Digital DUMBO founder, Andrew Zarick discusses why professionals and businesses need an outlet and group of people to tap into to keep current. Read the PSFK write-up here. Digital DUMBO is one of Brooklyn’s most successful community events platforms; they’re a great resource for anyone looking to identify digital thought leaders in NYC. Their sessions have a mixture of loosely and rigidly structured engagements (e.g. panels, mixers) between NYC’s digital community. We met up with their Founder Andrew Zarick to find out what drives their success and how they’re growth has driven the restructuring of their platform.
Last time we interviewed you was in January 2011. What’s changed in your platform and D.U.M.B.O since then?
Back in January 2011 we were still very much focused on getting the best and brightest digital influencers in a room with one another through our monthly dd:SOCIAL. We were preparing to host our 23rd social gathering and celebrate the 3rd anniversary of Digital DUMBO. At the time our community was around 3,000 members. In the three years since, we’ve grown to nearly 12,000 members. We’re one of the largest digital communities in the United States that organizes events regularly. There are obviously huge conferences that gather annually or bi-annually, but in terms of communities that gather in-person on an on-going basis, we’re one of the largest based on number of members.
We’ve been beneficiaries of the rise of digital as a tool that is changing every industry and the world. The pace of change is only accelerating. Professionals and businesses need an outlet and community to tap into to keep up. For this reason we’ve expanded our initiatives beyond our monthly social gathering (dd:SOCIAL) to include content and conversation (dd:COLLECTIVE), education and skill development (dd:EDUCATE), and a digital meets lifestyle conference (dd:IMPACT).As part of our four year anniversary last week we announced the dd:A-LIST which is a premium membership to Digital DUMBO and includes benefits across all of our initiatives including free and priority access to our social events, discounts to Digital DUMBO events and other industry events, and much more.
What were the primary factors that drove these developments?
We’ve grown so we’ve come to realize the larger responsibility that we have as an organization to serve the professionals and companies that have been attending our social gatherings for the past four years. Our community requested more sessions on emerging companies and trends, new professional introduction opportunities, and executive education. We listened and launched initiatives to satisfy these needs.
New York has one of the strongest digital economies and communities in the world. We’ve been fortunate that many of the leading digital minds in New York have passed through the doors of our events. Our job is to figure out how to best curate this knowledge and create a platform and events that connect this expertise with the people and companies that want to stay ahead of the curve.
Tell us about your partnership strategy and any other ways dd: can enrich a brand’s understanding of culture.
We work with digitally-minded brands, those that want to be digitally-minded, and brands that simply want to connect with the digitally-minded but don’t know where to start. We jointly develop content and events with brands across our initiatives. We also introduce brands to digital influencers and the companies they represent, especially ones that we feel can benefit our members.
We also believe in not only cultivating community locally, but also bidirectionally across cities globally. We’ve started this effort by establishing pipelines with London, Boston, and Valencia. Highly innovative communities can benefit from knowing one another. Innovation happens differently due to varying cultural, political, and geographical influences. Why is Sao Paulo so strong in design? How did music tech and media become big in Ireland? Being able to pinpoint these trends and facilitate a dialogue allows for asking far bigger questions about the influence of digital and technology as tools in the future.
What are the next steps for the dd: community?
This year will be all about taking everything we’ve been doing offline for four years and bringing it online. It’s time that we also become digital! That means a focus on connecting our community members online, capturing and sharing more media from our events, and bringing digital communities globally closer together. We’re currently running a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo to help make all of this a reality. Backers immediately get to join the dd:A-LIST – premium membership to Digital DUMBO.
This is a repost from NYU student Jessica Summer's blog. Jessica is a graduate student at New York University's Business and Economic Reporting program. Read the original post here.
On a weekday morning, the usual hustle of the city seems like a land far away in Dumbo, Brooklyn. While walking through the silent streets and passing by locally-designed clothing stores, hand-crafted art shops, vegan eateries, and empty playgrounds, the only noise seems to come from the train overhead, rattling across the Manhattan Bridge. Despite its serene façade, Dumbo is brimming with innovation, stemming from its thriving technology startup industry.
