From Coffee Chats to Rooftop Mixers
Reflections and words of wisdom from producing dozens of events.
Hi friends 👋
In my final article of the year, I wanted to share some reflections and words of wisdom on my event-hosting and community-building journey. For those of you who know me, you’ll know that I’m deeply passionate about bringing people together and am fascinated by the art and science of human relationships.
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Two years ago, I moved to NYC only knowing a handful of people, so I began making friends by having coffee chats with strangers from the internet.
In 2022, I was throwing rooftop mixers for thousands of people in four cities.
By December this year, I had:
Hosted dozens of events—mixers, dinners, and parties—for 10,000+ attendees across four cities:
Including 2,000+ founders / CEOs, 1,500+ investors, and 3,000+ operators spanning hundreds of tech companies, venture funds, and communities
Organized the official NY Tech Week After Party at Blue Midtown for 2,000+ friends in tech
Been featured on Bloomberg and This Week in Startups
Partnered with awesome companies on community initiatives including: Techstars, Brex, Antler, The Commons, Day One, Revel, and Founder Institute
Grown my online presence by sharing ideas on events, community building, and cultivating relationships:
What began as a small “dinner club” has grown into a thriving community of brilliant and thoughtful people, eager to help, and support each other.
Thank you for showing up and bringing the incredible energy that is synonymous with NYC.
The modus operandi behind my events has always been to create a space for people to connect in productive, genuine, and fun ways. This will never change.
Next year, you can expect more unique experiences, elevated event production quality, and increasingly intentional spaces for you to meet others.
What I learned in 2022
This next section was written for those who want to start organizing events and building communities, or who are simply curious to peek behind the scenes.
These are the things I learned from hosting dozens of community events this year:
The right reasons
Hundreds of new communities, social clubs, and membership-based groups emerge each year—yet majority fizzle out within months.
Why? Because they were created for the wrong reasons.
As a community builder and event host, you should deeply understand:
Why do you want to bring people together?
There are good reasons (solving a loneliness problem or supporting a specific demographic.) But there are bad reasons too (for profit or to shill your product.) Obviously it can be done for the latter, but it’ll be a much longer, harder road.
Once you’ve figured this out, your messaging needs to be consistent and clear.
CHIEF is a professional network focused on connecting and supporting female leaders
C100 is a community geared toward connecting Canadian business and tech leaders around the globe
On Deck is collective of founders and early operators that offers connections and introductions to co-founders, resources, and capital
The strongest communities have a clear sense of purpose: Why are we bringing people together? How are we doing it? Where?
Mechanisms for serendipity
Great events and great communities are the result of bringing great people together. The key ingredient is people. Consider your selection criteria (i.e. who will you invite?) and your distribution strategy (i.e. how will you invite them?)
You need more than that, though. You need the right mechanisms:
Venue: where will you host it?
Messaging: what’s the tone and messaging of the communications?
Programming: what will attendees be encouraged to do at the event?
Rules and Culture: what are the expectations of the attendees and host(s)?
Context matters. Which is why an event at an office space will feel energetically different from one at a bar. Too loud—and you’ll hinder the ability for people to have conversation. Too formal—and your attendees may feel uptight and tense.
Design an environment with mechanisms within it to reflect the primary intention behind your community.
What is your anchor?
If a community is a tree, then an event is a branch on that tree. It’s a means of activating the community and bringing members together within a physical space.
Thus, it’s important to think about why people join communities in the first place, and it’s usually for a couple of reasons:
Relationships – to connect with other like-minded humans
Knowledge – to learn more about specific topics
Support – to get guidance in specific areas
Access – to get new opportunities
Fun – to have cool experiences
I anchor on relationships, access, and fun. Attendees come looking to expand their network and find new opportunities, and do so in an unique, lively environment.
A product-focused community like Reforge anchors on knowledge and support, while an investing-focused one like Backed By Blue may anchor on access and relationships.
These values should manifest in some shape or form. A relationship-driven community should have the right mechanisms in place to facilitate serendipitous connections, while one that is fun-driven should have an upbeat venue and vibe.
Define your anchor—the elements that draw people toward your events, and gets them to stay.
It’s hard to build intimate connections at large events. And attending one (especially alone) can be intimidating. But the pros know that relationships are built post-event, and that it’s all about the follow-up. Hence the key is to find ways to remain in touch and reconnect after.
If you’re slightly shy, look for low friction ways to meet people, like coming earlier, volunteering, or hanging out by high-traffic areas (e.g. beverage section, name tag station.)
The best way to add value as an attendee is to show up authentically kind, curious, and open-minded. Don’t be overly transactional, don’t be all about work—but do be human and ask genuine questions.
A every event, I had at least a dozen people raise their hand to be a volunteer. Over the course of the year, this added up to hundreds of people, creating a mini-community of its own. Many of the volunteers were transplants and expats who were new to the city.
They’d put on a yellow lanyard and name tag, walk around, and chat with guests to make them feel welcome.
This wasn’t unique to NYC. It happened in SF, Miami, and Toronto too. Putting on a yellow lanyard and acting as an official volunteer gave attendees the confidence to meet new people.
By creating an inclusive space and giving a gentle nudge, you can empower all types of folks to step outside their comfort zone.
Automate the backend
When you start planning events, you’d ideally spend majority of your time on the frontend like design, curation, promotion, and partnerships. This is the fun, creative stuff. In reality, a lot of time gets sucked into doing the backend stuff, like logistics, operations, and administrative work.
But event planning and operations is generally a pretty straightforward, linear activity. So once you’ve done it a few times, the goal should be to put together a process and test it, identify the inefficiencies and bottlenecks, and iterate until you have an optimal playbook. Once you’ve automated the backend, you’re able to free up and reallocate your time.
I’m not saying that the operational and logistical component is not important, I’m saying that it’s probably not the best use of your energy, and that you should find resourceful ways to make it easier. This is how I was able to host dozens of events during the year while holding a full-time job and multiple side projects.
Feedback and haters
Finally, understand that you’ll never please everyone. Especially once you reach a certain scale.
Someone will always complain: music is bad, venue is too dark, lines are too long—someone even complained that there wasn’t enough people in tech at my tech event. What?!
The best thing you can do is get feedback, validate it, and implement solutions that makes sense.
Feedback tactics that make sense for events:
Interviews and focus groups
Email unsubscribe rate
I collect feedback by monitoring the unsubscribe rate (currently at 0.3%) and by interviewing 10-15 attendees after each event. Next year, I plan to incorporate a CSAT mechanism too (rating of 1-5.)
It’s been a tremendous year of growth and learning, and I’m grateful for you all.
To all current and aspiring event hosts and community builders: I hope this is helpful. Please lean on me as a resource for creating your own projects as I’d love to see more builders in the ecosystem.
To everyone else: thank you for being a part of this journey.
Boy am I excited for what 2023 has in store for us.
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