Last week my friend Matt came to visit me in Palo Alto. This was three weeks after my resignation at Google (More to come on that in a different post) and I was starting to feel a bit down and directionless, a feeling I had taken to describing as “empty inside”. Matt and I held an ongoing discussion over the course of the following week about why I felt this way, what the point of life is, and how to best go about the process of becoming fully formed adults.
Near the end of our week together we attended a lecture by John Doerr at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. John Doerr is one of the richest men in the world and he had a number of interesting things to say:
Your business school grades do not matter, the connections you make do.
He was not accepted into Stanford when he was a student.
He recommends getting real world experience at startups before becoming a venture capitalist.
Hard technical skills are important for entrepreneurs.
Every twenty-something should read The Defining Decade by Meg Jay.
When a man worth over two billion dollars tells you to read a book it is almost always in your best interest to listen.
While Matt and I agreed on some of the points Meg addresses in her book before we read it, there were many new realizations to be had and great confirmation for ideas that we had already discussed. The Defining Decade is divided into three sections: Work, Love, and The Brain and the Body.
Perhaps the most relevant for me at this point in my life is that I must pick a direction for my career and commit without worrying about the other directions I am potentially killing off. I am worried that by choosing to go down one route, I am losing the opportunity to take a different path as I will spend at least a year or two exploring direction A and I won’t be able to afford making a U-turn to try option B if things don’t work out. Apparently this is a common worry and Meg points out that by not making a choice not only am I not leaving my options open, I am actually letting them slowly diminish as time goes by. By taking action immediately and beginning to build “Identity Capital” (The experiences and skills that define who we are as adults) I will actually have more options down the line as going out and doing things opens doors and broadens horizons.
I plan on getting married around 26. People always laugh at me when I say this because “You can’t plan love” or something like that. I’m not saying I can but that seems like a good time to get married and Meg agrees. Up until 25 the divorce statistics are in favor of waiting but after reaching that milestone the biological statistics tell you to get married right away, at least if you plan on having kids. Who to marry though? My biggest fear about getting married is that I might end up divorced or unhappily married to the wrong person. Meg explains that although opposites may sometimes attract, sames actually stay together. When measured by attractiveness, age, religion, political views, education, religion, and intelligence more similar couples tend to stay together more than those with vast differences. Researchers call these obvious matching qualities “deal breakers not match makers”. While a muslim/atheist marriage might end in divorce, there is no guarantee that two atheists will live happily ever after. In The Defining Decade Meg has the best framework I have ever encountered for quickly quantifying your personality compatibility with a potential partner. I don’t want to spoil anything so flip to page 112 when you get the book and check it out.
The Brain and The Body
Unfortunately for us twenty-somethings we have to make some of the most important decisions of our life in the next ten years but our brains aren’t fully formed yet and we don’t really know how the world works. If we wait until we have enough experience to make fully informed decisions with fully formed brains we will be 30 and forcing marriage, kids, and career success into the five years in between 30 and 35 is nearly impossible. In this section Meg urges us to think about the long term trajectory of our lives and make a simple timeline plotting out Education, Career, Marriage, and Kids to make sure we are making logical choices
These are just the most important things I took away from The Defining Decade and I’m sure that if you read the book you will have other realizations as well. I’m really glad I found this book when I did (three days before my 20’th birthday); it really helped me clear my head, lose some anxiety, and prepare to head out and dominate the next ten years. I hope it does you as much good as it did me.
I am always talking about how the Bay Area is the best place in the world to find opportunities. If you are young and want to change the world, have an influential position in biotech, nanotech, artificial intelligence graphic design, venture capital, grow as a person, or just make a pile of cash this is one of the best places to be.
Since moving here in February 2012 my worldview has expanded in ways I wouldn’t have been able to understand before. I met people that I used to read about in the news (in fact I work for one of them and live with another), I worked at one of the best companies to work for in America, met a number of awesome people who convinced me to apply for the Thiel Fellowship, attend numerous awesome events at Stanford, and of course partied hard with the future business leaders of america.
I invite you to come join me in the center of the world.