The technology industry in Dumbo has expanded considerably and changed the neighborhood over the past ten years, as more companies are choosing the area as the ideal place to launch a lucrative business, due to the fact that the tight-knit tech community allows for networking and collaborating with like-minded innovators. However, Dumbo’s creative culture is nothing new, as the tech industry emanated from the community of artists that had set up shop in Dumbo, more than 20 years ago.
With this rapid expansion, the cheap rent that used to be notorious in Dumbo is long gone, as property rentals have skyrocketed. Furthermore, with so many startups slinking there way into Dumbo, problems are occurring, such as a lack of space for newcomers and companies competing for the same talent to fill similar jobs.
Matthew Burnett and Tanya Menendez, the founders of Maker’s Row, an online platform that connects American designers with American factories, launched their company a mere few weeks ago in the NYU-Poly incubator in Dumbo, which gave the two a place to turn their idea into a viable business.
“I’ve been here in Brooklyn for over six years. I love the community,” Burnett said.
Both Burnett and Menendez appreciate that so many creators of startups live and work in Dumbo, and that they have the chance to socialize with those in the same industry. “If there is so much networking happening in this core area, it’s easier to find resources,” said Samir Ajmera, manager of the NYU-Poly incubator, which opened in December 2011.
The two hope to eventually keep their business in Dumbo upon moving out of the incubator. “It’s just nice not to be in the city. It’s not as hectic. I can walk outside and actually take a break and clear my head,” Menendez said.
Dumbo initially became a favored place to launch a business because of its inexpensive rent prices. “When you’re starting a company, money is scarce, so usually entrepreneurial companies establish themselves in off-the-beaten path neighborhoods and Dumbo basically was that about ten years ago,” said Gavin Fraser, Founder and CEO of Small Planet, a company he started in 2009 in Dumbo, specializing in the development and design of mobile applications.
In 2007, Andrew Zarick, CEO and Co-Founder of Digital Dumbo, a platform that helps connect those in digital communities, first started working in Dumbo for a digital agency and observed the neighborhood as it began to transform. “We started noticing this movement of digital to the neighborhood. You would be in coffee shops or bars, and hear people talking about similar work to what we were all working on,” Zarick said.
In January 2009, Zarick organized an initiative, Digital Dumbo Drinks, at reBar, known to all those in the industry as a place to gather and exchange ideas. “It was largely just to get like-minded people from the neighborhood in the same room,” Zarick said.
The many digital startups that have established in Dumbo have sparked innovation and a vibrant energy throughout the area. “When I was your age in New York, there was nothing going on in Dumbo. This neighborhood has gone through a radical transformation over the course of the last ten to fifteen years,” said Fraser, whose company has expanded from a one-man operation to a flourishing team of 25 over the past three years.
The animated, yet more relaxed working environment in Dumbo appeals to many working in the tech industry. “The neighborhood provides a more casual atmosphere, contrasted with Manhattan’s more buttoned-down culture. Dumbo has very distinct borders, which provides a small town or campus-like feeling that people here appreciate,” said Chris Martin, the Director of Community Development for the DUMBO Improvement District.
The DUMBO Improvement District instituted free neighborhood wifi on the streets in April 2011 in order to promote collaboration among the tech industry. “In bringing free internet access to our street life, we are encouraging people to step out of their offices, their residencies and engage with one another and the neighborhood in new and different ways,” Martin said.
Zarick believes that the theory detailed in The Rise of The Creative Class by Richard Florida, best describes why Dumbo has become such a huge technology hub. “He [Richard Florida] basically said the conditions that lead to bohemian culture are the same conditions that lead to high-tech innovation. That makes a lot of sense because Dumbo historically, is an industrial neighborhood and all the buildings here are open-office environments,” Zarick said.
According to Zarick, artists used to work in the area in the 1980’s because the rent was so affordable. “There is a low barrier to entry for people with ideas to move in, set up their businesses and do it in a cost-efficient way, and we see culture as the underlying driver of that,” Zarick said.
Part of Dumbo’s allure is that the neighborhood has been at the center of creative and experimental work for decades. “Dumbo appeals to these companies because there are a lot of like-minded, creative and tech-savvy people in a small area, which fosters great collaboration and even competition. Dumbo has always been known as an important neighborhood in Brooklyn culturally. With the added exposure from the tech industry, the artistic culture here grows too,” Martin said.
