It’s all about the community. #BMPR

This past Thursday we hosted over 100 local business, media, and PR professionals from the local area as guests at my employer’s office. The group is called BMPR, affectionately called “Bumper”.

I’ve been lucky to meet many members of this group, to include most of the founders, well before this event. What started as a Tweetup has grown into a community of like-minded people that want to help each other raise the bar – to get better at reaching, serving, and satisfying their customers. And to teach each other how to get better – which is the real key. Vibrant communities are built when people care more about US then they do about “me”.

This is a pure grass-roots organization, with no dues, no real rules, but a lot of shared excitement, and curiosity, and a desire to both learn, and to teach.

I was lucky enough to speak at BMPR two months ago, and I had fun with it. I had the dorkiest slide deck ever because I’m not a fan of slides. I would rather “talk story”, as they say down under.

So for three years, almost, I have been talking about this company I work for, and how amazing it is. And I know some people were probably getting tired of it, because it just sounded like me beating a corporate drum. But last Thursday a lot of my friends got to come and see why I love talking about who I work for.

It is not a perfect place, but it is most often a magical place. Being able to share that with 100+ of my friends, and the friends of my friends was really cool. I was pretty proud to have them see what we did with an old shopping mall – how we turned it into a very comfortable home for Fanatical Support to live – and grow.

Managing over 100 guests at a time, to include a tour through offices with a thousand or more people actually doing their day jobs isn’t something many companies would welcome. My bosses supported the idea from the first email I sent that asked, “What if…?”.

They were so in sync with me on my desire to just show off a little bit of what we are building – we are not done by any means – both our mall (The Castle) and our company are still expanding very quickly. They had no clue who BMPR was – they just knew it was important to me. Important enough that a member of the senior leadership team took some time to welcome people, and stayed around for most of the session.

I’ve been a Rackspace customer for a long time – and approaching being an employee for three years.  The things Rackspace has let me do – the ideas they have let me pursue; the chances they have let me take…  It really is a different kind of company.  Where the Chairman might call me at 12:30 am if that is the only time we can find to talk, or I might have a 1:1 dinner with the CEO.  Where a Social Media team is built off of engineers and not marketing.  Where one over-riding goal of “Be Helpful” permeates everything we try to do.

Where a great idea can get funded if you are passionate enough to pursue it.

That doesn’t happen in a lot of companies our size.  It is a little magic. And I’m glad I can invite in guests that can get a bit of a sense of that magic.

Everything starts with community.  From the way we are building our company to why BMPR matters.

If you want to make your life more full – get involved with your community.  There are some amazing people out there wiling to both learn and teach you.  Find them.  They are looking for you too.

We all need each other.

Thanks so much to my friends in BMPR for letting me show you a bit of my world – and for sharing so much of yours with the rest of us.

Note – edited to link to my dorky slide set, per request.

 

A Newbies Guide to SXSW

I had a conversation with someone today that will be attending SXSW for the first time.  He was looking for what to expect/prepare for, etc.  So below are some of the things I have learned, best practices, etc.

1 – Wear the most comfortable pair of walking shoes you own.  Do NOT go buy a new pair of shoes now – it is too late to break them in and make sure they are comfortable.  Find that ugly old pair of sneakers in the back of your closet if you must.  Comfort is critical.  You will walk miles and be on your feet 18+ hours a day (if you are doing it right!).

2 – Don’t shake hands.  Fist bump if you must, but so many people coming from all over the world bring in flu strains your body won’t be expecting.  Better safe than sorry (and I’ve been sorry more times than safe, I am afraid).  I also don’t recommend using hand sanitizer right after you shake hands with the CEO of that great company you just met – might send the wrong message 🙂

3 – Chapstick rocks.

4 – Don’t carry anything that you can’t fit in your pockets.  You will either regret you did and/or lose it. After 18 hours you will hate that “comfortable” backpack.

5 – Be wary of the weather and pack accordingly.  You will be outside a lot.  And sometimes the weather even comes inside (like it did at our party last year when the roof leaked!). If it is hot, a big floppy hat is a lifesaver. Doubles as an umbrella.

6 – The only thing I carry besides my wallet and iPhone (and the charger) is a bottle of water.

7 – Use FourSquare – that’s how you can find the stuff that isn’t in the official program.

8 – Take advantage of the hallway track.  Some of the best friendships and business deals are made informally in the halls of the convention center.

