When we relocated Webmail in August 2004, I immediately realized how fragmented the professional community was here in Blacksburg. There are a lot of really smart, motivated people down here but there just really isn’t a place where professionals conglomerate, hang out, and network. So I decided to start a group called the New River Network with the goal of bringing together professionals from Blacksburg and the surrounding communities for the purpose of social and professional networking.
Once I started the group, I immediately formed a committee of dedicated people who all shared similar goals and helped me to get things going. We wanted to keep the format simple so that we didn’t need to do too much planning for each event. So we did a monthly happy hour at a local restaurant in the corporate research center. We figured that since there was no real competition in town, word would spread and our events would be a hit.
We were wrong. In fact, the opposite happened. For the first event, we had a great crowd. I would estimate that 50-60 people showed up. But it was downhill from there. Every event seemed to get worse. I’ll never forget the fourth event we threw—we were so paranoid about whether or not anyone would show up. So we pulled out all the stops. We got a band. We gave away free beer. We had great weather (that part was luck). And we had our worst turnout ever!
By this time, a majority of our committee had also dwindled away. Event planning was becoming a burden, adding more stress to my life that I didn’t need. It just wasn’t fun anymore and above all else, the events weren’t accomplishing the goal that I originally set out to accomplish. In other words, it was a failure, at least in my eyes.
I probably could have kept trying to revive the group but I just didn’t want to. I chalked it up as a failure and turned the reigns over to another group that is still trying to make it a success.
So what lessons did I learn from the New River Network?
1. I learned that just because our business is successful and well known in the community, that doesn’t mean everything that we touch in the community is going to be as successful.
2. I learned that event planning is a tough thing, a lot of work, and something I just don’t really enjoy (although I tend to like it a lot better when the events are a success—go figure).
3. I continue to trip over the fact that not everyone shares the same business or social goals that I do. It’s not that I think everyone does or should, but sometimes I need to be reminded how far and wide the differences can be. This is something I continue to strive to get better at, in all areas of my life.
4. I learned that the professionals in this community come from very diverse industries. I now believe that this is the biggest reason why it’s tough to get people together. People around here just don’t have a lot of common professional interests. For example, there are very few Internet companies in Southwest Virginia. If you look at places like Silicon Valley, Boston, and New York, there are meet-ups and get-togethers all the time. Hell, Bill and I fly all over the country to attend some of them.
I haven’t given up on the original goal I set out to achieve. I’m playing with other concepts and getting involved in the community in different ways. I will admit that I have no idea what it will take for this community to achieve the goals I’d like to see it achieve… but that doesn’t mean I’ll stop trying.