Here are the events I will be attending next week:
Events in the Bay Area for March 4’th-8’th
Massive Party at My House - March 1
Dale Stephens Book Launch Party - March 2
Launch Hackathon Judging - March 4
Andrew Ng Talk at Stanford - March 4
Geoff Donaker Talk at Stanford - March 5
Launch Hackathon Finalist Pitches - March 5
Gideon Yu Talk At Stanford - March 6
Adam D’Angelo Talk At Stanford - March 7
Guy Kawasaki Talk at Stanford - March 8
Recently I have experienced a number of crazy firsts. The latest in this series of events is my spur of the moment trip to NYC for the 20 Under 20 Summit.The 20 Under 20 Summit is an event hosted by the Thiel Fellowship to bring the applicants and recipients of the fellowship together in one place for a week of speakers, workshops, and networking.
I was aware that the summit was happening but had no plans of attending until I discovered one of my new roommates was going to present — A great example of serendipity in action —. I checked the flights and was able to book one for about $400 so I decided to join him! I had a great time and took lots of photographs and a few videos.
I came away from the conference with four important takeaways:
Networking is not about making connections, it’s about making friends.
I am relatively new to the idea of networking and it has taken me until now to realize that most people are doing it wrong.
The most common type of networking is to meet as many people as possible and try and get something from them, whether that be a meeting, an introduction, or advice. This is going about things incorrectly. This is very impersonal and doesn’t build a real connection. People have no obligation to give you anything and going around asking is plain rude, inconsiderate, and generally off putting.
There is a second group of people (Which until the summit I was pretty firmly a part of) who are doing essentially the same thing, except they are looking to offer value to the other person rather than asking for something straight away. This is not terrible as at least you aren’t being rude, and hopefully if you are offering real value this can be effective.
What I discovered this weekend, however obvious this may seem, is that there is a third kind of networking and it is the best of all. It is simply called making friends. Far more enjoyable and effective than the previous styles of networking, making friends makes much more sense. Rather than walking around talking about what projects you are working on, what you have to offer, and what you need; forming a real personal connection ensures that both people will want to work together in the future and there is always another time to talk about the details of your current project. Is this more work? Sure. You have to set your ego and insecurities aside and open up to another person on a real level. This is something I am still working on myself, and I think all of us will be better off if we move towards this model of networking.
There are a lot of other amazing bright and inspired people your age, they just aren’t evenly distributed.
I’m not going to lie, as a kid I really thought I was the shit. In my environment there were very few people who were motivated, forward thinking, and driven. This lead me to think I was going to just absolutely dominate life without ever having to try too hard. Boy was I surprised when I moved to the bay and realized there were thousands, maybe even millions of people just like me and many significantly farther along than I am. Being around these amazing individuals has been humbling but also inspiring, providing me a target to shoot for. Going to the Summit was another such experience. Being in a room with 250 people that are every bit as awesome as you are really helps to both put things in perspective and motivate you to work even harder.
Side note on this topic: I noticed this weekend that the most interesting people tend to talk the least about themselves. If you want to meet someone really cool, engage the guy or girl that is spending the least time talking themselves up and the most time learning about others. Chances are they are more accomplished than most of the people in the group.
It’s generally best to spend at least a little time planning a trip BEFORE leaving.
I have never spent more than a few hours in NYC (With my parents) and I spent exactly zero minutes preparing before the trip. Diwank and I arrived late at night in the middle of blizzard and immediately after hurricane Sandy to a situation that was a bit like something you would see in a disaster movie like Day After Tomorrow.
As we asked around it became more and more apparent we should have planned transportation before arriving. Could we take the subway? Yes, no problem, head to ??? Beach Station. Oh, actually no we can’t do that, according to a passerby its underwater. No problem though the doorman told us, we can take Skytrain to Jamaica Station transfer to X train, then transfer to Y train at Atlantic and then walk 6 blocks in the blizzard to our AirBnB apartment. Yeah right. We ended up taking a taxi down the HIGHWAY at 40MPH due to the snow and slush coating the roads. There were cars spun out on the sides of the road, tow trucks and police everywhere, and miles of houses without power along the north side of the road.
We arrived safely (For $60+ dollars) but it took us at least another day to really figure out the subways. Thankfully the blizzard was short lived and the weather was amazing for the remainder of the visit. Notwithstanding, next time I will plan (Especially transportation) a bit more before I arrive. Good times, just not necessarily something you want to repeat every time I visit somewhere new.
You can push yourself WAY beyond what you perceive as your current physical limits for lack of sleep and food given enough motivation.
