In conversation with Ryan: A brick-by-brick look at Open House

Bronte McHenry
April 22, 2021
Introducing Open House...

‘Office Hours’ is just so 2020. This year, we’re trying something newer, bigger, funner, friendlier and it’s aptly named ‘Open House’.

I’ll elaborate. We’re not restricting you to the home office, we want you to sit down in the dining room for a coffee and cookie, and hang out by the fire-pit for a chat too.

Startmate’s Community and Partnerships Associate and resident Kiwi Ryan Walker is the Open House project lead, and in the spirit of efficiency, and ruining everyone’s Monday morning, I decided to spring a little interview on him at the start of our comms planning session, with the intention of publishing a proofed version of the transcript.

So, without further ado, here’s how it all went down, from the moment I hit record.

Bronte: Are you ready?

Ryan: Yep.

Alrighty, let’s go. Describe Open House in 1–3 sentences.

Open House is an opportunity for founders and entrepreneurs to access the amazing Startmate Mentor network. It will help them build connections, while also chipping away at the problems their startups are tackling.

How is Open House different from Office Hours?

In the past, Office Hours has been a 2-week sprint of mentor-to-founder connections.

We want to make Open House more of a festival, open it up to include inspirational firesides chats and talks, while also allowing for community-building and connection throughout.

And who should apply for Open House? Who is this program built for?

All Founders and entrepreneurs, whether you’re at the idea stage, you’re bootstrapped, you’ve got a product, you’ve closed a seed round or you’ve received venture capital funding.

These sessions are branded as 1:1s. Can Co-Founders attend?

Yep. Co-Founders can join in on your Mentor session. It’s a 30-minute session that is best approached by having a clear ‘ask’, so the Mentor can be as helpful as possible.

I honestly can’t wait to be a fly on the wall. Now, I know a lot of your Open House prep work has been redesigning backend systems. Tell me a little bit more about your behind-the-scenes work.

So, in the past, given the numbers of Founders that we have to cater for — usually 500 to 1000+ with about 1,500 different sessions — the event becomes very logistically heavy.

What we’re trying to do is create a system that’s always open, and all handled in the backend without any manual, user interactions, so you can digitally sit down with your Mentor one day, and drop in and drop out of other events over a 2-week period.

It will literally feel like you can walk in and out of our house to tap into what you need.

One question on your mind for Open House is: ‘How can we engineer serendipity?’ What are your ideas so far?

I like the idea of a founder having the opportunity to meet another founder who’s solved a problem that they’re just going through.

If they’re able to digitally bump into them, and have that chat to find out about their experience and learnings, if we can create that serendipity, that’s more than a success in my books.

So, on that, you’ve got founders who are speaking to other founders who have been there, done that. If you think of it as a chain of sorts, how do you create value at every link?

I don’t think the founder journey is linear.

Wherever a founder is one step ahead, they’re a step ahead in a different direction. And perhaps the founder they’re talking to is actually a step in another direction, and has insight the founder actually needs.

There’s always mutual benefit to be had. And everyone has extensive networks that we can all tap into.

Tell me a little bit more about Founder-to-Founder connecting, because that’s new for Open House, right?

It is! This time around, we’ll be doing speed dating-style events, with founders able to meet multiple other founders in quick-fire sessions. That way, you can build out your networks, and also meet some great people too.

Now tell me a little bit more about the Mentor-and-Founder chats. How do you pair people?

When founders apply for Open House, they share details about their company, the problems they’re solving, and the solutions they’re trying.

But they’re also specifically asked about these problems based on the verticals and areas that they’re in, so Mentors can be well-matched, and have context to be as helpful as possible in the sessions.

Interesting. So it’s essentially like, you’re right for Open House if you’re a Founder and you have a problem you need help with? And what Founder doesn’t have a problem, I imagine?

Yeah, exactly. They might not even classify themselves a founder, or their company as a startup. But if they have a business, and a business problem, Open House is for them.

Great. Let’s switch lanes. What’s the best part of your job?

Definitely meeting new founders every day who challenge my thinking and are solving problems that I didn’t even know were problems, and taking their solutions to different heights that we haven’t even seen before.

And what’s your favourite thing about the New Zealand startup ecosystem?

It’s kind of in its teenage angsty phase, where it’s trialling new things, and there’s so much crazy stuff happening.

Whether it’s from agriculture-tech, all the way to your standard SaaS business, people are trying to innovate and utilise the resources that we have here and be competitive on the global stage.

Angst. That’s excellent. And I tell you what, we’re done!

Ahh great. So quick. I hope it wasn’t too bad?

Nope, it was great. It’s going to flow freely, and I will give it a trim to make us sound smarter than we are.

Ahh great. That's what we need.

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