A shepherdess: 9 years at the helm of #iotlondon

In autumn 2011, I was asked by Usman to curate and organise the London Internet of Things Meetup. He was busy growing Pachube and I had just shut Tinker London the year before. Ed Borden was the Pachube evangelist and ran the first 2 or three. I got involved from November 2011 and our 100th (on June 23rd) will be my last. We ran 11 events a year (every month except for August) which included two showcases every year. Our first showcase, sponsored by Nominet R&D, had people queuing round the block. One of our meetups (where Haiyan Zhang spoke about the Japan Geiger Maps) had to move to my shared office as there was a blackout. One of our showcase events was at City Hall. More than once, Sainsbury’s couldn’t get our order right or our cheese never arrived which always prompted a last minute dash to a nearby Tesco with someone’s help. People like Mark and Lily attended almost every month. Sukkin from SK Pang used to use the events as a drop-off point for orders. One night it was so warm, one of our speakers nearly fainted.

Many attended once or twice a year. Every meetup had at least 1/3rd of new attendees. Extraordinary churn and reach. We were the 2nd largest dedicated #iot meetup on Meetup.com (after our friends in Bangalore). I insisted on making sure there was at least one woman speaker every time and mostly succeeded. We had speakers from around the world drop by and share their work.

I organised events with Usman like the Open Internet of Things Definition (2012) which became the Better IoT checklist for startups (2017).  I put up a list of women in the sector. a list of books people could read and other resources I maintained.

I insisted on a decent spread (no pizza, decent beer/wine/non-alcoholic and vegetarian options) and that worked well. I spent the networking hour making countless introductions across the room. People met technical co-founders, colleagues, I know of at least 1 couple that met at the meetup (although they’re still not married which is when I’ll claim victory. Steve I’m looking at you).

I’m not a big drinker but would hang out with people at the pub, after the event, answering questions, helping make more connections, dead tired after making sure our hosts’s space was left spotless, the security guard and cleaners thanked. I made sure food that was left over was given to people attending or the zero contract hours event staff I had to hire to make sure people were able to get into some of the corporate buildings that hosted us.

I looked for hosts as we ping ponged across the whole of the city. We were hosted by OneFineStay for the longest time. I’ll always be grateful to Eduardo for making that connection. We were also hosted by Pachube, R/GA and Designit and many others over the past 9 years.

I’ve maintained the @iotlondon account on Twitter since the beginning making sure people’s requests, announcements, were championed. It’s not a big account but 6K followers for a meetup ain’t bad. I wrote a newsletter every month championing people’s events, news, crowdfunding campaigns. I listened to many founders as they reached out seeking help, connections, support. I don’t have a family of my own but this was family and there was a lot of care work involved.

Over the last 9 weeks, I collected what I could of the maker community’s efforts during the COVID-19 crisis. Early on, I talked to everyone I knew to make sure people weren’t working in isolation.

It wasn’t always perfect. My approach and choices didn’t suit everyone. Some I know even stopped attending because they found it irrelevant. I was treated once or twice to sexism I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. Some of the introductions I made turned into poisoned apples as work relationships eventually soured (too many metaphors there sorry). Some only sought the attention of the community for their marketing purposes and wanted to pay for the privilege (which I always refused, pointing them to the form they could fill in instead). That, theses days, could be considered bad business, but I never thought this community was for sale, I was shepherding.

Over the last two years, my work started to move beyond #iot. The world of 2011 seems so far away now in the middle of a pandemic, with climate change a monthly reminder as we break temperature records while my mother sends me pictures of Canadian snow in May. I want to stop shepherding to go back to learning. I want to sit on Zooms building connections for my next project: the Low Carbon Design Institute. I need to, in the Google parlance, put more wood behind fewer arrows and make space in my life for different kinds of interactions. So I’m handing over the reins.

If you’re interested, well all you need is a willingness to organise events around the internet of things (you can choose the format you like of course), manage our relationship with Balena our wonderful sponsor for the past 5 years and take over:

  • The iot.london domain name & hosting
  • The Twitter account
  • The MailChimp account
  • The meetup.com page
  • The Linkedin Group / Facebook page

Please drop me a line at alex (at) designswarm (dot) com if you’d like to talk about it!

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