April 28th, 2009
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.