Community is hygiene not heroics

I’ve been talking to an entrepreneur working on a social/mapping tool called GroupTones to connect local musicians with gigs and one another. Being a cellist in the Boston music scene, he has an intuitive sense of how to build a community around this product. He’s been visiting orchestras at local universities, engaging with people on Twitter, getting feedback on the appropriate subreddits, and starting to blog.

In a recent conversation, we discussed virality. His user base is growing steadily through word of mouth as users recommend the service, but there isn’t any one activity that is causing it to take off.

I told him to keep doing exactly what he’s doing. Building community is a never ending job. If you have a strong community, you’ll always have to manage feedback, maintain relationships, and engage users. It’s not something that you can accomplish in a heroic all-nighter but something that requires constant attention.

As my friend Sumana of the Wikimedia Foundation insightfully puts it, hygiene is more important than heroics.

For example, at 10gen, our community marketing programs started with big, one-day conferences. Those events are crucial for seeding community and continue to be important yearly milestones in each city we visit. The conferences are highly visible, somewhat heroic feats.

What many don’t see is all the work that happens between each conference. User forum posts, IRC questions, and tweets that receive timely responses. Monthly newsletters targeted for each local market. User groups that meet regularly with the financial and logistical support of 10gen. Personal check-ins with key customers and community members. That is the hygiene required to maintain a successful community.

How do you maintain good hygiene? It requires establishing patterns and habits, looking at key metrics at consistent intervals, and making the small stuff visible. I’m hoping to focus more on specific examples of this in future posts.

Measuring ROI on developer event sponsorship

I am consistently impressed by the number of great technology conferences, hackathons, and meetups organized directly by their communities. Organizers bootstrap the event with support from universities, corporations recruiting developers, and companies like 10gen that offer technology products and services.

Since 10gen frequently falls into the categories above, organizers of these grassroots events contact me about supporting them through sponsorship. Hence I thought that I would provide some insight into the evolution of my thinking when it comes to investing in community events.

When I joined 10gen, we were completely focused on adoption, educating the community about MongoDB, and gaining traction. We spoke at local user groups and any conferences that would be interested in learning about NoSQL. We sponsored events to get exposure, but we had a tiny marketing budget so I always negotiated the lowest tier.

As the company grew and hired a sales team, it became necessary to think more critically about how we invest our marketing dollars into developer events. We also had lead generation targets to meet, and events seemed like a great way to accomplish that. It soon became clear that we needed to be more systematic in how we evaluated participation in events.

Initially, it was tempting to measure the success of our participation in an event by looking at the number of leads we gathered, and the subsequent activity. Leads are a concrete, measurable metric, and we can clearly track the conversion to a sales opportunity. This approach biased us towards doing larger sponsorships where we could have a booth. When we have had booths at events, we are able to scan visitors, get their contact information, and sell to them. And with a bigger marketing budget, it seemed logical that we invest in a larger presence at events.

However, after investing in many expensive trade shows, it became evident that the value of a few hundred email addresses couldn’t justify the tens of thousands of dollars that we would have to spend on a booth rental, travel, handouts, and staff time. In addition, the people we met in these booths were generally new to MongoDB. I felt that the conversations we had were valuable for adoption, but most of the leads were not ready for a conversation with a sales rep.

Anecdotally, I knew that the interactions at these events were having an impact. For example, at a MongoDB conference this year, I spoke with a large enterprise customer who told me that they first heard about MongoDB at OSCON two years prior, when one of my colleagues presented. We didn’t sponsor that year, so our investment was just travel and time. It was impossible to track that particular conversion, but that presentation was clearly crucial to that customer’s adoption of MongoDB.

We needed a broader framework for measuring value of each component of event participation. For each event, we started to look at all of the benefits of participation, and assign monetary values to them. What is it worth to us to have 100 people sitting in a room listening to a presentation about MongoDB? How about an attendee speaking with an engineer? How many of those conversations can we have at an event? What’s the value of everyone at the conference going home with a MongoDB coffee mug?

We enumerate each of the items of value associated with participating in the event, assign dollar values, estimate the number of impressions, and total. We then compare to the cost and use this data to prioritize the events. We try to align our budget according to the company expansion and sales goals, so that we are investing in the right territories and so that we don’t end up spread too thin.