The night before the conference Diwank and I had a surge of motivation. We decided to create a social movement to promote women in technology and discuss the issues surrounding this topic in a fun way. Grumpy the Bear was born. (More info on Grumpy: www.GrumpyIsHere.com) In order to pull this off we stayed up all night right before the beginning of the conference. Looking back this was probably I’ll advised, but seeing what we were able to accomplish with $100, the computer in Staples, and a teddy bear is pretty cool. It’s easy to make excuses when it comes to executing on ideas (Especially those that could result in you appearing foolish if they fail) but what separates the winners from the losers is the ability to set aside excuses, do the work, and put yourself out there for the world to see. As Jim O’Niell said in his closing remarks “Just Do It”.
Tony Robbins with Alexander Berger at Dreamforce
Day 3 - Friday 9/21
Going into the Tony Robbins Keynote today I was extremely skeptical. Through reading an article on The Verge which lead me to the following article on Saltydriod.info, I learned that Tony used his good name to add legitimacy to a scamy info product called New Money Masters created in association with Frank Kern, Mike Koenigs and other shady characters, all members of The Syndicate. These people sell info products of questionable legitimacy/quality/originality and many of them have been fined heavily by the FTC. James Ray, one of the “Experts” featured in the film/book/web series The Secret, even spent time in prison for killing a few of his seminar attendees!
So obviously I was pretty skeptical of Tony as a person, and the value of his talk. The main concept covered in his 3 hour session was that your emotional state is a key part of performing well in your career, relationships, and life in general. This is an idea that is found in other areas of success training from sports to dating and I absolutely agree that controlling your emotional state is a very important skill. Tony incorporated some partner exercises and the like to try and help people develop “triggers” for getting into a good state, the idea being that focus (What you chose to think about mentally) and physiology (What you do with your body) combine to create your state. Being in a positive mental state allows you to be in the moment and perform at a higher level. This was nothing new to me, but it was a nice surface level refresher.
Summary: Tony may be a bad man, but he is a great charismatic public speaker. Wouldn’t want to work with him.
Biotech and Alexander Berger at Dreamforce
Day 2 - Thursday 9/20
Emerging medical technology sounds cool but until today I knew next to nothing about this industry. I started today by attending 2 talks hosted by UCSF.
The first talk by Thomas Ferrin covered using interactive 3D models to guide drug development. His group, Resource for Biocomputing, Visualization, and Informatics or RBVI for short, created Chimera to help researchers build these models and print them via commercially available 3D printers.
Up next was Mobility and Healthcare - Promises and Reality, discussing the social and mobile nature of healthcare in the future. The product I found most fascinating, a Web/Mobile app called GreenDot, uploads data from Glucose/Insulin monitors/injectors to the web and creates an intuitive and shareable visual dashboard that helps amateurs and professionals alike easily discover trends in a patients blood sugar levels and remedy dangerous irregularities.
This is the first generation for something that could eventually act as an artificial; pancreas: Reading the glucose level in the patient’s bloodstream and injecting the appropriate amount of insulin intelligently (and socially) in realtime. Unfortunately for diabetics this may still be a few years of due to the extremely tough FDA approval process for medical devices.
After grabbing some biscuits and gravy with hash browns for $2 at Denny’s I headed over to the main and final event of the evening: Fireside Chat with Colin Powell and Jeff Immelt CEO of GE.
They talked about the future of education, why Iran is not really as much of a threat as the media makes them out to be, and the increasing speed of technological change. Definitely a talk worth watching.
One more day to go!
Marc Benioff, Richard Branson, and 75,000 Fans
Day 1 - Wednesday 9/19
Last week I was super excited to be able to attend Dreamforce X at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. I got to listen to inspiring talks, meet wonderful people, and experience the insanity that is a 75,000+ person conference.
This is the 1’st of 3 posts covering my Dreamforce experience.
