I hate being stuck. I hate being stuck in traffic, I hate being stuck in a job (or a project) I don’t like and, most of all, I hate being stuck in an unfulfilling relationship. Yet, that’s what happened during the last years. Well, almost all of them. I was stuck in a personal situation I could barely control.
If you read my blog, you know that I had plans to move to New Zealand. These are big plans. From where I stand now, New Zealand is practically at the end of the world. Such a big plan implies big changes. Sometimes, that type of changes simply aren’t possible. And during the last years I had to do a lot of thinking and planning around this stuff.
But, finally, at the beginning of this year, I eventually made peace with the fact that this isn’t going to happen. I won’t move to New Zealand. At least, not in the forseable future. There are too many reasons to be mentioned here, and most of them are very personal. But the bottom line is that, after I realized I won’t leave Romania for good, I had to do something with my life here.
At the personal level things were rather easier: I started to run and learned tango. Both activities proved to be winners and I am happily enjoiying their benefits. But, at the professional level, I had more work to do. I am still involved in a number a projects, but basically all of them can be managed online. I don’t need to meet anybody in person to make things happening. As a matter of fact, I chose these projects precisely because of that. I want to be flexible. Although I’m not in New Zealand now, I’m still a digital nomad.
But, as nomad as I am, I do feel the need to do something in real life too. Like, you know, being in a real place, surrounded by real people. Having a traditional company, with a real offices, is not an option. I just don’t like it. Again, after giving a lot of thoughts to all the options I did have, I decided to start a weekly networking event. It’s called Open Connect [link to the Facebook group], and I already wrote about it.
As of today, there were 14 editions of this event. Meaning I planned, managed and hosted 14 editions of this event, every Thursday of the last 3 months (except for one Thursday, when I was out of the town). I think the time has come to do a bit of an analysis of what really happened.
Event Structure And Format
Open Connect aims to bring together people interested in entrepreneurship, especially online (but the experience showed me that there are many other areas which can be covered). The most important benefit – and, as I like to say, the main “product” of it – is feedback. Common use cases for Open Connect are: idea validation, partnerships, freelancing projects, cross-promotion for other events (from industry related events up to personal development workshops).
It starts at 9:30 AM, in a Starbucks (the one at Mall Vitan, if you read this from Bucharest). There is an ice-breaking session, in which each of the attendees are introducing themselves, along with a very short description about what they do and what they can provide. After that, we have 4 pitches of 1 minute each.
Short parenthesis about this 1 minute limitation. Many people coming at Open Connect seem to be frustrated by this. I mean, what can you possibly say in 1 minute? Well, if you know how to say it, you can say a lot. I insist upon this strict approach towards pitching because, in time, it will educate many entrepreneurs to be more careful about how and what they say, generally speaking.
Every once in a while, after the pitches, we also have 10 minutes long mentoring sessions, on a variety of topics. Usually, the mentor is a well respected personality in the field, like angel investors, SEO specialists, mobile payment gateways and so on.
After the mentoring session there’s the last part, which is about simple and plain networking. People are just hanging around, talking, sharing impressions, comments or business cards. A lot of the interaction is intentionally pushed in the networking session, in order to keep the speaking time very small (people are losing interest if a pitch, along with its associated comments, is longer than 5 minutes).
Perks And Coverage
When I started the event, the Starbucks manager suggested to give some free coffees to the attendees. So, every Thursday morning, the first 20 attendees are getting a free tall late, americano or cappuccino. Neato, so to speak.
After the first 6-7 events, I thought it would be nice to give a prize. So, each edition, the most interesting intervention receives a business book from a local publishing house, called Editura Publica. Also, during the last 6 editions I also had other prizes, most of them being invitations to other events.
In the last 2 editions, with support from a local Toastmasters club, we began to give public speaking feedback to the pitchers. Very short and sweet, the usual “how many aaaa’s you have, your body language was overall convincing” and so on and so forth. It’s a very stripped down version of the normal public speaking feedback you’d get at Toastmasters event, takes less than a minute.
