By Joe Procopio
This year’s Final Four was as heated and satisfying as all the hype built it up to be. And when it was over, cheers erupted not only for the champion, but for the three other finalists as well. In the true spirit of competition, backs were patted, hands were shook, and only a small fraction grumbled about the seeding and the venue selection.
I know what you’re thinking. And while my StatSheet robot-enabled picks are currently crushing brackets throughout the country in my own “Bringing Down the House” moment (I’m thinking Ben Mezrich, David Fincher, and Bradley Cooper), what I’m talking about today, a full two weeks before the end of the NCAA Tournament, is Pongageddon.
Late last year, the crew at StatSheet hosted a day of pizza, soda, T-shirts, and ping-pong to celebrate… something. And that’s the point. It wasn’t an award or a demo, there were no high-profile speakers (we tried to get Bob Young, but apparently in Canada they play ping-pong outdoors on ice with regulation mittens and it’s called Ice Mittens). There were no slide decks, no sponsors or booths.
It was just a way for friends and friends of friends to get together, blow off a little steam, and possibly win a trophy with a Buick on top that said “2nd Place” by beating everyone in the room, bracket style, at ping-pong.
That feat was accomplished by iContact and Preation’s Aaron Houghton who, while seeming very nonchalant in a dress shirt and khakis, trumped everyone with his own equipment bag, gold-plated paddle, and grizzled old coach who stood in the corner and glared at everyone, occasionally shooting Aaron a nod when it was time to take out someone’s knee.
Kidding, the paddle wasn’t gold plated.
But as Aaron’s name was duct-taped to the bottom of the Buick trophy, it was obvious that this would not be the only instance of this event.
So this past Friday, just because, StatSheet opened the doors again. No Eventbrite, not a lot of promotion, just email to everyone anyone knew plus some light Twittering and Facebooking.
This time, building-mates and fellow startuppers NetSertive played co-hosts, offering up a second table, a refrigerator full of beer, and a break room full of food, essentially doubling down on the entire experience.
Around 50 hardworking entrepreneurs showed up, as well as a few investors and advisors. Pleasantries were exchanged and then the mayhem got underway.
The brackets included representatives from StatSheet and NetSertive and also, let’s go alphabetical:
Adzerk, Appia, Argyle Social, DejaMi, DigitalSmiths, HireNetworks, Intersouth, Loyalese, Idea Fund Partners, Plotwatt, Preation, Robinson Bradshaw & Hinton, Southern Capitol, Square One Bank, and WeGeo – and I’m sure I’m leaving more than one out, this is just all I could remember off of the top of my head.
Play By (Mobile/Web/Social) Play
Needless to say, the competition on the table matched the nature of the players. Whether the talent level was lacking (names withheld), passable (I lost a nail biter to Square 1’s Zack Mansfield after being up 9-7 in the final game), or Gumpesque, everyone brought their A game.
The Final Four matchups were ridiculous to watch, and before long almost everyone had turned away from the basketball games being projected onto one wall and took a spot around the table.
The first best-of-three, 21-point match featured StatSheet’s own Ganesh Karthik Bonala against Argyle’s Danny Olinsky. While Ganesh handily took the first game, Danny fought hard and picked up the last two for the win.
The second semifinal was brutal. Appia CTO Slawek Pruchnik and defending champion Aaron Houghton put on was can only be described as a violent forehand smash clinic that injured more than one bystander. I’ve never seen two people sweat harder playing a sport that you usually play in street clothes (you know, bowling, darts, poker).
But that’s the nature of this crowd.
In the end, Argyle’s Olinsky finessed a visually spent Pruchnik for the Buick trophy.
Names Dropped, Column Almost Over
While this was an awesome event to host and even more fun to write about (let’s face it, entrepreneurism is really mostly a lot of boring hard work), my point is that this is more of what we need as we boldly move forward. Non-sponsored, topic-free, open-invite events like this foster a huge amount of community, which is exactly why StatSheet CEO Robbie Allen set it up in the first place.
It’s something I tried to create with ExitEvent while we were still trying to figure out what ExitEvent was. A lot of the people who were at Pongageddon were at the first ExitEvent meetup, and we didn’t do much more than drink a few beers and chat about what was going on in our world.
Now I know that that’s what it could and should have been. It’s not that we’re any less open and sharing than any other regional startup ecosystem, this is just the result of the fragmentation that we all know exists. I know I want to undo that, I know I’m inspired by what I saw, and I know I’m not alone.
There are other events that fit this mold. Deck Party (full disclosure, the brainchild of this very online property) is already another great example of a party just for the party’s sake, even though it looks more like a networking event until you actually attend.
The point is there’s something valuable here and these folks have tapped into it nicely. If we can keep the fun factor at the level where people will attend, the value will take care of itself.
So as Danny Olinsky’s name was duct-taped to the Buick trophy, it was obvious that this would not only not be the last instance of this event, but it would likely no longer be the only event of its kind.
Joe Procopio heads up product engineering for sports media startup StatSheet . He also owns startup consulting firm Intrepid Company and creative network Intrepid Media . Next outing won’t be so personal, he’s got a Xoom coming. Joe can be reached via Twitter: twitter.com/jproco.
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