Day 1 - Wednesday 9/19
Today began with the main keynote address from Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce and host of this event. This was a 2.5 hour long address with visits from many senior executives from firms such as Ford, GE, Virgin Airlines, and Yelp among others. The main concept that was repeated over and over is that “business is social”. What exactly that means varies from company to company but the basic model that seemed to carry across every business is connecting the customers to the company, the employees to the executives, and the suppliers to their vendors and retailers. In the case of Coke, Toyota, and GE, this chain extended all the way down to connecting the companys physical products to the customers via social media. This is essentially the first generation of semi-intelligent communicative machines. I’m still trying to wrap my head around the GE example (Something about hooking Jet Engines up to a facebook style feed in order to monitor, and eventually tweak them for efficiency) but Coke’s idea is nothing short of brilliant: Coca Cola Freestyle is a new socially aware coke machine that knows who you are when you approach it to buy a drink, allows you to create custom drinks on the fly, and shares your mixes with your friends.
Next up was my favorite event of the conference, a fireside chat between Marc Benioff and Richard Branson. This was the first time I made it into the actual room where the events were held (VS videoconferencing overflow rooms across the street at Moscone West) and I was blown away by the size of the room. Much larger than a highschool football stadium.
I was really inspired by Richard Branson. He started his empire with a record company, expanded his brand into several hundred others businesses, and is currently working on the first commercial space flights.
Richard says he likes to manage his companies like a family, truly caring for his employees. This attitude stems from his first startup where he says, “We were sleeping together”. He then went on to say that when you sell a company, “You’re selling a group of people”. All sounded a bit strange and sexual to me, but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume it was just sage business advice, worded a bit strangely :)
Describing his unique marketing tactics: “If you are a smaller company, taking on a bigger company, you have to be ready and willing to pull their tail quite a bit”. As an example, you have to check out his British Airways prank. Definitely their best stunt ever.
Richard lives life much like a rockstar. He has a private island, once upon a time took some interesting pictures (NSFW), and in his own words “I spent many a night getting stoned as you do when you’re a teenager… Or whatever…” This is likely due to the people he hung out with and the crazy stories he experienced as a young music producer: “Keith Richards was [at my house/studio] one day. He wasn’t there with his own wife, he was there with someone elses wife.” And then shit got crazy… This story does involve nudity and a gun, you have to watch Richard tell it himself.
I couldn’t agree more with his stance on drugs. He is on Brazil’s National Drug Commission and believes the war on drugs has completely failed. He is in favor of decriminalize all drugs, and treating addiction as the health problem that it is. Before moving on to the next topic he quickly adds, “In America It’s almost a racist issue because 80% of people that end up in prison in America happen to be black.” I learned about that in John Fox’s sociology class but you won’t hear that mentioned too often in public. Major bonus points from me.
Final point about Richard Branson:
Richard Branson wants to make the world a better place. In contrast to many activists, he actually has the power to institute change. I think people say money corrupts because they don’t want to recognize the truth: many normal people ARE corrupt, having money simply gives someone the power to act out their designs on the world. Richard however obviously has good designs. In a prominent example, The Elders program assembles independant world leaders to work together for peace and human rights. They even tried to stop the Iraq War before it started!
Summary of Day 1: Massive conference, very impressive. Massive amounts of hype about the social enterprise, some of it likely true. Richard Branson is my new role model: he came off as a deeply compassionate, intelligent, and powerful man and I hope that I have the chance to work with him/be like him in the future.
This afternoon I was listening to NPR: All Things Considered coverage of the teacher strike in Chicago and I noticed a glaringly obvious oversight that I would have missed in the past. The story covered the issues at hand (Pay cuts and a new method for evaluating teacher performance), two sides of the debate (The mayor of chicago and the teachers union), and the possible political implications for Obama (Chicago being his hometown and all) but completely failed to get any input from those affected most: The Students Themselves!This is not just a one-time oversight. The reality it is part of a larger problem in the way education is managed in America, and likely around the world. Education is seen as a path for stodgy academics to design, and kids to follow without question. While this may have worked to fill jobs of the past, nowadays many teachers haven’t even heard of the jobs many middle schoolers will be doing when they graduate. In a report titled “The Shape of Jobs to Come” Fast Future, an organization dedicated to the Identification and analysis of future trends, “highlighted examples of the kinds of jobs, careers and professions that could result from advances in science and technology in the period from 2010 to 2030”. A few of the jobs they found are likely going to materialize as key professions are Nano Medic, Bodypart Maker, and Memory Augmentation Specialist. There are already 3 million US jobs that can’t be filled because there aren’t enough people possessing the skills necessary to do them. This is a massive failing of the education system and that gap will only widen if our schools stay stuck in a 20’th century paradigm.