Interestingly, I feel that we’ve come full circle: we started as a scrappy startup doing small sponsorships, talking to people at user groups, networking in the hallway track. We experimented with bigger events, but came to the conclusion that the real value of events isn’t in a huge booth, but in the meaningful interactions that we have with individuals. It’s harder to measure this, but it’s a philosophy that is increasingly informing my thought process. Over time, I have started to internalize the values from this model and it’s immediately evident the type of investments we should make.

Based on this model, our approach is increasingly shifting from large trade shows to supporting lots of small community events with small sponsorships. When we participate in an event, we emphasize sending the right speaker and encourage them to work the hallway track. I think that this approach maximizes our reach.

In the next few weeks, I will write a follow up post about how we measure the value of our MongoDB conferences, using some more concrete values.

How to run a tech conference part 6: promotion of your event

This is the sixth post in my series on running a tech conference. In today’s post, I’ll detail the strategies for promoting your event and getting people to register.

  1. Getting Started: Goals and Vision
  2. Choosing a Venue
  3. Budget and Sponsors
  4. Finding Speakers
  5. Event Logistics & Timeline
  6. Promotion of your Event
  7. The Day Of!
  8. Fun Tips & Tricks

Be compelling

Before you announce your conference, you should build a series of messages for each communication channel (email, twitter, blog, etc.) that convey the value of your event. You not only want to get people excited about the content, you need to provide a compelling reason to register.

Demonstrate value through great content

It’s not easy to justify taking a day (or many days) away from the office to attend a conference. Attendees need to be able to show their boss that going to the conference is a valuable use of time and money. You can make that justification easier by demonstrating educational content. O’Reilly takes this to the next level by assembling a business case for each conference to help attendees justify to their bosses the value of attending events such as OSCON.

Ultimately, people attend conferences because they expect a great experience with lots of valuable content. The earlier that you can lock in quality speakers and publish an agenda — even a draft — the better. You want to have interesting content to point prospective attendees to in your messaging.

Make it clear at registration what the cost of the conference ticket includes: admission to sessions, meals, after-parties, networking sessions, swag, and more. Most conference attendees have never run a conference and probably don’t understand the economics. You need to demonstrate to them that it’s worth their money.

Set deadlines

As I have mentioned in previous posts, it’s important to create compelling events to encourage registration. In my experience with MongoDB Days, everyone waits until the last minute to sign up. We are able to get earlier registration by promoting our heavily discounted early bird pricing (which ends 30-45 days before the conference) and our come-as-a-group special (which ends 1-2 weeks before the conference). You can also reward early registrants with a special conference t-shirt or other goodies to encourage sign ups.

Be social

At every opportunity, make registration viral. Encourage people to invite friends, make it easy to share the details on social media, and offer group discounts. Most people find out about events from their friends, so facilitate sharing.

Get the word out

With the principles above in mind, it’s time to start to spread the word about your event. There are many channels to promote your conference, and it’s important to hit as many as possible to ensure maximum reach.

Email marketing

If you have a mailing list, you’ll want to prepare a series of mailings to those on the list leading up to the event. If you don’t have a mailing list, consider setting one up so that people can subscribe for updates on your event. You may not benefit from the mailing list in the first year, but as the event grows, you’ll benefit from having a database of contacts that you can reach out to.

You can supplement your own mailing list by working with other companies. You can ask your sponsors to include a message in their newsletter, or purchase ad space on a list from a similar conference.

Social Media

Like your mailing list, it will take time to accumulate fans and followers on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Tumblr, and XING. However, you will benefit from having these additional channels to reach your audience so it’s worth investing in them early. Early on, establish and publicize an official hashtag for the event, and seed the conversation with tweets from the organizers, speakers, and attendees. As you are doing email campaigns and community outreach, always include the social media links to help build a following. Tweet consistently using relevant hashtags and mentions to encourage re-tweets and gain new followers.

In addition to setting up dedicated accounts for the event, ask each of the conference speakers, sponsors, and any high-profile technologists in the area to announce their involvement on social media, and re-broadcast (RT, like, etc.) on your conference’s official channels.

Event Digests

You should make sure that your event is listed in all of the relevant event mailing lists and calendars. The following are good places to start:

In addition, research and post to local mailing lists and event calendars, such as This Week in the NYC Innovation Community or the Seattle Tech Calendar.

