Editor’s note: Ann Johnston is founder of Local-Ventures, an online company that helps small businesses discover and purchase from quality local vendors. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The ExitEvent Startup Social is put on by Joe Procopio, an entrepreneur and a contributing columnist to WRALTechWire.
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Monday night, Aaron Houghton, co-founder and CEO of BoostSuite, opened his Chapel Hill home to nearly 200 entrepreneurs and investors for the September ExitEvent Startup Social.
The Startup Social is an entrepreneur-and-investor-only event, typically held in Durham or Raleigh. Think jeans, local craft beer in plastic cups, and the most productive conversations you’ll ever have at a networking event.
Because it’s not a networking event.
As Houghton says, it’s a “create an opportunity for entrepreneurs to exchange ideas” event.
ExitEvent founder Joe Procopio teased all month that the Social would be held at a “top secret location,” finally revealed as Houghton’s home on the day of the event.
Houghton and the Startup Social have a long history. He attended the first Social ever held in June 2011; I initially met him last year at a Social while he was quietly performing BoostSuite user testing in a back corner. He first hosted the event in April 2013, making last night the second time in five months that he has let local entrepreneurs loose in his home.
“The Social Is a Lot of Fun”
I got to Houghton’s house early to chat with him about why he and his wife Sarah had offered up their home for the event. Houghton, as a veteran entrepreneur (he was co-founder of iContact, which was acquired by Vocus for $169 million last year) does not need to spend his time hosting events. And as current CEO of BoostSuite, which has more than doubled its revenue each quarter of this year, he doesn’t have time to spare.
So why host a bunch of Triangle entrepreneurs at his house on a Monday night?
Houghton, in shorts and a baseball hat, told me, “The Social is a lot of fun. I always like to see everybody.” Pausing and grinning as a thought hit him, he said, “I guess it’s a little bit selfish to have them all come over to my house.”
This comment is a perfect reflection of Houghton: He’s hugely successful yet quick to think of others. And he has a good sense of humor.
The Startup Social is known for attracting both veteran and first-time startup founders, which is one of the things that Houghton values most about the event. As he put it, “It’s an event without an ego.”
Houghton says that the Social is about the opportunity to quickly exchange ideas with other entrepreneurs. And while he already has significant success under his belt, Houghton is a working startup founder and appreciates connecting with others who are in the same place.
“I like the Social because I come out of it feeling that I’m not alone as an entrepreneur. Everyone else out there is working really hard, too.”
As a startup founder, I’ve attended (and written about) many ExitEvent Startup Socials. I keep going because I keep getting value. This month was no exception.
New Faces, Lessons Learned
I talked to about 15 entrepreneurs — from new faces to AuthenTech co-founder and former CEO F. Scott Moody; learned about several new companies; and took away insight to apply at my startup. As you read this, I’m already at work applying what I learned.
For me, the highlight of last night’s Social was a conversation I had with Ricky Spero of Mint Market and Rheomics. Mint Market, like my company, Local-Ventures, provides a local online marketplace. So in the amount of time it usually takes people correctly repeat the name of my company, Spero already understood things I hadn’t even told him.
The conversation I had with him was probably — scratch that — was definitely the most useful conversation I’ve had about my company within the past few months. And I’ve had a lot of conversations with a lot of people in a lot of places.
The Social offers a time, place, and atmosphere that brings together people who know what you’re going through as an entrepreneur. They’re going through it too, and if you show up and talk, you’ll likely walk away with some of the best ideas you’ll have all month. Plus the beer is free. And when it’s at Houghton’s house, there’s good food, too, thanks to his wife Sarah.
As I was walking outside with Procopio, we ran into Lessonly team member Connor Burt, a recent transplant from Indianapolis. Procopio asked him what he thought about his first time at the event.
Burt stopped in his tracks and smiled: “It was great! I’ve never been to anything like it.”