On the evening of February 11, 2010, 837 people filled the ballroom at the St. Regis Hotel in Dana Point California for an event that didn’t even exist one month earlier. At that time, it was merely an idea in the head of a man who would eventually bring it to fruition through the help of his online community. As I watched the enthusiastic crowd head for their seats, I knew that I’d be writing this very blog post because I had found yet another example demonstrating how Audience is an Asset.
I watched Bryan Elliott enter the coffee shop where we’d agreed to meet for an interview. From across the room, he looked like a carefree young surfer dude, but as he got closer, two things became apparent: Bryan wasn’t a kid and there was nothing carefree about him. In front of me sat a man who simultaneously knew exactly who he was and who cared deeply about his mission.
He didn’t always have such confidence, though. In late 2008, this veteran of the $150 billion Action Sports industry with a resume containing employers such as Disney and Yamaha found himself unemployed. And he began to panic.
He wondered who he could turn to. He wished he had a safety net. And that got him to thinking.
A net. A network. Social networking. He wondered if he could build a professional network that could catch other members if they fell.
Building a Network
In September 2008, Bryan formed the SoCal Action Sports Network, an invite/referral-only network of people who were dedicated to the Action Sports industry. The group began having monthly meetings and although the numbers were growing, Bryan made a humbling discovery.
“It was growing, but I was screwing it up with shameless self promotion.”
Bryan came to the realization that the group was much bigger than him. He wanted the network to be something different. He thought of words such as “relevant,” “connected,” “community,” “loyalty,” and “trust.” He wanted to build a community that put “…self promotion in the back seat and generosity in the front seat.”
It was from this realization that he penned the following mantra:
While there is strength in numbers, we don’t measure value by how many members we have. We’re not keeping score of our popularity or adding hundreds of new ‘friends’ we may never know. We’re interested in people who understand that the real value of connecting is when it translates into meaningful relationships of trust. Where members help each other, form a community and prosper. A place where innovation, creativity and collaboration thrive. And self-promotion takes a back seat to generosity.
Bryan found an unfortunate side effect to the exclusive nature of the SoCal Action Sports Network–the fact that he was turning away very talented people who just didn’t meet the stringent requirements of the group. Instead of ignoring them, he recognized an opportunity for a second network. Called Linked Orange County, membership required applicants to be a part of the Orange County business community.
Lastly, Bryan’s interaction with the SoCal Action Sports Network also helped him identify a third need. Members were always looking for young people, either to hire as interns, employees, or even for focus groups. He envisioned a network of college students who were interested in Action Sports careers. If formed, such a network could be very powerful. For example, if a company was looking for a focus group, the network could be called upon. If a company needed a group of students to distribute fliers to 100,000 people on Huntington Beach, the students could be assembled at the touch of a button. And so he formed the SoCal Action Sports University, another exclusive organization that required its members to be enrolled in a SoCal undergraduate or graduate schools.
Today, just eighteen months later, Bryan’s triple-threat-community consists of three networks: SoCal Action Sports Network (~2500 LinkedIn members), LinkedOC (~2900 LinkedIn members) and SoCal Action Sports University (~250 Facebook Fans).
January 2010: Opportunity Knocks
When Bryan Elliott had the opportunity to secure Seth Godin, his favorite author, to speak at one of his events, he felt excited…and scared. All opportunities come with risks, and this one came with two: a nonrefundable deposit (to hold the Feb 11th date) and a minimum financial commitment level that would require the sale of at least 400 tickets.
Bryan now had the opportunity to put his money where his mouth was. He’d set out to build a concentrated network of communities, ones that cared more about results than raw membership numbers. And so, after convincing his wife to let him use personal funds to save the date, he turned to his network for help.
On January 12th, he sent a message to his three networks. He explained that if members could purchase enough tickets by January 25th (note…that’s just 13 days!), the community could host Seth Godin on February 11th.
Four days later, he sent another message. “We’ve sold 254 seats as of Jan. 16 at 10am, that’s more than 50% of our goal! We have until Jan. 25 to make it.”
Finally, on January 25th, he announced a success. “We did it! The Feb. 11 Event is on…”
Audience is an Asset
Let’s take a step back and look at this accomplishment. On January 11th, no Seth Godin event existed. No tickets ($49 regular, $25 student) had been sold. Yet on January 25th, not only had the trigger number been reached, but the actual number of tickets sold exceeded expectations so much that a larger venue needed to be secured. In thirteen days, Bryan Elliott had sold enough tickets to fund a massive and ultimately successful event. And finally, consider this: he did so without purchasing a single advertisement nor peddling a single press release.
Instead, he did something radical. He asked his community to purchase a ticket based solely on trust. 837 people took him up on his request. Would your audience to the same for you?
Photo Credit: Chis Lorenz