How One Event Can Change Everything: The birth of Greenhorn Connect and the start of my career in startups

 It was getting late and it was time to make a decision. Would I take the hit and spend the $300 to go the 2009 MassTLC unConference and try to figure out how I would get out to Burlington, MA that morning? It was a tough question. I had graduated a month earlier, was unemployed and just starting to discover the Boston startup community.  It seemed like a lot of money and I really wasn't looking forward to taking a 90 minute bus ride out to the Sun campus.

I was ready to pass on it for travel reasons alone when my roommate's friend suddenly mentioned she worked in Burlington and could give me a ride.  I decided that was enough of a reason to go...and it would be the best decision I ever made; the 2009 MassTLC unConference is the reason you are reading this here today.

How One Event Can Change Everything: The birth of Greenhorn Connect and the start of my career in startups

 Many assume I was a sponsored entrepreneur at the last unConference. The truth is, I was not.  I didn't have a startup at the time and wasn't sure if I belonged at an event like that. I had this image of successful businessmen in suits all talking amongst each other and not having time for or interest in any young people (not sure if they were holding Sam Adams).  There were suits, but no one treated me like I shouldn't be there.  Quite the opposite, some of the most important connections I would make came from the event.

1) John Prendergast - Lean Startups and the first gamble.

Can a single blog post get you a job? It did for me.  

One of the sessions I went to was called "Dodging Bullets that Kill Startups (LEAN Startups)." I had just started discovering this "Lean startups" concept and so I was really curious to learn more. John ran a very informal session to outline the basic concepts of lean and really piqued my curiosity.  Some of the lessons I had learned in graduate school seemed to line up well with what he was talking about, so it inspired me to write a summary of his session (many of the sessions were recapped).

I'm not sure I actually met or talked to John at the unConference other than asking a question during his session, but I was sure to include his name in tweets I sent out about summarizing his session.  Amazingly, he actually read my post and came back with

He also Direct Messaged me on Twitter asking me if I had a job (which of course I didn't at the time).

Not long after the writing of the post I met with John and he became the first person to take a chance on me.  This was a game changer for me for two reasons:

  1. It helped pay the rent while I built Greenhorn Connect
  2. It helped me start building a reputation of the work I could do, even when it was things I didn't already know well.

Fast forward just 4 months and I'm talking to Laura Fitton about a role at oneforty. It would be a big move and certainly a risky one for Laura, but as we all know, I'm here today.  I'd be willing to bet that John Prendergast, who is on the board of oneforty and a mentor of Laura's, helped my cause for getting a role there. He would never have taken a chance on me if I hadn't sat in on his session that day...

 

2) Tim Rowe & Scott Kirsner - Sparking the Cultural Revolution (+ GHC!)

One of the biggest sessions at the unConference was a session run by community leaders Scott Kirsner and Tim Rowe called "TurboCharging the Entrepreneurial Culture in MA".  From the summary I wrote then:

  • "Those in attendance were charged with creating a list of every organization and event they knew of in the community.  It was truly an impressive group effort that created a list I don’t think anyone would have been able to build on their own that morning."

That list included organizations that existed, ones in progress and what we still needed to do.  On that to do list included a "wiki" to allow people to find all these things.  I had already spent months building a wiki to capture that information for myself as I tried to understand the Boston ecosystem. There were thoughts of making it into a website for the benefit of everyone, but we had just barely formed the Greenhorn team and had planned to build a massive site for launch in December.  

When Tim and Scott finished the list, trembling, I raised my hand and said I already had a wiki made with all of this content. This caught a lot of people off guard and got me a few cards from some people that, "wanted the wiki" (yes, someone wrote that on the back of the business card they gave me).  Meanwhile, Scott and Tim followed up with me after the event to push us to have something up immediately. 

That pressure was all we needed. Just 11 days later, on October 11th, 2009 Greenhorn Connect alpha was launched. It was nothing but a resource list, but it was something. It was our MVP, which fit perfect with the Lean Startups lessons I had just picked up as well :).   Scott was kind enough to mention us in his recap of the unConference and has been incredibly supportive ever since.  Behind the scenes, Tim has been just as supportive many times.

 

It's corny to say, but yes, the MassTLC unConference changed my life. You would not have this site, you would not be reading this blog post and I wouldn't have a job at an awesome startup without last year's event.  

What are you waiting for? Go register now.  

Note: If you're a student, use the StayInMA program to help pay for the event. If you've already graduated and the cost is tough, contact the folks at MassTLC and they may be able to help too. 

 

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