Getting Some Answers from NYTM’s New Director

Jessica Lawrence

New York Tech Meetup has gotten way, way too big for its small, part-time, all-volunteer staff. The group has a hyperactive listserve, thousands of active members and the potential energy of a strung-out Slinky. And yet the organization still doesn’t have the capacity to do much beyond keeping control of the wildly popular monthly event. Is that about to change now that the organization has hired its first full-time employee? Managing director Jessica Lawrence is less than two weeks into the job, but we grilled her anyway.

Q: So you’ve had more than a week on the job! What have you been doing?

A: I’ve been setting up and having meetings with people from all different areas of the tech community–from having coffee with Steven Rojas the Director of Social Media for the Grand Hotels this morning to having meetings later this week with the EDC and others. I’ll also be at the Tech Stars Demo Day on Thursday. I’m starting off having meetings largely with people that NYTM has existing partnerships with so that I can introduce myself, but I’m also fitting in as many meetings as possible with pretty much whoever asks. I want to get as much input as possible from a broad spectrum of the New York tech community.

Q: What’s the order of magnitude of emails you’ve gotten?

A: I actually haven’t been keeping track–I try to be really diligent about responding to emails quickly and filing them, so I don’t have very much in my inbox right now. Probably more than 50. Almost everyone offering congratulations, others offering to volunteer or support NYTM in some way, people requesting meetings,and others who are interested in giving me feedback about NYTM or insight into the tech community.

Ticketing has definitely come up a number of times – it’s an event that people really want an opportunity to be a part of, so I can see why ticketing is an important issue for people.

Q: Anything else people are concerned about?

A: I wouldn’t categorize it as a concern, but I think that people are interested in how the tech community in the city can take the momentum it already has and continue to grow, and they are interested in the role NYTM will play in that. [Complaints have] really centered around the ticketing and some logistical issues like having a space that accommodates a limited number of our members.

Q: What kind of insight into the tech scene?

A: I’ve had a few interesting conversations on that subject. One about how Silicon Alley differs from Silicon Valley in terms of the vibe and spirit of the tech community. It was posed to me that one of the main differences is that the Silicon Alley community is much more collaborative and that they don’t care about getting permission from existing industry giants before doing their own thing.

Q: Yeah, because there are no tech giants here.

A: I think they were also referring to giants in other industries–like the publishing industry for instance.

Another person I spoke with pointed out how some of New York’s longstanding industries–like the fashion industry–were really just starting to get hip to the fact that they need the tech industry.

Q: What do you think are the strengths and weaknesses of NYTM?

A: I think what NYTM has done really well is serve as strong hub for the growing tech community in New York. I also think that it has done an amazing job of providing an extremely visible platform for New York-based innovative technology to be seen by the world. Going forward, I think it will be helpful for us to spend some time thinking about how we support our community of 17,000 members and the NY tech community in general in even more meaningful ways.

Q: Is there a different number for active members? The 17,000 figure includes everyone who has ever joined the Meetup group.

A: That is definitely something I will be looking at but it is not something that I’ve analyzed yet.

Q: Do you have a roadmap for tackling tasks… like where can members expect to see changes first, and how soon?

A: Part of what I’m working on this week in collaboration with Nate, Andrew and other members of the NYTM team is building that roadmap and setting a timeframe to implement changes.
Changes to things like ticketing may not be seen until the June meetup, but people should start to notice subtle, small changes relatively soon. We need to do some work on the website. We also need to do some basic things like get an NYTM logo designed and would love help with that. We are also working on launching our internship program again this summer and are looking for 30 New York-based startups to host high school interns.

I should have some information up on our site about the internship program by early next week–a great, low-cost high impact opportunity for local startups.

Getting Some Answers from NYTM’s New Director