Education should be about empowering students to adapt and innovate in an ever changing world, not memorizing terms or formulas for a test. Recently I came across a catchy business event titled “Ideas Are Worthless” and I can’t help but apply this to education. “Information is Worthless”, or at least highly overrated. There is so much raw information in the world today, spending middle and high school memorizing random snippets of it seems incredibly useless for most students. While collecting information in their heads may be great for academics, the majority of students need to learn how to interpret the world around them, solve problems, think critically and independently, communicate effectively, and it definitely wouldn’t hurt if they knew how to program a computer.
While I don’t believe that middle school teachers need to be preparing their students to be nano medics (Although that sounds amazingly cool) it is time we realize that our current education model is clunky, slow, inefficient, and completely removed from reality. We need to accept that massive change is INEVITABLE and create a new model that prepares our students to adapt, innovate, and thrive in the environment they will be graduating into. The future is here, and we are not ready.
This was originally a guest post on StuVoice.org
As of now I am listed on EduBlogs!
4 Simple Ways To Improve Your Startup Pitching Skills
I pitched Bets Between Friends, an idea I came up with last week: A web/mobile app for 18-30 year old males to formally place and collect on bets with their friends. To place a bet you simply specify the terms, duration, and amount of the bet and it is sent to your friend via email/the app on his phone. He can then chose to accept or decline the bet. While casual bets with your buddies often go unpaid, the simple process of placing the bet through Bets Between Friends formalizes the wager and increases the likelihood that you will be able to collect on your bet in the future. With Facebook and Paypal integration, betting between friends couldn’t be more simple.
There are three different types of pitch: Elevator Pitch (1-2 Minutes), Competition Pitch (3-5 Minutes), and Funding Pitch (30 Minutes). They each have their own format and purpose. At the bootcamp we focused on elevator pitches and this is what I learned Adeo:
You are going to use your elevator pitch EVERYWHERE: networking events, parties, co-founder events, chatting up investors, recruiting team members, and even explaining what you do to friends. In order to have an amazing pitch, you must demonstrate that you are passionate, knowledgeable, confident, and sincere. An elevator pitch is definitely the first pitch to master as it it is unlikely you will ever get the chance to make a longer pitch if you can’t adequately explain your business succinctly first.
1. Follow The Basic Template
Adeo was a proponent of the following format for the first sentence or two of your pitch and I have to agree, this seems like the best way to introduce your idea/company:
My company, insert name of company, is developing a defined offering to help a defined audience solve a problem with secret sauce.
Once you have your first sentence perfectly optimized, you will be able to communicate what your company is all about in less than 30 seconds! The leaves you an additional 30 seconds to a minute to add details and end with a strong ask whether that means letting your listener know you are looking for investors, office space, or a software engineer.
2. Practice Your Pitch A LOT!
Even before you have your pitch perfectly dialed in you should start practicing it. Practice In front of the mirror, with family and friends, at toastmasters, in front of a camera, at a pitch event, wherever. Get as much feedback as you can get but don’t put too much weight on positive feedback especially from family members/friends. Just keep practicing until it feels natural. When I competed in a public speaking competition I must have repeated my 5 minute speech over 50 times before getting onstage. Practice doesn’t necessarily make perfect, but it can keep you from making embarrassing mistakes when you are under pressure.
3. Don’t Sound Like an Idiot
Adeo was very clear that using buzzwords like disruptive technology, or best in class or superlatives like first, only, or fastest, makes you sound extremely naive and drives investors to the exit at the first opportunity. Acronyms are best avoided as well. Remember your point is to inform, not try to sound smart and tech savvy.
4. Be Confidant
You have to display confidence via body language, eye contact, and voice tone. If you aren’t confident about your company no one else will be either. To start with, don’t cross your arms or put your hands in your pockets. These are defensive/insecure postures. You want to stand up straight, smile, and speak clearly and loud enough that the people in the back of the room can hear you easily.