For these reasons, many of the companies in the NYU-Poly incubator, like Maker’s Row, hope to stay in Dumbo and be a part of the creative community, but over the past few years, real estate prices have drastically increased. “It’s too expensive now and everything in Dumbo is taken. It’s impossible to get space here now,” Ajmera said.
Zarick also finds that space seems to be an immense problem working against the expansion of the tech industry in Dumbo. “We need more space and hopefully more will come on to the market, especially as some of the bigger companies outgrow Dumbo,” said Zarick, who predicts that Williamsburg and Bushwick may become new centers for tech companies to relocate.
Another fundamental problem with so many tech startups all trying to thrive in Dumbo is that most of the companies are searching for those with the same expertise and aptitude. “It’s a highly competitive market for talented programmers. That has always been the case, but it’s especially true here in Dumbo because people want to work here now and there are a lot of companies competing for the same talent,” Fraser said.
Zarick agrees that finding the top talent is becoming difficult. “It is always a struggle to find high-tech talent, especially engineers. It’s a huge issue in New York. Everybody is always vying for the best talent they can get,” Zarick said.
Despite these problems, many new businesses are still trying to establish in the neighborhood and the tech industry in Dumbo is expected to grow. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg openly supports entrepreneurship and with the Economic Development Corporation, has helped to set up numerous incubators around New York City, to house startups. As of March of this year, there have been ten city-sponsored incubators established, which have assisted over 550 businesses and provided more than 900 jobs.
The Brooklyn Tech Triangle, consisting of a partnership between the Brooklyn Navy Yard, the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership and the Dumbo Improvement District, conducted a study with Urbanomics, and found that the creative and tech industries have had a huge economic impact on Brooklyn, with total economic output amounting to $3.1 billion as of this year.
There are now 523 firms within the industry and 48% of them believe that their employment will double in the next three years. In fact, since 2000, the Downtown Brooklyn area (including Dumbo and the Brooklyn Navy Yard) has created over 9,000 jobs and over 500 new businesses.
The Brooklyn Tech Triangle is working on several proposals that would help to accommodate more startups in Brooklyn, mainly in Dumbo, as well as to supply even more jobs to the tech industry. “There is a lot of initiative to get as much tech in here,” Ajmera said.
Despite plans to further expand and allow newcomers in, those already working in Dumbo, hope that their companies will be able to stay. “Dumbo just feels more like a real community. You see familiar faces. I really like that,” Menendez said. “I don’t think there would be any better place for us,” Burnett added.
This is a repost of a Q&A I did for The Phat Startup - a website that "bridges the gap between hip hop and entrepreneurship." Read the original post here.
They say keep your friends close but enemies closer. Do you feel it’s important to pay attention to what your competition is doing?
In the last few years I think we’re moving from a society of corporate competition and extraction to one built on corporate responsibility and collaboration. The workforce as a whole is changing. Creativity and ideas are more heavily valued than they once were. This is allowing the rise of dynamic and nimble companies and people. Workers are reclaiming their identity and creativity. They are commanding to be free from the constraints of their cubicle and relentless schedules in traditional organizational structures. This is enabling collaboration, the rise of co-working, tremendous innovation, and dynamic workers.
How important was being fast and first to market with your idea when building your startup?
In most businesses I don’t think you need to be first to be successful. Businesses evolve just like ideas evolve. In some cases it can be a disadvantage to be first because someone will come along and build upon your idea. How many social networks were there before Facebook? Execution and timing are everything.
Whats your feelings on pivoting? When is a good time to pivot and how can you be sure?
Pivot after you’ve adequately conducted measurable experiments of your product and have consistently failed. There are gut pivots and then there are pivots that are backed by data. The data doesn’t lie.
What are qualities you look for when hiring? What are some right or wrong things entrepreneurs do from your experience?
Each company is a bit different, but assuming the company has very little working capital in its earliest stages, you need hustlers that can wear many different hats. Each employee needs to be able to pay for their seat, literally. These kinds of personalities and skill sets may not be the best fit as the company evolves, because they can’t be pigeonholed into singular roles. However, early in, they are key.
Much like finding the right metrics, how do you determine the right activities that lead to success?
