April 28th, 2009

Why I spent $4000 to attend free events last year


Why I spent $4000 to attend free events last year

Remember that other rant at which I was hinting in my last rant? No? Well whether your remember it or not, here we go.

I’ve been concerned lately. Bad economy. Tightening budgets. Volunteer run events relying on sponsors. Not exactly a proven recipe for success.

There’s the bigger volunteer-run events like the Legion of Tech events, Open Source Bridge, WordCamp Portland, and Beer and Blog—and then there are any number of smaller events like Portland Web Innovators, PDX Critique, Refresh Portland, PDX Wiki Wednesday, user groups, yadda yadda yadda.

And I’ve been concerned for their welfare. So, I thought about giving a personal view on this stuff. But I wasn’t sure if it was appropriate. Then, after the prompting from a few folks, I finally put pen to paper. Or whatever. Out of concern for the community.

Caveat pompous assness

Let me start out by saying that I was really struggling as to how to write this post without coming off like a pompous ass. Because that wasn’t my intent. I mean, I can come off like a pompous ass with the best of them. Usually, without even trying. But this time, I was trying to avoid doing that.

So if this post reads that way, it’s through my failure as a writer. Please try to ignore my shortcomings and take the post at face value. I implore you to filter through the sludge and take away the concepts and intent of the post.

Another minor caveat.

I don’t make any money from the Silicon Florist blog, per se. Like so many other people in the Silicon Forest startup scene, I bust my ass 12 hours a day working for clients so that I can have the wherewithal to pursue my side projects. Silicon Florist happens to be one of those side projects. I get to have great conversations with amazing people. And I get to help incredibly cool products get a little more of the attention they so richly deserve. That’s how I get paid.

And just to be blunt, I don’t think I’m some sort of special snowflake. Or holier than thou. There are tons of people who have paid to support Legion of Tech events over the last year. There are tons of people who have paid with volunteer hours and guidance that are far more valuable than cash. And to them, I am in debt. I owe them my heartfelt thanks and gratitude.

But I also know that there is always room for more of them.

So those are the caveats. That said, let’s get to it:

Why, exactly, did I pay more than $4000 to attend Portland’s Legion of Tech events which are, by design, free?

Because I’m an idiot? I wish it were as easy as that. But there are any number of important and defensible reasons.

First, I support the Legion of Tech because it’s the right thing to do. The Portland Web and mobile startup community is in its formative stages, its infancy. We need events like Ignite Portland and BarCamp Portland to help us congeal as a community. This is, as they say, where the magic happens.

And it’s not just Legion of Tech. It’s events like Open Source Bridge. And WordCamp Portland. And any number of other events where this community just sort of comes together—and works really, really well.

Second, I do it because in order for our community to form, it’s about more than just making the events happen. It’s about keeping these events as open and accessible as possible. We must lower the barrier to entry for everyone.

When I was young(er) and part of the Portland tech startup scene, I paid an untold number of times with a $15 admission fee or hundreds of dollars in membership fees to get, well, complete crap. Trading business cards, listening to pitches, and one-up-man-ship don’t really work that well for community building events.

What Legion of Tech and other volunteer run events are doing does.

Which brings us to my third point: the entire system is broken and these volunteer run events have the potential to fix it. Legion of Tech has chosen a path and despite any griping we throw their way, they stick to it. I have to respect that. And I have to support that.

And that’s where we come to a distinct difference between sponsorship and patronage. In my mind, I don’t really “sponsor” the Legion of Tech events—even though that may be the word we use. I think I tend to support their vision through my patronage.

Why the distinction? Because, in my mind, a sponsor assumes some level of control. A patron trusts an organization to use the money in the ways that they see fit.

Does this give the Legion of Tech undue liberty? Perhaps. But I know that we’ll all get something worthwhile out it. And I trust them.

My fourth reason for coughing up dough for these events? Because I owe the Portland tech community. The only reason I have that sponsorship money to spend is because of the Portland tech community. And it only feels appropriate that I give back as I can.

I’ve spent 14 years working in the Portland high tech industry. And it’s through the help and mentoring of my bosses and my peers, the failures and the successes, and the organizations and the sponsorship of those companies that came before me that I had access to the community that helped me get to where I am today.

Granted, the Legion of Tech community isn’t the same community that helped me through most of my career. But they’re the community whom I would like to see mentoring a group of people in the way I was mentored. They’re the folks who are going to lead the next wave of tech here in Oregon. And they are our key to future success.

Finally, I did it for purely egotistical reasons. I like putting my money where my mouth is. And I like helping how I can. The fact that I get to see the Silicon Florist associated with these events? That makes me unspeakably proud. That’s a really good feeling. And it’s addictive. Even if I don’t relish getting up in front of all of you to talk about it.

Some people have asked me “What’s the ROI of that investment?”, “How many leads do you get?”, “Why don’t you promote Return?” To me, that’s kind of missing the point. The return on investment is that we have a stronger community. And a stronger community will float all boats.

