Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Startup Camp and UnConference

I just came back from two days of intense information swapping with a couple of hundred other internet startups and I have to say I felt as if instead of New York I was actually somewhere in Silicon Valley. Labeled the "Start-up Camp: An Un-Conference" by its organizers, the event was unique in that the participants decided what topics to cover in many of the break-out sessions, as opposed to having an agenda forced upon you. Those that had a subject they wanted to discuss (me!) went to the front of the room, announced the title of the issue they wanted to cover and posted it on a large board. Anyone interested in joining the discussion would gather around at a designated area. We spent the whole afternoon going from table to table, and conversation to conversation, to chat with other business owners, and figure out solutions together.

I like this format because, in launching their own businesses, entrepreneurs usually accumulate a ton of information on various topics, so in a sense we become experts ourselves, and that allows for a very useful - and lively - exchange.

My big question was how to use online social networks (blogs, Facebook, LinkedIn or others) to market our businesses. I found out that companies online are coming up with applications, or software, they can customize to attract potential clients. One startup called 8 Coupons is looking to devise a widget that people will place on their Facebook page to let their friends and contacts know what discount coupons they're using in their neighborhood, and in that way drive traffic to their site, which offers the coupons themselves. (For more on how to use Facebook for business see Marci Alboher's recent post, and check out the November issue of Inc. Magazine to see how 5 companies are using widgets as a marketing tool - unfortunately the article isn't available online as of yet.)

Another way to use social networks is to have people leave testimonials about you on LinkedIn, or, you can respond to questions that people pose in the "Answers" section - you'll get top billing as an "expert" if you reply to enough of them. This is one subject that's evolving as we speak and it's definitely peaked my interest, so stayed tuned for updates.

From there we went on to something called "speed-geeking", which is similar to speed-dating but instead of potential partners showcasing their romantic talents, entrepreneurs tried to get 3-4 participants to "fall in love" with their business ideas for 7 minutes, at which point a horn would blow and the crew would move on to the next startup-in-waiting. I was able to see first hand which pitches worked and which didn't, and to realize that I have some work to do with regards to my own pitch...(yikes!).

There were almost two dozen hopefuls vying for the Best Startup prize, with some very innovative ideas. The winner? A company called (that's the creator on the left) who offers 3-D mapping of Manhattan with a social networking component. The 2nd place prize went to, makers of website building software, and a company called BeenVerified, which verifies that you are who you say you are online, won 3rd place.

As I walked out I stopped by to chat for a few minutes with John Havens from BlogTalkRadio and gave him my quick thoughts on the event (click here if you'd like to listen to the 7-min. podcast).

I got home exhausted but with my head full of ideas. Get ready for Mogulette Camp!

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