The way to determine the right activities that lead to success are to, first, understand what success means. There is short-term success and long-term success. Once you understand your success metrics, then you can start pulling levers and measure the results. Some actions will work well by themselves, some will fail, and some will only work in tandem.
Take risks, measure, learn, and get back at it.
Have you ever failed at building a company before? What did you learn from that experience?
I’ve always succeeded at making my ideas happen. Any idea that I’ve thought was worth building, I’ve successfully figured how to bring it into the world. However, where I’ve failed in the past was not being able to scale or running out of resources. You usually can’t do everything yourself. You need a team and capital to truly be successful.
How did you find and build relationships with mentors and adviser’s?
Always be looking to meet people, and never turn down a meeting. You never know who might be one connection a way. I am a firm believer in the value of networking. It works. Keep an open mind. You never know who you might be sitting next to.
Steve Jobs says: “Stay hungry, stay foolish” What does that line mean to you? How do you explain that advice to aspiring entrepreneurs?
Never become content. Never be afraid to chase an idea. Companies that become content lose market share. Companies that don’t continue innovating die.
Do you think building a platform for yourself is important?
Twitter is a tremendous way to build your personal network. It’s also a good way to source potential business partnerships. I recently got a shirt from the co-founder of fan marketing platform FanBridge that says “Nothing without fans.” This is true on multiple levels. Build fans with social platforms.
What or who in hip hop has inspired your grind when building your startup?
Hiphop embodies every single aspect of start-up mentality. The struggle from the bottom to get to the top, the hustle, the grind, fundraising, selling product, competition, beef, and the celebration of victories big and small.
Lyrics of the moment:
2 Chainz – “I Got It, I Spend it” Rick Ross – “The only thing on my mind, I’m tryin’ to keep on the lights” Wale – “Easy to dream a dream, though it’s harder to live it They gon’ love me for my Ambition”
Who would you invite to an executive round table between yourself, a hip hop artist, and someone you admire from the business world?
Richard Branson and Jay-Z. Period.
Ever since we began exploring taking Digital DUMBO to other cities, one of the biggest questions that we've received is "So, what are you going to call it?" In case you're unfamiliar with DUMBO, it stands for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass - a neighborhood in Brooklyn in between the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges and home to over 100 digital companies.
When you take Digital DUMBO out of DUMBO a funny thing happens. It loses its meaning as a geographic location and almost becomes an oxymoron, and an interesting play on words. However, we always make a point to tell people where the brand was born. We believe the Dumbo neighborhood is synonymous with the characteristics of how innovation occurs - a collaborative community with an abundance of creative energy.
As a tribute to our roots, we continue to use the "dd" in our global branding.
On Oct. 10th we launched dd:BOSTON at the Cambridge Innovation Center with an introductory event featuring a core group of Boston's creative and digital community. Starting November 2012, we'll be hosting monthly dd:SOCIAL events in the city. The decision to take Digital DUMBO to Boston was a relatively simple one to make. Boston is third only to Silicon Valley and New York in digital innovation. Also, given its proximity to New York and strong ties amongst the digital community in New York, we believe Boston will prove to be a complimentary city.
In June of this year we hosted "Digital DUMBO Meets London" at THECUBE, an innovation space in the Shoreditch neighborhood of East London. This event served as a springboard to Oct. 17th's launch of dd:LONDON. Much like Dumbo and Brooklyn, Shoreditch has a large concentration of highly innovative creative agencies and start-ups. dd:LONDON is led by local Organizer, Iggy Hammick. Beginning January 2013, we'll be holding monthly dd:SOCIAL events in London.
Digital DUMBO is now in Brooklyn, Boston, London, and Valencia.
Earlier this year we adopted the mission of "cultivating and connecting communities at the intersection of digital and culture." We believe that each of these cities fits this criteria in its own unique way. The value of bringing Digital DUMBO to other cities is not to build new communities, but rather to give existing communities an entry point to connect with other like-minded individuals both in their cities and in cities around the world.
Over time, our goal as an organization is to give businesses in our global community a resource and platform which they can rely on to identify talent and services, and an easier way to go to market in new territories. This won't happen overnight, but we're beginning to lay the foundation for this future.
Digital DUMBO started as a monthly social gathering for creative and entrepreneurial minds looking to encourage and nurture innovation within the Dumbo neighborhood of Brooklyn.