Announce to Relevant User Groups

Prior to an event, I usually spend several hours researching where the local technologists congregate. In most US cities, there are active groups on Meetup.com for every major programming language. I typically join the mailing lists for those groups, and lurk for a few weeks to get a feel for the culture of the meet up. If it’s a high-volume list with lots of announcements and activity, I usually simply send an announcement about the event to the group. If the group is less active, I instead reach out to the organizers to see if making an announcement about the event would be appropriate. In addition, it’s a good idea to offer a few free passes or swag that the organizers can raffle off during the next meetup. This requires some advance planning, but helps build goodwill with the groups.

Other Creative Ideas

  • Design a badge that says “I’m attending/speaking at/sponsoring” the conference that people can post on their websites (see DrupalCon, for example)
  • Sometimes publications are willing to help promote your event in exchange for being listed as a “media sponsor” and being offered press passes
  • Organize Twitter contests with free tickets as prizes using the official event hashtag

Have you seen other creative ideas for spreading the word about a tech conference? Please share them in the comments section!

Online MongoDB Education and Study Groups

A few weeks ago, 10gen announced that we would be offering free, online training on MongoDB. We are offering two courses in collaboration with edX (the non-profit consortium between Harvard, MIT, and Berkeley), starting on October 22: MongoDB for Developers and MongoDB for DBAs.

Education has been key to encouraging adoption of MongoDB. It’s why we value and invest in training, MongoDB days, and MongoDB User Groups (MUGs). Online courses take that strategy to the next level by enabling us to scale our educational offerings. Last year our in-person, public training courses enabled us to educate 1,000 people on MongoDB. Through education.10gen.com, we’ve already enrolled over 10,000 people for the online classes.

Yet, we also value the real-world interaction that our training, MongoDB conferences, and MUGs provide. The face time is important for the community to get to know and learn both from 10gen and from one another.

Hence, I was thrilled when my colleague Francesca had the brilliant idea of incorporating our new online education platform with our user group network. One of the biggest challenges the MUGs face is coming up with new content on a regular basis. The launch of education.10gen.com provides the MUGs with the perfect set of content for weekly study groups. As each course is released on a weekly basis, the groups can work together on the material and assignments, and hopefully encourage a higher rate of completion of the course.

Francesca met with several of the MUG organizers over Google Hangout to discuss this idea, and they were extremely enthusiastic. And I’m excited that 10gen will be hosting a study group in NYC, which I plan to participate in. Hope to see some of you there!

You can find a complete listing of MongoDB User Groups on mongodb.org. If you are interested in starting a MUG and/or organizing your own study group, contact meetups@10gen.com.

On Blogging

At the beginning of the year, I decided that I wanted to share more of my experiences working with the MongoDB community. Initially it was challenging for me to start blogging. It required putting myself and my ideas out in the open. Yet over the past several months, I’ve really started to enjoy writing and find it very rewarding. Here are some of the tips, tricks, and strategies that I’ve learned since starting my blog.

Get Into a Rhythm

Like running a user group, consistency is key. You should set a goal for the frequency that you want to post, and stick with it. I aim to publish a post once a week. Sometimes I even schedule a publish date before the post is done to motivate me to finish it up.

Always Be Drafting

I always have lots and lots of posts in draft form. Every day I’m inspired by good conversations with members of the technology and MongoDB community. Whenever I have a conversation or idea that might make a good post, I write a few notes and save it as a draft. I may not write the post for weeks or even months, but it helps me to keep lots of ideas in progress and provides me with a decent catalogue of pieces to work on.

Write Series

Doing multi-part blog series has helped me tackle big topics, such as the details of running a technology conference. Whenever I’m not sure what to write about, I can focus on one of the series that I have in progress. In addition, starting the series and outlining the parts publicly commits me to writing the posts!

In addition to blog series, I also recommend a “themed” day of the week. For example, my colleague Kristina posts a different command line tip every Thursday. Fred Wilson, the prolific venture capitalist blogger, has several series such as MBA Mondays and Fun Feature Friday on his blog AVC. I haven’t tried this yet, but I think it’s a great idea for getting consistency on a blog.

Build a Support Network

At the beginning of the year, I started a weekly blogging circle where a few colleagues would meet to bounce ideas around. After a few months, the group disintegrated due to busy schedules. However, I kept asking those people for feedback. Everyone has been very willing to read and review my posts (thanks you guys!).

