This week, NY Tech Meetup organizer and Meetup.com CEO Scott Heiferman outlined a vision for the future of the group that included a board and community elected organizer. He talked about the meetup becoming more than what it is.
The idea that the NY Tech Meetup could be more than just a monthly meeting with a few presentations is what led me to create nextNY in the first place. Rather than go with more structure, we've gone with less. nextNY has no official organizer and everyone is free to run an event and add to our site--which is in itself a combo of a wiki, blog, job board and other stuff that members just put up themselves. I think it has become the goto place for a real sense of community in NYC tech.
So that leaves open the question of where the NY Tech Meetup fits. Should it become more like a professional society? I don't think so. We've seen two industry professional organizations develop here--the New York New Media Association (NYNMA) and the New York Software Industry Association (NYSIA) and neither proved to be the community unifier that's needed here. Organic groups have flourished--a testiment to Meetup.com's own philosophy--which makes it somewhat ironic that Scott should look to build more structure on grass roots.
In a city of lots of structure and money, at least on the outside, it seems to me that structure and money isn't often what gets communities moving together--and often times, it can be an impediment. Not only that, there's no shortage of structure and resources already in place and our biggest challenge is tapping that and making what we have better.
One thing that Scott is right about is that more could be done for the NY tech community. I'm just not sure that the NY Tech Meetup is the right vehicle for it, but I'm also not one to look a gift horse in the mouth. You see, a couple of weeks ago, David Rose and I, at a NYC Council hearing, seperately called for the creation of a single position whose role would be to bring together all of the disparate pieces of the NYC innovation community--a community manager if you will. More than space or money, if NYC is to take avantage of what it already has, it needs a focal point and a conduit for communication. In a sea of offices, committees, groups, task forces, meetups, unconferences, and incubators, a single human with an email address, phone number, blog, and a Twitter account could accomplish a ton.
Such a person would go university to university, community group to community group, to all the government offices, VC funds, angels, etc... and start off with an assessment. What do we have? In the process, that person would become a connector. A person who could put like minded people together two at a time as often as they put 500 people in the same room.
So, its rather fortuitous that one of the largest groups of tech professionals in the city is in the market for a mission statement and an organizer to carry it out. I think this is the perfect opportunity to put forward a single person whose job it will be to reach out to the various parts of the NYC tech community and inspire them to work together for a common purpose.
In my opinion, Nate Westheimer is the most appropriate person for that position.
Keep in mind I said appropriate. He's not the most experienced--there are other folks who have managed larger communities before or who have been involved in the NY scene for 10, 15, or 20 years. And, he's not a 5 time repeat entrepreneur or successful VC.
However, I don't think experience is really what's critical here. Experience, in this case, presents two problems.
First, experience gives you a view--you form an opinion and perspective as to what the problems and solutions are related to this community. That's a problem because the person who can bring the community together can't be someone putting forward their own agenda. Their agenda must be a synthesis of the community's agenda. They must be an agnostic aggregator.
The other thing a lot of experience gives you is the perception, and maybe reality, that you already know most of the people you need to know. The person who would make the best Community Organizer is not the person that everyone already knows--its the person who will strive to expand and diversify their network. While Nate knows a lot of the up and comer crowd, there are lots of people in "industry" and the academic world as well that don't know him, and I think he knows that.
What also makes Nate qualified is that his current job as an EIR at RoseTech Ventures should be 100% synergystic with being the NY Tech Meetup Organizer. The more that Nate reaches out to the tech community, the more he'll learn about different opportunities and the more people will reach out to him for advice, and perhaps financing. It's also great that he's not working for a VC, so you can be assured that if he does discover investment opportunities in his job, RoseTech and David will likely seek to syndicate the deal like you'd expect an angel to do. You wouldn't have to worry about RoseTech getting an unfair "first look" at everything because angels don't hoard their deals--they need other angels or funds to get deals done.
The other thing that makes Nate naturally qualified for this job is that it is inherently social and Nate's a very social guy. To leverage the NY Tech Meetup as a platform for bringing the community together, he'd really have to reach out and participate in the community the way more experienced people who have kids and families generally won't. I say that having been the junior guy at a VC firm where the partners, at the end of the day, weren't realistically going to spend three or for nights out at various tech events--but that's where community happens--so it was part of my job to participate in that scene. That means going to the nextNY events, the Media Meshings, hanging out with the NYC Resistor crew, and even travelling--representing NYC out at Web 2.0 Expo in SF and in other places. Is it possible for someone else with more life responsibilities to take this on? Sure... but more often than not, life just puts on you certain logistical limitations that Nate has proven he can work around when he's passionate about something--he just spent nearly a month campaigning for the Obama campaign in Ohio. It's this kind of on the ground, door to door effort that the NY Tech Meetup needs--more of a servant of the community than a lead.
Plus, I'm sure he'll have help. I don't know what the board will look like, but ultimately, I'm sure that folks like myself, Scott, Dawn Barber, etc. will support his efforts along the way.
As to who else might run?
Well, first off, I'm definitely not running. I have more than enough to do and my priority is Path 101.
The subject of conflicts is important here, and I want to take a second to address that. There are people here in the city who are making very successful businesses out of creating communities around them. That includes Mashable, the Hatchery, SobelMedia, BDI and others. Those are great business models and their efforts are an integral part of the ecology of the tech community. However, their mission conflicts with the idea of having the NY Tech Meetup be the center of the NY tech community in a way that just running another non for profit meetup doesn't. They have a direct business incentive to build community around them and so I wouldn't support the candidacy of any owner of those businesses, despite the fact that they are a group of very savvy and sophisticated people who contribute a lot to the community. I would not support their candidacy or participation on the board. The board should, however, make room for NYC government folks and venture capital firms.
And, I'll say it, and I'm not trying to be mean... but Richie Hecker isn't the guy either. Richie, you mean well, but I think you have a lot to learn about how to contribute to the community rather than distract it by promoting your own efforts. I don't want to be negative, but I know Richie will probably run and get a bunch of friends to vote for him, so I just want to cut that off before it gets out of hand. Again, not a bad guy, but not the right guy for the job.
Thanks for reading this whole post. I know it was long.