Today, Digital DUMBO is a global platform and initiative set to better allow communities everywhere to meet one another, tap into emerging trends in the digital and cultural arenas, and to shape the future of their businesses and lifestyles.
Earlier this year I met Mark Nagurski, Digital Champion of an organization called Digital Derry in Derry, Ireland. Mark came to meet with me in Dumbo and I had the opportunity to tell him about how we had gone about growing Digital DUMBO over the past few years. He discussed how Derry and Ireland in general had been on a tear as of late in the digital space and told me about a conference they had in the works called CultureTech. After having just completed our first ever dd:IMPACT conference, an event that explored how digital has disrupted, evolved, and progressed culture, it was a fitting conversation to be having.
Prior to meeting Mark I didn't know much about Derry or Northern Ireland. However, when he asked me to come to Derry to participate as a speaker in CultureTech, he gave me a good reason to come and visit and find out more.
So, last week I hopped on a plane from Newark and flew six and a half hours to Belfast and drove an hour and a half north to Derry. The city is perhaps best known for what's referred to as The Troubles, the etho-political conflict in Northern Ireland between Protestant Unionists and Catholic Nationalists. Bloody Sunday also happened just outside the city walls that still surround Derry's city center.
Upon entering the city walls it's hard not to feel the sense of community in Derry. The urban center has a population of about 85,000, but the walls make it seem like a much smaller place. There might be more bars than people. The size of the city make Derry an ideal cultural center and a perfect place for a festival like CultureTech, allowing people to interact and cross paths on street level.
On the third day of the festival I had the privilege of participating in the Big Ideas session. I discussed how Digital DUMBO grew from a small social gathering into a much bigger idea. I believe that Digital DUMBO has found its way into the broader movement towards a creative society based on the creative class. As Richard Florida states, "We are in that strange interregnum when the old order has collapsed and the new order is not yet born." He refers to the old order as companies that grew out of the industrial revolution who's bureaucratic infrastructures stifle innovation and creativity, and the new order being that of the knowledge-based worker and more dynamic and nimble organizations. We believe that Digital DUMBO can help bridge the gap between the old and new and we're establishing an initiative set to do so.
Outside of the Big Ideas session I very much enjoyed the Image Rights panel, a half day examination of music and the moving image, featuring Daniel Cross, the Global Music Manager for Adidas, among others. I was pleasantly surprised at the abundance of music and music start-ups in Ireland. However, at second glance, it makes perfect sense. Music is a big part of Irish culture and nightlife. Stay on the look out for Irish music start-ups like Rotor, 45 Sound, Choorpy, and Inflyt.
CultureTech was a grand success, especially in a city that has been through so much in the past. There was a real sense of pride amongst the volunteers, sponsoring companies, supporters, and even us speakers. I wish Derry, Digital Derry, and the CultureTech team nothing but the best, especially in the coming year where Derry will be the UK's City of Culture. I hope to make my return to Ireland sooner rather than later. It was an honor to be involved in what was a big stop forward for Derry and it's digital community.
Earlier this month I had the privilege of being interviewed by Startacus, a website based in Ireland that helps entrepreneurs take their ideas to reality through knowledge-sharing and its support community.
I've republished the interview below.
Last week Andrew Zarick was guest speaking at the Big Ideas session at CultureTECH festival, in Derry, Northern Ireland. Discussing how Digital DUMBO grew from a small happy hour meetup into a much bigger idea, Startacus caught up with Andrew, and asked him to pass on his experience to Startacus, on this very subject.
Digital DUMBO - like the name, can you explain a little bit about Digital DUMBO and the reasoning behind the name?
DUMBO is actually an acronym for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass. Dumbo is a neighborhood in between the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges in Brooklyn. In the 1800s Dumbo was an industrial area. Robert Gair, the inventor of cardboard, owned many of the warehouses that have since been converted to commercial and residential space.
In the late 1980's, artists began moving to Dumbo and illegally squatting in some of the buildings. Eventually real estate developers caught wind of Dumbo and the combination of artists and investment in the area's infrastructure paved way for small businesses and now, digital businesses. The cost per square foot is cheaper in Dumbo than Manhattan, yet it's just one subway stop away from the city.
