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Looks like a Chinaman, Sounds like an Aussie, Utterly Confusing

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Still Suffering from unConference Hangover

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Paul Graham, Founder of Viaweb and Y-Combinator, assimilates the life of startup founder as one who is punched in the face on a daily basis, but being a foreign, student entrepreneur, I’ve got it perhaps even a little bit worse than that. On a day like last Thursday, all those hurdles, all those challenges, they just melt away. I’ve been in a world, Sydney, where thinking differently about creating jobs rather than looking for jobs is looked at with some confusion. Then there are the other international students, not just the ones on exchange, but also on a four-year program, who look at me with bewilderment when I tell them I think I’ve found a home in Boston and I want to create wealth here. The fact that I’m a 21 year old also puts some people off.  But last Thursday, that didn’t matter.

It was taken for granted that if you came through the Sun Microsystem doors, by the Terrafugia car with wings, you were smart, interesting, definitely worth having a conversation with, and probably worth helping. How often do you go to an event where you genuinely feel everyone, experienced/ unexperienced, young/ old, foreign/ local, would be intellectually stimulating, conversationally enjoyable and probably very useful.  The most concise I could put my experience of the day is in a timeline, otherwise I will continue to go on about how good it was in forty other ways.

7:00am – turn up and get registered, deliberate over who I want to sign-up with

7:20am – meet Will Herman (Innoveda and Viewlogic Systems) who reached out to me before the conference (crazy, yes) and chat about Blank Label and basic technology issues

8:00am – sit in on what we’re going to do for the day, and how everything runs

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8:30am – try to grab a couple of bites to eat, look at the topic board and frantically trying to plan my day

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9:00am – one-on-one with Mike Grandinetti of South Boro Capital (and four previous start ups) to talk about Blank Label and spending time in Canada due to visa restrictions, tells me he’s going up to Toronto for meetings in a few weeks and I should join him

10:00am – short conversations with Scott Friend (Bain Capital Ventures) to give Blank Label update, James Geshwiler (Common Angels and Mass TLC) to talk about student entrepreneurship, finally meet Jer Levine (Star Street) after tweeting many times

11:00am – quick chat with Brad Feld (Foundry Group and Tech Stars) about situation and #startupvisa, try to get the inside scoop

Photo with Brad Feld

11:30am – check emails, tell Profs that I’m not going to class that day, try and shovel food down

12:00am – one-on-one with George Bell (General Catalyst and awesome dude) about his crazy youth traveling around Australia, my background and how he could help me as an entrepreneur

12:30am – interesting chats with Luda Kopeikina, Dan Bricklin (VisiCalc and Software Garden) and Bill Warner (Avid Technologies and Tech Stars)

1:00pm – attend my first session of the day by Richard Dale (Sigma Partners and Phase Forward) on ‘All the Bad Things VCs Want to Do with You’

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1:45pm- one-on-one with David Beisel (another great guy) to talk about mass-customization space and how we’re trying to attack it at Blank Label, wanted to help out, stay tapped in and find a spot for us on Web Inno

2:30pm – short talks with Jon Pierce of Beta House, Wade Roush of Xconomy, James Rienhart of ThredUp, the guys from MassChallenge and the guys from Dart Boston

3:30pm – sit down with Don Dodge of Microsoft (and four previous start ups)

4:00pm – attend Bill Warner’s session on ‘How to Launch Your Idea with No Money’

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4:30pm – wrap up, say good-byes, and begin the drive back in preparation for live-stream interview on Dart Boston a couple of hours later

Written by Fan Bi

October 8, 2009 at 7:26 am

Best (un)Conference Ever – Thx @BillWarner

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BEEP, BEEP, BEEP. SMACK! Alarms goes to snooze. KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCK. Door opens. ‘Fan, get out of bed, it’s already 6. We need to go’. I jump out of bed. Sleepy eyed, Samuel and I go down to the zipcar, we pick up Chris, and we begin our day, leaving Babson carpark, sleepy eyed, yet an unbridled enthusiasm as all three of us have printed off an ‘Experts List‘. Chris is a co-founder and CEO of an early-stage on-and offline toy startup, and a sophomore at Olin College of Engineering. Samuel lives with me in E-Tower at Babson College, where he is exploring different startup opportunities whilst being study abroad from his home university, RMIT, in Melbourne, Australia.

We begin the drive up to Sun Mircosystem’s offices in Burlington, bragging who we’re going to track down during the day, whilst all being a little overwhelmed at the caliber of people in attendance. Along the way, we pickup Danny from Bentley, who works with me at Blank Label as the Lead Traffic Controller (SEO, SEM, Copy, Social Media, Social Networking, Affiliates, Direct Marketing). At 19 (Chris), 19 (Danny), 21 (Me) and 23 (Samuel), we’re probably going to be four of the youngest people there, but that gets us excited. We all approach our entrepreneurial ventures as the start of the next 50 years of starting, sustaining and growing companies.

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As we walk to the entrance, it’s gatekeeper is the newest model of the Terrafugia car with wings. This is going to be a good day. As I walk in, I see some friends of the Boston events community, Scott Kirsner, Michael Gaiss, Matt Lauzon. But there is something different, they’re not surrounded by three circles of people waiting to ask questions. Amazingly, they’re just standing around, looking at this ‘board’, like everyone else. Like everyone else. But they’re not, ‘just everyone else’. What’s going on. But before thinking about that too much, I’m distracted by this ‘board’ that everyone’s standing in front of.

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I quickly find out that I have two stickers for one-on-one meetings with this extraordinary list of ‘Experts‘, and everyone’s fair game. I’m Charlie, Bill is Willy Wonka, and I’m in the most amazing chocolate factory I’ve ever been to. But it’s the paradox of choice, I must use my stickers wisely. I jump for Mike Grandinetti. Not only has the guy got about the same number of LinkedIn recommendations as I do connections, he’s also internationally experienced, definitely something I’m interested in exploring in the next 50 years. One left. I remember reading that George Bell likes to meet ‘scary smart, high-energy people’. Now anyone with an ego gets attracted to that. There are no wrong choices.

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But the people weren’t even the most amazing thing about the day. It was the culture Bill was able to create. As soon as you walked in the doors, there was a flat structure, everyone and everything was fair game. In the opening introduction, everyone sat in a circle, there was no, experts on stage and the rest in the audience. Bill made it so passionately clear that it was about doing everything possible to help educate, connect and stimulate entrepreneurship and innovation. And the guy just has such a presence about him that it’s kind of hard not to do exactly as he says.

That’s only part 1, I’ll wrap up part 2 in a couple of days. Stay tuned. It gets so much better.

Written by Fan Bi

October 3, 2009 at 8:31 pm

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