Something really strange happened at the January ExitEvent Startup Social. Even with the distraction of the incredible craft selections from Mystery Brewing and the noise from the ping-pong table smack in the middle of Neu Concepts, a whole lot of lame business-type stuff got done.
Despite the lack of any agenda, nametags, speakers, panels, sponsors, breakouts, demos, swag, sessions, or hashtags.
The simple beauty of the Startup Social is that I put smart entrepreneurs — this time just over 100 but we’ve gotten over 200 — and a few investors in the same room, give them music and beer, and let them dictate what they get out of it. They’re smarter than me, and they always come up with something better than I could. It just works.
So I already know that a whole lot of lame business-type stuff gets done. In fact, I’m counting on it. But this time, the results of that lame business-type stuff were a little different. That’s because I rigged it, and by rigged it, I mean I put a stack of index cards, a few cheap pens, and a box near the beer with a sign:
If ExitEvent.com wants to be the first place entrepreneurs log into every morning, what does it need to offer?
Obviously, the most popular response was, “Porn!” Nerds dig a good joke too.
I had done something like this a few months ago, only I had asked a more general: “What do you need?” The response turned into this very popular article. This time, the question was about ExitEvent.com, or more specifically, a network that includes of hundreds of startups, dozens of investors, a score of support organizations, and a bunch of small businesses, service providers, job seekers, and press.
In other words, a location-agnostic, healthy-sized startup community.
So seen through a wider lens, here’s what startups want from their community.
Listen up, community:
4. More Information, More Often
A few of the suggestions boiled down to more information, tons of information, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD OPEN THE FLOODGATES OF SWEET INFORMATION.
Broken down, these suggestions were along the lines of a recurring ExitEvent news article, maybe weekly, maybe daily, that summarized the best blog posts, tweets, and videos from startup community. More suggestions revolved around regular articles about new startups or updates to current startups. All of the suggestions pointed to highlighting activity and growth.
I get that, and it’s something the writers have already debated, but after some careful consideration, this is the only one I’m not so hot on.
I know what the thought processes behind these suggestions are: Let’s show everyone outside of our community how much activity there is inside our community. The more they know about our community, the more they’ll want to know about our community.
Again, I get that. But there are a couple reasons why I’m hesitant. Not against. Hesitant.
Honestly, the most accurate assessment of what’s going on in any startup community is the ongoing success of the startups therein, and that kind of success brings with it its own marketing machine. It doesn’t need to be augmented.
There is a lot of noise right now about startup communities that has little to do with the success of the startups therein. When the talk turns to the growing number of startups within a community and the fact that they exist, then that’s just noise.
If ExitEvent can’t capture and communicate the activity of a startup community in our articles, then we shouldn’t be writing articles.
Outside of long-form content, there are already plenty of information aggregators out there, with the first and most obvious being Twitter. There is also paper.li — which is a cautionary tale for how quickly aggregated small tidbits can become awful.
3. About the Entrepreneur
This one kind of surprised me. Entrepreneurs want to know more about other entrepreneurs — which makes perfect sense — but they also want to know about other entrepreneurs. Sure they want to know how’d they raise that money or where they’re finding all those customers, but they also want more personal information.
What makes them tick.
One suggestion was for an Entrepreneur of the Month type article — a profile of a successful founder. It would be like – we’re hearing a lot of hype about X, so let’s talk to X and see if they know why everyone is crazy about them this month.
They won’t. But it’d be a fun read, apparently.
A number of other suggestions were for features on ExitEvent members – their story, who they are, what they do, their personal interests, including forums with Q&A, so other entrepreneurs could reach out and ask the questions they want answered, instead of relying on the author.
Because you know all we want is pageviews. By any means necessary.
This is a pretty intriguing idea. I have no idea how to do it, which makes me want to get it done even more.
I’m totally aware of this one and totally working on it, but this is the most sensitive issue I’m tackling and really easy to mess up.
ExitEvent has many more individual members than it has companies, a ratio of about 2 to 1, but outside of who’s coming to the Social, we only expose information about companies, even among the entrepreneurs themselves.
Even among the investors, for that matter.
Because entrepreneurs don’t have time for a lot of inbound communication that isn’t directly related to the survival of their startup.
This very important issue is the direct reason why:
And this is the way it should be. Time spent away from the business is time not spent building the business. So it’s crucial that when you take the entrepreneur away from their business, it’s for business reasons. It sounds like a vicious cycle but it’s the same magic I’m talking about in the opening of this article.
In 2013, we’ll open up more direct lines of communication, so entrepreneurs can talk to each other, talk to investors, and talk to support organizations without getting caught in timesuck threads.
If you’re an entrepreneur, you know exactly what a timesuck thread is.
So that’s two through four on the list, and each one of those could probably be debated further. Tomorrow, I’ll reveal the top thing these entrepreneurs told me they wanted from the community.
Spolier alert: It wasn’t money.
Update 1/31/13: Here it is