Today, there are over 100 digital companies and start-ups in the neighborhood. We originally started Digital DUMBO as a social gathering to bring together like-minded people from our local community. We've since moved well beyond that. We now define our mission as cultivating and connecting communities at the intersection of digital and culture - everywhere. We've hosted events in London, UK and Valencia, Spain. Our first event in Boston will happen later this year. We're sticking with our brand because we're taking the stance that DUMBO is synonymous with digital innovation and creativity.
Why do you think Digital Dumbo as a community has grown so quickly. 40 members 4 years ago to over 10,000 now - its not bad growth! But why?
Frequency, consistency, quality of product, and timing.
We literally started with $0. Our first event was in a private room at a local bar. At our early events, a couple of companies offered to sponsor a round or two of drinks. In our second event, we invited a videographer and animator from our community to showcase his work. The combination of free drinks and the showcase of work planted the seeds of what we now call our dd:SOCIAL event. We provide drinks for all attendees and give one company the opportunity to reach, disrupt, and engage our audience in whatever creative way they want.
For anyone that's done event planning, you know its not easy to do an event each and every month. After some deliberation, we decided to do the event monthly, on the last Thursday of each month. This consistency made Digital DUMBO one of the few community-centric, networking-centric events in NYC. It has been a grind, but also highly rewarding. We've been doing our event consistently for 3 years and 8 months. We've only missed dates for major holidays.
We've also had the opportunity to work with some amazing brands and communities that also have their own followings. We try to make an effort to cross-pollinate our community with existing communities in different fields like music, art, design, and fashion. We've done events with music companies, gaming companies, and fashion companies. This leads to interactions and conversations that wouldn't have otherwise been possible and helps to grow community.
Finally, we think we're in the midst of a broader movement. Creativity and ideas are valued more now than ever before. The workforce is changing with co-working spaces and dynamic teams. Education is being disrupted as people seek to find new skills on their own with Skillshare and new institutions like General Assembly. Events like Digital DUMBO are fueling the creative ecosystem by facilitating connections amongst people, leading to increased social capital (and not the kind you build on Twitter). We're living in exciting times.
Any tips for someone looking to grow a community of people organically (or otherwise) online?
Think Different. Experiment. Don't give up.
Create an event with its own feel, it's own style. Give it a voice and keep your community engaged. If they walk away feeling something, whether that means they were inspired by a presentation, met someone amazing, or simply enjoyed the atmosphere, you'll be successful. You have to keep at it, though. It took us at least a year to build up meaningful momentum.
Finally, there is an art to properly managing and communicating with your community with tools like EventBrite, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Meetup, and more. However, we'll be here for days if I get into that.
Andrew, you are a wee bit of an expert in SEO and affiliate marketing tactics. What would be your top piece of advice be for a beginner to drive and convert traffic on their online site into sales and leads?
Content is King. Links are Queen. For content websites on a budget, focus on building valuable content and community. Seed the content with the community and make it good enough to be make people want to share it. Reap the benefits of inbound link activity.
Businesses with budgets can spend money on media buys, giving them immediate data to utilize in their other marketing efforts. For example, does the phrase "Lil Wayne Music" result in sales of Lil Wayne music from paid search? If so, maybe we should optimize for that phrase to benefit from free, organic traffic.
Finally, understand your success metrics and have analytics in place to be able to know if things are working or not. I've worked with so many companies who don't have a solid grasp on what metrics matter to them. It's not just about measuring revenue and ROI, either. Pay attention to both micro and macro conversion events so that you can properly optimize your campaigns and conversion funnels. A micro conversion event might be a Like on a piece of content on Facebook. A macro conversion event would be a sale or a download of a white paper. How did that like on Facebook effect the download of the white paper 4 steps later?
So, inside info...what do you think is the next big emerging trend in the digital and cultural arena that Startacus members should keep an eye out for?
Professional exchange & co-working. The concept of co-working is still relatively new in many parts of the world. However, this is influencing work and the team dynamic in general. I think we'll see more professional exchanges across communities and across geography, not only amongst freelancers, but also established employees of large companies.
On Tuesday I'll be catching a flight to Belfast and driving an hour and a half north to Derry, Ireland for CultureTECH.
CultureTECH is a four-day festival of all things digital. Part tech/media conference, part music and arts festival, we’re creating a new kind of festival that blends work with play and encourages exploration and discovery across film, TV, animation, gaming, music, publishing, advertising and digital arts.
