This is a hyper-local post. My out-of-town regulars may want to skip this one.
It’s Philly Tech Week (“a week-long celebration of technology and innovation taking place April 4–12, 2014” according to the website). So far I’ve been able to attend 2 events. On monday night it was the Content Camp Preview (my review and pics will be over on the Content Camp blog eventually). Last night was the Entrepreneur Expo, billed as a “chance to connect with this community, whether you’re an entrepreneur, a business, an organization or a community member.” I’m a community member, alright, but a trespassing one at that; I crashed the Expo. TicketLeap was bone dry and I found myself ticketless (or “ticket-free” for you marketers out there). With a little help from friends, though, you too can become a Philly Tech Week Party Crasher. More on that in a minute.
DA MAYOR & A PRO TIP #1
Mayor Michael Nutter was there. I was disappointed to see that he didn’t snap a pic of the audience to share. I’ve seen him do this at social media conferences in the city. He’s a funny guy, that Mayor. I wonder if he shows up at these things too often. People seemed more interested in the free beer. Perhaps it was just the proximity, as the free beer was right under the balcony where Mr. Mayor pontificated about the partnership between the Philly tech scene and the city.
As typical of these things, the audience was probably about 75% male (as is evidenced by the pic). The exhibitor tables were a few people deep and because of this I didn’t visit many. The ones I did visit, I had prior contact with: Zivtech and Beacon & Lively. Their people had emailed me the day before. PRO TIP: Entrepreneurs who use these expos to get exposure and crowd-sourced ideas should email their supporter lists with a specific invitation to come by the booth. I visited the Beacon & Lively booth after CEO Dave Becker sent out an email thanking his early survey respondents. Like I tend to do, I threw out ideas to the Beacon & Lively folks that they loved.
Here’s what Dave tweeted me back today:
— Dave Becker (@Dave_Becker_) April 10, 2014
I wouldn’t have stopped by if Dave hadn’t emailed out a special invitation to his early survey participants. Now he has more ideas, my buy-in and my imagination ignited.
Tech Week Crashing 101 & PRO TIP #2
Zivtech CEO Alex Urevick-Ackelsberg and I had been chatting via email regarding some hubbub on the Philadelphia Start-up Leaders listserv, and he invited me to come by the Zivtech booth. Putting a real live face to a name is mainly the reason I go to these things. When I finally caught up with him, it was nice to shake his hand and take in his slightly rock-hipster fashion sense.
PRO TIP #2: If you’re a start-up CEO and you need exposure for your product, everything you’re involved in becomes a marketing tool (whether you like it or not). In our email exchange, Alex and I were discussing subjects other than Zivtech, but because of our conversation and his invitation to be his “guest” at the event (I dropped Zivtech’s name to get past the guards), I’m now interested in the company’s growth. Today my brain will start “working on the problem” in the background, meaning it’ll try to come up with some new market or vertical for them. My brain mashes up products and placements for fun. Or obsession. Perhaps it’s the hazards of writing cyberpunk and being a futurist. At any rate, my brain’s on the job, because of our conversation about a completely different issue and his generous permission to let me name-drop him at the door (Even though the event was free and set up in an open warehouse, there still were greeters who stopped me and asked me my intent.)
Wandering around, I found a bunch of people in the crowd, like Karen Meidlinger, her husband Elliot, and Kevin Brophy from VUID (no table there guys?). Alex, Karen, Elliot and I had a big conversation about Philly schools and tech in the ‘burbs vs. tech in the city, basically the same conversation that blew up on the PSL list. I also found my old friend Reed Gustow, who was dressed to the nines, as always, this time in a dapper suit and fierce black beret (WHY didn’t I get a pic?!). Armed with his camera, Mr. Gustow looked ready to do serious damage. He was there with his lovely lawyer wife Heather, who happens to be the aunt of my neighbor who is a local pub-owner in my town (Small Philly World [SPW] #1).
