Ten Reasons Why Entrepreneurs Should Go Out and Play

Posted on avril 22nd, by Caroline in Meeting greatings, Once upon a time. No Comments

It’s one thing to go to events like SxSW and meet the most wonderful people on earth. But once we return to our daily grind, the real work begins: following up.

E-180 in NYC

So Christine and I recently booked a series of meetings and took our smiles and good intentions to New York and Boston to follow up on promising conversations we’ve had here and there in the past year, including at SxSW.

Our takeaways from this trip were many, but as soon as we got out of our last meeting, we knew that we just had to share these two in particular:

A. Email, or even business calls, will never replace a face-to-face meeting. (This one was a low-hanging fruit; after all, that’s the business we are in.)

B. Some things will just never happen if you stay home.

So here are 10 reasons why we think entrepreneurs should go out and play, based on what we learned during that week of booked and chance meetings with some of the most inspiring people we ever shared a coffee (or a martini) with.

1. You’ll realize that even monumental doors have hand-sized keys
Our first meeting was with Sheetal Prajapati, Associate Educator at The Museum of Modern Art in New York (MoMA).

Sheetal is especially interested in collaboration and learning: we were eager to get her feedback on the mobile application we’re developing. Could we turn cultural institutions like museums into on-the-spot, peer-learning hubs?

Meeting Sheetal at MoMA

Meeting Sheetal Prajapati at MoMA

What never would have happened if we had stayed home
We hadn’t realized that the mission of MoMA, when it was first founded, was an educative one. It is only later that curators gained influence. And now, decades later, through peer-learning programs and collaboration with artists such as Caroline Woolard (founder of Trade School), some people are trying to bring education back at the core of the museum’s practice.

This meeting made us realize that we were part of a broad and rich ecosystem, one that actually connects monumental institutions like MoMA and candid idealists like ourselves. We all have a surprisingly similar vision of education and follow the same goal: bring people together and facilitate learning.


Now it’s a question of figuring out how to work together. Maybe the solution could be found in reason #3?


2. You’ll discover insanely relevant projects happening right in your backyard
Speaking of being part of an ecosystem. We had no idea how flabbergasted we would be to discover the EdLab at Columbia University’s Teachers College. Kate Meersschaert and Megha Agarwala led us through this wildly inspiring collaborative working and learning space as they told us about their mission to connect edupreneurs, researchers, and everything in between.

Christine was taking pictures like crazy, taking mental notes in preparation for the creation of our own collaborative learning space in the making, due to open this fall in Montreal.

Making friends at the EdLabMaking friends at the EdLab

Making friends at the EdLab

What we never would have learned if we had stayed home
We came in wanting to know more about the EdLab’s research brokerage program. We came out with an indescribable burst of energy and excitement, having realized that more and more, even in tradition-heavy institutions, like-minded people are working hard to rethink their approach to education.

We also came out with two new friends. We’ll be back.

3. You’ll learn that even busy, successful people are happy to help
Elisabeth Burks is president and founder of the Royal Media Group, and as a master matchmaker and all-around delightful human being, she helps bands and brands reach their full potential through PR, marketing and branding.

Our quick encounter at SxSW was promising, and we knew we definitely needed to follow up. We were planning to pick her brains on the ways we should go about pitching E-180 to American media like TechCrunch, Mashable, etc.

Getting amazing advice from Elisabeth.

Getting amazing advice from Elisabeth.

What never would have happened if we had stayed home
Elisabeth reminded us that it’s not about pitching: it’s about relationships. And she gave us amazing advice.

She suggested that we offer our dream clients a small, easy (and cheap) way to prototype what we do, with a well-defined time frame. This way we can not only get to know their team, understand who are the key players and provide a low-commitment proof of concept, but also leverage these collaborations when discussing with other potential clients (… and media targets).

Um, wow.

4. You’ll be reminded that your next opportunity is just one conversation/ martini away
Tari Bonhert is another connection made at SxSW. Other than being an unstoppable ball of creative energy, she is Manager of National Underwriting and Brand Stategy for New York Public Radio, and works, among other cool projects, on RadioLab (gushing).

What never would have happened if we had stayed home
We might not (yet) have landed a feature on RadioLab, but Tari gave us some great insights on spaces that could potentially be interested in partnering to host Knowledge Markets, particularly in the maker communities, such as the 3rd Ward and Wix Lounge.

Also, what a view:

Manhattan seen from the Whythe Hotel lounge

The view of Manhattan from the Wythe Hotel lounge in Brooklyn


5. You’ll get to test ideas and crystallize them into concrete action plans
One of the reasons for our visit south of the border was to meet potential ambassadors, i.e. wide-eyed people interested in building a local E-180 community to expand peer-learning opportunities outside of Montreal.

We had met Olutosin Fashusi in Austin and were impressed by his enthusiasm for E-180: as an MBA student at NYU Stern School of Business and fellow startup hustler, he had immediately grasped E-180’s networking potential and was excited to see how he could help expand it in New York.

