One of the most memorable sessions of a global journalism conference I attended three weeks ago in Ireland included a hot debate over whether journalism was dead or alive.
The gist of the argument for its demise is that traditional media orgs made themselves obsolete by thinking they could be gatekeepers of the news in a social, mobile world. Those who claim journalism is alive and well argue that successful media sources have found a way to adopt new technologies for news generation and distribution, attract advertisers and include citizen journalism, while still helping news consumers determine what is fact or fiction.
I don’t know the answer. But I know that regional niche media organizations have to be persistently creative to avoid death.
And that’s the spirit we try to embody at ExitEvent. It’s why we’re excited to announce today American Underground’s acquisition of Big Top, the local event series and tech jobs platform founded and run for the last six years by serial entrepreneur and investor Chris Heivly. The events and site will be operated by our team at ExitEvent (a subsidiary of American Underground). Here’s the official news release.
We think Big Top is a great fit for ExitEvent. One of our goals has always been to provide startups with the tools and information they need to build successful companies. And as startups mature, one of the key criteria for success is the ability to hire capable and talented workers.
Big Top has done a great job of gathering hundreds of these talented individuals together several times a year for a unique sort of job fair, themed around the circus. Instead of wandering from table to table passing out resumes and selling themselves, jobseekers get to be pitched by CEOs and top executives on why their companies are so great to work for.
It’s a model that works well for technology and other startup companies, says Heivly, who now works as an entrepreneur-in-residence at Techstars.
“If you’re an experienced software developer (for example), you can almost choose where you want to go,” he says. “The leverage isn’t with the companies, it’s with the candidates because there are so few of them.”
This is the feedback we received as we considered the acquisition earlier this spring. But it was validated again two weeks ago, at Big Top 15, held in timing with Moogfest. (Photo album here)
CloudFactory CEO Mark Sears, who participated for the first time, told me he met between five and 10 qualified candidates including one individual he’ll likely hire.
Credit: Anna Hammill/ExitEvent
The Big Top events aren’t a quantity play, he also said, but they certainly give access to quality candidates.
The quantity challenge wasn’t lost on Chris though. He wanted companies to also get the quantity of candidates they needed to fill some jobs, without necessarily relying on his event.
As Chris invested back into the business over the years, he built a list of 4,000 individuals who’ve opted to receive regular emails about open jobs in their field. And late last year, he unveiled a new website with job listings automatically scraped daily from the websites of more than 80 local companies. Behind all that is a database full of interesting stats about job openings, hiring patterns and other trends.
Beyond the popular event series, the digital platform was our selling point.
The scraper makes it possible to add new companies to the list, which is appealing as we consider taking Big Top to other cities in North Carolina and around the Southeast.
Along with the data, it will help improve our offerings at ExitEvent, where career management has been an important theme over the years too.
After two years of publishing highly trafficked monthly startup jobs roundups, we turned those listings into a permanent page on our new website earlier this year. We’re also publishing more profile stories, timelines and videos detailing the culture and growth of local companies. We plan to integrate this content into the Big Top platform, and produce a lot more of it. For now, the two brands will operate side by side.
I’m honored that Chris chose us as successor for one of his creations. As we talked through the acquisition, he shared with me that there was always a big vision for Big Top, but it was constrained by his ability to put time into it. Chris has even less time these days with a busy Techstars travel schedule and a commitment to writing a second book and columns for Inc.
The next Big Top will be held Thursday July 6 at The Frontier at Research Triangle Park. You won’t see many changes from the Heivly days. But consider this an open invitation for ideas and feedback to help us achieve Chris’s bigger vision, and meet the needs of companies and jobseekers here in the Triangle and beyond.
Top photo credit: Jonny Underwood/Moogfest