May 06, 2008
Start-Up Camp 2008 Recap
I went to the very first Start-up camp, which was held in Silicon Valley a few years ago. Industry pal David Berlind is behind the idea and since its launch, it has grown from a couple hundred attendees in a Silicon Valley office, to double that on a hotel floor to the Moscone this year, where they had more than 1,000 RSVPs on an open wiki.
Sponsored this year by Sun, Start-up camp, still in its unconference format, was held at the back of a very large conference center open-air room, the very same one where Sun's CommunityOne event for developers (not to be confused with CommunityNext) was held.
All of these sub-groups made up Sun's Java One event, an extremely large event designed to bring developers and consumers together to exchange information and ideas about the converging technology-enabled digital network that lets information flow between mobile devices, computers, televisions, and automobile screens.
There was also something called Base Camp, not to be confused with Start-up camp, although there were held in the same area. To be honest, I couldn't really understand what was what for several hours.
The idea is a great one: bring everyone and anyone who cares about technology mash-ups and entrepreneurship under one roof for a few days. While wonderful in theory, a shortcoming was that perhaps it was too much in one place at one time. It made things a bit confusing for newcomers (particularly if you were not a geek), and I could tell that I was one of the few right brains roaming the floors.
How do you know when you're surrounded by geeks you ask? Their idea of fashion is buying a baby sized t-shirt that says Java One on it and then waiting in an hour long line for another logoed t-shirt and a small logoed notebook that had a logoed pin attached to it. I watched in disbelief a couple hundred people (men and women) waiting in this very long line for a cheap cotton tote, a t-shirt and notebook.
This is not unique to Java One. I've been going to geek conferences for years and standing in line for freebees seems to be an obsession even if they are high paid developers who already have basements, attics and offices full of stuff.
Did I mention that geeks will nudge you (albeit politely) out of the way to grab a Dr. Dobbs or SD Times magazine? (I used to work with those rags years ago and am surprised they're still going strong).
It took me awhile to make my way through the geek marketing stalls to the Start-up camp area. There was no signage, so unless you found a Start-up attendee by accident (which was difficult to do in a hall of that size where the majority of attendees were wearing Java One or Community One badges), you were left wandering around asking yet another person with an official badge where to go. And none of them knew.
Last time I attended, the event was smaller, held in a hotel, the break out sessions were in separate rooms so it was easy to figure out where to go and actually hear the organizer and attendees speak. In a large room, where people are hovering at tables next to each other, the echo of the large room and close proximity made it very hard to hear what was being said.
Don't get me wrong. I 'get' Sun's involvement and why they sponsored Start-up camp. David's idea is a great one and it is growing in popularity and size. If I were him, I would have jumped at the sponsorship opportunity. Why not? It's a win win: Sun gets exposure to start-up entrepreneurs and through their sponsorship, those same entrepreneurs enjoy a free two day event where they can exchange great ideas and learn about everything from finding a co-founder and setting up a website to legal issues and marketing your product within tight budget parameters.
Speaking of, on day one (Sunday), there was a session advising start-ups on how to get 'press.' Mashable covered the highlights. On this panel that discussed "Rules for a Successful Media Launch," included Matt Dickman, Vice-President of Fleishman-Hillard, Jyri Engestrom, Entreprenuer and Google employee, Christina Kerley, a Marketing Specialist from ckEpiphany, Inc. and Adam Metz, a Partner at theMIX Agency.
~ have a good personality that becomes central to the brand (Steve Jobs, Richard Branson)
~ have transparency with different audiences: press, users, consumers, partners, etc.
~ current trends. how can you use them to tell your story?
~ strategy behind press and marketing
~ first impressions are key. you have 5 seconds or less to convey how your different, & institute personality
~ create new tactics. if you don’t fit into an existing category, create one.
~ make a conversation centralizer, whether it be an aggregator on your RSS, or a network on Ning where others can engage in the discussions
~ jaiku example: get people to rely on your platform for their own success, because they’ll do marketing for you.
Most of the break-out sessions were more technical or logistical in nature, so it was great to see some broader topics discussed. This year, they also had a 'best start-up' contest.
They ran speed geeking sessions (geeky version of speed dating), where attendees would move from table to table and listen to start ups pitch their business idea. Each founder had about five minutes to convince each group of visitors that their business most deserves first place prize.
When time was up, Berlind would blow his horn (loudly I might add), and everyone would shift. Below, lead camp counselors David Berlind and Fritz Nelson (they're both great guys btw.....which one do you think lives in Los Angeles??)
The break-out sessions at an unconference is a cool concept for those outside the Valley and new to the idea. People simply write a topic or idea they want to lead on a piece of paper and throw it up on the board next to a date, time and location.
Start-up Board, where people post the sessions they want to lead
One of my favorite additions this year was THE BALL. You could climb inside this large see-through ball, cushion yourself in the middle and then have someone (in this case, the guy in the turquoise blue to the right), roll you down the floor. It's a low tech version of an amusement park ride, but at a high tech conference. Note to others: very very fun. A must try.
While I obviously found the logistics confusing, particularly compared to previous years, part of this comes from growth.
A few tips for next year to make it even more valuable for attendees:
--make location and times clear (include a map of the convention center and throw in a landmark (we'll be located in the far right back corner, behind the CommunityNext event in the same hall next to the large popcorn maker)
--move it to a smaller room or area to avoid the echo effect, which destroys intimate discussions, so critical for an unconference setting
--make sure wifi works well in the section of the hall where everyone is participating; many were taking notes in real time, some on their blogs or communicating via twitter. I brought my EVDO card to get by.
--up the energy. The horn helped of course and frankly, it wouldn't be Start-up camp without Berlind and his horn :-)
I should add a comment about the fun bean bag chairs; Sun's neon green chairs were a nice addition. In the main area near the escalators, they had bright orange ones as well. Here, they played catchy new age music with a beat. Had there been power, I would have cozied up with my laptop for the afternoon since I obviously don't get to work on a neon bean bag chair every day surrounded by dozens of really creative people.
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Dr. Dobbs is still alive? I thought she passed on years ago...
Posted by: mike mcgrath | May 9, 2008 1:29:43 AM
Long entry. Where's the mention of Bourbon and Branch?
Posted by: David Neubert | May 9, 2008 10:02:28 AM
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