HUBgrown: Q&A with Devin Bramhall

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Creator of The Master Slam and Executive Director of TEDxSomerville, self-proclaimed startup junkie Devin Bramhall recently sat down with HB to discuss her experience in Boston’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, share advice for folks interested in startups and offer tips for creating kick-ass content.

Devin BramhallHB Agency: How did you get involved in the startup world?

Devin Bramhall: I always say that I got into startups by accident: The first startup I joined [Springpad] in 2009 was from a random Craigslist posting. But I don’t think it was really an accident. My life has never been “normal.” I was home-schooled for most of my life, so I sort of hacked my own life (and education) from the start, including going to college in Hawaii for a semester when I was 16. So even though my turn to startups was somewhat accidental I think it came from the very active role I’ve taken in my own life from the start. I didn’t go to school, where your path is laid out for you – I made my own path from a very early age, and that transferred into my career. To be honest, I’m quite critical of startups. In many ways it’s harder to move your career in a startup because of the lack of a traditional structure and opportunity to advance, but I think that’s partially why they’re perfect for me. You have to make the life you want.

HB: On top of your day job, you run The Master Slam. What was your inspiration behind the event series? How did you start it?

DB: I launched The Master Slam when I was at Springpad to solve a problem: No one in Boston really knew who we were or what we did. Instead of going to a ton of events, I thought why not bring the people to us? But when I started to think about event formats I got a little bored and a little depressed because they all felt the same. Why would anyone come to an event I hosted that was the exact same as all the others?

So I brainstormed. I do live storytelling on stage—like The Moth—where storytellers share a first-person story and I love it so much. When I thought about event formats, storytelling was good but wasn’t a perfect fit. Then I thought about debates and competition, and I thought hold on, what if we put them together?

When I got goosebumps, I knew I was on to something. But I still needed someone to help me launch this thing – someone well-known to get bodies in the room.

That’s where HB’s Mark O’Toole came in.

I sent Mark an email describing the idea and asked him to be the featured speaker. I was nervous because I didn’t know him yet, and I wasn’t sure what he’d think. He was so nice about it! He said he thought it sounded cool and was totally in. Early win! Looking back, I realize that it’s the little things along the way – the “yesses” so to speak, that let you know you’re on the right track. The no’s? They’re an opportunity to rethink what you’re doing and come up with a better plan.

Long story short, we did it! About 80 people came to the first one and the rest is history. I keep doing it because it’s fun for people. They like it. It’s different and it’s a great networking opportunity.

HB: You’re Co-executive Director of Boston Content, a local community for marketers. Can you tell us more about it?

DB: I connected with Jay Acunzo and Arestia Rosenberg—the founders of Boston Content—at a couple events and they invited me to be on the committee. A year later, I became Co-Executive Director. I love the Boston Content community so much because its sole purpose is to give back in a very specific way: to help marketers grow and develop their skills and careers. We’re doing a ton with the new blog and multiple events; it’s really taken off in the past year.

HB: Do you have any advice for people who want to join a startup?

DB: My first piece of advice is to think twice. Not because they’re not great but because it’s a challenge—a good challenge. If you want to join a startup do your research, especially on the leadership team. That’s important in any company but especially with startups because they’re so involved with the day-to-day. You can only learn so much in an interview and always remember, as much as they’re interviewing you, you need to interview them, too.

HB: What do you love most about Boston’s startup scene?

DB: I’ve been really lucky. I’ve experienced a tremendous amount of support from the community and from the people I’ve worked with at startups. Perhaps it’s because the community here is smaller, but I know I wouldn’t be where I am today without all the help and mentoring I’ve received. I’m not sure if that’s unique to Boston but that’s what stands out to me the most, I’m incredibly grateful for it.

HB: How should startups utilize content?

DB: Don’t just create content for the sake of creating content. Don’t make a blog because you think you need to have one. Companies need to start by setting their goals then figure out the right content based on those goals. Identify your target—your humans—figure out their challenges, and then identify how you can solve those challenges for them. From there, find out what they’re consuming and where, and figure out how you can reach them through those channels and get them to take action.

It’s not content first. It’s goals and humans first. Figure out how to help them out! Once you do the answer is pretty straightforward.

 

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About Mower Boston

Boston's Mower office is a full-service technology marketing, PR and branding agency. Our B2B stories illustrate projects and campaigns in a variety of markets and media that range from local impact in Boston and New England to global proportions.

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