I have lots of reasons for giving volunteer run events my hard earned cash. You may still think I’m an idiot for doing so.

That’s fine. But if you don’t. And you’d like to participate as well…

You, too, can be a pompous ass like me

So why the big admission? Well, because I’d like to see more people participating. More companies participating. More people taking ownership. More people engaging with the Legion of Tech and volunteer run events.

Continued sponsorship by the same folks event after event after event isn’t sustainable. And I’m fearful that with the economy, we’ll experience higher sponsorship burnout than ever before.

So this is a call to action.

Individuals. I’d like to see more people kicking in to support these events. More people sponsoring events. More people coming up with creative ways to fund events. More people getting some skin in the game to help build this community. More people making more small contributions to help this community continue to grow. I’m not talking huge investments. I’m talking movie-ticket prices. Night-out-at-dinner prices. Small contributions that, in bulk, can reap huge rewards.

Corporations. This is where your employees live and breathe. The pool of talent from which your next employee is likely to come. And the place where your former employees will continue to speak about you for years to come. Surely, this community has some intrinsic value to your corporation. Clearly, supporting the cultural integrity of the Silicon Forest will reap rewards for your company. Maybe you should get on that and start paying it forward—or paying it back?

This is your community, Portland, Corvallis, Eugene, Bend, Medford, Ashland, Oregon. You can help it become a better one.

So why not take the chance to help? It feels really good. And we’ll all be better for it.

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24 Responses to “Why I spent $4000 to attend free events last year”

  1. Thanks, Rick, for the support that you provide to the community (both in money and other forms). Your help for WordCamp Portland (not a Legion of Tech event, as you noted) was greatly appreciated.

  2. Rick: Thanks for the time, money, publicity and other work you’ve provided to the many events in our area that make being here worthwhile.

    All: We put on a lot of “free” events in Portland, but I like to think of these as “donation optional”. There’s a significant price paid by the organizers and supporters that’s never covered, even if there are ads and such. Please do your part by sponsoring or volunteering to support worthwhile causes to keep them free, independent and valuable. Thanks!

  3. TylerInCMYK says:

    “A stronger economy floats all boats.”

    That’s a great quote and I couldn’t agree more. I am fortunate to work for a company that allows me to spend a little bit of its money to support local events regardless of whether or not there is a direct measurable benefit.

    One misconception is that these organizations need large donations to stay alive, and I haven’t found that to be true. May I suggest you find out what you or your companies could afford to offer, and approach the organizer of an event that you’d like to be a part of. Don’t wait to be asked. You’ll very quickly find yourself part of a community you might not have otherwise interacted with and your goodwill will pay of in spades (or some other nebulous currency.)

  4. josh bradley says:

    “This is your community, Portland, Corvallis, Eugene, Bend, Oregon. You can help it become a better one.”

    *cough*Medford*cough*

    We may be a ways south, but we also need more strength in community around technology and entrepreneurial energy and I, for one, have benefitted from reading your blog. Your ROI is a mission we share. Here’s to floating all boats!

  5. Jeff says:

    Well said, Sir, well said.

  6. Rick Turoczy says:

    @Josh Bradley Sorry for the omission! Added Medford (and your “ways south” comment reminded me to add Ashland, as well).

  7. mediaChick says:

    You’re my pompous ass hero. Well said, Turoczy!

  8. Thanks for the reminder! Late last week Legion of Tech put out a call for small donations to cover food costs at this weekend’s BarCamp. Just made my commitment.

  9. missburrows says:

    You will always be our special snowflake.

  10. Rick, your help has been tremendous, not only financially but your input and assistance (and cheerleading), with tech community events in Portland. We clearly have something special here in Portland and you’re as big a part of the great things happening in this town as anyone. Much thanks and gratitude.

    For those that can’t make financial contributions, I would encourage them to volunteer. Use your expertise to help Open Source Bridge or demo your project at Portland Web Innovators or PDX Critique.

    BTW, I also remember the old days of paying a $15 door charge for a stale presentation and the privilege of networking with insurance salesman and MLM recruiters. That’s a big part of why Legion of Tech was created. It’s great to live in a town with a great community that really “gets it”.

  11. Mike Lee says:

    Rick – Thanks for the post. I whole-heartedly agree. My angle is a bit different, but reinforces your perspective.

    I have lived in Portland for most of the last 15 years, but my work in technology has focused on software startups elsewhere … a bit of a shame. But I’m thrilled that my new ventures have helped me become more tied in with the community here.

    The world I’m coming from is as a headhunter for bay-area based software startups through my connections with the VC community down there. I’ve often thought, as a Portlander, that this community’s individualistic strength is also its weakness. In the bay area, where innovation and working together (even as rivals) is a way of life, they have been able to dig in together and make things work.

    So as I’ve participated in several events, including last week’s SoMe Awards, Ignite, various tweetups, I have been trying to take note of how many people are willing to pony up with their time and energy.

    It’s one thing for all of us to hang out and dream about technology in Portland FINALLY taking off. But it’s another thing for all of us to spend some money, carve out time away from our families and lifestyles and focus some real energy into making this dream become a reality.

