In just 18 months Paddy has created two truly global events that the most influecial names in tech want to speak at and attend: F.ounders and the Web Summit series. Speakers at these events include: the founders of Bebo, Twitter, Skype and Bono to name just a few. This month Paddy was named no. 26 in the Wired 100 list of top European Influencers
Howard: Hi everyone, Howard from Startupremarkable.com here. I have an awesome guest, a bit of a legend back in Ireland, Paddy Cosgrave with me. He is number 26 in Wired’s top 100 most influential people this year and he’s a founder of a very [very] influential group in America and a blog called founders which has people from the head of Skype, Twitter and Bono go to those events and today I’m going to talk to him about how to build an influential community and also the science of how he builds the buzz around these event that he runs. Paddy, good to see you here in London!
Paddy: Nice to see you too, Howard.
Howard: So, first of all, a guy from Dublin, right? How do you build one of probably the most influential communities in the world over in America that has some of the most influential business people wanting to attend? How do you do it?
Paddy: I think [most] of it is huge amount of luck like 18 months ago I really hadn’t ran anything. In terms of founders I’ve never really been at founders before and it was October 2010 just 18 to 19 months ago that was the very first founders. It just started as an idea that I guess resonated with a lot of people which at that time [was] there are fantastic events that bring together founders and entrepreneurs from incredible companies from all over the world but those events are almost all regionally focused.
So there’ll be great events in the states that bring together brilliant people but they are all most overwhelming being Americans then some big events in Europe and they bring together some great people and it’ll be overwhelming American or Europeans and the same of the case in India or China _____ massively global and founders was that and it’s noble for lots of different reasons has become what it’s become. You know its 2 parts. The first part is inviting the right people. You know it’s always very hard persuading the first person to commit and then once somebody is committed then it’s easier to get the next two and it just keeps on.
Howard: So, how do you get the first person to commit?
Paddy: I think the back story to this is kinda curious and it’s kinda revealing and it takes an enormously long time probably four or five weeks on one person to persuade one person to tentatively say okay.
Howard: Can you tell me who that is?
Paddy: That was Niklas Zennstorm, Founder of Skype. He really was the first person. It was an incredible thing for me to do because there were no events before. In fact we have no name. It never really happened before. But I think a lot of entrepreneurs understand that you know they started out from nothing and advance at some point have probably started out at something. And so it started from there. He was an unbelievable person to get and then I kinda went from there.
Howard: So how did you reach out to him about it?
Paddy: I just emailed.
Paddy: Yeah! You know I think most people believe that that person must get so many emails. About the one thing I’m asking him to do which is to come and speak. And in reality sometimes they don’t and this guy sometimes loved the idea of speaking to High School or even Primary School if some teachers ask them they feel. You know in many cases these entrepreneurs in three years, in four years in five years in two years you know one year ago were broke they’re living out in a tiny box apartment you know their living out of suitcase and they really they don’t have any airs and braces about themselves. And they’re very giving, giving in terms of giving back to the community.
So sometimes I think you know wherever you are in the world whether you are in a tiny island in the Northwest of Scotland, Northeast of Scotland or in Dublin, or somewhere in the United States or in Brazil you should reach out to these guys and all of them are accessible cause the majority of them are on Twitter, Facebook or their emails or usually publicly available. You just need to don’t write a big email. Just keep it very short and sweet. Three sentences of what specifically are you asking of. And if they want to find out more somebody will get in touch with you and that’s the starting point for the conversation. You gotta start the conversation pick their interest and you also gotta accept you know I guess most of them probably won’t be able to do it.
There are hundreds of amazing tech entrepreneurs out there you know spread your net wide and so.
Howard: And once you get one you try to get social proof to I suppose.
Paddy: Yeah, I guess so. I think the Dublin Web Summit kinda started in 2010.
Howard: Yeah that was the very first one.
Paddy: And yeah Matt Mullenweg and Craig Newmark in February 2010 they had a really good time.
Howard: Did you do that first one as well for founders you had a bit more confidence cause you already get to reach out to these guys from Matt for example how [come] did that come about did you hear his coming anyway or…
Paddy: Yes, there was like a kinda amazing background story with Matt. My little sister, she was 19 at that time, she got elected to a student society at their university and she came to me in summer 2009. She’ll go “The internet’s so big now…” and I say, “Well done sis. All that education is paying off.” And she was, “Yeah! You know, every year we invite all these politician and these academics speak at the students who are members of the society but we want to invite some people who have done amazing things in the internet online but we don’t know who those people might be. Could you like recommend a few people and then we’ll select who we feel are the best people?” So I recommend Matt Mullenweg cause everything he has done with WordPress are absolutely incredible and from there my little sister kinda got back to me a few months later this student council said we voted for Matt to be invited so I reached out to Matt and said, “Hey would you come and speak to the student in this university and then what’s your ___ would you like to speak to tech community as well?” That’s kinda first genesis, I have really no idea what I was doing. I know nothing about audio, knew nothing about nothing. So that’s how all of these kinda started.
Howard: And you had a successful episode in a past company. Do you think you needed to have that to kinda get the respect to run these events you think?