But hey, don’t take me too seriously. I’ve never actually raised funding. I’ll update this post after I raise a $1 million seed round :) Here are some actual great pitches I found online:
Detailed Breakdown of Next Big Sound Pitch (Skip to 8 minutes for the good stuff)
Top 10 Pitches from Founders Showcase (Strictly Startups)
12 of the Best Pitches on The Web (Some product launches etc mixed in)
The Story of how Alexander Berger Started His First Business
January 1’st, 2011, my senior year of high school. My sister and I were invited to a New Years Eve “Dance Party” by my friend Milene. I had never attended a New Years Eve party, and honestly until 2012 (the following year) I’m not sure I really did. THIS event was less of a party, and more of an intro to west coast swing dancing hosted by our soon to be dance instructor, David Baker. My sister and I immediately fell in love with dance and began attending weekly lessons. Before you know it, we were dancing like pros. (Or at least semi-ok dance enthusiasts) Stick with me here, this IS a story about me founding a business, I promise. In March 2011, our dance group was invited to perform at a fundraiser for a new event venue in town called The Crossing. (Video HERE, you can see me in the back right corner)
Soon after walking into The Crossing and exploring the space, I fell in love with the vibe. The building used to be a nightclub and was still set up in such a way as to evoke a similar feeling. I had never been to a house party, let alone a club, and I was definitely not a “party person” but I could tell I wanted to create something that would allow more of my peers to experience this feeling, and of course make money in the process. A few of my friends from dance made comments voicing what I was feeling, and an idea was born: I would host a nightclub style event for teens.
This idea eventually turned into Insomnia Dance Events. Me and my team held 7 profitable substance free nightclub style dance events in a row with an average attendance of 200 people between the ages of 14 and 21. Insomnia was put on hiatus in November 2011 when, in an ironic twist of events, our adult run venue went out of business. The following is a simple breakdown of the various steps that led to me founding, and eventually moving on from, this business.
Step 1: Pre-Idea
As I think is common in entrepreneurship, this idea didn’t just pop into my head out of nowhere, but rather evolved subconsciously in my head until it was solidified and brought into my conscious mind by the situation I found myself in. When I was 11 me and my best friend John Michael read Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki. We were both convinced by the book that we wanted to be businessmen rather than employees. This started a little process in my head that is always looking for a business to start. This is evidenced by my earlier ventures such as buying 40 chickens and selling the eggs, attempting to grow and sell watermelon, first with John Michael and again with my brother John, and applying to work for a mail stuffing scam with by brother AND sister.
In 2009 me and my brother John entered a local business plan competition with the idea of opening a casino themed event center for kids: Casino Games, Play Money, Prizes, and a Movie Theater. (Pitch video HERE) We didn’t win, but the seed was planted: adult activities, modified for youth. Then I started dance which brought the idea of nightclubs more into the forefront of my reality. Around the same time one of my friends Jon T. (Another Jon!) started talking to me about opening a nightclub. We talked about the idea for a few weeks but it seemed too difficult and expensive so he moved on. He did however have an idea for the name that I liked: Insomnia.
I later asked his permission to use the name via a Facebook message:
Step 2: Idea
As I mentioned above I had the initial basic idea “teen nightclub” hit me as soon as I walked around the venue, but the exact concept took about a month to come together clearly. While it was clear I wanted music and dancing, the marketing questions such as what kind of music, what type of person was I inviting, where and how would I advertise, would the community accept my event, and what size did I want my parties to be, took a while to hash out. I thank my friend Chris M. for helping me through this phase. One idea we entertained was keeping Insomnia a secret and marketing solely through word of mouth, and idea that I think would have likely failed at the time, but that I would love to try in the future.
The final product was an event that would be fun for what I saw as the largest demographic of high schoolers: people that listen to top40, hip-hop, and some electronic music, have or seek to have active social lives, and enjoy dancing with girls/guys. The event was advertised as a “nightclub style dance party” primarily via facebook with around 7,000 people being invited to each event.
At the same time I was able to pitch the event to parents and the venue as a substance free, dance event for teens, an angle that went over much better than “nightclub that throws phat ragers for teens” which is of course exactly what I hoped to create (Minus the substances of course).
Step 3: Research
The due diligence on this idea was pretty simple: There was absolutely no serious competition. Redding is a pretty boring town for teenagers unless you are super into outdoor activities. The only nightlife options are driving 1 hour to Chico for college parties, 2 hours to Sacramento for an 18+ nightclub, or a likely lame local house party.
Next I checked prices and found that I could throw an event for around $1,200 which meant that at an average ticket price of $13 I would need 92 attendees to break even. My space could hold as many as 250 so there was legitimate profit potential as well.
