Journey to the Center of the #yesphx Movement
Part 1: Dipping a Toe in the Phoenix Startup Waters
Finding A Way In
I love business. I love everything about it from HR to Marketing to Corporate Strategy to Analytics. I get pumped up just thinking about how I could help improve an existing business and make things better for the customer.
I’d never been to a Meetup group. The name “Meetup Group” even gave me a weird dating stigma and I felt like it was a PlentyOfFish.com competitor. I broke through that barrier and started to look at the events more often. Eventually after searching for anything from “startup” to “technology” and clicking all the related links I had found some prospects.
However like many people I found reasons not to go to these events, here are a few of the regulars:
- It would be weird
- I wouldn’t know anyone
- I’m an outsider to the community
- I wouldn’t know what to do or what to say
- Not totally sure if I should be there
After you work through all of those self-imposed meeting new people hurdles, then you have the standard what I like to call the Roadblocks of Life:
- I had a long day at my 9 to 5 (not all of us are full-time entrepreneurial yet)
- It’s a far drive
- There is so much traffic today
- I wouldn’t get home until late
- It’s really hot/cold/rainy/foggy/appropriately temperate outside
- Gym. Tan. Laundry.
These 2 buckets of excuses gave me a regular “I’ll get to the next one” mindset. After about a month of receiving no phone calls, texts or e-mails from the startup community who had not yet met me begging me to come be a part of their tribe I realized I may actually have to do some legwork here.
Contrary to my work life, I didn’t have a clear game plan or an overly elaborate strategy. I knew I liked business and wanted to be near like-minded, creative, motivated and inspiring people. The main traits I had going for me were passion and engagement. I seem to have those in spades. I decided combining these with taking action would at least give me a chance to get on the scoreboard. I made a change from “I’ll get to the next one” to “I’ll get this one”.
Committing to Something
Left with no other option, I did it. I went to Meetup.com and created an account. Cue the fireworks and hardcore guitar solo intro. Well that part didn’t really happen and it was much more boring of filling out a sign-up form and hitting submit, but in my head there was the adrenaline rush of pyrotechnics and face melting guitar riffs. After I signed up, I chose an event for the Phoenix Startup Technology Round Table (PSTRT for short, alright nobody calls it that) and they had a guest speaker named Jonathan Cottrell.
Here is the Meetup link to prove that these events were factual and not a dramatic reenactment.
In the end I really just clicked a submit button to attend an event, but I did take the extra step to RSVP. I wanted the group to know that I was planning on attending even if they didn’t know me. I was hoping this would allow me to hold myself accountable. It’s really easy to cancel last second or no show for an online community where you do not actually know anyone. So my goal was to make my RSVP like gold and have 100% follow through if I ever sent an RSVP.
Showing Up Is Half the Battle
It happened on January 12th at 6:30 PM. I went to my first Meetup group. It was hosted by Michael Fitzgerald at the offices of Vincent Benjamin. I arrived early to the beautiful offices and assumed the awkward of position of sitting around and pretending to take numerous venture capital inquiries about my latest idea or a relentless barrage of head hunters begging to me fill an executive role. I didn’t even know if this was the right place and my charade would have been meaningless if I had been in the wrong office.
Eventually other people began to arrive and Michael was extremely friendly as he walked in with a few pizzas and some delicious Four Peaks beer. Immediately everything felt less formal and more like hanging out with a few new friends who happen to know a ton about technology. I buckled up, tried not to talk too much and sat back to take it all in. I had arrived. Well maybe not entirely, but you always have to celebrate progress and milestones.
I listened to Jonathan Cottrell work through several slides while mostly introducing everyone to the Phoenix startup community, specifically the #yesphx movement. The #yesphx is a hashtag created by the Phoenix startup community. The primary mission revolves around being the most helpful and generous community for entrepreneurs. It sounded simple and aligned with my mantra perfectly. I was psyched after hearing it. I knew this was an environment where I could find an opportunity contribute, so that’s the mission I have set out to accomplish.
After hearing about #yesphx, we opened things up and I did my best to network. Networking is a constant internal battle as I’m always hoping to establish myself as a credible resource where I could provide support while not relentlessly talking about myself as a know it all when really I have so much I need to learn. It’s tough and I battled my way through it. Sorry for anyone I met where I asked too many questions or yapped too much about my own interests, it was just nervous energy, I promise.
Then it was finished. Completed. The End. Meeting adjourned. I was back on the outside. I didn’t even handout business cards! I didn’t connect to anyone on LinkedIn! Although I’m not entirely sure what I would have said either, “Hi, may name is Jeff. I love business and can help with strategic planning, what are you working on? Oh by the way, I’m not crazy, I promise.”
The next major milestone in my startup journey became “What’s next?”
Part 2: Diving in Head First at Phoenix Startup Week
I was on my own again.
Here I go again on my own, goin’ down the only road I’ve ever known… (see this is what happens when I am on my own, Whitesnake lyrics).
