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Tech Cocktail Chicago

Curating A Conference: Inside Startup Mixology

Over the past few years, I’ve been to more conferences then I can remember, ranging from big O’Reilly productions to smaller events produced by local agencies or enthusiasts. For the most part, they’ve served to keep me up to date on trends or inspire me in a general sense. So when we set out to create the Startup Mixology Conference, we had to ask ourselves, why do we want to produce another conference and what do we want our guests to walk away with?

By asking ourselves that question, and keeping it front and center throughout our planning process, we learned a lot of things.

  • It’s easy to go down the path of finding a lot of inspirational speakers and letting them just do their thing.  A little of that is good, but to be honest, that’s not what we decided was right for our audience. Tech Cocktail’s mission is to help the tech community – particularly those interested in starting up a new venture or improving an existing concept or business. Once we decided that our conference had to be extremely informative about the realities of starting up, it helped guide our day.
  • Curation is key. But it’s difficult, because we’re dealing with busy entrepreneurs who may already have their talks down. But it was important to us that we set the tone, work with each of them to ensure they understood why they were invited to speak and could impart the critical knowledge that they have learned through their own journey with those in our audience. To be honest, we didn’t start with the speakers. We started with a list of topics that we wanted to cover, and then looked for the best speakers – a mix of great, local talent and some of the best in the industry from around the country. We didn’t want to have great speakers and not cover the topics that really mattered to us.
  • Wow is there a lot of noise. So much has changed since Tech Cocktail’s first conference in 2008 – the number of events has exploded. That forced us to up our game, really focus in on what we wanted the experience to be and work relentlessly in getting the word out. We knew we didn’t want to be the biggest event in the Midwest or anything like that. We wanted a small, intimate, well-curated event that people would learn from and remember. Hopefully, we’ll achieve that.

So, here’s a little sneak peek at just a few of Thursday’s talks.

Building teams & finding problem solvers. Through our own experience and watching hundreds of startups through the years, we know the importance of team members when starting up. So, we’ve brought in two different entrepreneurs to talk about the importance of building your team, and building a culture of problem solvers. Eric Lunt, CTO of BrightTag and former co-founder and CTO of Feedburner, has been known to build some great teams who have gone on to do amazing things. Harper Reed, of Threadless fame, is one of the most creative problem solvers we know. These two sessions will help kick off our day.

Lessons from the jampad. In San Francisco, there’s this guy who has a place that young startups know as the jampad. Watch foursquare long enough and you’ll see the checkins. It’s not about jamming to tunes – it’s about jamming out on your startup. Travis Kalanick is a serial entrepreneur and angel investor who sold his last company to Akamai and then decided to use his talents to guide young entrepreneurs. He’s opened up his home to countless startups where they can safely talk about their ideas and get honest feedback and advice. We’ve asked him to bring some of his jampad lessons and good vibes to Chicago for the day

Creativity & the importance of building a brand people love. From the beginning, we knew this had to be an important part of the day. It took some time, but we amassed a small group of people who have seen and experienced brands and creativity across the board and will share with you great examples and tips to take away. Local Chicagoan Melissa Pierce has become nationally known for her film, Life in Perpetual Beta, and will lead a conversation with Peter LaMotte, Ross Kimbarovsky and David Gardner who bring some unique perspectives to design, creativity and brand building.

Finding your business. Everyone thinks they know what their business is when they start out, but some of the best businesses actually evolve from one thing into something totally different. Others have to slowly (or quickly!) search for the right business. Tim O’Shaughnessy’s company, Living Social, did exactly that, and has grown from a small Facebook app company to one of the largest Daily Deals companies around. Tim brings a classic entrepreneurial spirit that we know you’ll love.

We couldn’t have a day about starting up without bringing in a few folks who are a substantial part of the powerful Boulder (and beyond) startup ecosystem. Brad Feld, David Cohen and Micah Baldwin. Brad and David will share some of the top takeaways they’ve gathered from entrepreneurs for their book, Do More Faster, while Micah, a serial entrepreneur, will talk about the personal process one goes through in starting up, and how to embrace success and failure as a part of that process.

One of the highlights of Tech Cocktail’s 2008 conference was Dick Costolo’s sessions, Ask the Wizard, in which, then CEO of Feedburner/now CEO of Twitter, talked about the most important aspects of starting up for success and answered lots of questions from the audience. We are thrilled to have a new wizard this year – Tony Conrad – who will share his vast experiences and answer questions. Tony is not only an accomplished entrepreneur, but also an experienced investor and advisor who has guided many young startups and larger companies as well. You will love his personable style and candor.

These are just a few of the talks you’ll see on Thursday – you can read about them all here on our schedule and learn more about our speakers here. There are still a few tickets left, so if you’d like to attend, register today.

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About the Author

Jen Consalvo is the COO of Tech Cocktail. She is also an entrepreneur and new media journalist who worked in product development for almost 13 years at AOL for audiences of millions. Follow her on Twitter at: @noreaster.

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