Meeting Olutosin for breakfast at Veselka's

Meeting Olutosin for breakfast at Veselka’s in the East Village

What never would have happened if we had stayed home
Throughout the week, as we were exposing our international grassroots growth strategy, we irremediably fine-tuned our ideas based on the feedback we were getting. And more and more, throughout these conversations, it became clear that one of the main things we needed to focus on was adding value to existing communities (maker communities and co-working spaces, for example) by helping their members share knowledge.

That was kind of our intuition, but hashing it out loud with smart people made us frame it more precisely and that was one of the main takeaways from our trip.

Olutosin, in particular, made some very relevant points in terms of the value E-180 could bring to business students, who also usually take on management roles after they graduate. Baaam.

6. You’ll make yourself « help-able »
Christine met Sanjay Sarma, professor of mechanical engineering, while attending his SxSW workshop on the relationship between space and collaboration. By following up with him in Cambridge, we were mostly excited about gaining insights for the design of our own collaborative learning space in Montreal.

And then, as we were doing our research, we realized he had been appointed as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) first ever Director of Digital Learning. Hello.

Getting a tour of the MIT Media Lab

Getting a tour of the MIT Media Lab

What never would have happened if we had stayed home
In his new role, Sanjay is, among other things, responsible for assessing models of online learning, namely MITx, the Institute’s version of edX, i.e. massive online learning courses (MOOCs).

Other than telling us E-180 was “one of the most interesting startups he has come across in the past months” (we are thinking of getting this tattooed on our chests), he offered some invaluable insights.

Among other things, he confirmed that in a context where course content is migrating online, the value of university campuses is becoming more and more tied to physical space, and to the people (students, professors, library resources, …) it brings together. Sanjay even mentioned that MITx students, whether on campus or in remote communities, were already spontaneously meeting up in cafes to discuss the courses’ online content. According to him, as content moves online, the need for in-person meetings actually increases: in other words, the rise of MOOCs could represent a huge opportunity for a platform like ours.

We had no idea, and now we have a friend at the core of the movement.

7. You’ll never have time to talk about hiphop yoga on a business call
We had been exchanging thoughts with Ellen O’Neil at Harvard Business Review (HBR) for almost a year and although we are convinced of the value E-180 could bring to a content-based community like HBR, we didn’t really know where this was going.

As Ellen put it: “I love you girls, but I don’t know what to do with you.”


What never would have happened if we had stayed home
At some point between the guacamole and the fried yucca, we started talking about more personal interests: we learned that Ellen practices hiphop yoga, we talked about drawing and shared our respective long-term career goals.

The thing is, exchanging emails or even videoconferencing will never be the same as sharing a 2-hour lunch.

Doing so allowed us to connect on a much deeper level, and even though we still don’t know exactly what the future of this relationship holds, it doesn’t matter: we know we have a strong connexion with Ellen, and that this will be a mutually beneficial, long-term relationship, whatever the outcome.

And I promise, Ellen: I will send those drawings to the New Yorker.

8. You’ll gain perspective on the miles you’ve walked
While in Cambridge, we were invited by one of Christine’s past Harvard professors, Lee Teitel, to present E-180 to students of his class on Partnering: Leadership Skills for Networked Worlds.

Walking Harvard Yard, 8 years later

Walking Harvard Yard, 8 years later

What never would have happened if we had stayed home
Since she graduated from Harvard, Christine has had to learn everything about being a tech entrepreneur. She was always a leader, but never before had she been put to the test at this level. Visiting Lee’s class gave her the opportunity to reflect on her leadership style, and realize that some of the most important work she had done was on herself.

We also got to meet Nate and Abby, who are interested in giving us a hand in developing the E-180 community in Cambridge. Double whammy.

9. You’ll be reminded that some friendships age like good wine
Sometimes, on these kinds of trips, it’s hard to differentiate work from fun. We met incredible humans, all of whom we’d like to think we can now call our friends.

But we also got to catch up with friends who we hadn’t seen in a while (most of them whom we hadn’t seen in years). It’s the best feeling in the world to find that the people you love, while we evolve on our own respective paths, are still just as delightful as the last time you saw them. (We’re also really happy to know that our Boston friends are all safe and sound.)

What never would have happened if we had stayed home
Simply put, we wouldn’t have had the chance to reconnect with some of our favourite people. Here’s looking at you, Ariela, Crystal, Anique, Dev, Makis, Edward, Grey and Paul. You’re awesome and we can’t wait to see you again.

10. You never know whom you’ll hitch a ride from
Seriously. You never know. On our way to New York, on a rideshare, Christine met a woman who is studying at a vegan cooking school she was just wondering about. On the way back to Montreal, we were driven by a guy who actually works at HBR (where we met with Ellen the day before), as well as an architect, and an MIT neuroscience PhD student who, on top of working with monkeys on a daily basis, might actually help us grow an E-180 among the MIT student body.

None of this would ever have happened if we had stayed home.

So get out of your basement. Now. Plan a trip. Book some meetings, even if they are long shots. Don’t wait for your idea to be perfect, or be afraid that someone will steal it.

People want to help. You’ll be surprised to find out who, what unforeseeable lands they will take you to, and, more importantly, what a great time you’ll have getting there.


Christine (right) and me, conquering the world.

You don’t need to wait to book your plane ticket to get some great insights: get some great advice from people near you through E-180

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