As I mentioned above, a good conversation will often give me ideas for new blog posts. I try to credit the people that inspire me in my posts and share the content with them for feedback. This has not only made the posts on my blog better, but also helped me build an audience.

Don’t worry about being perfect

My goal to publish regularly forced me to overcome my perfectionist tendencies. I had to stop agonizing about making each post perfect in order to accomplish my target of one post per week. I’ve come to realize that a genuine, insightful post can be published with a few typos. And a support network of proofreaders will quickly find those for you anyway.

Believe in your Expertise

I have to admit, I doubt myself before almost every post. I often feel that what I’m writing is obvious, or trite, or uninteresting. Aren’t the steps to running a successful tech conference obvious? Hasn’t this all been said and done before? Yet, I’m consistently surprised that people find the posts beneficial. I think about marketing and community and open source all day long, and might provide an insight or two to those that don’t focus on this type or work, or give a new perspective to someone that does. And ultimately, blogging is a great way for me to formulate and refine my thoughts on these topics even if no one else benefits!

So I might as well keep writing, and I hope that you all enjoy it :)

On hiring developer evangelists and community managers

I’ve been talking to a number of small, technology focused companies about developer outreach. Many are beginning to realize that they need staff dedicated to marketing and developer outreach, but they aren’t sure where to start in terms of finding someone to do this type of work. It’s a challenging role to hire for, as you need someone with a skill set at the intersection of technology and marketing. In addition to profiling a few of my colleagues in the space, I thought I’d provide some insight into places that companies can explore to find candidates for these roles.

Look at your community

Leaders naturally emerge in technical communities. The people within your community who are excited about your technology, who are answering questions on the forum and in IRC, and who are organizing local meetups are the ones that are likely to be effective in a developer evangelism or community management role. And if there isn’t anyone engaged with your product at that level, consider looking at similar communities.

Nathen Harvey strikes me as an excellent example of this approach. While web ops manager at CustomInk, he organized the DC MongoDB and DevOps meetups. As he became more involved in the community, specifically around evangelism of Chef, it was no surprise when OpsCode hired him as their community manager.

Look at your existing staff

Sometimes it’s helpful to look within the company to see if there is someone on the staff that might be well-suited for an evangelism role. There are some engineers that naturally gravitate towards community outreach, but may not realize that this type of position can be a career path for them. Look at the team and see who enjoys interacting with the open source community, attending meetups, and speaking at conferences already.

Some developers may be apprehensive about giving up their engineering responsibilities in order to focus on marketing. In approaching them about a change in their role, I recommend sharing these great blog posts from developer evangelists that I respect tremendously:

Poach

Another approach is to find someone who’s just done it before. There are more technology companies than ever employing engineers in technical evangelism roles. Think about the companies that do amazing work with developer outreach, and find out who is behind that. Participate in events like Community Leadership Summit, local user groups, and technical conferences where technical leaders congregate.

More Resources

I’m not aware of many lists or job boards for these types of roles, but here are a few places to start:

If you have other suggestions, please post in the comments section!

Community Manager Profile: Ana Hevesi of Nodejitsu

Over the past few months, several people have asked me how to find and hire people to do community management and developer outreach. I decided to profile the community managers that I respect the most on my blog in order to provide some insight into the types of people that do this work, as well as their day-to-day activities.

To kick things off, I conducted a short interview with Ana Hevesi, the head of community at Nodejitsu, a company that provides node.js cloud products and services. I met Ana through the Union Square Ventures network when she was working at Shapeways. She has always impressed me with her insights on community, so I’m pleased to share her story here.

Tell me about the community that you manage.

I work with the node.js developer community; these are the people who are pushing the boundaries of server-side Javascript. The community is driven by open source, and it’s attracting a lot of industry veterans as well as hackers who are new to the game. People are passionate about this technology and in many cases they’re coming together across different companies and disciplines to help it succeed.

Describe your role and day-to-day activities.

One of the best things about Nodejitsu is that our company was built out of the node.js community itself. My role is to expand the greater node ecosystem and to build out the people-facing side of Nodejitsu. Specifically, this means I handle all of our sponsorships, our engagement at events (hackathons, conferences, meetups), collaboration with friends and partners on community initiatives, our user feedback pipeline, and keep a watchful eye on engagement with our open source projects. Most recently, I’ve been on a mission to connect to organizers of independently run node meetups around the US (and soon, the world!).