9 – Party well.  By that I mean have fun, but pace yourself.  There are a lot of parties and a lot of people.  And everyone has a camera phone.  If you end up in a viral video on YouTube, make sure it is for the right reasons!

10 – If you are with others always set a few times and places to meet back up each day in case you get separated.  AT&T did much better with cell coverage/reliability last year than the year before, but relying only on your phone may leave you alone.

BonusSee my session!

Got some more helpful tips?  Add them in the comments!

Happy Birthday, Derek!

So yesterday (as of a few minutes ago) was my son Derek’s 21st birthday.

So what did we do?  I invited Derek, and his younger sister Lauren (18), to a Tweetup here in San Antonio.  The establishment says they think we had 75 people there. I’ve been doing local Tweetups for a couple years.  This is the first I invited my kids to. It was a special day for me.  My son is now 21.  And nothing pierced, or tattooed; no records tarnished, no fingerprints taken.  My work here is done 🙂

He can now decide his own future, and either learn from my mistakes (which I have openly shared with him).  Or he can do it the hard way – and do it from scratch.  Every parent hopes they teach their kids enough that they each start in a better place than we did.

So why did I invite my “kids” to a Tweetup?  They use social media, but they aren’t overly geeky (OK, my son IS – but in a diferent way than me).  I invited them so:

a) they could meet my friends and “other family” – my community.  To include some coworkers, my new boss, and a couple of employees.  I want my kids to understand what I do, even if it seems impossible that someone would pay me for making friends and treating people well (they actually do!).

b) I could buy my son his first legal beer (and did).

c) And honestly – I just wanted to show them off.  As the custodial parent for about a decade, I wanted people to see that I didn’t screw them up!

I did NOT expect one of my employees to buy my son his first legal shot as well – DAMN you, Rocky!.  Luckily my daughter drove (and at 18 she was drinking soda).  My kids understand the perils of excess – whether that be alcohol, infatuation or anything else.  Too much of a good thing is too much.

In any case – thanks to all my friends.  I had a boss there, customers there, ex co-workers there, partners there, employees there, coworkers there, and job seekers there.  And my kids there.

All friends.

That’s what makes my job and life so cool.

Smile

Why I Love What I Do

First, it’s all about the people.  From the Rackspace Chairman (Graham Weston), who I met long before I started working here, to the Racker I met in a fast food joint at lunch – there is an immediate sense of “family”.  We are Rackers.  We speak the same language.  What specific JOB we do isn’t really important.  We know we have the same customers – the same goals.  And we all understand the goals.

That is actually an interesting fact about Rackspace – every employee is treated as a trusted friend.  We see the books.  We know the numbers.  We know how we are doing, and how we depend on each other to get better, and to do better.

And we let people find what they are good at, and where they best fit in.

Think that is bullshit?

In 11 days I will have been at Rackspace for exactly one year.  After one year I’ll feel more comfortable calling myself a Racker.  I feel like one – just don’t feel as if I have “earned it” yet 🙂

I was hired in the Cloud division.  To manage developers.  I now work for Rackspace proper – doing something MUCH different then I was hired to do.  Many companies would not have worked with me to find that “sweet spot” – they would have parted ways with me before they put that effort into the relationship.

Instead, Rackspace let me go try something new (to us).  I took over our Cloud blog, and our Twitter account.  And it worked – pretty well.  They let me build an event for SXSW in Austin – which was amazing, and very well received.

And then they let me do something really out there – I hired Robert Scoble and Rocky Barbanica.  And then we built building43.com, which is yet another experiment.  One I have a lot of passion for.  One I truly believe in, and am passionate about.

And I think that’s the key that Rackspace has figured out – they let people follow their passion.  And they work with those employees to find a way to make that passion make sense.  For the Racker, for Rackspace, and for investors.

So I was hired to manage developers.  Instead I am managing emerging media, building a truly unique web property, and trying to find a completely new way to do both marketing and PR in a public company.

Not bad for the first year.  Wonder what they will let me try in the second?  Guess that depends on how these current projects work out!

But it is pretty damned cool to be able to TRY – to do something totally new.  To have the company see if it fails instead of demanding proof it will succeed before they even try.

If you think hosting companies are boring, you haven’t worked at Rackspace.  We are anything but boring – we are pushing the envelope in ways most companies aren’t.

And that’s why I love it here.

Join us 🙂  We’re hiring.

Always.

Rob