Paddy: Well, I don’t really think so. I don’t really think that respectable or _____ but maybe there are some kudos for actually trying. And you know. The amazing thing, take founders for example, you bring those 150 tech guys that built Bebo, Twitter, YouTube, Skype. Michael Birch is a wonderful example in that… he is not a wonderful example all of those 150 are a wonderful example because what they have more in common things about each other is not because they have succeed once or twice it’s that they’ve failed multiple times and because they’ve tried and most entrepreneurs have failed more than they have succeeded and I think it’s just the trying it’s the process of actually trying to build something that maybe gives a little bit of kudos to most some people.
Howard: Paddy, your friends with some of the top guys in the world now. Do you ask them for advice on things regularly?
Paddy: Sure, yes like last 18months like craziest start like a startup NBA, steroids or something, you can ask everybody about like: How do you compute the viral factor? What’s the best way to measure to see if an app is growing or not? And talk about design or UX. It’s just like yeah it’s been really [really] fascinating. And I think entrepreneurs are more fascinated they don’t do things really to make things they like to build things and create stuff they are fascinated by ideas. It’s the ideas that drive them.
You put two or four entrepreneurs and they’ll just talk for hours until their COO calls and say, “Where the hell are you? You’re supposed to be in the office. We got a meeting. Show up.” Maybe I’m being idealistic but I think that’s my feeling.
Howard: Nice and one thing I want to cover. Always with your events probably more than I’ve ever seen in any type of event before you have a certain way that just builds great buzz about the event. For your events you build buzz that’s I suppose looks like you have a certain process there and it’s intentional where you like create scarcity, people have to add some waiting list and you know some more tickets.
Paddy: I think the biggest thing is that if you’re ever going to email people or contact them or broadcast something about your event you should have something new so announcing all your speakers at the very start is probably not the best idea. If you look at a classroom or few other events they kind of they don’t necessarily start at the biggest act they start at a really good act and then there’s a number of months past and the announcer one hell of a headline and then they add some more acts some more acts and keeps snowballing up to the kind of the actual event itself. I think that’s really important.
Howard: Where did you get the inspiration from music festivals?
Paddy: Yeah, definitely.
Howard: Oh did you really okay.
Paddy: Because music festivals [they don’t] they hold and they hold that’s a music festival they say these are the pieces of dates these are the guys that we played over the last few years.
Howard: And did you know someone in the music industry that told you how to do that or did you just observe?
Paddy: One or two guys working with me now worked for MDC and Mean Fiddler which are the biggest concert promoters in UK and Ireland some of my good friends, one of my good friend just kinda ran Jay-Z and Kanye West concert in Ireland and you just observe.
[That’s] it kinda works and it’s kind of exciting you know if you kinda have 90 speakers it’s almost kind of meaningless. How are you going to get through that so you kinda announce key speakers at different mobiles so you can add some interesting engineers and you add some interesting designers. Things that resonate with parts of the community helps build momentum.
Howard: Awesome [awesome]!
Paddy: Oh! But the interesting thing is that most people if you look at the data so you go in Google and [you say] you look at the page most people visit before buying the ticket and it’s not the speakers. Speakers are amazing but people go because other people are going because people want network so they fly to Dublin, fly to London to void seven other flight and it’s a huge amount of scheduling and so they can do separate back to back meetings.
So they look at the attendee list they scan the attendee list and go, “Wow! There’s a lot of good people going. I don’t want to miss it. Something could happen maybe nothing might happen but at least while I’m there I won’t be missing anything. Any opportunity that might come my way meet investors that come my way or meet some journalist that might really help my startup. At least I’m there. Worst case scenario, I don’t miss anything, best case scenario I meet group of people that can change the _____ of my company.”
Howard: Yeah! And you’re completely right I remember being here at events and looking over who else is going and do you use some kind of _____ or something or do you to do that?
Paddy: Well yeah we just use a _____ we post stuff out there and…
Howard: Oh really? So you like to list down the names of people and publish it?
Howard: Cool! Very cool! Cool! Well Paddy the pizzas are here so we’re gonna shoot up. And we have a big event that is about to kick off in about half an hour just before anyone else just before someone I leave someone maybe thinking of starting a community or running big event what’s the kinda one big kinda learning you have in the…
Paddy: Like a lot of conferences over the last two years I think one of the biggest mistakes people make is conferences is about the people that attend speakers are very important, sponsors are very important and the person organizing is important. But it shouldn’t be about the person organizing it, it shouldn’t be about the sponsors it shouldn’t be about the speakers it should be about the experience that the attendees have and that’s the most important thing and if the attendees aren’t having a good time you know it’s like hospitals is everything you know it’s all about the patient schools are all about the pupils it’s not about the teachers and conferences are just exactly the same, events are the same communities are the same it’s all about the people. You gotta care for the people. Make sure everybody’s having a good time and that’s it.
Howard: Cool! Awesome! Paddy, before we go where can we find you in the web?
Howard: It’s f.ounders.com. Awesome! Thanks, Paddy.
Paddy: Thank you very much!
Howard: See you all!