How did you become community manager at nodejitsu?

I’d been working as a community manager for a few years, most recently at Shapeways, but had always found myself drawn to hanging with and working with developers. At the beginning of this year, I decided to start learning Javascript. I’d known HTML and CSS for years, but was frustrated that my front-end development skills stopped there, so I hunkered down and realized that I really loved it. The Nodejitsu team actually found me online, met with me in person, and convinced me to come on board. It was kind of the luckiest thing ever.

You can find Ana on Twitter at @anoemi. Get Ana’s perspective on community by following her awesome blog, Enemy Gate Down.

HOW TO RUN A TECH CONFERENCE PART 5: EVENT LOGISTICS & TIMELINE

This is the fifth post in my series on running a tech conference. In today’s post, I’ll outline a basic timeline for event logistics.

  1. Getting Started: Goals and Vision
  2. Choosing a Venue
  3. Budget and Sponsors
  4. Finding Speakers
  5. Event Logistics & Timeline
  6. Promotion of your Event
  7. The Day Of!
  8. Fun Tips & Tricks

To get organized for a conference, you probably need about four months. We’ve pulled off conferences at 10gen in some cases in 6-8 weeks, but that is an extremely tight timeline. The more time that you can give yourself to line up speakers and get the word out, the better! Just bear in mind, no matter how much planning you do, there will always be a crunch period the few weeks leading up to an event. The best that you can do is be prepared for that by clearing your schedule of other obligations and lining up volunteers to help manage the last-minute details.

T – 120 days

An event isn’t real until the venue has been booked and registration page is live. Working on a four month timeline, you want to get these basic items completed 120 days in advance of the event.

  • Outline the budget
  • Book venue
  • Place tentative catering orders, with the expectation that details may change based on registration
  • Set up website and registration (for simplest registration I recommend using Eventbrite)
  • Create speaker guidelines and talk submission form; open call for speakers
  • Create sponsorship package; open call for sponsors

T – 90 days

Once the basic logistics are in place, it’s time to start getting the word out.

  • Send “save the date” and call for speakers / sponsors announcements to your mailing list, relevant forums and user groups, and via social media
  • List on any relevant tech event calendars
  • Contact any high profile speakers that you want to invite to submit talks or keynote your event
  • Begin outreach to potential sponsors of the event
  • Identify any promotional opportunities for your event (e.g. media sponsorships, mailing list rental, online advertisements, cross-promotional swaps with other events, etc.)

T – 75 days

With the event two and a half months away, you should start confirming the content of the conference.

  • CFP closes
  • Submissions reviewed and draft agenda created
  • Outreach to any speakers to fill in gaps in subject matter

In addition, you should continue promotion and start executing on any promotional opportunities that you’ve identified.

T – 60 days

As we get closer to the event, it’s time to get some of the peripheral logistics sorted out

  • Book any social events around the conference (e.g. reception, after-party, speaker dinner)
  • Design and order any promotional items (e.g. t-shirts and stickers)
  • Do the final round of sponsorship outreach

In addition to the logistical items above, you should of course continue promoting the event!

  • Announce the agenda of speakers
  • Start promoting the content on your website and in your email marketing
  • Get the speakers and sponsors to spread the word through their networks

T – 45 days

This is a good time to work ahead, so that you limit the inevitable last-minute scrambling. In particular, you’ll want to set and communicate expectations for the speakers and sponsors on deadlines for logistical items.

  • Put together staff, sponsor, and speaker information guides with all of the information that they need about the event (speaking expectations, location, etc.) – we put these on a wiki page for easy reference by the participants
  • Prepare email templates for future communication (e.g. reminders about deliverables such as slides)
  • Outline the schedule of shifts for the various staff members
  • Send an email to registered attendees with instructions for preparing for the event, and encourage them to spread the word and invite friends
  • Reach out to reporters or analysts to discuss the event and how they’d benefit from attending or reporting on the activity

T – 30 days

About a month prior to the conference is when you want to start finalizing the basic content, sponsors, and logistics so that you can focus on refining.

