Having lived in Charlotte for a year and having made the occasional trip back for things that don't happen in the Triangle like Police reunion concerts, I'd been of the mind that the Charlotte startup scene would remain under wraps for as long as the Queen City was considered a banking town.
And it still is a banking town. Make no mistake. Charlotte is still suits and Fortune 500s, but the startup community decided to shrug that off and go ahead and develop anyway.
I won't lie to you, I worried about the Charlotte Social, even after getting to know people like Adam Hill of Packard Place and RevTech Labs and Tim Cheadle of Charlotte Hackers and Founders. Even after getting to know the Lees from Autopilot and Jon West from AddShoppers and Jim Van Fleet from it's bspoke -- super people who were really interested in bringing more attention to the efforts of startups in their city.
I worried because, let's put it this way -- Even after a number of Durham and Raleigh socials where we've gotten over 200 verified entrepreneurs and investors, I'm always convinced no one will show up to the next one. Even when we have 200+ on the RSVP list, I'm still not comfortable until 6:01, when then bulk of the entrepreneurs have a cold beer in their hand and are making a large amount of conversational noise.
I'm also the guy that worries about his team with a 20 point lead and two minutes left. I'm never convinced until the final buzzer. I like to think this skepticism is healthy and makes me a good entrepreneur (when applied to, say, revenue and contracts), but it makes me a shitty party planner.
And I can live with that.
Charlotte, in a word, delivered. Everyone I dealt with was really excited that the Social was happening on their turf after 13 successful versions in Durham and two in Raleigh. Van Fleet volunteered six growlers from local Charlotte breweries to go along with the 12 from Mystery Brewing in the Triangle, and the Packard Place facilities were exceptional.
But even after spending some of the day recruiting Durham and Raleigh entrepreneurs and investors from Southeast Venture Conference, by 4:30 p.m., as I walked from the Ritz Carlton three blocks to Packard, I felt like, best case, we'd have 30 people in the room.
I tried to get comfortable.
Then people started arriving -- at 5:00, a half-hour early. Then the room started to fill. Then the room started to overflow. By 6:00 p.m., my walk-around count was over 80 entrepreneurs and investors, and, since I was pouring the beer, I counted at least another 10-20 who straggled in after 7:00.
The turnout proved that ExitEvent can work anywhere. Look, you can get Raleigh entrepreneurs to come to Durham, and vice-versa, but you're not getting Raleigh or Durham entrepreneurs to come to Charlotte, even if they're coming for something valuable.
So the room was mostly Charlotte entrepreneurs. I'd say I knew about 10 people there out of 100. The Charlotte entrepreneurs didn't know me, but they had heard about ExitEvent. And they hadn't heard about ExitEvent from Durham or Raleigh entrepreneurs, or from SEVC. Rather, they found it on their own.
Enough of them found it on their own that 90 of them thought it would be a good idea to show up. And they got the vibe right away.
The entrepreneurs in Charlotte remind me of the ones I started meeting in Durham three years ago - sharp, enthusiastic, but grounded. They talked about customer-first, and strategies for bringing on technical people, and boards, and bootstrapping, and seed rounds, and everything else entrepreneurs talk about. One showed me a demo on her phone. It was great. She'll do very well.
And that's Charlotte, the banking town. So who says the same thing can't happen in Asheville? Or even in Wilmington. We can call it a Startup Beach Party, host it in July, and still probably get the same kinds of people having the same conversations, just thankful that there's a room somewhere where they can go and find others like them who are willing to help them on this journey that, let's face it, not too many other people understand.
There are entrepreneurs everywhere, whether it's a banking town or a beach town or a mountain town. It's thrilling to know that if you put the right thing out there, something for entrepreneurs and by entrepreneurs that speaks to entrepreneurs in their language, they'll find it.
And Now For Something Completely Different
Coming out of the Charlotte Social, I received an offer to host the next Social at the home of a well-known Triangle entrepreneur.
How do you say no to that?
So once again, we're breaking with tradition and I can promise you the April ExitEvent Startup Social will be unique, something you've never done before.
Of course, I'll worry about it right up until 6:00 p.m. on April 15th.