MassTLC unConference Session Summary: Build a Community, not a Network

Everyone in the entrepreneurial community knows about Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and blogging and yet many aren’t using them to their full potential.  To help correct this, Cort Johnson and Joselin Mane teamed up to present ideas behind using social media and social networks to build a real, vibrant community.  They were a great team that drew on their personal experiences with social media to lead the session.  Cort is the leader of the DartBoston community that has recently emerged as a key organization for young entrepreneurs, while Joselin runs Boston Tweetups, which helps broadcast local events through Twitter.  There were quite a few skeptics in the audience that they seemed to have convinced by the end of their session.

The heart of their message was to “facilitate a connection.” That means being more than a Twitter name and a random photo.  You need to build a net of all your content across the web.  Link your Twitter account to your blog, your blog to your LinkedIn and Twitter accounts and so on.  By doing so, it allows anyone who finds you to immediately learn all about you, from what you write about (your blog), to what conversations you’re taking part in (Twitter) to what your background is (LinkedIn).

A few tips they suggested:

Use the same picture for every site.
This builds continuity and allows people looking for you from any site to immediately know they found you.

Follow the 90/10 Rule
90% of what you write and tweet about needs to be adding to the conversation and sharing ideas. To not offend people you can only be self-promoting at most 10% of the time.

Find ways to move the conversation offline
All the social media and networks are great, but nothing beats a face to face meeting to build a great relationship.

Use “Reverse Mentorship” (credit: DartBoston co-founder @Alexa)
If you’re not familiar with all the online social tools, consider asking a young person for help.  They can teach you the basics and set you up with the right accounts and tools and then you can help them with some career mentoring.

Have a Plan
It’s not just about being on Twitter. It’s about choosing all of the networks and sites you want to be on and how you’re going to use them together.  You can start out looking to just explore and better understand them, but you need to then formulate a plan for utilizing it for your business or brand.

Sites/Tools to Consider
Twitter help: Twitter’s help section is great for getting you started.
OneForty.com: Tools for better utilizing Twitter can be found here, including ratings and reviews for each by other users.  It’s started by local entrepreneur @pistachio.
Mashable.com: Provides news and information on all things social media/networks.

“Research, Listen, Contribute”
In the end, this is really the key. The conversation is happening online with or without you, so why not be a part of it? There are many opportunities to hear both what people are thinking about in your industry and about your brands.  Get educated, get involved and you can forge great relationships that can then be brought into the real world.

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In the end, it’s all about what you’re interested in doing.  As was mentioned at the “Bootstrapping PR” panel discussion at WebInno23 earlier this week, it’s important you’re passionate about doing this; like most things in life, you’ll get out what you put in.

If you know of any other key tools for getting started or have any thoughts on building your online presence, please add it to the comments.

MassTLC unConference Session Summary: TurboCharging the Entrepreneurial Culture in MA “Active – In Process – To Do List”

Yesterday at the MassTLC unConference, Tim Rowe and Scott Kirsner led an event  entitled, “Turbo-Charging the Entrepreneurial Culture in MA.”  Those in attendance were charged with creating a list of every organization and event they knew of in the community.  It was truly an impressive group effort that created a list I don’t think anyone would have been able to build on their own that morning.

If you were at the meeting, you’ll recall a young member of the audience chimed in about how he had built a wiki on his own to try to make sense of all the events that he was able to slowly discover. For the past year, I’ve been building that wiki to include not only events, but organizations, resources, some angel and VC groups, the many summer programs and more.  It started out as something for myself out of frustration in trying to grasp the overall picture of the Boston entrepreneurial community, but soon turned into a group effort amongst myself and a few colleagues to try to create something of value for others (i.e.- a full, organized, detailed website built around the information we stored on the wiki and a crowdsourced community to keep it up to date and interact).   So, for now, below you’ll find the list created on the white board from the session yesterday.

{Update: The site is live! Please go to www.GreenhornConnect.com to see the resources all listed. Feel free to use the “Contact Us” option at the site to share any ideas, questions, comments or feedback. Thanks!}

Here’s the list (Active=occurring, In Process=In Development, To Do = Items suggested to start doing to improve the community):

Active Events/Organizations:

TechStars
WebInno
StayInMA
unConference
“Bettina’s Women CEO event”
Mobile Mondays
Open Coffee
Tech Tuesdays
Mass TLC
Social Media Awards
Microsoft NERD
MIT 100K competition
MIT Enterprise Forum
MIT E Center
Swiss Nex
Boston World Partners
Boston Post Mortem
DARTBoston
Mark’s Guide
TCN: The Capital Network
Business Innovation Factory
The Quest for Innovation
Innovate MATech
Mass Innovation Nights
Awesome Foundation
Beta Spring
TIE Boston
TIE Boston Leadership Group
BetaSpring
BetaHouse
Vilna Shul
NECINA
BYTE
Boston Young Entrepreneurs
OneIn3
Common Angels
Launch Pad
Mass High Tech
TedX
Summer @ Highland
Mass, It’s All Here
Genotrope
Green Tech Media
InnoEcoBlog (Scott Kirsner)
Xconomy
UNH Mentoring program
WPI Venture Forum
The Funded Founder Institutes
TYE (Helps w/ HS Business Plans)
CCC: Cambridge Coworking Center
UMass UDC

In Process/Development:

MassChallenge
VentureCafe
VentureFizz
Venture Well
Gary’s Guide
TCN Student Fair
Propel Careers
Northeastern University IDEA
Dog Patch Labs

Items to Add/To Do:

– Break down school silos
– Virtual unConference
– Open employer (non compete) Badges
– Court acquisition heavy businesses to the region
– Micro-investment matching mechanisms
– Organize more practical meetings (i.e.- not networking…mission based)
– Let more green horns in (i.e.- Give young entrepreneurs a shot to work in startups)
– Coordinate VC “reprogramming” of mentalities
– Build a wiki of information
– MassTLC: Coordinate challenges
– Have heads of various groups/events meet
– TC50 Event in Boston
– Connect students w/ companies more
– Have more thought leadership in the region

{Update: The site is live! Please go to www.GreenhornConnect.com to see the resources all listed. Feel free to use the “Contact Us” option at the site to share any ideas, questions, comments or feedback. Thanks!}

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I believe the website we’re building will significantly better serve the community than a simple wiki list, so I’m not sure where that leaves the content I have on the wiki I made until we launch. I’ll try to update what’s happening with the wiki/website my team is working as we progress.

I’d love to speak with any of you with continued interest in this issue. Please feel free to leave a comment/suggestion or send me a message on Twitter (@Evanish). Thanks!

Field Report: WebInno23 Session: An Entrepreneur’s Guide to Bootstrapping PR

Last night, a near-capacity crowd of people passionate about the web congregated at the WebInno23 event at the Royal Sonesta in Cambridge.  There were a number of interesting companies making their pitches, including The Idea Startup, Happn.in, and Book of Odds. It was a great event all around, but my favorite part was the journalist panel on “An Entrepreneur’s Guide to Bootstrapping PR.” The real title could have been more bluntly named, “How to effectively reach journalists and get them to write about you without wasting money on PR people.”

The panel was a who’s who of distinguished innovation economy regional journalists: Peter Kafka (AllThingsD), Scott Kirsner (Boston Globe), Wade Roush (Xconomy),  and Bob Brown (Network World). Despite the varied backgrounds, they all seemed to be in agreement on most issues:

The Best Way to Reach Journalists

It turns out, journalists are just like regular people; if you want someone to help you out, they’re more likely to do so if they personally know you.  Peter Kafka recommended getting a referral from someone he trusts; if they’re excited about it, then he will be as well.  However, en lieu of such a connection, they all agreed that speaking to them face to face at an event or a conference is the best way to make them interested in your company.  The also emphasized that the meeting needs to be natural; they don’t like it when PR people or others grab someone and try to force an interaction.  Just thinking logically about reaching them this way, it makes a lot of sense.  Are you more likely to help someone if you were randomly messaged by them on LinkedIn or if you met them in person before?

Tips for Blogging

If you’re going to blog, you need to be passionate about what you’re blogging about and blogging itself.  A number of the panelists mentioned checking company and founder blogs to start a story.  If it isn’t current, they’re less likely to be interested and as Scott Kirsner said he’d hate to be at a company and have to ask, “‘What’s happened since your last post on July 23rd?'”  Bottom line: Write regularly and with passion or don’t blog at all.

Best Hooks for Journalists

If you want a journalist to write about you, you need to give them something they find interesting to write about. These are what they said were the most likely items to be written about:
1) If your company gets  a new leader (Someone was likely removed)
2) If you just completed a big round of financing
3) If you’re an established company making a significant change in direction for the company
4) If you have a major product being released (NOT version 7.2.1.1)
5) If you tie to a hot topic or are taking on an industry giant (David vs. Goliath is always a good story)
No surprises here.  What else does a company do that others might really want to read about?

