Will Coffee & Jam Work In Your Community?

Coffee & Jam works in Christchurch, but will it work where you are?

Coffee & Jam audience enjoying a pitch.

So what is Coffee & Jam? It’s our weekly networking event hosted at the EPIC BNZ lounge every Tuesday at 12:30pm. But this isn’t just about handing out business cards. It’s one of those events where you can catch up with people you haven’t seen in awhile or meet someone new and amazing. One speaker pitches their business or idea and the second shares something in business they’ve learned along the way. Coffee & Jam provides real value to Christchurch in a way no other networking event does. This event is carefully crafted and curated by our Events Awesomist, Erica Austin. She has put countless hours making sure we bring the most benefit to our community. As of this post, we are on our 161st one!

We’ve heard from people from all over the world who are interested in bringing Coffee & Jam to their community. From Auckland to Dubai, Philadelphia to Dunedin, word is spreading that Coffee & Jam is an uber popular event (our milkshake brings all the boys to the yard!). But, will it work? Perhaps. All we know it’s what’s worked for us and we wanted to share that.

Coffee & Jam exists for three reasons:

  1. It provides social proof that anyone can share their story/idea/business. You see someone test out their pitch, fail or succeed and think, “I can do that too!”. It’s a supportive community of people willing to offer feedback and open up their networks to support anyone.
  2. It’s an inspirational place to go to weekly in the city. It’s a great way to hear about what’s happening in the city and get involved. Christchurch needed that boost 4 years ago and it still exists today because the need for inspiration hasn’t gone away.
  3. It’s all about sharing. It’s a platform for the community to give “shout-outs” or 20-second mentions to what they need. People ask for jobs, find flatmates, hire team members, and share events worth going to.
Logan Elliott giving a shout-out. Look how many people are listening?!

Originally, Coffee & Jam was at 7am on a Monday morning. WOWZA! We learned quickly that wasn’t what the people wanted. Sure, free bread and coffee are good, but getting up that early to network with other zombies is pretty hard! So we adapted. In fact, a lot about Coffee & Jam changed from it’s early days. Our main goal was to ensure that Coffee & Jam served a purpose for a growing community, bring people back into the city, and take something valuable back to their offices and workplaces.

Awesome and hilarious host, Lauren Merritt.

We play with the format sometimes but overall we like to keep the event the same: one host, first speaker, break for coffee and jam, second speaker, shout-outs, networking. We’ve tried panel discussions, dance parties, unconference-like break out groups — all based on feedback from our community. By and large, people come because it’s consistent. Couple that with a variety of speakers and diverse audience members, you have a pretty awesome event. We are also sure not to be talk at the audience but engage with them. It’s not about us talking, it’s about others.

Having a not-so-perfect event is also quiet comforting for the audience. Going in with expectations that your event will run flawlessly is unrealistic. Some tech will fail, some speakers will not show up, someone’s pitch might bomb. And that’s okay. We’ve created a safe place for all of that to happen. And our audience knows that too. In fact, if you end up seeing a pitch that’s not so polished, it may give you the confidence to give it a try yourself (we also offer pitch coaching in case you want it).

Events Awesomist, Erica Austin talking about sustainable event planning practices.

On average, 50 people attend Coffee & Jam on any given week. It wasn’t always that way but by hustling up awesome speakers and creating interesting content for people to engage with, numbers have grown and grown. We now have speakers lined up 2 months in advance and have an easy application process if you’re interested in giving it a go.

And it isn’t just for traditional start-ups either. People pitch about fundraisers, community projects, books, food trucks, whatever they want! It just has to be awesome and you must be passionate about sharing that with our community. Passion goes a long way!

Our favourite thing is when people arrive and say, “I came straight from the airport because I heard this was the place to be!”. It’s the equivalent of social networking but in an offline setting.

Jürgen Brandstetter engaged in conversation.

The final thing to keep in mind is the location of your event. The EPIC BNZ lounge is a comfortable, funky hangout space in the middle of a big, tech barn in Central City. It’s a cool spot with a welcoming and friendly vibe. It has fun furniture you can move around. It’s not your typical presentation style seating, cluttered with rows of chairs. Your setting has to the vibe you want!

Lauren must have said something funny. Happy faces!

Post-event, be sure you document as much as possible. If you are unable to video or stream the talks, be sure to have a photographer around and a writer to blog about the talks each week. This allows people who can’t attend feel like they were there and didn’t miss a beat.

If you’re lucky, we have Cakes By Anna that day!

And finally, free food and drink! Everyone loves a good snack and hot drink. Thanks to our awesome event sponsors who make that happen for us each week: Enspiral Accounting, Above the Line Charitable Trust, EPIC BNZ, and Peanut Productions Photography!

If you’d like to pitch, email erica@ministryofawesome.com for more details. These events are free and open to the public. No need to register. We look forward to seeing you there!

Post written by Catarina Gutierrez. Photos by Erica Austin.