Beg, Borrow, or Steal (Okay, Maybe not) Your Way into O'Reilly (Pt. 1)

Conferences, MeetUps, BarCamps, (even Par-Tays) play a critical role in your startup’s development. Don’t underestimate their value in networking, knowledge-building, and recruiting. Get out there, don’t wait. And budget for one big one.

In an earlier post, I talked about PodCamp/SearchCamp Philly — these, like Refresh DC (and other Refreshes) are no-brainers, because they’re mostly free. Get on their lists — and check DC Tech Events for others upcoming.

Now I’ll tell you about the other end of the spectrum — the vaunted O’Reilly experience (cue the ethereal angelic choir) — that was my epiphany in April.

My partner and I often talked about meeting up at some event (he’s in Phoenix), if nothing else, for the inspiration and change of venue (that’s French for ‘a place where our wives can’t bug us’). But with a self-funded start-up, the ~$1,500 Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco was a tad out of reach. Now, necessity is a mutha, so here’s what I did: I found every blog I could that offered free tickets, and entered their contests. Some were raffles, others with deep questions I spent hours working on responses to.

And I won.

The email arrived just before midnight — I woke up my wife like the house was on fire. “I won I won I won!!” It was fate — meant to be! An omen (the good kind) for CHALLENJ.

Just after midnight, I got the kicker while checking SideStep for flights. Since winners weren’t notified until four days before the conference, the cheapest airfare was $700. Gakk! Find some points — “Honey, wake up! Where are those vouchers we had”” — must get there, I said.

I even called a cousin who lives in SF whom I’d hadn’t seen in over twenty years. (“Hey, cuz, how the hell are ya? Mind if I crash at your place for a few days?”). As I said, necessity. . .

(btw, I have since learned about AirBed&Breakfast — a startup (of course) that enables people to offer their place (pad?) for you to crash at for way less than a hotel. (It kind of takes me back to my hitchhiking hippie days — my wife thinks it’s a perfect scenario for murder.)

Anyhow, somehow, it all came together. California, here I come!

Remind yourself that this is what startups do, that someday when you’re on your yacht in the Caribbean, you can bore people with this story!

Next post: Part 2: Why you must get to at least one O’Reilly a year.

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What, Couldn't Make it to Pod/SearchCamp Philly?

Why not” Here’s the scenario: Two and half hours away, dozens of very smart people were availing themselves to anyone with $21 interested in learning about podcasting, search engine marketing (SEM) and optimization (SEO) from 10am to 4pm on Saturday and Sunday. Did I mention that it was only $21? And the organizers (bless their hearts) were apologizing for charging at all — even though 100% went to charity — acknowledging they did it only to minimize the excessive no-shows.

To be sure, it was a BarCamp style event — you won’t find the sheen, food, and glitz of an O’Reilly affair . . . but then, it’s not >$1k either. I was particularly interested in the SearchCamp side. What I did find was a superb set of speakers — folks who’ve been working the search engines since AltaVista was a pup — and who were there to answer questions in true interactive fashion (meaning, you shout out at will). Try that at most other confabs and they’ll probably call security.

I shouted at will — actually, at Wil Reynolds. Wil said he “eats, drinks, and sleeps” SEM, and you believe him. Likewise, with Greg Meyers, Giovanni Gallucci, and Brian Cosgrove, to mention a few others. Now, we entrepreneurs probably can’t afford what their organizations would charge (yet), but that’s my point: they were right there, ready to help. And they all offered email, phone, and twitter outreach for questions you might have once the event was over.

Plus, every speaker I heard had nuggets to offer — from basic tips like using search data to create keyword lists, naming images with keywords, and using subdomains to improve organic search — to dozens of free tools. You probably know about Google Analytics — an important first step — but how about Trellian Keyword Discovery, SeoTools, IndexTools, LinkDiagnosis, Link Assistant (gives you a history of all of a site’s links), SheerSEO (gives you the Google and Yahoo ranking for each of your keywords — no more endless clicking through pages), Search Engine Genie (find out if you’re anywhere in the top 1,000 listing), QuantCast.com (gives you demographics of users of your site), and SpyFu (find your competitors’ keywords and adwords)? Oh, and be sure to check out Compete, Digital Point, SEO Egghead, and BruceClay.com. (Sorry, you have to do a little work to look these up.)

Worth 21 bucks, wouldn’t you say?

So why didn’t you go? Maybe you didn’t hear about it — one of my missions at Technosailor is to make sure these opportunities are flagged. But what amazes me is that I attended a DC New Media Meetup two days earlier that was combined with an SEO Meetup — two dozen folks attending — told everyone about it, even offered a ride (I drove up to Philly), and no one took me up on it. (Okay, I’ll allow for the possibility that you weren’t sure about getting in a car with me.)

So I got up at 6am Saturday morning and drove to Philly alone.

I think you know where I’m going with this. If you consider yourself a seriously committed entrepreneur, killing a weekend is something you’d better plan on doing every now and then. (Evenings, forget those.) Especially when the ROI is such a no-brainer. Not conducive to family life, you say? I say, the only way to succeed with a bootstrapped business — or convince VCs to give you money (they’re very good at detecting passion and commitment) — you’d better be ready to make the sacrifices.

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What Makes You Tick?

This weekend I was at Podcamp NYC 2. This is my fourth podcamp and second in two weeks. As someone who gets to go to a lot of events, conferences, unconferences, networking thingys, etc. I decided going into this trip that I would treat this thing differently than normal.

Normally, I’m speaking or otherwise outgoing and talking to everyone and anything that moves. As someone with some minor celebrity, this is usually not a problem. At SXSW, I was on my feet running for four days straight conducting interviews and being interviewed, having long lunches with bloggers, entrepreneurs, continually running into The Brogan(TM), etc.

In New York, I made a conscious effort to listen way more than I talked and take a low profile approach to the event. Two of my observations, I’ve already blogged.

My discoveries really stemmed from watching how people interacted with people and thinking about what the causes were that made people behave the ways they did. Armchair Psychiatry.

I observed people with significant fan base interact with fans and peers and the differences between fans and peers. I observed people who started businesses explaining why exactly they did what they did. I talked with people who had no idea what the hell they were at and how they wiggled their way out of uncomfortable conversations. I witnessed sales guys who were so New York cool that people could be convinced they needed to do business just by his say so. I witnessed people who just wanted a man. Or a woman. Maybe both.

What makes people tick? What causes them to do what they do? They say that who we are today is a product of everything we’ve ever done in the past. So what did the past look like.

This weekend, for me, was largely one based around the human experience. We are all so widely different and that is fascinating.

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