestnut, co-founder of Mail Chimp, a successful Atlanta-based Email Service Provider. Sandi presented Email Marketing 101 to the group, and Ben regaled us with his story of how MailChimp came to be.
Sandi gave us a really great base level of overview of the email marketing landscape and explained how its critical to correctly opt-in your subscribers and to give them exactly what they asked for, and only what they asked for. Otherwise you loose trust and the fallout is worse than anything you could gain. Oh, and Sandi was a real trooper to speak this month because she’s about seven months pregnant. So good luck to her and her soon-to-be-newborn.
As for MailChimp, evidently it was a side project that Ben and his partner’s web consulting company implemented to keep a client who wanted them to manage his email broadcast from hassling them, but they didn’t fully embrace it as their primary offering until many years later. And the month after they fully embraced it their revenue exceeded every prior month’s revenue they’d seen life-to-date for their business! Ben told us how MailChimp has a focus on simplicity and when we reviewing his prices we found MailChimp to be very price competitive, especially for email lists of less than 100 which they send for free!
Now most marketers have heard of ExactTarget before but many may not have heard of MailChimp, and based on MailChimp’s low pricing, it simple-to-use interface and its fun and irrerevent name, many people might think that MailChimp is only for businesses with tiny email lists. But most in the audience including myself were shocked to learn that they have successfully delivered some of the largest email broadcasts in the industry! Ben told us about a major software launch announcements where they sent out millions of of emails in just about 30 minutes! (Ben said the client asked never to be named but believe me, it was major!)
What was especially interesting was when member/attendee Jason Prance mentioned during Q&A that he’d been using both MailChimp, for personal projects, and ExactTarget for a 100,000 name work mailing list, and that he loved the former and really disliked the latter. He then said if he had his druthers he’d be using MailChimp for work but couldn’t switch without re-opting in and loosing probably half his subscribers. To this Ben replied that all he’d need to do is provided his ExactTarget reports showing them being a responsible emailer and then he could easily move his 100k list to MailChimp. Sold!
Anyhoo we had a great time, enjoyed learning about email marketing, and look forward to future Atlanta Web Entrepreneur meetups. Oh, and I want to thank both Sandi and Ben for taking the time to make such a memorable evening for us. It really is great to have such nice people who are willing to help their peers and who are offering such worldclass services so reasonably priced, all here in our hometown of Atlanta GA. Go Atlanta!
Visit Flickr to see all photos I took for this event.
P.S.: This was NOT a paid endorsement for MailChimp. We invited Ben to speak about MailChimp because one of our members that we really respect recommended him very highly. Plus Ben turned out to be a really great guy and there were actually several members in attendance who already use his service and love it. Evidently, MailChimp really kicks ass!
Jul 15th, 2008 | Atlanta
It’s summer so meetup attendance is naturally low, and though this month nobody had prepared a presentation in advance it was nice to get together and "shoot the shit" as they say. Most of Atlanta Drupal’s usual suspects were there (Andrew Lunde, where were you? ‘-)
After the initial discussion which include planning for the Atlanta Drupal website and subsequent jaw-jacking, Kent Lester dominated the rest of the evening, as he often does (but in a good way!) with discussions of his module-heavy site "that contains no custom code" (or so he says… ‘-) Damn if I can’t remember the URL (if I find it, I’ll update the post.)
Anyhoo, here are the rest of the pics:
Aug 14th, 2007 | Atlanta, Software, Technology, Web
I’m at the Fox Theatre in my hometown of Atlanta today checking out the Adobe AIR Bus Tour Summer 07. It’s nice to be at the first event nationwide. I’m attending at the behest of a friend who thinks it going to be the "next big thing." I’m skeptical. I fear yet another proprietary attempt to empower developers to craft unique custom web interfaces to provide desktop functionality as a layer over web technologies, and that’s not a compliment. These types of things, especially when looking at the black box nature of opaque Flash SWF files, do their best to ignore those things that make the web work, i.e. stateless URL-addressed resources. The reality of Adobe AIR remains to be seen… P.S. It would have been nice if Adobe had consulted me to ensure that this event was more convenient for me. I mean, I actually had to leave my home and cross the street to attend. Adobe, Please! ‘-)
Mar 17th, 2007 | Atlanta, Marketing, Web
I’m definitely not a real-time blogger, but I can take pictures. It’s actually very cool as people are taking pictures and uploading them as the conference is running and they are showing them on the overhead from time to time. Here you can see my Podcamp Atlanta 2007 pictures on Flickr. And you can see other people’s Podcamp Atlanta pictures:
Mar 16th, 2007 | Atlanta, Marketing, Web
Last night was the third meeting of the Atlanta Web Entrepreneurs, a Meetup group that I started this past December. Although the first two meetings in January and February were "just getting started" outings, this was the first event that made me think "Hey, we can really pull off something great here!" And that is why I finally decide to go ahead and blog about it .
I’ve been in Atlanta for most of my life and the positive, community-oriented, grassroots entrepreneurial tech culture thriving in San Francisco and Boston and has been all but none-existent in the modern era. Atlanta has been a Fortune 1000 town ; its high tech community has either chased big business dollars or been of the "get rich quick" dotbomb variety , or both. And those who prostrate to major corporations or indenture to venture capitalists are rarely of the "rising tide float all boats" ethos interested in the types of business communities I’ve yearned to be involved in.
Most readers of this blog know that web technologies have evolved to the point anyone with reasonable intelligence and enough passion can create a successful online business; no deep technical knowledge and only a tiny amount of startup capital required. That level of empowerment has unleashed latent entrepreneurial aspirations worldwide. The new-style online businesses people are creating may or may not be a jackpot like YouTube has been for its founders, but they can provide a great living for those involved.
And that excites me. But what really excites me more is, with events like SoCon07, Podcamp Atlanta, and others it’s evident the community-oriented entrepreneurial web ethos that I’ve so longed has finally arrived in Atlanta!
I won’t take any credit for Atlantans new interest in building agile online businesses as none would be deserved. But I will say I’m now doing what I can to help catalyze this transformation of Atlanta’s entrepreneurial web landscape in hopes to see as supportive an ecosystem emerge as those found in the aforementioned Boston and San Francisco.
Wish us luck!
- For a rundown of our third meeting, see my next post at PaperbackSwap founder speaks to Atlanta Web Entrepreneurs.
- Atlanta’s Fortune 1000 include Home Depot, UPS, Coca Cola, BellSouth (now of AT&T), Delta Airlines, Southern Company, SunTrust, Genuine Parts, and Cox Communications to name a few.
- Atlanta’s notable exceptions to the dotbomb moniker have been Mindspring/Earthlink, JBoss, and Internet Security Systems.