I had to find my next opportunity to be around these people and this community again. I started with the #yesphx homepage. I know I know, not necessarily brilliant, but it took me much longer than I care to admit to go to this page for the first time.
I read everything I could find on the page. Then I did something bold. Real bold. Like Dr. Pepper 10 bold flavor bold. I subscribed with my e-mail address for more information. *record scratch* What!? Yes, that’s right and it is not something I take lightly. Similar to most I get bombarded with e-mails and I rarely subscribe to anything. It has to be special. Woman I am going to marry special. So I knew I was fully committed when I took this step.
It felt like a good starting point. Once again, may not seem huge, but like I’ve said before we celebrate milestones. I was on the mailing list and now I was official.
It wasn’t enough. I didn’t know when I would get my first e-mail, newsletter. event alert or emergency need help bat signal to help define relevant KPI and creating a pricing model for a new digital Christmas tree company
I needed something more concrete. I needed to know I wasn’t just waiting for the action to come to me.
Discovering Phoenix Startup Week
I had heard something about a startup week during my travels and I was back on the hunt.
Not long after finding this link I was going line by line through every single event and speaker for 2017 PHX Startup Week. I was trying to figure out how to make this happen with my schedule. The event had 5 full days completely packed with great speakers, social media breakout sessions, happy hours and a full day dedicated to saas. It looked amazing!
I signed up for every single session even things that took place at the exact time. I realized this was not going to work. I still have a full-time job and could not make my full-time entrepreneurial leap on that upcoming Monday. Also, I would have needed to invent the ability to be in 2 places simultaneously. Luckily I had the day off and I scheduled a full Monday of events and managed to find post-work sessions and happy hours throughout the remainder of the week.
Meet & Galvanize
I had the opportunity to spend my entire Monday, Feb 20th, participating in PHX Startup Week. I saw Galvanize, which was incredible! It was also my first time in a co-working space. I thought the environment was amazing and it was not even a finished product yet.
I walked in and had no idea what I was doing, so I reverted to my primal instincts by finding the food table and eating. In order to not look like a complete savage eating blueberry muffins like a Man vs. Food challenge I grabbed a seat at a table. At the table I was lucky enough to meet a few great people within the startup community. I had basically hit the #yesphx lottery. Matt Simpson (you can read his thoughts about Phoenix Startup Week here) introduced himself to me right as I sat down. We mostly discussed the blueberry muffins and what a clutch move it was to cut the muffins into 4 pieces. I was in complete agreement. Matt mentioned that it was great because he didn’t want to eat a whole muffin. Unfortunately I had to confess that I still ate the whole muffin, but I just appreciated that I was able to do so more politely since it had been divided into quadrants for me (shout out for whoever came up with this on the muffins). I would later find out that Matt was a major contributor in the #yesphx movement.
I was also sitting next to Carine Diude who was leading a breakout session of her own at Phoenix Startup Week. She was so friendly and engaging that within minutes she was connecting on LinkedIn to introduce me to the CEO of a Phoenix startup that she thought would be a contact. I was blown away with the friendliness and immediate generosity. It further proved to me how much I needed to be here and be a member of this community.
Throughout the day I had the opportunity to listen to multiple great speakers including Jonathan Cottrell, Kolby Kolibas, Sentari Minor, Vivek Kopparthi, Zach Ferres, Tim Crown and Mike Guggemos.
Soon after I entered my 2nd career co-working space at The Department for Happy Hour.
The space was equally amazing and impressive. I feel bad for the next co-working space I go to because it has a pretty lofty standard to maintain. I thought to myself that it would be hard to be unhappy coming into work everyday if you had a desk at this place.
The event continued to be great as I met several other incredible entrepreneurs throughout the evening. I thought what made these people so incredible wasn’t their entrepreneurial endeavors, instead it was how they interacted with everyone. Every person I met asked about me, my interests and my experiences before I could even ask them a single question about their life. It was definitely something I’ve never experienced in all the networking events I’ve attended. I was beyond humbled and impressed to be around such a thoughtful group of people.
Rest of the Week
The same themes of welcoming people, great content and good feedback remained throughout the week. I was able to attend events after work each day with the other major highlight being the opportunity to see the Street Pitch. I saw polished, passionate and impressive pitches from 10 different entrepreneurs. I was introduced to 10 new Phoenix based startups. It was incredible! The companies, their missions, past accomplishments and future plans were all fantastic. I could feel the energy during each pitch and it made me want to be a part of it in every way. If you missed out, you can check it out here in the Phoenix Business Journal.
Overall it was an incredible week of getting a first hand look at what the Phoenix Startup Community is all about along with the #yesphx movement. I couldn’t be more thankful of the amazing timing. Here I am trying to figure out how I am going to get involved and this Phoenix Startup Week is laid out before me like a silver platter.
Like all good things though, the week came to an end. Now I had a taste though and needed more! I was on my next adventure to find where else I could get involved.