  • Final promotional push related to early bird pricing; expect to have 65% of the tickets sold once early bird ends
  • Deadline for sponsors to sign on (any later than this and they may miss the opportunity to be included in print materials)
  • Remind sponsors that they must provide any materials (e.g. logo, short description) for website, email marketing, conference program, etc.
  • Deadline for speakers draft talks and make any final tweaks to talk titles, abstracts, and bios for inclusion in print materials

T – 21 days

With three weeks to spare, it’s time to get as much of the print work completed as possible. This is why it’s so important to get your speakers and sponsors confirmed with 30 days to spare!

  • Design any collateral (signage, agendas, conference program, swag, etc.)
  • Send all design work to printer
  • Design a name tag template, but do not print as you will likely have people registering up until the last week

This is also a good time to send a first round of feedback to speakers on their slides.

T – 14 days

Hopefully if you’ve been planning well, you should be well organized for the final two weeks before the event.

  • Finalize staff schedule and send calendar invites for shifts
  • Schedule a logistical call for all staff and volunteers to review roles and responsibilities

T – 7 days

With one week to go, your main job is communication with the various participants.

  • Hold staff logistics meeting to review roles and responsibilites
  • Send final speaker and sponsor logistical reminders
  • Make the final push for registration
  • Confirm all bookings and contracts
  • Mail and freight items should be shipped to the venue, along with return shipping labels for any items that will be shipped back

T – 2 days

With two days to spare, you will mostly be putting out fires: a speaker with a last minute conflict, last-minute registrants with questions, and volunteers with questions. In addition, there are a few final items to get done before the big day:

  • Final reminder to attendees with logistical information
  • Track any packages to make sure that everything arrives on time
  • Pack your conference survival kit, including Mac adaptors, slide clickers, scissors, tape, sharpies, and power bars
  • Print name tags

The event

I will cover all of the “day of!” logistics in part 7 of this series!

After the event

Once the event is over, there is a considerable amount of follow up work to be done.

  • Send thank you emails and gifts to speakers and sponsors
  • Send thank you email to attendees with a survey for feedback
  • Gather and post slides and videos in central place and promote via social media, conference newsletter, etc.

This post should give you a sense of the complexity of organizing a large scale conference. In the next post in the series, we’ll talk about best practices for promoting your conference.

Every startup employee is an entrepreneur

At a startup, every employee needs to think of themselves as an entrepreneur in their business area. With constant growth, an individual’s role may morph over time as the work increases in both volume and complexity, and every employee must be prepared to think about how they will scale out their portion of the business. In my case, I made the transition from an individual contributor (and only marketing employee) to Director of Community Marketing. Every day I am learning new things about building marketing programs, and I’ve found that having an entrepreneurial mindset is one of the critical ingredients for success.

When I joined 10gen in December 2009, I was a “doer” completely focused on tactical activities. For almost a year, I managed all of our marketing programs by myself, including interacting with community members, coordinating meetups, mailing swag to contributors, organizing conferences, facilitating technical posts on the blog, running our newsletter, managing our CRM tools, and more.

As the company has grown, it’s become impossible for me to continue to do everything myself. Not only has the volume of activities exploded, but the standards of quality have risen and complexity increased. A simple example of this is our newsletter. Two and a half years ago when I started the newsletter, it was a single list with a few thousand names, all of which received the same email blast. Today, we have tens of thousands of subscribers, we issue over a dozen versions of the newsletter segmented by geography and interest, and we translate it into several languages.

Moving from a tactical to a more strategic role means that I spend a lot of my time thinking about how to scale our activities by creating processes and systems. Given the complexity of the newsletter and the number of subscribers, we couldn’t rely on an ad hoc mailing every month. We had to build and document a process for developing content and rules for segmenting lists, all while staying on a strict schedule to ensure that we have sufficient lead time to translate content and run tests. Similarly, for our MongoDB conferences, we built extensive documentation, checklists, budgeting templates, and speaker feedback processes to start to “templatize” our events. While each MongoDB conference brings a unique set of speakers and attendees together, from a logistical standpoint the process is repeatable so that we can execute dozens of these events every year.

I recently finished a book called The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It, which strongly resonated with me. The book explains that many small businesses fail because each business owner has three competing personalities: the Technician, the Entrepreneur, and the Manager. The Technician is the skilled individual contributor, such as a software engineer or baker or in my case, marketer. The Entrepreneur is the person who becomes excited by new ideas, who sees what might be possible. The Manager strives to find order in the chaos, to maintain the status quo. When I joined 10gen, I was the quintessential Technician. In order to build a successful marketing team, I had to balance the Technician inside of me with an Entrepreneur, who could see the possibilities of an organized, well-run marketing machine, and a Manager that could maintain structure and process.

