By Max Chalkin
Last night, I attended the city’s biggest startup networking party, along with 800 or so other Boston entrepreneurs, CEOs, techies, investors, and businesspeople. For the second straight year, Ruby Riot drew both attendees and attention. The venue was The Estate, and, as might be expected with an event held at a club, Ruby Riot was more party than startup scene networking.
The event played out as it was billed -- a meet-and-greet, sure, but it was also a showcase of young talent and limitless energy. People had fun and networked, but for this observer, Ruby Riot mostly just reinforced a few hard realities of networking: First, a little booze means easy conversation and social lubrication, but a lot of booze becomes sloppy. Second, to meet people, you need to be able to hear them, and unfortunately, DJ David Gallant’s mix made it nearly impossible to participate in the obligatory business card exchange without screaming. Finally, there is no silver bullet when it comes to networking; you need to put yourself out there, offer to help people, and exchange ideas. There’s a reason you can’t spell “networking” without “work,” and Ruby Riot, while a fun party, made meeting people more work than it needed to be.
Here’s a play-by-play, in case you missed it.
10:30 a.m.: I sign up for Ruby Riot.
4:30 p.m.: #RubyRiot Twitter chatter picks up. People are “excited for #RubyRiot!” They “can’t wait for #RubyRiot tonight!” One amped attendee tweets, “#RubyRiot #RubyRiot #RubyRiot #RubyRiot #RubyRiot #RubyRiot#RubyRiot #RubyRiot #RubyRiot #RubyRiot #RUBYRIOT #RubyRiot #RubyRiot #RubyRiot.”
5 p.m.: I’m watching Bostlandia, a spoof of Portlandia starring @ajohnclark and @patticus. The theme is “Boston is back.” (“Do you remember the heyday of Boston tech?….I didn’t have to walk through a...game layer to get my cup of coffee in the morning. Those days are back.”) It’s moderately funny.
5:05 p.m.: Now I'm watching the unofficial Ruby Riot music video. It manages to be cute because the singers and dancers take it very seriously.
6:40 p.m.: I realize I forgot to bring my printed-out ticket. I hope they let me pull up the PDF on my phone!
7:05 p.m.: I arrive.
7:20 p.m.: I’m waiting in line. A woman hands me a “Hello” nametag and a marker. She advises me to write my Twitter handle.
7:45 p.m.: Still waiting. A few people get yanked from the line by event organizers. They smirk and swagger to the front. One guy refuses an offer to skip the line. “I think I’ll wait,” he says. I dig.
8 p.m.: I realize the reason it’s taking so long to get in: People think they’re waiting in line to enter when, in fact, they are waiting for the overpriced coat check. Hmm…
8:10 p.m.: I’m in. They never checked tickets. I text my two friends who didn’t come because they couldn’t get tickets. People are boozing, hard. I order a whiskey on the rocks.
8:12 p.m.: I notice an older fellow wearing a three-piece suit, sitting against the wall. He looks lonesome.
8:15 p.m.: I meet Wilfred, a Nigerian civil engineering student. He tells me that the man in the three-piece suit is his father. “Why are you here?” I ask. “My father told me I must come,” he replies, “but he’s too old for this crowd!” I wonder why the father is sitting alone if he thinks the event is so important. Wilfred doesn’t seem to want to be here either. “At least some of the girls are cute!” he says.
8:20 p.m.: Find the food. Sandwiches and meatballs -- fried, salty, cheesy, and saucy. I look around me. Most of the men here are overweight. Everyone seems to have circles under their eyes.
8:25 p.m.: The event is 65-70 percent men. At least 85 percent of attendees are 20- and 30-somethings. The older people really stick out. Presumably, they are the investors.
8:35 p.m.: Gov. Deval Patrick speaks. He’s on his game.
“We have one of the most important IT clusters in the country, the most important life sciences cluster in the world, a growing clean tech cluster, the largest and most robust entrepreneurial activity anywhere in America, a rich trove of talent, of venture capital, a tradition of invention that goes back a long time," he says. "What we need more of is this."
He tells his own #payitforward anecdote: Apparently he once boarded a bus without realizing he didn't have enough money for the fare. The bus driver looked him up and down and paid his fare for him. Told him to pay it forward. I’m not sure if this is the scale the event organizers have in mind when they say that phrase.
8:45 p.m.: DJ David Gallant’s dance party begins in earnest. There are only two differences between this event and a regular Friday night at The Estate: 1) The governor of Massachusetts is on stage instead of scantily clad dancers, and 2) Everyone has a nametag. How can I network if I can’t hear myself think?
9 p.m.: I run into someone I know. She’s drunk enough to dish the dirt on some mutual acquaintances.
9:20 p.m.: I speak with a guy named Cesar. He seems to be claiming that his company does everything that can possibly be done with a computer. I tell him his business card is too cluttered and he should hire a designer.
9:30 p.m.: I’m bumping into various people I know. They’re all wasted.
9:40 p.m.: For the second time, I meet someone looking for employment.
10 p.m.: I realize, people came to Ruby Riot expecting magic. They are told, “At this event, things will happen, connections will be made, partnerships will be forged, lives will be changed.” People feel the pressure. Their expectations are too high.
10:20 p.m.: Some bros take the middle of the dance floor hostage and begin a kicking and head-bobbing dance to Katy Perry. There are almost no women in sight.
10:30 p.m.: I take off.
Ultimately, Lauzon and crew threw a successful event. It was high-energy, had high levels of intoxication, and hopefully someone got an investor’s ear, even if they had to yell their elevator pitch about their idea for "the next Facebook" at the top of their lungs.
Did you go to Ruby Riot? What did you think?
Photos courtesy of Ruby Riot and Matt Lauzon
About Max -- Max Chalkin is a recent graduate of Tufts University and is currently working in biotech marketing. His interests include entrepreneurship, technology, politics, food, and nightlife. He is an avid photographer, cook, and scuba diver.
The author is solely responsible for the content.