Back in 2005 I was working on a web-based version of PowerPoint called Preezo. I had received some angel funding from a friend who was a successful entrepreneur, but aside from the very part-time help of another coder based in London, it was for all intents and purposes a one-man show. Being located in Pasadena, CA, which is about six hours south of the Bay Area, I felt pretty removed from where the action was taking place and after the resulting excitement of the first Web 2.0 conference I was getting itchy to meet some fellow tech entrepreneurs.
It was right about this time that Mike Arrington started the TechCrunch blog and I'm pretty sure I was one of his first subscribers. Following the news on the latest startups was entertaining and motivating, but no one I knew had heard of Web 2.0 or had any real interest in discussing it. So, when Arrington started hosting BBQs for anyone working on a startup who might want to stop by and do a little show and tell, I thought, "man, I got to go to one of those." At first, the fact that I was six hours away gave me enough pause that I skipped the first three, but my wife eventually convinced me that I needed to drive up to the next one to show off what I had been working on.
By the fourth TechCrunch BBQ, the friendly get-togethers had morphed into a big deal event with people desperately trying to sign up on the wiki page that was limited to 400 attendees. After twenty minutes of continually refreshing the page I was finally able to secure a spot and in fact still remember Nivi not making it onto the list in time and plaintively writing on the page, "Can't Nivi come?".
It turned out that driving six hours to Atherton was the easy part. The hard part was walking into a house packed so full you could hardly move and not knowing a single person there. It's difficult to overstate how uncomfortable a situation that was especially since everyone there seemed to know everyone else. After wandering aimlessly though the crowd and repeatedly cursing the decision that led me to be in such an awkward situation I finally wound my way to the fire pit, which was the only place I could stand alone without looking like a total dork.
As it turned out, that was a stroke of genius (or really just a lucky move) because every ten to fifteen minutes someone new and interesting would stop by to warm up their hands and inevitably ask what I was working on. This worked out great and allowed me to meet a number of interesting people including Tom Conrad, the CTO of Pandora, and Travis Kalanick, who I am good friends with to this day.
After a few hours of lightening-round tech conversations, the party started to thin out and Mike Arrington himself dropped by. At first he thought he recognized me, but when I told him that I was a one-man startup and had driven up from LA, he was shocked and exclaimed how honored he was that I had travelled all that way to attend his party. In fact, he thought it was so cool that he repeated that fact to at least a half-dozen people who happened to walk by the fire pit. But when I told him what I was working on he became genuinely intrigued and asked if I would stick around until after he had a chance to say goodbye to the remaining guests because he wanted to hear more about it.
About an hour later most everyone was gone except for Robert Scoble, some guy who wore a red beret, Gabe Rivera of Techmeme and Nick Cubrilovic who was visiting from Australia and working on something called Omnidrive (a sort of proto-Dropbox). At this point, Mike announced what I was working on and excitedly roused Scoble from his near slumber to hear the details. After discussing Preezo for a while (it was well after 1:00 AM by this time) Mike suggested that I crash on his couch rather than drive to my friend's house in Oakland. That sounded like a great option to me, especially since I wasn't used to staying up that late and was not in the mood for a long drive to a place I had never been before.
During our talk that night, Mike promised that if I gave him an exclusive on the Preezo launch, he'd "blow it up", and over a year later that's exactly what he did. There's no real lesson from this story other than whenever I've managed to get out from behind the computer and actually meet people, the result has usually been very positive and well worth the time, effort and expense. Okay, so I guess the other lesson is to always bring a pair of earplugs because you never know who might end up snoring on the other couch when you do.
|Copyright © 2010 Jason C. Roberts|