In the E-Myth book, the author explains that in order to build a successful business, you need to stop thinking about the item that you are producing – for example, the newsletter or a MongoDB conference – and start thinking about the overall process. With a structured process, your customers get a consistent, positive experience. Once you’ve documented the process you become freed from the tactical work and can focus on the next innovative strategy.

We don’t have systems for everything, but it’s something that (I hope!) I can motivate the whole team to build. In this way, everyone on my team gets to be an entrepreneur building a certain aspect of the business: Melia building our conferences, Meg building our email marketing and online events, Francesca and James building our user groups, Justin building our web infrastructure, Katie building our design / branding, and so on. This is challenging work but it’s what makes working at a startup so much fun!

Special thanks to Andrew Erlichson for recommending the E-Myth book!

WhereToMeetup: Connecting Meetup Organizers and Hosts

I’m the co-organizer for four technology meetups in New York City (MongoDB, C++, Python, and Prince Building Tech Talks), and a participant in many, many others (170+ according to my meetup profile). Through my work with the technology community, people have started coming to me for help with their meetup groups. Organizers are almost always looking for space to host their events, and there isn’t an easy way for them to find hosts. I’ve fielded so many space requests that sometimes I joke around that I feel like a broker!

I also speak with lots of New York area companies experiencing rapid growth that want to connect with technical professionals. Yet, these companies are not sure how to engage the technology community.

Several months ago I bounced an idea off of my friend Andy, who is a loyal attendee of both the NYC Python and MongoDB meetups: How about we build a web app to pair meetup groups and organizers together? Andy started prototyping an app, bringing his initial ideas to last week’s Python project night. Andy recruited my friend Dan and several other hackers to talk through the idea and look at ways to use the Meetup API and its directory of spaces to help pair up groups and meetups.

Andy and Dan decided to devote some time to the app during Saturday’s Battle of the Braces hackathon at Meetup HQ. They hacked all day, building out WhereToMeetup. Their demo presentation even included several embarrassing pictures of me. After their demo, Kathryn Fink, the community manager at Meeutp, commented that the #1 problem for meetup organizers is finding space, which reinforced the importance of this project.

Dan and Andy ended up winning a prize for the best use of the Meetup API at the hackathon. Even better, before the prizes were announced they already had a bug fix from someone in attendance at the event! It’s still a work in progress, but you can find the project up on Github.

Thanks again to Andy, Dan, and the rest of the community for running with this idea!

During this whole process, I’ve been thinking about how many companies have great event space that they don’t make available to meetup groups. In some cases, the company doesn’t know how to connect with the community. Usually there are a few interested employees that get discouraged when “the powers that be” starts asking about the group. In particular, Andy has been very enthusiastic about holding more Python project nights, and has been looking for ways to justify to HR the value of hosting a group. To close this post, I thought I’d outline a few key reasons that companies should consider hosting or sponsoring a meetup group.

1. Raising the company profile

Hosting a user group raises the profile of your company within the community. It’s a great opportunity to promote your company, your brand, and your product. Some of the organizers of MongoDB User Group offer development services, hosting platforms, and even a MongoDB monitoring tool. Engaging with the community helps get the word out about the exciting work that they are doing.

2. Passive recruiting

Hosting meetups is a great way for companies to engage in passive recruiting. A tech meetup will bring dozens of skilled, enthusiastic developers into the office. The host of the NY MongoDB User Group mentioned to me that he had hired 4-5 people from the group over the past year. Think about it: using a contingency recruiting agency, he could have spent over $100,000 to hire 4-5 people. In comparison, hosting a meetup seems like a deal! To do this right, you need to have employees on hand to “work” the room. Rather than making a company pitch, the most effective hosts usually focus on getting to know the attendees and showing them a good time. For example, one of our meetup hosts often gives attendees a tour of the office to show off their very cool space. Others give out swag. Still others present on the cool technology that they are building.

3. Building a fun work environment

Engaging with the community creates a fun work environment for the staff. It shows that the company is committed to the employees’ professional development and makes working at the company fun!

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