Jason Evanish came up with the idea to launch Greenhorn Connect while attending the Mass Technology Leadership Council (MassTLC) unConference in Boston in October 2009, a conference for newcomers to veterans involved throughout the Boston entrepreneurial community.
In a session called “Turbocharging the Culture in Massachusetts,” the panelists, Tim Rowe, founder of the Cambridge Innovation Center and Scott Kirsner, a Boston Globe reporter, led a discussion on how to make the Boston entrepreneurship ecosystem stronger.
“[The panelists] talked about how there was so much was going on in the ecosystem and how no one was keeping track of it,” Evanish said. “They said, ‘We need a website to do that!’ and I raised my hand at the end and said, ‘I’ve worked on that… we’re going to do that’!”
The panelists and audience members were surprised by his announcement, but offered to support Evanish—if he could launch the site by the following week.
Evanish, who was studying for his Master’s in Technical Entrepreneurship at Northeastern University, sprung to action.
Grabbing his friend Ashkan Afkhami, also a Northeastern student (making up the second half of the “we’re,” that Evanish promised would create the website), the pair began producing what would later be known as Greenhorn Connect.
Afkhami and Evanish had previously teamed up to create a wiki, or an online collaboration space, to figure out what was going on within the Boston entrepreneurial ecosystem, a system that remained confusing to many entrepreneurs. The wiki listed and categorized events happening in Boston for entrepreneurs and individuals interested in the startup community. The final product evolved out of this wiki, becoming a full-scale website available to the public.
“We started simplistically, trying to categorize events, what to go to and what not to go to, figuring out what were the biggest things going on in Boston that people should be aware of, and so on,” Akfhami said. “Jason started going to events, kicking tires around, and I was basically in charge with finances—but in a small startup, everybody does a little bit of everything.”
Greenhorn Connect launched on Oct. 13, 2009, and has been expanding based on the entrepreneurial community’s needs ever since, Evanish said. Though Afkhami has since left Greenhorn to concentrate fully on his own startup company MobiquityInc, a mobile computing professional services firm based in Boston, Evanish has continued to work on Greenhorn Connect in addition to his fulltime job, and brought on board both Ian Stanczyk as product manager and Pardees Safizadeh as social media director for the site.
“Greenhorn Connect is a website that’s meant for entrepreneurs, that’s made by entrepreneurs,” said Safizadeh. “[The site] helps entrepreneurs move their businesses forward and gets them to wherever the next point is for them, whether it’s getting funding, finding new team members or just going out and meeting people and being part of the Boston startup community.”
The website consists of resources and news for entrepreneurs, a job board for startup companies and those seeking positions within startup companies, and an event listings board that describes what events are going on in the Boston community each month, accompanied by a summary each week highlighting the most valuable events individuals can go to each week.
The name ‘Greenhorn Connect’ was coined after the same info session Evanish attended at the MassTLC unConference that led to the idea for the website.
“[The panelists] made a list of things that entrepreneurs needed to do better in our ecosystem, and one thing was ‘Take more chances on greenhorns,’” Evanish said.
After looking up the definition of ‘greenhorn,’ which essentially means a newcomer, Evanish realized it made perfect sense as a name for the site.
“The problem we were initially trying to solve with Greenhorn was to help new and young people who have no way of knowing how to get integrated in the startup community,” Evanish said. “So the idea was to connect greenhorns to what they needed.”
Today, the Greenhorn team is trying to foster a sense of community in Boston through the website, pushing information out through Twitter and Facebook daily, Safizadeh said.
“I’ve integrated Greenhorn into my everyday life,” Safizadeh said. “Basically, you have to go to these networking events to be part of the company, to be part of the entrepreneurial community. Because if you’re fostering a community, you need to be part of the community you foster. There’s no other way to do it!”
Going to all these events is particularly challenging, because all member of the Greenhorn Team have fulltime jobs—at startups other than Greenhorn. Evanish works at oneforty, a social business software company located in Cambridge. Safizadeh works as an account manager at Harron and Associates, a non-profit public relations firm in Boston, and Stanczyk is in the process of building a new product within the social fundraising space.
To juggle their full-time jobs, social life and responsibilities with Greenhorn Connect, the team members do a lot of work individually after their day jobs are over, and try to meet once at least once a month, Safizadeh said.
“[The team] tries to talk whenever we can,” Safizadeh said. “We try to have a once a month meeting where we all sit down and talk about the state of everything. We go through what we want to change, what’s been working and what hasn’t been working—and we’re just constantly analyzing how we can make this easier for ourselves.”
Aaron Gerry, president of Northeastern University’s Entrepreneurship Club, says he uses Greenhorn Connect on a weekly basis, as do many of the general members in he Entrepreneurship Club. He looks for Greenhorn TV, a weekly feature on the site that lists the best and most-anticipated startup events in Boston for that specific week,
“Greenhorn TV is one of the better ways to figure out what is going on in Boston,” Gerry said. “There’s over 15 to 20 events every week in Boston, so it’s difficult to figure out which ones you should be going to. Some are really good and highly educational, but some are awful. [Greenhorn Connect] is good for vetting out what events are worth going to.”
Michael Champion, vice president of engineering at oneforty, said the job board on Greenhorn Connect is unique and one of the website’s best features because it gives applicants an idea of what the actual company culture is like.
“It’s not just a list of requirements, like, job applicant must have X, Y and Z, but it’s a bit more about what’s interesting about this company,” Champion said. “It’s a great resource for young people trying to understand what it would be like to work at these companies.”
As for future plans, Evanish hopes to monetize the job board featured on the Greenhorn Connect website, which has been a free feature in the past, as well to increase usability of the site and make it easier for visitors to comment, using their Twitter, Google or Facebook accounts to log in.
