We don’t market at DT. Instead we bring people together, make them smile and create lasting relationships. If we can deliver an unforgettable experience, it’s better branding than any marketing campaign can deliver. It’s real and lasting.
Instead of networking at conferences, we host intimate dinners with inspirational people and introduce them to each other. Instead of going to a job fair, we invite designers to join us at lunch so they can get a feel for what we are all about. Instead of hosting meetup events and seminars, we throw damn good parties.
Experiences bring people together; events are a place for people to get together. We’ll take one friend over 100 contacts any day. It’s just the way we are.
We recently hosted the Opening Ceremonies for San Diego Startup Week. I’ll use that party to tell you our secret recipe for crafting meaningful moments in every aspect of the experience.
But first, check out this time-lapse video of our workspace being transformed into an awesome venue to host 300+ people.
Set An Intention
The best experiences start with powerful intentions at their core. A few years ago, San Diego only had a few successful startups. Today we are busting at the seams with both venture-backed and profitable startups. So our intention was to celebrate both the accomplishments and challenges of our community of startups. That’s it – no ulterior motives to sell our services, recruit people or push an agenda. We formed the whole experience around this intention.
Build Your Team
Your team is the most critical part of creating the experience. We created an internal four-person team to handle the all the finite details from ideation to logistics. We met 1-2 times a week for three months to ensure everything was buttoned up for the big day.
Make Sure You Go Big From Day One
Don’t worry about the small details or logistics until you’ve exhausted your experience ideation. In other words, be as crazy and creative as possible from the get-go. Here’s our first brainstorm:
Create The Right Base Of Participants
Since our intention was to celebrate local startups, we made sure to stack the initial guest list with people from over 70 startups. With the foundation set, we opened it up to the rest of the startup support community (investors, advisors, bloggers, influencers…etc).
Do It Your Way – Think Twice About Sponsorship
We didn’t want the distraction of sponsors being mindlessly announced over a mic or startups wasting good drinking time demoing their product to other startups. We wanted people to be able to concentrate on connecting and creating lasting relationships throughout the evening. So we decided not to take on sponsorship funds and footed the bill ourselves, which was around $10,000. It wasn’t cheap, but what’s the cost of compromise?
Get Your Guests Into Their Comfort Zone
The toughest part of a party is the arrival. You show up, get a crappy nametag, stare around awkwardly for someone you know and then head for the bar. We crafted a welcome experience with elements that ranged from Burning Man to a house party.
10 Ways We Spiced It Up
1. Greet your guests, don’t register them This isn’t the DMV, it’s a party! Have a team of greeters make your guests feel at home right when they walk in the door. Be personable and ask them about their company, what they are looking to get out of tonight, if they want to meet anyone…etc. We decided to take it up a notch and had an arsenal of gear to make sure everyone looked ridiculous. When we all look ridiculous, we’re all the same – our guard comes down and our personality comes out.
2. Skip the name tags A name tag doesn’t say anything (well, except the obvious). It only encourages boring interactions that sound a lot like 30 second elevator pitches. ZZZzzzzzzz… Encourage people to be creative with conversation starters. We printed a bunch of fun startup-themed partial sentences on stickers for people to mash-up their own quirky statements.
3. Loosen up – Shots! So we just made you put on a ridiculous outfit and stick random words on your body. You may need a bit of liquid strength to jump into the party. Why not offer a welcome shot? The bar always has a line, so satiate your thirst while trying out the craft cocktails so you know what to order.
4. Make your mark Remember our intention? We wanted SD startups to feel like an integral part of the community. So we had everyone sign a whiteboard. By the end of the event, someone from each startup had staked their claim and it resulted in a legit representation of our community.
5. Give people something to tweet about Sure, you can tell your guests to tweet a certain hashtag. But why not prime the pump and give them a reason to use that hashtag. We set up a photobooth so startups could get group pictures and share them. Fortunately, things got a bit freaky. Check out all the shots.
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6. Feed your people Most people don’t have a chance to eat before attending weekday events. The DT chefs, Gage and Julia, put out a delicious and unique spread of apps to soak up the booze and ensure a safe drive home.
7. Always have surprises Ok, we made it this far and had a rocking party going on. Enough that people had completely forgotten that it was technically related to work. But we couldn’t stop there – it was time to release the surprises. At the height of the our attendance level (300+), we had stilt walkers take things up a notch. They mingled and got people to meet each other, started dance parties, passed out trophies for goofy accomplishments, and fired off confetti guns.
8. Don’t talk about yourself. Give big ups to your guests. Have you ever been to an event where the host gets on the mic and continuously tries to quiet the crowd for a boring word from the sponsors? Fuck that! We stayed true to our intention and had a ringmaster lead a group of cheers to recognize each and every startup in attendance. And then we turned the music back on.
9. Be creative where people least expect it We rigged our bathroom light to turn on a record player. Why not? The walls of the bathroom are littered with classic records, so the person before you can curate your music experience.
— AL Bsharah (@ALBsharah) June 18, 2014
10. Have a Part II of your event A party always has two waves – make sure to ride them both. When the earlybirds leave, don’t just let your party die a slow death. Switch it up. We had over 15 computer-controlled lights installed and just waiting for the right time. We dimmed the house lights, released the fog and turned up the BPM. There was only one thing left to do…dance party!
Don’t Take Our Word For It
Tweets from our party-goers speak for themselves:
— SD Tech Scene (@sdtechscene) June 18, 2014
— 7 Second Strategies (@7SStrategies) June 18, 2014
— Brian Bimschleger (@bimschleger) June 18, 2014
— SD Startup Week (@sdstartupweek) June 18, 2014
Go Forth And Create Meaningful Experiences
Yes, it was a great party, but that’s not the point. It was an unforgettable experience for everyone involved, including us. It built strong connections within our local community of startups and, more importantly, it made a lasting impact on the people that power them.
You don’t have to throw a party to get these results. Just put care and thought into your social interactions with your community. Make them smile, laugh, and give them a reason to remember the moment they are experiencing. The amazing thing about life is that we get to design our experiences.
So get designing and remember – do it for yourself and your team. If you don’t enjoy it, what’s the point?