Also there was Steve Goodman, an intellectual property(?) lawyer at Morgan Lewis, who is such a fixture in the Philly start-up culture that Mayor Michael Nutter thanked him in his address to the crowd. I was standing next to Steve when this happened. I was too flustered to take a pic. Before Mr. Mayor started speaking, Karen, Steve and I had been chatting. I had just been telling Steve about Mr. Nutter’s crowd-pic shots at previous events, wondering if he was going to pull out his camera this time. I also had recounted to Steve part of Reed’s point about the sad lack of style amongst the 20-and-30-something male techies. Steve joked that he himself was quite dressed up for the occasion. I gave him a doubtful look and he admitted, no, that his outfit (a cashmere turtleneck and corduroy sport coat) was very dressed down for him. He looked fab. I can’t imagine “dressed up” means when he calls cashmere “dressed down.” Then Mr. Nutter spoke and I have a mini-cringe moment as I realize I’ve just been talking fashion, of all things, with a tech bigwig everyone in the room knows except for me. Foot, meet mouth. Steve was a nice guy, though, very down to earth. I figured out later that Steve and my husband had probably crossed paths a bunch at Half.com back in the early days. (SPW #2) Steve was kind enough to ask what I did and for my card. I do electronic cards; I sent him one.
Reed and I ended up chatting with one of the Indy Hall crew who uses the alias “Phil Ives” on the PSL listserv. Turns out that (here comes SPW #3) Phil and I grew up not far from each other in the real Poconos (anywhere outside of Monroe county is NOT Poconos, people). Phil’s t-shirt sent me into a bit of a meta-moment mess. I stood there, confused, looking at the very same day’s date on the shirt; my head spun as it tried to process the varied implications: Panem-like tragedy-as-entertainment, typical geek humor, cut-throat pop-up business opportunity, hipster hilarity vs. hipster exploitation, death tourism, etc.
A bit of background for all you non-locals who have been crazy enough to ignore my warning at the top of this post: an iconic, 60-year-old store in Philly’s historic district went up in serious flames yesterday. Before the fire was even under control, Phil bought a t-shirt commemorating the event from a street vendor mere steps away from the engines and hoses. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised; the fire ended up being quite the media blow-out. A local news station put up a live feed almost instantly and all traffic reports warned people away from 3rd & Market in Old City.
The store was called Suit Corner. Technically, it did sell suits. There was definitely a –how shall I put this?– cultural tone in the clothes. The suits were more of the zoot variety than anything else. Although the store did carry the regular fare of menswear, the suits were more likely to be crafted from shiny acrylics than not. When my husband and I were avid (and at times professional) swing dancers in the ’90s, we shopped there for his two-tone spectators, wide 40’s style ties, fedoras, suspenders and ginormous baggy suit pants. The store was fly. No-one was hurt, thankfully, but 8 people lost their jobs and an old family business no longer exists.
Phil says he got a bit of pushback at Indy Hall about the shirt. He reported that the general consensus was that it was in bitingly bad taste. One would tend to agree, after watching this heartbreaking video with the owner as he watched his business burn. I’m sure Phil was going for the sarcasm or the irony of it. The real irony, though, will come in a few short years when that shirt loses it’s bite and instead is a bittersweet memorial of a loved neighborhood staple(…aaaand my mind is spinning again on the metaphysics of it).
Next I ended up at the NexFab table with Reed and Heather. A few weeks ago I went on a quest to find out what it would cost to 3D print a broken gear from an electric pencil sharpener. NextFab was one of the places I contacted, but I never ended up speaking to someone. James Fayal of NextFab was behind the table, filled with cool 3D printed and laser-cut steel ephemera. James became the lucky recipient of all my questions. Apparently the materials and fees to print the gear would probably only run about $25-30. The auto-cad design of the gear, though, starts turning up boucoup clams. Designers bill by the hour, and manually replacing the lost teeth of the gear in the gear’s design document (the one that’s fed into the 3D printer) would drive up the price to ludicrous levels. OK if you’re Jay Leno and you need a part for a classic car refurb. Not OK when $30 buys you a whole new pencil sharpener. Basic lesson: 3D printing isn’t for us common folk. Yet. I told James I’m holding out for a fabric printer, or a 3d printer for shoes. And in a lovely final twist of irony, James gave me two carpenters pencils and told me to whittle them because their odd shape doesn’t fit into pencil sharpeners. I’m on the look-out for a whittling knife. It’s time my kids learned how to do some good ol’ wood carving with a knife. That’s all we did in the Poconos, way back in the old days, before Sega Genesis.
Soon after this, I headed out. My sense of pride was sufficiently damaged, my imagination sufficiently stirred, and my brain sufficiently fried. That’s a full night, right there. That’s Philly Tech Week. Hope to see you here next year!
UPDATE April 14, 2014: Technically Philly has a review of the event plus a ton of pics.