Phillip Smith

The Drunken Walk of a Thousand Media Entrepreneurs

How Hacks/Hackers Connect is using lessons from the Lean Startup movement to learn, improve, and scale

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Connect is the product of “lots and lots of experiments” (to steal a phrase from our friend Corey Ford at Matter Ventures). In each city, we add new tests into the mix and then we watch what happens. What is validated as successful moves forward to the next event and becomes of part of the evolving Connect event format. That is our “drunken walk of the event convener.” The rest is up to you…


At Connect Berlin, we received a lot of constructive feedback from participants, mentors, and partners. Those suggestions made it into our planning for Connect San Francisco in the form of a more socially-focused Friday evening and a later start time on Saturday morning. We also added new tests in the form of local media startup demos and mentor-led sessions.

After the San Francisco event, we collected feedback again from participants, mentors, partners and demo presenters alike, and we’ve worked to integrate those learnings into the upcoming events in London and NYC. This is how we iteratively find our “product-market fit,” in the lingo of the Lean Startup movement. We believe in the concept of “dogfooding” as much as the next media entrepreneur.

Spreading an Open-Source Idea

However, the objective of Connect’s experimentation is more aspirational than learning for the sake of learning. We are striving to develop a ruthlessly practical, wildly relevant, and thoroughly-tested professional development experience for the Hacks/Hackers community at large. And we are striving for that experience to be so compelling that it spreads around the world.

Like the 40,000-strong global movement itself — which quickly spread using a relatively simple formula and a great idea — we see each Connect event borrowing liberally from previous events, and sharing forward to future events. We think of it like an open-source project that can be cloned directly, or forked and adapted to a specific community — an ongoing project where pull requests are always welcome.

There are some signature ingredients that we feel make the Connect recipe unique: from the DIY venue decoration and the “Connect Wall,” to the laser-sharp focus on entrepreneurship and involvement of local industry mentors. From there, it’s up to each city to add their own spices: “choreographed networking,” media startup demos, and the like.

Connect Wall at Connect SF

Connect At Scale

I personally believe that flying two Canadian event producers around the world is not sustainable in the long term (as cute and polite as we are!). To keep Connect’s perpetual-motion machine moving, we need to have a much better plan! And we do have a plan…

The short-term goal is to package and publish the best of what has been done at Connect events into a Do-It-Yourself kit that can be unpacked and adapted for use anywhere in the world. However, a toolkit alone is not enough.

The aspirational goal is to have a network of Hacks/Hackers organizers around the globe who have produced or experienced a Connect event, who can then help other cities produce their own Connect events. We’ve started down this path with what we’ve been calling the “Inter-Connect” program: essentially, making it possible for organizers in cities that would like to host a Connect event to help organize an event in a different city.

The idea for Inter-Connect was stumbled on quite accidentally in Berlin, where organizers from other cities took it upon themselves to attend the first Connect event. That led to relationships that are now in place for several upcoming events.

We’ve now incorporated this promising strategy into Connect’s DNA.

Camille Pollie and Sarah Marshall at Connect SF

As part of that initiative, we were lucky enough to host Sarah Marshal (H/H London) and Camille Pollie (H/H Brussels) at Connect San Francisco. Sarah and Camille added enormous capacity to the SF team, and they now take those experiences, learnings, and ideas into Connect London this weekend, and a soon-to-be-announced Connect Brussels this spring. And Rebekah Monson will be in London this weekend to share insights from her media entrepreneurship experience, and to bring the lessons back to an upcoming Connect Miami.

Connecting The Dots of a Global Movement

Back in September, I wrote about the “Why” and the “What” of Connect, and about an explicit objective to “connect the dots” of this global movement. After just two events, we’re already seeing many positive signs.

Connect, now in Virtual Reality and 360 degrees!

As already mentioned, capacity is spreading around the globe in the form of a network of Connect ambassadors like Sarah, Camille, and Rebekah. Add to that people like Federica Cherubini who has joined Connect as the producer for Connect London, and we can already see how the hands-on experience to continue these events is expanding outward.

Quite interestingly, we’ve also seen a very steady increase in the number of people that are inquiring in earnest about organizing a Connect event: Barcelona, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Pakistan and beyond. These signals tell us that Connect is addressing a need that organizers recognize in their own communities.

And, perhaps most importantly, we’re seeing familiar faces from Connect Berlin showing up for Connect London, and from San Francisco in New York — it seems that, at each event, more and more Hacks/Hackers organizers are making the journey of their own accord to be a part of what Connect is convening.

There’s been much talk over the last year of holding a gathering for organizers from around the world. In the spirit of “demos not memos,” I am now quite confident to say that Connect is doing just that. And it may even be doing it in a way that’s more sustainable, repeatable, and practical than we ever thought possible.

It’s not too late to get involved. Just sayin’

Questions, comments, shameless plugs or rants? Find me on Twitter.


Hi, I'm Phillip Smith, a veteran digital publishing consultant, online advocacy specialist, and strategic convener. If you enjoyed reading this, find me on Twitter and I'll keep you updated.


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