    I’m hoping it happens and working on that with several new ventures myself. In the next few weeks I’m meeting with a number of bright local minds to find out how I can pitch in and learn from what they are doing so I can truly contribute here and make my ventures truly, truly successful.

    I’m convinced that if we all sacrifice a bit more, the fervor that is building in Portland will be more than just buzz or hype … it will start to manifest itself in true, life-relevant software product companies.

    And when that happens, that’s when the industry will take notice, when the brightest minds in the business outside of Portland will place even more credence on our community’s ability to build products and companies that make a difference in the lives of everyday people.

  12. I’m convinced we need a Portland council that would be comprised of organizers from all the groups to coordinate larger plans. Planning things like !NxNW. Managing things like the database of paid and free spaces for events. Offering things like example budgets and prospectuses. Holding round table discussions on how we mature the Portland tech scene from it’s grass roots into a thriving community that financially supports startups.

  13. PDXsays says:

    *whoa*… I’m about to become the most unpopular girl at the dance.

    Every post afore this one are all singers in the same band.

    Rick, take it outta the echo chamber. To float that boat, there has to be enough water to run down the sluice to the river. That means busting into the silos across the matrix for a viable and sustainable economy. And that door has to swing both ways.

    At the level of economics you speak, it’s not about the “tech community”… It’s about the community.

    I’m dragging out the Kelvar body armor now in anticipation of the what the rest of my life here in PDX will be like for saying this, but yeah, I think we need to think not outside the box, but inside that rest of the 80% of community that relies on technology, but is not plugged into it an awareness… Preaching to the choir never saved a soul.

    One source- technology start-ups and the handful of just barely more than $40MM companies (only about five with more than $100MM here abouts, and that’s kinda still small beans) will not get ‘er done, Hoss. There just isn’t enough dough. And technology is not its own end… there are many and much more here to be addressed.

    But first, we need to swap a lot of vowels with the other folks, before we all will be able to read the writing on the wall: Your asses and ours may not be in the same boat, but we darn well all float the same water. There are a lot of boats under a lot of flags all along the horizon of the river. They need water, too.. and the same water floats many boats.

    Just sayin’

  14. @turoczy says what needs to be said everywhere: companies support your local tech groups http://is.gd/vaFN

  15. josh bradley says:

    PDXsays: It may not be about the tech community, but how can that (our) community benefit the larger communities we are a part of? That is the real question and you may not think that technology start-ups can have an impact on the other 80%, but you better hold on to your hat because there is conscious, sustainably-oriented, community biased start-ups getting ready to blossom- geared to fuel the small businesses that drive the real economy and make vibrant and happy communities. These start-ups are inspired by an outreach of community, innovation, a spirit of cooperation and are looking towards the future with an idea of what is possible.

    We may not be able to affect taxes, bail-outs, oil consumption, corruption or partisan politics, but we can shape what we create in this world and drive it with an intent to shift “business as usual” and birth “business as it should be”. It’s not a matter of looking at what can’t be done and how little money we have to do it, it is a matter of looking what we can do and start doing it.

  16. Dr. Normal says:

    Wouldn’t it be great if we had a really large tech company here in town that also had a big marketing department and social media presence, who could kick in a little sponsorship for some of these events from time to time?

    …oh, wait!

  17. [...] This would be one such occasion. (And, fair warning, there’s another one coming soon. [UPDATE] And here that rant is.) [...]

  18. However many people read this post…I’m still sure it didn’t get the attention it deserves. I want this to be the keynote for all community events in Corvallis. Thank you.

  19. Rick Turoczy says:

    @Loyan Thanks for the kind words. I really appreciate it. ;)

  20. [...] no secret that I believe in supporting the free events here in Portland. I firmly believe that companies who can step up to sponsor these events are fostering the [...]

  21. Amber Case says:

    I was attracted to helping arrange, participate in and help build on these local volunteer events because it made Portland into a community for me and helped me grow. Most of the paid events I tried to go to were very unfortunate. They weren’t very helpful (and that’s not bad — they were helpful to some, but not to me).

    These volunteer events are the core of the tech community. They are the soul. They are the slow growth that will help make Portland a major contender (and already has) in areas like mobile, analytics, and web development. There is tremendous talent here forging their own fields, and because of that, the model for development isn’t a set one that can just be filled with funds. It’s slow but strong. Already we’ve seen many successes here.

    I think in periods of 5-10 years, and I’ve seen rapid development of people and ideas from tiny capabilities to greater capabilities over time. Is it slow? Yes. Everything is slow. Is slow okay? Absolutely. Slow is great. Slow is strong. One can develop here, can succeed, fail and try again with support from people like them. People who don’t make fun of them for long hours spent online and for strange clothes and habits. There’s a lot of people who need that, who take a while to develop.

    So thank you to everyone who has helped produce these events. They help people to meet each other, they help people to succeed, and they help people to stay connected. And thank you, Rick, for spending much of your time chronicling this slow development.

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