Increasing usability will also (hopefully) increase more commentary, audience participation, and more site users in general, helping to accomplish what Evanish set out to do: “Make it easier for people to get things done with their startup.”
On Tuesday, I went on my very first class trip of my college career. As a junior, I didn’t really think class trips still exist, but fortunately in Professor Kennedy’s class, they do!
Where did we go, you may ask? Well, I’ll tell you.
We ventured a whole ten minutes away from the university and went to the Christian Science Monitor buildling on Massachusetts Avenue. We got to sit in on a morning meeting with the editors (cool!), explore the newsroom and ask a bunch of questions about the way the Monitor has evolved from a print edition published five days per week to its new, online-first model (The Monitor is still published in print weekly).
Getting to sit in at the morning meeting was definitely the coolest part of the trip. However, a morning meeting of editors was different than I thought–there was no urgency, no running around or hustle-and-bustle of a newsroom you sometimes see on television. But it was definitely interesting to hear what goes down at this type of meeting, such as discussing the stories they would be writing throughout the day and when it would be featured on the website. The editors and reporters also talked about what they would be putting on the “top left” of the site, or the articles that are featured most via Google.
Editor John Yemma talked about how their online readership has grown six-fold since they switched from a daily publication to an Internet-first model, as well as the need for audience participation on the website in forms of quizzes and picture slide shows to encourage audience engagement and interest.
See more photos from our class trip here!
On April 6, I attended DemoCamp Boston at the Hult International Business School in Cambridge, Mass.
The event consisted of seven presentations of startup companies, as well as a kick-off speech by successful entrepreneur and president of Harkador Partners Brad Harkavy on “10 Things Entrepreneurs Should Know.”
What should entrepreneurs know, you may ask?
According to Harkavy:
- You are not the only one with your idea
- Timing is everything
- Secrecy rarely helps
- Your company will survive one or two direct hits
- Understand your market size (TAM)
- Media coverage is really fun, but also a huge distraction.
- Your business plan will change
- Patents are a marketing tool
- First to market is not enough
- More Oxygen in startup offices (a personal belief of Harkavy)
Representatives from startups peerTransfer, Rate It Green, InstantNightlife, DailyFeats, Innovation Nights, Embed.ly and Vizibility all had five minutes to present their venture, business plan and main goals and then had the chance to receive five minutes of feedback from the audience. After advice, critiques and ideas were exchanges, participants and audience members had the chance to stay, eat, drink and network with one another (which nearly everyone took advantage of).
The most interesting startup presented (in my opinion) was Vizibility, a company that uses SEO to enhance your visibility through Google searches. As a junior in college getting ready to apply to full-time jobs next May, I think this way of curating a top five list of Google links for myself would be a great way to help our future employers, as well as weed out any “bad” or “unhelpful” links individuals may get when they Google my name.
Last week I attended an event at the Holt International Business School (which I will elaborate on more during a future post), where several startup company representatives had the opportunity to present their startup business and ideas to an audience of other entrepreneurs and those interested in entrepreneurship. After a five-minute presentation, the audience was allowed five minutes of questions and feedback, giving the lineup of presentations a collaborative element.
One startup I found particularly interesting was InstantNightlife (INL), a new mobile application founded by two MIT students who wanted to make going out easier for people in Boston.
While “going out” is supposed to be just a fun time, it can wind up being stressful if you don’t know where to go, end up waiting in line or are trying to meet up with your friends or a large group of people.
InstantNightlife aims to reduce all these stresses and bring you back to just having a good time.
What does it do? Basically, the mobile app (available for any smartphone users) allows users to see the current status of several popular Boston clubs before heading there, such as how long the line is and the girl-to-guy ratio once inside. App viewers can also find out if the dance floor will be packed once they get inside, and find out about real-time deals that only those with the app have access to. A bar can be a fun scene or a boring scene on any particular night, so it’s important to know what is going on at the venue in real-time.
Users can also interact via the application: You can find out where your friends are, and even buy or send them a drink if they at the same club as you.
The only problem is getting everyone to use smartphones. I personally don’t have one, so this app is a bit useless to me. However, I still think it’s a really cool idea and great mobile application that tons of college students and young professionals would want to use. The only critique is that the bars the app features right now all seem a bit pricey, and some college students just don’t have the funds for that.
To learn more, check out the InstantNightlife website, download the application for free, OR read this article from BostInnovation.
Last Friday, my Reinventing the News class heard from Mike LaBonte, editor of NewsTrust.net.
He gave us a brief overview of what NewsTrust does, as well as how individuals can use it to evaluate the content of news articles.
NewsTrust.net, headlining with the tag “Your Guide to Good Journalism,” is a website that allows readers to analyze and evaluate news stories, rating them based on content, depth, investigative reporting, facts, context, fairness and more.
I chose to rate and review five different stories that focused on a variety of different topics, from the cracks in Southwest planes to unemployment. It was an interesting experience because typically when I read a story, I am just reading for my own general curiosity. With NewsTrust, I had to dig deeper, pay more attention and analyze the article in context, which made me think that perhaps I should always read articles this way rather than just skimming through and taking all the information to heart immediately.
Something I found myself doing a lot more was questioning the accuracy of a “source.” If they were not named specifically, or just listed as a “representative” it made me a lot more skeptical about what they were saying, even though usually I take what any “source” says in a news article without a doubt.
Although I think NewsTrust is a cool and valuable tool, I don’t know how often I would freely go to the website to evaluate news stories. I think it’s a great way to keep tabs on news and push journalists to strive for better journalism, however it really depends on who uses the site, and how often. I’m not sure how many people actually use NewsTrust, but with so much news out on the Internet, I don’t think people have the time to go analyzing stories when there is so much content to read and take in.