In the beginning, your happy hours will feel fun and exciting. Your new event series will grow steadily over a couple of months. Your space will feel fresh and new. The new people will attract more new people and it will seem like things will just keep going that way (if you’ve actually done something interesting that is).
But it won’t last. Everything eventually gets boring. One day you’ll see attendance sink like a brick for a bit then stay at about the same level. The new people will replace the old and even if you manage to sustain the attendance, it never grows.
Whether it’s healthy or not, most people are obsessed with novelty. I think it’s because novelty often equates to interesting. Sure, in some cities and communities a generic monthly happy hour could sustain you for quite some time. But if you’re in, say, San Francisco or New York City or some other major market there are just too many other interesting options for people. So you have to make what you’re doing as or more interesting than whatever else is going on.
People ask me all the time why they aren’t getting people to their events and my answer almost invariably is, “because you’re event seems, and probably is, boring.” It’s probably generic, “run of the mill,” or mediocre. It’s never the advice people want to hear, but it’s the truth.
A couple of examples of mediocre events that we’ll place in San Francisco for context:
- A happy hour with cheap beer and wine, chips and salsa, and your best Spotify playlist going on in the background. Boring.
- A pitch competition where the winner receives free membership to your space. Boring.
If I wanted cheap beer or wine I’d go the dive bar around the corner from my house, which is likely a lot more fun and comfortable than a typical coworking space. Startups don’t want free space, they want cash, exposure, and feedback. Note I said cash first. Sorry to say, but if you’re doing things like this, you’re just being lazy. You have to spice it up.
Here are a couple of great examples of events that actually happened in San Francisco and were remarkable:
- A silent disco with an open bar in an old mansion, not just with cheap beer and wine (though they were present too).
- A pitch competition with a $5,000 cash prize and major tech blog coverage.
Sure, these might be outside your budget, but figure it out some other way. Maybe it’s only a $500 cash prize. Maybe you use the parking lot for the silent disco or just hire a live band or great local DJ. Maybe the happy hour is a masquerade. Last week a client of mine held a simple Beer n’ BBQ themed happy hour, with homemade barbecue pulled pork sandwiches and an assortment of local beer. Attendance was great. It doesn’t have to be expensive, it just has to be interesting enough that people want to go.
People typically host mediocre events due to a lack of planning and time. One suddenly realizes that the happy hour is in two days and, with little prep time and a lot of other work to do, they skimp on providing a really engaging and fun experience for members and guests. Members begin to feel like you only host the thing out of obligation, not for any real intention or purpose, such as connection and celebration. So they stop going. After all, they can probably get more connection and enjoyment from hanging out with their cat at home than at a typical coworking happy hour.
I’m being harsh here because I’m tired of the complaining. If you want great event attendance, stop redesigning your newsletter and actually make something worth going to.
This isn’t just about happy hours and events. Eventually everything gets boring. Change it up. Keep it interesting.