Finally I recruited my friend Jake B. and we headed down to Sacramento to see what I could learn from Barcode. This was my first time being in a real nightclub and I was very impressed with the quality of the production. The sound quality, the layout of the space, and the lighting were far better than I had anticipated. This was good to know, and gave me a useful measuring stick for later parties.
Step 4: Networking
After I decided that the idea was workable, I began reaching out to people that had equipment or services I needed. My first important contact was DJ Jynx (Nathan Warmington). On April 2’nd the day after I went to Barcode, I attended WOMP, a small rave he organized in Redding. (This is now the 3’rd time in my entire life that I had been to a public “party” type event) During the event I approached him, introduced myself, and asked for a meeting next week. He agreed and ended up coming on as a consultant for my first event, in exchange for 10% of the gross receipts. As a consultant he helped me implement his proven method for promoting events, booked the DJs, and helped me select rental equipment for my first event. Without his help I doubt I would have had more than half of the amazing 230 people that showed up on June 10’th to the first event.
After my first event, I made more contacts that helped me improve the quality of my events.
Centerline Lighting was a key player in my success. Centerline was run by Jeff Dennis. Jeff has been in the stage lighting business for years, and is an honest and knowledgeable businessman. His expertise and willingness to work with a young (and poor) entrepreneur such as myself made him an important partner. He advised me on nightclub lighting selection, and taught me how to setup and use all the equipment I rented from him. Lighting is KEY to setting the mood for parties, and having him as a 100% reliable partner, was crucial to the quality of our events, and keeping my stress at a manageable level.
Another key player in my success was Alex Harrison, my head of security. I met Alex at a fundraiser for my local volunteer fire department. I was eating my barbecue when I noticed a towering man at a nearby table. I walked over and asked him if he was interested in working for me as a bouncer. He was. As head of security he kept everyone safe and took a major load off my mind as I knew risky situations would be taken care of appropriately even if I wasn’t right there directing. He also got to choke some guy out, but thats for a different story.
Step 5: Planning and Execution
Over time I developed a very defined 6 week process for organizing each event in which week 1 and week 6 are relatively busy, with the intervening weeks being pretty boring.
Week 1: The first step is to pick a date for the party and book that date with the venue. In my case this was always a Friday. I would then call my head of security, lighting vendor, and all my DJs to give them a heads-up on the date and discuss details of equipment or services needed. Finally I would create the Facebook event and Eventbrite page, and begin inviting people and spreading the word. This usually took about 5 hours of actual work.
Week 2-5: Continue inviting people to the Facebook event, hand out flyers and distribute pre-sale tickets to any shops that are helping promote the event, hand out flyers are schools/the mall. (I only tried this once and it showed promise, but needs more testing to verify the effectiveness)
Week 6: In the final week before an event I reach out to all my vendors again and confirm all details including arrival/departure times and equipment needed.
The day of the event I am always a bit nervous. Although I have already done everything in my power to create a success, there is always the possibility that it wasn’t enough and not enough people will show up. This is a feeling much the same as butterflies in your stomach before giving a speech or presentation combined with the feeling right before you jump off a cliff. It is uncomfortable but exhilarating at the same time. My absolute favorite part of organizing events is that moment around 11pm where I stop, look around, and realize that there are 100s of people having a great time, all because of me. Absolute FAVORITE part.
Step 7: Exit
The decision to exit was pretty easy, as it wasn’t really made by me, but rather the environment in which I was operating. I simply had to stop planning events, and boom, like magic, I had exited. The first pin to drop was the loss of one of my main vendors, Centerline Lighting. When Jeff decided to move on to a new opportunity, we were left renting poor quality lights from his sub-par competition. Soon afterwards The Crossing, our venue, went under. And finally, I felt like I was no longer learning much from each successive event. There is nothing stopping me from planning events again (And I am actually eager for another opportunity as I miss it) but it will probably be in a new market (Looking at Bay Area) and on a larger scale. Add me on Facebook to get an invite when it eventually happens!
Be careful accepting free help
A solid and reliable team is key to your success and peace of mind
You can’t please everyone
There is an important balance between budgeting and quality
Adrenaline is the shit
Starting a business is fun/hard/scary/rewarding all rolled together
If you are thinking about getting into event production, feel free to shoot me an email, I’d love to answer any questions you might have, recommend equipment, explain details, etc.