Tag Archives: community

Ignite Denver Turned Twenty-Five

Last week we held another Ignite Denver, number 25. I hadn’t really given it much thought, we do three a year, the team is awesome and I love them immensely. This one was set to be every bit as awesome, we’d sold out, had great food trucks lined up, had great speakers ready to inspire and amaze.

Then.

Dan gets on stage and starts talking, and as I lean over to Vanessa, to ask why he’s vamping, and where’s Kat our emcee, I realize what he’s doing. This awesome group of people, behind my back, decided to bring me from the background to the fore.

Before I finish that story though. Ignite Denver is eight years old. In eight years we’ve held 25 events all around downtown Denver, from bars to event spaces to our current home, a 500 person old-timey theatre in the Highlands. The team has changed over the years; starting as just Nicole and I, then growing, then contracting over the years. This current committee is amazing and solid, and despite personality differences, busy (REALLY busy) lives, we get together and pull off an amazing show that leaves the audience laughing, crying, and inspired. They’re also stuffed with good food and beer.

We started in a small side bar at Fado, where the most memorable part was a robot falling off the bar. From there we hopped from bar to bar to event space, to bar. We landed at the Oriental a few years ago, when it was still more creepy than not; sections of the ceiling falling in, HVAC failing the day of our summer show, etc. The theatre has grown with us, now booked more nights than not, and Ignite Denver either sells out or gets close every event now.

Being a part of the Denver Community all these years has been awesome! Meeting so many amazing people with things to share, has been inspiring.

It’s been amazing, and more than once I’ve thought about throwing in the towel.

Ignite Denver 25

Ignite Denver WhiskeyOk back to the story, so Dan is talking about me, and telling me I have to go on stage. I get up on stage, and Dan proceeds to talk about Ignite Denver’s start, and the changes over the years, and the consistency of me. Then gives me two really amazing gifts, from him and the rest of the committee.

I’m not a whiskey drinker (that’s what that is right?) But it will definitely sit on a shelf proudly, because that label!

Also two special, “never to be made again” shirts :) We just ordered a new run of shirts for the team, and apparently we slipped these in.

To say I was (and still am) touched is to put it lightly. Ignite Denver has been a labor of love since I sent the first “Wanna do a talk that’s five minutes and the slides advance automatically?” emails eight years ago.

Here’s to 25 more!

Another Denver Startup Week in the bag!

img_0078Welp, that’s that, Denver Startup Week 2016 has come and gone. I’m still tremendously proud to work on this event. It’s a ton of fun (and some stress, and head shaking).

This year we set another huge milestone having over 13,500 people sign up for the week. That’s amazing.

I had the honor of being the headline events chair, and as always we packed a lot into a week, and this year the week was only 4 days for me.  We decided to move the closing bash to Thursday night, which based on attendance was a great idea! It was epic! Far busier than previous years when it was on a Friday.

The Job fair this year saw almost 2,000 people show up to hang out with and talk to 70+ Denver companies all of whom were hiring! We had a ton of awesome sessions on diversity and inclusivity in tech, which is still so greatly needed! We hosted an awesome event with HBO/Dish to bring Silicon Valley to Denver

Overall the entire week was awesome, over 300 events all over the core of Downtown Denver. Tons of great stuff happened at Basecamp by Chase, where I spent the week, working. It’s nice to not completely have to stop work on my stuff during DSW.

If you didn’t participate this year you should sign up now, so you’ll know about next year, and then you should make sure to book out some time. Whether you work for yourself, or someone else it’s a great investment to get out and enjoy what Denver Startup Week has to offer.

I’m so proud of what Denver is becoming. There’s growing pains for sure, and I hope we address them, but watching the city I’ve chosen as home grow and become a world class city is amazing!

See you next year!

Gratitude

IMG_2478Saying “Thank you” is important. If nothing else it’s polite, but for events, it’s important to realize, you’re the least important piece of the pie.

No one is buying a ticket to hang out with you. They’re coming to see the speakers, possibly to meet sponsors (especially if they’re looking for work). If you factor in at all, it’s a distant third.

For every event I organize I hand write thank you cards. Every speaker gets one (barring hiccups in the process, etc) when they check into the hotel or when they arrive at the conference.

For 360|iDev that’s almost 60 cards. For 360|AnDev is was just under 30.

I think too many event organizers forget that it’s not about them, they form a cult of personality around them as if their presence is the key. Sure great organizers do great events, but the ‘great’  part is the event, not the organizer.

 

I’ve thought about using something to automate my thank you cards, but realized that’s not what I’m about. Sure some have words crossed out, because my hand moved faster than my brain, sure I sometimes write them upside down, or misspell a word, but that’s what authenticity looks like.