We had the biggest audience (around 60 persons) at the second event and, since then, we are steadily at around 30-40 people per edition. I wouldn’t want more than that anyway, because the location can’t accommodate more than 40 people for such an event.
At the moment of writing this, we are working on a gamification platform. Meaning we intend to implement a PBL (points, boards and leader boards) system for Open Connect. Pitchers and attendees will receive points and different badges, based on the level of the interaction (and the value of that interaction).
The points may be used to promote stuff on the online properties of the event. I wanted to keep the online interaction at a very basic level, pushing as much as I could towards the real life interactions. But the online properties are getting interesting too, as we’re going to see in the next section.
Facts And Numbers
In order to let the word out about the event, I started a Facebook group. That, and word of mouth, were the only promotion activities. I invited around 200 people, basically all acquaintances of mine. Right now, there are almost 800 members in the group. In around 3 months.
Almost each next edition is fully booked. Meaning that we have all the 4 pitches taken with a week in advance.
We had more than 50 pitches so far. If you think at it, it’s rather impressive. I know at least 2 or 3 real life projects which got started after an Open Connect, and I also have started one too. More details about this project pretty soon.
The average duration is about 2 hours. We start around 9:45 and at 11:30 pretty much everything is done. As I still work in the same Starbucks, I often stay more than that and continue working.
As of last week, we started an Open Connect in Cluj. Meaning 2 guys from Cluj, who attended an Open Connect in Bucharest, took the same format and implemented it in another city. I wasn’t present live at the event, but the feedback from the organizers was very good.
A very important detail is that attending to this event is completely free.
The most common question I got in the beginning was: “What’s in it for you?”. It’s kinda difficult for me to explain, because people usually are thinking in terms of money. How much money do you make per hour? If you spend 2 hours with us here (and, allegedly, another 3-4 hours during the week, in order to manage the back end) then, what’s your compensation? Well, I don’t make a dime. Nada. I don’t make any money out of this.
But I have a lot of benefits. Let’s take them one at a time.
I get to know an incredible amount of new people each and every week. In order to keep myself sane, I have to drastically improve my social skills. I’m rather shy (I know you don’t believe this, but it’s true), or, if you want it this way, I’m rather an isolated individual. So, being exposed to this huge wave of new interactions, well, that’s quite a challenge. But I kinda became good at it. Or so I think.
Public Speaking Skills
Being the MC of this event for the last 3 months was a very pleasant experience. Talking to a crowd of 30-40 people each week, in a way that’s both entertaining, useful and balanced, that takes a bit of work. But then again, I do love that I get to do this.
Circaseptan Rhythm Enhancement
I got you with that, right? Don’t freak out: circaseptan means “every 7 days”. A circaseptan rhythm is what we experience when we expect the weekend. We know that every 7 days we get a certain routine. For me, having to do the same thing every Thursday had a good impact on my overall functioning. It’s very good for habit formation, if you want to know.
I really have to manage this thing. It simply doesn’t happen by itself (although, from afar, it may look like that). Enough said.
Don’t laugh. At least, don’t laugh until you attended to one of the Open Connect editions. I don’t know what it is exactly, but each and every time I finish an edition, I feel great. It’s a combination of the positive energy of the people, the feeling of a job well done and the expectation of the next event.
I am exposed to a huge resources reservoir. It’s about human resources, of course. Which turns out to be the most expensive resource in the world.
I don’t know what will happen. I chose to grow “organically”. As a matter of fact, I didn’t wanted to grow at all, I just followed the hints from the people who attended. There are a few interesting ideas floating around, one of them being to broadcast live parts of this event (namely the pitches and the mentoring sessions). There are also a few requests from other cities in the country. Let’s see how it turns.
What really matters for me, at the moment, is that I found a way to do what I love doing here, in Romania, and that other people are getting value out of it.