Sep 26 2012

Great Events – House of Genius

In Startup Communities, I use a framework I call the Boulder Thesis to define the principles that are key to creating and sustaining a vibrant, long-term entrepreneurial ecosystem. The fourth principle is that you must have activities and events the engage the entire entrepreneurial stack.

House of Genius is an awesome example of this. I went to my first one last night at the Microsoft Bing facility in Boulder. I was tired after a crappy day – I’m still getting over a cold, I had a packed schedule, and on top of this had more than my usual dose of random shit land on my doorstep, some of it in paper bags that were on fire. I left my office at 6:25 and walked down the block to the Bing facility.

I arrived to a room full of about 20 people sitting around a large conference room table. I was given a folded name card to put in front of me and instructed simply to write “Brad” on it. No introductions were made – we were acknowledged by first name only. I knew a few people in the room but was pleasantly surprised not to recognize very many, which meant I’d make some new friends tonight.

We proceeded to run a 45 minute process three times for three different presentes. The process follows:

  • The presenter gives a five minute presentation about their business and asks one specific question at the end
  • The audience asks clarifying questions. These have to be specifically about the business or presentation and can’t be open-ended.
  • We then went around the table and each person in the audience gave a first impression while the presenter listened.
  • The presenter than had a chance to give a reaction to the first impressions.
  • We then had a ten minute discussion about the question that the present had posed at the end of their presentation.
  • The presenter then got the final word.

The three companies were very different and the backgrounds of the people in the room was varied – some tech, some media, some design, some other. The process and approach worked brilliantly – I thought the amount and type of feedback the three presenters got was at the high end of the spectrum for any other group feedback session I’ve ever been involved in. And the audience got a lot of value from listening to each others perspective. There was some strong consensus but a lot of differing opinions that were data-rich and produced very quickly.

I learned that part of the underlying approach to House of Genius is anonymity and diversity. This was reflected in the conversation – we instructed not to qualify anything we said with phrases like “in my experience” or “I don’t know much about this, but …” Instead, we just made statements. Data flowed – quickly – and the consensus was clear while the conflicts were simultaneously clear.

At the end we had the reveal where we went around the room and introduced ourselves briefly. It was fun to learn the backgrounds of the people after I heard their thoughts over the previous couple of hours – I realize this eliminated a lot of cognitive bias on my part (e.g. “oh – that person is a lawyer – I don’t agree with the on blah blah blah”).

Fortunately House of Genius has expanded far beyond Boulder and is now in Denver, Austin, Singapore, New York, San Francisco, Santa Monica, Albuquerque, Seattle, Reno, and Portland. Participation is via a lightweight application process – go apply now if you are in any of these cities. I expect you won’t be disappointed.