Conference lunches…. They don’t have to suck

Conference food… There’s typically two types of conference food;

“Oh my god, this conference has really good food” and,

“Let’s just go somewhere else (and spend our own money), this event has crappy food”

More often than not 360|iDev (and 360|Flex in it’s day) were usually the former. I’ve always thought that conference food shouldn’t be gross, it shouldn’t be rubbery chicken, and steamed veggies. It should be something that people go back for seconds for, it should be something people actually talk about, as much a valued part of the event as the content. I’ve mostly been successful at that.

That’s not to say I’m batting 1000 (I think i used that reference right), there are times when the meal fails to deliver, either i picked poorly, or the venue wasn’t up to the task.

The last two years I’ve taken my approach to conference lunch a step further, offering something few events offer; choice.

While having everyone eat lunch in the conference space has value, I think it’s more valuable to get attendees outdoors. For a few reasons, in no particular order;

  1. Attendees have more choice in what they eat, which is either impossible or stupid expensive within the conference center.
  2. They can meet new people by ending up at the same place as others, but not so many that it’s daunting.
  3. They get to enjoy what the host city has to offer
  4. I get to support local businesses, which is a huge part of my business. 360|Conferences is a Denver, CO company and whenever I can I want to support other Colorado businesses.

 

It’s easy to do an event, it’s harder to do events that don’t suck.

Denver will be ugly in 10 years.

I love the Denver Infill blog because it keeps me in the know on what’s going on in Denver better than anything else, at least as far as construction. I also HATE it.

I hate it because it celebrates one thing (reducing the number of ugly parking lots, which is good) without ever bothering to turn a critical eye to what’s replacing them, which is bad. I made the mistake of reading the article linked above, and then reading the comments. Actually the article is fine, it’s the standard, “yay one less parking lot” celebration. The comments make me sad for the future of Denver as a cool place to live.

Jack says, “If you all think this is ugly, then you obviously have not traveled much.” Interesting as  I’ve traveled a fair bit, domestically and internationally. So many cities have amazing architecture everywhere. Apartments are lovely to look at, sky scrapers are a wonder. Old buildings are celebrated and incorporated into design. Then i come home to Denver and throw up a little in my mouth.

The building that will replace a parking lot in Arapahoe Square is ugly, it’s not nice to look at, unless you’re comparing it to an empty parking lot.

If you’re familiar with Denver’s current building boom, you can guess what it looks like. Take a guess.

Did you say, lots of right angles, lots of brown and earth tones? maybe some glass mixed in? You’re right. It looks like every other 5 story bloc that’s being built or has recently been built in Denver. Every building built in Denver, especially our apartment blocs have been the same. I kid you not, look at the Douglas, Modera RiNo, Denargo Market, Broadstone RiNo, the one linked above, etc. Sure one might toss some brick in. Maybe one has black iron railings and the other silver, but they’re giant squares of boring color, every one of them.

I’m as excited as the Infill bloggers about reducing our surface parking lots (Though the city is being short sighting not building a public parking garage) but I really wish there was a little more thought put towards design, so that Denver doesn’t end up one big brown square.

Ten years from now, when there’s no parking for downtown events, and the “skyline” is five story brown squares, we’re all going to wonder what went wrong. At least we’ll have the Denver Infill blog as a record.

Denver Startup Culture

tl; dr;

Is Broken, but fixable.

the long form:

I got into a Facebook fight with a CEO the other day. He was mad i said a blog post on his site was click bait (which it was, but the popular term is content marketing). I was mad because it doled out praise for “making Denver Startup Week happen” to a group of people that certainly did participate in the week, but only 1 was a member of our actual team that drives the event, AKA “Making it happen”. As a member of the team that makes it happen i was a bit insulted. Not that i was not included, but that my work was being ascribed to others. Coincidentally in an effort to quantify my time, I track it (not 100% well, yet), this year i spent approximately 160 hours on Denver Startup week. Had I billed for that time it’d be over $10,000. That’s not a small investment on my part, it’s larger than several sponsorship levels in fact. I don’t say that as a “I do more than you” just as a statement of what i  do, and it’s relative value.

The next day (i kid you not) i see a blog post by builtin Colorado that says there’s no coworking in LoDo. When in fact I helped launch Uncubed, which started in RiNo but has been in LoDo (15th and Blake) for mmm 3 years now, and has existed longer than built in Colorado. Several other places were mentioned as “nearby options”, all are commonly written about in Builtin and/or Tech crunch because they raise money (which to be clear is totally fine).

That’s the crux of what I think is broken in our community. A focus on money raised. On exits. Not on who’s building and running businesses. 

I think raising money is fine, I think selling your company for tons of money is fine, i think talking about those things is fine. They’re obviously economic drivers, they creates jobs, etc. They’re sexy and attract attention.

But.

We’re making our focus around the “Denver startup community” solely about who’s raised how much, how much did the company sell for. We talk about how much VC money flooded Denver in a given time period, but we’re ignoring those companies that form, and continue to exist that don’t take VC money. Uncubed Started with no money from anyone but the three founders. 360|Conferences, started with nothing at all. Last year we had revenue of about $250,000.

