Since moving back to Atlanta in 2008 I’ve seen the web / tech / creative community landscape change quite a bit. There are undoubtedly more groups, meetups, events, and activity now. We’re growing as a community, and with growth come growing pains.
Over that time I’ve personally organized or helped organize over 200 events (that’s 3 events per month on average). Some might say I’m more event organizer than web professional, but we’re not here to talk about which hat I’m wearing.
The Good-ole Days
For a long time the AWDG was fortunate enough to have access to a large room at the Portfolio Center. It was easy to get to, there was ample parking, seating for 200 people, projector, audio, a good vibe, and it was close to a good variety of places to have a post-event cocktail with friends. During this time the group grew rapidly and the community became tighter. Having a consistent place to meet gave stability to the group. It was a great arrangement. But all good things come to an end. Enrollment at the school increased and they needed the space for their core business; teaching students.
Since AWDG left the Portfolio Center we’ve been using a variety of spaces. MailChimp, Hypepotamus, Ogilvy & Mather, Strongbox West, Georgia Tech, and a few others have all been gracious hosts. While these companies and organizations are all great friends to the group and a tremendous asset to the community, they each have unique constraints which make it difficult to “call them home”. As an example, it would be awkward to have someone from Campaign Monitor speak at MailChimp, or to hold an event about running your own agency at Ogilvy & Mather. You get the idea.
What about Atlanta Tech Village, you ask? They aren’t on this list for one simple reason. They’ve never hosted an AWDG event. It’s not that we haven’t tried, but ATV is startup focused. AWDG is not. Consequently their schedule is full of their own events and they don’t have space on the calendar for ours. I don’t fault them, they are focused on one constituency and serving them well. I appreciate the fortitude and rigor it takes to maintain that type of focus. ATV is for a different crowd and that’s cool with me. This brings me to our first obstacle…
Mostly, each organization has a mission which — while overlapping with — doesn’t perfectly align with that of the AWDG. Our use of their space will always be secondary to their needs for the space, and rightly so. It’s their space. They can use it however they like. No hard feelings. This can make scheduling difficult as we can’t predict when each space will be available.
But what about all the great ballrooms, event centers and similar spots around town? Glad you asked. That brings up my next point.
While many of the spaces mentioned above can be free, some are not. The economics of this are clear (or should be), so no need to dwell on that topic other than to say cost certainty is important to any organization, especially one which is run on razor thin margins. We can’t afford to spend thousands to rent an event space. Most of our events have between 60 and 150 attendees paying $10 each. We have to buy food and often pay for travel and hotel expenses for the speakers. Do the math.
“But there are free options”, you say. Yes. They also have their challenges.
Parking and Accessibility
We’ve looked at meeting rooms, empty office space, small theaters, etc. They all suffer from one of two things. Not enough parking or they’re way off the beaten path. Since the people who attend our events work all over the Atlanta area we need a location that is both central and easy to get to from the widest variety of places. Remember, these people have day jobs. Most our events start at 6:30, so people have to fight legendary Atlanta traffic to get there. Too much time spent on the road will keep people from attending.
Even if a space is available, affordable, and easy to get to we have to consider if all the stuff we need will be there. Do they have enough seating? Is there a projector, podium, and audio in place? Is there a restaurant nearby that can provide catering? For that matter, are there tables, ice, coolers, and such available to hold the food when it arrives? What is the proximity to a post-event watering hole?
That’s a lot of unknowns to deal with for each and every event. Especially when you host as many as we do. When you look at cost, availability, location, and amenities it becomes very difficult to find a good space. I’m currently paying an assistant several hundred dollars a month to deal with finding venues and coordinating all the ancillary needs for events. It’s too much and it’s not sustainable.
What’s a guy to do?
Scratch your own itch, right? Instead of continuing to struggle with this problem we decided to try an solve it. The solution? Our own space. Not only would AWDG benefit, but all the other related meetups and groups would too. There are over 40 web, tech, and creative groups in Atlanta. I’ve talked to many of their leaders and organizers. We all suffer the from same issue. A new space all our groups could use would solve it. Not only that, we’d be able to hold a great number of events and help the community grow even larger and more robust.
We we’re looking at space in Midtown and West Midtown. There are a handful of interesting conversations taking place. It looks like this is going to happen, and soon.
We want to create a space that can seat 150 people with a small stage, big screen, clear sound, and fast wifi. Somewhere easy to get to, walking distance to coffee shops, restaurants, bars, and nightlife; and where parking will never be a problem.
If you’d like to participate in any way get on the email list. We’ll keep you posted as things develop.