This morning I read and reread "The 21st century chamber of commerce - who needs it?" in the Daily Camera. Until things change, I'm thinking the answer is still "Not the startup community."
I used to work for the Boulder Small Business Development Center (Boulder SBDC) when it was hosted and partially funded by the Boulder Chamber. Having been on the Chamber payroll, I've kept an eye on its progress and wondered how it will stay relevant ever since.
If your read the comments in How Are the Boulder Chamber and Startup Community Relevant to Each Other?, a post a wrote a while back, business owners want "dialog" and "community" but don't feel that chambers provide it.
To my dismay the chamber representatives quoted in this morning's Camera article seem to miss something crucial: social media isn't for marketing, it's for communication. Marketing is one-way: "Look at the event I'm holding - it's relevant to you!" Communication is two-way: "How are the Boulder Chamber and startup community relevant to each other?"
More communication would be a good thing. Being asked to participate would be a great thing. Downtown Boulder, Inc. (DBI), similar in some ways to the Boulder Chamber, asked me to join their board. The Boulder SBDC is bringing me into their pool of quasi-volunteer consultants to help Boulder County businesses grow.
Neither of these organizations marketed to me - they showed me how valuable they are by having me work shoulder-to-shoulder with them on something. They've created a long lasting relationship with me.
Similarly, chambers need to consider that events are often more valuable to the organizer than the attendee. I don't pay to attend Chamber events because the convenience of attending is less important to me than relationships I build by organizing.
I help run Boulder Open Coffee Club and Denver Open Coffee Club. I used to run House of Genius, the Boulder Civic Hackfest, and a bunch of other stuff around town. I do these things because I enjoy surrounding myself with brainpower and give-a-shit and because the exposure is valuable to me. These things trump the convenience that a paid membership provides every time.
John Tayer, the president of the Boulder Chamber, is busting his ass to make his organization more relevant. If you get the chance to talk to him, tell him about your business needs and find a way to get involved. In the meantime, I'll send him the thoughts I've outlined in this post along with any of your comments below. Consider it a small step in building a stronger relationship.