We’re not talking about companies that have been around years, are profitable, are doing things. Sure they’re less ‘sexy’ and often (but not always) employee fewer people, but they’re contributing to the Denver community just as much (and I feel more) as the latest well funded Tech Crunch darling, that may or may not even exist next year.

So, all that said, I think that’s now the goal for my blogging efforts. I don’t know if that will be here on my blog or if I’ll spin up something new. I’d like to get a few folks to help me cover things. There’s more to the story of Denver’s amazing startup scene than is being talked about, and I think it’s time we fixed that.

Want to know more, stay tuned. Want to help, let me know.

360|iDev 2015, What an amazing thing we did.

So i just finished my big event of the year, 360|iDev and wow. What a rush (as always).

TL;DR; So honored to share a room with so many awesome people being awesome. Making amazing things, being parts of amazing teams, etc. I honestly feel this event not only has a positive impact on my life each year, but also does on others, which is humbling to say the least.

There’s an amazing photo pool here.

Now the long form.

I start planning 360|iDev the moment the preceding event ends, so yes, I’ve already begun work on next years event.  A 4 day conference with 55 speakers, 400 attendees and a handful of sponsors isn’t something that comes together in a few weeks.

There were a few good, and one bad thing this year. One of the things I like about doing 360|iDev is that we bring about 400 people into Denver, more than 85% of whom aren’t local to CO. Many who aren’t local to the United States. Sure when compared to city wide events, that’s nothing, but to me it’s a big damn deal.

360|iDev is my bread-n-butter. It keeps enough money coming in, my wife hasn’t forced me to get a job… yet, LOL. I get to see people from around the world that i may only see once (maybe twice if I’m lucky) a year. I get to show off my home town (by claim, if not birth), and show everyone why Denver is so awesome, why it’s where I’m where I am.

There was a lot of great stuff this week, much of it conference specific, so I’ll talk about it on the conference blog, but some of it more personal and Denver specific.

Lunch (good)

Last year we ate lunch outside the hotel because yeah $50/person for conference lunch is stupid and well hotels are often stupid. One place however can’t handle 400 ppl, no matter what they think or say. Lunch last year wasn’t awesome. Long lines, long waits, etc. As experiments go, it failed.

This year I had 3 (4 on Tuesday because of Civic Center eats) options for attendees. Lunch tickets were available for each place, people picked what they wanted to eat. It was awesome to see groups form on the fly each day to explore someplace new. We spread the lunch tickets, so no single vendor had more than 150 people a day. So far (bills are still coming in) it looks like i spent half as much this year as last, and had 3x more options for people. That’s awesome!

The only thing that went a bit sideways was my failure to account for vendors not being open on weekends. Out of 3 only 1 was open on Sundays. Oops.

Local Community (good)

One of the things being downtown has afforded was the opportunity to spread some money around vs. bottling it up in a hotel chain. This year we spread about $18,000 to local restaurants in the downtown area. I think that’s pretty awesome, i know i’m not a rain maker, but i think any time I can give money to local businesses, that’s a great thing. Not only am i not paying for over priced hotel food, but I’m boosting (in a small way, sure) the local economy.

While small, i think every dollar helps. I think as a conference organizer, it’s my job to not just dump money into the pockets of a massive hotel chain. It’s my job to better the city that is hosting my event. Whether that’s financially or even just from exposure like not keeping everyone indoors all day and night.

Police (Bad)

During lunch on Tuesday, the attendees ate lunch at Civic Center Eats. A few attendees were enjoying their meal on the grass when some Denver PD officers came over. Sadly instead of assuming these folks weren’t criminals, vagrants or some type of malcontents, they treated a group of international visitors to Denver like criminals, demanding they all present ID while telling them they were sitting in the wrong grass. Not cool Denver PD, not cool. I get we’re trying to revitalize the grass in the park, but maybe wrap that section in tape, vs. the handful of tiny ass signs. Also maybe, just maybe assume people (wearing conference badges, even!) aren’t trying to kill the grass or break the rules and start with “Hey guys, can you move elsewhere, this grass is off limits for now.” vs. oh i dunno, accosting people eating their lunch, making them all present ID before letting them go.

back-side-black-textAs someone who brings people from around the world to Denver, i’m not super thrilled that happened. Small incident, yes? bad experience for people in Denver the first time ever, yup. In the end we all joked about it, but is that really what Denver wants people to remember about it?

I have much respect for law enforcement, I know their jobs are hard, but that’s not an excuse. Be better please Denver PD.

If you’re one of this years’ attendees, thank you, really, truly, thank you. Being able to do this event, and make even a small living is huge! I can’t thank every single speaker, sponsor and attendee enough for being a part of something so truly amazing. Conferences are hard, harder still when balancing making a living, with making an awesome experience. I already can’t wait until next year.