When I was in college, at Fordham's scenic Rose Hill campus in the Bronx, I deeply rooted into my community. I was one of that handful of student leaders that ran five or six different things at one time and who couldn't walk from one classroom building to another without running into someone I had to talk to about a meeting, an intramural sport or something social. Being intensely involved in community life there made the campus seem small and familiar.
After I graduated in 2001, I remember it seeming impossible to feel the same way about living in New York City. I thought to myself that only by being elected to public office or by being an actor could you plug into a big enough platform to create community around you in such a big place. It was a time before the widespread use of social networks, obviously.
Fast forward twelve years and I've rooted not only into the NYC tech community, but also participate in communities around recreational team sports and volunteering around waterfront paddling. I joke around that the number of different ways that I could run into someone in the city is a bit ridiculous--but it's also fantastic. I've created that same familiar feeling that I had on campus in one of the biggest cities in the world.
Passing on that experience has been at the core of what I do in the NYC tech community for the better part of the last decade. I'm always looking for new ways to turn big and intimidating into small and familiar. That challenge has changed over the last year or two. Previously, the challenge was awareness--helping people find where the community was. Over 7,000 subscribers later, my weekly newsletter has helped shed light on the comings and goings of NY tech for a lot of folks--and I'm thrilled that it's been able to help people connect. Now, the problem is a little different.
The New York Tech Meetup isn't in the back conference room of Scott's offices at Meetup anymore. We're big time, and while that's great, I was reminded recently that "big" isn't always the interaction that people want to have. New York Tech Day, with 10,000 people at Pier 94, can be intimidating just as it is inspiring. When you see too many faces, you might not take the time to learn the names that go with any of them.
That's why I've been seeking ways to return to the small, familiar groups I used to experience back in 2005-2008. Back then, we used to head to The Park--the restaurant over by the Highline, after the New York Tech Meetup at IAC. If we had 15 people with us, it was a lot. That's when we really felt like we had a community--when you could go to a big event, but then bring it back down to a handful of people you knew really well.
One avenue I've been using this year to accomplish that is food. At SXSW, after feeling completely overwhelmed by last year's event, I decided to pre-book reservations at a bunch of restaurants far in advance. When I couldn't get reservations, I used Taskrabbits to wait on line to grab tables. I then reached out to the people I wanted to spend time with and offered up spots with small, curated groups around great food. It was a fantastic way to dive in and get to know people, or reconnect with friends that I didn't get to spend nearly enough time with when I was in NYC. I made SXSW small again and I loved it.
I decided to take that same setup back to the tech community in the form of small group dinners. With the help of the Kitchensurfing platform (I'm not an investor, I just like it as a user), I've gotten together with nearly a dozen hosts to have people fro the tech, startup, and digital media community together in apartments from Park Slope to Midtown, from the West Village to Williamsburg and beyond. I pay for the hosts and fill the seats, but the hosts do most of the hard work--negotiating menus, booking chefs, and pretending that their apartments are always so clean and neat.
The dinners have been fantastic. It's been a great opportunity to get to know people better, and connect people locally who, in most cases, live just blocks from each other and had never met. Someone asked me the other night why I'm doing this. The best reason I could come up with is that it's the interaction with other people in the community that *I* want to have. At this stage of my career, I don't get nearly as much out of going to a huge blowout event as I get when I have a great conversation with just a handful of people. If I can share that experience with others in a scalable way, I'm all for it. I will have setup at least two dozen of these things before the the year is out and it's the equivalent of sponsoring a two hundred plus person event, for just a couple grand of total cost in a completely manageable way. That's important for one guy with a tiny fund.
I've mostly sourced people from my own network and from recommendations, but now that I've got this operating a little more smoothly, I've decided to open it up a bit. I can't guarantee that I'll be able to accomodate everyone--because I've been mixing and matching people that I think would make a great group, and there are variables like times, dates, neighborhoods, food preferences. Still, it would be great to get some new faces.
So, if you'd like to join us, fill out this form. Tell us who you are and, of uniquely NYC importance, where you are, lest we invite an Upper West Sider out to Queens. It might be a while before you hear anything, if at all, but I'll be doing my best to try and get as many people involved as possible. Also, let us know if you're willing to host.