Part 3: Post Startup Week Progress
Post Super Bowl Hangover
I was now officially post Phoenix Startup Week and frankly a little sad. I had just had a great experience and I wanted to maintain that momentum. My next challenge was how do you maintain momentum the week after the Super Bowl? I had to create my own Super Bowl this week and every week going forward. This was my challenge.
Now I needed to find the next chance I had to engage with this great community of entrepreneurs. I had mentally committed to this group and planned on being intentional in developing my relationship with them (something I picked up from Jonathan Cottrell at Phoenix Startup Week). Here is what I have done:
Don’t Be A #Slacker
Joined the #Slack channels. All of them. Until today I still hadn’t commented in the forum and then I turned over a new leaf. I made a baby step by congratulating Bob La Loggia and his AppointmentPlus team on a huge accomplishment. It’s a small milestone, but now everyone in the #yesphx world could confirm that my keyboard did in fact work and I was not a bot.
I sent a few direct messages as baby steps when I saw opportunities to contribute. There are about 20+ channels centered around the #yesphx community. I would recommend joining all of these channels because it feels like a good way to keep a pulse on the community. They also have a Facebook group to participate as well.
I officially had a digital community where I could hope to regularly contribute or at least quietly lurk while telling all my friends publicly that I was a major contributor.
Keep the Momentum
I had to follow-up with all of the great people I met at Phoenix Startup Week. I’ve been working through any business cards by sending follow-up e-mails and thanking them for taking the to chat with me. I have also started working through LinkedIn to connect to any people I met and didn’t have an official contact. During this process I was also lucky enough to have a few conference calls and coffee meetups with individuals were interesting in getting to know me better.
The best advice I can on this front is:
If you think you have an opportunity to help or you just want to learn more about about someone else or their business then just ask!
The worst thing that can happen is no reply or being turned down. I can tell you that neither of those have happened to me yet. On the other hand, the best thing that can happen is making a new friend, learning about a new business and maybe even finding a future partner. When you think of it in those terms it becomes an easy choice with the upside far outweighing the downside.
While hanging out in the Slack channels, I caught another break. I knew this would pay off and after many years of lurking on internet forums (Reddit, Off-Topic) I was a professional. I found Coffee With Newbs.
Coffee With Newbs is a newly created program by a wonderful gentleman named Mat Sherman. He was looking for an avenue to help new community members integrate and connect with others in the community. The timing could not have been better and this is exactly what I needed.
Mat was great and within a few hours of entering my e-mail address on the site he reached out to me and setup time to grab some coffee. Following what I now believe is the standard #yesphx protocol he spent the first 30 minutes just asking about me and my story. Once I finally got the opportunity to ask about him I learned his goal was to make sure no one slipped through the cracks. He knew the challenges of breaking into a new community and wanted to extend his hand to anyone interested. This was definitely a mission I could appreciate
True to his word the following day Mat already introduced me to a potential contact looking for help in marketing and business strategies. Truly amazing! I would highly recommend going to the site and signing up. Then setup time with key members in the community to get to know them and their story. If you’re nervous then start with Mat as he is extremely laid back and very personable.
Ok, I’m in! Now I just had to sit back and wait for the event invites, conversations and opportunities to roll in to the inbox.
Well.. not quite, but it sure felt like I was making progress.
On to the Next One
I began searching for my next event. In addition to meetup groups, I heard that Startup Digest was a good resource for upcoming events. There were several events on the calendar and I found a few good opportunities, but I still needed more. I added Startup Digest to the favorites and it is now a regular stop.
I have still been feverishly hunting the Meetup groups to help me find opportunities. I have already found a couple that looked interesting for March and I am happy to say I RSVP’d. I committed 100% follow through on my RSVP, so now I have no choice or forever have my personal brand tarnished in the #yesphx community. Below is the next event I plan on attending. This is basically a Super RSVP because I have put it out there publicly, so now I better follow through.
Yes! More progress! Remember, it’s the little things. I had now found my next event and a great opportunity to see some pitches by local Phoenix companies.
The Medium of Mediums
In the interim I also found another medium for #yesphx content which ironically was on Medium. I added the Medium #yesphx page to my favorites and now check it daily for more articles and content. I’m consuming everything I can like some sort of Business Locust! (Hmm… business locust, not bad. I’ll have to come back to that.
This was a great find because I am always hungry for more business related content. Especially when it is created by people within my own local business community. Now I just need to find more of it. Or maybe even help contribute to it!
Until my next update I plan on the following:
- Nurturing and building the relationships I’ve found here in the #yesphx community
- Continuing to introduce myself and meet others within the #yesphx community
- Searching for new events and attending 100% of RSVP’d events
- Contributing on the Slack channel anywhere I can add a helping hand
I hope to keep chronicling my experience to hold myself accountable and am excited for my next progress report in a few weeks!
Phoenix Startup Week (It’s over for 2017, but better favorite this one for 2018)