I'm humbled to have the opportunity to participate as a speaker in the Big Ideas session where I'll be discussing how Digital DUMBO grew from a small happy hour into a much bigger idea.
Throughout the Olympics you never heard any single player from Team USA talk about their individual roles. From Lebron James down to Anthony Davis, everyone bought into the concept of being part of a team, and representing country. At the end of the Gold Medal game against Spain Coach K talked about attitude, and how each player on Team USA was willing to do whatever they were asked, even if that meant sacrificing time on the court or the number of shots they took.
Team USA realized that the Olympics and the larger movement was bigger than any one of their egos or individual achievements. Each player knew exactly what they were working towards - the gold medal.
In any team environment and within any organization it's important that each member of the team not only understands the what, but the why. It's not only what role you play, but why you're playing that role. The why for players on Team USA was representing country, winning gold, and being the best.
Awhile back I was watching Simon Sinek's TED Talk on how great leaders inspire action. He talks about the power of the "why" in detail.
At Digital DUMBO, we've recently adopted the mission statement of "cultivating and connecting communities at the intersection of digital and culture." As a team, we try to understand how every small step and task works towards this goal.
As an example, a couple of months ago I asked our community manager to go back through every event we've ever hosted on Eventbrite and do a data dump of the names, job titles, companies, and email addresses of all the people that had attended a Digital DUMBO event. This was a painful task, but we discussed its importance. Our list (ie. our community) is the single greatest asset that we have.
Without our community, we're nothing.
30,000+ rows of data later, she literally cultivated our community and helped us learn more about each of our members. She was also exposed to the history of each of our events and our growth first-hand. We now use this asset as a way to conduct partner outreach, lend insight to our programming and content for future events, and make informed decisions about where to take Digital DUMBO next. It's our cornerstone.
A painful task turned into a greater experience.
What's the why of your organization? Why do you get out of bed in the morning?
Last month we took Digital DUMBO to the UK for the first time, and third time in Europe, for dd:LONDON.
It took us about 3 months of planning to make happen, between identifying a venue, determining the concept, and connecting with the right people on the ground. When we first announced the event to our community of 10,000, we were apprehensive that word wouldn't travel overseas and no one would show up. However, a funny thing happened.
Almost immediately after our email announcement we noticed that individuals within our community were forwarding the invitation to their co-workers in the UK. Although we had positioned the event as "Digital DUMBO Meets London," we were amazed at the connection that already existed between our community in New York and our new community in London. By the time the event came around we had over 250 RSVPs, from both New York and the UK.
We hosted the event in the Shoreditch area of East London, an area with a high concentration of digital companies (more on this later), at a collaborative innovation space run by our friends at Idea Engineering Agency called THECUBE.
The evening began with a dialogue on the global digital economy between our remarkable panelists and the audience in attendance.
Panelists included (More on them here):
- Nathalie Nahai, Founder, The Web Psychologist
- Alison Coward, Founder, Bracket & Rewire London
- Dale Barnes, Director of Advanced Technologies and Innovation, Virgin Media
- Shawnee Keck, Policy Advisor-Economic Affairs, Hackney Council
The parallels between New York and London could be seen in the insights from the panels. Much of the discussion focused on the need for education to incite a more skilled digital workforce and to better encourage entrepreneurship. The dialogue also transitioned into how to implement innovative technology solutions to grow economy in impoverished areas. One attendee spoke of a recent project in Africa to enable micro payments via mobile phones.
Post-discussion, over 80 attendees gathered in the courtyard of THECUBE to continue the conversation and meet one another on a beautiful London evening. I had the opportunity to meet the HUGE London team, friends from dd:VALENCIA in Spain, the leaders from London First, UK Trade and Investment, Oury Clark, and the organizers of Silicon Drinkabout, one of London's largest digital communities.
Our goal in going to London was not just to be there once, but to plant roots and connect with existing communities for the long-run.
dd:LONDON was the archetype of what we want Digital DUMBO to be - bi-directional conversation between cities at the intersection of digital and culture. Innovation happens differently across geography because of differing cultural, economical, and legal structures. We believe there is something to be learned by opening the pipelines. London proved that.