Want to build real community? Leave your phones at the door

Yesterday I received an email titled:


Would we like to try this new app at Summercamp this September?

“It’s a networking app that builds a sense of community and keeps attendees filled in on everything happening. Startup Grind used it and there were more than 11,000 interactions and people used the app an average of 75 times each.”

This is a perfect example of creating technology to solve a problem that doesn’t always need it.

If we need an app to build a sense of community at one of our events I believe we’ve failed. Creating meaningful connections with other participants doesn’t require technology, it requires good design. It requires curation. It requires empathy. But most of all it requires a vision – and one that doesn’t just involve chasing big numbers.

Most events want volume, they sell thousands of tickets, cram people into an exhibition or conference centre and then realise they have a problem – no-one is actually ‘engaging’ (hence the need for apps like Attendify).

“I’ve spent two decades loitering under the unnatural light of conference centres, swigging rank coffee, pondering which lanyard-scheduled, thinly veiled sales pitch to suffer next.” Jack Hubbard, CEO Propellernet

More and more of us are craving more meaningful experiences and deeper connections than we ever could get in a stuffy, soulless conference centre. All the apps in the world won’t address the fact that these are artificial environments for human-to-human relationship building.

Thinking differently

At The Happy Startup School we’ve learnt a thing or two by running a series of events that have challenged convention, so here’s some pointers for those of you that want to really build community in the real world:

  • Small is beautiful
    You don’t need 5000 contacts, you just need a small group of people who get you. Summercamp is 120 people, Alptitude 25 and we like it that way. Not everything has to scale.
  • Understand your why
    Gathering people around a common purpose and set of values will help to create magic, otherwise you’ll try and appeal to everyone and appeal to no-one.
  • Create space for emergent ideas
    Allow participants to contribute to the schedule, let ideas bubble up from the crowd.
  • Head outdoors
    The best ideas don’t come in the office. Get outside and you’ll get better results. Think nature not neon.
  • Go tech-free
    Leave your Apple Watch at home. You can tweet when you get back to the real world.
  • Sweat the small stuff
    Create moments that matter. Moments that might lead to a step change in someone. The devil is in the detail.
  • Share stories
    Create a supportive environment where real people can show their human side and be vulnerable. No-one wants to see another pie chart.
  • Make it fun
    Who said business events need to be so serious? Keep it light and people will let their guard down, and build friendships not just connections.

If you want to be happy, develop meaningful relationships, generate next-level ideas and connect with endless inspiration, get yourself along to The Happy Startup Summercamp or Alptitude this year.

Just leave your business cards at home.

Your soul will thank you for it.