Monday, September 19, 2011

Celebrating Two Years of WaterCooler: Young Entrepreneurs Networking in Nashville

Two years ago, I was talking with my friend Wade Munday about how I wanted to start a fun, informal, monthly event for young entrepreneurs in Nashville to meet each other.  The goal was to provide networking opportunities and to learn about interesting topics or hear from speakers within our own age range (20s through 40s).  He helped me come up with the name WaterCooler, which sounded a lot better than CornerOffice and other names that we considered.  Then he moved to Boston for a year before coming home and getting married.
My friend Renata Soto, who runs Conexión Americas, graciously agreed to co-chair and co-host these events with me.  Our first speaker was Kimberly Pace of Owen Management School at Vanderbilt University, who talked about personal brands:  how each of us creates a personal brand with every action or inaction that we take.  We hosted the first one at Cantina Laredo, which had awesome guacamole and margaritas, but didn’t have the best acoustics.  We later moved to 1808 Grille at The Hutton Hotel, which provided a rock star environment, but was too small for our growing crowds.  Then we moved to Miro District.  We decided it was time to take the show on the road. 
During that time, we hosted some amazing speakers, ranging from Becca Stevens, who talked about her work with former prostitutes at Magdalene and Thistle Farms, to Clint Smith of Emma, Laura Creekmore, who gave an overview of social media (which now seems like it was eons ago), and Alan Young of Armor Concepts, whose products I see on billboards all around the city.
Our first field trip was to Yazoo Tap Room, where Linus Hall and Neil McCormick gave everyone a tour of their brewery and free tastes of Yazoo.  That event turned out to be our most popular yet, and it showed us that WaterCooler was good not only for participants (who, in that case, reaped free beer) but also for the hosts whose businesses we showcased, because it gave them an opportunity to connect with their audience and further build brand loyalty.  I know, for myself, that I buy a lot more Yazoo beer now than I did before, because I heard Linus’ story and know how fresh it is, in addition to merely wishing to support the local economy.
From there, we realized that our niche was really in focusing on locally-owned businesses and entrepreneurs, and not just hearing from a variety of speakers in our age range.  We went to Oliver & Sinclair Chocolate Factory, which was so jam packed that we had to turn people away at the doors for fear of overcrowding/fire marshals.  We also visited Corsair Distillery and heard from Darek Bell and his partner.  More recently, we toured CentreSouce, then walked down the street to City House for drinks.
Our hope in doing this, in hosting and starting WaterCooler, was to build connections, for ourselves, and with each other.  We want folks to come whenever they’re inspired by the topic or have an interest in the location or the host or the product.  But we didn’t want to do anything that required people to sign up for one more commitment.  Everyone has enough of those already.  Because of that, we don’t have an official membership, and we don’t ask people to pay dues. 
We know that we are achieving our goal, because we have made connections with you resulting in new clients for our businesses/practices, new donors for our non-profits, new jobs, and more generally new friends.  And we know that you have done the same.  Emma has gotten new clients because one person who attended was impressed with Clint Smith's story.  And at least one person has gotten a new job because of a relationship she made while trying to attend our event at Olive & Sinclair.  These are the sorts of things we want to happen with WaterCooler.  If you have more examples of good connections that you’ve made, or if you have interesting locally-owned businesses based in Nashville that you want to highlight, please let us know.  These are the stories that we want to help you tell.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Using Technology to Tap into New Sources of Revenue: Highlights of Technology Panel at Bone McAllester Norton

Recently my law firm hosted a panel on technology.  It was a packed audience, and more guests showed up than rsvp’d, showing us that this was a topic that people really want to know more about.  Usually law firms invite clients and friends to hear about risks or changes in the law.  This event was all about business opportunity.
Since the beginning of 2011, I’ve given 1-2 speeches a month on the legal issues involved in using social media.  These talks typically have revolved around social media as a marketing tool, but not necessarily linked directly with creating new revenue.  At our tech panel, we wanted to focus instead on how companies and individuals can use technology to create new streams of revenue.  How can they tap into new revenue sources by creating their own apps, games and contests?  And what is on the horizon that none of us has even contemplated?
We invited an expert panel, comprised of David Owens of Vanderbilt University Owen Graduate School of Management, Nicholas Holland, CEO and Founder of CentreSource, and two of our clients, Parker Polidor, CEO and Co-Founder of Cell Journalist and Carter Hopkins, CEO and Co-Founder of City Streak, LLC.  Our audience was made up of leaders of financial institutions, educational institutions, technology companies, start-ups, developers, and venture capital firms.  We asked our panel and our audience to focus on three things:  (1) using technology to create new revenue streams, (2) tapping into the growing technology sector here in Nashville, rather than shipping assignments out of state to Silicon Valley or Texas, and (3) using our panelists’ stories as inspiration.
David Owens kicked off the discussion by talking about how companies that develop technology these days are recruiting high school students and high school graduates rather than college graduates, because young people are so connected with technology these days.  He talked about how younger people are physically developing stronger hands, fingers and forearms as a result of constantly using Smartphones, and how marketing firms are beginning to place signs and advertisements at foot level and knee level in stores, rather than overhead, because our bodies are getting used to looking down at a hand-held device all day, rather than looking up.  These are just some of the physiological and physical changes that are taking place from an evolutionary perspective, based on our recent adoption of certain technological devices.
Nick Holland did a great job providing an overview of how businesses can tap into technology from a variety of perspectives and in order to accomplish multiple goals.  His company is one of the fastest growing technology companies in America, and its based right here in Nashville.  Already as a result of our panel, members of the audience have hired CentreSource to help them with their needs.  This is great for them, for CentreSource, and for Nashville.
Parker Polidor shared his company’s amazing story, which deserves far greater recognition in Nashville than it currently has.  Cell Journalist is one of the biggest connectors and providers of user-generated content (UGC), such as videos of the floods captured from the Northeast over the past few weeks on individuals’ cell phones, which they then upload to various local and national news stations across the country.  As a direct result of the panel that we hosted, Cell Journalist was approached by one of the nation’s largest media conglomerates and is in the process of negotiating additional work.
Finally, Carter Hopkins, who was the youngest person in the room, and had just graduated from college at SMU in May 2010, captivated the audience by telling his story of how he and his business partner invested just over $10,000 to start this company, which already has thousands of fans and followers on Twitter and Facebook.  His company is similar to a combination of The Amazing Race and Groupon, which lets its target audience of individuals in college and recent graduates go on scavenger hunts in urban locations around the country.  They hunt for prizes and the game is based on speed and skill.  They also realize that they are in a unique position to help companies promote their products and services by incorporating them into the scavenger hunt as clues.  One of my take-aways from the morning was a conversation after the event with one of the older attendees, who said how inspired she was by Carter’s presentation.  She said it got her wheels spinning and that she is already thinking about new ways she can incorporate similar concepts into her own app.