Thoughts on Embargoes and Exclusives

The general feeling was that embargoes are a dying concept.  With sites like TechCrunch breaking news as soon as they can find it and others “accidentally” breaking stories early, there’s not a lot of incentive to wait.  The panelists were mainly concerned with spending a great deal of time on an article only to be beaten to the story by another site.  They also posed the question, “Why do you need everything to break at the exact same time?”

A similar feeling was echoed for exclusives.  Unless it’s a really unique and deep story, being exclusive isn’t a big deal to the journalists; they said they understand an entrepreneur has to try to get their story out. Their main thoughts seemed to focus on the fact that you really just need to understand your desired audience for a story.  Sites like Gizmodo will get you a mention and a quick paragaph, but to have a full story told, you’ll want to target a journalist.

Final Thoughts

The main message of the event seemed to focus on three concepts: personal relationships, passion and personality.  They all get spammed by PR firms trying to convince them to write a story and press releases filled with gobbledegook.  Neither is likely to get a story actually written.  Instead, they want to get to know you and your company personally.  As Bob Brown said, “Put away your powerpoints and put you and your company’s personality in front of us.” They also want to see your passion and personality come through in the content on your site, your blog and your tweets.  These places are where you can control your message and may even attract interest from journalists (David Meerman Scott and Hubspot would be so proud).

In the end, journalists are just like everyone else; they want to be treated like a colleague, hear interesting stories and get to know you and what you’re passionate about.  PR people are still very important for companies for a lot of other duties, but for a new startup trying to get press, the panelists don’t believe they can help much.


The Best Kept Secret for Young Entrepreneurs: DartBoston’s Pokin’ Holes

Every Thursday night a group of energized, passionate, young entrepreneurs gather at a local bar for an event called Pokin’ Holes. The set-up is simple: a young entrepreneur gives a pitch of their company and describes what stage they’re in and problems they’re facing right now.  Cort Johnson, the host of Pokin’ Holes, then leads a 3 person panel (also filled with young entrepreneurs) to discuss what they see as both key problems and solutions for the start-up.  When the panel discussion is finished, the audience is asked for their feedback as well.

Before attending an event, I was skeptical. I thought, “How much could a few young entrepreneurs do to help and why would I want to attend this?” One word can explain it all: community.

Yes, a key part of the weekly events are the panelists discussing a fellow young entrepreneur’s start-up, but Pokin’ Holes doesn’t end when the camera stops recording (as I mistakenly thought).  Everyone is involved in the discussion, asking both tough questions and helping come up with possible solutions.  The diversity of backgrounds in the audience provides incredible insight as everyone looks at the companies through a different lense.

A great example of this was the week Schedr was the featured start-up (see video here).  Schedr is an online course registration application designed by UMass Amherst student Tom Petr.  The panel was made up of people with backgrounds in front end programming, back end programming and marketing, which were exactly the areas he needed advice on.  It became an even bigger help for Tom when Cort opened the discussion to the audience as others weighed in with perspectives as fellow students (his customers), RAs (a potential sales channel), and working with school administration (he needs access to the registrar).  By the end of the night, Tom had a laundry list of ideas and people to speak to that will make a huge impact on the development of his business.

The Schedr panel and audience was not the exception; there was no magical coincidence that the room was filled with the right people.  The following week, LaunchIntoBoston was the featured company, and similar results occurred (see video here).  Launch Into Boston is a company serving those transitioning from college to the working world in Boston.  They help you find an apartment, a job and discover socializing opportunities in the city.  Obviously, it couldn’t be more different from an online scheduling tool and yet, the panel again provided essential feedback and the audience reinforced and added many more ideas.  By the end of the night, founder Stephanie Smith had a new perspective on where to focus her business and make the most effective, immediate improvements.

Helping these companies is great, but when the camera shuts off and the audience feedback wraps up, the real power of DartBoston begins. Everyone sticks together after the event to talk about their passions, ideas and new ventures.  This is invigorating and exciting; everyone seems to feed off of one another, energizing us to all keep pursuing our goals.  The beauty is that the room is truly flat; none of the panelists or audience members are untouchable CEOs of major companies that are anxious to get back to their Blackberry or afraid to hear another pitch.  It is this openness and welcoming nature that keeps people coming back and leads to the community that is so powerful in helping the companies featured each week and also leads to help occurring off camera too.

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The community is what makes DartBoston great and so unique.  If you know of another collection of such energized, ambitious, young entrepreneurs, I think we’d all like to know about it.

I’ll close this with a quote from an episode of Hubspot.tv a few weeks ago that I believe embodies what DartBoston means to the young entrepreneur community:

“If you have a great idea and are passionate about it, just go for it and surround yourself with people that believe in you and will offer guidance and help”  – Leah Busque, Founder of RunMyErrand.com