Earlier this month, alongside Jana Iris, I had the pleasure to welcome a bunch of folks involved with the Irish tech community at a small event hosted by TQ Ventures. Folks said that it was a lot more thoughtful than "your standard VC event" (which I don't routinely attend), so I thought I would outline some of the principles that I followed to produce the experience.
First up was the choice of venue. I chose Orlagh House, just south of Dublin. Orlagh is unique in its 18th century charm, relative state of repair, and being located within ~30 minutes of Dublin City Centre. It’s typically a wedding venue, but they also specialise in corporate and family events. I find venues like these do very well for the reason they were built: for gathering and conversing.
The event was ostensibly held around a conference that was being held at Dublin Convention Centre, so I wanted to start folks off at a place near there. Thanks to an assist from Colin Harmon from 3FE (a Tito investor), we invited folks to a champagne reception upstairs in their new cafe, just 3 minutes walk from the Convention Centre.
So I had a beginning, I had an end, but I needed a middle: how would I get ~40 people from the city centre to the outskirts of the city, without breaking the flow of the event.
I had done this kind of thing before for Funconf, and indeed Jana had jokingly asked me: "isn't there a party bus we could hire?". There are, in fact, numerous party bus options in Dublin, but they tend to be associated with bright LED lighting and spill-resistant seating. I did eventually find a company who hire out a vintage London Routemaster bus that seats up to 49 and serves gin and tonic (or the alcohol-free equivalent) and has tables. Score!
I was very glad of the classy gin bus, because in the end, with traffic, getting out of the city centre took quite a while and we were nearly on there for an hour. With table seating and a drink in hand, this time passed easily. On a regular coach, it might have felt a bit long.
When we got there, the venue provided a BBQ dinner and drinks service. After dinner, folks were free to make their own way home, or stick around until 1am.
I really enjoyed myself at the event, as well as organising it. All I can say is that 7 hours passed like minutes, and it was over in a flash. It felt like the start of a bigger event, rather than a complete event in itself, but it also served its purpose.
So, what made it special? Well, I can only theorise.
Firstly, I think, was movement. When folks are stuck in one place, they tend to cluster in small groups. With this event, there was the initial meeting, moving to the bus, and when we got to the big house, lots of rooms to move between. Movement always creates sparks for serendipity.
Second was: hooks. It was a bit logistically tricky, but I brought 3 types of sparkling wine to try (and a delicious non-alcoholic option). Meeting in a coffee shop was different, and it's a cool space. The gin bus is not something you get every day. And old Georgian houses are a talking point in themselves, often with a pock-marked history closely related to the history of the country itself. There was a drawing room, a dining room, an outdoor area, the bar, a secret pool room, and corridors to explore. Details like these give folks who don't know each other something to hook on to, avoiding awkward ice-breaking, and creating spontaneous serendipity.
Finally, and perhaps crucially: people. This isn't a fine art, but Jana selected a group based on who she thought would get on well together. I added a few folks who I thought would a) enjoy it and b) add to the discussion.
This was really my first proper dipping of the toe back into any kind of event planning since pre-Covid times, and it worked out.