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The Value of a Network by

I don’t know how to estimate the value of a network.  But you know it when you see it.  Not all networks are created equal.

In what seems like a long, long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, a bunch of talented kids and industry veterans went to work at a place called Trilogy.  The Trilogy Alumni network might be one of the most valuable networks of all for those who are in it.  There have been articles written about it.  It has been called the Trilogy Effect, the Trilogy Mafia, or a Cult.  And now it has its own “un”-conference: OTB.

These days more than 99% of those employees have moved on to become alumni.  And the alumni network has become a strong force in the personal and professional lives of those of us who worked there.

Trilogy was a formative experience- we learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t worked.  What we liked and what we didn’t like about the way Trilogy worked. And we’ve had the opportunity to shape new organizations with a culture and ethos that reflects what we learned from that experience.

This past weekend, we just held our second alumni conference:  OTB12. Like any good startup, last year’s OTB11 conference was rough around the edges – a MVP offering if you will.  OTB12 refined the concepts from the first conference, and we improved the content by focusing on format rather than content (and letting alumni fill in the content blanks).  No surprise – amazing content came from our alumni.

One of the best conferences I’ve ever been to – so many friends and people I respect.  Why was it so great?  Red Velvet Events took care of all the details of logistics. Union Square Ventures loaned us the use of their amazing 19th floor space in Manhattan. We had generous financial sponsors.  But most importantly, we had the alumni showing up and displaying that famous “edge” that I’ve always associated with this group.

I observed friendships being rekindled, business deals being made, partnerships and investments being struck.  And I saw people making bets on each other. Because we believe in this network and in the people who are in it. And I talked so late into the night that my voice is hoarse.

Just as a teaser, the topics covered included:

  • Life at the Spork in the Road
  • A VC panel discussing entrepreneurs and investing
  • An Update on Trilogy from Joe Liemandt himself
  • Significant Learning Experiences (you kind of had to be there for this one)
  • How the confluence of local, social and mobile technologies is going to change the way we view and interact with the world.
  • How innovation works at Google
  • Changing face of public markets
  • Running lean and location-free using the cloud for everything from collaboration tools to accounting: a sampling of proven, inexpensive, cloud-based tools for small businesses and entrepreneurs with widely distributed teams
  • What does enterprise architecture have to do with health in Rwanda?
  • B2B trigger based and relationship-based selling
  • How to avoid common pitfalls in small business finance
  • Product development in big companies and digital media
  • The inside story of Lombardi Software

And on Day 2 we turned to the subject of answering topical questions:

  • What are some success stories from people who have completely changed their focus area?
  • What is your best strategy for managing your finances?
  • For next year, I’m considering living in a different city each month working on projects by day, and exploring the city on nights and weekends. Any suggestions for low-cost places to go or strategies?
  • How do I make my nascent company a big success? How do I know when to step on the gas?
  • Usefulness of coaching, executive mentorship, or peer mentor programs?
  • etc.

Wondering what that famous “edge” is among the alumni?  One of the questions was, paraphrased: “For independent consultants: where do you turn for ad-hoc assistance in any number of areas, since you obviously cannot either afford to pay for the help you want/need, or you cannot count on the help you have because it’s not full-time?”  Another alumni paraphrased this as “Let me sum this up: so you want help, but you don’t want to pay for it.  Well, I pay for this kind of help, and I have a lot less money than you do.”  Problem solved.

The other thing I love about the alumni network is the deep level of expertise.  There are so many people in the network that went deep on their hobbies and their work lives.  If you want to know the best order to watch the Star Wars movies, the alumni group will have a well-considered answer.   If you want to know about hosting private healthcare data in the cloud and protecting it, you’ll find the experts. Healthcare in Rwanda? Check.  And the level and depth of expertise is immense.

I can’t wait for OTB13.  This was one of the most fulfilling events I’ve ever been a part of, and I bet the next one will be even better.