My UnConference – because in the end isn’t it really all about me. The conference itself, for those who have not attended one, is an organic affair with participants suggesting their own topics for break out suggestions, entrepreneurs, VCs, attorneys, consultants, marketing pros, members of the 4th estate are all sharing the same oxygen, and for the most part, looking to connect. What I find most challenging going to ‘high tech’ conferences is that although my company is producing software for the AECO (Architectural Engineering Construction Owner) Community, and although this is technically one of the biggest industry in the world at $4.5 trillion give or take some billions, what it is not is web 3.0, cloud, crowd sourcing, SaaS platform, which makes it intrinsically unsexy in these parts so finding people that ‘digitizing buildings’ or ‘capturing the built environment’ resonates with is few and far between. However, what it does do is let me practice honing my message so it does resonate more with people not in the industry and still let’s me connect with pros who have had experience with developing software, dealing with VARs (Value Added Resellers), valuing companies in all stages, etc. so regardless if you meet the right person, you’ll have to work hard not to learn something.
I was lucky enough to get some one-on-one time with Sim Simeonov from Fast Ignite, and James Gerhsweiller from Common Angels. My approach when speaking to them, which came in 20 minute blocks, was here’s a lot what I don’t know about, I need a 20 minute lesson, go. I asked Sim about the top things I could do when dealing with and developing a VAR network. I asked James how Vela Systems, a portfolio company of Common Angels, was finding success in the AECOM industry and how do you value a pre-revenue company, all good things.
I also saw Curt Nickisch, from NPR, with a mini boom microphone and struck up a conversation saying that I think we could start a cloud computing company by doing anything you do on the desktop today and stick an ‘ify’ on the back end, see chargify, shopify, backupify, asking Curt what he did a lot of, ‘audio editing’ he replied, “audiofy”, I replied, “stream audio to the cloud in real time for web sites, editing, etc.”, not sure if that’s going to catch on though.
What I find most exciting is connecting with other entrepreneurs because starting a business is a lot like going off the high dive, and hearing people’s stories about how they climbed the ladders, making the jump is inspiring, maddening, and takes its own sort of person. In fact, I suggested my own break up room which I titled ‘The Room of Futility” – sharing your mistakes so others can learn, because while hopefully we call learn form mistakes were not always shouting from the roofs so everyone knows about them, and as an entrepreneur we usually remain sometimes unrealistically optimistic and learn and move on without documenting it. One of the top things that came out and brought to the front by Nicolas, was ‘unwritten agreements’ which truly will bite in you in the ass every time, could be an equity split, strategic partnership, whatever, but get it in writing, expect the best, plan for the worst. Also I find speaking with founders, let’s you drop your guard, you’re not giving an elevator pitch, you’re not trying to impress, or raise money, your sharing ideas, and to me getting things out in the open sparks more connections and innovations than keeping it close because you think it’s genius. The fact of the matter is that everyone has good ideas, and I mean everyone, very few will execute, so get it out there an start iterating and making connections. So of the many people I met, Seth, who has internet in a box for a tradeshows, appropriately called Tradeshow Internet, which I thought was a great idea. Having set up tradeshows and being bowled over at the laundry lists of costs this seems to be a homerun. For example, oh, you want electricity in the booth, ummn, yeah, that’s $650 for a duplex, you want internet, $1200, Seth will deliver you a box, plug n’ play, internet enabled for 4 computers, boom, when your done, put it back in the box, slap the prepaid sticker on it, done, your internet at the tradeshow for 15% of the cost of getting it the traditional way, bang, that works. I met Mike, who’s son had developed an app that tracks speed based on the roads your on and can report back to you if your kid, your wife, your dog, is speeding, even better they have a fleet app that tracks, logs, driving performance, that can be used with insurance companies to drop insurance rates if they are doing the speed limit on a regular basis, awesome. Met the founder of drupal, Dries who’s for profit company, Acquia, seems to be going great, we spoke a bit about organizational behavior, and how important it is, something that escaped me in business school, and he told me that he still interviews any candidate that they are hiring, he might be the last one to interview and they already went through many hoops to finally get in front of Dries, but helps insure that they are getting the people most aligned with Dries vision.
And almost lastly, we were asked at the end of the session to write on yellow cards to finish the sentence, at unconference…….., and I wrote “I met the people I was supposed to”, and I need to relate this story. I mentioned that it’s sometimes difficult to find people who my particular business might resonate with, although it’s being teed up as an energy modeling tool and getting a bigger response, but at the very beginning of the session we were asked to turn around and introduce ourselves to those around us, I turned around and introduced myself to Kairos Shen, who is the Director of the Boston Redevelopment Authority, and probably the only one at the conference who I could say, ‘we enable people to digitize buildings’ and then follow up with ‘we help capture the built environment for energy modeling and existing conditions’ and he automatically gets it, who replies with, that’s awesome, because so much happens downstream that having accurate plans, accurate models, can help short circuit problems, save time, save money, etc. and I am thinking man what a great way to start a conference, and then Kairos follows up with, ‘You’re the guy Bill wanted me to to meet.’ Bill Warner is a tornado, he started Avid, started Wildfire, and to my mind has stuck a turbo charger on the whole community of business starting, and turned up the oxygen, among so many initiatives he is the force behind the unConference, and the fact that beyond doing all this, he is reaching down that far through all the attendees, and matching people up, holy sh*8, you know how sometimes we find people who are perfectly suited to what they are doing, maybe a teacher, rec director, etc. and you feel lucky you met up with them, well we’re lucky Bill is driving this bus, because he is awesome at it.